MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: Good morning. The Coalition was hammered in yesterday’s by-elections. The Lib Dems came eighth in Rotherham. They lost their deposit both there and in Croydon North (see terrible Labour joke in Tweets and Twits). Ladbrokes are now offering 5/1 on the party winning less than 10 seats in 2015. The Conservatives held on to their deposits, but will be concerned by the distance which they trailed Ukip home in Middlesbrough and Rotherham. With the BNP and Respect also beating the Conservatives in Rotherham, the centre ground is suddenly looking a lonely place to be in British politics. The results were:
- Croydon North: Labour hold. Majority 11,761 from Conservatives. Margin of victory 47.9%. Turnout 26.4%. Swing Con to Lab 8%.
- Middlesbrough: Labour hold. Majority 8,211 from Ukip. Margin of victory 48.7%. Turnout 26%. Swing Ukip to Lab 3.25%.
- Rotherham: Labour hold. Majority 5,218 from Ukip. Margin of victory 27.9%. Turnout 33.6%. Swing Lab to Ukip 7.13%.
CAMERON SPIKES LEVESON’S PRESS LAW
My hunch turned out to be right. I said a few days ago that I expected David Cameron to rule out politicians invigilating the press, and he has. It’s now Dave against Ed and Nick, and things get interesting. He hopes that MPs will consider his arguments and accept that on reflection his approach is the right one. His point is that he hasn’t rejected Leveson – in fact he’s accepted all of it – he’s just refused the statutory bit for reasons of principle, practicality and necessity. Labour is taking up the prospect of a vote, but as the FT (£) points out it would be indicative but not binding. Mr Cameron cannot be forced to act. That may be why as Fraser Nelson notes we are getting indications that Nick Clegg’s support for statute is negotiable. On the politics three obvious themes worth considering this morning: first, can Dave win round the Eusticeites? It may be that a number of them having heard his argument will be reluctant to go through the lobbies with Mr Miliband and his friends of state licensing. Second, does his position help or hurt the Labour leader? Short term populism has a habit of going wrong: I reckon he’s on to a loser if his offer at the election can be distilled to ‘we will gag the press’ (that and the incongruity of being lectured on decency by a graduate of the Gordon Brown school of media brutality). Third, don’t underestimate the capacity of a raucous and not-as-united-as-it-appears press to get it wrong, leaving Dave no option but to give ground. The press have got about six weeks to match Leveson, minus statute, allowing Mr Cameron to see off the clamour for parliamentary action. Meantime, next week is the autumn statement (the Quad met last night). Other issues, of far greater importance to the public, crowd in. And there’s Christmas. My bet is Mr Cameron will pull it off, just.
Certainly, he has almost pulled off his bid to make himself a hero among leader writers throughout the land. The Times (£) praises Mr Cameron’s “courage and principle” in its leader column, while the Mail salutes “Cameron’s stand for freedom”, although its leader makes Dave’s “place of honour in our history” dependent upon beating off attempts to revive a statutory solution. The Sun is also impressed with David Cameron’s courage, with its leader insisting it “just wants to stay free”. That freedom will include continuing with Page 3 girls, whose ranks Lord Justice Leveson joins in the Independent’s cartoon (not online yet). The paper itself is unusually supportive of the Prime Minister, its leader arguing that “Mr Cameron is right: legislation would be unnecessary, complex and slow”. There’s always one, though, and it’s almost always the Guardian. So it has proved today, with the paper’s leader arguing that while “great care, real deliberation and cross-party support” are needed to make a statute possible, it is still the desirable option.
In the meantime, Number 10 will publish a draft bill as an exercise in showing that legislation would be almost impossible to word, a move Labour argue will produce a version packed with unattractive superfluous detail. It isn’t just the wording, though. It’s the principle. Max Hastings writes in this morning’s Mail that the report itself constituted a “rotten day for freedom…a tragic blow to liberty and the right to know”. In rejecting it, Mr Cameron has identified himself with a cause that matters to many on the Tory backbenches and all of the Tory press, as I wrote in my Telegraph op-ed, “he has answered the hopes of the Conservative Party that sometimes wonders what he stands for.”
ENERGY BILL ARRIVES
Ed Davey would have gained a small insight into the importance the greenest government ever ascribes to renewables when they scheduled his Energy Bill for debate prior to the Prime Minister’s Leveson statement yesterday. Whether worried about giving such a divisive issue centre stage, or simply looking for a good day to bury what appears to be a shift away from subsidies for wind turbines, the Coalition gave the graveyard slot to an issue that would usually expect star billing. The Times (£) reports that Mr Davey believes the Coalition is “united” behind his bill, which will shift subsidies from energy producers to energy consumers such as supermarkets and heavy industry. This is somewhat undermined by the FT’s (£) story that Dave has already rejected Mr Davey’s choice of a climate change expert, David Kennedy, to head up the energy department. Parliament is just fortunate that even when the wind stops blowing and power fails, the friction coming from the government benches will keep it warm.
NET MIGRATION AT 20 YEAR LOW
Falls in the number of foreign students arriving in Britain caused net migration to decline by a quarter in the last year, the Telegraph reports. Although the net figure of 183,000 is still well above Theresa May’s target of a number in the tens of thousands, the figures are a sign that the crackdown on student visas has taken effect. The other driver of lower migration figures was a 19,000 rise in the number of Britons leaving to take jobs elsewhere. Only the very uncharitable would also ascribe this to Coalition policy-making.
TORIES LOSE TITCHMARSH
Like ravens leaving the Tower of London, yesterday’s by-election collapse was preceeded by the departure of Alan Titchmarsh from public support of the Conservative Party. The Telegraph reports that Mr Titchmarsh believes the Tories are no longer “the party of the Shires” following Nick Boles’ announcement that he planned to convert 1,500 square miles of Shire to city.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Andrew Gwynne, political satirist:
@GwynneMP: “So LD really does stand for lost deposit so it seems #byelections”
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan – Unexpected decision makes PM a leader in defence of freedom
Fraser Nelson – Cameron’s Tory principles are protecting our ancient liberties
Jeremy Warner – Carney isn’t the messiah – and King isn’t the devil, either
Telegraph View – Let us implement Leveson without a press law
Best of the rest
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – An opening gambit for a grand bargain with the press
Hugo Rifkind in The Times (£) – My article, your tweet. What’s the difference?
Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail – By ignoring the lawless internet the judge proves he’s on another planet
Chris Blackhurst in The Independent – Hold the front pages! Judge backs legal remedy
TODAY: Members of the PCS union at the Transport Department will strike for 24 hours over spending cuts, while other civil servants will stage lunchtime protests across the UK over terms and conditions, including a demonstration outside the Cabinet Office in Whitehall between 1200 and 1300.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make an announcement about the rollout of Personal Health Budgets.