MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. The Times (£) report that Dave’s aides are discussing the possibility of the Lib Dems leaving coalition before 2015. The favoured option is an “amicable divorce” whereby the Lib Dems support next year’s budget before returning to opposition for the last six to ten months of the Parliament. There will be curiosity about the sourcing: is it a Lib Dem operation to rattle the Tories? Or are the Tories feeling emboldened and frustrated enough to start muttering threats. It’s worth recalling that the Coalition relies for its existence, above all things, on the personal relationship between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The evidence remains that they both remain committed to the idea. Certainly, until very recently Tories closest to Dave expected the Coalition to last until the day the election is called, even if political distancing starts well before then.
I reckon the Times story is more mischief than likely, but put it alongside the spending review tensions the FT (£) reports, and there’s every reason to worry that what looks stable now could quickly get messy. The Coalition has suffered a series of shocks which have – until now – been absorbed by the dampeners of Dave and Nick’s equanimity. The Europe row is of a different order altogether. The Lib Dems in the centre, I am told, are fizzing over the way Mr Cameron has allowed a referendum vote this Parliament, when the Coalition deal was that there wouldn’t be one.
Mr Clegg’s complaint is largely political – he hates the idea of being seen by voters opposing giving them a say. But there is also a principled point: when is a deal not a deal? To which his Tory critics might say – boundaries. Or child care. Note though how Mr Cameron is making nice with Nick on child care: it suggests the PM can see the strain cause by the EU issue, and is trying to compensate. Again, it’s how Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg choose to play it that will decide the longevity of the Coalition.
TOO MUCH BANGING ON?
Chance always plays an important role in politics. And so it may prove with yesterday’s Private Members’ Bill ballot. James Wharton, born nine years after the last European referendum, will use his slot to push for a vote on British membership by 2017. As we report, George Osborne says it will have “the full support of the Conservative Party, David Cameron and myself”.
For the Tories it’s not quite clear what sort of luck this amounts to. With the Lib Dems opposed to giving the Bill any government time and Labour also trying to obfuscate to prevent a parliamentary vote, the Conservatives are marked out as the one unambiguously pro-referendum party. Yet, while the public shares its views on Europe, they risk banging on about Europe in an empty room.
As one MP put it: “we’re at risk of not being seen to talk about the things that matter because we’re just talking about Europe”. That was Mr Wharton on Wednesday.
There is also the risk that, even as Vince Cable says that Dave is “in the right place” on Europe, the public see only opportunism. As The Times (£) reports, only 17 pc think he feels strongly about his European strategy; 64 pc think that he is motivated by tactics.
Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson writes for us on the risks for Dave of being seen to follow his backbenchers. “Labour in the Eighties paid the price for indulging its own hard Left for too long before Neil Kinnock, realising that his party’s future was threatened, fought back against them and won. Similarly, the Republicans allowed the Tea Party to grow in influence, with fatal electoral consequences.”
BRITAIN’S BLACK HOLE
George Osborne is facing a cool £9 billion budget shortfall, with the National Union of Ministers having so far identified only £2.5 billion of the net £11 billion planned budget cuts, according to the FT (£). One said that the “low-hanging fruit” in savings had now all gone, but there are Whitehall murmurs of “black ops” at the Treasury to be deployed against reluctant cutters.Philip Hammond and Owen Paterson, they’re coming for you.
GOVE PLAYS IT STRAIGHT
Michael Gove knew his Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture would be scanned for any subtext of blood lust, especially after Nick Clegg’s comments that “he knows a thing or two about leadership ambitions”. But, as we report, it was a speech which marked him out as a government loyalist. Opponents of countryside planning laws were criticised as impediments to social mobility; the city was defended as a source of “wealth and opportunity for our nation”.
SUPPORT FOR STAY-AT-HOME PARENTS
As reported in the Mail, Dave is planning to make life easier for stay-at-home parents, addressing his problem of being seen as speaking only for metropolitan mothers, with support for marriage in the tax system mooted. Plans to increase the number of children a childminder can look after could also be diluted following Lib Dem opposition.
LETS BE CIVIL ABOUT MARRIAGE
Under Tory MP Tim Loughton’s amendment to the gay marriage Bill that we report, all couples could be allowed to choose whether to enter a civil or traditional marriage. But the Guardian reports that the government will reject the amendment, commit to passing the Bill in its current form and instead agree to a review of civil partnerships five years after gay marriage legislation is passed.
With all the talk of Britain leaving the EU, Scotland’s future has been left on the back burner. But Canada’s former PM, Jean Chrétien (who led his country through two independence referenda) yesterday argued that Scottish independence should only be granted if a “clear majority” of the people supported it, as the FT reports. It’s a reminder that not only Europe is a fragile union.
POOR OLD NIGE, STUCK IN A PUB
Nigel Farage found himself locked in a pub yesterday – not normally a problem. As we report, after he was barracked as racist by hard-Left Scottish independence campaigners, Farage had to enter an Edinburgh pub for his own safety before a vehicle wisted him away from the scene. And this came as The Times (£) revealed that Ukip has been appealing for donations and admitted “we have got to improve our policy production”. Nige won’t drink to that.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Margot James wants British companies to get out more:
@margotjamesmp: Recession in Eurozone now 18 months old, even Germany at zero growth, all the more reason for Britain’s exporters to get out beyond Europe
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson – The truth is, we can’t afford a shiny new transport system like HS2
Peter Mandelson – Cameron must not cave in to the Ukip threat
Isabel Hardman – Why are so many MPs making fools of themselves?
Telegraph View – The state should help families, not judge them
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) – History is more than one thing after another
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – Britain is hurtling to the exit from Europe
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – Now we know HS2’s a fiasco. But can George Osborne admit it?
John Rentoul in The Independent – Cameron’s position has the support of most voters – but then so did Major’s