Lords A-Lynching

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Today the long-awaited Coalition battle on Lords reform kicks off in earnest. The proposed bill will enter its second reading – to be voted on tomorrow night. This will be a real test for David Cameron. The 110 Tory MPs expected to rebel could defeat the Bill, making it the first time the Coalition agreement is broken. The Lib Dems are playing hardball, saying that their relationship will enter “uncharted territory” if it does get through.

The Bills’ opponents sound fierce. Nicholas Soames – who has only voted against his party once in his 29-year career – has laid out his stand in the Telegraph today, saying: “this Bill must be defeated at all cost”.

Our leader staunchly agrees, acknowledging that it is possible to have some sympathy with David Cameron since the boundary review – that could deliver him a majority in 2015- is conditional on getting Lords reform through. But urging Tories to oppose the measures anyway.

There are some loyal voices though. In The Guardian, Stephen Dorrell says “If Lords reform disturbs the balance in Westminster, all to the good”

The amusing twist is that it could pass if Labour, who support the reform, voted with the Government. But the party seems fine about making Mr Cameron squirm. Peter Hain told the Guardian: “I am very comfortable with [voting against the programme motion].Within the rest of the legislative programme are loads of rightwing bills which will damage people in Britain. So I don’t think it is any part of our responsibility to try and get those bills into statute. So I will happily vote against the programme motion but I will vote for the second reading and I will support the bill thereafter, though I will back some amendments.”

Whatever happens it’s going to be bloddy.

BANKING ON SHAMBLES

Deputy Governor of the Bank of England Paul Tucker appears before the Treasury Select Committee today at 4.30pm. And he’ll face a committee determined to pose tough questions on whether or not he gave “a nod and a wink” to Barclays to rig rates on a phone call with Bob Diamond in 2008. Our business splash considers other more specific questions he might be asked.

But the committee is feeling pretty downbeat if comments by one of its members, Andrea Leadsom, are anything to go by. The Independent has splashed on an interview with her where she says politicians have been virtually “useless” so far at getting to the truth behind the banking scandal.

Ed Miliband still believes politicians can face up to bankers, though. He’s giving a speech on banking at 10.30am today where he will flesh out Labour ideas for increasing competition in banking. The Mail reports that he’ll warn that the UK is a soft touch for rogue bankers and will call for new resources to be put into tracking down and jailing cheating bankers. Will that be enough for people to forget about Labour’s failure to regulate them properly in the first place? George Osborne will be hoping not.

TORY TROUBLES

And if Lords rebels weren’t enough to worry about this week, Dave is facing unrest on other fronts. Today’s papers carry three stories of other factions at work. Two come from a report released by the Tory Free Enterprise Group. Worryingly for Dave and George, this group is made up of usually loyal MPs, including George’s own PPS, Sajid Javid, and his former chief of staff, Matthew Hancock.

We’ve picked out their calls to make older workers keep paying NI (currently it’s dropped once you reach 65 regardless of whether or not you’re working), while The Guardian reports on their calls for two extra Heathrow runways.

The third story is from a Tory group called Fresh Start, made up of MPs including Andrea Leadsom, Chris Heaton Harris and George Eustice. The trio have a letter published in The Sun calling for a referendum on the EU. Helpfully for them, the paper has placed the letter on a spread alongside polling that shows that two-thirds of the British public agree.

INSURING AGAINST THE ECONOMY

We’ve splashed on Steve Webb’s plans to shield pensions from stock market falls. He said that if pensioners are put off by fear of risk and volatility of the market “it is very hard to get them back again” into saving. “Some form of guarantee has an important part to play in the success of auto-enrolment”, he says.

It’s a bold suggestion that will go down well with elderly voters. Of course, as Fraser Nelson et al would argue, what would really help pensioners would be to shut down the printing presses.

CURSE OF CAMERON?

And finally, Downing Street won’t enjoy the sidebars in the Mail and Mirror’s coverage of Andy Murray’s defeat yesterday. They suggest that the “Curse of Cameron” was at work.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Labour MP Jamie Reed:

“@jreedmp: To all slagging Cameron for chewing at the tennis: be fair, he’s usually hammered by this time on a Sunday, having watched a box set.”

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/Sunday Times results: Conservatives 32%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating: -37

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson: Stop bashing the bankers – we have no future without them

Nicholas Soames: Lords reform is a constitutional catastrophe

Jeff Randall: Are there any more skeletons, Mr Agius?

Leader: Tories must resist Nick Clegg’s ridiculous blackmail over House of Lords reform

Best of the rest

John Kampfner in the Independent: This is no way to hold the powerful to account

Tom Wright in the Times: Don’t leave the Lords hostage to party hacks

Jackie Ashley in the Guardian: How Lords reform became a game about fantasy politics

Stephen Dorrell in the Guardian: If Lords reform disturbs the balance in Westminster, all to the good

THE AGENDA

Today: House of Lords Reform Bill – Second reading

10.30am: Ed Miliband gives a speech on banking. Co-operative Bank, 9 Prescot Street, London

2.30pm: Home Office Questions

4.30pm: Paul Tucker, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, appears before the Treasury Select Committee

6pm: Parliamentary Labour Party weekly meeting. Committee Room 14, House of Commons, Westminster

Strains in the Coalition?

The Lib Dems are sending warning noises. They are telling Conservatives that Conservative MPs have to vote for their House of Lords reform if we are to have their continued support for reducing the Commons to 600 seats as proposed and promised. Some are hinting that if Conservatives do not support them on Tuesday they will want to walk away from the Coalition.

This is proving counter productive with some Conservative MPs. They argue that given the current state of the polls the Lib Dems are not going to want an early election. Conservative MPs remember the agreement to give the Lib Dems a referendum on the AV voting system in return for agreement to cut the number of MPs. Conservatives delivered on that promise. The 2010 in take of Conservative MPs are tiring of whips’ threats if they fail to get into line on government votes. They take even stronger exception if the Lib Dems use the same arguments as the whips, but do it in public.

The rebellion planned for tomorrow night is a rebellion led by and planned by the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs. Jesse Norman and Nadhim Zahawi have set out a clear case against the current Lords reform proposals and have kept pressure up on the government throughout the planning stages of this measure, warning them of the strong Conservative opposition to it. The Bill should pas sits second reading easily because Labour, of course, are on the side of the Coalition government. Whether the guillotine motion to limit debate also passes is more doubtful, as presumably Labour will be with the Conservative rebels on that motion.

Read more….

Queen and Chaotic Country

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

The Queen’s Speech at 11.30am might give David Cameron the re-launch yesterday’s Essex Factory rose garden reunion failed to achieve.

The much-wrangled-over speech will include measures for families, including items that will allow mothers to return to work earlier and transfer their maternity leave to their partners. Read more in our splash here.

Tory MPs will ask – again – how layering yet more costs on businesses is going to promote growth. Dave will reply that looking to the social side goes hand in hand with economic “efficiency” – his favourite new word in place of austerity.

And it looks like George Osborne might agree with the Bill’s opponents. The FT (£) reports that he and other ministers are not keen on the plans.

LORDING IT

Of course, all eyes will be on the wording of the Lords reform bill. My understanding is that whatever Bill is offered today – and it is likely to be significantly weaker than what Mr Clegg initially offered – the outcome will be put to a referendum.

Cameron appears to confirm this in his Mail interview (more on this below). And while this doesn’t help get the Bill past the Commons and Lords, it does offers some kind of fail-safe, the assumption being that the idea will be rejected by the public.

Norman Tebbit has just been on Five Live, saying that Lords reform is simply “a bargaining chip” with the Lib Dems. “Now they have to have something to throw around and that’s that.”

Meanwhile Lord Strathclyde is in the FT (£)making the provocative assertion that the new Lords should be “better able to challenge the Commons”, which is precisely what MPs don’t want to hear. He couldn’t be trying to provoke the Commons into voting the idea down, could he?

Interestingly, Gary Gibbon’s blogclaims that the Tories have agreed to dump the boundary review in exchange for Lib Dems parking Lords reform. No 10 denies this, though not entirely convincingly.

OTHER MEASURES

Other measures expected in the Queen’s Speech include business deregulation, reforms from the Vickers report, a new internet surveillance bill, a flat-rate state pension, and measures to ease the process of adoption. More details can be found in the Guardian.

NO GOOD WITHOUT GROWTH

My column today looks at the growing anxiety behind the scenes about the absence of growth, and how the Tories are trying to convert the Lib Dems.

ACCESS DENIED

This is all happening as pressure mounts on Andrew Lansley, who has defied another order to publish his own assessment of the risks his reforms have posed to the NHS. Read our report here.

Labour has been pushing for it, and waxed indignant last night. But the Government is right to resist: ministers must be able to get advice that is awkward without the risk of it being extracted by an Opposition gunning for mischief.

ANOTHER U-TURN

Dave must be hoping that all this news will dwarf his latest U-turn. He’s abandoned plans to buy the take-off version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, instead purchasing the jump-jet model of the plane. Read our report here.

The about-face may be necessary, but it is also embarrassing. As one of Liam Fox’s key defence decisions, it will be interesting to see how it plays on the Tory benches..

CAM’S CASE FOR TORY VALUES

Dave wasn’t so pragmatic in his interview with the Mail. The PM told James Chapman:

“There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t, which will form the basis of the Conservative manifesto that I will campaign for right up and down the country… Be in no doubt, I want a Tory-only government.”

He singled out human rights law, workplace rights and support for marriage as areas where Tory principles are being held in check, urging those growing tired of coalition not to “waste” the next three years.

Read the full interview and see pictures of the PM and James here.

EUROZONE DOOM

We must not forget, of course, that all this high drama in Westminster happens against a backdrop of a global economic crisis. Stock markets across the world are falling as Greece moves closer to the euro exit following Sunday’s general election. Read our report here.

The FT’s (£) leader column makes the situation plain:

“The EU has gone as far as it can in seeking to help Greece. If there is not the political will in Athens to do what is necessary to preserve membership of the euro, it is pointless to continue. Europe must prepare for an exit from the eurozone that has become probable rather than possible.”

BROOKING IT

Rebekah Brooks’s appearance in front of Leveson later this week will also be volatile. Especially given the story the Times (£) has on the text messages between Mrs Brooks and the PM. It says:

“An updated biography of the Prime Minister discloses that Mr Cameron told Mrs Brooks that she would get through her difficulties [the phone-hacking scandal], just days before she stood down. Such contact then came to an “abrupt halt”, although the Prime Minister sent an emissary to apologise for his sudden coldness, explaining that Ed Miliband had him on the run.”

The most intriguing claim is that they met at a point-to-point after texting beforehand to agree they should not be seen together. Leveson may be knocking on the door of No 10 before long.

LAWS: THE RELAUNCH?

With this much for the Government to worry about at the moment, they should be grateful that David Laws is out there defending them. He was on the Today programme yesterday defending the Coalition and he’s popped up in the FT (£)today, sounding very ministerial:

“The country will judge us over our full term and not on the basis of a turbulent few weeks of “here today, gone tomorrow” headlines.”

Could Mr Laws be re-launching himself too?

KEN’S NO WAXWORK

And finally, to add insult to injury, the Daily Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle reports that Ken Livingstone has had his waxwork removed from Madame Tussauds and placed in the museum’s archive. “He’s unlikely to be seen again,” a museum spokesperson said.

But Ken should take heart from another story in the Mail. Boris has been snapped wearing a pair of back-to-front silk dragon shorts. Photos here.

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 31%, Labour 44%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 8%

Government approval rating: -43

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Benedict Brogan: That old rose garden routine is no good without growth

Jeremy Warner: The big bucks won’t stop here with the departure of Sly Bailey, David Brennan and Andrew Moss

Leader: How to help the aged

Leader: Stability has been the Coalition’s key success

Best of the rest

David Laws in the Financial Times (£): My second-half coalition agenda

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: George Osborne’s growth policy is turning British cities into Detroit UK

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£): We can’t afford public revolts against debt

Laurie Penny in the Independent: Gay marriage is one thing the Tories really don’t get

THE AGENDA

Today: State opening of Parliament

Today: William Hague to meet the President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza at the Foreign Office

Today: The final appeal hearing on Abu Qatada’s deportation is made by European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France

Today: Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meeting – result announced tomorrow

11.30am: The Queen’s Speech

6.30pm: Iain Duncan Smith gives a speech to Policy Exchange, 10 Storey’s Gate