EU Summit edges towards a deal

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. There’s a long day of negotiations ahead (keep up with our live coverage), but at the moment, Dave seems to be having a good summit in Brussels. Our report on the proposals put before European leaders this morning suggests that a £30bn real terms budget cut between 2014 and 2020 is likely, with a £1.7bn cut to the EU’s administrative budget. If the proposals are adopted, and British officials are stressing that this is a big “if”, then this is a significant triumph for Dave, who was widely seen as stuffed following a Commons vote for a real terms budget cut. In a wider sense, his Europe speech was also a call to arms for Europe itself, not just Britain. An outbreak of fiscal sanity on the Continent implies that it is hitting home despite the mockery which greeted it in some corners.

Haggling between leaders has taken place through the night, with Herman Van Rompuy eventually producing a budget some €12bn lighter than the previous suggestion. The €960bn for budget commitments (the maximum the EU can spend) proposal is significantly lower than the €1,033bn originally proposed by the European Commission, the FT (£) reports. The budget payments (amount actually expected to be spent) figure may be as low as €908bn – well below the French “absolute minimum” of €913bn.

Dave, who powered through the night on espresso, fruit and haribo, will have one sticky point to explain. The British contribution will go up. This is largely thanks to the surrender of much of the British rebate by Tony Blair, and the transfer of wealth between north-west Europe and the new Eastern European states. In fact, each net payer will pay more (except Italy, a nice election present for Mario Monti). We knew that beforehand, however. At least the rebate isn’t shrinking (unlike the Dutch one, they stand to lose 45pc). If this initial apparent success holds, Mr Cameron will be entitled to resounding congratulations from his party. His achievement will be on a par with Mrs Thatcher and the rebate or John Major and the opt out at Maastricht. He has delivered a reduction in the proposed EU budget, and saved the rebate.

GOVE CHARGES ON

Michael Gove decided “not to let the best be the enemy of the good” when dropping his plans for a single exam board for each core subject, he told Parliament yesterday. The education reform project simply cannot be accomplished in one swoop, he argued. It doesn’t mean he’s happy about it, our story that the European Union is to be dropped from the national curriculum could be seen as a side-swipe at the procurement rules which prevented him from going ahead, but as the FT (£) notes, he is still on the brink of achieving curriculum and league table reform. The Times (£) believes that the timetable may also need changing, but the gist of the reforms remains intact.

Reaction to Mr Gove’s setback has been determinedly tribal. The Guardian sums up the reforms and their focus on heroes and heroines as “big on facts, light on real reforms – but ideal for University Challenge”, while its editorial calls him a “bright boy” lacking in humility. Our leader declares the response to Mr Gove’s tacking as “juvenile”, while Blower’s cartoon casts Mr Gove as Marechal Foch, attacking boldly against all odds. Fraser Nelson takes the view that Mr Gove is doing better than yesterday suggests:

“In the office of the Education Secretary hangs a poster showing a bombsite, with a picture of a child sitting at a school desk in the middle of the rubble. ‘The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield,’ it reads, ‘it will be determined in a classroom.’ He suffered an embarrassing defeat yesterday, losing the battle of the EBacc. But he is, still, winning the war.”

CARNEY WINS HEARTS AND MINDS

Mark Carney’s first appearance in Parliament, giving evidence before the Commons Treasury Select Committee, was a barnstorming success. The FT (£) reports that the “rock star” of central banking won over his inquisitors by agreeing to answer reasonable requests for internal discussion documents, and by telling them he didn’t know whether RBS and Lloyds should be broken up. Quentin Letts was also impressed by Mr Carney’s “jockey’s build and dainty, feminine fingers”. In today’s Telegraph, Jeremy Warner also hails the new chief:

“He seems to be handling himself pretty well, and MPs on the Treasury Committee seem relatively impressed. He’s already confirming his reputation as a smoother, less chippy performer than Sir Mervyn, and it seems certain he’s going to be more consensual in his approach to policy than the incumbent.”

TORIES TAKE NARROW LEAD IN EASTLEIGH

The results of Lord Ashcroft‘s first Eastleigh poll show that the Conservatives are in pole position, albeit by virtue of doing marginally less badly than the Lib Dems. The Tories are ahead on 34pc (-6pc), the Lib Dems are on 31pc (-16pc), Labour in third on 19pc (+9pc), and Ukip at their heels on 13pc (+9pc). The polling breakdown indicates that clear conservative leads on the economy and Europe trump a Lib Dem lead on the environment. To push the advantage home, the Mail reports that Dave will be making a personal appearance to support Maria Hutchings, who was also the Conservative candidate in 2010. Labour, meanwhile, are still searching for the right person, as Guido reported yesterday. Someone? Anyone?

LABOUR WAS WARNED OVER MID STAFFORDSHIRE

President Obama’s health adviser warned Labour in 2008 that the NHS’s focus on targets meant poor quality care, we report. Although the party still retains a firm polling lead when the health service is brought up, news such as this, and the Mail‘s report that the legacy of the Labour era could be as many as 4,000 deaths a year in 26 NHS trusts, will prevent them playing their hand with much boldness in the years ahead.

HORSEING AROUND

Is this Owen Paterson’s John Gummer moment? Mary Creagh piled in to Defra on Today, criticising the Environment Secretary’s silence on horse meat. She has asked if she would eat a Findus horse meat lasagne, and said no. At some point someone is going to ask Mr Paterson the same question. Does he decline, or get himself pictured tucking in to one? He may think that wild horses wouldn’t drag him into this, but that can’t last.

BORIS ON THE BLOWER

Nick Clegg’s weekly penance on LBC was ambushed by the Mayor of London yesterday. Bo-Jo used a pre-recorded message to demand that ministers abandon their “posh limos” and take to the underground. Mr Clegg, thinking on his feet, told “Boris from Islington” to “get out of his limo”, the Mail reports. Inventive, very inventive.

CRUDDAS PRESSES THE POINT

Not content with telling the Daily Politics that his leader was a “work in progress” earlier this week, Jon Cruddas used a speech to the Resolution Foundation to demand Ed find another string to his bow other than simply opposing all the Coalition’s works. He warned that the party had become “remote and administrative” and must avoid proposing “yet more state”, we report. He added “simply opposing the cuts without an alternative is no good. It fails to offer reasonable hope. The stakes are high because when hope is not ­reasonable, despair becomes real.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of predistribution, is it?

STILL HIGH AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

The problem Parliament faces is that several MPs have never recovered from their youthful experiments with recreational drugs, according to Peter Lilley. We report that the former social security secretary used his interview with House magazine to argue that “God gave us a mind and a conscience and drugs effectively disable both your mind and your conscience. The only reason that I have a clear head on cannabis is that I’ve never taken any. Much of my friends, colleagues in this place did and don’t seem to have recovered.” Not you, Prime Minister, obviously.

TWEETS AND TWITS

What can Kerry McCarthy be implying?:

@KerryMP: “I met with two St Brendan’s Sixth Form students in parliament this week, who were still reeling from having just met the Mogg…I think I managed to reassure them he wasn’t your typical MP”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – Gove may have lost a skirmish, but he’s still winning the war

Jeremy Warner – Let’s make the most of clever Mr Carney

Jane Cummings – Nurses who don’t care about patients must go

Telegraph View – The Left has no right to lecture on education

Best of the rest

Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – The US won’t, Europe can’t – the future of intervention

Brian Wilson in The Guardian – Bread and Circuses

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – The NHS is run for the staff, not the patients

Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail – How to improve exams? Just ask the parents…

THE AGENDA

TODAY: European Council summit.

07:15 pm: Former Attorney General Baroness Scotland of Asthal to give Newman Lecture. University of Notre Dame London Centre, 1 Suffolk Street.

Ed Miliband needs to get some policies this year, says Tony Blair

The former Prime Minister said Mr Miliband does not have a problem with his “vision” but he does have a “big challenge” ahead when it comes to turning that into concrete policies.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Mr Miliband has an uphill struggle to win the next election against David Cameron.

“What Ed’s trying to do is tougher than what I had to do,” he said. “When I became Labour leader we’d lost four elections. This is trying to bounce back and win after a heavy defeat.”

Mr Blair said he understood the Labour Party’s vision but suggested more work needs to be done on coming up with concrete ideas.

More….

The Labour Party will do anything for the workers – except trust them

Perhaps the best part of David Cameron’s Europe speech was Tony Blair’s baffled reaction to it a few hours later. Why, Blair asked, would any prime minister be so vulgar as to propose a referendum and put the public into the equation? The way to work in Brussels is to have a quiet word with fellow members of the elite and cut a deal. By holding a popular vote, he continued, Cameron was in effect putting a gun to his own head and declaring: “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll blow my brains out.” To Blair, the British public are there to be invoked in speeches. To actually consult them is a form of suicide.

More….

David Cameron anticipates a ‘generational struggle’ against al-Qaeda. With what?

Today we’ve had confirmation of the 5300 redundancies being imposed on the military this summer, as the total is reduced steadily to 82,000 by 2020. At the same time David Cameron leads a meeting of the NSC to discuss the ‘generational struggle’ he envisages in the Maghreb. No wonder then that the military are anxious about how that’s going to work. The Sun has a taste of top brass concern today (and Pete Hoskin at ConHom has a handy compendium of similar headlines).

The Government is presiding over sweeping cuts to the military imposed by financial necessity, and the challenge of reconfiguring our Armed Forces to do more with lots less. Anyone who doubts how bad the mess is should look back at what Gen Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, had to say about our under-equipped and under-performing military last week. Or ask military folk about what shape we are in and they will produce a litany of complaints about major procurement projects that have committed us to big expenditure on things that have little to do with taking on terrorists in the “ungoverned places” of North Africa. The campaign against the inadequacies of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review continues.

More….

Tony Blair’s record in the Middle East is a sorry one – it’s time he quit

Since Tony Blair resigned as prime minister he has devoted a great deal of his time to making money. His accounts are obscure, but it has been estimated he earns some £20 million a year. It’s clear the former British prime minister is a very rich man.

To his credit, Mr Blair has also thrown himself heavily into charitable and pro bono work. The most notable of these duties concerns his role as envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia), charged with advancing reconciliation there. This position, which he started on the day he stepped down as prime minister, is of incalculable gravity. There are few conflicts across the world that possess a greater potential to create a new war.

More….

Tony Blair’s record in the Middle East is a sorry one – it’s time he quit

Since Tony Blair resigned as prime minister he has devoted a great deal of his time to making money. His accounts are obscure, but it has been estimated he earns some £20 million a year. It’s clear the former British prime minister is a very rich man.

To his credit, Mr Blair has also thrown himself heavily into charitable and pro bono work. The most notable of these duties concerns his role as envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia), charged with advancing reconciliation there. This position, which he started on the day he stepped down as prime minister, is of incalculable gravity. There are few conflicts across the world that possess a greater potential to create a new war.

It is more than five years since Mr Blair accepted his post, a long enough period to form a definitive judgment about how he has performed. Over the past couple of years I have spoken to scores of witnesses about his work, and the performance of the Quartet which he represents.

More…

Ed Miliband is refusing to answer the biggest question of all

One of the key insights behind New Labour – the single shift that did most to win back the public’s trust and pave the way for the landslide election victory in 1997 – was a very simple realisation: taxes are bad.

In his insider account of the period, The Unfinished Revolution (which I’ve been reading recently), party strategist Philip Gould laid out the position in the clearest possible terms:

More….

Mitchell dilemna for Cameron as plebgate returns

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Is Andrew Mitchell about to make a Christmas comeback? There’s certainly a stampede in that direction. His appearance in Michael Crick‘s report was powerful – he’s evidently still angry – and, with his references to the retoxifying the Conservative party, he was smart to make sure it was not just about him. David Cameron, the suggestion seems to be, should seize this chance to reverse the damage done to the party by the affair. Michael Howard certainly thinks so, he told the Today programme that he was “appalled” by Mr Mitchell’s treatment and that he hopes Thrasher is ushered back into the inner sanctum “at the earliest possible opportunity”. That means pressure for Dave, not least because of Lord Howard’s role as a mentor figure. David Davis also appeared on the programme criticising the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation and calling for Mr Mitchell’s return to “high office”.

Whether clearing Mr Mitchell and bringing him in from the cold is the best way to do that is far from clear. The Guardian points out that some in No10 are unhappy that he has brought it all up again. Then there is the underlying problem of the facts: no one, either in the Met or No10, has challenged the version of events recorded in the police log book. However disgraceful the circumstances are by which it emerged, the case against Mr Mitchell appears to be intact. Will it survive the day though? If a policeman can expend such effort to stitch up Mr Mitchell, why should the rest of the police case against him be accepted without reservation? And then there’s the cui bono question: why did this policeman target Mr Mitchell? Who – if anyone – directed him, and for what reason? The possibility of a conspiracy to fabricate evidence against a serving Cabinet minister raised by the Met this morning is deadly serious. Expect it to shift the force of the story from the very village issue of Mr Mitchell’s future to the far more substantial question of the integrity of the Met and its relations with government.

Which brings me back to the comeback question: Mr Mitchell, a keen student of the brutal game of politics, was forced out not because of the facts of the case but because he had too many enemies in his own side who believed he was not a credible Chief Whip and who wanted to see him fall. It may be that these revelations will change that perception, and his detractors will now rally to his side against the loathed police (expect redoubled efforts to ram all manner of reforms past the cops). I suspect that will have to wait until we have the outcome of various investigations. So not a Christmas comeback. But next summer? Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett will tell you politics is a funny old business.

Time for Dave to seek out wise council, you would think. Fortunately, the Guardian reports that he has built bridges with one old friend. The paper notes that he was in “intense” conversation with Rebekah Brooks at a party on Saturday night in, where else, Chipping Norton.

CHRISTMAS HOUSEKEEPING

Tomorrow’s email will be the last before the festive lie-down. It will return, if we are spared, on January 7 (or thereabouts).

RETURN OF THE MAC

Ed Miliband’s forray into the world of populism on immigration won him a rebuke from Tony Blair yesterday, as the Great Helmsman made a rare address to the parliamentary Press Gallery. The Telegraph reports that Mr Blair defended mass immigration and rejected “immensely damaging” talk of a Brexit. More absorbing for the huddled masses was the former Prime Minister’s delivery. The Mail‘s Quentin Letts found that Tony had ditched Estuary English for something entirely different:

“Now he has gone all American. Guys, it’s where the money is. ‘I’m a liddl oudda practice engaging with the Bridish media,’ said the man who was once entrusted with defending our national interest in Washington’s counsels of war. He kept ending sentences with that Californian surfer-girl uplift. He used ‘impact’ and ‘reference’ as transitive verbs. The one subject he would not touch in any way was US gun law after the Connecticut killings. Didn’t want to risk damaging his brand stateside, I suppose.”

RIGHTS DEADLOCK

The commission convened to produce a British Bill of Rights, and asked to simplify existing legislation, proposed an even more complex system yesterday, adding additional rights to the statute book without subtractions elsewhere. The Telegraph reports that the majority of the panel backed the idea of a British Bill of Rights, largely to stop people feeling that human rights are a European imposition. The minority found the plan dangerous, with unintended consequences”. So far, so Coalition. The result is a muddle. A body which was intended to pave the way for a retreat from the ECHR with its findings has now suggested a system even more open to judicial interpretation. Chris Grayling’s reaction suggested that he would seek to use it to disengage from the ECHR in any case as part of a manifesto commitment in 2015.

In the Guardian, John Kampfner argues that the report will produce legal “mayhem”. In the Telegraph, Mary Riddell is fearful of law-makers, not law-breakers when it comes to human rights:

“Beware politicians’ arguments that the most reprehensible and marginalised are deserving of the least protection. While majorities can make their case at the ballot box, the minorities protected by the HRA – from asylum seekers to prisoners to elderly people in care homes – are vulnerable and voiceless.”

TRIDENT DECISION A FAIT ACCOMPLI

So much work has already taken place on a Trident replacement that the decision to proceed has in effect been taken already, according to Philip Hammond. The FT (£) reports that Mr Hammond will tell Parliament today that the work on Trident II is “irreversible” thanks to the MOD’s investment in the design of a new fleet of submarines to carry the deterrent. Over 1,000 people are employed on the project by BAE in Barrow, while £700m of contracts have already been agreed on the design of the Successor submarine. So much for the Lib Dems’ alternative deterrent.

CIGARETTES AND ALCOHOL? NOT IF YOU’RE UNEMPLOYED

Benefits claimants should be barred from spending payments on cigarettes, alcohol, gambling and satellite TV, Alec Shelbrooke, PPS at the Northern Ireland Office, has suggested. Under the Shelbrooke plan, claimants would receive payment on a cash card which could only be used for essential purchases. Although the PPS’s backbench intervention has little chance of becoming law, the Telegraph reports that ministers are examining similar ideas.

WHAT DO YOU GIVE THE WOMAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING? PLACEMATS AND A PIECE OF ANTARCTICA

The Queen’s visit to Westminster was a qualified success. Everyone apart from Ken Clarke, resplendant in his trademark hush puppies, shined their shoes, and the sovereign even drew bows from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable (although the Independent reports that George Osborne didn’t bow, as a result of which, the Queen pretended to have forgotten who he was). As a mark of the Cabinet’s gratitude for 60 years of service, they presented her with 60 placemats, as the Telegraph reports. Obviously, exposure to American style diplomacy has paid off. A trip to the Foreign Office garnered a large chunk of the British Antarctic Territory, and if that wasn’t enough, there is also this beautiful photo by which to remember the day.

STAY! GOOD BRITAIN…

Undeterred by the reappearance of the fiercely independent Mr Tony, American diplomats have been freely briefing their views on the course of British foreign policy. Today’s Telegraph reports that President Obama indicated in a conference call to Downing Street that the loss of Britain as America’s EU insider would weaken the special essential relationship, while his men on the ground in Britain have been far more forthright. So they aren’t keen to have us in NAFTA then?

TWEETS AND TWITS

Greg Hands picks up a little light reading for the Christmas recess:

@GregHands: “Mutual embarrassment as I bump into a Labour MP at the till of the parliamentary bookshop. He has ‘How to be an MP’. I have ‘Political Wit’. ”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

 

Mary Riddell – Alas, there is no magic solution to our human rights quandary

Allister Heath – My optimism is on the rise as five imporant battles lie within grasp of victory

Jenny Hjul – Toxic ‘cyber nats’ give the Scots a bad name

Telegraph View – A sinister new twist in the Mitchell saga

Best of the rest

John Kampfner in the Guardian – We’re in a mess over human rights. Prepare for mayhem

Christina Patterson in The Independent – Bob Crow should be fighting for all workers, not just his union fat cats

Ruchir Sharma in the FT (£) – Why 2013 will be the year Europe bounces back

Bill Emmott in The Times (£) – Italy doesn’t need this clown – or Berlusconi

THE AGENDA

TODAY: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to announce the local Government finance settlement 2013/14. Welsh Assembly recalled. The Welsh Assembly is to be recalled during the recess to discuss urgent business on council tax benefits. It is only the second ever time the institution has been recalled during a recess period. National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff.

11:00 am: Defence minister Philip Dunne and MoD officials give evidence to Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on the independence referendum. Witnesses: Philip Dunne MP, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology; Vice Admiral Andrew Mathews,Defence Equipment and Support, Chief of Material Fleet; and Les Mosco, Defence Equipment and Support, Director Commercial. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

12:00 pm: Prime Ministers Questions. House of Commons.

12:30 pm: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to make the quarterly statement on Afghanistan. House of Commons.

02:30 pm: William Hague and Vince Cable give evidence to Commons committee on arms export controls. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

What a week that was for idiotic politics

For displays of quite extraordinary political stupidity, this past week is going to take some beating. First there was the ongoing gay marriage thing. It was apparently George Osborne, the tactical campaigning genius, who decided that the Government – but more to the point, the Conservative Party – should come down, at this precise moment, in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

More….

Dave faces a ‘trouncing’ over Europe

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Hurricane Sandy made landfall overnight, striking the East Coast of America just south of Atlantic City. For the latest news, read our live coverage which can be found here.

EU’RE NOTHING BUT TROUBLE

David Cameron is facing a “trouncing” come tomorrow’s EU budget vote according to the Times (£). The Prime Minister risks being outflanked by Labour who may join forces with the Conservative awkward squad to push through an amendment calling for a cut to the EU budget being pushed by Mark Reckless, Mark Pritchard, John Redwood, Bill Cash, Sarah Wollaston and Zac Goldsmith. Labour have not formally announced a decision to support the amendment, but it would sit consistently by yesterday’s Times op-ed by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander.

Fortunately, Britain’s last remaining europhile has ridden to the rescue. Tony Blair has warned that a two speed EU heralds “a path to break-up”. The solution? A directly elected EU president, according to Mr Blair. As the Independent notes, however, it is difficult to think of the populist statesman with sufficiently broad appeal who would fill the role, certainly now that Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to prison. Perhaps Mr Blair has someone in mind?

At any rate, the break-up of the EU can no longer be resurrected as the bogeyman of British politics. Although still distinctly the minority, increasing numbers at Westminster are coming around to the view of Daniel Hannan who writes in today’s Telegraph that:

“Parliamentarians in all three parties know what their constituents think of giving more money to Brussels. They know, too, that there is no dishonour in representing the views of the people who elected them.”

AN ATOMIC ROW

Philip Hammond “jumped the gun” in indicating Coalition support for the continuation of Trident, according to Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister is reported by this morning’s Guardian to be “angered” by Mr Hammond’s apparent disregard for the Coalition agreement which postpones any decision on the sea-based nuclear deterrent until 2016. Mr Clegg pulled rank on the issue yesterday saying “the coalition agreement is crystal clear: it stands, it will not be changed, it will not be undermined.”

Well that told everyone. The fact that Mr Hammond’s new £350m investment in Faslane naval base is also a useful gambit for the Unionist team in the Scottish independence debate did not go unnoticed either. The FT (£) reports that Nicola Sturgeon described the sum as “squandered”. However, it is not just the Coalition with a Trident problem. As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian, Labour must leap onto the fence:

“Is Labour really going to sign up to [this]? Few who know his mind think Ed Miliband will, though he may have to reshuffle his cabinet to abandon Trident… If some cheaper unreality emerges – a bomb in a cupboard – Labour and Lib Dems should both seize it.”


TARZAN TAKE II

As details emerge of Lord Heseltine’s report tomorrow on regional economic growth, it becomes increasingly clear that one of the original Big Beasts can still cause quivers of alarm to run down the Whitehall jungle telegraph. The FT (£) reports that Hezza will recommend a significant strengthening of England’s 39 local enterprise partnerships and call for greater involvement from businesses in deciding how money is spent. In the Telegraph, Jeremy Warner is sceptical:

“The truth is that most of what has come to be termed ‘industrial policy’ is a form of protectionism. Yet the real cause of Britain’s competitive disadvantage is not that it is a free trade nation, but that it has been too reliant on internal, domestic sources of consumption to fuel demand.”

UNIVERSALLY CHALLENGED

A report published this morning by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit may actually make the benefits system more complex. The reforms incentivise part-time work, but not full-time roles, fail to simplify emergency loans and risk IT failures, the authors suggest.

DON’T HIRE LYNTON CROSBY!

So says Lord Ashcroft, writing on ConservativeHome. The peer believes that with the economy on the up and Dave’s conference strategy beginning to pay dividends, the existing Tory team is looking more formidable than it has for a while. Don’t change a winning formula, he urges:

“I do not think [Mr Crosby] is needed and would become a distracting influence. Cameron and Osborne and their team have started to develop the strategy; Grant Shapps and the incomparable Stephen Gilbert will see that it is put into effect on the ground.”

CHILD BENEFIT CUTS “MAY BE ILLEGAL”

The Coalition’s child benefit cuts for higher income families may break European law, the Telegraph reports. Ministers have been warned by the Institute of Chartered Accountants that the changes could fall foul of EU discrimination law. The EU, saviour of middle England? Who would have thought?

OFFICIALS KNEW OF FRANCHISE FLAWS

The interim statement by Sam Laidlaw found that officials were well aware of flaws in the West Coast Main Line bidding procedure prior to the tendering process, the Telegraph reports. If the flaws had been identified, it raises the question of whether they were deliberately concealed from ministers, or whether the right questions simply were not asked. Awkward questions which may have some awkward answers by the time the full report is published.

A GOOD POLICY WASTED

Janan Ganesh, writing in today’s FT (£) is scathing on the subject of police commissioners, which he sees as a fine idea, poorly executed. The chance for a “defining policy” not characterised by fiscal austerity has been wasted, he argues, adding:

“The idea is authentic Cameron. Long before austerity, in his early years as Tory leader, he espoused a different vision of government: not so much smaller as looser and less centralised. He insisted on the distinction between society and the state, and defined himself not against debt but dirigisme.”

Still, he is not quite as scathing as Dominic Lawson is when recounting the career of one aspiring police and crime commissioner. In the Independent, he reviews the career of John Prescott, warning readers, “don’t be surprised if this terrible man triumphs again”. A must-read.

CHALLENGING THE “UNTOUCHABLES”

Austerity, the final fronteir. With parents losing child beneft and the young struggling, Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) suggests it is time for the elderly to take their share of the Coalition’s medicine:

“Tackling the final taboo in politics is long overdue… the number of wealthy pensioners is rising rapidly, with almost 2 million people over 60 in households with assets above £1 million and 988,000 millionaires over 65. Its analysis concludes that the Government is spending about £500 million a year on winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for millionaires. That can’t be right.”

WOMEN: KNOW YOUR PLACE

That’s the advice from Austin Mitchell who took to Twitter yesterday to pronounce his verdict on Louise Mesch’s public spat with her husband over her reasons for abandoning her Corby seat half-way through Parliament. The Telegraph reports that Mr Mitchell wrote:

“Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.”

Mr Mitchell later clarified that he was being “ironic”. Harriet Harman has yet to comment.

OCCUPY WERE RIGHT

A senior Bank of England official has claimed that Occupy were morally and intellectually right in targeting the City, according to the Telegraph. Andrew Haldane suggested that the “hard-headed facts…are problems of debt and rising inequality”.

BIG BEN GOES PINEWOOD

At times of austerity, the Coalition is keen to have every arm of government paying its way. Yesterday saw the announcement by Francis Maude that the Cabinet Office is on track to deliver £8bn of savings this year, part of a £20bn austerity drive in the department prior to 2015. However, as the Daily Mail reports, the money saving drive may soon hit Big Ben, which could be let out for use as a film set. The move could apparently garner an additional £3m a year.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Emily Thornberry celebrates 50 years of Bond:

@EmilyThornberry: “Watch last bit of You Only Live Twice. So many unanswered Qs. At what stage in the big volcano fight does Bondgirl change into her bikini?”

POLL WATCH

ComRes / Independent: Con 33%, Lab 44%, Lib Dem 12%, Other 11%

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Daniel Hannan – A day of judgement looms as the House loses its taste for Brussels

Philip Johnston – The tax wheezes that drive motorists mad

Rupert Short – Persecuted throughout the world

Peter Foster – Playing politics with a hurricane? Surely not

Best of the Rest

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Another good idea botched by sloppy government

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Think the unthinkable about the untouchables

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – A lethal arrogance

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – On Trident, Miliband needs to be brave and jump ship

THE AGENDA

09:30 am: Ofgem and Energy Minister Greg Barker give evidence to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee on Ofgem’s energy tariff proposals. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

10:00 am: Boris Johnson to launch the largest ever London Poppy Day appeal. HMS Severn – docked at South Quay, Canary Wharf, London.

02:00 pm: Danny Alexander speech to conference on growth. Conference, hosted by Local Government Association, British Property Federation and Local Partnerships, Pinsent Masons, 30 Crown Place, Earl Street.

02:45 pm: Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on localised grooming and e-crime. Witnesses include ACPO and SOCA. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

03:30 pm: Senior military commanders give evidence to the Commons Defence Committee on Afghanistan. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.