MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. The statistic of the day is undoubtedly one million. That’s the number, Iain Duncan Smith will disclose, of people who are capable of work – but who remain “stuck” on benefits. It will feature prominently in an annual report on his Social Justice Strategy. We have the details:
About one million people have been on work-related benefits for three out of the past four years. All of those claimants have been formally assessed as “capable of preparing for or looking for work,” the report will say.
Welfare remains the big defining issue for the Coalition. The Tories are anxious to keep it up in the air, and to reinforce public support for reform by highlighting welfare’s failures. Singling out what IDS has always highlighted – the social cost of worklessness – is part of that strategy. That’s why his priority is to get long-term claimants into employment, using companies that help put people into work placements or training.
The Tories know that when times are tough there’s little appetite for generosity beyond what is affordable and fair. But there are difficult decisions around the corner. After yesterday’s borrowing figures (see below), at what point does the Government have to consider that entitlements for pensioners, and in particular pensions, which take up the largest share of spending, may have to be put on the table?
Maria Miller is giving a speech at the British Museum today, we report. It could rival the Pompeii exhibition for fire and brimstone. The Culture Secretary will ask leading figures in the arts world to show ministers the “value of culture to our economy”. The FT (£) calls it a “rebuke” to their “moaning about cuts”. But there is an alternative reading: she may need the luvvies’ support in the run-up to the spending review.
To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make our case as a two-way street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay. That’s the argument that I, as Culture Secretary, intend to make at the Cabinet table, and in our negotiations with Treasury – and I need all your help in that endeavour.
Expect howls of rage to follow soon after. Her department has already outlined a 30 per cent cut in grant aid for the Arts Council from £452 million to £350 million by 2014/15. This represents, she says, the middle path between the American and European approaches to arts funding. It’s going to hurt.
GEORGE’S BEGGING BOWL AND HATCHET
The £300 million borrowing dip spared George Osborne’s blushes yesterday, reports the FT (£). “Though such a small decline is economically meaningless, Mr Osborne has stressed his intention to shrink the deficit every year, and his opponents were ready to seize on news it had grown again.” Small it may be, but it was an uphill struggle: an official told the FT that the Treasury has been going around Whitehall with a “begging bowl in one hand and a hatchet in the other”.
No doubt the Treasury sees things in a more positive light. The Times (£) quotes Danny Alexander in their second day of spending review coverage: “This should be seen as an opportunity as well as a challenge… You can use the process to drive some really good changes in the way the public sector works.”
Mostly, however, George seems to be playing whac-a-mole. The Guardian reports that the Chancellor is now “locked in a fight to rescue his plan to offer shares for workers in exchange for abandoning their employment rights”. After another defeat in the Lords on Monday night, Osborne is trying to reassure peers by “offering a commitment that any workers would have to be offered free independent legal advice”. At this point, it looks to be a losing battle.
RED ED VS THE UNIONS
Tough talk from Red Ed. He says a general strike would be a “terrible idea”, the FT (£) reports. He’s apparently taking Mr Tony’s advice and squaring up to two of Labour’s biggest donors, Unite and Unison, who will be represented at the Trades Union Congress general council today. Ed’s comments are well-timed. We report that “tens of millions of bills and credit statements could go undelivered by Royal Mail after postal unions said they were planning their biggest programme of industrial unrest for six years”. Ed knows that strikes would hurt him in the polls.
QATADA COUNCIL OF WAR
Abu Qatada isn’t going anywhere. But fear not: Dave is getting weally weally cwoss. According to the Sun, it makes his “blood boil” that the cleric is still here. “The furious PM is considering a temporary withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights so judges in Strasbourg can’t block Qatada’s expulsion,” the paper reports. The Mail says that Theresa May’s statement to the Commons today will include “new developments in negotiations with Jordan over deporting Qatada”. Surprise, surprise, however, there’s a catch: “any new agreement would undoubtedly be subject to fresh appeals by Qatada”.
STOP THE TWATTERY
Anna Soubry, the Minister for Public Health, doesn’t beat about the bush. The Tories will lose the next election if they continue to engage in the “twattery” of attacking Dave’s leadership, she told Total Politics magazine. The Times (£) has the quotes: “What we now need to do is stop people in the party engaging in quite a lot of twattery, and to accept that we’ve achieved a huge amount, and it’s all to play for… The Tory party must learn from its own history that when we fight each other, you can guarantee to lose.” Meanwhile, Tory MP Gavin Barwell says the party has yet to resolve “the toxicity of the Conservative brand”. Voters, he argues, are hungry for more than red meat.
UKIP THATCHER’S ‘TRUE HEIR’
Wearing a red rose for St George’s Day, Nigel Farage spoke to the Parliamentary Press Gallery yesterday, we report. He declared: “I cannot believe that a young Margaret Thatcher leaving Oxford today would join the Conservative Party led by David Cameron. I think she’d come and get involved in Ukip and no doubt topple me within 12 months or so.” Michael Deacon, our Sketchwriter, was there. “Listening to a Farridge speech,” he writes, “you begin to suspect the greatest influence on his politics is not Baroness Thatcher but Top Gear: his oratorical style is a noisy mix of blokey joshing and no-frills frankness.”
TWEETS AND TWITS
Can anyone help Stella Creasy with her stranger on a train – or recommend a better way to spend nine hours?
@stellacreasy: “have nine hours on trains to berlin to become acquainted with films- contemplating seeing what the ryan gosling fuss is about. best example?”
In the Telegraph
Telegraph View: An artful game by the taxpayers’ champion
Telegraph View: Scottish home truths
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Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£): A dangerous road runs from Boston to Syria
Patrick Hosking in the Times (£): There’s no salvation in Welby’s banking plan
Martin Wolf in the FT (£): Austerity loses an article of faith
Daniel Hannan in the Mail: Hollande and the French catastrophe
09.30 British Bankers’ association releases its latest high street banking report.
10.00 Transport minister Simon Burns at the Transport Committee on rail franchising.
11.00 Petition delivered to Downing Street calling for Amazon to pay fair share of UK tax.
12.oo Prime Minister’s questions.
15.00 Police and animal groups at Environment Committee on Dangerous Dogs Act.