Ed’s economy speech fails to impress

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. If Ed Miliband was hoping for applause this morning, he’ll be disappointed. He gets cheers from Polly Toynbee, and therein lies his problem: he should be enraging the metropolitan lefties, not delighting them. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a thumbs down across the board for his 10p by Mansion Tax wheeze. There are all sorts of criticisms that can be made – opportunism, envy politics, pointlessness (as the Times has it, he wants to take a lot of money off a few people to give very little money to a lot of people). The most damning conclusion though must be the point Patrick Wintour makes, and others have made for months, namely that once again Mr Miliband has ducked a chance to break with the poisonous legacy of Brownonics. He was at Mr Brown’s side when he made his mistakes. He was part of the incompetence. He was there when the public sector was put on steroids and borrowing allowed to rip. And so far he has said nothing about how Labour will govern when the coffers are empty. By failing to acknowledge that he bears a share of responsibility for the mess we are in, he denies himself a fair hearing on the economy. Not a good starting point for an election campaign. No wonder the Treasury loved his speech.

A flavour of the reaction? Well, the Times (£) argues in its leading article that the policy is “symbolic…a dead end”. The Mail is furious that the “cynical opportunist Ed Miliband…stole [Robert Halfon’s] idea and inserted it, at the 11th hour, into yesterday’s otherwise utterly lacklustre speech.” Our leader is similarly scathing, hailing Mr Miliband as “the champion of divisive, old-style ‘us versus them’ politics.” The Guardian‘s Patrick Wintour notes that “the prime message is about redistribution, rather than showing by example how Labour will govern with less money,” although that alone is enough to win his paper’s leader over, it praises a “good day’s work”. There’s always one who goes completely against the grain, though, and it’s usually Polly Toynbee. She was delighted to see “the makings of a bold and visionary leader”:

“With a double-barrelled blast, Ed Miliband shot two foxes on Thursday – one Tory, one Lib Dem. He bagged Vince Cable’s £1m mansion tax and, if George Osborne was planning to revive the 10p tax band, Miliband has just shot it dead. At the same time, by promising to “put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government”, he took the sting out of Tory swipes at the two Eds as Brown acolytes. Apology is surprisingly easy, as he found when he rejected the Iraq war on his first day.”

BRADY CALLS FOR TAX CUTS AS ALEXANDER WARNS ON FINANCIAL NIMBYISM

Danny Alexander has been sent hunting for a further £10bn in spending cuts in the corridors of Whitehall and is warning colleagues of “fiscal nimbyism”, the FT (£) reports. The Nimbys in question – Messers Grayling and Hammond and Mrs May in particular – believe their departmental budgets have been slashed enough and would rather any further slack is taken from the welfare budget, itself a red line for Lib Dems.

At the moment, it is tax cuts rather than departmental cuts which excite the Tory backbenches. The latest in a run of demands for radical action on tax comes from Graham Brady, the chairman of the ’22, who uses his Telegraph op-ed to suggest lower general tax levels and the immediate abolition of air passenger duty which he believes would add 0.5pc to GDP. His argument about the “virtuous circle” which arises from the lower living costs given by lower taxes is one which won’t be lost on Tory strategists coming this week, but a substantial tax cut at a time of welfare restraint and departmental austerity would require the political will to argue to plan A+, not just plan A. Over to you, Chancellor.

MIGRANTS FACE CRACKDOWN

Britain must make sure it is “not a soft touch” on immigration, the Prime Minister said yesterday in Eastleigh, apparently franking reports that he is intent on restricting access to certain cash benefits, such as those for children overseas, and non-cash benefits like non-emergency NHS care. The problem with this approach is that European migrants are guaranteed equal treatment under law. With Brussels already making a fuss about the proposals in today’s Times (£), you wonder whether this might not be another instance of the PM shooting from the lip and asking questions about the feasibility later. While his approach to the EU referendum won plaudits from Sir John Major yesterday, as the Express reports he feels it will “cleanse politics”, Dave is on shaky ground when it comes to acting unilaterally now, especially given that renegotiation will not formally begin until after the next election.

BREEDING TO VICTORY

Dave trooped gamely down to Eastleigh yesterday to support Maria Hutchings in her by-election campaign. He gave a speech at a B&Q in which “local mum, four kids” became something of a mantra. As our sketchwriter Michael Deacon reports, “we can only assume Tory strategists have identified Mrs Hutchings’s reproductive fecundity as a key weapon.” Dave rounded off by saying he shopped at B&Q’s bitter rival Ikea. Smooth. The result was what the Mirror termed “Boo & Q”. As for his candidate, Mrs Hutchings stars in a full page interview in this morning’s Mail headlined: “Tory Sarah Palin? No, I’m just a struggling mother who can’t afford a car…” It’s fair to say they’re fans.

TOUGH ON HORSE MEAT, TOUGH ON THE CAUSES OF HORSE MEAT

Dave has moved the point of attack on horse meat from unscrupulous foreigners to the “unacceptable” wall of silence thrown up by retailers, we report this morning. The results of 1,000 tests by 13 retailers will be revealed shortly, and are expected to show that the contamination of the food chain runs deeper than previously thought. As Fraser Nelson argues in his column, when the supply chain is so long and opaque, it is no wonder that horse meat, and far worse, is found there:

“Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, describes what has gone on as an ‘international criminal conspiracy’. The bigger question is just how criminal it has become. There is every prospect that, if a torch is shone into the dark corners of global supply chains, you will find modern-day slaves.”

THE HON. MEMBER MS CAROLINE ER…

When confronted by an influx of so called Cameron Cuties after the last election, some Tory males had considerable difficulty telling them apart and resorted to calling every woman Caroline, according to the Guardian. It looks like they won’t have the same problem after the next election: the paper argues that the expansion of the number of women in the parliamentary party could be about to go into reverse. So far 16 target seat candidates have been selected and only four are women.

BOJO V CLEGG, AGAIN

Boris Johnson’s appearance on the campaign trail in Eastleigh is likely to turn the event into a “celebrity contest” Nick Clegg told listeners to LBC yesterday, continuing their feud by radio. If he wanted to take things a step further then Boris from Islington is hosting his own show on LBC at 9am this morning. What price a pre-recorded message from Nick from Westminster?

CITY WILL BE HIT BY FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS TAX

Famously, Dave referred to the EU’s financial transactions tax as “madness” and vowed to stop it from being implemented on these shores lest it destroy the City. The European Commission announced yesterday that it was extending the tax to the purchase and sale of shares originating in all 11 participating countries, meaning that an exchange between the London trading desks of two British banks will be liable for the tax, the Times (£) reports.

COUNCILS DEFIANT OVER TAXES

A third of councils will increase rates in spite of a government offer of funding to sustain a council tax freeze, we report. A survey of 193 councils found that 65 were planning rate rises, double the number who increased taxes last year. Given that central government is offering a settlement which would be equivalent to a 1pc rise in rates, it’s fair to assume that the rises will be inflationary. No succour for the squeezed middle.

PURNELL LANDS BBC ROLE

Former Labour minister James Purnell has been appointed to a £295,000 per year role as the BBC’s new strategy director. As the Mail reports, there was no open recruitment process as Mr Purnell was viewed as the “ideal candidate” a move hardly likely to dispel impressions that the corporation leans left.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Labour’s Eastleigh candidate is getting into the swing of things:

@mrjohnofarrell: “Fear I have already turned into political robot. Valentines card to wife just said ‘Vote Labour in #Eastleigh for a One Nation alternative’.'”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – Slavery, not horse meat, is the real scandal on our doorstep

Graham Brady – Cut the taxes that are holding us back, George

Jeremy Warner – Yes to free trade – no to all the other guff

Telegraph View – Miliband hasn’t learnt any economic lessons

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Leave London and you’ll find fantasy island

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Ed has the makings of a brave and visionary leader

Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – Transatlantic free trade promises a bigger prize

Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express – It is madness to give Turkey this cash bribe

THE AGENDA

TODAY: Chancellor George Osborne attends G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers meeting. Central Exhibition Hall Manezh, Moscow. Parliament in recess. Both Houses of Parliament are in recess until February 25.

09:00 am: London Mayor Boris Johnson live phone-in on LBC 97.3 radio.

09:30 am: Retail sales figures for January are published by the Office for National Statistics.

01:30 pm: FSA to announce first results of tests on processed beef products. The results include the number of samples, the number of positive results and the affected products.

Cameron faced with conflicting demands

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. David Cameron is not short of advice from his own side today, and it comes with an audible “…or else”. To judge by what various groupings of Tory MPs are demanding, it’s difficult not to conclude that Mr Cameron’s speech Friday will not be enough: years of Tory pain lie ahead. Take the Manifesto for Change from the Fresh Start Group, which we reveal today. Even if, as is unlikely, Mr Cameron were to adopt all its suggestions – repatriation of all social and employment law, an opt-out from all policing and criminal justice rules, an emergency brake on new anti-City legislation and an end to the monthly shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg – it is a stretch to imagine this agenda finding much favour across the Channel, despite Andrea Leadsom’s optimism on Today. Will Fresh Start’s members thank him for trying, or keep up the pressure? Or what about John Baron and his friends who want legislation to guarantee a referendum: if Mr Cameron dismisses their demands as a slur on his trustworthiness, will they go away? As for David Davis, Bernard Jenkin and the others who want a mandate referendum, you would hardly expect them to leave Dave alone on the issue, whatever he says. Mr Cameron’s speech needs to achieve many things, but perhaps the most important is persuading his
party not to turn the next five years into an interminable distraction.

Nick Clegg’s remarks on the “chilling” effect of the referendum yesterday went down badly with the Mail‘s leader writer who described him as untrustworthy given his previous assurances on a European vote and boundary reform. The Telegraph suggested Mr Cameron might be tempted to offer his Coalition partner an in/out vote of his own. There will be more parliamentary pressure put on Mr Cameron today by the Fresh Start Group of 18 Tory MPs who the Telegraph reports are demanding a range of measures from criminal justice opt-outs to an end to the EU’s parliament shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg. The Telegraph reports that William Hague is on board.

But then, a special vote means special pleading, and there’s plenty of it in today’s papers. Ken Clarke tells the FT (£) that the referendum is a “gamble” and “not of primary interest” to the electorate, while in the Guardian, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former ambassador to the EU and America, argues that less influence in Brussels means less influence in Washington. Arguably diplomatic leverage isn’t of primary concern to voters either. Business might be, though, and the Treasury will be buoyed by moves to put the anti-Euro Business for Sterling band back together to campaign for renegotiation, a move I blogged on yesterday.

Of course, one option open to the EU is simply to refuse to negotiate. The FT (£) reports they without any all-state treaty negotiations lined up, Britain will just have to wait in limbo at least in the short term. Any wait is dangerous for Dave. A long lead-in means currency weakness according to the dealers quoted in the FT (£) who predict a sharp decline in Sterling, weak already as a result of the Bank of England’s enthusiasm for Quantitative Easing. The longer things go on, the greater the odds of Labour stumbling upon a popular policy of their own, too. As Mary Riddell has written in today’s Telegraph, it hasn’t happened yet, but Dave will want to move quickly before it does.

SUNDERLAND‘S SWIFT

Is there no end to David Miliband’s talents? Not content with piloting Sunderland towards the Champions League in his spare time, the member for South Shields launches his career as a satirist in today’s Times (£). Writing as Sir John Major writing to David Cameron (got that?), he also takes a swipe at Mr Tony in 2004, presumably also part of Labour’s “dog days”:

“Margaret (quoting Clement Attlee) said in 1975 that referendums are the refuge of dictators and demagogues…They are often a bolthole for leaders who feel weak – just look at Harold Wilson.Tony Blair’s commitment to a referendum on a European constitution in 2004 was more Bambi than Stalin.”

HEYWOOD SWERVES HOLLYWOOD

Sir Jeremy Heywood’s repute is now such that he was invited to play himself in a cameo in the new series of Yes, Prime Minister, the Times (£) reports. Sadly, he declined. He is now busy as one of three “wise men” (the others being Francis Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake) drawing up reforms for the civil service. The trio’s interview with the paper skates over their division over political appointments to permanent secretary roles, with Sir Jeremy’s evasion one of which “Sir Humphry would be proud” according to the paper. The Cabinet Secretary thinks that such a move would undermine the civil service, but as Danny Finkelstein writes, channelling Mandy Rice-Davies, “he would, wouldn’t he”. The idea of packing Whitehall with political stooges should fill us with dread. Arguably, that’s what Ed Balls did so effectively at DfE, and Michael Gove has been suffering from it ever since.

BANK ROBBERY

Forget benefits fraudsters and Europe, the latest recipient of the largess of British taxpayers is…the USA. Federal regulators will impose fines totalling around $800m as a result of the Libor scandal, four-fifths of which will come from the state-owned bank says the Independent. Unsurprisingly, Grant Shapps thinks Britain overpaid for its stakes in RBS and Lloyds TSB. The Telegraph reports he compared Labour’s decision to spend £66bn on bank shares with Gordon Brown’s decision to sell gold at the bottom of the market. Those Tories, they just don’t understand prudence.

POLICE ROBBERY

Relations between the Conservatives and the police, never rosy since Thrashergate, are unlikely to be improved by the news that proposals on police pay will see new recruits outside of London have their starting wages cut by £4,000 to £19,000, less than a trainee manager at McDonald’s. As the Mail points out, junior officers will now earn less than PCSOs.

THE GREAT BENEFITS DIVIDE

A league table of working age benefits claimants by area has been published showing a stark north/south divide. Or, as the Sun puts it, “voters on dole keep Labour mps in jobs”. Of the 200 worst performing constituencies, 177 are held by Labour. Figures showing wealth distribution are equally stark. Only one in 16 Welsh taxpayers pays at the higher rate, according to the Telegraph. Gives some colour to the great benefit uprating debate, anyhow.

EMPLOYMENT PICTURE CLOUDED

Over a fifth of the jobs added in the last year are on largely unpaid government back-to-work schemes, the Guardian reports. The majority of participants will still be claiming jobseekers allowance, explaining why rises in employment have not been represented proportionately in the claimant count numbers. Labour are understandably put out at the idea of work without a wage being called employment. Normally at Westminster, it’s called an internship.

BROWN’S BACK

Making his first Commons speech since November 2011, the former Prime Minister tabled an adjournment debate on the future of two Remploy factories in his constituency yesterday. The Spectator‘s sketch suggests old habits died hard:

“As a number-cruncher Brown is peerless. He gnashed his way through the statistics and spat them out in a chewy cascade of hundreds, thousands and millions. Fixed costs, overheads, raw materials, insurance, payroll. He had it all pre-programmed into the mighty electro-chemical abacus that lurks beneath his greying scalp. He even did his favourite trick of announcing the same figures twice! Early on, he said that the factory’s losses of £1.6 million had recently shrunk to a more manageable £800,000. Later, when he repeated this fiscal trend, he hinted that it was a major economic breakthrough. The old knack of making bankruptcy sound like a new dawn for all mankind is still with him.”

MALI CRISIS WORSENS

Britain is absolutely not getting involved in Mali. Besides sending some planes. Oh, and maybe 40 “military advisers”, if the Mail is right. But is it too little, too late? The Telegraph‘s Con Coughlin and David Blair argue that if France has to go it alone, it’s going to be busy for a while:

“France aims to deploy two battlegroups of about 1,250 men each, which should prove sufficient to stiffen Mali’s national army and prevent AQIM from taking more territory or threatening the capital. And even if France backs this strategy by conducting an extended air campaign designed to weaken and degrade AQIM until the African soldiers can finish the job, it looks as though Mr Hollande’s military adventure is set to run for some time to come.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

George Freeman is unimpressed by an attempt to re-invent the wheel:

@Freeman_George: “Chuka, they’re called Post Offices and your Govnt kept closing em: @ChukaUmunna proposing community pick-up points for parcels &online orders”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell – Miliband needs bolder answers to the EU and immigration question

Con Coughlin and David Blair – Can Mali be saved from the Islamists?

Tim Stanley – Christians need to find some old-time zeal

Telegraph View – A new intolerance is nudging faith aside

Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – Whitehall at war? Mandy understood why

Ian Davidson in the FT (£) – Britain needs a European strategy – not a speech

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – No more talk of in-or-out. We should be thinking opt-outs

Andreas Whittam Smith in The Independent – We should not pay a penny of RBS’s fraud fine

THE AGENDA

09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending breakdown figures for November.

09:30 am: Former ministers Tim Loughton, Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather give evidence to the Commons Education Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

09:30 am: Sir John Vickers gives evidence to Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

10:30 am: Fresh Start group of Tory MPs press briefing. The Fresh Start group is launching its manifesto for change in Europe. Committee room 18, House of Commons.

12:00 pm: Prime Minister’s Questions. House of Commons, London.

02:30 pm: Europe Minister David Lidington gives evidence to Commons European Committee B on planned EU military training mission to Mali. Committee Room 10, House of Commons.

04:00 pm: Energy Minister John Hayes gives evidence to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee on shale gas. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

Unlike Europe, the Tories can bind together

The European Union is at war with itself, as is, it has seemed, the Conservative Party. These two matters may be connected but they are not at all similar. For the embattled nation states of Europe have genuinely irreconcilable interests, but the Tory party combatants (with a few eccentric exceptions) do not. In spite of a quite extraordinary level of vituperation and barely concealed personal animosity, I would put it to you, ladies and gentlemen, that the disputes within the Conservative family are no longer substantive at all; that with only a small amount of goodwill, a perfectly plausible unity of purpose could be achieved.

More….

IDS Rides Waves of Public Support for Welfare Reform

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING: Tony Blair has just been on the Today programme discussing the present unrest in the Arab world. The former Prime Minister was firm in his rejection of the grievances of the protestors and the need for pluralism in the wake of the Arab Spring:

“[Rushdie] is absolutely right. The film is wrong and offensive, but it’s also laughable as a piece of filmmaking. What is dangerous and wrong is the reaction to it.

“I just see a region in a process of huge transition. There is a struggle between the forces of modernisation…and these very powerful forces of reaction based on perverted religion.

“When you lift the lid off of repression, what comes out is a whole lot of tribal influences which have to be moulded to be compatible with the modern world. Having taken away these oppressive dictatorships, further modernisation is still required.

“This is a big problem and it will take a generation to sort out. Democracy is not just a way of voting, it’s a way of thinking. It’s about a education…the economy…[and] a view of religion that is pluralistic. It doesn’t mean that you’re an infidel because you disagree with me.”

IDS WINS PUBLIC BACKING

Iain Duncan Smith is appearing before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit this afternoon. This morning’s papers report that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is amongst those understood to be nervous about the plan, with the Times (£) one of many papers following up the story in the Sunday Times that Sir Jeremy would prefer to focus on economic growth, not reform.

Mr Cameron tried to move IDS to the MoJ, it is said, because he doubted his willingness to deliver another round of welfare cuts, which are now accepted as inevitable. Some said that in fact the Treasury doubted Chris Grayling’s reliability and was delighted that he got shifted instead. Whatever, universal credit has the makings of a belter of a row.

Mr Duncan Smith will be delighted to find his case bolstered by the British Social Attitudes survey which finds growing hostility to welfare dependency. As our leader noted:

“If there are fainthearts in the Government questioning these reforms, Mr Duncan Smith should face them down, secure in the knowledge that most people share his views.”

This will cheer CCHQ, where public antipathy to handouts is to play a big part in the 2015 campaign. The survey’s finding that the public is prepared to pay higher taxes for more public spending – not so much. As the Independent puts it:

“In 2002, 63 per cent of the public wanted more money invested in public services, even at the expense of tax increases. That figure has been steadily falling for a decade, bottoming out in 2010 at 31 per cent. But the 2011 survey, which involved interviews with 3,311 people on a variety of subjects, showed the first increase in 10 years, with the figure climbing to 36 per cent. The majority – 55 per cent – wants public spending to stay at its present level.”

THE GREY KNIGHT TO THE RESCUE

Sir John Major appeared on the Marr show on Sunday in a bid to dampen leadership speculation as Parliament prepares to rise for the conference season. As we report, Sir John concentrated on the good news, comparing the “green shoots” in the economy to those in the early 1990s. Sir John told the show that:

“Since I’m no longer in politics, I can say something that perhaps as a politician I wouldn’t.

“Norman Lamont was taken to pieces by commentators for suggesting there were green shoots, but in retrospect, we can see that Norman was right. Recovery begins from the darkest moment.

“It’s worth making the point that David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg aren’t imposing these cuts out of some malign wish to hurt people.

“They’re imposing these cuts because the last government left the cupboard bare. The money was gone, the gold was gone. They had no choice but to take tough medicine, and I think people need to understand that is why they are doing it.

The former Prime Minister has long had a discreet arrangement with David Cameron whereby whenever the Tory leader needs some heavy artillery in support, Sir John steps forward. He nurtures his public appearances, so they have impact. His call for a settlement of the EU question in his article for the Telegraph on Saturday was a big moment, as reflected by Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun:

“Sir John sees many parallels. Now, as then, the party is riven by disagreement over Europe, the economy and its leadership. On Black Wednesday’s 20th anniversary, he warned squabbling Tories not to make the same mistakes again.”

But it was Sir John’s detection of ‘green shoots’ on Marr that has made headlines this morning. He’s getting out a message the Coalition is desperate to hear, but one that is still too risky for Mr Cameron or George Osborne to promote themselves. And with reason: before we get the maypole out, let’s remember the whacking great overhang of public and private debt, America’s sluggishness, the unresolved euro crisis, not to mention various global hotspots in Iran and the Sea of Japan.

CONFERENCE REGICIDE SEASON

Sir John also spoke out against the Tory regicide habit, doing so as plots began to thicken nicely ahead of October’s party conferences. Patrick Mercer outed himself as the letter-writer to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady, apparently disregarding Sir John’s advice that:

“If the Conservative Party has learned anything in the last 20 years, it’s learned that regicide is not a good idea.”

If the situation was not already complex enough, we revealed on Saturday that the plotters have a continuity candidate in mind if Cameron does fall. Step forward….Graham Brady, the man who would have to oversee any leadership election.

Still, leadership grumbles are not solely the province of the Conservative Party, though. As Tim Montgomerie writes in the Times (£), Labour have problems of their own:

“Whatever question I ask David Cameron’s advisers, I get almost exactly the same two-word answer. What will you do, I ask, if the economy does not return to robust growth? “Ed Miliband,” comes the reply. Surely, I say, you can’t win if you don’t recapture the ex-Tory voters who are defecting to UKIP? “You’re forgetting Ed Miliband,” is the comeback.”

GOVE FACES TOUGH EXAMINATION

The long-awaited announcement of Michael Gove’s new O-level style exams for 16-year-olds will take place today, with Nick Clegg riding shotgun with the Education Secretary. The Times (£) reports that the new exams will be longer and tougher with an increased emphasis on essays and an end to controlled assessments.

The Lib Dems can claim two major victories, as we report today. There will be no separate exam for less able pupils, an idea which had originally split the coalition, and the exams will not come in until 2015, with the first pupils sitting them in 2017.
Although the reforms have been generally welcomed in the press, Margaret Thatcher’s Education Secretary Kenneth Barker is quoted in today’s Independent saying that they do not go far enough in terms of practical education.

Even so, judging by the reception so far, Gove’s latest examination resulted in a qualified pass.

DAVE SLAMMED BY SAGA

Mr Cameron’s delight at the support offered by Sir John Major this weekend would have been tempered by the news that the rest of the grey vote is drifting away from the Conservatives. We report that the poll of 10,000 SAGA members found that:

“David Cameron has been voted the third least favourite post-war Prime Minister, and only the sixth best qualified to lead Britain out of the current economic downturn, in a poll of voters over the age of 50.

“The current Prime Minister is also deemed to care less about the UK and its people than eight former leaders, including James Callaghan, Gordon Brown and Harold Wilson.”
ROMNEY SLAMMED BY DAVE

It seems that Dave has nailed his colours to the mast when it comes to the American presidential election. We report that Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein told the BBC:

“I witnessed Prime Minister saying to a group of people, myself included, that Mitt Romney had that unique distinction of uniting all of England against him with his various remarks.”

Ever the diplomat, at least Mr Cameron has that in common with Mitt.

GREENING CLAMPDOWN ON FOREIGN AID

The Mail splash this morning is the news that new International Development Secretary will go through the aid budget “line-by-line”. She has received some heavyweight support this morning from Lord Ashcroft who writes at Conservative Home:

“In truth, all this aid from Britain and other Western nations undermines progress. As it is often said, you cannot build democracy on other people’s money. Aid corrodes civil society and encourages corruption and conflict. By doling out vast sums to often-dubious foreign regimes, we ensure they have less need to respond to their citizens’ needs.”

One item she might like to turn her attention to is the new foreign aid headquarters in New Delhi. The building is under construction despite the fact that the UK’s aid programme in India is due to come to an end in 2015, rendering the 18 meeting rooms and 280 desks somewhat redundant.

SUNDAY BEST – IN CASE YOU MISSED THESE

“As one Clegg ally puts it, since the parties started publicly criticising each other, ‘David Cameron has been hurt, Nick’s been hurt and the Labour leader has grown’.” James Forsyth in the the Mail on Sunday .

“Johnson’s autumn addresses will unsettle Cameron, who is already worried that others around him, including education secretary Michael Gove, are manoeuvring. A cabinet minister said last week that the word was that the PM deliberately sacked two of Gove’s ministers in the reshuffle without his say so because Gove had leaked several policy stories without telling No10 first. It was a message about who was running the show.” Toby Helm in the Observer.

“Boris is not Prime Minister material. The public want a PM who looks like one. They don’t want him to ressemble a dishevelled buffoon. Let’s end the silly speculation. Boris is the John Prescott of the Tory party.” Shipley MP Philip Davies in the Mail on Sunday’s Black Dog .

DAVE GETS HIS PRIORITIES RIGHT

And finally… Michael Gove was rumoured last week to be put out that he had lost almost all of his team in the recent reshuffle. Still, it could have been worse. The Sunday Times reports that the one surviving member of Team Gove, education minister Lord Hill, had tried to resign in the midst of the reshuffle. Fortunately for Gove, the paper reports that:

“Hill started to explain why he wanted to resign…but the Prime Minister was apparently not paying attention. Cameron was so distracted during Hill’s spiel that he appeared not to hear.

“Instead of accepting his resignation, or even protesting, Cameron praised him for his hard work, told him to carry on and strode out of the room – after being told that he was late for a photocall.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Roger Williams puts the dream of mule ownership on the backburner as a sacrifice to his constituents:

@RogerWilliamsMP: “Good Welsh Mule sale in Builth Wells yesterday. Had hoped to buy some but parliamentary work priority. There will be another sale….”

POLL WATCH

YouGov/Sunday Times results, 14-16 September: Con 34%, Lab 44%, Lib 9%, UKIP 7%

Government approval rating: -36%

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson – British businesses are taking an unfair whacking from America

David Blair – This deadly dialogue of the deaf

James Delingpole – Arguments for wind power are just hot air

Roger Bootle – We can have affordable housing if we have the political will to change

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – The Tory guns are ready to find their target

Lawrence Summers in The FT (£) – Britain risks a lost decade unless it changes course

John Kampfner in The Guardian – Nick Clegg can now define himself against the cabinet’s red meat

Bruce Anderson in Conservative Home – The ERM was an economic success but a political disaster

THE AGENDA

Today: Michael Gove and Nick Clegg launch new exams to replace GCSE’s. Rightmove publishes its monthly house price index.

3:15 pm: Treasury permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson gives evidence to Commons Public Accounts Committee on Northern Rock sale. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

4:30 pm: Iain Duncan Smith gives evidence to Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

Boris Johnson stokes leadership talk with call for tough measures on union strike threats

The Mayor of London suggested that the Government should take immediate steps to crush union power, fuelling suggestions that he craves higher office by setting out an eight-part programme for dealing with the threat of a general strike.

In words which will delight fractious Conservative MPs who have been hoping he will return to front-line politics, he refused to rule out rejoining the Commons before the next election, due in 2015.

Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, acknowledged that the Mayor was an “attractive” figure, but urged Conservative backbenchers to learn the lesson that “regicide” and disunity are damaging to parties.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson dismissed the notion that he was plotting to overthrow the Prime Minister as “twaddle”.

But by straying far from his remit as London Mayor to call for tough action on the threat last week by delegates at the Trade Union Congress to hold a general strike, Mr Johnson is certain to fuel speculation about his ambitions.

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Britain should seize this chance to strike a new deal with Europe

Twenty years ago, on September 16, 1992, sterling was forced out of the ERM amid extreme market turbulence. It was a political catastrophe that cast a long and baleful shadow over the then government.

It ripped open divisions in the Conservative Party. It hardened battle lines in the bitter debate over Britain’s place in Europe. It destroyed tolerance in the party, and laid finally to rest the notion that loyalty was its secret weapon. The aftermath inspired more myths than the Greeks.

Margaret Thatcher and I took sterling into the ERM in 1989 to general applause. Our decision was not some reckless flight of fancy. A poll in the Financial Weekly suggested that 97 per cent of business leaders wanted sterling to join, 66 per cent of whom did not care at what exchange rate we entered. The CBI, TUC, Parliament, press and public were overwhelmingly in favour. Entry had been proposed previously by Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, but – reinforced by advisers – Margaret had said “No”.

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Feeling Uncharitable

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

DAVE’S ASIAN TOUR CONTINUES

David Cameron flew from Indonesia to Malaysia earlier this morning, but not before giving a speech in Jakarta hailing the “extraordinary journey” undertaken by Indonesia towards democracy. Our report, from Rowena Mason, who is on the ground with the PM, is here.

Cameron said Indonesia were proof that “democracy and Islam can flourish alongside each other.” The Guardian says it marks “one of his most significant speeches on Islam.” But the PM made one awkward mistake – accidentally referring to Indonesia as India.

As Nick Watt reminds us, Dave is actually the first PM in Malaysia since John Major in 1993. The purpose of the trip is to revive ties with an old but neglected friend.

Team Cameron is carrying posters to promote Britain – the Sun’s Emily Ashton points out that this one looks a lot like Ed Miliband.

Tomorrow Dave will be in Burma, greeting – the real photo opportunity of this trip – opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Remember, his defence contractor friends will be in attendance only as tourists .

MAKING A DONATION

The PM may be enjoying playing the statesman in Asia, but back in Britain, the focus is still on his policies – in particular, his proposal to limit tax relief on charitable donations.

As we report, speaking yesterday, the PM said that: “George Osborne said in the budget very carefully we would look at the effect on charitable donations because we want to encourage charitable giving… We’ll look very sympathetically at these concerns”

The makings of a U-turn are now in place. Dave is sympathetic, it’s about draft legislation due later this year – so plenty of time to tweak it – and there’s evident support for limiting the cap to donations to foreign charities, though even that sounds dodgy: why should the UK taxpayer underwrite support for charitable works abroad (what’s that you say Andrew Mitchell?)

In our leader, we welcome that: “Even from a distance of 8,000 miles, it must be apparent to David Cameron that the Government made a mistake in the Budget by capping tax relief on charitable giving”.

The Times (£) agrees with us: “the Government has made both a presentational mistake and a substantive one”, as does the Mail, which reckons that the blunder is George Osborne’s fault for heading to the US before the Budget. Only the Guardian strikes a different note : tax relief for the charitable donations is just a subsidy for the “rich to indulge their philanthropic activities.”

TAX AFFAIRS

Then there’s Dave’s own tax affairs. After we predicted he would, David Cameron admitted yesterday that it is “increasingly likely” that he will publish his tax return, but he is “weighing up the pros and cons”, pointing out that it could deter good people from entering politics.

Nick Clegg meanwhile said that “the principle need to be a simple one – us politicians – as servants of the public – should make our own arrangements transparent”. But he ruled out his wife publishing hers (she earns lots more than Nick).

The FT’s (£) report on the topic is useful; they’ve been calling around friends of Cabinet members to work out what they think of the idea. As one says: “Transparency is, of course, a good thing, but unlimited transparency can produce perverse results”. Another said, reluctantly, that “if No 10 insists that is what we have to do, then so be it”.

PENSIONS TIME BOMB

We’ve splashed on the IMF’s warning that our ageing population could cost us as much as £750 billion. What happened to pensions reform? As I noted in my column yesterday tax seems only to be going up.

CLEGG FALLOUT

Nick Clegg’s big green energy speech yesterday went down about as well as you would expect: the Deputy Prime Minister is under fire in the Mail. He hailed the coming of new green policies before jumping into his ministerial Jag, which is apparently unacceptable.

He said: “There is a myth doing the rounds in political debate today that here in the UK environmentalism has hit a wall, that green is for the good times, that we cannot up our efforts to protect our environment while simultaneously growing our economy, that we have to make a choice.” Isn’t that “myth” being put about by George Osborne?

Our leader agrees with George: “It is time the Chancellor’s view prevailed.”

THE CRYING GAME

Back in London, the mayoral race is turning into a real drama – or at least, Ken Livingstone seems to think it is. Slightly bizarrely, the Labour candidate was spotted blubbing while watching his own mayoral party election broadcast, which featured a group of “real Londoners” explaining why they need Ken back in City hall.

Livingstone described his broadcast as a “tear jerker”, noting the “appalling responsibility” of becoming mayor. Ed Miliband, who was left comforting his candidate, said that Livingstone had “fought his way back into this race because of the powers of his ideas” . (Good of Ed to admit he was out of it).

But as Patrick Wintour notes in his analysis for the Guardian: “the impression could also linger of Livingstone lost in an act of vanity, crying at his own election material.” The latest poll, from ComRes in Tuesday’s Evening Standard, puts Ken on 47 per cent behind Boris on 53 per cent, once second preferences are counted.

You can watch the party election broadcast here, if you really want to. In it, Ken promises to resign if he is elected and he fails to deliver his promised 7 per cent fare cut by October of this year. Still no explanation of how he’ll pay for it…

ELECTED MAYORS

Still, at least London has a mayor. The Times (£) has a fascinating report on how local councils are trying to scupper David Cameron’s plans to give other cities mayors too. In Bristol and Nottingham, which are both holding referendums this May, the councils have published leaflets attacking the plans.

As Jill Sherman reports: “Although David Cameron wants to devolve power from Whitehall many authorities fear that a directly elected leader will emasculate councillors’ influence.”

All the more reason for those cities to vote Yes on May 3, I’d have thought.

HEATHROW GRIDLOCK

This is worth noting: the culture, media and sport select committee have warned Jeremy Hunt (via a leaked letter) that Heathrow will not be able to withstand the strain of the Olympics. The result, they reckon, could be that tourists will be deterred from returning to Britain – if they arrive at all.

John Whittingdale, the committee chairman, told the Culture Secretary that two members of his committee – Therese Coffey and Gerry Sutcliffe – had attended a briefing by Heathrow operator BAA and were not confident that: “Heathrow was ready to cope with the arrival of a huge number of competitors, Olympic family and visiting tourists in timely fashion”.

Which is all too believable. How is that plan for expanding airport capacity in the south east going then?

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/Sun poll: Conservatives 35%, Labour 41%, Liberal Democrats 8%

TWEETS AND TWITS

Ever since Pastygate Tory MPs have been trying to prove they are men of the people. Some are struggling more than others. Yesterday, Welsh minister tweeted:

“@David Jones: On platform waiting for Euston train. Cardiff train just pulled in. Amazing number of stops on the route.”

One step at a time, David.

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Peter Oborne: Torture casts a ghastly shadow over our country’s reputation

Sue Cameron: The cities are taking power from Whitehall

Leader: Clegg’s green agenda will put us out of business

Leader: A charitable retreat

Best of the rest

Zoe Williams in the Guardian: Cuts are a coalition catechism. When will the left challenge it?

Paddy Ashdown in the Times (£): Snoopers’ charter breaches the coalition deal

Steve Richards in the Independent: Bus fares and gas bills are once more deciding who we vote for

Mehdi Hasan in the Guardian: If you don’t want Boris, you have to vote for Ken

THE AGENDA

Today: David Cameron visits Malaysia.

Today: London Mayoral hustings for disabled people, Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, Southbank, London

10.15am: UKIP leader Nigel Farage and UKIP Mayoral Candidate Lawrence Webb appear at the party’s local elections and mayoral campaign launch

12.00pm: Ed Miliband appears at the City Ground in Nottingham to open Nottingham Forest’s new “Champions’ Centre”, with former Nottingham Forest captain John McGovern