Cameron accused of “cronyism” over the New Year’s Honours list

CAMERON China“David Cameron was accused of ‘cronyism’ last night after handing gongs to friends, Tory donors and even the woman who runs his supper club. … Alan Parker, a City public relations chief who has holidayed with the Prime Minister, was handed a knighthood in the new year’s honours list. … And at least two Tory donors and four people who have given money to the Liberal Democrats will get gongs – a move critics said ‘discredits the honours system’. … Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott told the Mail: ‘Honours should go to unsung heroes or heroines, not Cameron’s cronies and Osborne’s donors.'” – Daily Mail

  • “Karren Brady, David Cameron’s small business tsar, has become a CBE” – Financial Times
  • “The woman who tried to block a multimillion-pound bonus for the tarnished boss of Barclays has been rewarded for her efforts with a Damehood in the New Year Honours.” – The Times (£)
  • “Paul Tucker, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England who became embroiled in one of the biggest banking scandals of recent years, is to be knighted.” – Daily Mail
  • “A whistleblower who exposed horrific neglect at an NHS hospital is honoured with a CBE today.” – Daily Mail

Read the full New Year’s Honours lists here

> Today, by Stephen Tall: Five predictions for 2014

The Prime Minister looks to strengthen support for victims of crime…

“Victims of crime would gain the legal right to tell courts about the distress they have suffered and to be kept fully informed about investigations and prosecutions under plans before David Cameron. … The moves, which have been drawn up by the Downing Street policy board, look certain to become a Conservative election manifesto commitment in 2015.” – The Independent

  • “All are sensible measures. More sensible still would be for the Prime Minister – on whose desk the proposals now lie – not only to lend them his support in broad terms, but to press ahead immediately rather than waiting for 2015.” – Independent editorial

…as the crime figures are overhauled

“Crime figures are to be overhauled in an attempt to meet public concern that officers do not bother to investigate alleged offences fully, the Government announced yesterday. … The move comes after MPs were told that police crime figures were routinely ‘fiddled’ to meet targets and make forces’ performance look better.” – The Times (£)

Grayling raises (again) the possibility of Britain leaving the ECHR

GRAYLING Chris blue“Britain could pull out of the European Court of Human Rights because it has lost its legitimacy, Chris Grayling announced yesterday. … Mr Grayling admitted the Government will not act before the election because changes would be opposed by the Liberal Democrats. … But he said the Conservatives would go into the national poll with plans to ‘curtail’ the role of the court in the UK, ‘replace’ the Human Rights Act introduced by Labour and make the British Supreme Court supreme over UK law.” – Daily Mail

“Grayling signalled that the Liberal Democrats had stopped the Conservatives bringing in stricter rules and ‘sorting out’ the issue before the deadline. His comments were immediately rubbished by Lib Dem sources, who said the Tories had never even suggested trying to further restrict immigration from Bulgaria and Romania because it would be illegal under EU law.” – The Guardian

  • “Almost all flights from Romania to England are full – even though one airline doubled the number to meet demand – with one-way tickets selling for up to £3,000 each. … And all tickets for seats on buses leaving the Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 have been snapped up.” – Daily Mail
  • “Recruitment agencies are offering Bulgarian migrants practical tips and advice on how to exploit the benefits system when they arrive in Britain after January 1, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.” – Daily Telegraph

> Today, by Cameron Penny on Comment: Europe’s free movement of peoples is a blessing, not a curse

> Yesterday, by Priti Patel MP: Romanians and Bulgarians – it’s Labour’s fault

The Government hopes to save £1 billion with extra benefit checks

“Millions of extra checks will be carried out on benefit claimants next year in a bid to slash the bill by £1billion by 2016. … HM Revenue & Customs will hire a private sector firm this spring to root out fraudulent tax credit claims.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Benefit fraud enrages hard-working Britons like no other issue. … So we applaud Government moves to empower private firms to root out the tax credit fiddlers.” – Sun editorial (£)

Gove warns against “disconnected” history lessons

gove“Pupils have lost a sense of chronology that allows them to place key dates and civilisations in their historical context, the Education Secretary warned. … He said too much time had been spent teaching children a ‘disconnected set of topics’ with little understanding of how they fit together.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Ten children a day are kicked out of school because of incidents involving weapons – Daily Mail

New defamation legislation will reverse the “chilling effect” of previous libel laws, say ministers

“The Defamation Act 2013 introduces a new ‘serious harm threshold’ designed to help people understand when claims should be brought and discourage the wasting of court time. … Ministers claim the new legislation ‘reverses the chilling effect’ previous libel laws have had on freedom of expression and legitimate debate.” – The Guardian

The Syria vote has created a “constitutional mess”, claims Burt

“Britain has landed itself in a ‘constitutional mess’ in the wake of the summer vote against military action in Syria, in which the Commons can be guaranteed to back intervention only to defend the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, according to a former Foreign Office minister. … In his first interview on the Syrian crisis since losing his ministerial post in the autumn reshuffle, Alistair Burt said the failure of MPs in August to back the principle of military action against the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons had left the mainstream opposition forces ‘absolutely devastated’.” – The Guardian

Farage claims he was was talking about Syria-based Christians…

FARAGE eating“UKIP leader Nigel Farage appeared to backtrack yesterday — insisting Britain should help just the Christians fleeing Syria. … He had been attacked by his party for demanding the UK take in refugees from the civil war.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Britain should consider allowing Syrian refugees to settle here, a minister has said, in defiance of Government policy. … Earl Howe, a health minister, said the Government had to look at the issue of allowing Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war to settle in the UK.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Increased media exposure has led to a collapse in the personal ratings of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, new analysis reveals.” – Daily Mail

> Yesterday, by Kate Maltby on Comment: Farage has upstaged Cameron over Syrian refugees

…as Paul Goodman asks: Does Farage want to join the Conservatives?

“For all the distance [UKIP] has travelled, it remains as far from office as ever. … This leaves Mr Farage with precisely the choice suggested by Mr Bloom. Does he want to settle down in his snug in the European Parliament – making speeches, writing books, cracking jokes, provoking headlines and ending up as a “national treasure” (heaven help him), secure in his salary and pension? Or does he want to do something rather than just be something – that’s to say, become a man of government rather than a man of opposition?” – Paul Goodman, Daily Telegraph

Ukip-like Tories could threaten the economic recovery, says Clegg

“Voting Conservative could wreck the economic recovery as the party is thinking of pulling Britain out of Europe, Nick Clegg claims in his New Year’s message. … The Deputy Prime Minister lumped the Tories in with Ukip, arguing both parties would put politics above what is best for the country.” – Daily Mail

  • “It is becoming clear that Mr Farage has an internal party problem that may yet derail next spring’s European election campaign. That could have a significant impact on the broader national picture too. But it is unlikely to lower the temperature on the migration debate. Rather, it could drive parts of the political mainstream further up the anti-migration dead end.” – Guardian editorial
  • “Watch out in particular for the National Front in France, the UK Independence party in Britain, Syriza in Greece and the Dutch Freedom party – all of which could top the [European election] polls in their respective nations.” – Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
  • “For Nick Clegg the real prize will be in 2020, not 2015” – Richard Reeves, The Guardian
  • “The Coalition will stay the course, but they won’t be getting the band back together after 2015” – Steve Richards, The Independent

Davey demands a meeting with the Big Six after Christmas blackouts

Ed Davey“Energy Secretary Ed Davey yesterday issued an angry ultimatum to the bunglers running our electricity network — amid uproar at the Christmas blackouts. … Bosses of the six private firms tasked with delivering power after it is generated have been given a week to get their stories straight before he hauls them in for a New Year grilling.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Tim Yeo, chair of the Commons energy select committee, on Monday said he was planning to summon the electricity network executives in front of MPs to account for a ‘very slow’ response to the crisis.” – Financial Times
  • “Wind farm companies were paid almost £5 million to switch off their turbines while storms lashed the UK over the festive period and tens of thousands of homes were left without power, according to figures published today.” – Daily Telegraph
  • Energy firms reaping the profits of recent bad weather – Daily Mail

> Yesterday’s video to WATCH: Paterson – “Some of the power companies did not perform”

Labour goes on the attack over the bank levy

“Labour has accused the chancellor George Osborne of handing the banks another tax cut, after it emerged his levy on financial institutions will have raised £2.1bn less than the government promised over the last three years. … Back in 2011, David Cameron repeatedly said the bank levy would raise £2.5bn every year. … However, in 2011 it raised just £1.6bn, last year it raised £1.6bn, and this year it will have raised £2.2bn.” – The Guardian

The cost of Labour’s 24-hour drinking laws?

beer“The full scale of the misery and loutish behaviour inflicted on the public by Labour’s 24-hour drinking laws can be revealed today. … The number of town centres and neighbourhoods officially classed as being overrun by problem pubs and bars has rocketed by 150 per cent, Home Office figures show. … Trouble in these areas ranges from fighting and litter to drug dealing, pick pocketing and street robbery. Many of them are now found in small and previously quiet towns which used to have very few crimes of this nature.” – Daily Mail

  • “On the booziest night of the year it’s a sobering thought that binge-drinking is still rife among very young children.” – Sun editorial (£)

Straw leads MPs on visit to Iran

“Jack Straw will travel to Iran next week with a group of parliamentarians in the first such visit since 2008. … In a sign of the thawing relations with the West since the election of Hassan Rowhani in June, the former Foreign Secretary has been granted a visa to travel to Tehran after receiving an invitation from the Iranian Parliament.” – The Times (£)

John McTernan: Ed is just one big step away from victory

“It’s an iron law of politics that if you are going to have to do something eventually, then you should do it by choice as soon as possible rather than be forced to act. So, early in 2014 Mr Miliband should make a major speech — or deputise Ed Balls to do it — in which he promises that Labour will keep to Tory spending plans for the first two years of any government he leads.” – John McTernan, The Times (£)

> Yesterday’s video to WATCH: Miliband’s New Year Message

BMA chief suggests that the NHS is struggling to cope with austerity

“The NHS is running out of money and will be unable to meet the needs of the soaring population, the elderly and the obese, a top doctor has warned. … Dr Mark Porter, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s council, said the financial outlook was dire and the health service was ‘struggling just to keep pace’ with rising demand. … He said the situation is so bleak that if the NHS was a country, it would ‘barely have a credit rating’, putting it on a par with Afghanistan and Iraq.” – Daily Mail

“Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, said forcing the NHS in England to make £20bn of ‘efficiency gains’ by 2015 at a time of rising demand for healthcare was wrong and damaging.” – The Guardian

  • “Britons are being urged to make a special New Year’s resolution to help an elderly person as part of a Government drive to combat a national ‘epidemic’ of loneliness.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Ambulance response times in rural areas should be urgently examined following the death of a young chef who died from a brain haemorrhage when paramedics took two hours to reach his home, a health minister has said.” – The Independent
  • “Eighty patients every day are forced to wait outside A&E in ambulances for an hour or more, figures show.” – Daily Mail
  • “NHS workers are being trained in how to care for obese patients – by wearing a fat suit.” – Daily Mail
  • “The awkward truth about funding the NHS” – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph

Polly Toynbee: We must all share the blame for “useless” politicians

TOYNBEE Polly The end is nigh“But don’t forget that politicians speak robotically for a reason – and voters share the blame. Voters say they dislike party discipline, wanting MPs to speak their consciences, yet as every original thought becomes a newsworthy ‘gaffe’ and ‘split’, voters also punish parties severely for any sign of disunity. Voters are contrary. If they want more electoral choice, why did they reject a small improvement in the AV referendum? They say they want honesty, but they don’t always reward it.” – Polly Toynbee, The Guardian

Overnight peace talks in Northern Ireland fail

“Marathon all-night negotiations to resolve outstanding peace process issues in Northern Ireland have failed to produce an agreement. … Talks chairman Dr Richard Haass, a former US diplomat, said he had not managed to secure consensus on a final set of proposals to deal with flags, disputed parades and the legacy of the Troubles before his end-of-year deadline.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes – The Independent
  • The number of over-65s in work has risen by a third since the Coalition came to power – Daily Mail
  • Cigar-smoking could die out in Britain by 2026 – Financial Times
  • Only one-in-50 voters feels they are benefiting from the economic recovery, according to TUC poll – The Guardian

And finally: Alan Bennett and Margaret Thatcher

“[Bennett’s] main reason for disliking Margaret Thatcher, it appears, is that she had no sense of humour. … But are we really to believe that Margaret Thatcher would have been better able to recapture the Falklands if she’d cracked a few more General Galtieri jokes in the Cabinet War Room? Do we think she would have defeated the striking miners more quickly, if only she could have done a better Arthur Scargill impression?” – James Delingpole, Daily Mail

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