MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
It is now apparent that the Adam Afriyie operation is more advanced, far-reaching and substantial than many realise, and so poses a considerable threat to David Cameron. What will be particularly troubling to Number 10 is the realisation that the plotters on the whole don’t really believe Mr Afriyie has what it takes to be leader, but are willing to support his challenge as a way of dislodging Dave. The Prime Minister has been warned that summer 2014 is his deadline for improving the party’s poll standing. If he fails, the rebels believe that they have sufficient numbers to force a vote of confidence, the Guardian reports. The Afriyie warning shot has come early, but there are cooler marksmen biding their time. With today’s Sun poll still giving Labour a 12pt lead, their sights are unlikely to be lowered any time soon.
While Dave is winning voters over with his mastery of defence planning, the rebels have another scalp in mind. If the Mail‘s report that a letter calling for the Chancellor’s head if Q1 GDP also falls is quietly gathering signatures is accurate, then he could be in trouble. It takes only 46 votes to put a confidence issue before the ’22, and the threat is sack George or we will trigger a confidence vote on Dave. The calls for radicalism in the Budget have been getting louder since the latest GDP drop. If the Chancellor can’t deliver, then the backbench blood lust might be too great to contain.
Blower’s cartoon on our comment pages is the morning’s most succinct comment on the defence spending debacle. How do they get themselves into these situations? Dave’s decision to shoot from the lip and ask questions of the Treasury later looks dangerously inept at a time when, as we report, British troops have been told they can expect to be in Mali for at least a year. James Kirkup‘s analysis is important. The Autumn Statement cut £500m from defence in the 2014-15 financial year. That means that all subsequent years will be hit by a knock on effect, so even a real terms budget increase in 2015-16 could still see the budget lower than in 2013-14.
As the Treasury has made it clear to MoD officials that there is no escaping the axe in the current spending round, even real terms increases in the next parliament look unrealistic at present. Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour in the Guardian point that this will strain Dave’s unhappy relationship with service chiefs still more, while Fraser Nelson argues that you can’t just feed a fighting man fudge:
“Having lambasted Blair for fighting two wars on a peacetime budget, Cameron cannot very well fight three wars on an even lower budget. Even in opposition, he knew he would face a choice as Prime Minister: to shrink from the world stage, or operate the sort of military that is capable of sorting out problems from the Hindu Kush to the Sahara desert. To the surprise of many, perhaps even himself, David Cameron has taken the latter option. Now, he needs to pay for it.”
THE GHOSTS OF BUDGETS PAST
RBS should be nationalised completely, Nigel Lawson argues in an interview with the FT (£). The crown prince of privatisation argues that until it is fully under state control, RBS cannot get its bonus culture under control. The bank shouldn’t worry about losing star traders as “they’re all of them easily replaced”, and a nationalised RBS could be turned into a vehicle for lending to British business. Not content to stop there he added that Stephen Hester should never have been appointed CEO, George Osborne shouldn’t move away from inflation targeting, environment policy under the Coalition is “socialist” and that any renegotiated settlement with the EU would amount to “make believe”. Sitting on the fence as usual.
Meanwhile, the dead sheep who savaged Maggie has returned to nibble Dave over Europe. The Guardian reports that Lord Howe told peers yesterday that Parliament must have the last say on any decision to leave Europe, accusing Dave of being wrapped up in party management issues (you’d never know). Lord Howe is not alone in his opposition, the Mail claims that the US has been turning the screw diplomatically. The latest ploy is to send Joe Biden to meet the Prime Minister on Tuesday. If only the speech had shifted attitudes so much on this side of the Atlantic. Lord Ashcroft’s polling found it hasn’t shifted the British public’s attitude to the Tories. Good job it was a conviction call, not domestic positioning.
FAMILY VALUES SPECIAL
When he broached the subject of a married couple’s allowance, Dave was told that Nick Clegg did not get married for £3 a week and would order his troops to abstain from a vote, the Mail reports. Without the active opposition of the Lib Dems, the measure should still pass, if it ever makes it into the budget. The same cannot be said of the Coalition’s latest childcare plans. As we report, Lord Newby conceded yesterday that the idea of a tax break for working mothers may have to be reconsidered as it alienates stay-at-home parents. Back to the drawing board. Again.
The greatest family feuding is still reserved for gay marriage, of course. The Prime Minister’s kamikaze mission against his backbenchers has been joined today by Helen Grant, the equalities minister, who doesn’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Christian, but because she’s a Christian, she said yesterday. It isn’t ministers with whom the Tory problem lies, though. Our story that David Burrows has polled his colleagues and believes that 200 of the 303 Conservative MPs will vote against it suggests that the whips still haven’t digested the scale of the potential revolt – on Wednesday they put the figure at 100 to 120.
MINISTERS HUNT £10BN OF WELFARE SAVINGS
In a bid to protect budgets in their own departments, Conservative Cabinet ministers are pushing for the bulk of the Treasury’s £10bn savings drive to be taken from the welfare budget, the Independent reports. Philip Hammond, Theresa May and Michael Gove are all said to be calling for a further cuts to welfare over the 2015-18 period. They argue that welfare spend makes up one third of all government spending, and that with health, schools and aid all ring-fenced, other departments cannot bear the weight of the cuts alone. Still, it could have been worse. At least defence isn’t ring-fenced anymore.
MILIBAND: FARAGE WELCOME AT ELECTION DEBATE
When he finally settles on a policy, Ed Miliband can be shrewd. As we report, he has raised no objection to the inclusion of Ukip in the 2015 televised debates, trusting that he can do to Dave’s vote what Cleggmania did to Labour’s campaign at the last election. Ukip’s strategy this year will be heavily focused on Labour constituencies in the North, however. That the party is still only Mr Cameron’s problem when the debates roll around is apparently a risk Mr Miliband is willing to take.
CHEER UP KIDS, JEREMY HUNT’S ON
The decision by the Health Secretary to cut Lewisham Hospital’s emergency and maternity units to pay off debts at a neighbouring NHS trust was met with deep hostility by the opposition yesterday. The Mirror found the plan so dastardly that it feels moved to note that “even Tories were appalled”. Our sketchwriter Michael Deacon had a much more serious objection – he looks like a children’s TV presenter:
“Many children’s TV hosts have had puppet sidekicks… Jeremy Hunt would doubtless insist on one of his own. ‘Look who it is, Mr Speaker – it’s Norman the Lamb! Isn’t he lovely and woolly! Say hello to all the boys and girls on the Opposition benches, Norman!’
“Norman Lamb (coldly): ‘I’m not a puppet. I’m a 55-year-old man and I’m Minister of State for Care and Support.'”
Romania has responded to British threats to target potential immigrants with an advertising campaign by launching one of its own. “Half of our women look like Kate. The other half like her sister,” Bucharest’s poster campaign confides. Another points out that “Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry hasn’t been photographed once.” The Independent reports that the posters will soon appear at airports and tourist attractions throughout the country. Not sure how “we may not like Britain, but you’ll love Romania” works as a tag-line, though.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Tom Harris, winning extra points for putting quotation marks around the word independent:
@TomHarrisMP: “The SNP are bitching about HS2 not reaching Scotland. So they expect Scotland to be ‘independent’ by then, but for UK Govt to finance it?”
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson – Our Armed Forces can’t survive on a diet of fudge, Mr Cameron
Jeremy Warner – Try to see the opportunity in our difficulty
Telegraph View – The NHS debate is in appalling health
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) – For Cameron aid is not a badge. It’s a mission
Mary Dejevsky in The Independent- The EU has changed Britain – and mostly for the better
Phillip Stephens in the FT (£) – Gloomsters were wrong to bury the euro. Here’s why
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – The Big Four are laughing all the way to the tax office
TODAY: Police Minister Damian Green to provide an update on the Police Crime Mapping website.
09:00 am: London mayor Boris Johnson opens The View from the Shard. Panoramic views can be seen from a viewing area on the 69th floor and from the 72nd floor (880ft) of the tallest building in the UK (1,016ft).