Boxing Day News Review

Decision on Bookstart “repugnant, foolish and pointlessly destructive”

Leading writers today rounded on the government for its “repugnant, foolish and pointlessly destructive” decision to axe all funding for a free book scheme that benefits 3.3 million youngsters a year. Children’s author Philip Pullman attacked the move as an “unforgivable disgrace”, while the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion described the cut as “an act of gross cultural vandalism”. These uncompromising views were echoed by Viv Bird, chief executive of the Booktrust charity, who said she was “astounded and appalled” when told all government support for their work was going to be scrapped. “There was no dialogue. It was completely devastating,” she said. – The Observer

It is impossible to know what return the state might be getting on its investment in Booktrust. The system hasn’t been running long enough to tell whether the beneficiaries are more literate than they otherwise might have been, or whether they have more vivid imaginations, or whether they love books more. Only a minister inspired by Thomas Gradgrind, the crudely utilitarian headmaster in Dickens’s Hard Times, would attempt such a calculation. In fact, the decision to axe Bookstart over Christmas suggests education secretary Michael Gove gets his inspiration from a different Dickens character… Free books for children? Humbug! – The Observer

Tories and Lib Dems attempt to paper over cracks

A senior Conservative minister has become the first member of the government to back proposals to field coalition candidates at the next general election.His comments to The Sunday Telegraph came as both parties began a battle to bolster the coalition in the wake of a week of damaging revelations made by Vince Cable and other Lib Dem ministers to undercover reporters. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, signalled his “irritation” over remarks made by his party colleagues, several of whom hit out both personally at Tory ministers and politically at Conservative-inspired policies, including removing child benefit from higher earners. Amid efforts to mend broken fences, the minister, often seen as one of a tight inner-circle of “Cameroons”, went further than any member of the government yet has in endorsing joint candidates. He said: “I’m sure you can find plenty of Tories who would say similar things to what the Lib Dems have been saying. People say this is a sign that things are falling apart, but the amazing thing is how well the Coalition has worked together. – Sunday Telegraph

With tricky political challenges ahead – the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election on 13 January; votes on control orders, the scrapping of which was a Lib Dem priority; the local and Scottish and Welsh elections; the referendum on the alternative vote in May – do they make a merit of creative tension and disagreement from now on, because it is impossible to cover up, or do they seek to put a lid on it? Clegg, who wants Lib Dems to “own the coalition” and not endlessly list their own victories and “trophies”, clearly believes they must do the latter. Paul Goodman, a former Tory frontbencher now working for the ConservativeHome website, agrees: “I think that with the modern media, trying to have a public conversation would lead to endless reports about splits and it would become impossible.” But many in Clegg’s party disagree. The coalition’s real difficulty is that even on the issue of how to manage their own division, they are split. – The Observer

Jeremy Hunt’s links with Murdoch

Labour MP Tom Watson said: “It seems unprecedented that such a high level and legally significant meeting would not have civil servants present taking notes. I will be asking the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee to ask Jeremy Hunt to explain himself to us as soon as possible”. Mr Hunt also attended a dinner hosted by News Corp on May 20, within weeks of coming into office, with his aide Adam Smith. Labour has questioned whether Mr Hunt’s relationship with News Corp and BSkyB made him a “fit and proper person” to take over Vince Cable’s powers to approve the £8billion bid which was made on June 10. – The Telegraph

Tories in Europe “nutty”

Jeremy Browne described some of the Conservatives’ partners in the European Parliament as “nutty”. He said foreign diplomats were delighted that the Lib Dems had ensured the Government was “far more amenable and civilised” towards the European Union than a Tory administration. The disclosures are made on the fourth and final day of The Daily Telegraph investigation into the true feelings of senior Lib Dems towards the Coalition. Speaking to an undercover reporter posing as a supporter in his Taunton Deane constituency, Mr Browne, who is regarded as being on the Right wing of his party, disclosed that he and colleagues had been engaged in a struggle to persuade the Tories to relax a planned cap on immigration. – The Telegraph

Tories U-turn on hunt vote

The Government is to shelve a promised vote on repealing the ban on foxhunting until 2012 at the earliest, in a move likely to dismay countryside campaigners as they attempt to set out for Boxing Day meetings. David Cameron, a self-confessed “country boy”, has condemned the 2005 ban on hunting with dogs as a “mistake” which intruded into part of rural life “where the criminal law shouldn’t go”. However, the Conservative election pledge to hold a free vote on repeal “early” after polling day has been abandoned, senior officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted on Friday. With major reforms of the health, education, and welfare systems being piloted through Parliament, no vote is expected in 2011. “There are many greater priorities facing the Government at the moment,” said Jim Paice, the Agriculture Minister. – The Independent

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