Queen’s speech: it’s what’s out that counts

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING NEWS: The omission of measures aimed at problem drinking and smoking from today’s Queen’s Speech does not mean they have been abandoned, Jeremy Hunt told the Today programme:

“Just because something is not in the Queen’s Speech does not mean the Government can’t bring it forward as law, but we have not made a decision…On plain paper packaging, if we do it we will be the first country in Europe, the second country in the world – Australia only introduced it in January. So it is a much harder job to assess the evidence as to how effective it would be. I want to make sure we do the job properly so I’ve said I will take the time needed.”

QUEEN’S SPEECH HIGHLIGHTS DAVE’S TACTICAL CONUNDRUM

Good morning. It’s Queen’s Speech day, and what’s out is just as noteworthy as what’s in. As we report, there’s some meat this morning on immigration – landlords will be made responsible for checking their tenants’ status before arranging a letting. The headline announcements we have already – an Immigration Bill which will curb access to benefits and non-emergency NHS treatment for temporary visitors, the flat rate pension scheme, a £72,000 cap on care contributions, and a paving bill for HS2. Patrick Wintour has a full list of runners and riders over at the Guardian. The speech cannot be said to be a knee jerk reaction to the local elections – for a start it needs to be written three days in advance as the ink takes that long to dry on the goat hide (h/t Nick Robinson) – but it does bear the fingerprints of Lynton Crosby. There’s meat here for the Tory backbenches if they can stop squabbling long enough to enjoy it.

What isn’t there is also instructive. Out have gone proposed measures on plain cigarette packaging and data (the snooper’s charter), suggesting Dave is weary of another fight with the malcontents. Nor is there any mention of gay marriage (actually, there was no mention in the last speech, either) except to say that it has been carried over from the last parliament. As our leader points out, that presents Dave with a messy dilemma. Assuming it comes back from the Lords having been amended to within an inch of its life, he will be under pressure to reverse those amendments in the lower chamber. Cue a repeat of the popular Tory mods v head bangers slugfest. Party unity demands he let it slip quietly into the night, but having expended so much political capital to take the bill this far, it is difficult to see how he can drop it.

Finally, there’s Europe. Dave conceded yesterday in a letter to John Baron that he wouldn’t be legislating for a vote in this parliament after all, despite several hints to the contrary. As we report, it was only last week that Downing Street was whispering that Dave would introduce legislation even at the risk of defeat, so strong were his convictions. Now, it appears that Number 10 would stop at backing a backbencher bringing a private bill which would almost certainly run out of time. Surveys in both the Sun and the Times (£) indicate that the British public is more eurosceptic and ever. Dave choosing this moment to hide his light under a bushel is hardly calculated to make him friends in the marginals.

Nothing seems to frustrate Tory MPs more than Mr Cameron’s habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Equally, though, in the context of first Nigel Lawson and then Liam Fox, it’s worth pointing out how striking it is that otherwise thoughtful, intelligent Conservatives appear to have no sense of the harm they do to the party’s 2015 chances by airing their differences with Dave. Message discipline may have a slightly Stalinist flavour, but Labour are better at it.

KIP CLIMBING ON UP THE CHARTS

Farewell Tory poll revival, we barely knew ye. The Sun‘s YouGov poll shows Labour’s lead back out at 10pts with Ukip biting a considerable chunk from the Conservative figures (Con 29pc, Lab 39pc, Lib Dem 9pc, Ukip 16pc). Eccentrically, the majority of Ukip supporters do not even cite Europe as a priority. Only 49pc select it as an issue of utmost importance to the country, compared with 90pc worried about immigration and 73pc with the economy.

That will confuse the Conservatives. Given that hardline policies on immigration and welfare abuse, exactly the issues Ukip voters prioritise, had been trailed extensively before the local elections, Dave could be forgiven for asking what it is that the party has that the Conservatives lack. Well, an increasing number of members for a start. The FT (£) reports that the party’s membership base rose by more than 50pc in the year to April, reaching 26,097 from a base of 17,220. It’s a long way short of the Tory number (which has declined from around 500,000 in the 1990s to c.130,000 today), but the respective trajectories of the parties will concern CCHQ. At least they have not lost any MPs to Ukip in this parliament. The Mail warns that Bernard Jenkin has already raised the prospect of others departing from the Tory benches to form a Ukip parliamentary delegation.

TALKING YOUR LANGUAGE

Bad news for Polly Toynbee – she’s lost Dr Liam Fox. Writing for us, Dr Fox explains that he no longer cares what was said around the Guardian columnist’s dinner table but “it should matter to [the Conservatives] what is being said in the Dog and Duck in Daventry, Darlington or Dover.” Obviously he did not have time to watch the Chancellor’s speech to warehouse workers in Kent last month. If he had have done, he’d know that nobody was employing working class idiom more effectively in the quest for a “bedder Briddain”. What Ed Miliband would give for the Chancellor’s mockney. As Mary Riddell points out, he still doesn’t speak human very well:

“Belatedly, Labour is shifting away from vague suggestions that the growth fairy would heal the broken economy. Past indecision cut no ice in Boston or elsewhere. If the days of boom have gone for ever, as some economists suspect, then the social democrats whose programmes are tailored to good times need a new story more speedily than ever. That does not mean an instant manifesto, but nor will vision suffice. Voters deserve precision and honesty, and the main parties have offered neither.”

BALLS BLASTED

As befits one of Gordon Brown’s former aides, Ed Balls has perfected the Macavity-esque trick of disappearing when turbulence hits. Now he has been told to pull his socks up, through a Peter Hain article in Progress Online . Mr Hain argues that “Labour’s Treasury team need to get out on the stump now and work even harder. It shouldn’t just be left to Ed and Harriet to carry the heavy load, whether on the World at One, the Today programme or anywhere else.” The former Welsh Secretary also argues for a defence of the position that Labour will borrow more in the short term, a point of some confusion for Red Ed in his WATO interview. Labour standing for more debt? As Fraser Nelson caustically notes in the Spectator, that’s another policy they have stolen from the Tories.

CAMERON REJECTS CHARTER DEAL

Dave will reject the proposals made as an alternative to the Government’s Royal Charter, we report. The Charter was withdrawn from the order of business for the next Privy Council meeting on May 15th in order to allow due consideration of alternative proposals by the press. A public consultation will now run until May 25th, although why, given that the Prime Minister “sticks to his position”, according to a spokesman, is anyone’s guess.

BIG TROUBLE IN GREATER CHINA

He’s coming whether you like it or not. The Chinese are warned in today’s FT (£) that they will be getting a visit from Dave in the autumn, despite sources making it clear in yesterday’s Telegraph that Sino-British relations were badly damaged by the Prime Minister’s desire to have his picture taken with the Dalai Lama. In the meantime, British ministers will decide “who they meet and when they meet them”, according to Downing Street. So there.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Lord Lawson’s comments yesterday won some praise from Austin Mitchell:

@AVMitchell2010:“Bring back Lawson as chancellor.He’s learned sense on EU and he knows how to get a boom going”

TOP COMMENT In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell – For all his proficiency on the palet, Miliband still can’t speak human

Nigel Farage – Lawson calls time on the three-pint heroes

Allister Heath – A revolution that is about to transport capitalism to a new dimension

Telegraph View – New Bills – and an old one that won’t go away

Best of the rest

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – If Cameron had any sense, he would call a referendum now

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – Cameron needs a big tent Conservatism

Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail – Why the Eton crew could sink Cameron

Matthew Norman in The Independent – If only the Queen would speak about a business that gambles with lives

THE AGENDA

Today: Civil service strike. Members of the Public and Commercial Service union at a number of government agencies and commissions stage a one-hour strike from 11am in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

11:30 am: State Opening of Parliament. Palace of Westminster.

David Cameron: From Euro triumph to gay marriage disaster in just two weeks

How does the David Cameron scorecard look now? I can’t keep up. Was that a triumph over the EU budget, or not? And if it was a success, does it cancel out the ghastly calamity of the earlier half of the week? That depends on whether the cleverness and determination of the second half was more revealing of the Prime Minister’s true character than the bloody-minded foolishness of the first.

Making my way through Westminster last Wednesday was a slow process. There I was, heading along Millbank from Westminster Tube station, being waylaid every 20 yards or so by Conservative MPs who wanted to tell me – in considerable detail – about their dismay at the events of the previous night. Then, when I arrived at my lunchtime destination, there were more of them eager to confide their exasperation and despair.

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Tories split apart by gay marriage vote

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.”

TOP COMMENT

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

THE AGENDA

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.

High-ranking Conservatives back gay marriage amid Cabinet split

In an unprecedented joint letter amid a Cabinet split before tomorrow’s parliamentary vote, the ministers, who hold the three great offices of state, have written a letter to The Telegraph saying that “attitudes to gay people have changed”.

Their intervention represents a late attempt to persuade other Conservatives to drop their deep-seated opposition to legalising gay marriage. The issue threatens to divide the Conservative Party with more than half of MPs and about four members of the Cabinet refusing to support David Cameron’s decision to champion the move.

David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, yesterday emerged as an opponent to gay marriage. In a letter to a constituent in March last year, he wrote: “I believe that marriage is an institution ordained to sanctify a union between a man and a woman.” Letters written by six government whips, all opposing gay marriage, were also released by campaigners. Although the measure is likely to pass through the Commons with the support of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, the Prime Minister is facing increasingly personal attacks from some Conservative MPs over the legislation.

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Conservative party ripped apart by gay marriage vote

The Sunday Telegraph has established that around 180 Conservative MPs, most notably including six whips and up to four members of the Cabinet, are ready to defy the Prime Minister’s plan to legalise gay weddings.

Meanwhile, 25 chairmen or former chairmen of Conservative party associations across the country have signed a letter to Mr Cameron warning that the policy will cause “significant damage” to the Tories’ 2015 general election campaign.

One chairman, who has quit over the issue, said “this is a policy dreamt up in Notting Hill”, while a serving chairman said it had angered the grassroots more than Europe.

The vote on Tuesday is the first parliamentary vote on the gay marriage legislation and a test for the Prime Minister. However Downing Street now expects that only around 120 of Mr Cameron’s MPs will vote in favour of legalising homosexual unions. This leaves around 180 Conservative members likely to abstain or vote against. They include:

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This Equality obsession is mad, bad and very dangerous

Last week, I appeared on the panel of the BBC’s Any Questions? in Guildford. We were asked whether we thought women should be allowed to take part in full front-line combat roles in the Armed Services. I said I didn’t think that it would be an advance in human civilisation if women abandoned their traditional association with peace and started killing people as men do.

This did not please the questioner, an intelligent student from the politics department of Surrey University, or her supporters sitting with her. They thought that the only question was the ability of the woman – if she was fit to fight, fight she should, and no one should stop her.

Afterwards, I reflected on the oddity of the situation. It did not seem that the student and her colleagues were particularly interested in military matters in themselves. They also did not seem the sort of people who, in other circumstances, would be at all keen on people killing people. I could imagine them protesting against militarism. Yet here they were, pushing for a woman’s right to kill.

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Christians face ‘lawful exclusion’ from jobs despite cross victory, lawyers warn

Campaigners claimed that “millions” of people who hold traditional “politically incorrect” views could now face new restrictions because of rulings against three other Christians involved in the European Court of Human Rights case.

They claimed that the judgment actively increases the risk that those who dissent on the issue of same-sex marriage will not be free to voice their dissent.

Their comments came as the court in Strasbourg ruled that Britain had failed to protect the right of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways clerk, to manifest their faith by wearing a small cross.

The judges accepted for the first time that wearing a cross was an important expression of Mrs Eweida’s faith which deserved protection under the European Convention on Human Rights – even though it is not an explicit tenet of Christianity.

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