Miller skewered in the Star Chamber

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

Good morning. Before we disappear into 48 hours of Leveson-related navel gazing, the telling news of the day is the FT‘s (£) account of a bun-fight in Cabinet which featured David Cameron laying into Maria Miller over the slow progress on fast rural broadband, and George Osborne persecuting everyone’s chum Eric Pickles over enterprise zones. It describes yesterday’s session as “acrimonious”, which may have something to do with the bad news all around on the economy and the Government’s lack of progress. The OECD was unhelpful, the Work Programme is achieving, well, next to nothing, and the Mail has gone for Dave as a Ted Heath in the making in its leader columns. It’s a reminder that while Leveson may have the village in its grip, the real tensions are over the search for economic growth which will decide Dave’s fate.

The “bluntest” criticism at the star chamber was apparently reserved for Ms Miller whose rural broadband scheme is behind schedule and has seen only seven from the 40 local authorities involved finalise their procurement process despite an investment of £530m of Government cash. Mr Osborne also berated IDS for his Work Programme which has found work for only 2pc of participants, and Eric Pickles, who, according to the FT, struggled to explain why one third of enterprise zones did not have a single occupant. Theresa May avoided being skewered by Vince Cable over the opaque visa system only because she is in India defending the opaque visa system. Vince did eventually manage to have a go at Michael Gove, instead, as the Guardian reports, but that was for flouting an agreement on religion in free schools. If the level of recrimination going in early is anything to judge by, the Guardian might be right in referring to the Autumn Statement as shaping up to be “another Black Wednesday”.

Meanwhile, in India, Boris is laying into the French. Last night friends of hizzoner were in touch to assure us that far from lurching to the left, as James Kirkup mischievously suggested, he remains firmly on the right and is “brooding” the whole question of Britain’s place in the EU.

ELDER STATESMEN HAIL THE FREE PRESS

Nothing says “unity” quite like contradicting one another in the Commons. Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg will meet tomorrow morning to try and thrash out a Government line on Leveson, the FT (£) reports. Both have been preparing separate speeches in case they fail, and Nick Robinson is now reporting that there is a possibility that Mr Clegg would give his in the chamber in opposition to Dave’s statement. The backbenches are also obsessed with the issue. In a letter published in a number of newspapers (Telegraph copy here) this morning, 86 MPs and peers from across the parliamentary divide call for David Cameron to resist enacting statutory regulation of the press when Lord Justice Leveson reports tomorrow. The signatories include Liam Fox, David Davis, David Blunkett, Baroness Boothroyd and Graham Brady. They insist state regulation would strangle free speech:

“No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.”

While there is cross-party support for a reform of the self-regulation system, its proponents are mainly Conservatives. As I wrote in yesterday’s column, statutory regulation is largely a politically motivated obsession . Certainly, my suggestion that state regulation is being pushed by the Left provoked a spirited reaction on the Twittersphere, where almost all of those bashing me were of the Left, and those supporting were on the Right. Alice Thomson writes in today’s Times (£) that the Left already controls the quangos, charities, appointments boards and other instruments of power in the country, adding that the press receives attention because it has largely swung towards the Conservatives since the war. The split is evident in today’s papers. The Guardian carries a poll in favour of statutory regulation conducted by the Media Standards Trust, which backs the Hacked Off campaign. It also carries a fawning profile of Lord Justice Leveson, a “man of humour, warmth and compassion”. In contrast, the Mail captions a story about former Media Standards Trust campaigner Gavid Freeguard who now works for Harriet Harman as: “sad geek”.

BOE INDEPENDENCE A “VENEER”

The Bank of England’s independence is “an elaborate veneer” hiding “the Treasury’s raw institutional power” according to a former insider quoted in the FT (£). The appointment of Mark Carney has, the paper argues, shown how much power a determined Chancellor still wields over the BoE. If true, at least that power was used for good, argues Allister Heath in the Telegraph:

“There is only one problem with Mark Carney’s appointment as the next governor of the Bank of England, and that is that he won’t be starting until next July… he is eminently reasonable and experienced, a brilliantly qualified former City worker who is committed to balancing economic growth with financial stability, rather than tilting the balance too far either way.”

CONCRETE THE COUNTRYSIDE

An unlikely Tory rallying call, but more than 1,500 square miles of greenfield land must be built on, Nick Boles wIll warn in an interview with Newsnight broadcast this evening. The Telegraph splashes on the story adding Mr Boles believes the development is necessary because the young have a “basic, moral right” to affordable housing. To give a sense of the scale of the area under discussion, it is twice the size of greater London and makes up approaching 3pc of England (to which Mr Boles confines his remarks). It seems as though Dave’s campaign to alienate non-metropolitan Conservatives build for victory continues apace.

LABOUR MULLS VOTES FOR 16 YEAR OLDS

Labour’s vice chairman Michael Dugher has told the Independent that the party is “actively considering” making lowering the voting age a manifesto pledge at the next election. Such is the enthusiasm in the party for the move that Lord Adonis is advocating setting up polling stations in secondary school. The old joke runs that if you vote for the Right at 18 you have no heart and if you vote for the Left at 40, you have no brain. Perhaps this is an attempt to make the most of that lead at the idealistic end of the market.

BRITAIN COULD BACK PALESTINE

William Hague will tell MPs that the UK would recognise Palestinian non-member status at the UN in exchange for peace talks with Israel, the Mail reports. France has already announced its backing for Palestine, but there is an argument that the timing of the vote can only escalate tensions as a fragile cease-fire holds.

MINIMUM ALCOHOL PRICING TO BE UNVEILED

Kiss goodbye to buy one, get one free. The Home Secretary will today announce plans to set a minimum alcohol price of 45p, the Independent reports. Supermarket brand ciders could be pushed up in cost from £1.20 a bottle to close to £4 under the plans. Now you won’t just wake up with a headache on New Year’s Day, it will be an expensive one at that.

ELDERLY CARE CAP TO BE SET HIGH

Nick and Dave are close to agreeing the level at which the bill for state care of the elderly will be capped, the Telegraph reports. A new system will be introduced by 2015 under which the elderly will contribute a maximum of £75,000 to their care, sparing some savings for the one in ten whose care costs top £100,000 in their lifetime. Although higher than the level recommended by Andrew Dilnot when he proposed the plan, the Coalition see this as one of their key legacy policies.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Jamie Reed muses on the price of fame:

@jreedmp: “I wonder if the other 599,999 ppl who have their gall bladders removed in the UK every year have this news reported in their local papers? ”

POLL WATCH

The Sun/YouGov: Con 31%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 9%, Ukip 11%, Other 6%

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell – Will Cameron slot in the missing piece of Beveridge’s jigsaw?

Dominic Raab – Don’t take a chainsaw to press freedom

Allister Heath – So can we bank on the Canadian?

Telegraph View – The hard graft of grinding out results

Best of the rest

Matthew Norman in The Independent – Press freedom is too important to be left to the mercy of politicians

Alice Thomson in The Times (£) – Who runs the country? It’s Labour, actually

Seumas Milne in The Guardian – The elite fear of a vote on Europe feeds a populist right

Dan Corry in the FT (£) – The Bank of England has not lost to the Treasury over Carney

THE AGENDA

TODAY: Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is to announce “procurement pipeline” for the next five years. Universities Minister David Willetts to make an announcement on university status.

08:00 am: Chuka Umunna gives a speech on the UK takeover regime in a breakfast with CEOs hosted by the Association of British Insurers.

09:15 am: Justice Secretary Chris Grayling gives evidence to the Commons Justice Committee. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.

09:30 am: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on public engagement in policy-making. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

09:30 am: Home Office launches consultation on alcohol strategy – including minimum unit pricing in England and Wales. Launch expected in written ministerial statement at 09:30.

10:15 am: Judgment in Andy Coulson’s appeal. The former News of the World editor finds out the result of his Court of Appeal challenge against a High Court decision that News Group Newspapers (NGN) does not have to pay his potential legal costs over the phone-hacking affair. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.

11:00 am: Summit on Movember and Prostate Cancer hosted by George Freeman. Jubilee Room, Portcullis House.

12:00 pm: Prime Ministers Questions. House of Commons.

07:30 pm: Rt Hon John Bercow MP speaking at Cambridge University Union. 9A Bridge Street, Cambridge.

Eurosceptics are set to lose yet another general election

The tragedy is that it will come too late. By the time UKIP and the Conservatives accept Britain’s electoral logic, the damage will have been done.

It is now likelier than not that the Conservatives will offer an In/Out referendum. The danger is that my party will do so ambiguously, tardily or unconvincingly. Too unconvincingly, at any rate, for those in UKIP who are predisposed to disbelieve everything Tories say.

The two parties will end up fighting each other at the 2015 general election. UKIP won’t win a single seat, but will cause the Conservatives to lose dozens. UKIP’s share of the vote at the Corby by-election (not natural UKIP territory) was the same as that secured by its local candidates in May, namely 14 per cent. If its general election candidates get just half that level of support – and the latest poll has UKIP at 11 per cent – scores of Tory MPs will be turned out.

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Is Egypt about to become the new Iran?

It is not only the anti-government protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square who should be concerned about President Mohammed Morsi’s audacious power grab. Mr Morsi’s claim at the weekend that “God’s will and elections made me the captain of this ship” has echoes of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s claim during the 1979 Iranian revolution that his mission to overthrow the Shah enjoyed divine guidance.

Since his announcement that he was granting himself sweeping new powers, Mr Morsi has been trying to reassure sceptical Egyptian voters that he has no ambition to become Egypt’s new Pharaoh. But you only have to look at the violent scenes that have once again erupted in Tahrir Square to see that the majority of Egyptians remain unconvinced.

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David Cameron and Nick Clegg ready to clash over Leveson

The Prime Minister and his deputy are preparing for a major disagreement, after both received a copy of Lord Justice Leveson’s findings this morning.

Mr Cameron will set out his views on the Leveson Inquiry in the House of Commons on Thursday, once the judge has published his findings. However, Mr Clegg is asking if he can make a separate statement to MPs.

Lib Dem sources say the Deputy Prime Minister may need to make it clear that he does not share a position with Mr Cameron.

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