MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
MUNITY ON THE BOUNTY
A stormy session at the 1922 Committee last night. Dave has been warned to expect “off the scale” rebellions, that would “dwarf” those on the EU referendum last year, if he pushes ahead with plans to replace the House of Lords with an elected senate.
Chris Hope reports that at least three parliamentary private secretaries (PPS) have pledged to vote against the plans. One PPS told us that Downing Street “would be very wise to back off” on Lords reform. Forty out of 70 MPs spoke out against the plans at the meeting – only one speaking in favour.
No 10 says that: “The Government is committed to House of Lords reform” and they are stressing that all three parties put it in their manifestos in 2010. But as James Forsyth points out , the strength of feeling among Tory MPs cannot be dismissed – that the ultra-loyalists Jesse Norman and Nadhim Zahawi spoke out against the plans is particularly telling.
The difficulty for David Cameron is that the Lib Dems are hinting at making support for boundary reform – which is still to pass the Commons – conditional on House of Lords reform passing. In No 10, they see boundary reform as essential to winning a Conservative majority at the next election.
And then there’s the suggestion from the Joint Committee on House of Lords reform which says there should be a referendum on the matter. Nick Clegg, giving evidence yesterday , dismissed the idea out of hand.
Theresa May’s muddle on dates continues on the front pages today. As we report, Mrs May still insists that the deadline was on Monday, but legal experts and officials lined up yesterday to tell her she’s wrong. The error could have Abu Qatada back on our streets within two weeks.
Mrs May was summoned to answer an Urgent Question yesterday to be grilled on the affair, where she steadfastly refused to answer 11 questions from MPs about whether her officials had asked the court for the date of the deadline.
The sketches all make hay with her plight. In the Telegraph, Michael Deacon wonders whether the Home Secretary would turn up to be questioned: “Would she turn up? Or would there be confusion over this date too?” Our Matt cartoon sums it up: “Theresa May April”
In our leader , we say that the mess is the result of a “political stunt that has spectacularly backfired”, and this makes for the “worst possible backdrop” to David Cameron’s attempt to reform the ECHR.
The Times’ meanwhile calls the affair “an embarrassment”. “It was the Home Secretary’s responsibility to get it right. Her premature declaration of victory over Abu Qatada has rendered any eventual deportation less noteworthy.” Indeed.
And then there’s the issue of reform of the ECHR more generally – Ken Clarke was in Brighton yesterday representing Britain at a meeting of the Council of Europe. The Justice Secretary announced that the “Brighton Declaration” of reform would result in far fewer cases being appealed at Strasbourg.
“Taken together, these changes should mean fewer cases being considered by the court. Those that it considers should be allegations of serious violations or major points of interpretation of the convention and will be processed without the scandalous delays we are seeing at present.”
But as the Guardian reports, Sir Nicolas Bratza, the president of the Court- rather undermining Ken’s case that reform had been successful when he welcomed the fact that attempts to change the admissibility criteria for cases had failed.
STAND UP BOYS AND GIRLS
The local election campaigning goes on – today, David Cameron is in the North West, where he will deliver a speech on the Government’s apprenticeships plans. Yesterday, the PM was in Scotland, launching the Conservative’s local election campaign in Scotland (the party’s modest hope is to overtake the Lib Dems in the country).
As Rowena Mason reports, the PM’s message yesterday was rather unusual – as well as “real discipline”, “rigorous standards”, and “hard subjects”, he wants schools to turn out children “who stand up when their parents or teacher walks in the room.” Um, really Dave?
THE PARTY’S OFF
The row over cutting charities tax relief goes on. Dave doesn’t care how nice they are, he’s not inviting the charities to his party – he’s called off a champagne reception for planned for them because they don’t agree with George’s tax plans on donations – and so it would looked very embarrassing.
As the FT (£) reports, the PM was due to attend the Giving Summit on May 8th to mark a year since the government passed the “giving white paper”. The White Paper outlined what the government was doing to encourage philanthropy – wonder if it mentioned the tax relief cap?
The charities are disappointed – so are we – the fight would have made for interesting reading.
David Miliband has also been on the campaign trail, this time in Halesowen in the West Midlands. The Daily Mirror has a report here – amusingly, they caught David M standing by a street sign marked “Downing Street”.
As they report, there was an “awkward moment when activist Margaret Homer, 70, said “hello Ed” but he turned on the charm as he corrected her, saying: “I’m David, actually”. Still, that’s good news for Ed right? Usually, it’s the other way around…
VOTES FOR THE GOVERNOR
George Osborne is very much not campaigning – today he’s back in Washington. Though this time, in his capacity as Chancellor, rather than as David Cameron’s main political strategist. He’s there with Mervyn King for a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors today, which precedes the spring meeting of the IMF at the weekend.
Jeremy Warner’s column today is on the topic of Osborne’s visit: he reckons that from Washington, the state of the British economy looks good. “The UK adjustment is being handled with skill and sensitivity.” But as Alex Brummer notes in the Mail, a big question for the Chancellor is whether he will agree to expand Britain’s commitment to the IMF.
On the topic, The FT (£) reports that Andrew Tyrie, Conservative chairman of the Commons treasury committee, wants a say over who will replace Sir Mervyn when he steps down from the Bank of England next year. Tyrie reckons that this is “perhaps the most important public appointment the government will make”. Quite.
MPS VOTING DRUNK
George Galloway only arrived in parliament this week, but he’s already making himself unpopular with his colleagues – he’s advocating the closure of the parliamentary bars. The Sun reports that Galloway, a teetotaller, thinks MPs should not be allowed to vote “blind drunk”.
Sarah Wollaston, the GP MP for Totnes, has said much the same thing before, but she didn’t get anywhere. Will she be glad of GG’s support? Perhaps George is smarting because the House’s authorities have been slow to organise his office: Sky’s Jon Craig has photos of “temporary office” in the Portcullis House canteen.
Latest YouGov/Sun polling: Conservatives 32%, Labour 45%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Ukip 7%.
Government net approval rating: -36%.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Most MPs last night were tweeting either about how much they dislike George Galloway or how much they dislike Tim Farron (they really don’t like Tim Farron). But one exception was the Welsh minister, David Jones, who kept us up to date on the important things: “iPad battery level down to 4%. Thank heaven I’ve got s far as Rhyl.”]
It’s also worth noting Alan Sugar’s Twitter outburst yesterday: “I don’t care if Ed Miliband is backing Livingstone. I seriously suggest NO ONE votes for Livingstone in the mayoral election”. Lord Sugar has 2m followers and is one of Labour’s few celebrity supporters. Ouch.
In The Telegraph
Fraser Nelson: David Cameron should beware the march of the angry mothers
Jeremy Warner: Chancellor George Osborne looks a better bet from Washington
Alicia Castro: Warmongering won’t settle this old dispute
Leader: Whitehall farce lets Strasbourg off the hook
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in the Times (£): May I suggest to the PM what he’s thinking?
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian: Chris Grayling calls me a job snob for questioning those who pay so little
Nick Clegg and Edward Davey in the Guardian: We need this key commitment to climate action
Richard Lambert in the FT (£): Why no British staff at Pret A Manger?
Today: Mark Prisk launching a competition to find the most enterprising area in the UK.
Today: Theresa May speaking at the Stonewall workplace diversity conference. Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London.
Today: G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, including George Osborne and Mervyn King, attend a meeting in Washington DC ahead of this weekend’s spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF
Today: David Cameron makes a speech about apprenticeships on a local election campaign visit in the North West
9.30am: Retail sales figures for March are published by the Office for National Statistics.
10.45am: Ed Miliband appears in Merthy Tydfil, South Wales, to campaign with Welsh Labour for the local elections
12.00pm: Disabled Remploy workers protest at DWP headquarters in London and Sheffield against the closure of Remploy factories.