George must face his dragons

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.


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.”


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


Obama Victory Positive for Cameron

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

The morning’s papers are in the grip of Obama fever. The Telegraph‘s Peter Foster reports that the President has ushered in a “once-in-a-generation shift in the political landscape”, winning with “a coalition of women, minorities and the young”. This coalition could spell the end for the traditional Right, Anne Applebaum writes, claiming that the Republicans do not “deserve” to win until they produce a similar coalition. Frank Luntz, meanwhile, writes that the world’s politicians are now on alert – policy is no good without empathy. The dissenting voices can be found in the Mail, where Richard Littlejohn argues that Mr Obama’s triumph was one for “entitlement culture…fear and loathing”. Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, argues that this is a good result for Mr Cameron, but a bad one for the Tory grass-roots:

“Mr Cameron’s sympathy with Barack Obama, unlike Tony Blair’s understanding with George Bush, has never been based on cynical power worship, or even pragmatism. It stems from a genuine ideological sympathy, despite the fact that many of President Obama’s ideas, for instance on human rights, are far more Right-wing than anything the Conservatives would countenance.”

Westminster wonks will take pleasure in the adulation afforded to blogger Nate Silver by the Times (£) for the accuracy of his pre-poll predictions. In the Guardian , Douglas Alexander argues that Labour could learn from the Democrat’s campaign model and emphasise the lack of credibility the Prime Minister has when empathising with the straightened times facing the nation. Nicholas Watt, meanwhile, reports that Dave will use Mitt Romney’s campaign to quash the resurgent Right in his own party. As I wrote in my blog:

“Social liberalism wins votes. No10 looks at the overnight trends in the US and finds vindication for Mr Cameron’s championing of gay marriage and message of tolerance on difficult issues. They look at the decapitation of the Tea Party and the demographic shift towards the Democrats and they see justification for the kind of compassionate conservatism Mr Cameron has adopted…”

Perhaps of more significance than any of this is the reaction of the markets – they tanked. With the edge of the fiscal cliff approaching, the economy election will need to provide economic solutions before too long.


Last night’s talks between Angela Merkel and David Cameron at Downing Street to not appear to have been particularly productive. The Prime Minister is hemmed in by the recent Commons vote and personal pledges on the EU budget, the Germans do not consider the issue a major priority. If there is a deal there to be done, it will take some spotting. That said the Sun believes it has detected some desperation on the German side, headlining its report “Merk begs UK to stay in EU”. Mrs Merkel had said that “I cannot imagine that the UK would not be part of Europe.” The Mail, meanwhile, focuses on Mrs Merkel’s claim that Britain would not be happy on its own in the world. Helpfully, the paper includes the latest news from Athens (riots, as you ask), to show how happy people can be inside the EU.


Philip Hammond will set out the future of the Territorial Army in a speech this morning which has been heavily trailed in the FT (£) and the Times. Mr Hammond will propose to double reserve numbers to 30,000, to compensate for cutting one fifth of the regular army over the next eight years. In a decade’s time, it is anticipated that fully one third of front-line forces will be reservists. Mr Hammond will also announce plans to increase the number of days spent on reservist training from 35 to 40 days a year. As for the makeup of the reserves, it might look quite a lot like the conventional army as the Times (£) indicates that Mr Hammond will try to lure veteran officers into the TA once they retire by offering up to £15,000 as a golden handshake.


The quad are in negotiation over how to handle George Osborne’s anticipated announcement on December 5th that the Coalition will fail to meet its debt targets, the FT (£) reports. Nick Clegg will have improved his negotiating somewhat by achieving something Dave seldom manages at PMQs, uniting the Tory benches behind him. Or rather, perhaps it was the fact that his opponent was Harriet Harman that brought them together. As Ann Treneman reports in the Times (£), the Deputy Prime Minister was on vintage form:

“I have never seen the Tories give so much support to Mr Clegg, who kept saying what a good job the coalition was doing on the economy. (A surprised George O patted him on the arm.)”


One (suspended) Tory who probably wouldn’t have been cheering Mr Clegg, or Mr Obama for that matter, is Nadine Dorries. Fortunately for the DPM, she was in Australia sunning herself. Fortunate too for the red-tops. The Mirror and The Star both run unflattering pictures of a semi-clothed Nadine on their front pages. The Star thoughtfully preserves her modesty by superimposing the faces of Ant and Dec on her as she relaxed poolside. In the Guardian Louise Mensch accuses Mrs Dorries of demeaning the role of an MP:

“In the future, we will see fewer politicians thinking of George Galloway – or Dorries-esque ways to boost their “profile”. Celebrity is fleeting; laws actually matter. I envy and honour my former colleagues, on all sides, who are still making them.”


Clearly stung by criticism that he is only comfortable when surrounded by former schoolmates and university chums in positions of power and influence, David Cameron will name the, er, Old Etonian, former oil plutocrat Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Telegraph reports that “although Educated at Eton and Cambridge and even a member of a Pall Mall club, [the Bishop of Durham] is seen as far from an establishment figure.” In the Mail, Stephen Glover agrees:

“Here is a man who was for 11 years a high-flying oil executive, during which time he and his wife lost a very young child. He is bound to be more grounded in the real world than his donnish predecessor. Yet his religious convictions led him to swap a well-paid job for the pitiful salary of a young clergyman.”


Sub-heads you thought you’d seen the last of… Andrew Mitchell will be making his most high-profile public appearance since gate-gate this morning when he faces the Commons International Development Committee who want him to explain his last-gasp payments to Rwanda authorised before he left his post as International Development Secretary. The bell sounds for round one at 9:30 in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House.


That’s the view of Sue Cameron, writing in this morning’s Telegraph. High churn rates among civil servants give rise to some staggering statistics: turnover at the Treasury is 50pc, while the department’s average age is now well under 30. As one insider is quoted as saying gloomily, “when the great crash came, only the teenagers were left in the Treasury.”


Lynton Crosby should be given a “free hand” by the Conservatives if they want to win the next election, according to Boris Johnson. The Telegraph reports that Bo-Jo, speaking shortly after he addressed a meeting of the 1922 committee, added the party would be “mad” not to go for Mr Crosby who was “the soul of sweetness in person”.


He may now induce Mili-mania at every turn, but Ed Miliband has lost the support of his mother so far as child benefit goes. The Sun reports that “Marion Kozak backed plans to focus child benefit on the poorest families and single mums when she was head of the Daycare Trust charity in the mid-1990s”. Ed falling out with a family member, scarcely credible, I know…


Tonight’s Question Time comes from Bexhill. On the panel will be Damian Green, Chuka Umunna, Shirley Williams, the Sun columnist Jane Moore and the economist Danny Blanchflower.


It’s a good job that Chris Heaton-Harris isn’t headed out to Australia:

@chhcalling: “Ate some caterpillars a while ago. For some bizarre reason I’m feeling quite nervous about it now.”


In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – A good day for Cameron, but a rout for the Tory Right’s vision

Sue Cameron – McDonald’s is beating the McMandarins

Anne Applebaum – It’s time for a big Republican clear-out

Frank Luntz – A lesson for Westminster: if you don’t sympathise, you don’t win

Best of the rest

Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail – New dawn? This looks more like a new dusk

David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) – Beware a modern Salem over child abuse

Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian – Two superpower leaders, two very different crises

David Pilling in the FT (£) – Xi must take on vested interests to reform China


Today: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to set out plans for the future of Army Reserves. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to set out progress in the Government’s work on dementia.

09:30 am: Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell gives evidence to Commons International Development Committee on UK aid to Rwanda. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, London.

US election 2012: A good day for David Cameron, but a rout for the Tory Right’s vision

Yesterday morning, cheers were echoing round Downing Street as David Cameron’s team celebrated the re-election of Barack Obama. For once, Mr Cameron had backed a winner – and would certainly have looked exceptionally stupid had Mitt Romney won.

There are, nevertheless, vital lessons that the Prime Minister and his party urgently need to learn from the Romney defeat. The first of these concerns policy. For the past two years, Conservative Right-wingers have been urging Mr Cameron to fight the next general election from a platform they like to call “true Toryism”. They have advocated a heavily ideological programme involving a tough immigration policy, opposition to the European Union, a robust stance on law and order and a sharp shrinking of the state. Had the Republicans won, these Right-wingers would have claimed vindication. For them, Mr Obama’s victory is a disaster – because if Mr Romney’s ideas are election-losers in the US, they are likely to prove even more unpopular in Britain.


Warning Signs: America Commits Suicide

I had hoped that the majority of voters would elect Mitt Romney, but instead of a man of character they chose charisma.

They ignored four years of failure and deception. In advertising, they say “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Romney, sadly, lacked sizzle.

Obama’s victory was one of a long line of Progressives from Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Jimmy Carter. It was not new, but it will likely do more damage on top of what his predecessors have done.

It turned out that there were not enough voters from the faith-based communities. You know—the kind of people Obama said “cling to their religion and guns.” There were not enough from a range of population subsets to make a difference.


Dave Jets Off To The Gulf

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Dave jets off for the Gulf this morning on a mission to build bridges with the region’s rulers and then sell them 100 Typhoon fighter jets. An estimated £6bn of arms contracts could be up for grabs when the Prime Minister inspects British jets with the rulers of the United Arab Emirates at Al Minhad airbase this afternoon. The Guardian reports that he will be accompanied by only two newswire reporters, a cameraman, a producer and a photographer. Number 10 claims it had difficulties chartering a plane for the trip, but in the Lobby there is suspicion that Mr Cameron – and specifically Dr Dre – are intent on keeping denizens of the Burma Road away from foreign trips because they cause too much trouble. Those organisations that have reporters in the Gulf to cover the tour had to make their own arrangements, and keep out of Saudi Arabia, which is the second stop on his itinerary.


Downing Street has largely kept its nose clean in the race for the White House, despite strong suspicions that if Number 10 had a vote, it would be going in the Democrat column. As ever, though, Iain Duncan Smith has positioned himself to the right of his leader, attacking the “appalling demonisation” of Mitt Romney in the British media. Speaking on Pienaar’s Politics, IDS also pointed out that under Barack Obama, the US deficit had “gone from something like 4-500 billion dollars to three or so trillion dollars,” ITV reports.

Mr Romney is at least getting a better show in the British press as the final day of campaigning gets under way. In the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie argues that David Cameron will have lessons to learn whoever emerges victorious:

“The most important will be the danger of demonising your opponent and that opponent then confounding the caricature in the election debates. Elected four years ago on a visionary ticket of hope and change, Mr Obama has run one of the most negative re-election campaigns yet seen…If Mr Romney does eventually win it will because these attacks were monstrously over the top.”

Catch up with all our coverage of the election here.


I mentioned last week a contretemps in the Lords involving the Lib Dems. The Government has suspended plans to proceed with its electoral registration Bill while it tries to work out what the Lib Dems are up to and why they are intent on helping Labour defeat the Government on the boundary review. This one is getting messy.


Steve Hilton is unlikely to be returning to the Prime Minister’s side any time soon, the Times (£) reports. The strategy guru had sounded out friends on the idea of returning to London to open a Hungarian restaurant, but will now stay on the West Coast of the USA for the time being, extending his one year sabbatical.


The maneuverings over the EU drag on still. Over the weekend an anonymous minister was reported to have been close to resignation after Dave refused to back calls for a budget cut. IDS has hinted at a future in/out referendum in his weekend interviews, as the Telegraph reports. Support for such a move will be bolstered should the Mail‘s prediction that British growth will eclipse continental growth over the next two years. In the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh writes that Britain is on the way out, but Mr Cameron must leave quietly:

“Britain is surely on the way out, but it cannot afford to be blamed for bringing the roof down as it goes. We need a relationship with our European trading partners once the crisis has burned itself out. We need to pick our moment.”


In any case, the Coalition are keen to show that they don’t just do European division. They do progressive social policy, too. Hence Nick Clegg’s ‘nannies for everyone’ programme trailed on the front page of today’s Telegraph. Mr Clegg told supporters that the state will step in to ease the “nightmare” costs of childcare in an informal letter to party supporters. Dave, meanwhile, is to “announce the creation of new NHS bi0tech brain clinics”, the Mail reports. Meanwhile in many of the papers, the Fire Brigade Union tries a rebranding exercise of its own, with an unflattering picture of Dave n’ George beneath the headline: “they slash, you burn”. No prizes for guessing their attitude to the cuts, then.


When even Herman Van Rompuy doesn’t want to know, you’re in trouble. In a Q&A broadcast, the EU President warned Alex Salmond and co that “nobody has anything to gain from separatism”, the Guardian reports. Sources close to the President also confirmed that Scotland would definitely need to re-apply for EU membership in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, by no means a foregone conclusion given Spanish hostility to independence north of the border. A sobering warning for Scottish nationalists then, they wouldn’t just lose the English, it would be Belgians, Hungarians and Latvians too…


From Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column
“It is an interesting fact about Mr Miliband that, more than two years into his time as Labour leader, he has not made a single speech about Europe. Allying himself with the Tory rebels did not mark a radical new departure in Labour thinking. There was an opportunity to defeat the government and hurt the prime minister that was just too tempting to resist.”

From James Forsyth’s Mail on Sunday column
However, some of those close to Cameron argue that once the constraints of Coalition are off, the level of his Euroscepticism will end up surprising us. A Minister who knows him well says: ‘We have become more Eurosceptic in Government.’ Every day Cameron and co confront the problems thrown up by the current terms of Britain’s EU membership.

From Matthew D’Ancona’s column in the Sunday Telegraph:
Away from the banana skins, however, Downing Street was forging quiet links with the Romney team, mindful that what Cameron and Obama call the “essential relationship” between the two nations is too important to jeopardise in any way. John Major did so when Conservative researchers tried to help George Bush Sr win re-election by investigating Bill Clinton’s past as an Oxford student. The lesson has been learnt.


Michael Fabricant socialises with the enemy:

@mike_fabricant: “Having been bought a drink by the #Corby UKIP team, am I corrupted? Oh, I do hope so!!”


In The Telegraph

Malcolm Moore – All change in China

Boris Johnson – Listen up, Mitt – because I’ve got the key to the White House

Charles Moore – The wit and warmth of our royal correspondent

Telegraph View – A ‘living wage’ must be earned, not imposed

Best of the Rest

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – We’re on way out of EU but PM must rein in the rebels

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – Millions of lonely people: the tragic legacy of the Left’s war on families

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – Vote Mitt: the world needs this deal-maker

Jackie Ashley in The Guardian – Labour must not let Britain drift into a European exit


09:00 am: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to announce the new London Living Wage. The mayor will be joined by employers, borough leaders and representatives of the Living Wage Foundation to announce the new rate. The Chamber, City Hall, The Queen’s Walk.

Mitt Romney can still win – and he deserves to

night in the hope of escaping the omnistorm. It felt rather like clinging to the undercarriage of the final B52 to leave Saigon, but we made it. Then, from the haven of temperate London, we watched New York and poor, desperate New Jersey fill up with water and plunge into darkness. Friends on Long Island who could still manage to use email told us of their flooded homes and lost possessions. Much of lower Manhattan, as I write, remains effectively uninhabitable.

So where does this come on the scale of facts that will affect the presidential election? Almost nowhere. In spite of some rather tastelessly blatant wishful thinking in the Obama camp, this was not a great emotional turning point for the sitting president – mainly because the sitting president does not do emotion. If he did, he might well have benefited by becoming the consoling father of the nation, or at least the effective spokesman of its collective agony. He might have had as electrifying a spontaneous moment as the one George Bush had at Ground Zero when he shouted the country’s anger and defiance through a loudhailer: “The rest of the world hears you – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”


The Obama-Romney debate wasn’t a game-changer. The game is already over, and Obama has won

So once again, the reset button on the 2012 US presidential election has been pressed.The polls were unanimous, MSNBC analyst Chris Matthews kept the Valium uncorked, and Fox News’s decision to call the debate a draw provided definitive proof of Barack Obama’s victory.

Which is a blessed relief, given nothing else matters. Not the state of the US economy. Or the global terror threat. Living standards, job security; all are an irrelevance.

The people of the world’s foremost democracy are going to decide to cast their votes based solely on what was said at the University of Denver two weeks ago, and last night on the campus of Hofstra University, an establishment whose mission statement aspires to nothing less than “the betterment of humankind”.

Well, the trustees of Hofstra may very well get their wish. Hostra is no longer a mere university. It is the new Game Changer.

Or at least, that is the narrative. And blimey, how that narrative has shifted. Two weeks ago Barack Obama was cruising to re-election. Then he was teetering on the edge of oblivion. Today he has “made big strides towards turning things around”.