MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
It’s the final day of the Lib Dem conference, and after Vince’s leadership pitch and Danny A’s stand-up routine, it is Nick Clegg’s turn to rally the troops.
The message is likely to be a sober one. Although the Independent reports that Mr Clegg will assure the faithful that the Lib Dems are here to stay as a party of government, the Times’ (£) headline sums up the general message – doing their duty in the face of abuse:
“Go back to your constituencies and prepare for vitriol and abuse”
Our splash this morning is Nick’s new big idea – targeting wealthy pensioners. As well as losing benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and free bus pass, and the elderly could face higher taxation rates to pay for care home fees. The feeling in Brighton seems to be that it is time a natural Tory constituency took a hit. Vince Cable’s chum Lord Oakeshott said yesterday:
“I’ve been raising these questions about winter fuel payments going to people who don’t need them, whether they are sipping sangria in the sun in Seville or people like me in their sixties with good jobs: why at least should these not be taxed?
“Nick has bravely taken hits for the Coalition team on tuition fees and the NHS, for example. Why on earth can’t David Cameron at least accept that if we’re all in it together, rich pensioners in good jobs should take the hit too? Why aren’t we fighting for fairness on well-off pensioners’ perks now rather than waiting for 2015?”
As I write in my blog post, Mr Clegg has picked up on an issue which all parties will need to address by 2015, although he has picked the wrong way of presenting it:
“Of course, the way Mr Clegg is putting the argument is wrong. He is wrapping it into his case for raising taxes on the wealthy to compensate for additional cuts that are likely in the next spending review… The point surely is that the very wealthy are taxpayers too, and contribute a vast chunk of the income tax take, and so might argue that they paid – many times over – for the benefits they receive. But if he is serious about finding substantial savings, then restricting a raid on pensioners to those who are fabulously wealthy will bring political pain but very little cash. If he wants to be courageous, he will have to be tougher than that.”
BO-JO LAYS DOWN THE LAW
Boris’ knack of saying the least helpful thing at any given time for David Cameron was to the fore again yesterday. This time the Mayor of London said he would have had supported the officer if he had chosen to arrest Thrasher. Today’s Telegraph reports that the Mayor told reporters:
“Under the Public Order Act [the police] have the powers to arrest you if you are using foul language if you are being abusive, quite right too.
“They’ve obviously decided not to go ahead with it but it shows the gravity of this offence.”
As we report , a furious Dave was persuaded to keep Mr Mitchell on as Chief Whip after the latter “looked him in the eye” and promised he never said “pleb”. The corollary of accepting Mr Mitchell’s word is that Mr Cameron must then answer questions on whether he thinks the police are lying. Perhaps that is one for Mr Letterman to ask.
Mr Mitchell’s judgement has been in question throughout this affair, and this morning’s Daily Mail story, that he had a similar disagreement with police only 12 hours later, does not help. According to the paper:
“A Whitehall source said: ‘He had another go the morning after and tried to go through the main gate but was told to use the pedestrian gate to the side.
“This time there was no altercation or unpleasantness. But it’s still unbelievable.”
Given his problems on a bike, it is a good job that Thrasher, or ‘BSD’ as he terms himself (short for Big Swinging Dick, m’lud), took the precaution of ordering a new Jaguar a fortnight ago. The Sun reports that Mr Mitchell will use the car for the 200 yard commute between 9 Downing Street and the Commons. Fortunately, the paper says that a “flunky” will be on hand to wheel his bike around should Mr Mitchell wish to do his bit for the environment by cycling back.
ANOTHER DAY, THREE MORE COALITION RIFTS
The rhetoric from the Lib Dems has been hostile towards their friends and partners in the Conservative Party all week, so it came as no surprise that yesterday saw three further additions to the list of disagreements.
Yesterday, the conference overwhelmingly endorsed a motion seeking to prevent the party leadership backing legislation which would allow courts to hear evidence relating to national security in secret. As the Mail reports, Conservative ministers are keen to press ahead, worrying that the United States will be less cooperative if it feels its sources are likely to be compromised in open court.
Next up was Nick Clegg’s backing for the BAE/EADS merger, a sore point for Tory backbenchers. The FT (£) reports that he told Bloomberg interviewers:
“The two companies are making a case, a strong case, in favour of this merger… Personally, I have always been in favour, over time, of greater consolidation in the European defence industry. I think that’s the trend and has been for a long period of time.”
The other potential row brewing is over Leveson. Lobbying group Hacked Off told the Independent that Clegg had promised to back any “proportionate” measures suggested by the inquiry, meaning partnering with Labour in the lobby.
All in all, another day in paradise for the Coalition.
ASHDOWN: REFERENDUM INEVITABLE
The Tory Right and the Lib Dem Left do agree in one area, though. As the Mail reports, Paddy Ashdown surprised a fringe event by announcing that Britain was “irretrievably” on course for a referendum on EU membership as a result of Dave’s veto earlier this year.
Then again, Lord Ashdown also used the event to predict that Britain would join the euro, one day. Perhaps his skills as a clairvoyant ought not to be taken as read.
SHALE GAS JUST HOT AIR
The same might be said of the many on the Right who hailed shale gas as the saviour of the nation, if the report quoted by the FT (£) is accurate. Although reserves are plentiful, they will not be cheap, and even at peak production in 2029-30, it will only provide one quarter of the UK’s gas requirement last year.
The news is a blow for Owen Paterson, who is rumoured to favour the rapid expansion of the shale industry in the UK, hoping for a similar boom to that seen in the United States. Time to dust down those North Sea oil tax breaks…
DANNY A’s BIG DAY
Stand-up comedy and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury don’t mix. That is the unanimous view of the sketch writers this morning. In the Times (£), Ann Treneman welcomed “the speech that launched Danny A as a comedy politician”. Not without reason, either:
“He told us that Julia, his special adviser, got married just after the Budget. “In Cornwall!” he said, waiting for the laugh that did not come. I tried to remember what was funny about Cornwall. But Danny A was there before me: “I checked to make sure that her future husband was not a caravan-dwelling, church-going, charity worker with a taste for pasties… But I will still always think of that period as four U-turns and a wedding,” Danny chortled. The audience groaned, a few clapped. “Thank you!” he cried.
“Harriet Harman has called me a ginger rodent!” he noted, adding: “But, strangest of all, some people think it is impossible to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a Liberal Democrat at the same time!” He glared at the autocues. Some Lib Dems, confused perhaps, began to clap. There were a few barks of laughter. Please God, I thought, make this end.”
ENTHUSIASM REIGNS IN THE PRESS BOX
The Lib Dem conference is clearly getting to the gentlemen of the press. As the Times ’ (£) diary reports:
“A conference steward came into the press room to deliver the text of an address by the Secretary of State for Scotland. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a copy of Michael Moore’s speech,’ he declared at great volume. The room broke into whoops. No one collected a copy.”
AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK
David Cameron is in New York preparing for his late night television debut. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid when he spoke to the press yesterday, as we report . With the Conservative conference coming up, Dave will hope that he has put the issue to bed. However, with all the talk elsewhere being of cuts and austerity at home, expect spending abroad to come up repeatedly by Tory malcontents.
JO LOOKS ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Nick Clegg may feel like his is a tough lot. Still, as the Mail reports, Jo Swinson helpfully pointed out yesterday:
“It could be worse. We used to have a leader charged with conspiracy to murder.”
GOVE APPOINTS THE “BARMY BOFFIN”
And finally… Michael Gove has made an exciting addition to his team, according to today’s Independent . Dr Tim Leunig has previously suggested abandoning Liverpool, Bradford, Sunderland and Hull to permanent decline, remarks which enraged many in the North.
They also enraged the Leader of the Opposition at the time, who fumed: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship, the better.” It can only be assumed that Dr Leunig’s bosses boss, David Cameron, has now changed his mind.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Julian Huppert feels a little let down after broadcasting’s finest refuse to join in with the Lib Dems’ glee club rendition of Nick Clegg’s #143 smash hit “Sorry”:
In The Telegraph
Bernard Jenkin – Let’s break up BAE – or sell it to the US
Hugo Vickers – The Queen’s wisdom is best kept private
Clive Anderson – Will David Cameron or David Letterman have the last word?
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – Let’s stop this annual patter of tiny cliques
Seumas Milne in The Guardian – The coalition’s phoney war is an exercise in political fraud
Mary Ann Sieghart in The Independent – What Britain’s cyclists could teach Nick Clegg
Phillip Blond in the FT (£) – Modern conservatives will make plebs of us all
Today: Lib Dem conference continues. David Cameron continues visit to U.N. General Assembly in New York.
12:20 pm: Paul Burstow speech.
2:45 pm: Nick Clegg speech.