MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: David Cameron has told the Today programme that “we are all Thatcherites now…the big arguments she had everyone now accepts”. He added that Baroness Thatcher was “partly” the reason he joined the party and was a “force for good”. He pointed out that her achievements arrived “step-by-step-by-step”, a pointed remark given the calls for him to adopt a more reforming programme.
“George Osborne put it very well in saying that we all live in Margaret Thatcher’s shadow…we should embrace that.”
He added that protesters to “show respect” at “a fitting tribute to a great prime minister respected around the world.”
PLANNING FOR CONFRONTATION
Good morning. The Coalition won last night’s planning vote, but narrowly. Carrying a majority of only 27, it defeated an amendment to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill which would have given councils a veto over the policy of allowing homeowners to build extensions of up to 26ft without planning permission. There were 16 rebels on the Tory side including Zac Goldsmith, Nick de Bois and Tracey Crouch. A further eight Lib Dems including former minister Paul Burstow also refused to back the Government (a full list is available over at the Spectator).
As we report, in order to save the day Eric Pickles was forced to promise MPs a revision to the existing plans. Appealing for the “help” and “assistance” of the backbenches to take these reforms forward saw them through, but former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan’s remarks were instructive – “I am afraid we are not going to believe what you say at that dispatch box until we see it in black and white”. With the May council elections likely to see the Tories lose hundreds of seats, this was a timely reminder that while the public eruptions of discontent with the party hierarchy may have quietened down, the backbenches have become a little more submissive.
Overnight mourners have been camping besides St Paul’s Cathedral to participate in the public mourning of Baroness Thatcher. Her funeral arrangements were denounced by Lord Mandelson last night, as the New Statesman reports. New Labour “over-inhaled” Thatcherism, he told the audience at a Policy Exchange event where he appeared with Michael Gove. Still, the disapproval of the Left wouldn’t leave Lady Thatcher “the slightest bit upset”, as William Hague pointed out in a speech last night. As the Mail reports, he used his address at the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet to call for Britain to rediscover the “firmness of purpose” it exhibited in her era.
George Galloway’s attempt to prevent the cancellation of PMQs came to naught last night, although he did win the backing of 14 Labour MPs. But while parliamentarians have no excuse for not attending, the USA has discovered plenty. President Obama had declined an invitation even before the Boston bombing and the presence of both Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger in the delegation masks the absence of any current politician of the front rank, as the FT (£) reports. So much for the special relationship. Eleven serving prime ministers will attend, though, ranging from Canada’s Stephen Harper to Mario Monti of Italy.
The debate continues in this morning’s papers over Lady Thatcher’s legacy. The Mail‘s leader argues “Cameron must learn from the Lady”, while the Times‘ (£) leader argues that it, and modern Fleet Street, owes its existence to her reforms. Contrast that with the threats Harriet Harman is making over press regulation at present (see below), and you’ll see how far British politics has shifted since she left the stage. In the Mail Robin Harris argued that because she “slew the dragons” of economic inefficiency, she needs no heir, indeed”the meek can inherit the earth”. Writing for us, Robin Renwick argues that Lady Thatcher played a key role in ending apartheid. In the Times (£), Danny Finkelstein makes the point that her generation was the last in British politics whose outlook was informed by World War Two, hence its combative nature. While those arguments will continue for many years, let’s hope that the nation can bid its farewell today with order, decorum and dignity.
IMF CALL FOR PLAN A RETHINK
In an age where economic jousting between the opposing frontbenches consists largely of listing third-party supporters, the apparent defection of the IMF to Ed Balls’ side of the House is a cause for concern for the Chancellor. Yesterday’s statement was a carefully qualified one – “in the face of very weak private demand, it may be time to consider adjusting the original fiscal consolidation plan” – but as Philip Aldrick notes, it signifies an end of the love affair between George and the IMF.
As the FT (£) notes, Treasury sources are pointing out that the fiscal consolidation plan is not particularly demanding, in fact it is less severe than that of the Obama administration in Washington. The Chancellor’s allies say the economy has turned a corner and that positive business confidence numbers recently will start to show up in the growth figures by the end of the year. If so, the IMF may owe their old friend an apology.
LABOUR LEAD SLIPS
What a difference a week makes. In the last seven days, the Labour lead has slipped from 14pts to 7pts according to a Sun/YouGov poll. The new numbers put the Tories on 33pc with Labour on 40pc and Ukip out-polling the Lib Dems by 1pt on 11pc. Coming on the back of yesterday’s Guardian/ICM poll which put his personal rating at a record low of -23pc, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement for Red Ed (and nor are the words of the unnamed senior party member who tells us that the party’s welfare policies are “complete nonsense”).
What can he do to reverse the trend? Lord Ashcroft has some timely advice on ConservativeHome this morning. Listen to the New Labour critics, find and articulate a message, and show you understand the fear of reckless borrowing, he writes. One more thing – “what are you going to do about Ed Balls? Since he was part of the Brownite team who were in charge when it all went wrong – to put it as neutrally as possible – it is hard for you to claim Labour have learnt the right lessons and moved on while he remains Shadow Chancellor.”
But it isn’t all bad news. The Times (£) reports that Ed and Mr Tony will be meeting up to build bridges in “the next few days” while, as Mary Riddell writes, there are some on the Left who believe that “Titanium Ed” can pick up where the Iron Lady left off and be a champion for bold ideas in British public life:
“Mr Miliband buys the argument, made by Jon Cruddas and others, that Labour had become decoupled from the nation’s past and ceded patriotism, history and heritage to the Tories. Hence his mission to reshape Britain’s high streets and to give local power back to the small businessmen, councillors and aldermen whose writ once prevailed in Thatcher’s Grantham.”
HARMAN THREATENS PRESS
The press reforms following the Leveson report are becoming increasingly shambolic. As we report, Maria Miller told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that some papers and magazines may choose to remain outside of the regulatory system, a situation which Philip Davies called “a farce…you have set up this system and nobody is signing up for it.” But wait! Harriet Harman then appeared and told the committee that Labour would back “full-on statutory regulation” if papers did not sign up to the compromise deal, as the Times (£) notes. Who’s in charge? It’s tempting to think that Mrs Harman’s clout is at least as great, given that, of the pair, she was involved in finalising the form of the Royal Charter in that late night session with Ed, Nick and Oliver Letwin.
Britain’s greatest design icon? As Twitter followers will know, I’m a Shard fan. The building-cum-weather gauge lost out in the recent Designs of the Year awards, though. Instead the winner of the annual award was…the gov.uk website. As the Independent reports, it also beat off competition from the Olympic Caulderon and Louis Vuitton.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Gavin Shuker asking the big questions of our time:
@gavinshuker:“Anyone had a good experience of reusable nappies? Asking in a wholly professional capacity, as Shadow Waste Minister, obviously.“
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell – What Titanium Ed Miliband and the Iron Lady have in common
Tim Stanley – Boston Marathon bombings: America the vulnerable
Robin Renwick – Margaret Thatcher’s vital role in ending apartheid
Telegraph View – Human decency will always win through
Best of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Today we bury the last prime minister of WWII
Robin Harris in the Daily Mail - She slew dragons. Now the meek can inherit the earth
Richard Venn in the FT (£) - Cameron cannot revive Thatcherism
Seamus Milne in The Guardian - It’s time to bury not just Thatcher – but Thatcherism
Today: Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. Coffin leaves Palace of Westminster by hearse at 10:00; arrives at St Clement Danes 10:15; transferred to gun carriage at 10:25; leaves St Clement Danes at 10:33 when processional minute gun firing begins at Tower of London. Funeral service starts at 11:00 and is due to finish at 11:55. Guests begin arriving at Guildhall reception around 12:10. St Paul’s Cathedral, Saint Paul’s Churchyard, London.