Dave at Leveson

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING: Iain Duncan Smith has just been on Today to talk about our splash: “Get a job, Iain Duncan Smith tells parents on the dole” and his plans to change the definition of poverty.

The DWP Secretary said he wanted to focus on “making work pay” and “moving them into work”, but he dodged questions on giving benefits to people with slightly more money and redistributing income with the statement: “I have a welfare budget and I have to make decision on the basis of that”.

He said that while “income matters”, so does does whether or not “life change” is taking place.

DAVE FACES LEVESON

But the big news today is David Ca meron appearing before Leveson. What can he do to get through his session at the hands of Robert Jay QC? It helps that the inquiry is a respectful place that will make allowances for the office he holds. It helps too that Mr Cameron is good under pressure, and has a facility for mastering voluminous files of information. He will have absorbed the detail and the betting must be that he is unlikely to be caught out on matters of fact.

He will also have studied those who have gone before. Gordon Brown did himself further reputational damage by being both self-pitying and frankly incredible about his record. John Major by contrast won new admirers by displaying an ease that gave his testimony added credibility. Mr Cameron can rely on the fact that he has already pre-apologised, if that is the term, for getting it wrong with Andy Coulson. He has indicated he doesn’t favour statutory regulation of the press, but with Nick Clegg yesterday saying he’d accept a little bit, can he resist being led down that path?

Mr Cameron knows that behind this exercise is a politically motivated campaign by the Left that seeks revenge and punishment for the violence it has suffered over decades at the hands of the Tory press. He does not want to give them a victory, but his seduction by Rupert Murdoch has left him vulnerable. His best hope is to get the tone right – open, contrite, confident – while saying very little, in the hope of drawing a line under it all.

The Times, in its preview of the hearing, suggests that he’ll use the platform to flesh out ideas for a revised ministerial code. The reforms will include new rules for how ministers and their special advisers should handle quasi-judicial processes. The Mail adds that he’ll admit he ‘blundered’ over the handling of the BSkyB bid and that his chum Lord Feldman has been training him, taking the role of Robert Jay QC in the prep sessions. The Guardian says he will be forced to explain how his nexus of personal and professional relationships with News Corp execs. I wonder if he’s prepped that?

HUNTED

Dave had a reasonable day yesterday, he narrowly escaped having to order an independent probe into Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour. You can read the full report here .

And at PMQs his blushes were spared by a clumsy performance from Ed Miliband and a letter from Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, that – at least temporarily – passed the buck. The letter confirmed that he as PM – the sole arbiter of the ministerial code – had already ruled that Mr Hunt was not in breach and that there was nothing he could usefully add to the case. Our leader column says:

“This has been an unedifying spectacle, from start to finish. When the Prime Minister appears before the Leveson Inquiry today, perhaps he will have the chance to explain how it has helped restore the public’s trust in politicians.”

It’s significant then that the Mail calls for Mr Hunt to go in its leader column. Particularly on such a pathetic day for politics, but its demolition job on Nick Clegg in Stephen Glover’s column is just as potent “Cleggie has double-dealing written in his DNA- and the bone-headed rabble he leads are even worse”

Those who fear the Coalition is holed below the waterline after yesterday’s theatrics should read Martin Kettle in the Guardian who says there’s “life in the Coalition yet” and that we should shake off the political class’s default setting “to see coalition as an aberration in a seamless culture of alternating single-party governments.”

The Institute for Government , however, has a slightly different idea. It releases a report today on the centrifugal forces pulling Coalition apart, suggesting that the Government should commit to a renewal plan setting out its priorities for the second half of the Parliament.

MR TONY RETURNS

And for those waiting for Tony’s return to frontline politics – today’s your day. He’s given an interview in the FT warning of a popular backlash against austerity policies in the eurozone ahead of this Sunday’s re-run election in Greece. He seemed to accept that the crisis might cause the euro to lose some members, but said it would survive and that Britain must take part in the ‘reconstruction’ of Europe.

Meanwhile, the Times interviews Andrew Balls, the head of European portfolio management at the bond giant Pimco, and brother of Ed, who effectively calls time on Greece’s euro membership, saying that it is highly likely that the single currency will have to shrink to survive.

In his Telegraph column, Jeremy Warner says he’s has had enough with “miracle cures” and “quack remedy” for solving the crisis. He calls on Germany to accept some form of burden sharing.

He’s right to be alarmed by the discussion, it happens as the Greeks continue their bank run, withdrawing £800m a day from banks. You can read more in our report here.

George Osborne will have a chance to say more about how to get out of the mess in his Mansion House speech tonight. The FT says he will also accept Vickers banking reforms, while the Mail leader asks, pointedly: “With an economic tsunami heading our way from the eurozone, is it too much to hope that, rather than dwell for too long on banking regulation, he will seize the moment to unveil the vital Plan B?”

THIRD RUNWAY

The FT reports that Mr Cameron is ready for another U-turn – this time on a third runway at Heathrow. He noticeably failed to give Zak Goldsmith a reassurance on that one in PMQs.

But No 10 and Justine Greening’s office insist that however equivocal he might have sounded on high speed rail yesterday, the project is still on track and the Speccie’s cover story is ‘utterly wrong’.

30 YEARS SINCE SURRENDER

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Argentine surrender. Strange, and oddly apt, that it should be the same week as the Falkland Island announce plans for a referendum on whether or not to remain British.

Our leader column says that “Argentina cannot continue to bully and hector a free people who have made their wishes clear and expect to be afforded the normal courtesies of international diplomacy… the people of the Falkland Islands must be free to live and thrive under a government of their own choosing.”

In the Guardian, however, Cristina Kirchner has placed an advert demanding that we “bring colonialism to an end” in the “anachronistic” case of the Falklands. Yes, Cristina, quite.

DEALING WITH THE EX

And finally, for pure entertainment, if you haven’t caught up with it, the spat between Francois Hollande’s girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, and his ex-wife is a treat. France’s prime minister has warned Ms Trierweiler to “keep to her place” after she backed his former partner’s rival in parliamentary elections, causing a major political headache for the President. You can read our report here.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Labour MP for Ealing Southall, Virendra Sharma, tweets:

“@VirendraSharma: You can like my Facebook page here…”

Don’t all rush at once.

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 31%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 9%

Overall government approval rating: -39

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Peter Oborne: Behind Enoch Powell’s monstrous image lay a man of exceptional integrity

Sue Cameron: Whitehall’s knights joust over public service reform

Leader: The Falklands message that still holds true

Leader: An unedifying spectacle

Best of the rest

Max Hastings in the Financial Times: UK’s media fandango is spinning awry

Martin Kettle in the Guardian: Will the Jeremy Hunt vote unravel the coalition? Dream on

Bernard Hogan-Howe in the Times: Trust me, I need to know about your e-mails

Stephen Glover in the Mail: Cleggie has double-dealing written in his DNA- and the bone-headed rabble he leads are even worse

THE AGENDA

Today: Banking reforms White Paper

9am: Boris Johnson to join Margaret Mizen and Grace Idowu, whose teenage sons were murdered, as part of the 100 Days of Peace initiative. Coopers Lane Primary School, Pragnell Road, Lewisham, London

9.30am: Iain Duncan Smith gives a speech on child poverty. The Abbey Centre, 34   Great Smith Street, Westminster

9.30am: Release of poverty statistics by Office for National Statistics

10am: David Cameron at the Leveson Inquiry. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

10am: Michael Gove gives a speech to the National College for School Leadership conference. International Convention Centre, Birmingham

10am: Vince Cable gives a speech on infrastructure to Reform conference. Association of British Insurers, 51 Gresham Street, London

10.30am: Culture, Media and Sport Questions.

11am: The Robin Hood Tax campaign protest ahead of Mansion House bankers’ dinner. Royal Exchange, Bank, City of London

11.30am: Draft Communications Bill to be published

12.30pm: Institute for Government hosts a panel debate on whether coalition governments can survive. The panel includes Margot James and David Laws, former Scottish First Minister Lord McConnell and Sir Alex Allan, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee. 2 Carlton Gardens, London
7pm: George Osborne and Mervyn King deliver their Mansion House speeches. Mansion House, Walbrook,London

Coalition At War

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

The Coalition is at war over Nick Clegg’s decision to allow his MPs a free vote on the investigation of Jeremy Hunt. We’ve splashed on it – as has the Guardian, its splash reads: “Clegg leaves Cameron high and dry”, and the Mail who lead with “Clegg accused of ‘act of war’” .

Nick Clegg’s decision to desert Dave over Jeremy Hunt is a shock to the Coalition. He has an eye to his appearance at Leveson at 10am today, but it also reflects his long standing distaste for the way the Tories abased themselves before Rupert Murdoch, and his anger at not being consulted.

We hear there were several shouting matches between him and Dave. Mr Clegg is seething over the way the Prime Minister rushed to clear his friend Mr Hunt over the BSkyB business by ruling out a referral to Sir Alex Allan. But is he justified in his anger? Or is all of this just a manifestation of a truth about the Coalition, namely that internal party affairs are just that, a matter for the individual leaders?

Dave might say that he kept out of the Chris Huhne business, recognising that it was a matter for Mr Clegg alone, and in turn was entitled to dispose of Mr Hunt as he saw fit. By that measure of course Mr Clegg is perfectly entitled to let Mr Hunt hang: why should the Lib Dems help the Tories with their dirty business?

Some will say this isn’t about whether he should support the Culture Secretary, but whether he is obliged to support the Coalition under any circumstances. The Agreement says nothing about circumstances like these. Objectively, it is hard to see how Mr Cameron can expect Mr Clegg to back him, in particular as he didn’t consult the Lib Dem leader in the first place.

Where does it leave relations this morning? “Business-like,” No 10 folk say, which sounds ominous. “It’s part of the Coalition rough and tumble. We’ll all get over it.” Will Nick Clegg sit next to Dave at PMQs? Will Tory MPs turn on their Lib Dem colleagues?

Today’s vote on a Labour motion is not binding, and the Government will win it (the Tories are taking it quite seriously – they’re even dragging one poor MP back from honeymoon). Mr Clegg will have made his point. The public, already indifferent to Leveson, will scarcely notice. But it will weaken Mr Cameron’s defence of Mr Hunt. And it will leave a bad taste among Tories – and perhaps even those sanguine folk in Downing Street – who will conclude that Mr Clegg is not a man to go tiger shooting with. But that’s the point: he never was. If the Tories have any sense they will recognise that it’s only showbiz, and the Coalition is an alliance of convenience with a deadly enemy, not a friendship or a pact of loyalty.

NO INTEREST IN A REFERENDUM?

But the Government are unlikely to find much party support for its latest claim. Downing Street are briefing that ‘the people don’t want a referendum’ – didn’t they see last week’s Times’ poll showing that 80 per cent of people did? This will anger a lot of Tory MPs, not to mention voters. You can read our report here .

But Daniel Finkelstein in the Times preempts the storm, warning us not to get referendum happy in his column. He says we should know where Europe is going before we call for a vote.

No 10’s view is surprising, given that George is busy stoking up Greek exit tensions (something that he hinted will force a referendum). The FT has splashed on this, using the Chancellor’s comments at a business event yesterday, he said:

“I ultimately don’t know whether Greece needs to leave the euro in order for the eurozone to do the things necessary to make their currency survive… I just don’t know whether the German government requires Greek exit to explain to their public why they need to do certain things like a banking union, eurobonds and things in common with that.”

The President of Greece’s Syriza coalition has other ideas though. In a column for the FT he says he will keep Greece in the eurozone and restore growth. At least he’s optimistic…

George also got animated about tax cuts at yesterday’s event – he warned businesses that they must shout louder for the merits of lower taxes or the Government will be unable to cut the top rate of income tax to 40p. The Times has splashed on this with “Chancellor to business: back us on lower taxes”.

IT’S A FALKLAND AFFAIR

Meanwhile, Dave is encouraging other referendumselsewhere – namely in the Falkland Islands. He’s pleased that they’re going to vote on whether or not to remain British. The hope is that a vote in favour will garner international support against Argentina’s claim to the islands. You can read our report here.

MANSION HOUSE

The Times is also previewing George’s Mansion House speech tomorrow. It says:

“In his Mansion House speech the Chancellor is expected to back the concept of a banking union in the 17-member region while insisting that Britain will not take part. Mr Osborne is expected to insist on safeguards to protect the UK financial sector amid warnings from his own party that Europe’s ambitions could damage the City.”

GAY MARRIAGE

And as if the Coalition wasn’t in a delicate state, Desmond Swayne and Crispin Blunt have come out in favour of allowing churches to marry gay couples. An interesting move by Crispin Blunt, who recently left his wife because he was gay. Does he have re-marriage plans?

We have a column by George Carey, a former archbishop, saying that this threatens the bonds between Church and state. He also questions the Government’s competence, saying:

“The enduring legacy of the consultation on same-sex marriage may be to raise questions about ministerial competence. The Church of England’s response points out a number of matters where ministers’ judgment can be questioned. Crucially, it shows that proposals for same-sex marriage would create mutually contradictory versions of matrimony within English law.”

The Mail’s leader has come out staunchly against the plans, saying: “How can he [David Cameron] fuss with this irrelevance, when he has yet to do anything about honouring his promise to give families and social stability a boost by recognising traditional marriage in the tax system? This is displacement politics of the most shameful kind. The U-turn can’t come soon enough.”

CIVIL SERVICE WAR

And the war with the opposition within rumbles on. The Times reports that radical reforms to transform Whitehall staff into professional “purchasers” of private services are to be announced next week. Tensions are high though – the Government will“flounder and fail” if David Cameron fails to give them his full backing.

HOT SNACK ATTACK

And finally, Cheryl Cole has revealed she would have gone hungry if the pasty tax had been introduced when she was a teenager. She told the Sun: “It was ridiculous. I would have been penniless as a teenager — and hungry — if I’d been taxed every time I had a hot pasty.”

How someone so slender was raised on fatty snacks is marvel, really.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Louise Mensch explains her membership of Labour Party in the ‘90s:

“@LouiseMensch: RT @James_Macintyre: Major: In many ways Blair was “to the right of me”. <~~ exactly why I joined New Lab in 1996”

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 33%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating: -35

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Benedict Brogan: Osborne can only pray as the storm in Europe rages

Louise Mensch: Toxic trolls should have no hiding place

Leader: Winsor offers the police a professional future

Leader: A waste of experience

Best of the rest

Alexis Tsipras in the Financial Times: I will keep Greece in the eurozone and restore growth

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times: If you want out, don’t demand a vote too soon

Christina Patterson in the Independent: This gentle muddle of Church and State may be as good as it gets

THE AGENDA

Today: Opposition day debate (first allotted day) on the referral of Jeremy Hunt to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests

Today: Chris Grayling will announce the expansion of Mandatory Work Activity with a boost of an extra £5m to create an additional 9,000 places

Today: Grant Shapps will set out proposals on social tenants on high salaries paying a fair level of rent for the privilege of living in a social home

Today: Andrew Mitchell is travelling to Washington DC for the US Aid conference

Today: Vince Cable will speak at The Investec Entrepreneurs’ Summit. Intercontinental Park Lane, London

9.30am: Children’s Minister Tim Loughton will launch a consultation on the principle of shared parenting following divorce or separation

9.45am: Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson will publish the final update on the Olympic budget before the Games begin next month

10am: Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

10am: Boris Johnson at London Mayor’s Question Time. City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London

10am:Rebekah Brooks to appear in court. Court 1, Westminster Magistrates Court, 181 Marylebone Road, London

11.30am: Cabinet Office Questions

12pm: David Cameron at PMQs

1pm: Iain Duncan Smith gives speech on skills and youth unemployment at the IGD Skills Summit, Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London

4.30pm: Defence ministers Peter Luff and Nick Harvey give evidence to the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on the potential impact of independence. Grimond Room, Portcullis House,London

Coalition at war over Jeremy Hunt and BSkyB

The Deputy Prime Minister has repeatedly confronted David Cameron about the refusal to order an inquiry into the Culture Secretary, it emerged yesterday.

Sources close to Mr Clegg took the unusual step of providing details of the Liberal Democrat leader’s concerns over the Prime Minister’s handling of the issue.

Mr Cameron has refused to refer the Culture Secretary to the independent adviser on ministerial interests after it emerged that Mr Hunt and his advisers had privately communicated with News Corporation executives when the company was attempting to take over BSkyB.

Within minutes of Mr Hunt finishing his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last month, Downing Street ruled out a Whitehall inquiry into his conduct.

Last night, Downing Street sources insisted that no investigation would be ordered, although that position is likely to be tested today.

Read more….

Tony Blair facing questions over links to Rupert Murdoch empire at Leveson Inquiry

The former Prime Minister is likely to face scrutiny over whether his links with Mr Murdoch and News International became “closer than was wise”, as his former lieutenant Lord Mandelson told the inquiry last week.

During his 13 years at the helm of Labour, including a decade as Prime Minister, Mr Blair sought to win over newspapers such as The Sun which had in the past savaged party leaders such as Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot.

He famously flew to Hayman Island in Australia to address News Corp executives in 1995, while last year it emerged that he had formed a close enough relationship with Mr Murdoch to have become godfather to one of the media tycoon’s children in 2010.

Mr Blair’s appearance comes at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson Inquiry, with beleaguered Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt set to give evidence on Thursday.

Mr Hunt will also face a grilling over his office’s links with Mr Murdoch’s News Corp, particularly during its bid to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Read more….

MPs urge ruling on Murdoch and BSkyB

News Corporation, which owns 39 per cent of the satellite broadcaster, was accused with its newspaper subsidiary News International of “wilful blindness” over the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, which stemmed from a “lack of effective corporate governance”.

Mr Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, “turned a blind eye” to what was going on, while his son James, the company’s deputy chief operating officer, showed “wilful ignorance”, the culture, media and sport select committee report said.

Three former senior News International executives, including Mr Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenant Les Hinton, could be summoned before Parliament to apologise after MPs found they had deliberately misled the committee.

The findings could have serious implications for Mr Murdoch’s British business interests, as the broadcasting watchdog is already carrying out an inquiry into whether News Corp is fit and proper to hold a broadcasting licence.

Read more….

Cameron’s performance was spectacularly ill-judged

Righteous indignation can be all very well when your case is strong. But when a government’s case is weak as it is on Jeremy Hunt, BSkyB, Adam Smith and Fred Michel it is much better to deal with any questions calmly and with a little humility.

I don’t know why some Tory MPs seem to have trouble grasping this point, but Lord Justice Leveson’s remit does not cover breaches of the ministerial code. It simply doesn’t. He was tasked with examining press ethics and practices after the now-defunct News of the World was revealed to have hacked Milly Dowler’s mobile. But still, clearly put up to it by the whips, a queue of Conservative MPs lined up to parrot the Prime Minister’s not very credible line that he cannot intervene on the question of the ministerial code until Hunt has appeared in front of Leveson. A few Tory MPs I spotted at least had the grace to look embarrassed by their colleagues’ toadying.

David Cameron himself was absolutely furious at being asked to come to the Commons to answer an urgent question on Hunt. I do not see what he has to be so annoyed about, unless perhaps he is deep down annoyed with himself and the mess he is in. More likely, he just didn’t like his enemy Speaker Bercow ordering him to turn up.

Read more….

Hunt should face ‘immediate’ inquiry, says former Whitehall standards adviser

Sir John Bourn, the former independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, said there was no need for David Cameron to wait for the Leveson Inquiry to examine the Culture Secretary before beginning his own investigation.

Mr Cameron said yesterday he was prepared to order a Whitehall investigation into Mr Hunt’s overseeing of the Murdoch bid for BSkyB, but only after Mr Hunt gives evidence to Lord Justice Leveson next month.

The Prime Minister also set the stage for questions about his own actions when he admitted discussing the bid for BSkyB with James Murdoch while his Government was deciding whether to let the takeover go ahead.

Lord Butler of Brockwell, a former cabinet secretary, told BBC Radio Five Live there was “no doubt that the letter of the Ministerial Code has been breached” in Mr Hunt’s case.

However, he described the breach as “a technical sin” that was “not enough for a man’s career to be ruined”.

Read more….

It’s a poor field in the Under-a-Bus Stakes

After a disgracefully extended period of abstinence, the Conservative appetite for its sport of choice returns. The ancient Tory game of What if the Guv’nor Fell Under a Bus? is back, and hallelujah for that. It’s been too long since the grind of politics was leavened by speculation about the identity of the next Tory chieftain.

No leader since Mrs Thatcher has enjoyed a period of calm like it. Yet all things must end, and after another lively week for Mr Cameron, what with double-dip recessions and double Murdoch on the rocks, ended it has.

While the mutterings about his performance grow louder, in one area if no other his run of luck endures. “Better to be lucky than good” runs an old poker maxim, and so it is with the PM. One by one the potential successors rise, and one by one they fall. Take Jeremy Hunt. This beamish boy looked a clear favourite a year ago when he reversed his self-proclaimed intention to refer News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB to Ofcom, but what struck him as a strategic masterstroke then looks otherwise today. Jeremy can run, as viewers of TV bulletins learned this week from footage of him sweatily trotting home from morning exercise.

Read more….

I see a familiar look of fear on the faces of David Cameron’s ministers

How do the public know what they know about Rupert Murdoch? Through the media. Which means that pretty much everything they know about him comes from his opponents or his friends. There is no middle ground. The media are either against him or they belong to him, in which case (though for how much longer?) they are for him.

This rule applies, obviously, to all newspapers – The Daily Telegraph, for instance, is a rival to the Murdoch papers at the higher end of the market. Rather less obvious, but even more important, is the role of the BBC. Mr Murdoch is generally presented as a monopolist. In the case of newspapers, this is near the truth. But in the case of television, he is the opposite.

The Murdoch bid for control of BSkyB absolutely terrified and enraged the BBC. The failure of that bid last year, caused by the phone-hacking scandal, was a triumph for the BBC’s monopoly. People are understandably excited about whether Jeremy Hunt unfairly favoured the bid because the Tories wanted Mr Murdoch on side. They ought also to worry that both political parties are so scared of the BBC that they always renew its Charter and increase its licence fee. In my own conversations with Mr Hunt and other leading Conservatives about the iniquity of

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Call for inquiry into Jeremy Hunt office’s role in BSkyB bid

Adam Smith, Mr Hunt’s special adviser, resigned on Wednesday and issued a statement saying that his activities “went too far”.

The scandal was prompted after News Corporation released more than 170 pages of emails and text messages which showed that its executives were given confidential information about the Government’s view of its bid for BSkyB.

At the time, Mr Hunt was charged with making a “quasi-judicial” decision on whether the takeover would breach competition laws.

The messages emerged at the Leveson Inquiry which is currently scrutinising the relationship between the Murdoch family and senior politicians.

The Culture Secretary had to make an emergency statement in the Commons in which he insisted that his adviser had “over-stepped the mark”.

Read more….