MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
HEADS UP – Coming up on LBC Radio at 9.00am; Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones make their cases ahead of the London mayoral election next month – watch it live online here.
David Davis scored quite a hit on the Government with his Today Programme appearance yesterday it seems: the ‘securocrats’ proposals he objects to have made the splash of the Daily Mail and The Times (£) today while the Guardian and Independent have also found space on the front page. Theresa May also pops up in the Sun to defend the proposals, after security minister James Brokenshire failed to defuse the row yesterday.
The Mail has chosen to focus on the cost, which is about £200m a year – or £2 billion over ten years, as they put it; a pricey sum for measures they describe as “truly chilling” in their leader column.
The Times (£) meanwhile looks at the Tory backlash – Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees Mogg are opposed it seems. Meanwhile the Guardian considers the position of Lib Dem backbenchers, including Lib Dem president Tim Farron, who are in revolt, and are “in talks” with Nick Clegg to clarify the proposals. Clegg’s position is interesting – he says that he is “totally opposed” to email snooping, but these proposals don’t amount to that.
That’s quite different in emphasis to what Theresa May says; in the Sun, the Home Secretary says that the internet can “ be abused by criminals, paedophiles and terrorists who want to cover their tracks and keep their communication secret” and it is her “responsibility to keep the British public safe”. Opposite her, David Davis says that the Government can do all that already.
Most of the newspapers are with Davis, however. The Guardian says that for all the talk of freedom by the Coalition, “the Empire is striking back”, while the Mail reckons that “the Coalition is going even further and faster than Labour” in “sweeping away” civil liberties.
According to The Times (£) , the new proposals would “fundamentally shift public expectations of internet privacy” – taking us a tiny step towards Iran or China. The Independent meanwhile says that Theresa May “must think again”, as the price in liberty is too high.
In The Telegraph, Philip Johnston has denounced the proposals in his column. He says that what we know of the new proposals is that they would allow “instant data-mining on a vast scale” and we must resist the state’s “irresistible compulsion to keep tabs on us all.”
No 10 will sigh to find the Mail and the Guardian united against the idea, though they shouldn’t be surprised. David Cameron can either decide to tough it out by convincing himself that the public, in particular voters who are not part of the metropolitan chattering elite, often favour blunt tactics to catch bad guys – hence Theresa May’s piece about paedos in today’s Sun.
That was the line Tony Blair adopted when he tried to push 90 day detention through anyway. But the PM has to explain why he favours measures now that he campaigned against in opposition. Has he been seduced by what David Davis yesterday called the ‘securocrats’? At an estimated cost of £200m a year, it’s an expensive one. Will it make it as far as the Queen’s speech?
GOVE AND TAKE
The other big story of the morning is from Michael Gove, on A-levels, which we’ve splashed on. As we report, the Education Secretary proposes to hand over the setting of exams to universities for the first time in 30 years in an attempt to make them more rigorous.
The idea is that universities will need tests that genuinely show the ability of students, and so putting them in charge will cut the incentive that exam boards have to inflate grades. In a letter to the Ofqual, the examinations regulator, Michael Gove says that he is “increasingly concerned” about the dumbing down of A-levels, and the Department for Education “must take a step back in order to allow universities to take a leading role”.
“It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills, than that Ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment,” he says. Quite right too – but are universities ready to start setting A level exams?
No 10’s big announcement today is an expansion of the right-to-buy scheme, which David Cameron is apparently dead keen on reviving; the PM is to unveil a “reinvigorated” version today, with discounts for homebuyers extended to £75,000, which should quadruple the number of council tenants able to buy their own homes.
As Chris Hope reports, Dave is visiting council tenants in London today, where he will say that Thatcher’s original scheme “gave something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules” and “gave people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood, helping to build strong families and stable mixed communities.”
It’s all very Big Society, not least in that Grant Shapps, the housing minister behind the idea, wants to bring in a new mobile app and Facebook page to encourage people to take up the right to buy. But given the social housing shortage in this country, will the proceeds be used to build more homes?
Nick Clegg will not be joining David Cameron on his trip to a council estate this afternoon – the Lib Dem leader is in Stockport to visit an apprenticeship scheme and to launch the Lib Dem’s local election campaign, as yesterday’s launch by Ed Miliband has started a briefing war over how many seats each party can expect to win.
Sky’s Sophy Ridge reports on what Clegg will say here: “The Liberal Democrats are delivering for ordinary people in government” is just about the gist of it. But the real question is whether his party will suffer as big a loss in seats at it did this time last year.
Certainly, Labour hopes to win big, but they won’t admit it. As Tim Ross reports, the party is briefing that they only expect to win around 300 seats of the 5,000 contested, while they don’t expect Ken Livingstone to win. As the FT (£) reports, the party is divided between targeting the “squeezed middle” and the “battered base” after the shock of Friday’s loss to George Galloway.
But as Nick Watt reports in the Guardian , the Tories are saying that Labour should win as many as 700 seats based on their polling – and will presumably crow at anything less. Last year, the Tories held onto far more seats than expected; can they repeat the feat this year?
Indeed, the Guardian has published a double-page spread on the local elections on pages 30 and 31, with map, and analysis from the LSE’s Tony Travers , who says that 2012 will be a “bumper year” for lovers of elections.
And the debate over granny taxes is reheated this morning. According to the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), Osborne hasn’t just hurt grannies – he’s also broken a promise while doing it. The 2011 Budget “Red Book” promises that the age-related personal allowances would be increased in line with the retail price index. Instead, they’re being abolished completely.
Dot Gibson, the general secretary of the NPC, told us he’s “guilty of double-dealing”, while Ros Altmann of Saga says that it is “astonishing” to see the Chancellor break a “categorical promise”, which seems just a little hyperbolic. But even so, it’s clear that the Treasury isn’t going to get away with this one that easily…
GOVERNMENT OF CHUMS
One pensioner who is particularly displeased with the Chancellor is Lord Tebbit. The Mail today has rehashed Tebbit’s article from yesterday’s Times, about this being a “government of chums”, in which he argues that the PM and the Chancellor rely too much on people who lack “experience or much understanding of the party or politics”
But Tebbit also has a serious allegation – as we report on p2, Tebbit alleges that Lord Feldman, the Conservative Party co-chairman, has held meetings with Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, something that No 10 says is “100 per cent untrue”.
Tory sources say that they think that Tebbit is confusing the Conservative Party strategy meetings which George Osborne holds in the afternoons with meetings of the quad, but he tells us this morning that he’s sticking with his story. It’d be quite something if he’s right.
Speaking of the quad, Steve Richards’ column in the Independent is on the topic – he reckons there needs to be more scrutiny. “ What recent events confirm is that there is not enough internal scrutiny at the top of the Coalition”
SPRINGTIME FOR KEN CLARKE…
…And the MoJ. A great little story in The Times (£): Ken Clarke has spent £14,000 on flowers for the Ministry of Justice, arguing that this is “very minimal” spending, even though it’s more than any other department has spent.
The Department of Health has also spent £12,383 on flowers while the Culture Department spent £3,527. How’s that austerity going then, chaps?
Latest YouGov/The Sun: Conservatives 33%, Labour 43%, Liberal Democrats 8%. Net Government approval: -43%.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour’s Stella Creasy, amusing as ever: “am watching made in chelsea for 1st time. Does everyone have to pause & stare into the distance after EVERY sentence in south west london?”.
Ask Greg Hands – the Chelsea and Fulham MP once live tweeted an entire episode, and I’m sure he knows his constituents well.
In The Telegraph
Mary Riddell: Voters want a story, Ed Miliband, not a hologram of your hopes
Philip Johnston: We don’t need any more state snooping
Dean Nelson: The West should fan Burma’s flames of freedom
Leader: An excellent exam answer from Michael Gove
Best of the rest
Gideon Rachman in the FT (£): Greece is a time bomb that no one can defuse
Len McCluskey in The Times (£): Tanker drivers are acting to prevent a road disaster
James Ball in the Guardian: The surveillance state: growing under a coalition that pledged to reverse it
Steve Richards in the Independent: There’s too little scrutiny of the four top men
9.00am: London Mayoral Candidates Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones appear on Nick Ferrari’s LBC Radio show
11.00am: Schools minister Nick Gibb speaks at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference
2.45pm: Nick Clegg launches the Lib Dems’ local election campaign in Stockport, Cheshire
3.30pm: Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg speaks at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference