MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. It’s St George’s Day and already fire-breathing dragons are circling the Chancellor. Spy Chiefs have played the terror card, reports the Times (£). If George Osborne wants to slash MI5 and MI6 budgets in the drive to save an extra £11.5 billion, they say, then Britain would be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Coming so soon after the Boston bombings and the latest foiled plot on a New York passenger train, it’s a powerful message. Britain faces multiple security threats, and they are not cheap to deal with – the FT reports (£), for instance, that the cost of cyber attacks has tripled in a year: “The cost of security breaches to UK companies amounts to billions of pounds annually.”
But the Spending Review must go ahead – government departments have to submit their opening bids by Monday – and there are few risk-free or painless options on the table. George knows that he will have to live with the consequences of austerity, whatever they may be.
Making his task that bit harder is the Government’s machinery, which is far from well-oiled. As Rachel Sylvester notes in the Times, there has been an “extraordinary hollowing out of the centre” as civil servants and political advisers depart in droves (particularly from No 10). It’s “less omnishambles, more omnirambles as everyone walks out,” she says. There remains a “structural problem” at the Treasury, too.
What George will have to be on guard for, according to a senior figure quoted in the Times, is ministers waving “bleeding stumps”.
“Cabinet ministers will come in and say, ‘Of course I’m happy to make savings, but the only thing I can possibly cut is the children’s cancer unit. Perhaps the Chancellor would like to announce the closure?’ ”
Those are the dragons that must be slayed first.
EU OPT-OUT ROW
There’s a storm brewing. Dave’s plan to opt out of 130 EU justice and police co-operation measures has been denounced by senior peers. The FT (£) has the detail: “A report by the cross-party Lords EU committee echoes concerns by police and security chiefs by warning that opting out of the laws would have ‘significant adverse negative repercussions’ for British security and justice.” It’s a sticky wicket, and not helped one bit by the Lib Dems, who are hardening their stance. Danny Alexander, their chief negotiator on this issue, is quoted in the Guardian: “I am clear that any final package will have to ensure the UK’s continued participation in all the key measures which are important for public safety,” he says, “including the European arrest warrant and Europol.”
ED’S LURCH TO THE LEFT
On the News at 10 last night, Ed Miliband confirmed that if he wins power in 2015, his government would be “very different” to Mr Tony’s. The Mail reports that Labour’s leader “laid out plans to impose more regulation, tax bankers more heavily and build ‘a different banking system'”. But what’s his strategy? There’s one clue in the Indie, which carries an interview with Matthew McGregor, the digital strategist who embarrassed Mitt Romney so much last year. Obama’s online “attack dog” says his work would be about creating a narrative. “Storytelling is a really big part of building a movement so when you say ‘would you like to knock on doors?’ people know what you mean. They know what making calls for Ed Miliband looks like because they’ve read it on a blog post.” In the FT, however, Janan Ganesh argues persuasively that Labour’s boldness and clarity could be its undoing. Ed is “one of the the least tentative among postwar opposition leaders”.
ENGLAND AND ST GEORGE
Eric Pickles has an ingenious thought for St George’s Day: he wants to resurrect county names that were banned by Ted Heath in the Seventies, we report. Cumberland, Huntingdonshire and Westmorland were all scrapped. Eric wants to bring ’em back. No doubt the Government would also like to bring back the “Knights of the Shire” Tory MPs of yesteryear who, Bruce Anderson explains in a column to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1922 committee, were far more manageable that their present-day heirs.
DURAND ACADEMY: GOVE VS HODGE
Michael Gove could soon face an inquisition from Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, into Durand Academy, a proposed state-run boarding school in Stedham, West Sussex. We report that local “residents objecting to the plan have challenged [the academy’s] spending on the boarding project”, which stands at more than £3 million so far. Our own Tom Rowley visited Stedham yesterday: he found that “few residents were in favour of the school”. Anthony Seldon, meanwhile, supports the idea and compares it to the evacuation of children from London during the Second World War.
THIS IS DEPRESSION, SAYS WELBY
Britain is in the grip of a depression. That’s according to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Mail reports his comments, made last night at a Bible Society Debate: “What we are in at the moment is not a recession, but is essentially some kind of depression… Part of the banking system should be local, not London-based.” Watch this space.
PING-PONG CINEMA FOR THE LORDS
Whips have come up with a novel way to keep members of the House of Lords entertained when they have to stay for late-night votes, reports the Times (£). A programme of films, including Skyfall and The Spirit of ’45, has been arranged to stop peers leaving early. It’s been nicknamed the “Ping-Pong Cinema Club”, after the way in which Bills bounce between both Houses. Will they serve popcorn?
THE ROMANIANS ARE COMING
But how many of them? We report that the BBC has been accused of “heavy spin” after polling 1,000 people in Bulgaria and Romania earlier this year. Newsnight found 1 per cent of Romanians and 4 per cent of Bulgarians said they were looking for work in the UK. Those percentages convert to a worrying total of 350,000. But the Beeb didn’t convert them, instead saying they showed “very small numbers of people” were considering coming.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour’s Kevin Brennan with some biting humour on aggressive football players:
@KevinBrennanmp: “A compromise on Suarez could be not to ban him but make him wear a muzzle – they do it in other sports like greyhound racing.”
In the Telegraph
Bruce Anderson: The PM should be wary of the heirs to the Knights of the Shire
Telegraph View: A new deal would benefit all of Europe
Philip Johnston: The growing cry for England and St George
Tom Rowley: The inner city and the village school
Jonathan Glancey: Bungalows are back in favour
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£): Don’t expect decisions from deserted No 10
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£): Labour’s clarity may be its undoing
Gideon Rachman in the FT (£): France should not indulge in daydreams of guillotines
John Cridland in the Times (£): Business is stirring, but ministers must do more
Kathy Gyngell in the Mail: Why can’t government do more for stay-at-home mums?
09.00 Osborne and Alexander launch Scotland analysis paper on currency, Glasgow.
09.30 Public sector borrowing figures are released.
09.30 Boris in academy visit to support Teach First campaign, Deptford.
14.30 Michael Fallon speech to Open Europe on EU and regulation, London.
14.30 Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to Health Committee on Mid-Staffs.
15.40 Mark Harper and Romanian/Bulgarian ambassadors at Home Affairs Committee.