MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
BREAKING – David Cameron on the Today Programme (it’s fightback time):
“It’s been a difficult month, government’s have difficult months. This government came together to dig this country out of the huge economic mess that it’s in… but we’re not just a bunch of accountants dealing with the deficit. Everything we’re doing, providing better schools, everything we’re doing is about helping people who do the right thing.”
“You have difficult weeks and difficult months”, says Dave, but what matters is “the vision” and “keeping your eye on the long term.” Though he added that: “I accept we need to learn lessons in communications.”
On Theresa May and Abu Qatada’s deportation, the Prime Minister stressed that: “ The Home Office was very sure it had the right date” and “the Home Office was working on the basis of something they had checked.” He denied that the announcement last Tuesday was a PR stunt, and said that ministers were told throughout that it expired on the Monday night.
On tax avoidance and whether we ‘are all in it together’, the PM said: “there is a form of aggressive tax avoidance that is wrong”, but he refused to say that he shouldn’t have employed Philip Green, a noted tax avoider. “Everyone should pay their tax”, said Dave, but he wasn’t interested in individuals’ tax affairs.
On House of Lords reform, the Prime Minister started by saying he support House of Lords reform. But he said that the Government shouldn’t rule a referendum out “out of hand” (as Nick Clegg did yesterday) but he “personally” is not in favour. He said that the three main political parties are in favour of it, but all three are split.
The PM concluded by arguing that he is working very hard, because: “I know who I’m fighting for”. His job is an “ extremely hard job”, and he is “normally at my table at 6am going through my boxes. I am fortunate to have an excellent cabinet. Absolutely driven by this government’s mission economic rescue mission”
Dave is out on the offensive today – trying to draw a line after the last month’s omnishambles. He’s just been on the Today Programme and he’ll be on the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news bulletins too this evening.I gather that his plans include inviting Nick Robinson to tag along for the day, part of the Craig Oliver focus on telly and the all important – allegedly – evening news bulletins.
A self advertised media blitz is a standard response for a PM who is in a hole. The calculation is that his very presence on the airwaves will be enough to dazzle us all and mask the Government’s self inflicted difficulties. The danger comes when the PM starts to think that only he can solve the problems. Think Tony Blair and his eye catching initiatives.
Mr Cameron must explain why he thinks all is well when patently his administration is showing worrying habits of incompetence. It doesn’t help either that across the Channel there is a far more interesting story of a cock-sure centre right politician with an uneasy relationship with wealth who has been stuffed by an anaemic left-wing Mr Nobody – sound familiar?
DAVE’S HAVING A MAYOR
As Chris Hope reports , a big part of Dave’s media fightback is about mayors. The PM make a rather dramatic-sounding speech in Bristol later today where he will call on voters to use their “one moment, one chance. One day when you can change the course of your city” by voting for elected mayors on May 3rd.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to change the way our country is run. I passionately want those cities – from Bristol to Birmingham, Nottingham to Newcastle, Sheffield to Wakefield, to give a resounding, emphatic ‘yes’ next week”
I wonder if the electorate will agree – what I hear is that in the cities where referendums are taking place, a lot of people haven’t even realised. But, as we argued in our leader on Saturday , and as Bagehot wrote in the Economist on Friday , Dave is right: mayors could be a real force for radical change.
Then there’s the news from across the Channel. The Telegraph’s man in Paris, Henry Samuel, reports that Francois Hollande has pulled ahead of the right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s first round of the presidential race, achieving 28.5 percent of the vote compared to Sarkozy’s 27.1 percent. This takes Sarkozy and Hollande forward to the second and final round of elections on May 6th.
This result isn’t the focus of the British papers though – the surprise result for the far-right wing candidate Marine Le Pen has covered the front pages of the broadsheets. Le Pen achieved a record 18.1 percent for France’s Front National, beating the previous best in 2002 when Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, won his way into the second-round run-off with 17 percent of votes.
Our leader column compares the Le Pen result to George Galloway’s in the UK: they both show “the same combination of economic malaise and popular disillusionment.” We warn whoever emerges as winner on May 7 not to think that “the old order has been restored.”
The Guardian celebrates the rise of Hollande, saying that the country is on “the crest of a leftwing wave,” while the Times (£) says the new relationship between Hollande and Merkel could cause instability that “threatens the global economy.”
HOUSE OF HORRORS
The debate on Lords reform is gaining momentum. Nick Clegg went on the Sunday Politics yesterday to say that the decision on Lords reform should not be “subcontracted” to the British people – read our report here.
That’s not what the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform is saying however – their report will be published today, and they, like Ed Miliband, recommend a referendum.
The fallout from disgruntled Tory MPs has already begun with the ultra-loyalist Nadhim Zahawi appearing on the Today programme rehearsing the objections he set out in the Observer yesterday.
The Guardian has a poll claiming that 69 percent of the population support a reformed House of Lords, which is interesting until you realise the poll was commissioned by the lobby group Unlock Democracy.
The FT (£) reports that Mark Harper, the minister for constitutional reform, has poured scorn on proposals from Lord Steel, former leader of the Liberal party, that lords should receive payoffs of up to £30,000.
Andrew Adonis keeps popping up on this topic too. He and Paul Tyler have an op-ed in today’s Guardian , arguing that the status quo is not a realistic option and the only way to head off calls for abolition of the chamber is to reform it.
DANNY’S POWER GRAB
We’ve splashed on the speech Danny Alexander is making this morning where he will order government departments come up with £16 billion more saving on top of the current spending cuts they’ve outlined.
Departments will be required to hold a “rainy day” fund of five percent of their budget, or identify programmes that can be cut to provide the cash. He will also demand that ministers send him monthly reports on their progress.
According to Danny, this will: “demonstrate the collective determination of government to ensure that never again will our nation’s finances be allowed to get into such a mess”.
But as the FT (£) points out, departments going over budget is not what caused the budget deficit – rather, it was unrealistic expectations about tax revenues:
“Although the budget deficit ballooned under Labour from £35bn in 2007-08 to £157bn in 2009-10, very little of that increase was caused by lax spending control in government departments. Shortfalls in tax revenues explain most of the rise in borrowing.”
Oh dear. Clearly what’s worrying Mr Alexander is not departmental overspending – it’s the need to put aside more cash to cushion any further problems in the eurozone. But what will his fellow ministers think of this Treasury power grab? I can’t imagine too many ministers will be keen on these monthly reports…
ED BALLS’ MARATHON
Despite running 26 miles in Lycra tights yesterday, Ed Balls found time to pen a piece for the FT (£) on the topic of Bank of England reform. He did finish, right? The FT pictures him running across Westminster bridge with the insouciance of a man out for a walk, rather than a, um, big guy on his first marathon. And who’s the guy in the black brogues running with him?
Anyway, Mr Balls says this:
“The new governor will, in my view, be strengthened and not weakened by greater transparency and clarity than we have had before. The chair of the Treasury select committee is right that the bill does not go anywhere near far enough in this regard, which is why Labour will support his amendment today.”
Mr Balls argues the Bank of England Reform Bill, going through the House today, is flawed because it is not clear on the Bank of England’s objectives: is its aim to keep inflation stable? Or to ensure financial stability? Or to protect jobs and growth? The mix of all three creates the occasional conflict, as Balls points out…
NOT REALLY RIGHT WING
An amusing verdict on David Cameron from his chum of 15 years, the actress Helena Bonham Carter, in an interview over the weekend:
“He’s not that conservative, actually. I mean, he’s not a right-wing person. If he was in America, he’d be a Democrat, and he’s got a hilarious sense of humour, which nobody really knows about.”
Not that conservative? I expect a lot of his MPs would agree…
Latest YouGov/Sunday Times results: Labour lead on 8 – Conservatives 33%, Labour 41%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Ukip 8%.
Government net approval rating: -38%
TWEETS AND TWITS
Jamie Reed, Labour’s MP for Copeland, and a shadow health minister, on his twitter problem:
“@jreedmp: Been thinking a lot about those scores of people (4) who think my tweets are, on occasion, childish.”
“@jreedmp: I’ve decided that a) they smell b) my dad could beat their dads in a fight and c) my car is faster than theirs.”
We can’t help but agree, Jamie.
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Andrew Adonis and Paul Tyler in the Guardian: Reform the House of Lords now and it can survive
Ed Balls in the Financial Times (£): Fix the confusion at the heart of the bank
Today: EU foreign ministers meet to consider easing sanctions against Burma.
Today: Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham addresses the Unison health conference in Brighton.
Today: House of Lords returns from Easter recess
Today: Alastair Campbell gives a keynote speech on “delivering change and success in challenging times” at the Leadership conference in Edinburgh
10am: Danny Alexander speech to the Institute for Fiscal Studies on fiscal sustainability, 7 Ridgmount Street, London.
10am: The Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform releases its report
11am: Chairman of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, Lord Richard, hosts a press conference, Committee Room 3, House of Lords, London
11am: Peter Stringfellow announces that after 32 years of supporting the Conservative Party, he will be supporting Ukip candidate Richard Bradford in the Hyde Park by election, Porters Restaurant, 17 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden
11.40am: A cross-party group of MPs host a press conference, calling for elected House of Lords. Attlee Room, Portcullis House, London
2.30pm: David Cameron gives a speech to the “Yes 2 Mayors”On rally to encourage the British to vote “yes” on elected mayors in Bristol.
2.30pm: Work and Pensions Office Questions
4pm: David Willetts gives evidence to the Lords’ Internal Market, Energy and Transport EU Sub-Committee on the European railway market, House of Commons
6pm: Parliamentary Labour Party weekly meeting in Committee Room 14, House of Commons
10pm: Ann Widdecombe presents a programme about excess drinking on Radio 5 Live