UKIP surge in the local elections

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Was it a breakthrough night for Ukip? It seems like it this morning, but caveats first: we have just seven council results and a by-election on which to base our conclusions. Let’s not stampede just yet. The Tories are not quite saying that things have turned out not as bad as feared, though you sense they hope so. But the numbers don’t give them much comfort: they may not lose many councils, but Ukip is riping huge chunks out of Tory heartlands. John Curtice is making the point that we are seeing a historic result with huge consequences for the three main parties.

Already voices are being raised from Tory backbenches demanding concessions from Dave. John Baron was on Today pressing the case for his referendum legislation. Expect others to follow. Mr Cameron’s tentative offer of a Bill this week was a pre-emptive strike. It seems that the trouble for Dave will be about policy rather than his leadership. His frenemies on the backbenches reckon they have him on the ropes: he has accepted changes to the policy-making machine that give backbenchers the whip hand, so they will use Ukip’s share to beat him into more submissions. The argument today will be in part around the protest vote question: have voters lent their support to Ukip merely to make a (temporary) point, or is this the beginning of a long-term shift? Mr Cameron will argue that on immigration, Europe, welfare he is already well ahead of Ukip and doing what angry voters want. But will he be able to hold his nerve when the scale of Ukip’s advance becomes clear? He’ll be helped by Labour’s difficulties. Ukip may take its votes from the Tories, but we may also conclude today that Ed Miliband’s offer is going nowhere, in particular in the areas where it needs to recover if it is to return to power. The result may panic Dave and the Tories, but by tea-time today will it be Labour that has the most to fear? Keep up to date with our live coverage and interactive results map. The key details so far:

Local Council Elections

  • Seven declarations. Seat movements: Con -66, Lab +30, Lib Dem -15, Ukip +42
  • Tories lose Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire to no overall control.
  • Tories hold Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Somerset and Hertfordshire
  • BBC reports that Ukip is averaging 26pc of the vote in the wards where it is standing. Polling on average 12p% higher in wards where it stood in 2009.
  • Ukip win 16 seats in Lincolnshire making it the official opposition.

South Shields By-election

  • Labour hold. Lab 50.5% (-1.5$), Ukip 24.2% (+24.2%), Con 11.6% (-10.0%)
  • Lib Dems seventh with 352 votes or 1.4%, down 12.8% and behind two independents and a BNP candidate.
  • Labour majority falls from 11,109 to 6,505 (-42%)

Grant Shapps has been across the airwaves this morning insisting that while the Tories had been hurt by defection, 2015 would be a two horse race. “Ukip have done well, I don’t make any secret about that at all. We need to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of the public,” he said. He later conceded to the Today programme that the Tories needed to take responsibility for failing to get their message across, adding that “[the vote] is a loud and clear message. We get it. We’ve heard you…we need to get on with it.” A senior Lib Dem told the Press Association that the Tories were the big losers on the night: “these results are set to prove that the Tories can’t win a majority in 2015, partly because the Lib Dems remain strong in [73] held seats, and partly because Ukip has peeled off a significant section of Tory support.” Hilary Benn, on the other hand, was more dismissive. He told Daybreak that “”It’s a party of protest, I don’t think it’s a party of government.”

Nigel Farage? Well, he was a little more upbeat, telling the programme that it was a breakthrough moment: “We have always done well in European elections… but people haven’t seen us as being relevant to local elections or in some ways general elections. So for us to be scoring, on average, 26% of the vote where we stand is I think very significant indeed.” Appearing on the Today programme, he added that Ukip could emulate Canada’s Reform Party and go from being a fringe party to parliamentary majority in one cycle. He also noted that: “We’ve been gaining momentum for over two years…the people who vote for us are rejecting the establishment. And quite right too. I understand that completely. But are they voting Ukip just to stick two fingers up or because we’re offering positive policy alternatives?”

Uncomfortable questions loom for every party leader. For Dave, the focus will be on immigration and the economy, the Mail reports. Restrictions on immigrants accessing benefits, the NHS and other public services will be at the core of the new offer, with nannying reforms like the “snooper’s charter” and plain pack cigarette advertising dropped. The FT (£) has further colour, adding that the Queen’s Speech will also see minimum alcohol pricing and a measure to enshrine the 0.7pc aid target in law shelved. In come the HS2 paving Bill, an immigration Bill making deportations easier, the abolition of the second state pension, and a £75,000 cap on residential care costs for the elderly. Dave’s husky hugging days seem well behind him. As for Ed, the Independent warns that his colleagues are unhappy that he has fallen into the trap of making Labour “the welfare party” and are demanding a Labour deficit elimination plan which would see debt reducing from 2017/18.

What both men need to discover quickly is what makes Ukippers tick. The Times (£) has published a YouGov poll which notes that the party’s voters are largely ex-Tories and prefer Dave to Ed. That’s the good news for CCHQ, the bad news is the number who have defected. Of Tory voters at the last election, they have lost only 6pc to Labour, 2pc to the Lib Dems, but 18pc, nearly one in five, to Ukip. Labour have lost 4pc of their voters to the purple team, with the Lib Dems losing 8pc. As Iain Martin writes, it may take more than tinkering around the margins to rebuild the Tory coalition:

“Ironically, when David Cameron eventually stands down in 2015 or 2017, the question confronting his party will be very similar to the one he posed in 2005. How can the Tory family be extended and broadened so that it can win properly? I suspect that the answer may lie outside the sphere of conventional Westminster politics. When the time comes, it will take a leader with the ability to make voters – sick of austerity and relative decline – forget their differences. Someone with Thatcher-like charisma, Reaganite optimism, star power, chutzpah, pragmatism, vision, luck, experience of holding office in a leading world city, and perhaps a mop of blond hair. Is there such a person available?”

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN PRIME MINISTERS

Making a pledge on Europe is the easy part (cf. EU constitution referendum). As Dave well knows, action is the hard part. But action there must be, as Boris warned while speaking at a, er, chocoate factory yesterday. Suggesting that the Prime Minister “ram [the Europe] message home” with legislation for a referendum tabled in this parliament, Boris also delicately skirted around Dave’s track record adding “I think it’s very important that there should be clarity in people’s minds, that we don’t have a repeat of the situation we had with the Lisbon Treaty where we thought we were going to get a referendum and then it was somehow whisked off the table.” Quite. As our leader instructs, “don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron.”

Fortunately for Dave, he may soon have the benefit of Boris’ advice at first hand. Zac Goldsmith conceded in an interview with the Evening Standard yesterday that he had discussed the option with the Mayor, but insisted it only arose after he had seen it in a political blog. Bo-Jo has “magic dust” and “integrity” according to Mr Goldsmith who “can imagine him as a future and very successful leader of the Conservative Party”. Dave, on the other hand, has problems. Mr Goldsmith attacked his leadership, particularly his indecisiveness over Heathrow, saying “even critics respect leadership and decisiveness and I do think we are lacking in that up to a point.”

THE STRAINED ALLIANCE

No wonder Philip Hammond has been eyeing the ringfenced budgets hungrily. As we report, Whitehall sources fear that the coming spending review may force British defence expenditure below the 2pc of GDP threshold required as a NATO member, straining further the British relationship with the US. Mr Hammond, who met US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday, is also said to have been warned that the US believes the UK will be able to take on less of a leadership role in Europe if further cuts are imposed, and will be more dependent of cooperation with France and other continental powers. Quelle Horreur!

NO CLIMATE CHANGE – IT’S STILL FROSTY

Ed Davey has written to Michael Gove to request that he reinstates climate change as part of the Geography curriculum. The Guardian reports that Mr Davey has requested a meeting between officials from the DoE and DoECC to discuss the issue. Mr Gove’s response was thanks, but no thanks. His officials wrote back to the Energy Secretary to say that “it is not true that climate change has been removed from the new draft national curriculum,” adding that its coverage in science teaching was more extensive than ever.

OAP ASSAULT

Older MPs are treated as “dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots” by party leaders fumes Austin Mitchell in a piece for this month’s Oldie. As we report, Mr Mitchell, a sprightly 78, really gives it both barrels:

“Arrivistes, garagistes and City whiz-kids replaced the older Tory elite, while Labour fielded fewer trade unionists and real workers. All are noisier and pushier than their predecessors, resulting in more frantic activity and more pre-cooked questions and debating points. Pressure to speak leaves no time for eloquence or opportunities to deploy specialist knowledge.

“We [older politicians] are not clamouring for promotion or publicity, so we can concentrate on being good parliamentarians. Yet we are discounted as irrelevant failures. The few of us misguided enough to act young by going on Twitter are abused as dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots. Constituency parties might be supportive but the national party will certainly be merciless in its desire to pick the youthful and the brainless.”

BAD DAVE!

Dave was “seriously naughty” not to declare his wife’s stake in a company which plans to build hundreds of houses on greenfield land, according to Paul Flynn, a member of the Public Administration Select Committee. As we report, following discussions with Sir Jeremy Heywood, Dave decided not to declare his wife’s holdings as a relevant interest, although he did find room to mention his role as patron for three charities (no beekeeping duties noted, sadly) and as ambassador for the British Fashion Council. Mr Flynn places the blame at Sir Jeremy’s door: “the problem is that when they chose the most recent independent advisers for ministers, they chose a poodle, not a Rottweiler.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Even Jim Murphy concedes the brilliance of the Lib Dem campaign in South Shields:

@jimmurphymp: Respite for Clegg as Lib Dems humiliate the Monster Raving Loony Party into a sorry 8th place by trouncing them by 154 votes. #southshields

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Iain Martin – Wanted: a leader who can unite the warring Tory tribes

Jeremy Warner – Will Carney be a man of independent mind?

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet – Mr Normal has become a pitiful president

Telegraph View – Don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Panic is pointless. Ukip’s not a serious party

Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express – Mass immigration has changed our country for ever

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it?

John Kampfner in the Daily Mail – The public has a right to know who’s charged with a crime. This police secrecy insults democracy

THE AGENDA

Today: Counting of votes in some council elections. Daytime counts include Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Bristol. Doncaster mayoral election is also a daytime count.

Launch of adoption passport. Education Minister Edward Timpson is launching the adoption passport and responding to the adoption and fostering consultation.

09:30 am: Insolvency figures for the first quarter of 2013 are released.

Dave goes nuclear on the coalition

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. David Cameron has launched a forthright defence of Trident which will cheer the Tory benches while risking a further rift in the coalition with the Lib Dems. Writing for the Telegraph, Dave argues that “we need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British government embarked on it more than six decades ago.” He adds that the breakup of the Soviet Union has not led to less risk, but uncertainty which “has, if anything, increased”. Tackling Lib Dem criticisms of Trident’s costs, he notes that the expense “is less than 1.5pc of our annual benefits bill”. Finally, there’s Tory pragmatism, again positioned in opposition to Lib Dem idealism:

“Of course, a world without nuclear weapons is a fine ideal… But in the absence of an agreement to disarm multilaterally, those who want us to give up our nuclear weapons entirely must provide evidence that there is no prospect of the UK facing a nuclear threat. I cannot make that argument. I believe that to disarm unilaterally in the hope that others would follow would be an act of naivety, not statesmanship. It would be seen by our adversaries not as wisdom, but weakness.”

Mr Cameron says nothing however about his preferred option for Trident renewal: will he keep the same number of boats? Or move away from continuous at sea deterrence? These are the unanswered questions that he has yet to address. At any rate, here’s an open challenge to the Lib Dems, and it hits them where it hurts, questioning their seriousness and suitability for government. With Labour’s position in flux while Douglas Alexander completes his review of the options, the Prime Minister has calculated that repositioning the Tories as the party of defence, after a series of military cuts which were deeply unpopular on the backbenches, was worth hurt looks from across the Cabinet table. The fact is, though, that by the terms of the Coalition Agreement, any final decision on a nuclear deterrent is to be put off until the next parliament. With Dave unable to act alone, he runs the risk of being berated for failing to turn words into action in this parliament, as was the case earlier this week with his EU referendum plan. At the same time, intractable Lib Dems and the June Spending Review won’t mix well.

Of course, there is also the domestic case for Trident. Dave will visit a Scottish defence contractor later today where he will give a speech declaring that thousands of jobs north of the border are at risk if Scotland votes for independence. The FT (£) reports that he will tell workers that Scotland’s access to world markets hinges on its membership of the UK, with the attendant and unspoken threat being that London would look elsewhere if Britain broke up.

TORIES TOLD TO WASH LAUNDRY IN PRIVATE

Kris Hopkins, who heads the 301 group of Conservative MPs in marginal constituencies, has warned that attempts by colleagues in safe seats to undermine David Cameron and George Osborne will lead to electoral disaster, the Times (£) reports. Mr Hopkins’ riposte to those wishing to appeal to “leafy, wealthy parts of Britain” is that the Cameroonian detoxification project was absolutely necessary. These MPs did not, he argues, understand “the level of hatred out there for the Conservative Party [in 1997] and the way the party has to redefine itself to reconnect with the modern public.”

Writing for us this morning, Peter Oborne also calls for Tory unity. His argument differs significantly from that of Mr Hopkins’, though. The Tories are on the cusp of great things as a result of their gift for administrative change, he writes, it is the fault of our myopic political culture that they have not been rewarded:

“This is mature, grown-up government of the highest calibre. Put all these changes together, and it is evidence that this Government is potentially as ambitious as the great Attlee administration of 1945-51, or the Thatcher government 30 years later. It is simultaneously trying to mend our broken NHS, education and welfare systems. If it succeeds in only one of these ambitions, the Coalition will have been worthwhile. If it succeeds in two, it will be remembered as one of the great reforming peacetime administrations. Even if it largely fails (perhaps the most likely outcome), it will still have made a heroic and admirable effort to change Britain for the better.”

TORIES CALL FOR CHILD BENEFIT LIMIT

Cases like that of Mick Philpott illustrate the need to restrict child benefit to the first two children, David Davis argues in this morning’s Times (£), with support from Bernard Jenkin and Mark Reckless. IDS proposed a two child limit in a speech prior to the Tory conference last year. Although he was backed at the time by George Osborne, the Lib Dems pushed the idea out the Autumn Statement, which means any subsequent appearance is likely to be as a manifesto pledge.

CHARITY BEGINS ABROAD

Britain’s aid spending is the second largest such programme in the world in dollar terms and the sixth largest as a proportion of national income, according to the OECD. DfID’s budget will rise by 30pc this year at a time of severe spending cuts elsewhere in Whitehall. Predictably, the Tory Right was unamused. As the FT (not online) notes, Philip Davies captured their mood, saying that “cutting aid is what any sensible government would do. This government’s position is unjustifiable - we simply haven’t got the cash.” The Times (£) notes that he may get his way, in Pakistan at least, as the International Development Select Committee is warning the Government that it ought to cancel its spending there unless the country’s MPs start to pay income tax.

GENERAL STRIKE PLANS GATHER MOMENTUM

Unison has joined Unite in backing the proposal for a 24-hour general strike, the first in Britain since 1926. As the Independent reports, the two unions, which have a combined 2.7m members, will put Ed Miliband in a difficult situation, especially given that Grant Shapps is already calling for the Labour leadership to distance itself from potential strikes by refusing any further union donations.

CAMERON URGED TO DROP PRESS REGULATION

A group of America’s most eminent journalists has written to David Cameron, warning that his press reforms “run counter to bedrock principles of a democracy”. As we report, the authors, from the Campaign to Protect Journalists, also warn that Britain will lose its “moral authority” when discussing press freedom in the developing world, should the reforms come into being.

CCHQ LEAVES WILSON RED FACED

The surprisingly frequent intermingling of Conservative MPs, Twitter and sex has produced another embarrassing moment, although this time the MP concerned, Rob Wilson, was not to blame. Asked to send a link to his followers discrediting the claims of market trader David Bennett to live on £53 a week, he was happy to oblige, the Independent‘s Diary column reports. Unfortunately, the link with which he had been provided took the inquisitive Tory supporter to a page suffused with rather more eyebrow raising content. CCHQ, rather euphemistically, blame a “technical hitch”.

PLEASE, SIR. MAY WE HAVE SOME MORE (EXPENSES)?

MPs have complained to Ipsa that current expenses guidelines leave the having to “watch the clock” until 7:31 on evenings when the House is sitting before they are allowed a meal which can be put on expenses. As we report, Kevan Jones, a shadow Labour defence minister, lamented in a meeting between Ipsa officials and the House of Commons Administration Committee that not only was his £15 food allowance less than that of a serving soldier (a statement challenged by the MoD), but that he was not able to claim for “a large lunch at lunchtime…and then a snack in the evening”. How long before there’s a petition up and running challenging IDS to live in the humble circumstances of a mid-career Labour politician?

THE WIFF-WAFF MATCH OF THE CENTURY

Who says the Olympic spirit is dead? In her Spectator column, Pippa Middleton challenged Boris to a game of table tennis, or wiff-waff as the Mayor would have it, citing Boris’ ambition to be “world king” and her experience in the “Milton KeynesU13 National Championships” as their respective credentials. Never one to let down a lady, Bo-Jo has replied that he is “game if she is”. The Spectator have offered the use of their ping pong table and some Pol Roger. Pippa, meanwhile, “sensed some nerves” in the Mayor’s reply. Forget Boris v Dave, this is the match the public want to see.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Rob Wilson receives some moral support from Mike Fabricant:

@Mike_Fabricant: Oh, I do love this story. I do hope some mischievous young scamp at Conservative HQ did this deliberately! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-22017567 …”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – The PM’s critics are wrong. He’s on the verge of something great

David Cameron – We need a nuclear deterrent more than ever

Sue Cameron – Whitehall shouldn’t risk losing its memory

Telegraph View – Real Time Information may be a reform too far

Best of the Rest

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express – The Left’s frenzied assault on IDS is a ludicrous tactic

Martin Kettle in The Guardian – A maths lesson for politicians: seven into three doesn’t go

Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail – Forget the Mafia. Our Establishment covers up its crimes better than anyone

Peter Tasker in the FT (£) – Japan and Britain must lead the way to a reflated economy

THE AGENDA

09:45 am: London mayor Boris Johnson visits Ealing Studios. Ealing Studios, Ealing Green.

12:00 pm: Bank of England monetary policy committee decision on interest rates and quantitative easing.

No Mansion Tax and no Budget clues from Osborne

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. George Osborne’s appearance on ITV‘s The Agenda last night gave little for Budget watchers to chew on other than what we knew already – there will be no mansion tax on his watch. “Very quickly it becomes a homes tax on many people who are not living in mansions at all,” he explained. The Times (£) will be pleased, their leader today echoes the Chancellor’s line calling the proposals a “slippery slope” and adding that “however large the amounts of money taken from the small group, the sums will not be enough when spread around the large group.” You wonder whether Tim Montgomerie has read it, given yesterday’s full throated support. Anyway, fear not tax enthusiasts, there’s more where that came from! With Nick repeating Vince’s line that the super-mansion tax proposals were all a bit of “wacky” fun (office drinks with the Lib Dems must be a hoot), the party have moved on to another idea already. This time around it’s another cut to the tax free pension allowance. The Mail reports that the party wants to see the tax free total saved cut from £50,000 to £30,000 each year, with the total pot cut from £1.5m to £1m. They’re persistent, you have to give them that.

Another line of George’s from last night is worth repeating – “we are forcing the rich to pay more [but] fairness is [also] about a welfare system that doesn’t pay for people to stay at home.” Remarks like this underscore the point I make in my column this morning – the fiscal debate has become polarised, the super-rich versus the poor. Given that, the middle class have become the invisible men and women of the nation’s financial debate. They work, they vote, and they represent the shock troops of the economic vanguard, and the parties overlook them at their peril:

“The Tories have shown a worrying willingness to be drawn into this politics of extremes that characterises the Labour and Lib Dem preoccupations with the rich and poor…The danger is not that the Chancellor will be fooled into trying to match Labour’s tax tinkering in his budget, but that Downing Street will not do enough to explain what it has already done to help those in the middle with tax cuts that will be felt in April.”

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

David Cameron did a fair impression of Ian Bell in his impromptu Indian cricket match yesterday, scoring a breezy boundary or two and going quite red in the face before being bowled by a straight one (the Guardian has the highlights of his innings). The trip seems to have been a success. Britain and India will sign an agreement on preventing cyber crime originating from China, while the FT‘s spread (£) makes the business case for the Prime Minister’s trek. He is also still hopeful when it comes to flogging India some Tycoon. If anyone can, he can – as G2 reports, few Prime Ministers know the arms game better than Dave.

Then there’s the policy making. A slightly more unguarded Dave let slip yesterday that his apology for promoting too few women to the Cabinet was prompted in part by Sam-Cam’s belief that he was losing “more than half the talent” by doing so. One proposal to counter-act parliament’s women problem is that floated in the Guardian today – job sharing for MPs. The plans, being drawn up by Lib Dems, would aim to combat what the party calls male “presenteeism culture”. Presenteeism at work? It will never do. Besides which, Mr Clegg will forgive us for pointing out that his record on female representation in the Commons or the Cabinet is, frankly, dire. Dave also spoke of his desire to hold senior figures to account for the Mid Staffs scandal yesterday, as we report. Given the equally disturbing Times (£) story on 1,600 avoidable child deaths each year, accountability and reform will need to be the NHS’s watchwords for the remainder of this parliament, at least.

Ed was away too, of course. His trip to Denmark outdid Mr Cameron’s recent efforts in one important respect. He managed to look even more confused in his photoshoot with Helle Thorning-Schmidt than Dave did when he found himself as backing vocals to One Direction. Takes a nice photo, does Ed.

TORIES WORRIED AS EASTLEIGH SLIPS AWAY

John O’Farrell apologised yesterday for having once written that he was sad Margaret Thatcher was not killed when the Brighton bomb detonated, the Southern Daily Echo reports – remarks which were the subject of an impassioned Norman Tebbit blog for us yesterday. Lord Tebbit wrote “I do not know to what extent his disappointment that Sinn/FeinIRA failed to kill the Prime Minister was eased by the deaths of five other people or the injuries incurred by John Wakeham and my wife.” Theresa May was in town campaigning for the Tories with the Times (£) reporting that there is gloom in the party’s upper echelons as the Lib Dems have consolidated their lead. How much does it matter to the party? Well, the Sun reports that Maria Hutchings called the coalition “a pact with the devil”, so it’s fair to say there’s no love lost. And in case you think that policy is somehow getting lost in all the politics, one candidate has come up with a bold new proposal. The way to create an economic revival in Eastleigh is…to rename the local airport after Benny Hill, Howling Lord Hope tells the Eastleigh News.

RBS TOLD TO SPEED UP REFORMS

The Government is anxious for RBS to complete its internal reforms so that it can be taken off the state’s books, Dave told investors in India yesterday. The FT (£) reports that the Prime Minister is contemplating a “tell Sid” style mass offering, but with shares given away for free, an idea originally dismissed by George Osborne, but received better when Vince Cable revived it last month. The Guardian suggests that the Coalition’s desire to “accelerate” the process could see it completed before 2015. Only one problem – the National Audit Office need to be convinced of the business case before the Government disposes of any shares in the nationalised banks. I’m not sure an impending election counts.

VOTE GREEN, GO BLACK (OUT)

British energy reserves are on a rollercoaster heading “downhill fast”, the boss of Ofgem, Alastair Buchanan warns today in a piece for us. Around 10pc of the country’s generation plants will be decommissioned next month as coal and oil powered stations close early in order to meet environmental targets. As a result, he believes that price rises are inevitable. That is also the takeaway from the Guardian‘s splash, a report that in order to find someone, anyone to build us new nuclear power stations, the Government is offering guaranteed subsidies for 40 years, despite the Coalition Agreement stating that no such subsidies would be made available. Oh well. If the blackouts do come, at least they’ll be the greenest blackouts ever.

SWIFT JUSTICE

Justice delayed is justice denied, as they say in legal circles, and Damian Green will make a similar point in his speech on crime policy at Reform at 10am. We report that Mr Green will suggest that criminals awaiting trial are responsible for many more crimes while their cases are subject to “shocking” delays. No wonder he adds that in many respects the justice system has not moved on from the days of Bleak House.

RIGHT TO LIGHT THREATENED

The Law Commission has begun a consultation backed by ministers which could see the right to daylight removed from planning considerations, we report. Around three million homes could be powerless to prevent large developments and extensions blocking out sunlight. On the upside, if the French build us a power station, those whose windows now look out onto a brick wall will be able to have a light on inside, so it isn’t all bad news.

BORIS SPEAKS OUT ON ALCOHOL PRICING

Remarkably on-message over the winter months, Bo-Jo broke his self-imposed abstinence yesterday, explaining that Dave’s plan for minimum alcohol unit pricing is “very regressive. It hits the poorest people first.” His remarks to the Evening Standard instead advocated alcohol ban zones which he said were working “very well” in the capital.

THE ABSENT ARMY

There is one small flaw becoming apparent with the Coalition’s defence strategy. The determination to axe front-line soldiers and replace them with territorial army troops relies on the TA being able to attract people prepared to do active service. The Times (£) reports this morning that not only are a net 1,000 reservists a year quitting, but that the current number of fully trained reservists is only 18,340 against a target of 30,000 by 2018. The problem, the paper explains is that, “if there is something good on telly, they won’t be [at training].”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Despite a vicious verbal attack from Hilary Mantel yesterday, the Duchess of Cambridge can console herself with the thought of brighter days ahead. Days in Grimsby, home to Austin Mitchell:

@AVMitchell2010: “Duchess Kate of Cambridge coming to Grimsby on 5 March.A treat for her and for us.Wonder if she’ll get to Steels?”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Never mind about the rich and poor, what about the middle class

George Bridges – Manic activity makes for bad government

Andrew Lilco – Miliband’s plan to tax rich and poor is wrong on both counts

Telegraph View – Provincial cities need to be empowered

Best of the rest

Gideon Rachman in the FT (£) – A disarmed Europe will face the world on its own

James Slack in the Daily Mail – An accident waiting to happen and a political class in paralysis

Dominic Lawson in The Independent – All this talk of a mansion tax is just political posturing

Hugo Rifkind in The Times (£) – My house is overpriced. How about yours?

THE AGENDA

10:00 am: Police minister Damian Green speech on crime and justice policy at Reform. BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street.

Laws Blames Coalition For Breaking Fee Pledge

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING NEWS: David Laws has been on the Today programme defending the ‘pupil premium’ in the wake of a critical Ofsted report . He spoke about Nick Clegg’s apology for reversing his tuition fees policy:

“Every Liberal Democrat MP has collective responsibility. This was not just a promise from Nick. All of us appreciated that it was a tough budgetary environment… We ought to have reflected in our manifesto that the only way we could have implemented this policy was in a coalition government and the other two parties were committed to increasing fees.

“If the Liberal Democrats had won 500 seats…of course it would have been technically possible to deliver this policy. It wasn’t possible after the election…and that is why Nick has apologised.”

Mr Laws has also been attempting to set out a vision in which there is “oversight” but not instruction when it comes to making sure schools allocate the funds properly.

“We will give the money to schools and headteachers who ought to know best how to use the money in the best interests of pupils… We’re not going to tell a headteacher precisely how to help a disadvantaged pupil.”

CLEGG: I’M SORRY

Just when sorry seemed to be the hardest word, Nick Clegg produced a Youtube mea culpa last night, apologising for his party’s failure to stick to its promise not to raise tuition fees. A contrite looking Clegg addressed viewers from his home in Putney, saying:

“There’s no easy way to say this: we made a pledge. We didn’t stick to it – and for that I am sorry. When you’ve made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly – most important of all – you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And that’s what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.”

Is his apology a sign of weakness, or evidence of political smarts? The Gordon Brown school of dividing line politics says never apologise, never concede, remain behind your dividing lines. Mr Clegg calculates however that the public want something different, namely politicians who are prepared to speak truthfully about the problems they grapple with and the mistakes they make.

Mr Clegg knows that tuition fees remain a toxic issue for him, particularly on the left. By apologising for breaking his promise – but not the policy itself – he hopes he can draw a line under the disaster: three months spent facing party audiences have left him in no doubt about grassroots fury. He will feel he has performed a necessary act of public penance, and got it out of the way before his conference. Actually, the interesting question is where this gesture leaves David Cameron, and Ed Miliband for that matter. What might they like to apologise for?

If Clegg was hoping for an understanding audience in the morning papers, he was wrong. Although there is support from the Times (£), headline writers elsewhere have had a field day. The Sun goes with “Clegg Grovels”, the Independent with “Clegg eats humble pie over broken promises”, and the Mail with “Humiliated Clegg says sorry for his tuition fee U-turn”.

The reaction from Labour has been uncompromising, too. Harriet Harman labelled the apology “crocodile tears” in a vicious statement which suggests that however close Labour may now be to Vince, Nick is a different proposition.

Not everyone is critical. Steve Richards in the Independent argues that the Lib Dems have achieved more than is usually recognised and that regicide at the party conference is extremely unlikely, especially given that Vince has followed Nick into government:

“I do not see how Vince Cable can mount a challenge when he is in the same Cabinet as Clegg, and doubt whether Cable will resign in order to make his insurrectionary moves.”

Mr Cable certainly seems to be onside. Speaking on Newsnight last night, Vince said that he had been “sceptical” about the policy of the time and thought it an “unwise commitment”.

AIDE: I’M NOT

Contrition was the order of the day at the top of the party, but not all Lib Dems could move themselves to stand by the apologies of the leadership. Richard Reeves, Mr Clegg’s former right-hand-man, has broken his silence in today’s New Statesman to stand-by his leader’s bigot comments and call for the Lib Dems to fight the “forces of conservatism”.

Mr Reeves’ comments on the direction of the party are interesting given their timing and his former proximity to the Deputy PM. Mr Clegg, he writes is:

“A radical liberal, fiercely committed to opening up British society, attacking the hoards of power that disfigure our politics and economy, and to keeping the state out of private lives. Opportunity, not equality. Liberty, not fraternity. Citizens, not subjects.”

This decisive figure contrasts sharply with the one painted by James Forsyth in the Spectator:

“Going into the last election, many of Nick Clegg’s closest allies and, I suspect, the Lib Dem leader himself found the tuition fees pledge embarrassing. It was precisely the kind of opportunistic policy that they had tried to wean the party off.

“But when it came to the election and it was still, despite their best efforts, party policy they decided to run with it.

“But when the Browne review came in with its recommendation for £9,000 fees, Clegg — partly, at Vince Cable’s urging — compounded the problem by not exercising the Lib Dem’s coalition agreement opt-out on the matter. Instead, Lib Dem MPs were whipped to vote for the increase.”

Indecision, internal strife… and you thought the Conservatives had problems.

CUT TARGET OF THE DAY

Today sees the publication of an IPRR report calling for £14bn of cuts to public spending over and above the £10bn of benefit spending cuts being targeted. The FT (£) reports that study shows dramatic cuts will be needed elsewhere if the coalition continues to protect spending on health and international aid. An even distribution of cuts would mean a £3.7bn cut to the education budget, equivalent to 80,000 teaching jobs.

Meanwhile, the Treasury has begun the process of cutting child benefit bills, sending out letters warning those earning over £60,000 that they will either lose their benefits or see the cash clawed back through the tax system, today’s Times (£) reports.

Still, if George Osborne were to re-examine his health cut exemption, he might find an area more susceptible to cuts than the others – today’s Guardian reports that the NHS is currently sitting on £4bn of cash reserves.

RED ED THE WEAK LINK

Another day, another poll, another Labour lead. Ed Miliband’s party polled 41pc to the Conservative’s in yesterday’s Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard. It is not all good news for Ed, though. The Labour leader is less popular than his party, whereas the opposite is true for David Cameron.

The FT (£) see this as signalling open season on the Labour leader:

“Conservative strategists say they have no qualms about making “ad hominem” attacks on Mr Miliband, saying Labour did the same thing with Tory leaders including Mr Cameron, William Hague and Michael Howard.

“The plan to target Mr Miliband was discussed on Monday at a Chequers meeting to debate coalition strategy. George Osborne, the chancellor, and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, were among those present.”

Labour’s leader already faces a tough decision imposed on him by coalition politics, as I wrote yesterday:

“How does [the Labour Party] respond to the next spending review, which everyone expects will cover the first years of the next Parliament? There are those who are pressing for a big symbolic statement that would see Labour accept whatever cuts the Coalition proposes for after 2015. They are also concerned that on policy the party is still doing its thinking, and is not ready for the scrutiny that will come in the coming months as Westminster’s expectations adjust to the possibility that Labour might be back in power faster than initially thought.”

THE SECOND BUTCHEST MAN IN THE TORY PARTY AWARD…

…goes to Chris Grayling. The new Justice Secretary features heavily in today’s tabloids refuting Ken Clarke’s comments earlier this week that the department would persevere with the latter’s more liberal approach to criminal justice.

In the Sun, Mr Grayling can be found having a Michael Howard moment:

“I want to be the Tough Justice Secretary… Am I planning to reduce the number of prison places? No, I’m not.”

The Daily Mail is impressed. Its leader column says that for the national good, Mr Grayling “must prove Ken Clarke wrong.” The substance of Mr Grayling’s changes remains opaque, however, and it remains to be seen whether Mr Clarke, ever the wily old fox, was right when he said on Tuesday:

“The rhetoric may change, but the substance will stay the same.”

RED TAPE CHALLENGE UPDATE

David Cameron’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, launched in April 2011 to scrutinise 6,500 pieces of regulation, publishes the result of its consultation with small business today. Key proposals include an independent body to push for deregulation, encouraging self-regulation in peer-to-peer finance, and a new consumer rights directive.

Institute of Economic Affairs director general Mark Littlewood has also written a paper for the initiative, available here, which is much more radical in scope, talking of treating staff in ‘challenger’ businesses as self-employed under various thresholds in order to avoid the inflexibility of labour market laws.

With green shoots firmly back on the agenda following positive jobs and inflation data, the small business, anti-regulation focus will stand in contrast to Labour’s perceived preference for big-state solutions, predistribution notwithstanding.

TORY COUNCIL DEFIES GOVERNMENT

The BBC are reporting that Tory led Richmond council will to defy the Government’s instructions to relax planning rules. Council leader Nick True, an influential Tory peer, former special adviser, and a wise voice at Westminster, told colleagues:

“I have already asked the chief executive with officers to consider what this council might be able to do if we are not successful in getting these, in my view, very foolish proposals changed.”

T HERE WERE 305 OF US IN THAT RELATIONSHIP

Today’s Spectator carries an insider’s view of what it’s like to be on the wrong end of the reshuffle from an anonymous former minister:

“Tentatively, I turn up at Dave’s office….What follows was horribly like what one’s wife might say before booting you out. It went something like this: ‘You have done a fantastic job. You have led a fantastic reform programme. I have no complaints about anything, you’ve done nothing wrong.’ The political equivalent of ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’

“I respond in the manner of jilted husbands down the ages. ‘Is there someone else?’

“‘Well, to be honest, there’s actually 303 someone elses and I’ve got to keep them all satisfied, and that’s no mean feat. I’m sure you understand.’”

ANYONE FOR TENNIS?

And finally…The Independent ’s diary reports Francis Maude has taken over Michael Heseltine’s old office. Since Tarzan retired, the room has been used as a meeting room, but now an influx of ministers at the Cabinet Office (including Minister Without Portfolio, Ken Clarke) has led to Mr Maude being the proud occupant of the largest office in Whitehall.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Tom Harris takes IDS to task over his comments that Scotland could not afford its own welfare bill. A career in the SNP press office beckons :

@TomHarrisMP: “Don’t you understand, IDS? In an ‘independent’ Scotland, there will be no welfare budget because we’ll all be rich! You scamp, you! ”

POLL WATCH

Ipsos MORI / Evening Standard: Con 30%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 4%

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Paul Goodman – Pinstripes, plain views – and a real problem for Cameron

Philip Johnston – Do we really want to arm our police?

Jeremy Warner – Money printing has only allowed governments to duck their problems

Damian Reece – As fast as the Bank is printing money, it’s disappearing down a pension black hole

Best of the rest

Martin Kettle in The Guardian – No exaggeration: Ukip is now a force to reckon with

David Miliband in The Times (£) – Why fuss over exams at 16? No one else does

Steve Richards in The Independent – They don’t need to dump Clegg, they need to tell us who they are

Alex Brummer in The Daily Mail – A shameful deal that would rip the heart out of Britain plc

THE AGENDA

Today: Conservative co-chairman Grant Shapps to make announcement on the future of the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller announcement on super fast broadband.

Department for Education to publish Key Stage 2 (Sats) results for 11-year-olds in England.

Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Webb launch pensions auto-enrolment scheme.

Launch of the Government’s ‘Red-tape challenge’ with Institute of Economic Affairs report.

9:30 am: Court hearing for former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. Huhne denies perverting the course of justice over a speeding case. Southwark Crown Court.

9:30 am: Retail sales figures for August are published by the Office for National Statistics.

9:30 am: The Council of Mortgage Lenders publishes its gross mortgage lending figures for August.

11:15 am: Business Secretary Vince Cable to speak at the MADE festival for entrepreneurs. City Hall, Sheffield.

Osborne Looks for £10BN of Welfare Savings

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

George Osborne is eyeing £10bn of savings from the welfare budget according to this morning’s papers. The Times (£) reports that the Chancellor will look to save £2.3bn from a temporary freeze in working-age benefit levels as part of a “kite-flying” exercise which will act as a prologue to a proposed Welfare Bill in 2014.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Osborne gets support from Danny Finkelstein:

“Once we stop, once we return to a policy of borrow and spend, how will we ever summon the will to stop again? The ability to assemble a coalition (small ‘c’) ready to accept public spending restraint is something that has eluded every other Western government except ours.”

Although there is speculation that the move might lead to a rift in the coalition, notably in our report, it seems significant that the Sun reports that the Lib Dem leadership will back the proposed freeze.

Privately Mr Clegg is clear that substantial additional cuts to the welfare budget will be necessary to balance the books. But in exchange he wants some form of wealth tax to even out the impact. He believes it is socially and electorally unacceptable to take money away from the poorest without demanding a contribution from the very wealthiest (method TBC). Mr Osborne may find this the biggest obstacle to securing the savings he needs.

The duration of the freeze is also unknown at this point, with the Independent suggesting that it may last two years. Longer term, there could also be significant savings from linking to welfare payment rises with pay levels, according to a Resolution Foundation report cited in the FT (£). With pay likely to lag inflation over the coming years, this would be welcome news for many. As our leader puts it: “welfare claimants need to tighten their belts, too.”

IDS NOTES SCOTTISH WELFARE DEPENDENCY

This morning sees the Joint Ministerial Conference between the Prime Minister and the heads of the devolved assemblies convene in London.

What was already likely to be a strained atmosphere has probably not been helped by a leak of Iain Duncan-Smith’s speech this afternoon. IDS is expected to weigh into the Scottish independence debate, arguing that Scotland would not be able to afford its welfare bill as an independent state. As the Guardian reports, IDS will say:

“Due to the reliance on the old heavy industries in many parts of the country, it makes perfect sense that we need to spend more money per head of population on welfare support in Scotland. I have no problem with that.

“If the unthinkable were to happen, a Scottish government would face a very stark choice of raising taxes or cutting services. This is not scaremongering, it’s reality.”

That should help create a nice, collegiate atmosphere at Number 10 later today.

HUGHES: LIB DEMS JUDGED ON THE ECONOMY

Speaking before the Lib Dem party conference, Simon Hughes is quoted in the Independent stressing the importance of the economy to his party’s chances at the next election:

“At the next election we will be judged by whether, relative to the rest of the Western developed world, we have steered our way through these difficult waters.”

The responsible tone chimes with the coolness under pressure which I detect in the party leadership. As I write in my Telegraph column today, Mr Clegg is an example to his coalition partners:

“His overarching theme, though, should serve as yet more useful advice for the Tory leader. It is that in difficult times, there is no alternative to the hard course the Coalition has agreed. What the voters demand instead is that very statesmanship that can explain, intelligently and soberly, the sacrifices that are needed, and why they will extend beyond this Parliament and the lifetime of this Coalition. His example of resolve under fire is one Mr Cameron could usefully follow.”

MILLER: CONSERVATIVES JUDGED ON GAY MARRIAGE

And just as the coalition was being patched up with some conciliatory words, Maria Miller has popped up in the Independent and pushed one of the most divisive issues in the Tory party back to the fore. Ms Miller wrote:

“My view is simple; marriage is hugely important. It makes us stronger. Vital family ties will be forged when two people choose to commit.

“The state should not stop two people undertaking civil marriage unless there are good reasons, and I believe being gay is not one of them.”

A number of her colleagues believe that to be a very good reason, but Ms Miller’s appointment and statement of intent suggest that, at the top of the party, the issue is closed.

AFGHAN EMBARRASSMENT FOR HAMMOND

Philip Hammond endured a torrid day at the dispatch box yesterday attempting to defend the decision to reduce the contact between coalition forces and Afghan troops. As the Times (£) reports, Mr Hammond was only made aware of the decision, taken by US generals over the weekend, on Monday after he had already appeared in the Commons.

The appearance led to terrible headlines for the Defence Secretary. “Afghan exist in chaos as Hammond stumbles,” in the Times and “Hammond scrambles to clarify UK’s role after Afghan change,” in the Guardian are representative.

Britain’s timetable for withdrawal was also shrouded in mystery last night. Although the Times report says that the majority of Britain’s 9,500 strong contingent in Afghanistan will return before the 2014 deadline, the consensus appears to be that they will not have wrested control from the Taliban by this time.

In the Mail, Quentin Letts is scathing about the decision to bar Mr Flynn from the Commons debate on Afghanistan when he called Mr Hammond a liar. He contrasts his passion with that found on the Government benches:

“It takes raw belief to get banned from the Commons…if only the Right could do it more often!

BRITAIN ISOLATED IN EUROPE SHOCK

The Guardian leads on the news that five of the six largest EU countries (Britain being the odd man out, unusually) have decided to push for more extensive centralisation of foreign policy and defence powers.

The demands, by a voting bloc which could override the British veto, have the potential to spark another unholy row over Europe between the coalition partners on the back-benches. It’s a debate which would be unwelcome for Dave, but it’s one which is looking increasingly unavoidable.

SWAP SHOP: IHT FOR MANSION TAX?

The Lib Dems are to discuss a proposal to exempt homes from inheritance tax in exchange for mansion tax payments under a new plan, we report.

It’s an interesting move, but again it is also one which could prove uncomfortable for the Conservatives. They were responsible for dragging IHT into the public spotlight before the 2010 election with a promise of a £1m threshold. As it stands, the threshold is still only £325,000 per married person, meaning a £650,000 ceiling.

NO RIGHT TURN FOR CLARKE

Kenneth Clarke insists that the Ministry of Justice will not get tougher with criminals despite the appointment of Chris Grayling to his old job in the recent reshuffle. The move, seen as heralding a more hardline policy approach was dismissed by Mr Clarke, we report. He also had some interesting thoughts on coalition harmony and the economy:

“George wants me in to keep an eye on Vince, and Vince wants me in to keep an eye on George.

“We’ve got a deficit the size of Greece, we’ve got a real job on our hands. I don’t want to bring too much gloom, but it will be a long haul.”

SAUDIS RIDE TO THE TREASURY’S RESCUE

There will be relief at the Treasury this morning given that the FT (£) splashes on Saudi Arabia’s plan to boost oil production. The price of Brent crude has risen to $120 per barrel in recent months, which the Treasury view as unsustainable. The Saudis apparently have a $100 a barrel price target in mind.

Falling crude prices would also make it easier for the Treasury to put its foot back on the fuel duty escalator, however, so don’t expect pump prices to stay low for long.

PANTS TO DAVE

And finally…Boris supporters, already bolstered by last week’s strong poll showing in a Bo-Jo v Ed M electoral contest, have another reason to cheer. According to the Sun, the Mayor of London has overhauled the Prime Minister in the all important pants index. The paper reports:

“Bo-Jo has embarrassed bitter rival David Cameron yet again by shifting more pairs [of pants] with his mugshot on than the PM. A website selling the white Y-fronts with politicians faces on the rear has crashed 14 times in the last few weeks due to demand for Bo-Jo ones.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Kerry McCarthy is quick to quell the notion that the fifteen days between the House of Commons returning from summer holiday and rising for the conference season were not enough:

@KerryMP: “Parliament now in recess till October 15th for party conferences so on my way back to Bristol #recessnotholiday

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – What the Prime Minister could learn from Nick Clegg’s coolness under pressure

Alastair Campbell – The Thick of Mitt

Lt Col Charlie Maconochie – ‘Green on Blue’ attacks must not deter us

Rowan Pelling – Good riddance to GCSEs – we parents hated doing them

Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – If we don’t cut the deficit now, when will we?

Matthew Norman in The Independent – Unambitious? Are you taking the Michael?

Philip Clarke in The FT (£) – Lessons from the supermarket for austerity Britain

Ann Widdecombe in the Daily Express – Tory talk of ditching Cameron is just daft

THE AGENDA

Today: Opening of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

9:00 am: Prime Minister hosting meeting of Joint Ministerial Council, with leaders of devolved executives. 10 Downing Street.

9:30 am Bank of England publishes minutes of September meeting of monetary policy committee.

9:30 am: Good Food March by demonstrators from across Europe demanding the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Brussels.

11:00 am: Brian May launches Team Badger initiative against the Government’s imminent cull of badgers in England, which it is undertaking in an attempt to address Bovine TB in cattle. Ad site 5, West Cromwell Road.

1:00 pm: Women protest outside Downing Street. The protesters against “how the police and courts deny rape victims justice” will be in underwear with slogans on their bodies.

2:40 pm: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speech on welfare reform to Welfare to Work Scotland conference. Crown Plaza Hotel, Congress Road, Glasgow.

6:45 pm: National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) press conference on its agenda for the 2012/13 academic year. Hilton, 92 Southampton Row.

Knifed in the Backbenchers

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

What is David Cameron going to do? He’s stuck between a Coalition Agreement and a hard place. The Sun’s headline “Knifed in the backbenchers” and the FT’s “Cameron seeks to rebuild authority” say it all.

Yesterday evening, the Tory leader faced up to the 1922 Committee and said he was willing to water down the Lords reform proposals. The FT, Mail and the Telegraph say this would involve reducing the number of elected peers in the plan. Dave said: “There is not going to be endless haggling with the Lib Dems… If we fail to do that then we need to draw a line. We are not going to go on and on with this and damage the rest of the Government’s programme.”

The Guardian’s Nick Watt reports that Dave’s planning to tell Nick Clegg that it’s not happening in this Parliament – he’ll have to wait for the next. Watt also says that ministers are looking to build on the DPM’s mild concession in the debate on Monday that he’d let MPs debate at the committee stage of the bill whether to pause the legislation after the first elections in 2015.

Whether the Lib Dems play ball remains to be seen, but Dave does seem to have a trick up his sleeve for calming the backbenchers: William Hague is formally announcing his “comprehensive audit” of the European Union “as the first step in renegotiation a looser relations with Brussels”. Subtle. You can read more here.

Unsurprisingly, the PM got a roasting at PMQs yesterday. He didn’t grab the sketchwriters’ attention, though. The starring role went to Anne Marie Morris MP, who screamed her question – to much amusement – to fight with the noise in the chamber. If you missed it, you can watch it here . The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon described her as “a modern-day Guy Fawkes” who “set Parliament ablaze”. Mrs Morri‏s defended herself on Twitter saying “The House can be a noisy place… but I care about the issue I raised and I will always passionately speak about causes in my constituency.”

COMMENT

Peter Oborne says these events demand that the Coalition return to the Rose Garden because “a fresh agreement with the Lib Dems might just give the careworn PM a new lease of life”.

Martin Kettle warns that the Lords fiasco is “school-of-Brown politics” and will hurt the Coalition. He also includes quotes a Tory minister saying: “Rebellion is like adultery… It’s a big thing the first time. Later it becomes a bit easier, perhaps even ends up as a habit.”

CLIPPING BRITAIN’S WINGS

In the world outside Westminster, business leaders are kicking off about the Coalition’s dithering aviation policy. The Times has published a letter from business and trade union leaders condemning the Government’s latest delay in delivering a coherent aviation policy. As we report today , the important part of the long-awaited review on a new hub airport has been put back, partly in deference to the Lib Dems’ tender sensibilities. This, as we say in our leader, is very much a bad thing.

The Times quotes Sir Richard Branson calling the Government’s failure to make a decision inexcusable, adding that every business in Britain is “losing tons of money” because of the absence of “proper airline services”. Peter Mandelson has also joined the fight: the paper carries an op-ed by the Dark Lord demanding that the Government removes the issue from party politics by setting up an independent commission.

Airports aren’t the only thing businesses are upset about, though. We carry a letter today from bosses in the construction industry, arguing that the failure to invest in infrastructure is damaging the economy in the short and the long term, and could lose Britain investment from overseas. In short – build, Dave, build.

TONY’S BACK IN TOWN

It appears as if Tony Blair’s long-anticipated return to British front-line politics has begun – starting, true to form, at a glitzy sports fundraiser at the Emirates stadium last night. At the event, he shared a stage with Ed Miliband and announced that he’d be advising the Labour Party policy review on sporting matters after the Olympics. This article by Nick Watt (yes, him again) – “Return of the king to heal divisions within the Labour tribe” – is worth reading for more details.

Not everyone was happy to see Mr Tony, though. Anti-war protesters gathered outside, and a disgruntled Shadow Cabinet minister told the Mail : “Tens of thousands of people have joined the party since Ed became leader.They’d either left [under Blair and Brown] or refused to join. Why demotivate them like this?”

Unsurprisingly, the Blairite/Leftist war lives on. These battles die hard, after all. Even David Miliband – who yesterday in a Guardian interview vowed not to talk about Ed any more – makes a veiled swipe at the current Labour Party in today’s New Statesman (which he guest-edited). He warns that the party must “become a magnet for votes, not just a receptacle for them”. Ouch.

But Mr Tony himself is unlikely to care. He’s probably worrying about much bigger things: world peace, international development, and – er – UFOs. Our story on his questions for the MoD on the pressing matter of little green men is worth reading for a giggle.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Looks like the rebel leader survived his encounter with Darth Dave:

“@Jesse_Norman: Rumours of my demise are somewhat exaggerated.”

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 35%, Labour 42%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating: -35

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Peter Oborne: In the Coalition’s darkest hour, it must return to the Rose Garden

Sue Cameron: The nudge, nudge unit has ways to make you pay

Leader: Wishful thinking won’t solve the care crisis

Leader: Clipping Britain’s wings

Best of the rest

John Kampfner in the Financial Times: Coalition malcontents have nowhere to go

Steve Richards in the Independent: What’s in it for us? The question Nick Clegg must ask himself

Martin Kettle in the Guardian: School-of-Brown politics is as destructive as ever

Peter Mandelson in the Times: Only the wise men can land an airport policy

THE AGENDA

Today: The Office for Budget Responsibility releases its annual fiscal sustainability report

10.30am: Energy and Climate Change Questions

2.30pm: Philip Hammond and General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, appear before the Defence Select Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House

6.30pm: Vince Cable gives a speech on science to Royal Society

Can David Cameron prove he is more spine than spin?

Today, the Prime Minister is to announce a number of important, bold and radical welfare reforms.

We know they are important, bold and radical because a series of carefully placed leaks to the weekend press took care to tell us so.

From these we learned that Mr Cameron will be proposing to end the ‘culture of entitlement’. He will be telling us that the country needs a ‘bigger debate about welfare’ which is sending out the wrong signals such as discouraging people from working or giving preference to unmarried over married parents in housing and other benefits.

To which three responses spring to mind. First, his general point is absolutely right. It is vital to end the perverse welfare incentives which punish virtues such as prudence, thrift and the work ethic and promote irresponsibility, dishonesty and licence.

Second, we’ll believe it when we see it — because as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Read more….