What A Baromess

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

“From bad to Warsi” reads the Mirror headline – Baroness Warsi’s expenses scandal that broke this weekend adds to the list of David Cameron’s problems. You can catch up on the story here .

How she let herself get into this mess is surprising given the way other peers have been exposed and sent to prison. It is tempting to detect an element of revenge at work here. Dr Wafik Moustafa runs the Conservative Arab Network, which was barred from using the Tory party logo and claiming any affiliation by Lord Feldman, Lady Warsi‘s co-chairman and David Cameron’s close friend.

She is short of friends among MPs, many of whom don’t rate her enough to save her. The Prime Minister is devoted to her, but how many troubled Cabinet ministers can he juggle at once? Something tells me this will increase the chance of a reshuffle soon, once they get Jeremy Hunt through his Leveson appearance on Thursday.

The Mail’s leader column gives a blunt diagnosis: “If it was an oversight, she has been negligent and should lose her job. If it was a wilful false claim, she has committed a criminal act and could lose her liberty.”

And adding to that, it can’t help that Leveson has an all-star line up this week: Tony Blair, Michael Gove, Theresa May, Vince Cable, Ken Clarke and the long awaited appearance of Jeremy Hunt.

David Mellor thinks Jeremy Hunt’s fate is already sealed. He told Sky News’ Murnaghan yesterday that he’ll “probably have to go. But I think the real scalp is the Prime Minister – he won’t have to resign but his credibility is blown away.”

Adding: “He has been exposed as a shallow, callow sort of guy who doesn’t have too many aims and ambitions and can’t even get basic judgement calls right.”

You can find the full story here.

THE NUCLEAR OPTION

Westminster has long speculated about how the Coalition will suspend itself for the election, but Vince Cable’s interview last night on Radio Five Live is the first time a senior figure has fleshed out how it might work, namely switching to confidence and supply after the 2014 conference season.

He said:

“Everybody involved knows that before the next general election – the two parties will have to establish their own separate platforms and identity but how that disengagement takes place, over what time period is very much an issue for the future, certainly not something we’re talking about at the moment.”

The prospect of break up is ever present as Dave struggles to keep his show on the road. The full report is available here.

LETTING HER LAGARDE DOWN

And of course, the impending Eurodoom has not gone away – and our business splash shows that the politicians are still fanning the flames. IMF chief Christine Lagarde has been forced to say sorry for calling the Greeks tax dodgers after receiving 10,000 messages on Facebook from people expressing their disgust.

And our politicians aren’t any better: Mrs May and Nick Clegg are having a public spat over what will happen if Greece leaves the euro.

Mrs May told us that it was “right that we do some contingency planning” in terms of immigration and border control if it does happen. But Nick Clegg hit back, dismissing the idea as ‘far fetched’ and ‘apocalyptic’, saying:

“I really do think some of the breathless talk in the media about do we pull up the drawbridge to stop hoards of people migrating across Europe is both far-fetched, somewhat apocalyptic in tone and deeply unhelpful,”

“We’re not there yet. What I hope will happen is the Greek people will choose to stay in the eurozone, notwithstanding the sacrifices that involves, and there will be this new agreement to come up with a comprehensive solution to the eurozone.”

For the full story, you can read our report here.

YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

Lord Young publishes his report on SMEs and launches a Government initiative called StartUp loans at Westminster Kingsway College at 9am today. The £82.5 million programme aims to get young people between 18-24 starting 30,000 new businesses, in a move to boost enterprise and economic growth.

David Cameron has said:

“I would like to thank Lord Young for his thorough report into the SME sector. His enthusiasm, drive and tenacity to make sure we are doing everything we can to support business and promote enterprise is a credit to us all. There can be no better inspiration of the ‘can do’ spirit that is needed in business than Lord Young; and his report is a must read for anyone thinking of starting up.”

I imagine that this report is tamer than Beecroft’s.

CHUKA POLITICAL GRENADE

Chuka Umunna makes a punchy speech today at 2pm on the trade unions at the UCATT trade union conference in Scarborough, saying:

“Our trade unions are powerful forces behind our economic success. Each and every one of you – directly and indirectly – are wealth creators for this country. So we have got to get this message through better, to change public perceptions of our movement.”

And he’ll hit out at the Tories saying:

“At a time of national crisis, when he could be drawing us together, [the Prime Minister] has sought to divide and rule. We saw it over the dispute on public sector pensions last year. We saw it during the fuel tanker drivers dispute this year. We saw it at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. Ministers seeking to divide public from private, trade union member from non trade union member.”

But will highlight an opportunity for David Cameron:

“Robert [Halfon MP] wrote a pamphlet in March entitled ‘Stop the Union Bashing’. Much as it pains me, Robert points out in his pamphlet that almost a third of trade union members in this country are thought to be Conservative voters. It is they who the Tories are attacking. The Prime Minister, his Ministers and his backbenchers attacks on you are not only wrong. It is bad politics too.”

GUTO V BBC

And the cheerleading continues: the Guardian has a p1 story on the ex-Boris aide Guto Harri’s hint that Downing Street was ready to put pressure on the BBC.

Emails leaked to the paper show Guto threatening senior BBC figures. Guto told Will Walden, the BBC’s Westminster news editor – whom Boris has since chosen as Guto’s replacement at City Hall – that the BBC faced a “huge public fight” if an interview with Boris’s unauthorised biographer went ahead.

The email to Walden reads: “Dear Will. We are all sick of this at City Hall, and increasingly at Number 10. BBC London is in danger of causing real problems to all of us.”

All this, and Guto’s just left to work for NI.

LEVESON LIFE

And the murky NI-Tory links don’t end there: the FT (£) reports that Ed Vaizey has been accused of leaking commercially sensitive information to Fred Michel after text messages between the two were published by the Leveson inquiry.

Mr Michel wanted to know who would pay more for cracking down on illegal downloading: companies who hold rights to material such as music and films, or internet service providers, referring to the government’s suggested ratio of rights’ holders paying 75 per cent of costs.

He asked: “Will you be in Edinburgh? Question: On DEA costs, is it your views that rights holders should bear the majority? Studios are worried you might go for 75/25. Has the final decision been made yet?”

News Corp have an interest since it owns the Fox film studios.

Mr Vaizey responded the next day: “Yes yes and yes”.

His answer came three weeks before he made the 75 per cent figure in a public statement. Oh dear.

PERRY PROFILE

If you want some sport with Tory MPs today, stick a copy of the Guardian’s profile of Claire Perry under their noses. Especially the bit about her being a sure thing for a Cabinet job. And even PM.

WHO’S A CABINET MILLIONAIRE?

Dave proved he’s still uncomfortable with his background at the weekend when he appeared at a society wedding in a lounge suit rather than tails. The pictures are in all the papers today (see them here).

Our leader column says: “The more Mr Cameron seems to want to show himself as a man of the people, the more contrived it looks.”

Who is he kidding? Especially since we estimate that he’s worth £4 million at the moment, and his Cabinet an £70 million combined. We list the breakdown here.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Louise Mensch, making the case for her profession: “You know if becoming an MP has taught me one thing it’s respect, admiration for political opponents. My Lab colleagues best people ever.”

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/Sunday Times results: Conservatives 31%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating: -38

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson: Put out the bunting. This is the age of the Second Elizabethans

Jeff Randall: No wonder so few bother to vote any more

John Yates: A British FBI won’t make us any safer

Leade r: Even Russia must now want to see Assad gone

Best of the rest

Peter Wilby in the Guardian: Forget the Queen’s jubilee. Let’s have a knees up for the Magna Carta

Bill Emmott in the Times (£): Don’t slam the door on Greeks or their money

Gavin Kelly in the Financial Times (£): Cameron must quickly rediscover progressive conservatism

Ian Birrell in the Independent: Geldof’s obsession with aid hurt Africa. But now trade is healing the scars

THE AGENDA

Today: Lord Green leads a trade mission to China

8.15am: The TUC and rail unions launch the Action for Rail campaign. Brendan Barber, Mick Whelan, RMT Bob Crow, Manuel Cortes and Julia Long will hold a giant rail ticket to raise awareness of, and campaign against, the government’s proposals for the future of the rail industry following the McNulty Review. Euston Station in front of platforms 8-11, London

9am: Lord Young launches StartUp Loans, a new Government initiative StartUp loans, a new Government initiative which aims to boost entrepreneurship among young people. Westminster Kingsway College, King’s Cross Centre, 211   Grays Inn Road, London

10am: Tony Blair appears before the Leveson Inquiry. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

2pm: Chuka Umunna gives a speech on trade unions at the UCATT trade union’s conference in Scarborough

9pm: Rory Stewart looks at the history of Afghanistan invasions for BBC Two

Even Russia must now want to see Assad gone

We will never know the full horror of what has happened in Syria since the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s government broke out 14 months ago. But the depths to which the president’s supporters have sunk is hideously apparent from the massacre in Houla, where more than a third of the 92 victims were children. The scale of the killing is nothing like that in Iraq following the collapse of order after 2003, but more than 12,600 lives lost since March of last year is none the less a terrifying tally.

Tragically, there is no sign that Mr Assad is considering anything but more of the same, with the town of Rasta next on the list for indiscriminate shelling. Like Macbeth, he is “in blood stepp’d in so far” that he sees no way back. And his brutal intransigence invites violence from his opponents as Syria slides towards full-scale civil war.

It is into that cauldron that Kofi Annan, the UN Arab League envoy, is due to step today in an attempt to revive a planned ceasefire. In his talks in Damascus he will, almost certainly in vain, plead for implementation of his peace plan, which provides for a truce, withdrawal of troops from the towns and a dialogue between government and opposition.

Read more….

No wonder so few bother to vote any more

Outside wartime, rarely have the political stakes been higher. Over the past 12 months, as the eurozone has unravelled, Britain’s economy has reversed into a double-dip recession.

The News of the World haunts Westminster from beyond the grave. The Leveson Inquiry, which began as a review of media ethics, has morphed into an examination of dodgy dealing in high places. If reader feedback on popular websites reflects public anger, many people are already at boiling point. Fury is the norm, not just with ministers but the police, other public officials and the media.

An admission at the weekend by Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party’s chairman, that she failed to declare thousands of pounds of rental income will add to a suspicion that cheap-and-nasty corruption is the new British disease. With so much cause for grievance, now, you might think, would be the right moment for an upsurge in political engagement – but it’s not happening. A recent study by the Hansard Society shows that, far from embracing mainstream parties, the electorate is more withdrawn than at any time in the past decade. In recent local elections, two thirds of those eligible to vote did not bother. Coalition politics is proving a disaster for conventional democracy.

Read more….

Abu Qatada could be freed as judges decide whether to grant bail

Qatada, described by a judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, will have his application for bail heard by a senior immigration judge in London.

The radical cleric is being held in a high-security prison while he fights deportation to Jordan over terror charges.

The hearing will be held before Mr Justice Mitting at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) this afternoon.

It could mean the man once dubbed “Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe” back on the streets within weeks.

There are fears that, if freed, he could not be prevented from radicalising his son and family.

Read more….

Syria Houla massacre: Russia told to intervene before it is too late

Speaking shortly before boarding a flight to Moscow for meetings with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday, the Foreign Secretary said that Russia now faced a stark choice between using its leverage with the Assad regime or risking it’s last bastion of influence in the Middle East descending into chaos.

Urging Moscow to put its full weight behind the six-point United Nations plan for Syria brokered by the former secretary general Kofi Annan, he said: “The Russians have a great deal of leverage over the Syrian regime.

“We’ve had many differences of view over Russia at the Security Council, but Russia does support the Annan plan and so I hope Russia will redouble its efforts to get the Assad regime to implement that plan,” he said.

“It’s not in the interests of Russia, just as it’s not in the interests of anybody in the world for Syria to descend in to an even bloodier situation and in to full scale civil war and that is now the danger.”

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN cast doubt on the culpability of Syria’s government for a massacre of more than 100 people in the central town of Houla.

Read more….

The Coalition could break up before May 2015, says Vince Cable

The Business Secretary suggested that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will go their separate ways at some point before the election. This would give both sides time and space to draw up their own manifestos.

However the comments raise the prospect of the Lib Dems abandoning Government after four years, possibly after the party’s conference in September 2014, leaving a paralysed Tory administration locked in place.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act which passed into law in September 2011 says that elections are held every five years. This would mean that the next election is scheduled to be held in May 2015.

However Mr Cable said that it was likely the Coalition partners would go their separate ways before then.

Mr Cable was asked on last night’s Pienaar’s Politics on Radio Five Live whether the Lib Dems would break away “just short of the election to give itself a bit more space to establish a independent platform in the run up to an election”.

Read more….

Tory peer Baroness Warsi faces police inquiry over expense

The Conservative Party co-chairman claimed up to £165.50 a night while staying at a London house belonging to Dr Wafik Moustafa.

She said she was entitled to the expenses because she had paid a “financial contribution” to her political aide, Naweed Khan, when both were non-paying guests at the house.

But Dr Moustafa insisted that he received no money and said he was “disgusted” that she had claimed taxpayers’ money when he had simply been “helping out” the two party members by offering his free hospitality.

MPs compared the disclosures with the case of Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative peer who was jailed last year for claiming overnight expenses to stay in London when he was not in the capital.

Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, said there was a case for investigating whether there had been “claiming for costs not incurred”.

Read more….