Deterrent? What deterrent?

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING NEWS: Philip Hammond has defended his reluctance to cut his budget in an interview on Today:

I’m not a holdout… We can look for efficiency savings which everyone should be seeking all the time. If we need to go beyond our efficiency savings, we would need to have a discussion over how and where these would be achieved.

OSBORNE NEEDS SOME MORE FRIENDS

Good morning. No one ever said it was going to be easy. Facing resistance to cuts from a number of Tory big beasts – Philip Hammond, Theresa May and Owen Paterson, plus Lib Dems including Vince Cable – George Osborne will reconvene a “star chamber” to deal with Cabinet ministers who refuse to agree to the new round of £11.5 billion of cuts demanded of them for 2015-16. This amount to a formal interrogation by Mr Osborne and senior ministers at a special Treasury committee. But Danny Alexander’s view that this would act as “deterrent” against ministers opposing cuts sounds more hope than expectation.

The National Union of Ministers look like they have simply had enough. And it’s not hard to sympathise – under the latest round of cuts, some unprotected departments will be 30 percent smaller in 2015/16 than in 2009/10. As the FT (£) notes, the average of 6.6 percent Mr Osborne has asked unprotected departments to cut in the latest Spending Review would be a more palatable 4.5 percent if the ringfences were taken away.

While Mr Osborne has talked up the cuts already agreed, the other departments will not be as amenable. The seven departments who have agreed to cuts are: HM Treasury; Cabinet Office; Ministry of Justice; Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Northern Ireland Office; Energy and Climate Change; and Comunities and Local Government. Eric Pickles and Chris Grayling have already been praised for their commitment. But the bare facts remain soothing: though Mr Osborne says 20% of the necessary cuts have been agreed, this includes £1.5 billion of cuts from the budget that are being carried forward.

To realise the deficit reduction aims, our leader says a little more of Mr Grayling’s ambition would not go amiss:

Given that this is the Government’s last real chance before 2015 to reshape the nature of the public sector, we urge it to embrace this approach – and to focus not on pruning individual leaves of the Whitehall tree, but lopping off entire branches.

LIB DEMS STUCK IN THE MIDDLE

Labour appear to be doing their bit for coalition disunity. As The Times (£) reports, Labour is considering allying with the Tories over the “snooper’s charter”, much to Lib Dem chagrin. Lib Dems could then get their own back – by backing Labour’s motion for a mansion tax. This would not be binding for the Government, but it would leave Dave facing another Commons defeat – and reinforcing attacks on his party as that of the rich.

A senior Lib Dem said that they thought the Conservatives would not pursue the charter, recognising that it could lead only to “mutually assured destruction”. The source presumably hadn’t seen Nick Herbert’s Times (£) piece, accusing opponents of the charter of “a paranoid libertarianism that denies any sense of proportion.” Labour’s stance on the Communications Data Bill, which would determine whether it passed, remains unclear, though former Home Secretaries Alan Johnson and Lord Reid support it. Meanwhile MI5 officers have described using the Woolwich attack as a reason to push forward with the Bill as a “cheap argument”, reports The Independent.

HOW BORIS CAN BECOME PM

Andy Coulson has returned to the political fray to do a bit of stirring, as we report. In an article for GQ, he writes: “Boris Johnson desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known the fact longer than most”. He also outlines how Boris could become PM:

Stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand – just not very Boris. He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country.

HANCOCK INVOKES THATCHER

Matthew Hancock is giving a speech across the pond today about how conservatives need to be on the side of small business:

We as conservatives, as supporters of free markets, must recognise human behaviour for what it is, and make sure the rules of the game free us from the overmighty – whether in banking, energy, or governmentand support the challenger, the competitor, the entrepreneur and the innovator… Whether the business start-up or the aspiring home owner, Mrs Thatcher was on the side of the insurgent, and so must we be.

DARLING WARNS OSBORNE

Alistair Darling has urged George Osborne not to sell Government shares in banks at less than the sums they were bought for in 2008. The RBS share price is £18 billion less than the Government paid in 2008, and writing in the Mirror, Darling said:

Selling the shares off cheap might be good politics in the short term but it is not good for the country. It’s an act of desperation… The government should put the interests of the country above its own.

WILL LABOUR LISTEN TO BURNHAM?

Few have noticed, but Andy Burnham is perhaps the boldest member of the Shadow Cabinet, with his plans for integrated health and social care. Given the Government’s difficulties on the NHS, there is scope for Labour to gain traction on the issue. But the question, as Mary Riddell writes for us, is what do Labour do with it?

The undiluted Burnham plan could be Labour’s flagship policy for 2015 – a solace to all generations and a signal that social democrats have the credentials to govern in hard times. Will Labour be bold enough to take the risk? If not, then long before the end of the next Parliament, the ruins of the NHS may be interred under the epitaph inscribed by politicians: Nothing Could Be Done.

QCS BASH GRAYLING

Given Chris Grayling’s ambitions, opposition to his justice reforms is inevitable. But he probably wasn’t anticipating this: 90 QCs have written a letter to us, describing Mr Grayling’s legal aid reforms as “unjust”, saying they could “seriously undermine the rule of law”.

STOP THE SPIN

In their rush to secure favourable headlines, politicians are using statistics in a way that is “no longer true”. That’s the verdict of the Public Administration Select Committee, who said that press releases needed to be made more “accurate and meaningful”, as we report. All this unreliable data is leaving us “confused and disengaged”.

PARLIAMENT NOT SO OUT OF TOUCH

Against this backdrop, it probably wouldn’t be very advisable for Parliament to ask for £1 billion. But that’s what it could be doing, having yesterday issued a tender contract to review the feasibility of restoration. The Times (not online) notes that, were Parliament not a Unesco World Heritage Site, demolition and rebuilding would be advised. As it is, Lords and MPs might have to work while building continues around them. Whoever said they were out of touch?

TWEETS AND TWITS

Brooks Newmark offers praise for Mr Osborne:

@TweetBrooks: The austerity vs growth choice is a false argument. We must live within our means. George_Osborne showing growth returning with austerity.

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell – Labour has a plan to save the NHS, but does it have the nerve?

James Hall – The real reason our shops are shutting up

Telegraph View – Arming the Syrian rebels won’t end the bloodshed

Telegraph View – We need cuts, not slices

Best of the rest

Anne McElvoy in The Times (£) – Please, Dave, tell us why you want to be PM

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian Our greatest miscalculation since the rise of fascism

Matthew Norman in The Independent – Bring on the hate preachers

Jon Huntsman in the FT (£) – British Tories can learn from Republican mistakes

THE AGENDA

Today: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announcement on the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone.

Today: Education Minister Liz Truss announcement on bursaries for apprentices in early years education.

09:00 am London: Global University Summit, featuring speeches by Vince Cable and Boris Johnson. The Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Court.

Spain’s Absolute Musts

Hitch-Hikers' Handbook

Most Beautiful Nature Spot

Spain is so beautiful that choosing only one “most beautiful” spot was a hard task. We are mountain lovers, so for us it would have to be Picos de Europa, a jaw-dropping mountain range located 20km from the northern coast across the communities of Cantabria, Asturias and Castile y León. Their highest point, Torre de Cerredo, reaches only 2,650 m so they are not too high and can be climbed by people who are out of shape as well.

Picos de Europa, Spain - Puertos de Áliva walk - PR-PNPE 24 (82)

Spectacular walks and stunning scenery guaranteed! The paths are well marked and the park is very well organised with a helpful tourist information booth whose staff speak fluent English, German and French!

Picos de Europa National Park has had a UNESCO Natural Biosphere Reserve status since 2003.

There are many access points to the park. During our stay we camped at the La Viorna campsite near Potes.

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Tunisia: another Arab Spring turns into a Winter of Discontent

Charles Rowley's Blog

Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has been consumed by a struggle between liberals and the moderate majority Nahda Islamist party as the country moves to finalize a new constitution and prepare for elections. But, as in other Arab states in transition, dealing with the more radical Islamists, the puritanical Salafis, poses the biggest challenge to any form of democracy.

Tunisia’s secularists view a strict, austere Islam as alien to the country’s relatively open and moderate culture, as well as devastating towards the wealth-creating tourist industry. But the Salafis deploy much-needed social welfare programs to attract young Tunisians for whom Nahda is insufficiently Islamist and insufficiently successful in terms of job-creation.

Tunisia has become a fertile environment for radical fundamentalism. Weapons from the poorly-handled revolution in Libya have found their way to Tunisia and jihadi fighters have holed up in a region on the border with Algeria. Moreover, the civil war…

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BBC still flogging the ‘settlements’ horse

BBC Watch

An article entitled “ ‘Hard decisions’ needed for Middle East peace – Kerry appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on May 24th 2013. 

Kerry art

The article – which ostensibly reports on the subject of the recent visit to the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry – devotes a considerable amount of space to promoting the habitual BBC mantras of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’ and ‘settlements are illegal under international law’. However, the telegram-style clichés repeated in this article, as in countless others, not only fall short of contributing to BBC audiences’ gaining comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake, but actively prevent them from doing so.

“The last round of direct talks between the two sides broke down two years ago over the issue of settlements.”

This pro forma statement is so well-worn that BBC editors have apparently not noticed…

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While Belarus borrows, China makes money

China News

Belarus_ChinaChina is building an entire city in the forests near the Belorussian capital Minsk to create a manufacturing springboard between the European Union and Russia.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko allotted an area 40 percent larger than Manhattan around Minsk’s international airport for the $5 billion development, which will include enough housing to accommodate 155,000 people, according to Chinese and Belarusian officials.

Lukashenko, who’s led his former Soviet state of 9.5 million for two decades, is turning to China to help revive a $60 billion economy that’s needed $6.5 billion of bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and Russia since 2009. The hub will put Chinese exporters within 170 miles of EU members Poland and Lithuania and give them tax-free entry into Russia and Kazakhstan, which share a customs union. It will also let them draw from a workforce that’s 99.6 percent literate and makes $560 a month on average…

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Iain Duncan Smith: cut welfare to fund police and Forces

The Work and Pensions Secretary has personally contacted the Defence and Home Secretaries to set out the details of the proposed cuts after they raised concerns about the impact on national security of further spending reductions.

Mr Duncan Smith is understood to have offered to restrict housing benefit for the under-25s, and to limit state payments to families with more than two children.

Both proposed cuts were publicly floated by the Prime Minister last year, but were thought to be off the agenda during this Parliament.

The discussions over further welfare cuts took place before last Wednesday’s suspected terror attack in Woolwich, which is expected to lead to renewed pressure on the Treasury to protect security spending.

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to block any further working-age benefit cuts, but will now come under intense pressure from some Conservatives to reverse their opposition ahead of next month’s Spending Review.

More….

Deficit and debt: Does anyone know the difference?

Manchester Liberal

“OK, so there’s the water in the tub…”

In a recent conversation, a Labour Party member told me that the coalition was “borrowing more than we did in power”. I pointed out that this was wrong, that the deficit, what we are “borrowing”, is, in fact, down by a third under this government. He replied: “The deficit may be but the current government is still borrowing more money than the last government.”

You could write this off as simply the pig-headed economic illiteracy of a paid-up member of the party that helped us into the current mess. After all, Ed Balls, Labour’s man on the economy, can stand up in front of Parliament and say “The national deficit is not rising…er…is rising, not falling” (he was right the first time). But then you hear Nick Clegg say that the coalition is working to “wipe the slate clean for our…

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POWER-POLITICIANS AT WORK: Why Blair, Cameron and Hunt are not necessarily your friends

The Slog

Be it Palestine, Tax or Whistle-blowing, the citizens are on their own

blairyThe final nail in Palestine’s coffin has been hammered in by US Secretary of State John Kerry: he has brought in Tony Blair to (and I quote) “devise economic plans to revitalise the Palestinian economy”. No doubt the next new helper in Father Kerry’s Grotto will be John Birt, charged with revitalising Palestinian television and Parliamentary procedures. Or how about Gordon Brown to advise on gold sales, Tessa Jowells on how to introduce alcohol into the mix, and Jeremy Hunt as a consultant proctologist advising on how to take it up the arse from Israel? In for a penny, in for a Pound – that’s what I say.

You see, when push comes to shove, it’s all about knowing who your friends are. Tony Blurrgh marched into Iraq to liberate its people from internecine violence, the success of…

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