MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: George Osborne has appeared on the Today programme in the wake of the Government’s defeat. He attacked with the line that Nick Clegg will take in a speech later today saying Labour “took a step away from government last night [it was] an opportunistic position”. He added that he was confident of negotiating a deal, but would not be drawn on whether that would be a cut:
“We’ve got to listen to all Coalition MPs. The real test will come when MPs vote on any deal and that deal will only come if David Cameron thinks a deal is better than no deal.
“I want a cut in the EU budget, David Cameron does…[but] is a deal better than the alternative? We want the best possible deal for Britain.
“It will only come to a vote if there is a good deal to put to the House of Commons. There will be a real choice. Last night was about tactics and the start of the negotiation.”
As Mr Osborne has just made clear, the real danger is the next vote, when the seven year budget is agreed and it has to return to the Commons to be approved. Mr Cameron will have to decide whether to try to force it through, or step aside and let the Commons sink the deal, and face the consequences both for the Coalition and the EU, which may conclude that the time has come to go on without Britain.
Earlier in the programme, Sir Tony Baldry reprised his theme from yesterday saying: “colleagues have got to realise that we’ve got to get a grip and support the Prime Minister”. Jacob Rees-Mogg attempted to deflect the blame onto Labour and argue that “they are a pro-European party”, while Dr Sarah Wollaston claimed the Tories are “absolutely united about Europe”.
Final word on this morning’s exchanges to Nick Robinson on Twitter: “Two Tory MPs debate on @BBCr4today whether this is a return to divisions of Major years. HINT – voters wake to 2 Tories arguing about EU..”
A Nightmare on Downing Street? Fright Night? Zombieshambles? Take your pick, but headline writers have had almost as much fun with the Government’s Halloween defeat over Europe as Labour have. A total of 53 Tory MPs rebelled (a list of the miscreants is here, while the Telegraph’s report is here). What is more, the Times (£) reports that a further 20 MPs have written to the Prime Minister expressing “concern and confusion” over Coalition energy policy. With rebel MPs apparently uncowed by the personal intervention of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over Europe, the party now has a serious discipline problem on its hands. Given that, the Whips Office will need to step up, sharply. Paul Goodman at Conservative Home says that the Coalition now have no inbuilt majority on European issues, while one Conservative MP tells today’s FT (£) that:
“The whipping operation was the most soporific I have ever seen. It was a shambles. Both my whip and the chief whip had just given up.”
A few hours before the vote No10 was predicting defeat by a margin of between 20 and 40. The anticipatory spin expressed frustration that Mr Cameron was not getting credit for adopting the toughest negotiating position of any of his predecessors. The argument was a familiar one, that the Commons should not bind the PM’s hands, and that just as Britain has a veto, so too do the 17 countries that are net recipients. But what’s plain is that the vote confirms a sea-change in public attitudes to the EU. We are no longer afraid to say ‘no’ to what has long been an Establishment trope, that we have no choice but to go along with the onward march of EU folly. The Commons voted against a budget increase last night, but what is really happening is a slow withdrawal.
The Telegraph‘s leader proclaims that the “Commons has spoken for the nation”, adding that while Labour’s contribution was “cynical…the die is cast”. Possibly the person most upset by Labour cynicism was Margaret Hodge, who the Guardian reports was overheard saying “I hate this vote. I do not want to do it. It’s hateful”. But as the Independent’s Donald Macintyre argues, “so what?…being told a politician – of any party – is opportunistic is hardly a surprise to set the public’s pulse racing.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Coalition is whether it can stay together until 2015. Aside from the bitter divisions over Europe and green energy, Peter Oborne writes in the Telegraph that it will struggle:
“Britain is not run by a coalition after all – for that word implies two rival parties ready to engage in some form of compromise. The events of the past week point towards the existence of two parallel administrations, each with its separate programme.”
GREEN ENERGY SPAT CONTINUES
The fallout continues from John Hayes’ remark that he would prevent onshore wind turbines “peppering” the country. As the Telegraph reports, Ed Davey immediately slapped down his junior minister, saying that there would be no review of wind energy or cap on turbines. Dave’s intervention at PMQs did not help matters, with the Prime Minister cryptically insisting both on a “debate” over wind farms and insisting that there would be “no change” in terms of policy. The real damage the row causes is not to Coalition unity, however, but investment. As Lord Heseltine told the FT (£) yesterday, Britain cannot access a “wall on money” looking to invest in energy because its policy is so opaque.
TARZAN WINS WARM WORDS
He never used to have it this easy. Lord Heseltine won praise from all sides of the Commons yesterday with both David Cameron and Ed Miliband clamouring to back his proposals on industrial reform. It’s not just the politicians at it. Writing in the Times (£), Gus O’Donnell says Lord Heseltine was wrong to suspect the Civil Service would seek to block his reforms. The cap on skilled immigration from outside the EU is an instance of the Government “shooting itself in the foot”, he thunders. In the Independent, Steve Richards wonders whether this is the moment common sense arrived at Downing Street:
“The true moderniser of the Conservative Party turns out to be a 79-year-old… A fatal flaw in Heseltine’s report is that there is no Heseltine in the Cabinet to implement it. It can be lonely being a genuine moderniser.”
BLUE COLLAR TORY GROUP GROWS
The Blue Collar Tory group can now boast Sir George Young as one of its 63 supporters on the green benches. The Telegraph reports that it is not being from blue collar stock yourself that is important, it’s subscribing to the groups three principles. Just as well, really.
WESTMINSTER IN DISREPAIR
If it were not for the privileged position they hold in British history, the Houses of Parliament should have been torn down years ago, the Times (£) reports. Asbestos, falling masonry, flooding problems, a lack of fire access and a chronic mouse infestation mean that it is “remarkable that it continues to function” at all according to a feasibility study into refurbishment. At least the next time someone tells you that there’s something rotten in Westminster, you’ll know it’s the building…
ABORTION COUNSELLING SCRAPPED
Proposed reforms which would have seen women wishing to terminate their pregnancy be forced to attend counselling first have been scrapped, the Telegraph reports. Anna Soubry announced that abortion laws would remain unchanged, saying that a consultation would now be pointless as the Government are not prepared to change existing laws.
CAMERON REMEMBERS HIS TIME AS A HOOKER
Since Tony Blair fondly recalled his days on the terrace at St James’ Park watching ‘wor Jackie Milburn score for Newcastle, Prime Ministers have been understandably reticent with their sporting memories. So it was a brave move for David Cameron to claim to have been a rugby hooker when he met with international rugby league players and managers yesterday. As the Telegraph reports, Eorl Crabree, England prop and nephew of wrestler ‘Big Daddy’, was doubtful, saying, “He has got too much height to be a hooker. You need to be a lot smaller than that.”
BO-JO MEETS HIS PUBLIC
Boris went walkabout in Bristol yesterday, and received a rather rougher reception than the one he has become used to. The Mail shows him thumbing his nose at protesters. Later he called a group of hecklers “lefty tossers”. As Tom Chivers wrote on Telegraph Blogs, the only sadness is that he didn’t do it in Latin.
QUESTION TIME PANEL
Tonight’s Question Time will come from London. The panelists will be David Miliband, Kwasi Kwarteng, Jerry Springer, Shami Chakrabarti and Colleen Graff.
TWEETS AND TWITS
If David Cameron is looking for consolation this morning, he could always adopt Diane Abbott’s interpretation of events last night :
@HackneyAbbott: “Sir George pulls it off. Cameron beats back Europe rebellion by just 13”
In The Telegraph
Peter Oborne – This Dr Dolittle Coalition can’t keep facing two ways at once
Sue Cameron – When it comes to Housden, we have a problem
James Delingpole – Wind energy is just a lot of hot air
Nabeel Shaath – Britain must atone for its sins in Palestine
Best of the Rest
Gus O’Donnell in The Times (£) – A smarter whitehall? Sir Humphrey agrees
Martin Kettle in The Guardian – Heseltine’s on the right road – so who’s going to take it?
Steve Richards in The Independent – Is this when the Tories finally see common sense
Henry Overman in the FT (£) – Heseltine’s report is a return to an unsuccesful past
09:00 am: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond addresses Royal United Services Institute conference on air power. Church House, Dean’s Yard.
02:00 pm: David Cameron meets President of Indonesia. 10 Downing Street.
05:15 pm: David Cameron press conference with presidents of Indonesia and Liberia. It follows the 2nd meeting of the UN High Level Panel 10 Downing Street.