Saturday News Review

“No great achievement” for Cameron on EU budget

The Prime Minister clashed with BBC2 Newsnight’s Michael Crick over how he could hail a deal that will see Britain hand an extra £430million to Brussels as a victory. Days ago Mr Cameron called for the amount the UK pays the EU to be cut or frozen but yesterday he claimed to have “succeeded spectacularly” by limiting the rise to 2.9%. Answering Mr Crick, the Conservative leader said: “I would explain patiently – as I hope you will on Newsnight – that we were facing a 6% increase. We have pegged it back to 2.9%.” – The Mirror

David Cameron claimed a “spectacular” victory yesterday in keeping an EU budget increase for 2011 down to 2.9%amid calls by MEPs for one of 6%. However, critics pointed out that the Prime Minister had, given the straitened times, initially demanded a freeze or even a cut in the European Union’s annual budget and that a 2.9% rise still meant Britain would be forking out an extra £453 million a year to Brussels. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, branded Mr Cameron’s “grandstanding” a “complete failure”, saying: “European governments decided on 2.9% in August, so he has achieved absolutely nothing. He’s tried to swing his handbag but simply ended up clobbering himself in the face.” Eurosceptic Conservative MEP Roger Helmer accused the PM of “rolling over” and said the outcome had been “no great achievement”. – The Herald

The Prime Minister had faced criticism for failing to fulfil his ambition to freeze or cut this year’s budget. Instead ministers agreed to reduce a planned 6 per cent increase to 2.9 per cent. “We’ve prevented a crazy 6 per cent rise in the EU budget, we’ve made sure the EU budget must reflect domestic spending cuts, and we’ve protected the UK taxpayer from having to bail out EU countries that get themselves into trouble,” he said at a press conference[…]A 2.9 per cent increase is expected to see Britain’s contribution to the EU budget grow by about £400 million a year. Tory right-winger Lord Tebbit has described Mr Cameron’s agreement to the rise as a “Vichy-style” betrayal. – The Telegraph

Cameron shot by both sides

The Government endured sustained criticism of plans to cut housing benefits led by the London Mayor Boris Johnson, who likened the policy to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. It faced difficult questions over child benefit reforms and suggestions it was watering down the planned immigration cap. And Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, stole Mr Cameron’s thunder at the CBI by mocking his Tory partners’ lack of economic judgement. As Mr Cameron travelled back from Brussels, the mood in the Coalition camp reflected the reality of running a two-party government in a country with no money. Government sources acknowledge the Coalition faces a “hard grind” following the upheaval of the power-sharing deal and the announcement of huge spending cuts. They are realising that in a coalition, attacks can come from all sides. This week saw not just a Labour onslaught and Liberal Democrat protests, but also an attack from Boris Johnson from the Tory left, criticism from Norman Tebbit from the right and whispers of “chaos” in the Treasury. Labour’s return to the political fray after months of introspection added to the pressure. Mr Miliband has made a confident start as Opposition leader, while Alan Johnson has confounded sceptics with a sure-footed debut as shadow Chancellor. – The Independent

Housing benefit battleground

Earlier this week, housing minister Grant Shapps gave a series of interviews defending government welfare plans after a political row blew up over what Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, warned might be a “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of poor people from city centres. Shapps said: “Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t.” This line of argument has been used to justify a number of draconian changes designed to force those in receipt of benefits to rely on income rather than on the state to meet their housing needs. However, in a paper released by welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith‘s department last month, academics from Birmingham University found that people on benefits paid the same in rent as their working peers. “The results so far tend to suggest that the levels of rents of the properties of [housing benefit] recipients match the overall average quite closely.” – The Guardian

The shadow justice minister’s provocative rhetoric was amplified by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who conjured up images of handcart-pushing refugees by referring to a “Kosovo-style” exodus of the dispossessed from the capital. Not to be outdone, the Left-wing Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, with stomach-churning hyperbole, described housing benefit cuts as the Tories’ “final solution” for the poor (she later apologised for the comment). George Osborne, meanwhile, has been doing his best to whip up support for cutting the £21 billion housing benefit bill by pointing the finger at families who receive £104,000 per year to live in multi-million pound properties in the country’s most desirable areas. Far from being downtrodden victims, the benefit claimants of Mr Osborne’s vision are shameless spongers living in dream homes courtesy of the struggling taxpayer. – The Telegraph

AV: grounds for divorce?

The Alternative Vote referendum, expected to take place in May along with proposed changes to the constituency boundaries, was reportedly the price Nick Clegg asked for his party’s membership of the Coalition, back in May. It is an issue of paramount importance to the party at all levels, and thus a “no” result would be a major blow to Lib Dems in government, prompting speculation and, in turn, denials that the party would “walk away” from the Coalition if the public rejected AV. If the Tories do indeed actively campaign against reform, it would undoubtedly be a problematic situation. But Nick Boles, the Tory MP for Grantham and Stamford who made a minor splash a while back by writing a book calling for an electoral pact between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in 2015, has now suggested in an interview that a “yes” on AV would make the Lib Dems more likely to walk away from the Coalition, while a “no” would leave them with no choice but to stay the course

Ed offers Scots message of optimism

The Labour leader told delegates at the party’s autumn conference that, with him at the helm, the Labour Party would be true to its ideals. Mr Miliband paid tribute to his friend and mentor Mr Brown, who stepped down as Labour leader in May after the party’s crushing general election defeat. “He has an incredible legacy,” he said. “He improved the lives of millions of people here and around the world.” Mr Miliband described Labour as optimists with a “different view of society” from the Conservatives, with their “pessimistic idea” for a “big society”. He told delegates they must hit back against the “Tory deceit” that claimed Labour was responsible for the UK’s debt crisis. – Press & Journal

Labour leader Ed Miliband has attacked David Cameron’s Big Society as “one big fig leaf”. He said the Prime Minister believed that if government gets out of the way, “the big society will miraculously spring up and take its place”. Mr Miliband, in Oban for his first speech at a Scottish Labour Party conference since becoming leader, also attacked Conservative economic policy as “grossly incompetent”. He told the conference that Mr Cameron’s Big Society was an “old pessimistic idea that people do better on their own” while he believed the “best kind of government” supported people to take control of their lives. What he wanted was a “good society where we support each other”. – The Herald

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