IDS and the benefits dilemma

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. The statistic of the day is undoubtedly one million. That’s the number, Iain Duncan Smith will disclose, of people who are capable of work – but who remain “stuck” on benefits. It will feature prominently in an annual report on his Social Justice Strategy. We have the details:

About one million people have been on work-related benefits for three out of the past four years. All of those claimants have been formally assessed as “capable of preparing for or looking for work,” the report will say.

Welfare remains the big defining issue for the Coalition. The Tories are anxious to keep it up in the air, and to reinforce public support for reform by highlighting welfare’s failures. Singling out what IDS has always highlighted – the social cost of worklessness – is part of that strategy. That’s why his priority is to get long-term claimants into employment, using companies that help put people into work placements or training.

The Tories know that when times are tough there’s little appetite for generosity beyond what is affordable and fair. But there are difficult decisions around the corner. After yesterday’s borrowing figures (see below), at what point does the Government have to consider that entitlements for pensioners, and in particular pensions, which take up the largest share of spending, may have to be put on the table?

ART ATTACK

Maria Miller is giving a speech at the British Museum today, we report. It could rival the Pompeii exhibition for fire and brimstone. The Culture Secretary will ask leading figures in the arts world to show ministers the “value of culture to our economy”. The FT (£) calls it a “rebuke” to their “moaning about cuts”. But there is an alternative reading: she may need the luvvies’ support in the run-up to the spending review.

To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make our case as a two-way street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay. That’s the argument that I, as Culture Secretary, intend to make at the Cabinet table, and in our negotiations with Treasury – and I need all your help in that endeavour.

Expect howls of rage to follow soon after. Her department has already outlined a 30 per cent cut in grant aid for the Arts Council from £452 million to £350 million by 2014/15. This represents, she says, the middle path between the American and European approaches to arts funding. It’s going to hurt.

GEORGE’S BEGGING BOWL AND HATCHET

The £300 million borrowing dip spared George Osborne’s blushes yesterday, reports the FT (£). “Though such a small decline is economically meaningless, Mr Osborne has stressed his intention to shrink the deficit every year, and his opponents were ready to seize on news it had grown again.” Small it may be, but it was an uphill struggle: an official told the FT that the Treasury has been going around Whitehall with a “begging bowl in one hand and a hatchet in the other”.

No doubt the Treasury sees things in a more positive light. The Times (£) quotes Danny Alexander in their second day of spending review coverage: “This should be seen as an opportunity as well as a challenge… You can use the process to drive some really good changes in the way the public sector works.”

Mostly, however, George seems to be playing whac-a-mole. The Guardian reports that the Chancellor is now “locked in a fight to rescue his plan to offer shares for workers in exchange for abandoning their employment rights”. After another defeat in the Lords on Monday night, Osborne is trying to reassure peers by “offering a commitment that any workers would have to be offered free independent legal advice”. At this point, it looks to be a losing battle.

RED ED VS THE UNIONS

Tough talk from Red Ed. He says a general strike would be a “terrible idea”, the FT (£) reports. He’s apparently taking Mr Tony’s advice and squaring up to two of Labour’s biggest donors, Unite and Unison, who will be represented at the Trades Union Congress general council today. Ed’s comments are well-timed. We report that “tens of millions of bills and credit statements could go undelivered by Royal Mail after postal unions said they were planning their biggest programme of industrial unrest for six years”. Ed knows that strikes would hurt him in the polls.

QATADA COUNCIL OF WAR

Abu Qatada isn’t going anywhere. But fear not: Dave is getting weally weally cwoss. According to the Sun, it makes his “blood boil” that the cleric is still here. “The furious PM is considering a temporary withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights so judges in Strasbourg can’t block Qatada’s expulsion,” the paper reports. The Mail says that Theresa May’s statement to the Commons today will include “new developments in negotiations with Jordan over deporting Qatada”. Surprise, surprise, however, there’s a catch: “any new agreement would undoubtedly be subject to fresh appeals by Qatada”.

STOP THE TWATTERY

Anna Soubry, the Minister for Public Health, doesn’t beat about the bush. The Tories will lose the next election if they continue to engage in the “twattery” of attacking Dave’s leadership, she told Total Politics magazine. The Times (£) has the quotes: “What we now need to do is stop people in the party engaging in quite a lot of twattery, and to accept that we’ve achieved a huge amount, and it’s all to play for… The Tory party must learn from its own history that when we fight each other, you can guarantee to lose.” Meanwhile, Tory MP Gavin Barwell says the party has yet to resolve “the toxicity of the Conservative brand”. Voters, he argues, are hungry for more than red meat.

UKIP THATCHER’S ‘TRUE HEIR’

Wearing a red rose for St George’s Day, Nigel Farage spoke to the Parliamentary Press Gallery yesterday, we report. He declared: “I cannot believe that a young Margaret Thatcher leaving Oxford today would join the Conservative Party led by David Cameron. I think she’d come and get involved in Ukip and no doubt topple me within 12 months or so.” Michael Deacon, our Sketchwriter, was there. “Listening to a Farridge speech,” he writes, “you begin to suspect the greatest influence on his politics is not Baroness Thatcher but Top Gear: his oratorical style is a noisy mix of blokey joshing and no-frills frankness.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Can anyone help Stella Creasy with her stranger on a train – or recommend a better way to spend nine hours?

@stellacreasy: “have nine hours on trains to berlin to become acquainted with films- contemplating seeing what the ryan gosling fuss is about. best example?

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell: Ed Miliband the illusionist will have to conjure up more with less

Telegraph View: An artful game by the taxpayers’ champion

David Blair: America, our great protector, is looking the other way

Telegraph View: Scottish home truths

Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£): A dangerous road runs from Boston to Syria

Patrick Hosking in the Times (£): There’s no salvation in Welby’s banking plan

Martin Wolf in the FT (£): Austerity loses an article of faith

Daniel Hannan in the Mail: Hollande and the French catastrophe

THE AGENDA

09.30 British Bankers’ association releases its latest high street banking report.

10.00 Transport minister Simon Burns at the Transport Committee on rail franchising.

11.00 Petition delivered to Downing Street calling for Amazon to pay fair share of UK tax.

12.oo Prime Minister’s questions.

15.00 Police and animal groups at Environment Committee on Dangerous Dogs Act.

Osborne on the offensive over benefit reforms

Good morning. Nine out of ten households prefer benefit reform. That will be George Osborne’s message today in a speech which will defend the tax and allowance changes which came into effect yesterday. As we report, George will train his fire on those who “always complain with depressingly predictable outrage” (both the Guardian and Mirror helpfully chipped in yesterday with suitably apocalyptic front pages), adding that “defending every line of welfare spending isn’t credible in the current economic environment.” In arguing for the changes, Mr Osborne will cite Treasury figures showing that a working couple with two children will be more than £400 better off each year, while most households will benefit to some degree. Helpfully, the British Chamber of Commerce have given George some covering fire – they say that Britain is out of recession, will avoid a triple-dip, and that the weak pound is starting to provide a boost to exports.

As Patrick Wintour points out in the Guardian, the Chancellor is convinced that “making work pay” is not just good economics, but good politics too. Labour’s defence of those reliant on state benefits may play well in its heartlands, but will have little resonance in a hard-pushed middle England. The Labour response so far has concentrated on seeking to contrast benefits cut with the cut to the very top rate of income tax coming into effect, but it’s a strategy that hasn’t gained traction in any of its appearances to date. Worse still, it leaves Labour arguing the case for a moral equivalence between cuts to taxes and benefits, a dangerous path at a time when the Coalition’s policy on raising the tax threshold is polling strongly.

It would be a different story if the minimum wage were cut. As we report, that’s now a possibility, in real terms at least. The Low Pay Commission, which sets the minimum wage, must now consider its impact on “employment and the economy” before agreeing future increases, a result of changes being made to its terms of reference. No matter how low the minimum wage goes, however, chances are Iain Duncan Smith could live on it. The intrepid Work and Pensions Secretary told the BBC yesterday that he could get by on £53 a week if need be. As Dan Hannan writes in the Mail, the degree of outrage faced by IDS and friends does not tally with the relatively modest extent of the changes to working age benefits:

“Do you suppose that increasing benefits by 2.2 per cent, as Labour had planned, rather than by one per cent, would tackle these underlying problems? Surely the real measure of a successful welfare policy is that bills fall as poverty is reduced…A Conservative approach is being tried, and not before time. The alleviation of poverty is altogether too important to be left to the Left.”

WE’RE ON THE ROAD TO NEWPORT

It’s clearly time for Plan V. The Business Secretary has been banging the drum for new infrastructure spending for some time now, and will be rewarded by an announcement of an additional spend of £3bn a year in June’s Spending Review, the Times (£) reports. The money will back some crowd pleasing measures, not least a new toll road south of Newport. The route, intended to relieve congestion on the M4 which runs above the city, will be completed in 2031 and will cost £830m with the Government acting as a guarantor of loans taken by construction firms. In addition, plans are also being devised to improve the A1 near Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the A47 in Norfolk, and the A303 near Stonehenge. Our generation’s Hoover Dams have certainly impressed the paper’s leader:

“Infrastructure spending is not expedient for a boost in short-term demand and will not in any case have that effect. nIts purpose is to make the economy work better for the long term. The model of charging for new roads is, moreover, good economics that should be extended.”

FRANCE AND GERMANY REJECT EU REVIEW

When Dave gave his EU speech earlier this year, the emphasis was on reform in partnership with other member states. The British unilateral renegotiation was intended as a last resort. Unfortunately, France and Germany are not playing ball. A report in the FT (£) this morning indicates that Paris and Berlin have rejected an invitation from the Foreign Office to participate in a “balance of competences” study examining which powers ought to flow back from Brussels. A French diplomat tells the paper that this is a “British domestic political exercise”. Fair to say we’re a little way from a grand alliance at the moment, then.

TORIES BRACED FOR COUNCIL CHAOS

Grant Shapps expects the Conservatives to lose around 500 seats in May’s English (and one Welsh) council elections, the Guardian reports. The situation is not helped by the fact that the party are defending one of their most succesful local government campaigns post-war. In 2009, they polled 44pc of the vote to Labour’s 13pc, as the latter were mired in the midst of the banking collapse. That said, the seats are in true blue terrain (Buckinghamshire, for instance, has been in Tory hands for a century), and Labour is anticipating only a more modest 200 seat gain. CCHQ would be delighted with that. As one Cabinet minister tells the paper, “terrible will be a great result for us”.

BURNHAM BACKS RESTRICTIONS ON HEALTH TOURISM

Andy Burnham’s interview with the forthcoming Fabian Review is reproduced in today’s Telegraph. It tells the sad story behind his grandmother’s engagement ring which had been stolen while she was under NHS care, it also reveals plenty of common ground with Jeremy Hunt. Mr Burnham says he “take[s] a pretty tough line” on migrant’s access to healthcare, with the exception of emergency treatment, and adds that he found the fact that the benefits system allows the repatriation of child benefit paid to immigrants with children who live abroad “indefensible on the doorstep” at the last election. “We’ve got to move away from saying that it’s too hard to change” on benefits, he adds. Mr Burnham goes on to talk about his failed campaign for the Labour leadership. Continue in this vein and he will have a decent shot at the Tory top job.

GRAYLING INVITES LABOUR TO JOIN FORCES OVER QATADA

With the Lib Dems vowing to fight even a modest change to Britain’s human rights laws, Chris Grayling has reached out to Labour to “join forces” to ensure the extradition of Abu Qatada in an article in the Mail. Arguing that a man who “so obviously despises what we stand for” should not be saved from deportation by human rights laws, Mr Grayling invites Labour to back a Tory legislative initiative to amend the Human Rights Act. Ball in your court, Ed.

BLOW FOR SALMOND AS MURDOCH BACKS UNION

It may be the Scottish Sun wot loses it for Alex Salmond. The Independent reports that Rupert Murdoch’s Scottish titles will not back a yes vote on independence despite his close relationship with the SNP leader who he has described as “the most brilliant politician in the UK”. Brilliant, maybe, but clearly still not good enough.

MURPHY RECONSIDERS BALLS ON HIS BACK

Good news, sports fans. Ed Balls will compete in the London Marathon this year, attempting to beat last year’s time of five hours 31 minutes. As Ephraim Hardcastle reports, Jim Murphy, who had said that he could beat Ed’s time last year with “Balls on my back” may not now be able to carry him, as he has suffered a double leg injury while training for the event.

CAMERON’S EWE TURN WINS PRAISE

How’s this for an endorsement? “I can’t imagine any other Prime Minister doing something like that. David Cameron was soaking wet and covered in mud.” Julian Tustian is referring, of course, to Dave’s courageous rescue of a drowning sheep near Chipping Norton. The animal’s owner tells the Sun, “he seems quite fond of sheep. I do think he could be a farmer and hold his own with a flock of sheep.” If herding cats in the Commons doesn’t work out…

TWEETS AND TWITS

BBC Parliament’s 1983 election retrospective brings fond memories for David Jones:

@DavidJonesMP: Remember #election1983 v well. Walked up hill and down dale in support of Sir Wyn Roberts. And there are lots of hills and dales in Conwy.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Philip Johnston – Parliament has become the enemy of free speech

Paul Goodman – Does religion still have a place in today’s politics?

Jill Kirby – Prison isn’t working for Huhne, or for us

Telegraph View – It can be healthy to profit from the state

Best of the Rest

Hugo Rifkind in The Times (£) – Ed’s ignoring the elephant in the room

Dominic Lawson in The Independent – There’s something Churchillian about Boris Johnson. On the other hand…

Ross Clark in the Daily Express – NUT is being idiotic about Mr Gove’s curriculum reform

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Conservatives ignore signs in their rush for the exit

THE AGENDA

Today: National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference. BT Convention Centre, Liverpool.

09:30 am: Bank of England publishes its money and credit report for February.

Dave’s Napalese Nanny prepares him for Indian hospitality

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. As Parliament is enjoying a short recess, Dave is in India today with the largest trade delegation ever to leave these shores. Unlike Dave’s trade mission to the Gulf, this time the Lobby have been invited, which means we now know that he is pretty bullish on his ability to handle spicy curries as “we have had a Nepalese nanny for three years”. Dave dined on a chicken tikka on the plane out, by way of preparation, before retiring saying he needed a “good night’s sleep”. Today’s activities did not get off to a great start – Dave couldn’t name a single Unilever product he uses when asked in a Q&A – but he seems to have taken note of Dean Nelson‘s piece for us on avoiding endless apologies for colonial crimes. Instead he has spent the morning apologising for not appointing enough women to the Cabinet, as we report. Not to be left out, Ed has also hit Heathrow. He will be on a tour of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands with Douglas Alexander keeping him company. Cue the Borgen references. Stewart Wood, Ed’s chief strategist, has already tweeted that he is having “Kasper Jul delusions”.

One of Dave’s India pledges will be on the visa system, pledging to relax the rules for Indian business leaders, as we report. At the same time, papers at home are dominated by calls for more rigorous controls on immigration and the rights of new arrivals, calls triggered by the Prime Minister and continued by Iain Duncan Smith whose advocacy of a residency requirement for EU citizens in Britain before benefits can be claimed appears to have defined one of Dave’s negotiating objectives for him. It’s no wonder that the FT (£) finds the CBI reporting a mixed message being broadcast in India when London comes calling.

It isn’t just a case of Dave v Europe on immigration, it’s also Theresa May v the judiciary. The Home Secretary attacked judges for “subverting” democracy by failing to follow deportation rules at the weekend, as the Guardian reports. The judges strike back in today’s Times (£), with former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf claiming that Mrs May has “undermined the rule of law”. Why the sudden fuss? It matters in Eastleigh for a start, and as Trevor Kavanagh writes in his Sun column:

“Immigration is the most explosive election issue after the economy. Especially when official figures show demand among British employers for specialist migrant skills is actually falling. Mr Cameron has picked a difficult time to be out of the country, urging Indian students to flock to the UK. Eastleigh is just ten days away. The Tories cannot afford to lose this fight.”

PITCHFORD SENT TO RESCUE UNIVERSAL CREDIT

One of Whitehall’s troubleshooters-in-chief, Dave Pitchford, executive director of the Major Projects Authority, has been drafted in to take charge of the Universal Credit scheme, the FT (£) reports. Although the DWP strongly denies that there’s a problem, I gather there is sudden anxiety about the department’s ability to deliver it’s promise that from October it will be more worthwhile to work than to claim benefit. It all feels slightly ominous – isn’t this a part of the scheme that should and could have been established months ago?

[MANSION] TAXING TIMES FOR THE COALITION

Lib Dems stand ready to back a Labour motion on the introduction of a “Mansion Tax” provided the 10p tax rate is not “dragged in”, Vince Cable told Sky News yesterday. However, as we report, he also disowned the proposals for a jewellery tax and other “wacky” ideas leaked in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday as thought experiments which were not party policy. That’s a shame because the party’s activists are keen – today’s Times (£) front page details their demands for a greater tax burden on the wealthy.

Meanwhile the idea of a tax on high value houses attracts two very different Conservative perspectives in today’s comment pages. In the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie (who gets a fisking from Toby Young on Telegraph Blogs for his troubles) argues that all true Tories should back the idea as “the job of a pro-capitalist party isn’t to defend the super-rich unquestioningly but to ensure that extra taxes are proportionate, administratively straightforward and not economically counterproductive”. Nonsense! says Boris (or rather: Piffle!), this is a wicked idea:

“As for Labour, they have shown their true colours…the message of the Miliband policy is that Labour is once again hostile to one of the deepest instincts of the British people: to show the energy, enterprise and ambition to want to improve your own home and to raise its value.”

POLICE REVIEW MID STAFFS NEGLECT

Peter Oborne argued powerfully on Sunday that neglect in the NHS, not horse meat in burgers, was the big scandal of the age, and this morning campaigners have good news as we reveal that the police are investigating deaths at the hospitals following receipt of “information not in the public domain”. The charge is being led by Staffordshire’s PCC, Matthew Ellis, proving that introducing them as a public voice holding the police to account was the right policy.

NICK ON THE NORTH

While Dave and Ed are gallivanting around abroad, the leader of the Lib Dems finds himself at Mansion House in the City this evening, where he will give a speech on regional rebalancing. He will say that the economic disparity between the Home Counties and the remainder of the country is an anomaly in the context of British history and that successive governments are responsible for “emasculating” the second-tier cities in the regions.

EU CAN WAVE GOOD-BYE TO THAT BONUS

Being tough with Europe is going well. After the imposition of a financial transactions tax on eurozone originating products traded in London, one of Dave’s red lines, on Friday, today’s FT (£) reports that London is about to suffer a defeat in its efforts to prevent Brussels imposing a 1:1 bonus to salary ratio, with a 2:1 ratio permissible only in exceptional circumstances. Swapping Canary Wharf for Lake Geneva just became a lot more tempting.

Separately, the paper reports that the offer of an in/out referendum on Europe has failed to dent Britain’s euroscepticism. A Harris Interactive poll found that only one in three wanted to remain in Europe with 50pc intending to vote out and 17pc not interested in voting. Only 31pc believe that the economy would be weaker outside the EU, and over a quarter were not aware that there had even been the promise of a referendum. Still, if Dave wants to remain, it looks as if the opposition is deeper than first thought. They can’t all be disgruntled bankers, surely?

TODAY’S WARNING SHOT TO THE CHANCELLOR, BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Dominic Raab. The next Budget requires a radical reduction in red-tape and spending levels, he writes in an FT (£) op-ed. Although tempered by praise for Dave’s European renegotiation, Mr Raab’s call for further cuts to Whitehall budgets, the abolition of DCMS, removal of DfID to the Foreign Office and early withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan presents yet another wish–list for the Chancellor to consider when weighing his choices. In the meantime, the question must surely be, is there a Tory backbencher who isn’t walking around with a Budget in his pocket at present?

GM:EASTLEIGH

John O’Farrell was not Ed’s first choice for the Eastleigh by-election, Andrew Pierce reports in the Mail. Instead, the Labour leader phoned Fiona Phillips, the former GMTV anchor, to see whether she fancied renewing her professional partnership with another GMTV alumnus Gloria De Piero in the Commons. She rejected his offer, which came with the promise of a safe seat in 2015, as “[she] believes her work in TV is more influential than being on the Labour backbenches,” the paper adds. A good judge, clearly.

DAVID CAMERON – PRIME MINISTER, POPSTAR

Obviously emboldened by his deputy’s chart success with the remix of his tuition fee apology, Dave has taken his first steps into the world of pop music, starring in One Direction’s video for their forthcoming Comic Relief single. A still from the video featured in many of the papers shows him getting in the spirit of things while he also took one of him getting down with the kids for his Twitter account. How does he stay so youthful? With the help of a £5.50 “Brain Boost” smoothie, according to the Mail. “Mr Cameron says he loves coming in here because he can just chill out,” says the owner of the Notting Hill juice bar which sells the concoction. He doesn’t do enough of that.

SUNDAY BEST – IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM

John Rentoul in the Independent on how Ed Miliband and Ed Balls cooked up their 10p wheeze: “In fact, the two Eds had been working on this surprise for a while, in typical Brownite fashion, calculating the odds and the angles. But this is the politics of the late Brown era, sluggish and unimaginative, not like the dexterity of the early Brown when he and Blair were working together and always a few steps ahead of the Conservatives…The two Eds are late-period Brownites, right down to their play-acted front-bench chat in the Commons…Even if Miliband showed any sign of wanting to escape his Brownite inheritance, he cannot. Labour has been captured by late-Brown thinking and the Brownite apparatus.”

Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer on Miliband and Balls disowning Gordon Brown: “The least convincing bit of Mr Miliband’s manoeuvre was the attempt to divorce himself from Gordon Brown. The Labour leader said his old master had made a “mistake” when he abolished the 10p rate. Mr Balls was even more brutal, saying their former boss had “set one group against the other” and even likening him to George Osborne. That must have hurt, up there in Kirkaldy. The way the two Eds have told it, they were down on their hands and knees warning Mr Brown that he was about to commit a catastrophic error and imploring him not to do it. Others who were inside the Treasury at the time don’t regard this as an entirely accurate portrayal of events. There were a few people – Frank Field was a distinguished example – who did foresee the trouble it would cause, but the two Eds were not among them and stalwartly defended the decision at the time.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Chris Heaton-Harris, he’s here all week:

@chhcalling: “A masked gang just stole ten tonnes of Dove soap from a supermarket warehouse. Police say the thieves made a clean getaway.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Labour shows its true colours with this spiteful tax on homes

Dean Nelson – Why we owe a debt to India

Charles Moore – The PM who lived and died by television

Cristina Odone – Two reasons why the Left hates Lady Thatcher

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – All good Tories should support a mansion tax

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – Welcome Romania, bye bye by-election

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express – The state cannot be permitted to intrude this far

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – I’d be overjoyed if this was the end of the foreign criminals fiasco – but don’t hold your breath

THE AGENDA

TODAY: David Cameron in India as part of his trade mission to the country.

02:00 pm: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson meeting with supermarkets. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are among those confirmed to be attending the meeting along with the Institute of Grocery Distribution and the Food and Drink Federation. Nobel House, 17 Smith Square.

IDS defends welfare rise cap

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING NEWS: Iain Duncan Smith has been defending the benefits rise cap in an appearance on the Today programme. The Work and Pensions Secretary said his scheme was fair, despite not splitting the burden between the working age and pensioners:

“Pensioners have less flexibility, they find it far less easy to change, so you have to take far more time. That is why the Prime Minister said we would change nothing in this parliament…we are restoring the savings culture [for pensioners] but these things take time.”

TORIES ON A WELFARE WINNER, IF THEY CAN AVOID LIB DEM REBELLION

Good morning. It’s the second reading of the Benefits Uprating Bill this afternoon, welfare is a faultline issue for the Coalition and where there’s a vote, there’s likely to be a rebellion. The mood in the Lib Dem camp ranges from uneasy to ungovernable. The Guardian reports that Nick Clegg has attacked Conservative attempts to draw a line between the strivers and the shirkers, deserving and undeserving poor. Sarah Teather, the former children’s minister,has already promised to vote against the measures, Sarah Wollaston was tweeting last night about “divisive rhetoric”, and the Times (£) front-page hints at a major rebellion.

For their part, the Tories are accusing the Lib Dem backbenchers of indiscipline. Even so, Lib Dem objections should worry the whips, and the FT‘s (£) story that Lynton Crosby advised pulling another online ad contrasting working families and jobless singletons is instructive. As I write in my blog, the Conservatives are on to a winner with a policy that resonates well with the public’s moral instincts, but that is not reason to gloat:

“The challenge for the Tories is to portray themselves as doing what is difficult but necessary in the national interest, without appearing to relish either the measure or the game too much…Politics sometimes requires going for the kill, but Mr Cameron cannot be certain whether voters will be happy to see Labour’s noses being rubbed in it today.”

Even once the Coalition has dealt with Labour and also the enemy within today, its other welfare policies may still provoke a reaction from…the enemy within. Conservative backbenchers are upset at the snub for full-time mothers in plans for a new, universal childcare allowance, the Telegraph reports. If, as the Mail believes, one of the goodies Number 10 has up its sleeve is some version of the old married couples allowance then Tory traditionalists would be appeased, but the Lib Dems would have to be allowed to abstain. Complicated business, coalition.

DESTINATION: UNKNOWN

“Full steam ahead, destination unclear” was the Telegraph‘s verdict on yesterday’s MTR, a view which summed up the reaction of Fleet Street. With 180 new policy pledges, our leader writer felt the review was distinguished by the extent to which it failed to help the struggling families who are supposed to be at the heart of Coalition policy making. With the pledges focused largely on second-order tinkering, the FT‘s (£) leader also attacked the Coalition, claiming that it is “decreasingly ambitious”. The Mail, on the other hand, did not feel things were as innocuous as all that. The paper’s leader criticised the lack of “bold Tory ideas”, while Stephen Glover‘s column equated Nick Clegg’s involvement in constitutional affairs thus-far as “like entrusting a Ming vase to an inebriated tightrope walker”. Only Channel 4 majored on Mr Cameron’s “Ronseal coalition” line, although that did give rise to this charming piece of photoshopping.

STRATHCLYDE DEPARTURE A WARNING FOR DAVE

Lord Strathclyde’s decision to terminate a 25 year career on the Tory front bench, 15 spent as leader of the Toriesin the upper house, robs the Coalition of one of its more pragmatic characters, as I write in my column today. As he made clear in his Channel 4 interview yesterday, it was the “broken down” relationship with a Liberal Democrat party which appeared to regard itself as still in opposition which prompted Lord Strathclyde to call it a day. A loyal lieutenant has left the field, and it is a timely reminder for Dave that without a compelling, Conservative narrative, he will continue to have problems binding even his most loyal troops to the cause.

FARAGE REPEATS LABOUR OFFER

A disdain for Labour’s economic record has held the Coalition together for two and a half years, so perhaps Nigel Farage imagines a shared distaste for Dave would hold together his proposed alliance with Labour in the same manner. The Mail reports that Mr Farage would be prepared to offer the support of any Ukip MPs in exchange for an in/out referendum. Perhaps that won’t be necessary, though. Jose Manuel Barroso is quoted in the same paper explaining that the great euro crisis is over. Honestly.

A SUCCESSION OF CRITICS

Following Prince Charles’ intervention, in which he outlined his objections to proposed changes to the laws of succession to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Richard Heaton, the Church of England has also expressed concerns over the removal of a 312 year-old ban on marrying Catholics, the Mail reports. Senior bishops are said to share the concerns of the Prince of Wales over meddling with long standing constitutional principles for political ends. Quite unlike the gay/celibate bishops ruling, of course.

CALL CLEGG

With many of its senior presenters currently on bail, British radio has been casting around for a ratings winner, popular with major listening groups like students. Step forward Nick Clegg, who will be hosting a phone-in on LBC 97.3 every Thursday. The Deputy Prime Minister wants to “keep in touch with how people are thinking and feeling”, according to the Sun, no matter how abusive the calls he may receive. Luckily for Dave, CCHQ can still afford to use focus groups.

DAVE DOES CATWALK

The Prime Minister celebrated the start of London’s men’s fashion week by hosting a reception for industry movers and shakers at Number 10, the Guardian reports. Telegraph fashion writer Luke Leitch thought that blaming Sam Cam for his taste in M&S pants was a little shifty on the PM’s part, but perhaps we now have an explanation for Mr Cameron’s sudden taste for pale blue shirts and cuffs…

TWEETS AND TWITS

A rugby one-liner from Kevin Brennan. Unfortunately, London Welsh’s opponents were, er, Harlequins, not Saracens:

@KevinBrennanMP: “Saracens say ref biased against them at London Welsh – ref’s name Llyr ap Geraint Roberts! they want Saladin the magnificent to ref rematch.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Lord Strathclyde isn’t the only one abandoning the Coalition

Philip Johnston – We need a dose of Thatcher-style privatisation

Telegraph View – This renewal of vows does nothing for families

Kate Figes – It has never been harder to bring up a daughter

Best of the rest

Steven Glover in the Daily Mail – Putting Calamity Clegg in charge of the constitution is like entrusting a Ming vase to an inebriated tightrope walker

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Labour must challenge the Ronseal coalition

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – The two big gambled of Britain’s welfare reform

Ross Clark in the Daily Express – Middle classes are hit again by this unfair policy

THE AGENDA

Today: Second Reading of Benefits Uprating Bill. House of Commons

09:30 am: Rail industry publishes strategic business plan.

11:30 am: Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions. House of Commons.

02:40 pm: Sir Hugh Orde and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe give evidence on policing standards to Commons Home Affairs Committee. Sir Hugh Orde of ACPO at 02:40, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe at 04:00. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

After the Hype and the Storm, America decides

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

The US election is finally here. After what seems like an eternity of campaigning, Americans will go to the polls in an election which will also impact upon British economic and foreign policy.

The Government, with the exception of Iain Duncan Smith, is studiously impartial, of course (in public, not in private, as Rachel Sylvester points out in the Times (£) today). For those of you who are partial, or just interested in one of the closest races since the last one, the Telegraph’s brilliant live blog can be found here, and you can read polling day reports as they come in here. The best of the coverage elsewhere includes the Huffington Post’s guide of what to watch and when as the results roll in.

DAVE OF ARABIA RUNS INTO BOTHER

David Cameron’s sales trip to the Arabian peninsula has been dogged by yet more media mismanagement. What could have been a story about British manufacturing and a Prime Minister personally leading the export drive has become lost in reverberations from a paedophile scandal. As the Telegraph reports, Mr Cameron yesterday announced an inquiry which will examine whether a judicial inquiry ordered in 1996 by William Hague, the then secretary of state for Wales, was “properly constituted and properly did its job”.

What is remarkable is that Downing Street have decided to make headlines in this area when it was not under any pressure to do so. The fact that claims about individuals within the BBC swiftly became claims about the BBC itself and the culture there may have influenced the leadership, but this route is scarcely likely to be any gentler.

Then there is the exclusion of the lobby from this trip, barring a tiny retinue of pool reporters. The cloak and daggers approach has gone down particularly badly at the Times (£) which has devoted its leader column to demanding Number 10 explain its inability to charter a plane to carry the press pack to the Gulf. It also furthers the impression that the Prime Minister is doing something furtive and wrong from a human rights standpoint. The Telegraph leader supports British arms trade with the Gulf states, pointing out that the deals are defensible in their own right. The frustration for Downing Street will be that another potential good news story has already become a defensive battle.

BOUNDARIES BECOMING FRAYED

Nick Clegg has told Dave he will lead his MPs to vote against the government on boundaries, leaving the PM facing an immediate threat to his credibility and the future of the Coalition.As I note in my column, Mr Cameron now needs to decide whether this is Nick being Nick, or a threat to the continuation of the Coalition. It’s more dangerous than it sounds, as I write:

“If Mr Clegg’s plan goes through, any pretence of collegiality between Tories and Lib Dems will end. Party discipline will collapse. Mr Cameron will be powerless to sanction his own rebels when the Lib Dems are allowed to defeat the Government – and Labour will look for other ways to tempt them across the floor.”

PICKLES TO TAP COUNCIL PENSIONS

Eric Pickles will announce plans to double the proportion of their holdings council pension funds are allowed to put into local infrastructure projects, the FT (£) reports. At the moment, councils can invest 15 per cent of their holdings in limited partnerships. If that limit were moved to 30 per cent, Mr Pickles hopes that £22bn of additional infrastructure investment would take place. This would be helpful, of course, given that infrastructure spending has been hit hardest of all by the Treasury’s austerity measures, with spending falling by 25pc between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

OSBORNE TO ACT ON CORPORATE TAX AVOIDANCE

The Chancellor signalled a crackdown on multinationals paying little or no tax in the UK, the FT (£) reports. In a joint statement with his German counterpart, George Osborne called for tax loop-holes to be tightened through international cooperation. Easier said than done, given the cordial reception British financial proposals are being received with in Brussels at present. Tax doesn’t have to be taxing, but legislating for it usually is.

IDS ADVISOR BEING PAID BY THINKTANK LOBBYING HIS DEPARTMENT

Philippa Stroud, IDS’s longest-serving advisor, is being paid by the thinktank which he set up and which lobbied his department , the Guardian reveals. The Centre for Social Justice pays Ms Stroud to act as its co-chair. The Cabinet Office says that the position was fully disclosed and is “content” with the arrangement.

I’M A CELEBRITORY, GET ME OUT OF WORK

Nadine Dorries will appear on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here having accepted “no more than £40,000″ for the role, according to the Sun. Mad Nad will be away for almost a month, missing the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and possibly offering David Cameron an excuse for withdrawing the whip from one of his most trenchant critics. Mrs Dorries hopes to raise support for her political agenda with her trip to the jungle. Well, it certainly worked out well for Lembit Opik

CHILD BENEFIT LIMITED TO TWO CHILDREN?

Child benefit could be limited to two children for all families, the Mail reports this morning. Still, it’s not just parents who will be bearing the brunt of it, drunks and drug addicts face losing their benefits as well. We’re all in it together, after all.

MAUDE TO LAUNCH DIGITAL GOVERNMENT

Francis Maude will launch the Government’s digital plan today. Online access to government services could save up to £1.7bn a year by 2015, the FT (£) reports. Not only will services be migrating online, but the scope of the Government’s online presence is already being pulled back, with those devoted to topics as absorbing as the British mosquito relegated to smaller sub-pages elsewhere. Writing in the Telegraph, Philip Johnston is sceptical:

“One of the aims of ‘digital by default’ is to reduce personal interaction between citizen and state even further. Any remaining contact centres will use voice recognition technology to nudge callers back to the web.’We will end up with people being excluded by default from public services,’ says David Moss, a computer expert who has been following the unfolding strategy with growing alarm.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Nadine Dorries will never live up to the standards set by the king of parliamentary reality television, says Alistair Carmichael:

@acarmichaelmp: “Nadine Dorries, I served with Lembit Opik, I knew Lembit Opik, Let me tell you, Nadine Dorries, you are no Lembit Opik.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Clegg’s tit-for-tat retaliation could bring about the Coalition’s end

Philip Johnston – Whitehall has its head stuck in the cloud

Andrew Haldenby -Our firefighters are inflaming public fears

Tim Stanley – Obama or Romney – neither should expect to get much done in Congress

Best of the rest

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Britain and Germany are growing apart

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Support for Obama: the Tories’ guilty secret

Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail – Political cynicism, economic illiteracy and a crusade for a ‘living wage’ that will just kill off jobs

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian – The living wage tide is turning, but it’s not enough

THE AGENDA

Today: Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to launch the Government Digital Strategy. Culture Secretary Maria Miller speech on tourism and the Olympic legacy at Mansion House.

09:30 am: Commons Energy Committee takes evidence from minister John Hayes and officials on nuclear power station new-build.

02:30 pm: Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick gives evidence to MPs on youth justice. Wilson Room, Portcullis House, Westminster.

02:45 pm: MPs hear evidence in two inquiries into localised child grooming in Rochdale, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Committee room 8.

Dave Jets Off To The Gulf

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Dave jets off for the Gulf this morning on a mission to build bridges with the region’s rulers and then sell them 100 Typhoon fighter jets. An estimated £6bn of arms contracts could be up for grabs when the Prime Minister inspects British jets with the rulers of the United Arab Emirates at Al Minhad airbase this afternoon. The Guardian reports that he will be accompanied by only two newswire reporters, a cameraman, a producer and a photographer. Number 10 claims it had difficulties chartering a plane for the trip, but in the Lobby there is suspicion that Mr Cameron – and specifically Dr Dre – are intent on keeping denizens of the Burma Road away from foreign trips because they cause too much trouble. Those organisations that have reporters in the Gulf to cover the tour had to make their own arrangements, and keep out of Saudi Arabia, which is the second stop on his itinerary.

US ELECTION GOES TO THE WIRE

Downing Street has largely kept its nose clean in the race for the White House, despite strong suspicions that if Number 10 had a vote, it would be going in the Democrat column. As ever, though, Iain Duncan Smith has positioned himself to the right of his leader, attacking the “appalling demonisation” of Mitt Romney in the British media. Speaking on Pienaar’s Politics, IDS also pointed out that under Barack Obama, the US deficit had “gone from something like 4-500 billion dollars to three or so trillion dollars,” ITV reports.

Mr Romney is at least getting a better show in the British press as the final day of campaigning gets under way. In the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie argues that David Cameron will have lessons to learn whoever emerges victorious:

“The most important will be the danger of demonising your opponent and that opponent then confounding the caricature in the election debates. Elected four years ago on a visionary ticket of hope and change, Mr Obama has run one of the most negative re-election campaigns yet seen…If Mr Romney does eventually win it will because these attacks were monstrously over the top.”

Catch up with all our coverage of the election here.

MORE TROUBLE AFOOT IN THE LORDS

I mentioned last week a contretemps in the Lords involving the Lib Dems. The Government has suspended plans to proceed with its electoral registration Bill while it tries to work out what the Lib Dems are up to and why they are intent on helping Labour defeat the Government on the boundary review. This one is getting messy.

NO MORE BLUE SKY THINKING AT NUMBER 10

Steve Hilton is unlikely to be returning to the Prime Minister’s side any time soon, the Times (£) reports. The strategy guru had sounded out friends on the idea of returning to London to open a Hungarian restaurant, but will now stay on the West Coast of the USA for the time being, extending his one year sabbatical.

EU’RE BECOMING A BORE

The maneuverings over the EU drag on still. Over the weekend an anonymous minister was reported to have been close to resignation after Dave refused to back calls for a budget cut. IDS has hinted at a future in/out referendum in his weekend interviews, as the Telegraph reports. Support for such a move will be bolstered should the Mail‘s prediction that British growth will eclipse continental growth over the next two years. In the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh writes that Britain is on the way out, but Mr Cameron must leave quietly:

“Britain is surely on the way out, but it cannot afford to be blamed for bringing the roof down as it goes. We need a relationship with our European trading partners once the crisis has burned itself out. We need to pick our moment.”

RELAUNCHING THE LIFEBOATS

In any case, the Coalition are keen to show that they don’t just do European division. They do progressive social policy, too. Hence Nick Clegg’s ‘nannies for everyone’ programme trailed on the front page of today’s Telegraph. Mr Clegg told supporters that the state will step in to ease the “nightmare” costs of childcare in an informal letter to party supporters. Dave, meanwhile, is to “announce the creation of new NHS bi0tech brain clinics”, the Mail reports. Meanwhile in many of the papers, the Fire Brigade Union tries a rebranding exercise of its own, with an unflattering picture of Dave n’ George beneath the headline: “they slash, you burn”. No prizes for guessing their attitude to the cuts, then.

VON ROMPUY SNUBS SNP

When even Herman Van Rompuy doesn’t want to know, you’re in trouble. In a Q&A broadcast, the EU President warned Alex Salmond and co that “nobody has anything to gain from separatism”, the Guardian reports. Sources close to the President also confirmed that Scotland would definitely need to re-apply for EU membership in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, by no means a foregone conclusion given Spanish hostility to independence north of the border. A sobering warning for Scottish nationalists then, they wouldn’t just lose the English, it would be Belgians, Hungarians and Latvians too…

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: SUNDAY BEST

From Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column
“It is an interesting fact about Mr Miliband that, more than two years into his time as Labour leader, he has not made a single speech about Europe. Allying himself with the Tory rebels did not mark a radical new departure in Labour thinking. There was an opportunity to defeat the government and hurt the prime minister that was just too tempting to resist.”

From James Forsyth’s Mail on Sunday column
However, some of those close to Cameron argue that once the constraints of Coalition are off, the level of his Euroscepticism will end up surprising us. A Minister who knows him well says: ‘We have become more Eurosceptic in Government.’ Every day Cameron and co confront the problems thrown up by the current terms of Britain’s EU membership.

From Matthew D’Ancona’s column in the Sunday Telegraph:
Away from the banana skins, however, Downing Street was forging quiet links with the Romney team, mindful that what Cameron and Obama call the “essential relationship” between the two nations is too important to jeopardise in any way. John Major did so when Conservative researchers tried to help George Bush Sr win re-election by investigating Bill Clinton’s past as an Oxford student. The lesson has been learnt.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Michael Fabricant socialises with the enemy:

@mike_fabricant: “Having been bought a drink by the #Corby UKIP team, am I corrupted? Oh, I do hope so!!”

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Malcolm Moore – All change in China

Boris Johnson – Listen up, Mitt – because I’ve got the key to the White House

Charles Moore – The wit and warmth of our royal correspondent

Telegraph View – A ‘living wage’ must be earned, not imposed

Best of the Rest

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – We’re on way out of EU but PM must rein in the rebels

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – Millions of lonely people: the tragic legacy of the Left’s war on families

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – Vote Mitt: the world needs this deal-maker

Jackie Ashley in The Guardian – Labour must not let Britain drift into a European exit

THE AGENDA

09:00 am: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to announce the new London Living Wage. The mayor will be joined by employers, borough leaders and representatives of the Living Wage Foundation to announce the new rate. The Chamber, City Hall, The Queen’s Walk.

Iain Duncan Smith: pensioner benefits are an ‘anomaly”

Iain Duncan Smith acknowledged pensioners need “a little bit more protection and sensibility” from the state because the elderly do not have the option of working to earn more money.

However, he suggested there are flaws in the welfare system when wealthy pensioners have to be asked to hand back benefits that they do not need.

Asked about the issue of rich older people getting hand-outs, Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “There are lots of anomalies in the benefits system. We could go almost anywhere to some of the universal nature of some of these benefits.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary is under pressure to find £10 billion of extra welfare cuts, but David Cameron has promised to protect perks such as free television licences, bus passes, winter fuel payments for older people.

More….