Cameron confusion: will he or won’t he cut pensioner benefits?

cameron-thinks“On a day of confusion, David Cameron appeared to ditch a cherished pledge that the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and TV licences for the over-75s would continue for the better off after the next election. … Only hours later though No 10 moved to stress that the Prime Minister remained personally committed to the policy despite major opposition within his Cabinet. … ‘He is minded to repeat the pledge,’ a Downing Street source said.” – Daily Mail

  • “Radical proposals to give pensioners the option to switch annuities to find a better deal, as people can with mortgages, have been branded ‘unworkable’ by the industry.” – Financial Times
  • “One in ten pensioners is staying in bed longer to keep warm because of rising fuel bills, a poll reveals.” – Daily Mail
  • “A ‘triple lock’ on state pensions is absurdly generous” – Ross Clark, The Times (£)

The Prime Minister is sure, however, that middle-class tax cuts are years off – the poor will be prioritised first

“Middle-class voters will have to wait years for tax cuts and any spare cash will be focused on helping the poor, David Cameron indicated yesterday. … The Prime Minister said, however, he wanted to get to the position ‘where we can allow people to keep more of their own money to spend as they choose’.” – Daily Mail

  • “The Government’s advisers on child poverty have warned that proposals to bring in 20 per cent tax relief on childcare,   worth up to £1,200 per child per year from 2015, will subsidise the better off and create a two-tier system.” – The Independent
  • “David Cameron yesterday left open the possibility of a controversial trip to Russia for next month’s Sochi Winter Olympics — saying there was space in his diary.” – The Sun (£)

And Osborne bolsters that message, saying that spending cuts must still trump tax cuts

Scissors“In a major speech on the economy, the Chancellor will argue that long-term recovery remains in the balance unless more spending cuts are made. … He will highlight the progress made so far in tackling the vast budget deficit left by the last Labour government. … But in an attempt to dampen speculation about tax cuts, he will warn that further reductions in the size of the State must come first.” – Daily Mail

  • “It is understandable that the US – and especially the UK – are exhaling a sigh of relief that things are not worse than they are. But they should not downplay the high price at which growth has been bought. Nor should they delude themselves that good times are round the corner.” – Edward Luce, Financial Times
  • “My big mistake of 2013? I didn’t spot the pick-up in consumer confidence.” – David Blanchflower, The Independent
  • “Interest rates are a low blow for ordinary Joe” – Libby Purves, The Times (£)
  • “Without growth all promises are empty” – Daily Telegraph editorial

> Yesterday on ToryDiary: Why Osborne should cut income taxes for poorer workers first

Cameron also confirms that tougher immigration controls are at the top of his EU wishlist

“David Cameron yesterday made tougher immigration controls his top demand in the EU’s new treaty — and delighted campaigners. … The PM said stricter rules to limit new arrivals from poorer European countries are ‘absolutely achievable’. … And he dropped the strongest hint yet the issue will be a red line for him as he begins to renegotiate Britain’s European Union membership, as The Sun has demanded.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Going into 2014, Mr Cameron is less unpopular than the other party leaders. But a combination of circumstance and temperament means he is consistently failing, as he again did on Sunday, to make the case for the kind of majoritarian Conservative project he once claimed to offer.” – Guardian editorial
  • “Nick Robinson is wrong. On immigration, the BBC has a duty to moderate our national conversation” – Yasmin Alibhai Brown, The Independent

Gove gets caught up in another fight… this time with Baldrick

Baldrick“Michael Gove was yesterday embroiled in a new war of words over showing Blackadder in schools – with one of the programme’s stars. … Sir Tony Robinson, asked to weigh in to the row over whether the TV comedy should be used in lessons about the First World War, branded Mr Gove ‘very silly’. … The actor, who played the hapless Baldrick in the long-running series, refused to accept Mr Gove’s claims that it would feed pupils ‘left-wing myths’ about the 1914-18 conflict.” – Daily Mail

  • “Germany started the Great War, but the Left can’t bear to say so” – Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph
  • “British incompetence in World War One has been overestimated. It’s politicians, not the military, who deserve censure” – Nigel Farage, The Independent
  • “Politics is becoming stranger. For example, it now looks as though one of the issues at the next general election is going to be the causes of the First World War.” – David Aaronovitch, The Times (£)
  • “This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. But there is another, much less regarded, yet significant centenary occurring this year – 1914 saw the passage of the Government of Ireland Act, the first extensive legislation for devolution in what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.” – Linda Colley, The Guardian

Davis joins those rebelling against the latest NHS database

“Doctors are rebelling against plans to harvest personal information from the medical files of millions of patients. … David Davis, a Tory MP and former shadow home secretary, said: ‘It’s an enormous threat to privacy. To make patients go in and make  an appointment with their GP is  frankly disgraceful. … ‘The database does have huge value for the NHS but it will go wrong. Some people’s information will be lost. If hackers can take on Microsoft, how long until they get to the Department of Health?'” – Daily Mail

  • “‘Generally we have seen a huge amount of very good care,’ Sir Mike says, pausing for a moment as if weighing his words. ‘Compassion in the NHS is alive and well.'” – Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, is interviewed in the Independent
  • “More than 20,000 extra GPs, nurses and other NHS staff are needed if David Cameron wants his plan for surgeries to open seven days a week to work, the head of the family doctor’s royal college has warned.” – Daily Mail
  • “Private health companies delivering services to the NHS will for the first time be required to supply detailed financial information to the economic regulator, in an attempt to guard against a Southern Cross-style collapse harming patients.” – Financial Times
  • “NHS bosses have blown £5,000 sending staff on a course to learn about leadership through jazz.” – The Sun (£)
  • “Gongs prove NHS is sacred cow no more” – Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun (£)
  • “The budget for NHS specialist services is running into the red – a warning of the funding crisis that is bound to come” – Times editorial (£)

Dominic Lawson urges Cameron not to cede to Clegg over life sentences

Prison bars“Yet our system is already marked by absurdity: in the vast majority of such cases, life does not mean life – and one in seven murders is committed by those under the supervision of the probation service: out on licence, in other words. … This dreadful fact alone explains why the whole life sentence is sometimes necessary for public protection; and why it would be criminal of David Cameron to give that lesser priority than gratifying Mr Clegg.” – Daily Mail

  • “Six terror suspects will be free on our streets in days — despite ministers admitting they remain dangerous. … Two-year anti-terror curbs on the UK nationals, one linked to a 2006 plot to bomb US-bound jets, expire on January 26 and cannot legally be renewed.” – The Sun (£)
  • “An unprecedented barristers strike this morning will make criminal courts ‘effectively inoperable’, it was claimed last night.” – The Sun (£)

Swinson: Let MPs bring babies into the Commons

“MPs with newborn babies should be able to bring them into the House of Commons for votes because they would not be a disruption, a minister has claimed. … Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat business minister who gave birth to a boy before Christmas, said the ban on bringing infants to the voting lobby was ‘bizarre’.” – Daily Mail

Business against Miliband

MILIBAND soulful“Ed Miliband’s push to level the playing field between British and foreign job-seekers could damage the economy, business leaders said last night. … The Labour leader vowed to close a loophole which allows firms to use cheap agency workers instead of employing better-paid staff. … But the CBI business body said the use of temporary agency workers was perfectly legal — and that their ‘flexibility’ had ‘saved jobs and kept our economy going’ through the credit crisis.” – The Sun (£)

Union boss against Miliband

“Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been challenged by one of Labour’s most loyal union leaders to stop treating the proposed HS2 rail scheme as a ‘political football’ and to give Labour’s unambiguous backing to the £42bn project. … Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, said he was dismayed at the conflicting signals from the Labour leadership over the need for a new high-speed link between London, the Midlands and the north of England.” – The Independent

Maria Eagle suggests that Paterson’s climate change scepticism may get in the way of flood defences

“Owen Paterson, the Conservative environment secretary, may be blind to the increased risk of flooding across Britain because he is sceptical about climate change science, Labour has said. … Amid warnings of further floods to hit Britain within the next 48 hours, Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said Paterson had ‘real questions to answer’ about why he was allowing cuts that could affect Britain’s ability to deal with severe weather incidents.” – The Guardian

“Britain needs to face up to a radical change in weather conditions that could be the result of global warming, and spend much more on flood defences, Sir David King, the government’s special envoy on climate change, has said.” – The Guardian

  • “The Government says it is keen to spend more on infrastructure as the economy recovers and flood barriers are among the most productive investments that can be made. But this should not be left entirely to the general taxpayer: local government and private bodies in the areas most affected need to contribute more than they have pledged. Yes, there is a squeeze on public funds – but this must be a priority.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

Labour’s John Mann targets Gatwick’s Adebayo Ogunlesi

“Chairman Adebayo Ogunlesi vowed to make Gatwick ‘truly first-class’ when his US investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners bought it in 2009. … But thousands of passengers had Christmas ruined when a power cut on December 24 left them stranded for hours with no food and just one toilet. … [John Mann said:] ‘How does it look if people can’t get in and out of the country? It makes us a laughing stock around the world. It’s a shambles. Mr Ogunlesi obviously doesn’t use Gatwick at Christmas.'” – The Sun (£)

Joh Harris: The left is too silent on the clunking fist of state power

FIST Red“Far too many on my side of politics still have their heads in the sand, holding on to a ragbag of notions that now bears no serious examination: that so-called civil liberties should always come a distant second to schools, hospitals and such like; that the centralised, snooping, target-driven state can be our friend, so long as it can be once again captured by Labour and put to the correct uses; and that from the NHS to the BBC, so long as giant and unwieldy institutions can be kept away from the private market, all will be well.” – John Harris, The Guardian

Farage on Enoch Powell’s immigration speech: “that basic principle is right”

“Nigel Farage yesterday said ‘the basic principle’ behind parts of Enoch Powell’s notorious Rivers of Blood speech was right. … The Ukip leader was asked if he agreed with a statement about how the ‘indigenous population found themselves strangers in their own country’. … He said it was true – but appeared thrown when he was told the statement was made by the controversial Tory minister of the 1960s.” – Daily Mail

Farage also seizes on Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling

FARAGE eating“UKIP has attracted half of the 37 per cent of voters who have deserted the Tories after voting for them in 2010, according to the latest opinion poll. … Nigel Farage, the independence party leader, far from revelling in stealing Conservative votes, commented on Twitter : ‘[Lord] Ashcroft’s poll makes it clear that the majority of UKIP support does not come from the Tories; 60 per cent of UKIP support comes from elsewhere.’ He later tweeted: ‘Go look at the figures. I don’t lead some Tory splinter group’.” – The Times (£)

  • “A poll by Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory donor, yesterday showed that 37 per cent of people who voted Conservative in 2010 will not do so again. Around half of them said they would vote Ukip if there was an election today. There isn’t, of course, but there is one in May, when Ukip has every chance of finishing first in the European Parliament elections. … Losing the European elections to Ukip will leave the Conservatives scared, anxious and quite possibly in full-blown panic.” – James Kirkup, Daily Telegraph

> Today on ToryDiary: Toby Young’s Tories Before UKIP plan

> Yesterday:

A dire warning about the Taleban and southern Afghanistan

“Hard-fought territory in southern Afghanistan will fall to the Taleban after British forces withdraw this year, British commanders and military experts believe. … Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the former Liberal Democrat leader and ex-Royal Marine, went so far as to describe the 12-year conflict, which has so far cost 447 British lives and tens of billions of pounds, as a ‘textbook’ example of how to lose a war.” – The Times (£)

Mark Wallace: Cuba’s classic cars deserve scrapping

“Whatever the cause, it’s deeply distasteful that we prefer to admire old cars than consider the system that led to their survival – extensive censorship of the media, vast police surveillance, near-total restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech, arbitrary arrest and torture of journalists and dissidents. There is a good reason why large numbers of Cubans have fled to the US in recent decades, and why people still take the desperate measure of cobbling together rafts and trying to float across the Caribbean, risking their lives to be free.” – Mark Wallace, Comment is Free

And finally 1: Voters want politicians to go potholing

“Fixing potholes is now a bigger issue than cutting fuel duty, according to furious motorists. … An AA poll today reveals 91 per cent of Brits would support a political party vowing to fill them. … This tops the 85 per cent who would back MPs promising a petrol tax cut.” – The Sun (£)

And finally 2: Darling’s going rate

Alistair Darling“Alistair Darling ended 2013 in good financial shape. … According to the latest register of MPs’ financial interests, the former Chancellor received £33,150 for making three speeches. … Darling reckons he spent ten hours on this work, suggesting his market worth is an impressive £3,300 per hour.” – Richard Kay’s column, Daily Mail

  • “Two businesses owned by Tony Blair have amassed a cash pile of more than £13m after a key part of his empire enjoyed a jump in profits.” – The Guardian