MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
Nick Clegg on the Today Programme, discussing the still-unravelling Budget:
On charitable contributions, Mr Clegg said: “I make absolutely no apology at all that we should seek to make changes in our tax system… so that everyone pays their fair share.
“We should encourage philanthropy… but there is a simple principle at stake: if you have an unlimited allowance, you are asking lower-income taxpayers to fund that allowance, that tax break”. But he added that “we have some time” to come up with a compromise on the details.
More generally, the DPM insisted that he is “not the slightest bit defensive”, citing the increase in the pension, the pupil premium and the youth jobs plan as policies he is implementing. “Of course I accept that governments have bumps and scrapes” he said, but “we are doing good things”.
“People get absolutely swept up by some specific issues”, he said, but “you have to look at the big picture” . He said that the Government has “pulled back this country from the brink” by reducing the deficit. “We are doing things which will help millions of people”.
Asked about tuition fees, he said: “I’d love to be Prime Minister”, but he’s not – he stressed that the Lib Dems are the third biggest party in Parliament: “I have to deal with the world as it is, not as I’d like it.”
DAVE FACES PMQS
David Cameron likes to say that he hates PMQs – well, today’s will be no exception. The Prime Minister has not been seen in the Commons since the Budget that knocked 17 points of his personal approval rating. Today, he’s back, and as well as the monthly unemployment figures (likely to be bad), he will have to confront damning conclusions of the Treasury Select Committee on the Budget.
As we report in our splash story, they’re pretty unhappy with it. Read for the full story for details, but in particular, the MPs attack QE (hurts pensioners), the decision to cut tax relief for charitable donations (not well explained) and the fudge on child benefit (adds complexity). The mass leakage of the Budget also comes under fire.
That three weeks have passed, and we’re still uncovering unexploded bombs in the Budget tells you how big the problems for the Government are. In our leader column, we blame the nature of governing in coalition for the shambles:
“The statement was not only widely leaked, courtesy of the Liberal Democrats, but was also subjected to last-minute horse-trading. As a consequence, it lacked coherence.”
But there is also a broader argument about what this Government is for. In today’s Telegraph, Bruce Anderson – a reliable ally of the Prime Minister – says that Dave has to remind us he’s on our side:
“ It is time for Mr Cameron to make a subtle but substantial change in his political rhetoric. Every time he prepares a major speech, he should ask himself how it will play with the people who always felt that Maggie was on their side… He should regard any speech as a failure if it does not rebut the charge that the country is going to the dogs.”
QATADA ON THE WAY
Other than the Budget fall out, the other big story is Abu Qatada. Theresa May headed to the Commons yesterday with good news: the radical cleric had been arrested, a deal had been struck with Jordan and his deportation was “imminent” – the only glitch was they may have to wait months for it and it was still not entirely certain. She said:
“Deportation might still take time – the proper processes must be followed and the rule of law must take precedence – but today Qatada has been arrested and the deportation process is underway.”
“Proper processes” means more waiting and negotiating with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): simply putting Qatada on a plane was apparently out of the question.
Qatada’s barrister claimed that Mrs May’s speech amounted to a “desperate attempt to claim that everything had changed” when the reality was that it amounted to “very little indeed”.
In our leader column , we say Mrs May “deserves praise for her tenacity”, but we wonder about her ability to achieve deportation when all of her predecessors failed. The timing of the announcement is also interesting.
The Guardian says that “justice rushed can be justice discredited” and that she is doing the “right thing” in attempting to secure more detailed assurances to satisfy the ECHR.
David Davis has a column in the Times (£) arguing. “Nobody takes a firmer stance against torture than me”, he reminds us, but the ECHR urgently needs reform, suggesting we need new rules to stop Strasbourg hearing cases that should stay in Britain, the court needs to take on less case work and it must work to restore its reputation in Britain.
Finally, the Mail’s leader column warns that if David Davis is to get his way, we’re going to have to act fast – Britain’s presidency of the Council of Europe expires next month. Tomorrow, Ken Clarke heads to Brighton to discuss the issue: good luck.
NO KEN DO
From the various reports around, it sounds like the Lobby lunch with Ken Livingstone yesterday was a slightly weird affair. The Labour mayoral candidate seemed to forget he was lunching with journalists – the Telegraph report is here.
Among other things, he said that Bin Laden shouldn’t have been shot, that Labour voters are choosing Boris because he’s funnier than Ken and most oddly of all, that he doesn’t really approve of the idea of elected mayors anyway.
So says Ken: “I’m still not persuaded of the mayoral system because it concentrates a lot of power in one person’s hands”. Presumably, his specific problem is that it concentrates a lot of power in the hands of someone who isn’t called Ken.
GRAYLING’S POLLY PROBLEMS
The work experience/slavery row is back it seems – at least for Chris Grayling. The DWP minister is giving a speech to Policy Exchange, in which he launches into a pretty savage attack on the “Polly Toynbee Left”. The Guardian has a trail here – Mr Grayling is expected to say:
“I’m afraid that too many people still just don’t get it. Like the ‘Polly Toynbee Left’ who rail with outrage against the idea of a young unemployed person being offered the chance to do a month’s work experience with Airbus, British Telecom, UK Mail or Tesco. Slave labour they call it. Well that’s just insulting to some great companies who are helping young people get a job, not to mention the young people benefiting from placements”
The killer stat Grayling provides is that young people who get some work experience are 20 per cent more likely to get a job than those who don’t.
Another day, another U-turn – now it’s Ken Clarke , on the sensitive topic of legal aid. Our report is here – Mr Clarke said that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be amended to increase access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.
Under the proposed changes, any victim whose partners has a caution for violence would be entitled to aid, while the Government will adopt the broader Association of Chief Police Officers’ definition of domestic violence. Women with doctors’ notes, or who are living in a refuge, would also get support.
It’s hardly surprising that Mr Clarke has been forced into making some changes – his Bill suffered 11 defeats in the Lords. But the Lib Dem-Labour alliance arranged by Lib Dem president Tim Farron (H/T Paul Waugh ) to push for further concessions yesterday ought to worry the Justice Secretary.
Latest YouGov/Sun polling: Conservatives 32%, Labour 41%, Ukip 9%, Liberal Democrats 8%
From this week, I’m going to include the Ukip figure, as it’s clear that the eurosceptic party is winning from Tory woes (Daniel Hannan is now actually proposing a merger ). On the topic, the FT (£) has a helpful piece today on the rise of fourth parties – from Respect to Ukip – which results from the current, mid-term, anti-Westminster mood. Apparently one winner is Boris Johnson.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, shows the political nous which explains why he’s occasionally considered a leadership contender: “Off to canvass @Ken4London but hope to finish in time for Bayern v Real game, interrupting people watching that game on TV not a vote winner”.
In The Telegraph
Bruce Anderson: The Prime Minister must remind us he’s on our side
Michael Hanlon: Can we be sure of shale?
Leader: Theresa May deserves praise for her tenacity
Leader: Treasury troubles
Best of the rest
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: Elected mayors will destroy our shadowy civic mafias
David Davis in The Times (£): How to get Strasbourg back to first principles
Matthew Norman in The Independent: At this rate we’ll be getting Ed as PM by default
Leader in The Guardian: Charity Case
Today: William Hague and Philip Hammond attending Nato ministerial meeting in Brussels
Today: Theresa Villiers gives a speech on aviation policy at One Great George Street, Westminster
Today: Fuel tanker drivers meet to decide whether to accept a deal aimed at averting strikes
9.30am: The latest unemployment figures are published by the Office for National Statistics
11.30am: Scotland Office questions
12pm: Prime Minister’s Questions
3.15pm: Chris Grayling will make a speech on getting people back to work at Policy Exchange on 10 Storey’s Gate
5pm: David Cameron meets Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho