MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. The first Commons vote on homosexual marriage was passed by a large majority last night, splitting the Conservatives in the process. More Tories voted for than against, and those supporting David Cameron amounted to barely a third of the parliamentary party. The key numbers are as follows (the BBC has a breakdown by name on both sides):
- Votes for: 400 (Con 127, Lab 217, Lib Dem 45, Other 11)
- Votes against: 175 (Con 136, Lab 22, Lib Dem 4, Others 13)
- Abstentions: 63 (Con 40, Lab 16, Lib Dem 7)
- Significant opponents: Owen Paterson, David Jones, David Lidington, Andrew Robathan, Mark Francois, Jeremy Wright, Adam Afriyie
- Significant abstentions: Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve
- Split on whipped votes: Programme Motion – 499/55, Money Resolution 481/34, Carry Over Motion 464/38
While gay marriage is being pulled apart in the other place, David Cameron finds himself in need of some marriage counselling of his own, as I blogged yesterday. The modernisers love him (Tom Chivers writes for us this morning explaining why he might now break a habit of a lifetime and vote Tory), but Mr Cameron set a course, and his party steered hard in the opposite direction. Not speaking yesterday was a mistake – the PM limited himself to a valedictory tweet – a move which implied a certain indifference to the arguments arising from six hours of debating. Sending Francius Maude on Newsnight didn’t help, either. The Conservatives may frequently walk behind “prevailing social attitudes”, a criticism he levied, but then, isn’t that conservatism?
Both the Telegraph and the Mail leaders criticise Dave’s ability to sow the seeds of discord in his own ranks, while the Guardian‘s Simon Jenkins makes the point that in both yesterday’s debate and the Conservative leadership, the cost of the “metrosexual” agenda has been an intolerance of other views. For all the talk of equality yesterday, there is very little between the Cameroon and the traditionalist in the modern Conservatives.
NEGLECT SCANDAL REPORT PUBLISHED
The report into neglect at two hospitals in Mid Staffordshire between 2005 and 2009 is published today and there is Labour anxiety that the report will be terrible for the party’s record on health. The report is likely to trash the policy of targets driving financial cuts. Patricia Hewitt, Alan Johnson and Andrew Burnham are all in the firing line – it’s why Mr Burnham set out proposals to overhaul the NHS last month. As the Sun reports, there will now be a new chief inspector of hospitals, while our story adds that the inquiry’s findings will include a mandatory reporting system for poor care, but will also exonerate Sir David Nicholson, the head of the NHS who was previously in charge of the strategic health authority responsible for Stafford and Cannock Chase hospitals. In crisis, Mary Riddell suggests that Ed Miliband may find opportunity:
“The Staffordshire scandal…was, at heart, the story of a care crisis endemic in a system equipped to deal with the quick cures and early deaths of the past century – but not with an ageing population. Whatever the human failings involved, our nurses have not simply grown nastier. An NHS unfit for purpose has become institutionally brutal.”
BLUE MACHINE GEARS UP IN EASTLEIGH
Things are looking up for the Conservatives in the Eastleigh byelection fight. Firstly, Nigel Farage will not run. His article for us explains that he wants to concentrate on the national picture, although you could also see this as a nod to Downing Street in exchange for Dave’s referendum pledge. Then there the reports this morning that Grant Shapps has already dispatched CCHQ staffers to Eastleigh before the start of campaigning this weekend. The Tories are going to throw the kitchen sink at this one, and the stakes are higher still as a result.
PEERS CALL FOR LEVESON LEGISLATION
The Lords is “bloated” argues one of its members, Frances D’Souza, in today’s Times (£), claiming that it will soon “collapse under its own weight” if the PM follows through with his peer creation plan. Bloated it may be, but it can still be a mighty irritant for the Government. Yesterday it defeated the Coalition’s plan to secure the Leveson reforms via Royal Commission. As we report, the upper chamber voted to legislate, passing an amendment to the Defamation Bill to introduce a cheap arbitration service for those who feel wronged by the press. Perhaps they were aggrieved by allegations that News International targeted Labour staffers, revisited in today’s Independent.
ARGENTINA SETS 2033 DEADLINE FOR FALKLANDS CONTROL
Britain’s tenure in the Falkland Islands is equivalent to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Argentina’s foreign minister Hector Timerman told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Argentina yesterday. As we report, Mr Timerman added the he didn’t “think it will be 20 years” before Argentina takes control of the islands. As form the views of the islanders: “I don’t have to persuade them”. Perhaps Mr Timerman genuinely believes that the world will come to believe the British are Argentina’s colonial oppressor. Perhaps he understands that by 2033 the armed forces will consist of a microlite mounted to a pedalo and a couple of young offenders on an apprenticeship placement. Either way, we’ve been warned.
PM LACKS ENERGY FOR TARIFF FIGHT
The mis-management and poor planning which has hallmarked British nuclear policy in the last two parliaments rears its head again this morning, with the Times (£) reporting that Tim Yeo, chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, believes that consumers will have to guarantee a profitable energy tarrif to EDF if they want to get two new stations built. Consumers were hit again yesterday by the failure of Dave’s lowest energy tarrif scheme to appear in yesterday’s simplification Bill. Only customers on old packages unavailable to new households will be switched to the cheapest deal for gas and electricity. The Sun’s leader pulls no punches, claiming that “No10 has misled the country on an issue as vital as power bills.” A good day to bury bad energy policy.
VINCE REVIVES RBS PLAN
The outgoing head of the FSA, Lord Turner, has given an interview to the FT (£) calling for permanent money printing, denying that it has significant inflationary effects. Helpfully, the paper includes a sidebar detailing similarly progressive policies and how they played out in the Wiemar Republic, Latin America in the 1970’s, Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe… Elsewhere in the paper, there’s a report that Vince Cable will use 9am speech at Bloomberg to re-float his idea of free RBS shares for every household. Treasury officials call the plans “interesting”, a comment which could also be read as “no”.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The Miliband revolution is still a “work in progress” according to his own policy chief Jon Cruddas. The Mail reports that Mr Cruddas’s interview with the BBC’s Daily Politics also contained the disarming admission that “to be perfectly blunt, if the party simply put forward an agenda that I would want then it wouldn’t win.”
JONES TAKES THE PRESCOTT PATH
David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, has twice used his official car for the 100 yard trip between his departmental office and Downing Street, the Mail reports. If it’s good enough for Pauline Prescott…
GEORGE OSBORNE, ARTIST
Described as “a work of charming simplicity”, the Chancellor’s contribution to a charity auction of celebrity doodles fetched £20,000, the Times (£) reports. The picture, catalogued as “a crude drawing of the Chancellor’s budget box” was sold to raise money for East Cheshire Hospice on Mr Osborne’s Tatton constituency. Tory fundraising efforts are not limited to Number11’s artistic output. The Sun reports that Dave has flogged a meeting with Justin Bieber for £10,000. The Bieber auction took place at the party’s annual black tie ball. Ominously, reports Richard Kay, not everyone stood to applaud the Prime Minsiter.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Unlike many of his collagues, Chris Heaton-Harris was able to look on the bright side of life last night:
@chhcalling: “Bought a dog from the local blacksmith. As soon as I got him home he made a bolt for the door.”
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell – Labour can turn NHS scandal into a platform for revolution
Tom Chivers – Let’s sign up to an age of Tory enlightenment
Des Browne & Ian Kearns – Trident is no longer key to Britain’s security
Telegraph View – Cameron has sown needless discord
Best of the rest
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – Tory metrosexuals won the vote – but at what cost?
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – It’s human to dread change and fear loss
Nick Bosanquet in the FT (£) – Britain’s ageing taxpayers owe the iPod generation
Daily Mail Comment – Can Cameron heal his self-inflicted wounds
TODAY: MEPS to vote on reform of Common Fisheries Policy. Supporters say the reform will end overfishing. The vote is the final opportunity to reach agreement before the final, closed door, stage of negotiations.
08:00 am: Halifax releases its house price figures for January.
09:00 am: Vince Cable speech on banking, followed by Q&A. Bloomberg, 39-45 Finsbury Square.
10:00 am: Institute for Fiscal Studies launches its Green Budget. Beveridge Hall, Senate House, Malet Street.
10:30 am: DPP Keir Starmer gives evidence to the Lords EU Committee on UK home affairs opt-out. Committee Room 3, House of Lords.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister’s Questions.
02:30 pm: Foreign Secretary William Hague gives evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on future EU policy. Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House.
02:30 pm: Treasury and Scottish Public Pensions Agency give evidence to Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on impact of independence. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
03:00 pm: Chancellor George Osborne and OECD head Angel Gurria launch OECD UK Economic Survey. Reporters asked to arrive by 1430. HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London.