George Osborne, left, and Danny Alexander
While Tories tear themselves apart over gay marriage, another row is creeping up on the government which could be much more long-term and damaging.
Without creating too much of a stir (yet), George Osborne and Danny Alexander are busy in the Treasury, planning their next round of spending cuts. They have told ministers that they intend to keep cutting at the same rate and in the same proportions as has been done so far, which means returning for further savings to departments that have already been hit heavily.
Theresa May, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond and Vince Cable all realised this would place them at the front of the axeman’s queue, and urged Osborne to rethink his strategy at a stormy cabinet meeting a few weeks’ ago. Read more
After pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice, Chris Huhne made this statement outside the court:
Having taken responsibility for something that happened 10 years ago, the only proper course of action is for me to resign my Eastleigh seat in parliament.
Contrast that with the letters he sent to David Cameron and Nick Clegg at the time. To Clegg, his party leader and rival, he wrote:
I am writing to resign, with great regret, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I will defend myself robustly in the courts against the charges that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to press. I have concluded that it would be distracting both to my trial defence and to my official duties if I were to continue in office as a minister….
This is what Clegg sent in return: Read more
Today’s exchanges at PMQs sounded fairly hackneyed and well-worn. Ed Miliband chose to ask about the economy, and the usual argument took place – the Labour leader accused the coalition of stifling growth, the prime minister said it was all Labour’s fault for borrowing too much.
But Miliband did give one revealing answer during the debate. The Labour leader pointed out:
[Cameron] is borrowing £212bn more than he promised.
We reported this morning that Tory MPs are trying to make sure that the MoD doesn’t suffer further cuts at this year’s spending review. Mark Pritchard, a Tory backbencher, summed up the feeling of many of his colleagues when he told us:
Colleagues have, to date, reluctantly backed reductions in the MoD budget. However, any additional cuts to the defence, beyond those already agreed, will create a substantial political backlash. In short, the MoD budget has been cut enough, and the Treasury needs to look elsewhere for savings.
Pritchard and his colleagues should be on safe ground: the prime minister himself said that the defence settlement signed in 2010 would require “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”. Read more
Nick Clegg. Getty Images
The Tories are having great fun mocking Nick Clegg’s opposition to an EU referendum, pointing out that the Lib Dems went into the last election promising a referendum of their own. The Lib Dems in turn, point out that the wording of their manifesto actually mirrors what the coalition has put into law, namely that there should be:
an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU
But the Lib Dems made a huge issue of it, even walking out of the Commons in 2008 when speaker Michael Martin refused to let the party bring an amendment calling for a referendum. As the guardian’s Nick Watt points out, Nick Clegg said at the time: Read more
Two big questions remained after David Cameron’s landmark speech on Britain’s role in Europe this morning: would it do enough to please his eurosceptic backbenchers, and how would Ed Miliband respond?
We got the answer to both at PMQs. We know now that for the moment, Cameron has got his party off his back, and that Labour are not about to promise a referendum of their own.
The atmosphere in the Commons was electric as the leaders took their places. The Tory benches were packed with grinning faces – this looked like being a good day for Cameron, and so it proved. He even got a cheer for starting his first answer by saying: Read more
Frans Timmermans, Dutch foreign minister
I’m not sure if anyone in Downing Street is fluent in Dutch, but if they are, they may want to watch the edition of Nieuwsuur (their equivalent of Newsnight) broadcast earlier this week.
Cameron is off to the Netherlands tomorrow to make his great make-or-break speech on Europe, where he’s expected to announce a renegotiation of powers followed by a referendum in the next parliament. He has chosen to do it there because he regards prime minister Mark Rutte as one of his great allies in the cause of reforming Brussels. Read more
Is this a first? An email has just popped into a colleague’s inbox stating:
The Joint Committee on the draft Care and Support Bill, chaired by Paul Burstow MP, is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny into the draft Bill and the policies it seeks to implement. Read more
Douglas Alexander was touring television studios this morning explaining why he thought holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership was a bad idea. After months of toying with the idea of copying the Tories in promising an in/out referendum in the next parliament, Labour seems to have finally decided that would be a bad idea.
This uncharacteristic decisiveness gave Ed Miliband a platform from which to attack David Cameron in today’s PMQs, and the Labour leader made the most of it. His first question was meant to embarrass the PM and amuse his own party, and it worked: Read more
David Cameron with Herman van Rompuy
As Britain trundles towards a possible referendum on EU membership, people are beginning to ask what kind of result it might throw up.
David Cameron is gambling that if he manages to renegotiate some powers away from Brussels, voters will prefer this new settlement to not being in the union at all. And if past experience is to be believed, he has reason to be optimistic: when asked to assent to a plan from Brussels, voters across Europe tend to answer yes.
The list below of all the European plebiscites that have taken place in the union’s history shows that voters have only said no to the EU nine times out of the 36 referendums that have been held. Read more
Sir Jeremy Heywood
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the government’s chief civil servant, was up in front of MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee this morning, talking about the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair.
Heywood had been asked by the prime minister to look into the email trail behind the accusations that Mitchell had called a police officer a “pleb” – in particular at the testimony from someone purporting to be a member of the public who had witnessed the incident.
When reviewing these emails, Heywood looked at the CCTV footage from nearby cameras. These seemed to suggest Mitchell had not got angry with the officer in question, although was inconclusive whether he said the word “pleb” (he has always maintained he did not). Read more
David Cameron and his party criticised for 'shirkers vs workers' rhetoric. Getty Images
MPs on all sides of the Commons have piled into the Tories – and particularly George Osborne – over the party’s developing narrative of “shirkers vs workers” (or if you like “skivers vs strivers”).
Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP, was one of the first from her side to speak out against the kind of image seen in one of her party’s latest campaigns, which depicts an unemployed person slumped on a sofa, apparently unwilling to work. She told the Commons: Read more