The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Voters in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are braving the might of Storm Doris to come out and vote today in two crunch by-elections. As polling day enters its final few hours, I’ve been looking online at how the parties will treat the possible results.

Labour is fighting to cling on two seats in what have been traditional heartlands. It shouldn’t be remarkable if that happens, but the party has lowered expectations about how it may do in the hope of making it seem so. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics will be keeping an eye out on how Labour’s majority holds up in such a scenario to see what damage his leadership may have had.

Losing both would inevitably precipitate a leadership challenge. The Tories may hope Labour clings onto Stoke then, so that Mr Corbyn can be embarrassed, but remain in place as leader. They have their hearts set on taking Copeland off Labour by trying to highlight Mr Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance to voters there. It will be quite a coup if they manage it, as it will be a be the first time the Government had won a seat off the official opposition since the Tories took Mitcham and Morden in 1982.

Ukip’s fortunes rest on what happens in Stoke. If Paul Nuttall wins, the party will enjoy a new moment of glory as it celebrates its new MP and its first seizure of a Labour seat. If he doesn’t, his allies will be tempted to blame it on Labour’s “smear campaign” over Hillsborough. That  won’t persuade everyone, as Nigel Farage told Ukip’s spring conference that winning Stoke was “fundamental” to the party’s future. If Mr Nuttall can’t deliver, some Faragistas will be sharpening their knives.

The results will be not be known until much later, likely between 3 and 4am. We’ll have them, as well as all the analysis, on our website tomorrow. Every party will hope to have something to boast about. If not, their leaders can expect to have pretty gloomy weekends.

Source: for MORE

The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Paul Nuttall is off to Bolton tomorrow to rally the Ukip troops at their spring conference, after a rough few days on the campaign trail in the “ Brexit capital” of Stoke-on-Trent. He has been forced on the back foot over the last few days by reports raising doubts over whether he was at the Hillsborough disaster and how close his friends he lost at the tragedy were to him. Labour thinks it has has scented blood, insisting that he has “questions to answer”.

This furore could not have come at a worse time for Mr Nuttall, as he hopes to convince Stoke to make him their first Ukip MP, after a lifetime of Labour representation, next Thursday. The by-election seemed at first to be his to lose. Most constituents – around 70 per cent – voted for Brexit, something his Labour rival Gareth Snell vehemently opposes. The majority of them are working-class, a demographic that now – polls say – is more partial to Ukip than Labour. So is his campaign doomed? Those hoping so, as I wrote online, are assuming that Stoke residents are just as fascinated by the press releases he has put out over the last few years as the Twitterverse. Many will have little interest in the #AskPaulNuttall jokes, and recent history suggests they will be just as engaged in the by-election itself.

Voters in Stoke are less likely to turn out to the polls than the average Briton, and so many will have tuned out and view such reports as just noise. “It’s not going to make a blind bit of difference on the doorstep,” one Ukip official told me. But the flip-side is that voters won’t be so outraged by Labour candidate’s controversial tweets, which has put some Ukippers on edge. “Gareth Snell is such an awful candidate,” one source lamented to me. “But I wonder if Stoke realises how awful he is?”

The final week of the by-election will see both sides hammer home their key messages. They’ll try to keep the rows about controversial tweets and press releases going, but know there will be some residents who will be hard to interest. They’re the group that won’t answer the door to canvassers, so campaigners will struggle to determine how they will vote. They won’t be so interested by the campaign coverage, but will have their own concerns. These people, Stoke’s silent voters, have Mr Nuttall’s fate in their hands.

 

Source: for MORE

Greece has been sacrificed on the altar of the failed euro experiment

In June 2011, I stood in front of the assembled ranks of Eurocrats – Barrosso et al – with a copy of the IMF charter in my hand and read it out. The IMF expressly rejects the idea of supporting currencies; it is there instead to support countries.

Now, exactly two years later, we find that the IMF – with the support of the political establishment of the European Union, including our own George Osborne and David Cameron – was preparing to gamble billions of pounds on a lie.

This gamble has resulted in liabilities being run up that will take generations to pay back. It has resulted in the destruction of millions of lives and the colonial depredation of a once-proud nation.

More….

Nigel Lawson calls time on the three-pint Eurosceptic heroes

It’s a lot less lonely now. When a group of unknown political players set up Ukip in 1993, the idea that the UK might someday re-establish its independence and leave the European Union was at best a minority pursuit. Now, no less a man than Lord Lawson advocates the idea, and validates Ukip’s arguments. Clearly nobody now doubts that it is a valid position. The reaction to Lord Lawson’s view has been to ask what damage it will do internally, to David Cameron’s embattled Conservative Party, and there has been speculation about the timing of the statement.

More….

UKIP surge in the local elections

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Was it a breakthrough night for Ukip? It seems like it this morning, but caveats first: we have just seven council results and a by-election on which to base our conclusions. Let’s not stampede just yet. The Tories are not quite saying that things have turned out not as bad as feared, though you sense they hope so. But the numbers don’t give them much comfort: they may not lose many councils, but Ukip is riping huge chunks out of Tory heartlands. John Curtice is making the point that we are seeing a historic result with huge consequences for the three main parties.

Already voices are being raised from Tory backbenches demanding concessions from Dave. John Baron was on Today pressing the case for his referendum legislation. Expect others to follow. Mr Cameron’s tentative offer of a Bill this week was a pre-emptive strike. It seems that the trouble for Dave will be about policy rather than his leadership. His frenemies on the backbenches reckon they have him on the ropes: he has accepted changes to the policy-making machine that give backbenchers the whip hand, so they will use Ukip’s share to beat him into more submissions. The argument today will be in part around the protest vote question: have voters lent their support to Ukip merely to make a (temporary) point, or is this the beginning of a long-term shift? Mr Cameron will argue that on immigration, Europe, welfare he is already well ahead of Ukip and doing what angry voters want. But will he be able to hold his nerve when the scale of Ukip’s advance becomes clear? He’ll be helped by Labour’s difficulties. Ukip may take its votes from the Tories, but we may also conclude today that Ed Miliband’s offer is going nowhere, in particular in the areas where it needs to recover if it is to return to power. The result may panic Dave and the Tories, but by tea-time today will it be Labour that has the most to fear? Keep up to date with our live coverage and interactive results map. The key details so far:

Local Council Elections

  • Seven declarations. Seat movements: Con -66, Lab +30, Lib Dem -15, Ukip +42
  • Tories lose Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire to no overall control.
  • Tories hold Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Somerset and Hertfordshire
  • BBC reports that Ukip is averaging 26pc of the vote in the wards where it is standing. Polling on average 12p% higher in wards where it stood in 2009.
  • Ukip win 16 seats in Lincolnshire making it the official opposition.

South Shields By-election

  • Labour hold. Lab 50.5% (-1.5$), Ukip 24.2% (+24.2%), Con 11.6% (-10.0%)
  • Lib Dems seventh with 352 votes or 1.4%, down 12.8% and behind two independents and a BNP candidate.
  • Labour majority falls from 11,109 to 6,505 (-42%)

Grant Shapps has been across the airwaves this morning insisting that while the Tories had been hurt by defection, 2015 would be a two horse race. “Ukip have done well, I don’t make any secret about that at all. We need to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of the public,” he said. He later conceded to the Today programme that the Tories needed to take responsibility for failing to get their message across, adding that “[the vote] is a loud and clear message. We get it. We’ve heard you…we need to get on with it.” A senior Lib Dem told the Press Association that the Tories were the big losers on the night: “these results are set to prove that the Tories can’t win a majority in 2015, partly because the Lib Dems remain strong in [73] held seats, and partly because Ukip has peeled off a significant section of Tory support.” Hilary Benn, on the other hand, was more dismissive. He told Daybreak that “”It’s a party of protest, I don’t think it’s a party of government.”

Nigel Farage? Well, he was a little more upbeat, telling the programme that it was a breakthrough moment: “We have always done well in European elections… but people haven’t seen us as being relevant to local elections or in some ways general elections. So for us to be scoring, on average, 26% of the vote where we stand is I think very significant indeed.” Appearing on the Today programme, he added that Ukip could emulate Canada’s Reform Party and go from being a fringe party to parliamentary majority in one cycle. He also noted that: “We’ve been gaining momentum for over two years…the people who vote for us are rejecting the establishment. And quite right too. I understand that completely. But are they voting Ukip just to stick two fingers up or because we’re offering positive policy alternatives?”

Uncomfortable questions loom for every party leader. For Dave, the focus will be on immigration and the economy, the Mail reports. Restrictions on immigrants accessing benefits, the NHS and other public services will be at the core of the new offer, with nannying reforms like the “snooper’s charter” and plain pack cigarette advertising dropped. The FT (£) has further colour, adding that the Queen’s Speech will also see minimum alcohol pricing and a measure to enshrine the 0.7pc aid target in law shelved. In come the HS2 paving Bill, an immigration Bill making deportations easier, the abolition of the second state pension, and a £75,000 cap on residential care costs for the elderly. Dave’s husky hugging days seem well behind him. As for Ed, the Independent warns that his colleagues are unhappy that he has fallen into the trap of making Labour “the welfare party” and are demanding a Labour deficit elimination plan which would see debt reducing from 2017/18.

What both men need to discover quickly is what makes Ukippers tick. The Times (£) has published a YouGov poll which notes that the party’s voters are largely ex-Tories and prefer Dave to Ed. That’s the good news for CCHQ, the bad news is the number who have defected. Of Tory voters at the last election, they have lost only 6pc to Labour, 2pc to the Lib Dems, but 18pc, nearly one in five, to Ukip. Labour have lost 4pc of their voters to the purple team, with the Lib Dems losing 8pc. As Iain Martin writes, it may take more than tinkering around the margins to rebuild the Tory coalition:

“Ironically, when David Cameron eventually stands down in 2015 or 2017, the question confronting his party will be very similar to the one he posed in 2005. How can the Tory family be extended and broadened so that it can win properly? I suspect that the answer may lie outside the sphere of conventional Westminster politics. When the time comes, it will take a leader with the ability to make voters – sick of austerity and relative decline – forget their differences. Someone with Thatcher-like charisma, Reaganite optimism, star power, chutzpah, pragmatism, vision, luck, experience of holding office in a leading world city, and perhaps a mop of blond hair. Is there such a person available?”

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN PRIME MINISTERS

Making a pledge on Europe is the easy part (cf. EU constitution referendum). As Dave well knows, action is the hard part. But action there must be, as Boris warned while speaking at a, er, chocoate factory yesterday. Suggesting that the Prime Minister “ram [the Europe] message home” with legislation for a referendum tabled in this parliament, Boris also delicately skirted around Dave’s track record adding “I think it’s very important that there should be clarity in people’s minds, that we don’t have a repeat of the situation we had with the Lisbon Treaty where we thought we were going to get a referendum and then it was somehow whisked off the table.” Quite. As our leader instructs, “don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron.”

Fortunately for Dave, he may soon have the benefit of Boris’ advice at first hand. Zac Goldsmith conceded in an interview with the Evening Standard yesterday that he had discussed the option with the Mayor, but insisted it only arose after he had seen it in a political blog. Bo-Jo has “magic dust” and “integrity” according to Mr Goldsmith who “can imagine him as a future and very successful leader of the Conservative Party”. Dave, on the other hand, has problems. Mr Goldsmith attacked his leadership, particularly his indecisiveness over Heathrow, saying “even critics respect leadership and decisiveness and I do think we are lacking in that up to a point.”

THE STRAINED ALLIANCE

No wonder Philip Hammond has been eyeing the ringfenced budgets hungrily. As we report, Whitehall sources fear that the coming spending review may force British defence expenditure below the 2pc of GDP threshold required as a NATO member, straining further the British relationship with the US. Mr Hammond, who met US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday, is also said to have been warned that the US believes the UK will be able to take on less of a leadership role in Europe if further cuts are imposed, and will be more dependent of cooperation with France and other continental powers. Quelle Horreur!

NO CLIMATE CHANGE – IT’S STILL FROSTY

Ed Davey has written to Michael Gove to request that he reinstates climate change as part of the Geography curriculum. The Guardian reports that Mr Davey has requested a meeting between officials from the DoE and DoECC to discuss the issue. Mr Gove’s response was thanks, but no thanks. His officials wrote back to the Energy Secretary to say that “it is not true that climate change has been removed from the new draft national curriculum,” adding that its coverage in science teaching was more extensive than ever.

OAP ASSAULT

Older MPs are treated as “dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots” by party leaders fumes Austin Mitchell in a piece for this month’s Oldie. As we report, Mr Mitchell, a sprightly 78, really gives it both barrels:

“Arrivistes, garagistes and City whiz-kids replaced the older Tory elite, while Labour fielded fewer trade unionists and real workers. All are noisier and pushier than their predecessors, resulting in more frantic activity and more pre-cooked questions and debating points. Pressure to speak leaves no time for eloquence or opportunities to deploy specialist knowledge.

“We [older politicians] are not clamouring for promotion or publicity, so we can concentrate on being good parliamentarians. Yet we are discounted as irrelevant failures. The few of us misguided enough to act young by going on Twitter are abused as dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots. Constituency parties might be supportive but the national party will certainly be merciless in its desire to pick the youthful and the brainless.”

BAD DAVE!

Dave was “seriously naughty” not to declare his wife’s stake in a company which plans to build hundreds of houses on greenfield land, according to Paul Flynn, a member of the Public Administration Select Committee. As we report, following discussions with Sir Jeremy Heywood, Dave decided not to declare his wife’s holdings as a relevant interest, although he did find room to mention his role as patron for three charities (no beekeeping duties noted, sadly) and as ambassador for the British Fashion Council. Mr Flynn places the blame at Sir Jeremy’s door: “the problem is that when they chose the most recent independent advisers for ministers, they chose a poodle, not a Rottweiler.”

TWEETS AND TWITS

Even Jim Murphy concedes the brilliance of the Lib Dem campaign in South Shields:

@jimmurphymp: Respite for Clegg as Lib Dems humiliate the Monster Raving Loony Party into a sorry 8th place by trouncing them by 154 votes. #southshields

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Iain Martin – Wanted: a leader who can unite the warring Tory tribes

Jeremy Warner – Will Carney be a man of independent mind?

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet – Mr Normal has become a pitiful president

Telegraph View – Don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Panic is pointless. Ukip’s not a serious party

Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express – Mass immigration has changed our country for ever

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it?

John Kampfner in the Daily Mail – The public has a right to know who’s charged with a crime. This police secrecy insults democracy

THE AGENDA

Today: Counting of votes in some council elections. Daytime counts include Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Bristol. Doncaster mayoral election is also a daytime count.

Launch of adoption passport. Education Minister Edward Timpson is launching the adoption passport and responding to the adoption and fostering consultation.

09:30 am: Insolvency figures for the first quarter of 2013 are released.

Tories strike at UKIP ‘clowns’.

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. The Tory counter-insurgency against Ukip reaches full throttle in this morning’s papers. Firstly, there’s the intervention of Ken Clarke, who appeared yesterday cheerfully franking his leader’s “fruitcakes, nutters and closet racists” comments before adding that they were “indigant, angry people” led by “a collection of clowns”. The intervention (like the accompanying outfit)wasn’t entirely successful – the Sun tells him to “wind your (polo) neck in” – but it caps a weekend in which the Tory team have demonstrated a willingness to play rough. Elsewhere this morning there’s a Times (£) story about a £120bn black hole in Ukip’s spending projections, and an Independent one about internal infighting by email. Nigel Farage was the only leader talking up his side prior to the local elections. Now opponents, particularly those in the blue corner, will hope that thought that Ukip is not an entirely serious party will return to voters on the eve of the ballot.

CCHQ has been driven to distraction by what it complains is media indulgence of Ukip. Tory high command hates the way Nigel Farage is given an easy ride in the papers. At least that’s how they see it. They have been urging us to scrutinise Ukip more closely. And it is not unusual to hear Tories deploy the obvious argument: if you vote Ukip, you get Labour. A vote for Nigel Farage, Team Dave reminds anyone who will listen, takes a vote away from the Tories – and increases the likelihood of Ed Miliband entering Downing Street. In other words, stop messing around, it isn’t a game. The onslaught against Ukip, that began with a coordinated round of stories in the Saturdays detailing the unpleasant views of some of its candidates and continued yesterday with Cabinet criticisms, should be seen in that context. CCHQ reckons it’s time to play hardball. With just days to go to polling, the tactic has some merit and might turn some voters away. But it doesn’t address the deeper problem, namely what is it about mainstream politics that is driving voters towards Mr Farage? Boris thinks he has the answer. Mr Farage, he explains in his column for us, is not Mr Miliband:

“Rather than bashing Ukip, I reckon Tories should be comforted by their rise – because the real story is surely that these voters are not turning to the one party that is meant to be providing the official opposition. The rise of Ukip confirms a) that a Tory approach is broadly popular and b) that in the middle of a parliament, after long years of recession, and with growth more or less flat, the Labour Party is going precisely nowhere.”

That’s as maybe, and as Trevor Kavanagh points out, the emergence of “the Kippers” as a political force may in fact threaten the Lib Dems in their role as “an irresponsible party of protest with nothing to say”. But serious or not, they are an obstacle that Number 10 is yet to find a clear path around. With his 35pc strategy, Ed Miliband doesn’t need the votes of the protest party on his flank. Under 40/40, Dave most certainly does. Ukip can expect a lot more attention from the Downing Street heavy artillery in the coming years.

UNIVERSALLY CHALLENGED

In a solitary job centre in Ashton-under-Lyme today, the IDS welfare revolution finally begins to take public form. Universal Credit makes its public debut at a time of particularly rancorous debate on benefits within the Coalition. The Guardian reports that George Osborne is expected to include caps on the total housing benefit bill and on tax credits in the 2015-16 spending round for which ministers submit bids on Tuesday. In the meantime, there’s an almighty shambles developing over pensioner benefits. IDS has appealed to wealthier pensioners to hand back bus passes, winter fuel payments and TV licences, as the Mail reports, and has set up a hotline to expedite the process. As he told us on Sunday, though, it’s an aspiration not a policy, one which Nick Clegg says “makes no sense”. Simultaneously, Vince Cable has decided that now is the time to argue for compulsory means testing, a position IDS is bound by his party to oppose, despite its popularity with his own backbenchers. Clear as mud, no?

BY-PASSING THE RING OF STEEL

Cutting defence jobs is bad politics at the best of times, and at the worst of times it hardly endears Dave to his backbenchers. That’s a problem given that the hatchet men of the Treasury have been sharpening their axes ahead of the forthcoming spending review. Fortunately, there’s a cunning plan a foot, as we report. Payments made by the MoD to the departments of Health and Education would be cut, shifting the spending onto the books of the protected departments. The numbers involved are significant – around £500m could be saved to help the MoD deal with their contribution to the £11.5bn of cuts the Treasury wants, with at least £200m coming from health and £120m from education. It isn’t technically an end to the ring fence, but both departments will have to do more with less, and that means, to the delight of Tory MPs no doubt, that only one department’s spend would have been truly ring-fenced over the life of the Parliament…the much loved international aid budget.

LORDS A LEAP-OF-FAITH-ING

Two interventions from the upper chamber in today’s Telegraph, both significant. Firstly there’s Lord Wakeham’s letter on Leveson in which he argues that the newspaper industry’s proposals for a Royal Charter should be given “equal consideration” alongside the Government’s plans. The former Cabinet minister and PCC head makes the reasonable point that the press can hardly be in defiance of Parliament when “no votes have taken place on the Charter in the House of Lords. So it is quite impossible to work out what the will of Parliament on the proposed Charter is.”

Then, there’s Lord Carlile, who writes an op-ed for us in which he explains that his background as the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation has led him to disagree with his party leader Nick over the nexcessity for a “snooper’s charter”. He writes that the measure is essential for public safety: “the Government’s proposals to modernise the law relating to communications data – put simply, the details of who communicated with whom, when, and for how long – are a proportionate response to a fundamental problem that simply will not go away.”

INDUSTRIOUS DAVE TAKES TO TWITTER

Those under the impression that life in Number 10 is an extended jolly with lashings and lashings of Fruit Ninja could not be more wrong, Dave told the Sunday Times (£). In fact, “I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” he confided, equating himself to a “caged animal” who was “frequently in the car on the phone to the Israeli prime minister, telling the kids in the back to shut up”. Fortunately, the Prime Minister added that he was still able to devote some time to Spotify each week, his “guilty pleasure”. Luckily, as the Guardian reports, his team still have time for Twitter. The new social media strategy apparently includes handing out “Twitter exclusives” to journalists in a bid to secure goodwill, and more attentive management of the news-cycle. Craig Oliver is keen, and Dave’s inner sanctum wish to turn the Tory Tweeters into a “muscular force at the next election. Explaining the new found enthusiasm for the medium, a Number 10 source tells the paper that “Twitter used to be seen as tool for the egocentric and verbally incontinent,” but fortunately that was no longer the case. Sounds like a load of Ed Balls to me.

THE SYRIAN STRAIN

Anyone doubting the long-term damage done by the dodgy dossier and the 45 minute claim to the credibility of British intelligence should consider our story this morning that senior MPs are calling for hard evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria. Reports that the nerve agent sarin had been identified in tests was called “ambivalent” by Sir Menzies Campbell, and in need of “more corroboration” by Richard Ottaway. Meanwhile Dave has been told by Sir David Richards that even a limited ground intervention would lead to “all-out war”. Over to you, Dave.

SCHOOL REUNION CHAFES DR WOLLASTON

Jesse Norman made a spirited attempt in Saturday’s Times (£) to argue that the reason for the volume of Old Etonians in the corridors of power was the schools singular devotion to “public service”. As we report, Sarah Wollaston caught up with the article yesterday and wasn’t best pleased. “Words fail me…I’m not asked for policy advice, but just in case…there are other schools [and] some of them even admit women.” Meanwhile, Adam Afriye took to ConservativeHome to note the appointment of two other alumnus of Dave’s alma matter, Jesse N and Jo-Jo, “jobs for the boys”. Jobs for the Old Boys, I think you’ll find.

CHARITABLE CYCLE

Roll-up, roll-up for your chance to purchase a piece of modern British political history. The infamous pleb-gate bike is on sale on Ebay. As the Independent reports, proceeds from the auction will go to Nyumbani UK, a charity assisting HIV and AIDS victims in Kenya. As of 6am, eight bidders had pushed the price up to £1,020, and any guilt riddled politicos can clear their consciences here.

PM A HAS BEE-N

He’s not the life patron of the Oxford Beekeepers’ Association, he’s just a very forgetful Prime Minister. As we report, the association’s current president John Craven, has written to Numer 10 to remind Dave that he stepped down after five years in the role. There’s a sting in the tale, though (sorry) – “I would like it is he showed more interest,” Mr Craven harrumphed, ahead of today’s Bruissels vote on the use of neonicotinoids.

WESTMINSTER AT ONE

Finally, the World at One is having a party leader week. Martha Kearney will be interviewing Ed Mil today, Nick tomorrow, and Dave on Wednesday.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Entering into the spirit of the inaugural international Ed Balls Day, a certain Ed Balls MP:

@edballsmp: Ok, ok.. Because it would be rude not to..! RT @edballsmp: Ed Balls

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Keep calm, everyone – now is not the time to do a Nicholas Cage

Alex Carlile – It’s not a snoopers’ charter, it’s a life-saver

Roger Bootle – The popcorn effect strikes us all, even if you can’t see it

Telegraph View – The Blue Peter model of deficit reduction

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – Team Cameron must put a tiger in his tank

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – ‘The Kippers’ joke is now on the Tories

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express – Immigration: the British public is close to despair

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – What kind of society treats smacking as a war crime – while teaching children to watch porn?

THE AGENDA

Today: Universal Credit goes live at first pilot area. Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside will be the first JobCentre to take applications.

09:00 am: Business Secretary Vince Cable takes part in debate on manufacturing at launch of Making at Home, Owning Abroad report. RSA, 8 John Adam Street.

10:10 am: Ed Miliband walkabout and speech. The Labour leader will set out a programme of ideas to turn Britain’s economy around. Queens Gardens, Ironmarket, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

12:00 pm: Publication of a report into financial mismanagement at Croydon Primary Care Trust. This is a joint health overview and scrutiny committee (JHOSC) for six south-west London councils. London Councils, 59 Southwark Street.

12:00 pm: Publication of a report on Operation Pallial, the independent investigation into recent allegations of historic abuse in the care system in North Wales. North Wales Police HQ, Colwyn Bay.

01:00 pm: Post office strike. Workers in hundreds of Crown Post Offices will stage a third strike, for half a day from 1pm, in a row over jobs, pay and closures.

David Miliband’s departure – a ‘cosmic sulk’ or the end of New labour?

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. He couldn’t resist one parting shot. David Miliband’s resignation interview contained the nugget that he still considered his brother to be “a long climb” away from Number 10. Having clearly decided, in the light of generally positive media coverage, that he should resign more often, Mili D also refused to rule out a comeback insisting that he would not seek American citizenship. As Michael Deacon writes, North London took the news badly – “outside his Georgian terraced house in London’s Primrose Hill, a day-long vigil for the People’s Miliband was held by hundreds of distraught fans, each clutching a tear-stained banana” – but has British public life lost an intellectual colossus or a “greedy failure in a cosmic sulk”? Peter Oborne has no doubts:

“During his short, undistinguished career, Mr Miliband has done grave damage to British politics. He is part of the new governing elite which is sucking the heart out of our representative democracy while enriching itself in the process. He may be mourned in the BBC and in north London, but the rest of us are entitled to form a more realistic view. David Miliband has belittled our politics and he will not be missed.”

There is some speculation that Mr Miliband’s jump stateside could lead to a role in a Hilary Clinton run White House, given the regard with which he is held in her circle. “What price David Miliband in a senior role in the White House and Ed Miliband in No 10?” asks the Mail. “Stranger things have happened in politics. But none that come quickly to mind.” In Britain, however, life goes on. The Guardian reports that the Labour association in South Shields is keen on a local candidate next time, although a donkey in a red rosette ought to be able to defend his 11,109 (30.4pc) strong majority. With that in mind, the real question come polling day might be whether Ukip can continue to make headway in the north, as well as in lapsed Tory heartland seats.

And what for Labour? Reading the runes, a number of commentators including the Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh call the end of the New Labour project, arguing that under Ed, “it has been left to pro-Blair outriders such as [Telegraph] blogger Dan Hodges to argue for a coherent Labour policy on spending and borrowing”. But as Philip Collins in the Times (£) notes, this resignation was not a gesture of political despair so much as it was about fratricide and the frustration of watching Ed having a “good scandal” over phone hacking and cementing his leadership. It may be a personal tragedy, but Mili D’s departure is hardly an ideological earthquake for the Labour paty.

HOUSEKEEPING

The Morning Briefing is taking the weekend off. Back Tuesday. Happy Easter to all subscribers.
TREASURY CALLS FOR POST-2015 SPENDING BLITZ
If you’re starting to lose track of the belt-tightening due post-2015, I don’t blame you. A private letter to ministers from Danny Alexander last night suggests that for the Treasury to achieve its Budget savings target of £11.5bn in 2015/16, a chop of up to 10pc for every non-ringfenced department will be required, we report. While the exact distribution of the cuts will not be settled until June, they will fall on departmental resource budgets, not on the welfare system. The Independent reports that the 10pc reduction will apply to every non-protected department other than defence, which will only need to cut 5pc.
Sounds like a case for the National Union of Ministers? Steady. As the Guardian explains, the 10pc figure is there simply to give the Government “options”, and a cut of that size in every targeted budget would save £3bn more than is planned. What stays and what goes will not be known until the publication of the spending review for 2015/16, and as Vince Cable has made known, that is very much a temporary document holding place until the next government is decided. As the Chancellor kept insisting in the Budget, Britain may be open to business, but with an outlook this cloudy, who would want to invest?

BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE ME A DUCK HOUSE?

An MP’s lot has not been a happy one since the expenses scandal, certainly according to Karl McCartney. As we report, the MP for Lincoln told World at One that he had been forced to max out his credit cards, drain his loan facility at the bank and borrow money from his parents because of the intransigence of the Commons expenses body Ipsa. Mr McCartney claimed that he was owed £25,000 by August 2010 after being returned in May. He claims to have been told that this is because when the “senior management team at Ipsa…go to the pub on a Friday night and meet with their friends, their friends tell them that they should screw MPs into the ground.” All sounds very bitter to me.

OVER EXPENSIVE, OVER PROTECTED AND OVER HERE

Theresa May’s recent rise to prominence as an action woman received a setback yesterday. The decision of the High Court to back the November decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to prevent his deportation came despite the acknowledgement that the UK regarded him as “a danger to national security”. A rigid interpretation of human rights rulings in favour of Qatada is bound to re-0pen the Tory debate on scrapping the measures. But at the moment, it’s difficult to see how Mrs May can win given judicial intransigence. As the Mail puts it, “it is Qatada holding all the aces in a game Mrs May – and this country – really cannot afford to lose.”

RESIDENTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Worried about the forthcoming spare-room subsidy ending / bedroom tax beginning? Well Frank Field has a cunning plan: knock down the walls and brick up the windows, as the landlords did in the Nine Years’ War to avoid the Window Tax. His rallying cry in the Independent comes with stern criticism of the “grossly unfair” reduction in housing benefit for under-occupancy. A glance at history might tell the protesters anticipated at demonstrations tomorrow not to be too hopeful – the universally despised window tax lasted a mere 156 years before its repeal.

THE BIG THAW

No, not the weather, but council tax bills. As we report, households are having to pay the largest increase in council tax for three years after 39pc of local authorities rejected Eric Pickles’ offer to provide funding for a rate freeze. The average bill in England will increase by 0.8pc this year, and London council tax will fall by 0.2pc. Pity the residents of Breckland in Norfolk, though. Their council tax is up 7.6pc.

EU’RE GETTING GREEDY

How’s that European austerity thing going, then? According to the BBC, the Government is battling EU demands for a further £9.5bn in member state contributions to cover its expenses this year. The UK’s share would amount to slightly over £1bn. Mind you, Eurocrats argue that they are not being unreasonable – if Britain’s domestic overspend was only £9.5bn a year, we’d think we’d done very well.

BANKING ON IT TURNING OUT RIGHT

The Bank of England’s demand yesterday that British lenders stockpile an additional £25bn in reserves did not spook the market – the figure had been expected to be larger. It won’t help get lending going again, however, and as such it conflicts directly with the Chancellor’s courageous attempt to provide liquidity to sub-prime borrowers in his recent Budget. As the Mail reports, it has certainly made Vince Cable very grumpy. “The idea that banks should be forced to raise new capital during a period of recession is an erroneous one,” he said, adding that ‘the FPC exercise will prolong the time it takes for the British economy to recover by further depressing already weak lending [to small and medium-sized businesses]. “

SAM CAM IN SYRIA

The Prime Minister’s wife has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon on a trip with the charity Save the Children aiming to boost awareness of the plight of those in the camps. “It’s so shocking, it’s difficult to take it in. You just can’t imagine why that would happen,” she added. The tales she will have heard will stay with her for a very long time, as I wrote when I returned from a similar trip earlier this month.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Two different takes on recess. First from Kerry McCarthy:

@KerryMP: Just leaving Commons office after a triple-birthday lunch with current & former researchers then 6 hour blitz on emails. #recessnotholiday”

Then from Tom Harris:

@TomHarrisMP: “Ah, that sweet, lethal (and oddly sexy) combination of @carolynharris, Rioja and karaoke. Easter recess has begun!”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – David Miliband a colossus? He’s a greedy failure in a cosmic sulk

Sue Cameron – A high price for getting ministers out of a hole

Laura Perrins – Stay-at-home mothers deserve some respect

Telegraph view – Ministers shouldn’t play happy families

Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Don’t bury New Labour along with Miliband

Steve Richards in The Independent – David Miliband’s dignified exit does everyone a favour – including him

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – New Labour bunch have split for good

Chris Giles in the FT (£) – How to ‘plog’ the hole in our awful public finances

THE AGENDA

Today: Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Scotland Secretary Michael Moore to publish the oil and gas sector strategy.

09:00 am: Nick Clegg call-in on LBC 97.3.

12:00 pm: BBC strike. Journalists and technicians at the BBC stage a 12-hour strike in disputes over job cuts and workload.