Friday, 21 February 2014

Clegg v Farage on EU..

Good morning. When Nigel Farage appears at 9am on LBC Radio this morning, we will find out whether Mr Farage will agree to a live debate on Britain's membership of the EU with Nick Clegg. Mr Clegg yesterday challenged the Ukip leader to the debate: "I hope he would take up my challenge to debate, once and for all, publicly: should we be in the European Union, which I believe means that we have more people in work than would otherwise be the case, we keep ourselves safer because we can go after cross-border crime and terrorism, it means we can look after the environment in the way that we can't on our own?"
The manoeuvre is the latest example of Mr Clegg unashamedly labelling the Lib Dems "the party of in" at the European elections. On one level, it is easy to see the risk in a Eurosceptic country. But perhaps there is method to the madness: the calculation is that, while Europhiles are a minority, at the moment they don't have anyone to represent their voice. And ardent Eurosceptics, after all, were hardly likely to be attracted to the Lib Dems anyway. It's also about defining the Lib Dems: in the electorate's eyes, they are a blank space ripe for smearing, so anything that detracts from that will be welcomed. In seeking a tête-à-tête with Mr Farage, Mr Clegg is seeking to present himself as brave and courageous, leaving David Cameron and Ed Miliband on the sidelines looking scared. Mr Farage's response will be intriguing. Ducking the challenge would not look good, but Mr Farage has far more to lose from debating Mr Clegg than the Lib Dem leader. In itself, that is a mark of the state of flux that British politics is in.

The President of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, says a deal has been reached with the opposition to end the country's crisis; early reports suggest that the deal includes a coalition government, constitutional change and early presidential elections. The front pages focus on the horrors: yesterday was the "bloodiest day" in the conflict, as we describe it, with at least 29 people dying. It's well worth reading David Blair's harrowing report from the front line:  "After the security forces had gone to such lengths to terrorise and break their enemies, the end result was that the protesters were still the masters of the Maidan. They regained every inch of ground lost on Wednesday, which was previously the bloodiest day of the battle." For the Coalition, the challenge is how to respond to what reeks of a Vladimir Putin putsch; the words of our leader - "Justice and human rights are universal principles, not ones that stop at the borders of Russia’s sphere of influence" - ring true. David Cameron called Mr Putin yesterday evening to discuss "the terrible situation", but has the Prime Minister left too much of the heavy lifting to other countries?
The handling of the floods comes in for a new bout of criticism today, with 17 bodies, including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Institution of Environmental Sciences weighing in with a letter to The Telegraph calling for a complete rethink of the planning system to avoid a repeat of the flooding crisis. Ed Balls adds to the criticism in an article for The Telegraph, writing that "Rather than the short-termist salami-slicing of budgets we have seen, we need instead to make long-term decisions now that can save money in the future", though such an intervention carries the risk of Labour looking like they're trying to make political gains out of people's misery. Is any of the mud sticking to the Government? The ITV News / Comres poll showing that 63 per cent of the public think that the Government has emerged from the floods with a worse reputation for crisis management (only 7 per cent say it has got a better one) rather suggests so. The initial thinking that the floods had been a good crisis for Dave may need revisiting.   HAMMOND HAMMERED
Yesterday evening's Question Time was awkward for Philip Hammond: the Defence Secretary called Labour's Liz Kendall "Rachel" (thinking she was Rachel Reeves) not once but twice.That'll give more ammunition for Ed to lay into Dave's "women problem" but Mr Hammond's share price in the Government remains very high.
MORE CHEERLEADERS, PLEASEHelen Grant's interview with us is causing a stir. "There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating," Miss Grant said, comments that have been seized upon by feminists. A pragmatic response to a real problem (the 1.8 million "gender gap" in sports participation rates) - or a clumsy and unhelpful intervention? Either way it's a story that will run for a few days.
BLEARS STANDS DOWNHazel Blears, the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is standing down as MP for Salford and Eccles after 18 years in the House at the next election, and says that she retires with a "heavy heart" to look after her mother. Mrs Blears has a majority of 5,725.
THE RETURN OF VOTE BLUE, GO GREEN?It's worth noting The Times story that picks up on George Osborne's support for fracking on environmental grounds: "Let’s see more development of fracking in the UK and the US, as that will help reduce carbon emissions." Could fracking yet be a case when "going for growth" and that old message - "Vote Blue to Go Green" - happily coincide?
Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 39%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 9%
Rachel Reeves doesn't miss an open goal:
@RachelReevesMP: Am I on #bbcqt this evening? Apparently Philip Hammond thinks I am. Or maybe it was @leicesterliz...BEST COMMENTIn the TelegraphDan Hodges - For all their protests, Red Ed and his party are turning yellow
Ed Balls - Ministers need to make long-term decisions on flooding
Isabel Hardman - A tricky balance between Church and state
Telegraph View - Silence over Ukraine is no longer an option
Best of the rest
Philip Stephens - Europe needs to stop hiding under the covers
Steve Richards - It's no wonder David Cameron has alienated the church
Simon Heffer - Will the Church ever learn there is nothing moral about welfare dependency?
THE AGENDASYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney attending G20 Finance and Central Bankers meeting.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE: David Cameron to meet Dutch PM Mark Rutte. Chequers
0930 LONDON: Public sector borrowing figures for January are published by the Office for National Statistics.
0955 LONDON: Bedroom tax ruling. Court of Appeal judges announce their decision in an action by five disabled tenants who have asked the court to declare the Government's so-called "bedroom tax" regulations unlawful. The Royal Courts of Justice