MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
CHARLES LETTERS “A THREAT” TO PROSPECTS AS KING
The Attorney General has ruled that Prince Charles’ letters to ministers in seven departments during Tony Blair’s government should not be released. Dominic Grieve blocked the release of 27 letters,as we report, containing frank views which may be seen as impairing the Prince’s political neutrality. In a 10-page summary of his reasons for the move, Mr Grieve wrote:
“The letters … are in many cases particularly frank. They also contain remarks about public affairs which would, in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the Government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.”
Mr Grieve’s decision must qualify as a back-handed favour. It will encourage those who say Prince Charles is unfit to be king by begging the question: if the Attorney General believes the Prince’s letters ‘forfeit’ his political neutrality and would ‘seriously damage’ his future role, then surely just saying so causes damage.
MAUDE WARNS OF ASSAULT ON PRESS FREEDOM
Francis Maude warns in today’s Telegraph that the “sacred role” of journalists in holding politicians to account is under threat as a result of a global trend towards press suppression. Praising the press for exposing the “lies, the corruption, and the ineffectiveness of those in power”. Mr Maude also presses the case for open government, writing:
“I’m issuing a call to arms to the media the world over to hold the feet of government officials and ministers like me to the fire.
“Far better to work under the knowledge that what you do will be scrutinised, analysed, picked over — that will make people at every level in Government think twice about how they spend taxpayers’ money.”
MINISTERS TO THRASH OUT ENERGY POLICY
Britain’s energy plans will be the focus of a ministerial meeting this morning involving the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor. The Treasury is rumoured to be pushing for a reduction in the subsidy offered to renewables, while on the other side of the table, Lib Dem ministers will push hard for more green investment. The Guardian reports that the Coalition is worried uncertainty will see foreign companies abandon the UK.
UNSEASONAL WARMTH ON MAY DAY
As Ann Treneman writes in this morning’s Times (£), yesterday must have been an unusual experience for Theresa May. The Home Secretary reprised Hugh Grant’s role from Love Actually, standing up to what was seen in the House as a heavy-handed American request for the extradition of Gary McKinnon. Tory MPs overlooked the use of the hated human rights laws, Dennis Skinner delivered a homage to a Tory Home Secretary. For a brief moment, love was all around. The decision came as a shock to many, but as I wrote in my Telegraph blog, Mrs May has quietly established herself as one of the Conservative’s most effective politicians:
“She has allowed the Government to present itself as a fair-minded ally of the underdog. She has also delighted the Daily Mail, which campaigned relentlessly for the hacker’s cause and has been casting around for Tories worth embracing. In a department renowned for bringing politicians down, she has established herself as a success.”
If the Telegraph’s leader sounds a note of caution, arguing that Mrs May’s move will have long-term consequences when it comes to attempts to extradite more dangerous terror suspects, the Mail’s is jubilant, declaring the occasion “a triumph for Gary and British justice”. Writing elsewhere in the Mail, Stephen Glover is effusive in his praise of Mrs May:
“The Home Secretary has done what no British minister has dared to do for at least two decades — stand up to Uncle Sam.”
A victory for the new politics Nick Clegg once talked about? Don’t bet on it. Noon sees the first PMQs since conference season, and it’s a fair bet that the Commons will have lost that loving feeling by then.
BURNHAM AND MILIBAND CLASH OVER COSTINGS
The Guardian reveals what looks like a significant bust up between Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband on policy. Mr Burnham intended to promise a merger of health and social care services only to be told to pull the policy from his conference speech as it had not been costed. “Heated” discussions with Ed Miliband’s office resulted in watered down proposals. Mr Burnham attacked the fragmentation of health and social services without specifically favouring full integration. Apparently Mr Miliband was also frustrated with the shadow health secretary telling fringe meetings about handing over powers to local councils before that policy had been examined either. Perhaps Ed’s responsible capitalism is finally translating into responsible spending pledges, as well.
CLEGG REJECTS ‘CASH-FOR-SEATS’ DEAL
Nick Clegg has rejected the prospect of a party funding for boundary change deal with the Conservatives, describing it as “a get-rich-quick scheme which [Grant Shapps] is actually prepared to put his name to”. The Telegraph reports that Mr Clegg told MPs that there was as much chance of Peter Bone going to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the EU as there was of the Lib Dems accepting the boundary review which the Conservatives desperately want to implement. “This is the meaning of coalition politics,” he told the Commons. Quite.
OBR BACKS AUSTERITY
Good news of sorts for the Chancellor: the slow rate of growth in the economy is not the result of austerity measures, according to the OBR. The FT (£) reports that “unusually stubborn” inflation and weak export markets were the reason for growth underperforming against 2010’s projections. The economy grew only 0.9 per cent between Q1 2010 and Q2 2012.
The extent to which the strategy is working will be visible in the unemployment numbers which are published this morning. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report also published this morning highlights the situation young job applicants are currently faced with – 69 per cent of applications receive no acknowledgement at all, and in areas with weak jobs markets, there are 66 applicants per retail job.
Those who do not find employment will receive an increase in benefits of 2.5 per cent next year, following yesterday’s CPI inflation report. This is an annual no-win situation for the Government. The Sun bemoans the fact that unemployment benefit will rise twice as fast as average wages. The Mirror, on the other hand, is furious that pensioners will receive a rise of only 38p per day.
Legislation covering sexual harassment at work will be watered down, one of the latest attempts to revive the Beecroft report on employment law by Conservative MPs. The FT (£) reports that the changes will remove liability from employers when a racially or sexually abusive remark is made at a workplace by a third party. Unlike the idea of no fault dismissal, which ensured Lib Dem opposition to the Beecroft report as a whole, this does have coalition backing. Perfect for anyone wanting to hire a Bernard Manning impersonator for the office Christmas Party…
HUNT EARNS ROYAL REBUKE
The Queen snubbed Jeremy Hunt after he offered a joke about her Olympic role, the Telegraph reports:
“He then told her: ‘I read about a Japanese tourist who said afterwards how wonderful our Queen must be to take part in that as they would never get their emperor to jump out of the plane.’
“There was a brief ‘tumbleweed’ moment as the Queen smiled and shrugged her shoulders politely as she turned and moved on.
“The still smiling minister was then approached by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who in typically blunt fashion, asked him ‘who are you?’.”
CLAWS OUT ON DOWNING STREET
It all got a bit catty between representatives of Number 10 and Number 11 yesterday. As the Telegraph reports, Larry, the Prime Minister’s rat catcher, and Freya, the Chancellor’s moggy, fought on the Downing Street steps on Monday night. Freya won after her rival retired indoors to chillax. Who said pets resemble their owners?
TWEETS AND TWITS
Jamie Reed comes up with a surefire vote winner:
@jreedmp: “I’m introducing a Private Members’ Bill to refund the licence fee to people like me every time the BBC shows a period costume drama. #enough”
In The Telegraph
James O’Shaughnessy – A chain reaction that would fix Britain’s failing schools
Allister Heath – Britain will feel the pain when the QE bubble finally bursts
Telegraph View – Theresa May has set an uneasy precedent
Best of the rest
Alice Thompson in The Times (£) – Salmond the Shrewd could still pull this off
Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail – At last! A minister stands up to Uncle Sam
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian – It’s drugs politics, not drugs policy, that needs an inquiry
Martin Wolf in the Financial Times (£) – The fund warns and encourages
Today: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude launches new Government web domain to replace Directgov. Work and pensions minister Mark Hoban makes announcement on changes to the New Enterprise Allowance.
09:30 am: Unemployment figures published.
10:15 am: Parliamentary committee takes evidence on Draft Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill. Committee Room 6.
12:00 pm: Prime Ministers Questions. House of Commons.
06:00 pm: Alastair Campbell gives Chatham House address. Former Downing Street director of communications delivers lecture entitled E-Leadership: Political Communication in a Digital World, looking at how the rise of digital and social media has changed the way political leaders communicate. Chatham House, 10 St James’s Square.