MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
If yesterday was supposed to draw a line under the omnishambles and put the Government on the front foot, it didn’t work. David Cameron’s media splurge and his day out with Nick Robinson exposed him to plenty of awkward questions but produced no sign that he has punched through the complaints.
Nadine Dorries’ intemperate outburst – MP stuffed in boundary review is cross shock – has provided good copy, but Dave’s problem goes far wider if he’s having to defend himself against charges that he’s a slacker, as he was forced to on the Today Programme yesterday.
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon records the exchange: “Mr Humphrys took a bizarrely censorious view of what Mr Cameron likes to do in his spare moments (“Your computer games and box sets and ‘date nights’ with Samantha”). But then, Mr Humphrys has a unique genius for fault-finding.”
The Guardianhas splashed on its ICM poll that shows the Conservatives down six points in a month from 39 to 33 per cent. The move has given Labour its best poll lead for five years (see Poll Watch).
The FT (£) meanwhile reports that backbenchers want No 10 to find a “heavy-hitting” minister capable of closing down awkward stories and to take fire on behalf of No 10. Dave himself admitted that he needs to do better in terms of communications – but it’s telling that he had to face the airwaves himself.
The problems seem to arise from the fact that Michael Fallon, the deputy Conservative chairman, is doing all the heavy-hitting, putting in 18-hour shifts defending the Government with no back up. Sayeeda Warsi, the chairman, traditionally responsible for dealing with negative press, has failed to become “the human fire-blanket” the Party requires, according to the FT.
THE NO STRATEGY STRATEGY
To make matters worse the Public Administration Select Committee has published a damning report on the government’s strategy, concluding nobody is in charge of setting the government’s strategic objectives, and this is damaging its ability to achieve its aims.
Bernard Jenkin, who is the chairman of the committee, popped up on the Today Programme earlier to explain what he means when he says the Government has no strategy: he reckons it should publish an annual document explaining its aims and means of achieving them. It’s an idea.
IN A SHAPPS
Housing minister Grant Shapps has just been on the Today Programme. His plan had been to announce his new housing scheme to defend the “boxed-in generation” (young people with families who can’t move out of their city flats). Instead he ended up discussing the BBC’s story on Newham Council trying to move its housing benefit claimants to Stoke – 165 miles north.
Shapps said that this is not necessary: “rents are actually falling, they’ve been lower than inflation for some time”. He said that the system is “still very generous” and accused Newham’s mayor of “playing politics” by threatening to send its most inconvenient citizens north.
“It’s not true… that there are no affordable homes being built in London” , he said, and he argued that London boroughs should be able to house people claiming housing benefit, within the welfare cap, without sending them outside of London. “Within a 5 mile radius of Newham, there are 5000 homes”.
“It’s election time, the local elections are on, this is a Labour council that’s writing… I’ve been absolutely clear that they must take into account the welfare of tenants into account. Which includes, for example, not packing them up and sending them off to Stoke.”
It’s not Theresa May’s week. Today she will find herself in front of the Home Office Select Committee answering questions on the two-hour immigration queues experienced at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 this month.
The FT (£) has a full report on the chaos and a leader column condemning Mrs May’s insistence that every passenger go through full immigration checks. The long queues, it says, “torpedo the coalition’s claim that Britain is ‘open for business’.”
She will no doubt also face questions on the Abu Qatada shambles. We report that Dave’s attempt to stick up for her on yesterday’s Today Programme has landed him in a tricky spot. Labour is accusing him of lying when he said that the ECHR repeatedly “told” the Home Office that the deadline for an appeal was last Monday night.
KEEPING HIS BO-JO?
But Dave isn’t the only one losing out – the FT (£) reports the government’s hammering in the polls is hurting Boris too. With 10 days until polling day, Ken has started to close the gap between them – slicing the six point Boris had last week to just two. Boris leads by just 51 per cent to 49 per cent. See yesterday’s Evening Standard for more details.
It’s not all bad news for Boris though: today’s Sun carries a photo of a man with a large tattoo of the Mayor’s face on his thigh.
HOUSE OF HORRORS 2
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Lords reform debate rumbles on – this morning, the Government is contemplating three more defeats in the upper chamber on its Legal Aid Bill, having overturned 11 last week.
Today the focus is on the cost of replacing and running a reformed upper house. The FT (£) reports that a group of 12 has broken away from the Joint Committee on Lords Reform and written a document referred to as “the minority report”. It argues that the public will not stomach the “dramatically higher” cost of reforming the chamber.
A row then broke out on the estimated costs of a reformed House of Lords with Lord Lipsey arguing that the cost would rise from the £385 million spent at present to £433 million over a five-year period.
Mark Harper, the Tory minister for constitutional reform, has stepped in, describing the figure as “entirely speculative,” saying that the government would not publish costings without more detail on how the new second chamber would work.
In the Telegraph, Philip Johnson says the plans are “daft” and that the Lord’s “wisdom and expertise must be kept.” In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee calls for the chamber to be scrapped, while Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) says “House of Lords reform is a political luxury that, at a time of austerity, the coalition simply cannot afford.”
Still, at least we’re not the Dutch – their government collapsed yesterday, as Mark Rutte, the prime minister, dramatically resigned, meaning that there will now be elections in June. Add that to the uncertainty about France – and specifically, what Francois Hollande could do to the French public finances – and you have a whole bunch of fear. Our business section splash is on the chaos this has set off. As we report:
“More than £122.3bn was wiped off the value of Europe’s biggest companies on Monday amid fears that the eurozone’s commitment to austerity was being swept away by political rebellion – just as its debts hit record levels.”
George Osborne had a torrid time in the Commons yesterday explaining why he’s committed another £10 billion to the IMF. As the Daily Mail puts it , he was “savaged” by “a string of Conservative MPs”, while Ed Balls accused the Chancellor of “capitulation” to Europe.
Alistair Darling spoke up for the Chancellor, which underlines Ed Balls’s opportunism, but won’t exactly help Mr Osborne. This matters, as an underlying element of the Government’s political crisis is a sharp loss of confidence in the Chancellor, whose political skills or lack of them are being questioned – some would say exposed.
Labour lead on 13. Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 32%, Labour 45%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Ukip 7%
Government net approval rating: -40
TWEETS AND TWITS
George Galloway has finally found himself an office (not a stunt at all, that set up in PCH): “Just took delivery of a fine parliamentary office in the Norman Shaw Building. Honour satisfied and thank you to the Labour Whips…”
In The Telegraph
Mary Riddell: France’s centre-Left is on the march, but so are darker forces from the far-Right National Front
Philip Johnston: If we must reform the Lords, here’s how…
Leader: A lost opportunity to rethink the state
Leader: Laws without bite
Best of the rest
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian: Lords buffoonery has to end. So why not abolish them?
Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£): Kick this shambolic reform into the jungle
Steve Richards in the Independent: The Lords is undemocratic and increasingly silly
Philip Stephens in the Financial Times (£): What do you want to do with all that power, Mr Cameron?
Today: EU foreign ministers, including William Hague, meet in Luxembourg
Today: Peter Hain appears before Belfast High Court
Today: David Cameron chairs the weekly coalition Cabinet meeting
Today: Damages action by Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham over a “cataclysmic interference” with her private life continues in the High Court.
Today: William Hague begins a trip to South East Asia
9.30am: Michael Gove appears in front of the Education Select Committee, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster
10.00am: James Murdoch appears before the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press
11.30am: Russell Brand appears in front of the Home Office Select Committee to discuss how he overcame addiction to drugs, Grimond Room, Portcullis House, Westminster
12.30pm: Theresa May appears in front of the Home Office Select Committee, Grimond Room, Portcullis House, Westminster
12.30pm: Jeremy Browne speech on competitiveness and emerging powers. National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place
2.30pm: George Osborne and his team take Treasury questions in the House of Commons
3pm: Andrew Lansley speaks at the NHS Clinical Commissioning Coalition at the Cavendish Conference Centre, London
4.30pm: Pensions Minister Steve Webb gives a speech at the National Association of Pension Funds conference. 138 Cheapside
10.35pm: Mayor of London candidates appear in a televised debate on ITV1