MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: Andrew Mitchell has repeated his apology to the police. He did not specify what he did and did not say to the officer, although he did say that he “did not use the words attributed to me”. Speaking outside the Cabinet Office, he told reporters:
“I want to reiterate the apology I made last week… It had been the end of a long and an extremely frustrating day, not that that is an excuse for what happened.
“I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the police officer concerned, he has accepted that apology and I hope that we can draw a line under it there.”
Speaking on the Today programme, Nick Clegg gave qualified support to Mr Mitchell:
“He was right to apologise because being discourteous to the police is bad thing. As for the exact words used, he challenges the words the Sun have attributed to him. I am not going to give a running textual analysis but…the fact that the police officer has accepted the apology is important.”
Otherwise, Mr Clegg endured a frustrating interview with Sarah Montague who hammers away at his tuition fee apology. He repeated his attack line on Labour’s record:
“I still haven’t heard an apology from Ed Balls for pushing the economy to the edge of bankruptcy, or from Ed Miliband for the illegal invasion of Iraq [but] it was right to apologise because this was now obscuring [other Lib Dem achievements].
He also expressed outrage at the reaction in the Daily Mail and elsewhere about his plans for higher taxes for the top 10 per cent:
“I am establishing quite simply that you start at the top and work down. Don’t dismiss 90 per cent of the country. This is extraordinary. The vast majority of people in this country would think that £50,000 is a vast amount of money. There is a big dividing line between people who, when asked to make savings ask the poorest to make a contribution and…decent fair minded folk who understand they need to contribute fairly.”
TAX, SPEND AND LEND
The Lib Dems have been setting out their three plans to resuscitate the economy at their conference in Brighton, and it’s a case of back to future.
Firstly, there’s the tax rises for higher earners. Speaking yesterday, Nick Clegg said that the top 10 per cent, around three million people earning over £50,500, could expect to be “asked to make a [further] contribution.”
The plans have won a few friends in the Left-leaning press, but have attracted the ire of leader writers elsewhere. The Mail’s front-page headline “Clegg: Soak the Middle Class”, echoes our leader column:
“As Mr Clegg should know, raising taxes on any sector of society will scarcely promote growth. Nor will embracing rhetoric that tells investors and wealth-creators that their presence and activities are unwelcome. The best way to help rich and poor alike is to shrink the state, reduce the burden of government and promote entrepreneurship with all due zeal.”
The next big idea, announced on Marr yesterday, was that parents should be able to put savings tied up in their pension funds to work as deposits on houses for their children. However, as the Independent noted:
“Party sources admitted that the details had yet to be agreed with lenders and pension fund providers, as many were cautious.”
Turning to the Bank of Mum and Dad to provide for a deposit is scarcely something new, and without a more concrete proposal, Mr Clegg runs the risk of appearing to have come up with a solution which aids only the minority.
The third plank of Lib Dem platform is Vince Cable’s small business bank. We splash on the news that the Government will provide £1bn of taxpayers money to the Bank of Vince, making up about 10 per cent of the total it will lend.
Taken as a package, the measures seem more likely to lose friends than win them. The preference for an increase in tax over an decrease in spending will alienate the middle class, whilst those on lower incomes will probably not have pension pots sufficiently large to lend from.
Still, one man has been sufficiently engaged by the Lib Dem prospectus to offer his help. Step forward Boris Johnson, whose Telegraph column promises to “save the Cleggster”:
“It is time for us Clegg fans to echo those kindly folk who are trying to save the sweet furry badgers from the wrath of farmers. Never mind the badgers – save the Cleggster from extermination!”
CLEGG TO BLOCK CUTS
Despite appearing to endorse further tightening of the welfare budget when he appeared on Marr, yesterday, Mr Clegg told the party conference that he would block further cuts beyond what has already been agreed. The FT (£) reports that he told delegates:
“We are not going to chase our own tail: the markets are not stupid.
“We are going to stick to the spending plans. Not a penny more, not a penny less.”
The move will not win Mr Clegg many friends in the markets, particularly as they are still weathering the Treasury whispering campaign acting as a prelude to George Osborne abandoning the debt target. It did not even win him many friends in the Guardian, where Jackie Ashley writes:
“Usually, we’re told that conference plots are fantasies, and we should concentrate on the policies. Well, this time round, it’s the other way about. The new policy positions are airy dreams, but the skullduggery is both real and becoming a more practical proposition with every opinion poll.”
THE LOBBY DOES BRIGHTON
The lobby dutifully decamped to Brighton for a wet weekend with the coalition, and judging by this morning’s sketches, many wish they hadn’t. In the Mail, Quentin Letts decries the lack of enthusiasm from Lib Dem activists, in fact, the lack of Lib Dem activists in general:
“Stephen Lloyd, MP for Eastbourne, said in the equality debate: ‘It’s a little less spooky with 200 rather than 2,000 in the hall.’ Less spooky, maybe, but less impressive as a display of political clout by our nation’s supposed third party.
“I’ve been to drinks parties bigger than this.”
In the Times (£), Ann Treneman was equally impressed with the quality of the debates, asking “was this a Q&A or a therapy session?”. The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon is also strangely unsympathetic to Nick’s “quest for sympathy”.
Given the lack of enthusiasm from delegates, it is the turn of the Times’ (£) leader writer to produce an annual favorite, calling for the end of the conference season:
“At the party conferences, watch the audience rather than the platform. In some debates there are more lobbyists and representatives of the media than there are party members.
“As a Labour minister once said when talking of public spending – the party is over.”
So what is a conference attendee to do? Those who are willing to haul themselves out of bed at 7:30 each morning could do worse than the Open Road Party Conference Running Club, which is attempting to raise £5,000 for Epilepsy Action. Details here.
PLEBS TURN THE SCREW
Thrasher did brand policemen “plebs”, according to the official police report which the Sun has splashed on this morning. If this is correct then Downing Street will find itself in an invidious position. It has promised to stand by Mr Mitchell unless he is caught telling fibs. Now it appears he may have been. The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh spells it out:
“Cursing Cabinet biker Andrew Mitchell has a choice. He must sue the police for defamation – or resign.
“If he fails to do either, David Cameron must sack him.”
Mr Mitchell had not been planning on apologising, let alone resigning, according to today’s Times (£). In this respect, he is lucky that the House is not sitting, so he can keep a low profile and wait for the storm to pass.
He also has the support of the Cabinet and the party to rely on. Today’s Mail reports that Eric Pickles has weighed in, saying that he is “very proud to be a pleb” and that Thrasher was guilty of “ungentlemanly and ungallant language”, but that Mr Mitchell should remain in his job.
Mr Mitchell is apparently anxious to protect the dignity and traditions of the whips office by making no televised apology. Even so, he seems already to have lost the authority on which the office relies. As Peter MacKay writes in today’s Mail:
“An important virtue for a Chief Whip is his or her anonymity. Who outside Westminster, and his constituency, had heard of Mitchell’s affable predecessor Patrick McLoughlin?”
“Even if he survives this storm in a bobby’s hat, Mitchell is already handicapped as Chief Whip.
PICKLES DECLARES WAR ON COUNCILS
Conservative led councils, such as the one in Richmond led by Lord True, who oppose the coalition’s new planning rules ought to be sued, according to Eric Pickles. In an interview with the Mail, Mr Pickles said of council’s blocking developments:
“If they do that, then a member of the public can seek damages against them.
“So it’ll be the public that will be taking on the councils if they decide to go against what will be a very reasoned, very civilised and very straightforward change.”
It looks like Tory High Command are prepared to stand tough on the issue. Building conservatories is obviously more important than building bridges within the party at this stage.
PLACE OF BIRTH? DEPENDS WHO’S ASKING…
Another day, another Grant Shapps story. This morning it is the news that he was born in two places. The Mail reports that Mr Shapps claimed he was a “Londoner by birth” when he stood for a parliamentary seat in the city 15 years ago. He won the Welwyn Hatfield seat eight years ago having told constituents that he was “born in Hertfordshire”.
Over the weekend, the Guardian ran another Shapps story, this time detailing his $297 per hour telephone advice service which he ran while a parliamentary candidate, and the Las Vegas convention he attended under the alias of Michael Green.
A quiet weekend, by Mr Green’s Shapps’ standards.
WHAT RUINS PADDY’S AFTERNOON
Is not having been Prime Minister, apparently. Speaking to the Guardian, Padd
ANOTHER BAD POLL FOR CLEGG
And finally… Nick Clegg’s debut single could only manage a disappointing #143 in this week’s charts. Aides told the Sun that Mr Clegg’s breakout single was only released on Friday night, and could surge next week, which would be the first time that the pop charts have been affected by a post-conference bounce.
TWEETS AND TWITS
It has been a rough few days for Thrasher, but Jim Murphy is ready to look on the bright side:
@jimmurphymp: “If media speculation true then Andrew Mitchell may about to become the first Chief Whip to never lose a Parliamentary vote in their tenure.”
In The Telegraph
Boris Johnson – Never mind all those badgers – we’ve got to save the Cleggster
Jeff Randall – Obama shrugs, but the debt keeps mounting
Cristina Odone – Our hospital’s been spared, so why do I feel queasy?
Harry Mount – Still a land of nobs and snobs
Best of the rest
Norman Lamont in the FT (£) – Only Tolstoy’s two warriors can cut UK’s debt
Peter Lampl in The Times (£) – Michael Gove has not been radical enough
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – This isn’t just the politics of envy, Mr Clegg. It’s a war on Britain’s whole economic future
Jackie Ashley in The Guardian – At the Lib Dem conference fantasy has the leading role
Today: Liberal Democrat conference continues.
12:20 pm: Dr Vince Cable gives his speech to the party conference.
3:50 pm: Danny Alexander participates in a Q&A session on the first two years of coalition.