12.15pm WATCH: Ed Balls voices his concerns about the banking reforms

10.45am Local government: Dudley Council spends £233,000 a month on taxis taking children to school

DR9.30am MPsETC: In a letter to Theresa May, Dominic Raab MP sets out Tory backbenchers’ concerns about the Communications Data Bill

ToryDiary: Who should be Minister of the Year? Would you vote for gay marriage? Who will win the next election?

Also on ToryDiary: For as long as the British establishment is ready to hand Northern Ireland to the Republic, unionist insecurity will exist

Dr Philip Lee MP on Comment: The Givers and the Takers

Local Government: Pickles advises council on 50 ways to save

The Deep End's Heresy of the week: The survival of the Conservative Party is not guaranteed

WATCH: David Cameron visits troops in Afghanistan

David Cameron's pre-Christmas visit to Afghanistan

Dc CAROLS"Mr Cameron flew secretly to Afghanistan on Thursday to meet troops at Camp Price, a forward base, 20 miles east of Camp Bastion, Britain’s operational HQ. … Speaking to reporters during the day, Mr Cameron said he believed Afghan forces were acquiring the 'capability' to control the country. He conceded that Afghanistan was still a 'deeply challenged country', adding that it was still 'a far better place' than when the campaign began in 2001." – Daily Telegraph

  • "The British government has promised to spend an extra £230m on bomb detection, base security, sniffer dogs and other equipment to help protect troops on the frontline in Afghanistan." – Guardian

> Today's video to WATCH: David Cameron visits troops in Afghanistan

As the MoD pays out compensation to Iraqis who allege they were tortured by British troops

"The Ministry of Defence has paid £14million in compensation to 205 Iraqis who complained they were tortured by British forces, it emerged last night. … The out-of-court settlements seem to have opened the floodgates, with a further 196 payments being currently negotiated by MoD lawyers and another 700 Iraqis expected to make claims next year." – Daily Mail

UK to give an extra £15m in aid to help tackle growing Syrian humanitarian crisisIndependent

Andrew Mitchell wants to keep the Met chief away from Plebgate inquiry, reports the Times

Mitchell"The former Chief Whip has 'no confidence' in Bernard Hogan-Howe after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner voiced support for the two officers, who claimed that Mr Mitchell had called them “f***ing plebs”. Mr Mitchell is satisfied that the inquiry, which is being conducted by 30 police officers, will be handled by Pat Gallan, a deputy assistant commissioner in charge of the Met’s directorate of professional standards, according to friends of the MP." – The Times (£)

> Yesterday's video to WATCH: Andrew Mitchell's kiss for a police officer 

And the PM now regards Mr Mitchell's position as stronger

"The arrest was announced as it emerged that David Cameron believes Mr Mitchell’s position was stronger after new claims about the confrontation between the former chief whip and Downing Street police officers. … However, Mr Cameron has decided to wait for the police investigation to be completed before making any decisions about whether Mr Mitchell should return to frontline politics." – The Times (£)

But has he known about the suspect evidence for months?

CCTV"David Cameron has known for almost three months that at least one member of his own élite protection unit may have fabricated parts of the Downing Street police log about the confrontation with Andrew Mitchell, The Independent understands. … But, crucially, the Prime Minister  decided not to press the matter with the Metropolitan Police – fearing that it would poison relations with the elite group of policemen who guard senior politicians for the rest of their lives." – Independent

40 Tories, led by Dominic Raab, threaten to take a stand against the Communications Data Bill

DraftCommsBill"The letter, written by Mr Raab, says: ‘There has been no proper explanation of how [clauses in the Bill] concerning “filtering arrangements” will work in practice. … ‘It is clear that they would authorise … techniques designed to infer potentially suspicious activity from the patterns of mass data held on every innocent citizen in this country.’ … Mr Raab said the 40 MPs include 19 first elected in 2010, a group who have proved they will take a stand on issues of importance." – Daily Mail

  • "It is the taxman, the policeman and other government agencies who mainly stand to benefit from laws forcing email companies to keep a log of who emails what to whom. But it is the ordinary British citizen, already protected from several foiled terrorist attacks, who stands to benefit from giving our spies the basic legal protection afforded to the Canadians and Danes." – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

George Osborne's bank reforms criticised by MPs

"Sweeping reforms planned for Britain’s biggest banks will not be enough to protect taxpayers from another financial meltdown, a commission of MPs and peers will say today. … In an embarrassment for Chancellor George Osborne, their report will warn that his proposed shake-up ‘falls well short of what is required’." – Daily Mail

  • "Flatter taxes are one of the best ideas for raising US revenues – so let’s try them here" – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

IDS is examining the idea of a "welfare care", as recently proposed by Alex Shelbrooke

IDs"Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday: ‘For somebody who has a history of drug addiction, giving cash sometimes can lead to further problems.’ … Tory backbencher Alec Shelbrooke recently suggested a Bill to stop all claimants buying anything with payments other than essentials such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing. … However, a department source stressed that Mr Duncan Smith was only discussing addicts.’" – Daily Mail

> Yesterday on ToryDiary: Polls show support for George Osborne’s 1 per cent cap on benefits

As the DWP delays the £500-a-week benefit cap for a few months

"The government also announced it was delaying plans to impose a nationwide £500-a-week welfare benefit cap, due to start next April. … The Department for Work and Pensions said the full scheme would not now start until the summer and, in the meantime, four London boroughs would implement the cap to test it in a controlled live environment." – Guardian

A stand-off over sports policy

"The standoff between the Health and Education departments over a replacement for the £162m school sport partnerships controversially axed by Gove in 2010 has caused them to miss a pre-Christmas deadline to announce the new scheme." – Guardian

A boost for volunteering, as the Government streamlines the system of CRB checks

Mouse arrow"Millions of employees and volunteers will no longer have to apply for a new criminal records check each time they apply for a job. … The Home Office said that for the first time, people will be able to apply quickly and cheaply online for Criminal Records Bureau checks." – Daily Mail

"Ministers will today unveil a wave of Government services that are to be moved entirely online in a bid to save more than £1billion a year." – The Sun

Plans to sell the port of Dover to the French are torn up

Dover"But Transport Minister Simon Burns said selling it would 'not ensure a sufficient level of community participation'. … Instead the Dover Harbour Board will be able to get money from other sources to bankroll a big redevelopment. .. Local Tory MP Charlie Elphicke said: 'The port is the gateway to our nation and should be forever England.'" - The Sun

Amber Rudd endorses a report on relationship classes

"Teenagers should get compulsory relationship classes alongside sex education because too many boys are learning about sex by watching pornography, a new report has found. … The report was endorsed by George Osborne's parliamentary aide Amber Rudd, Lib-Dem MP Lorely Burt and Labour's Sandra Osborne." – Daily Mail

> Yesterday on MPsETC: Claire Perry MP to advise the Prime Minister on “preventing the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood”

Lord Hunt prepares a "detailed blueprint" for a new press regulator

"Newspaper editors agreed to set up a new independent press watchdog yesterday in response to the Leveson Inquiry. … More than 100 paper proprietors, publishers and editors met yesterday to sign up to the principles laid out by Lord Justice Leveson. … Former Tory peer Lord Hunt, who is coordinating the response of the press, said a detailed blueprint for the new regulator would be drawn up on January 10." – Daily Mail

Lord Patten under attack over BBC failures

LP"BBC chairman Lord Patten faced renewed calls to resign yesterday after he accused a parliamentary committee of ‘shabby’ treatment when it criticised ex-director-general George Entwistle’s bumper payoff." – Daily Mail

  • "If Lord Patten had one ounce or self-knowledge or humility, he would resign over his disastrous handling of this squalid saga." – Daily Mail leader
  • BBC considers partial recoup of Entwhistle pay-off – Financial Times (£)

Nigel Adams MP gives his personal take on 2012 to the Guardian

"2012 has been another tough year but thankfully in respect of employment we are seeing a turnaround that appears to be baffling some economics commentators. In my own constituency of Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire, unemployment has fallen by a quarter since the coalition has been in office." – Nigel Adams, the Guardian's Northerner blog

Andrew Pierce: Does anyone want to be a Tory MP any more?

AP"The deeply worrying legacy for  Mr Cameron is that his local constituency associations feel increasingly  marginalised, and now they are  struggling to find strong parliamentary  candidates of any sexual persuasion, gender or colour. … In the 40 key seats that the Tories have to capture from Labour or the Lib Dems to have any hope of winning the  next election outright, only four have chosen candidates — even though  the General Election is less than 2½ years away" – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail

Philip Collins: The "unsolvable conundrum" of David Cameron's Europe speech

"This is the unsolvable conundrum of Mr Cameron’s European speech. In order not to overreach it has to concede that expectations must be low but low expectations are precisely what nobody has. To heighten the promise, however, would be to court disaster. Imagine Mr Cameron coming back from his renegotiation in Brussels with a package of blah that his party regarded as fair to piddling. Then what?" – Philip Collins, The Times (£)

Vince Cable is battling to prevent an EU tax on iPads, Kindles and other gadgetsThe Sun

Ed Balls: A Labour government would be tough but fair on benefits

ED bALLS"However, Mr Balls is also anxious to show that Labour would be 'tough but fair' on benefits. The Opposition is looking to place a new emphasis on welfare reform in the new year that could mean tighter rules on who can claim different benefits. The party’s jobs guarantee, that promises employment for everyone out of work for more than 12 months, would be paid by a tax on bankers’ bonuses." – The Times (£)

And Yvette Cooper: We'd also bulk up the Border Agency

"At the moment Border Agency compliance officers, who visit universities, colleges and other insititutions, have no powers of arrest. This means they can take little or no action on bogus students even if they find people that have no right to be in the country. … Ms Cooper said Labour would make sure compliance offers have new powers and create a taskforce on enforcement within UK Border Agency." – Daily Telegraph

JAJulian Assange says the "door is open" for extradition talks
Daily Telegraph

The proportion of couples divorcing in their 60s is up by 58 per cent on last yearDaily Mail

And finally… First Ronald Reagan, now Ben Affleck?

"What’s next for hunky leading man Ben Affleck? How about the US Senate? … Rumours were sweeping Hollywood last night that he is preparing for the biggest role of his life. … Word is he could stand for the Massachusetts seat that Senator John Kerry would vacate if given the job of Secretary of State. … Affleck was born in the United States. This means he could run for President in due course." – The Sun


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