Sunday News Review

The day after the march before

Did Mr Miliband mess up? In a way, he had wretched luck. The main trade union march was strikingly peaceful. There were small children and babies in prams, and lots of marchers sitting down having picnics. The marchers were overwhelmingly public sector workers, and in real terms that meant the park was crammed with health visitors, nurses, teachers, college lecturers, tax inspectors and council town hall staff. Compared to the angry entitlement brigade I had met the previous day at Labour’s People’s Policy Forum in Nottingham, the TUC marchers were reasonable people. I made a point of asking scores of marchers whether they thought the cuts should be scrapped full stop, or whether they thought some cuts were inevitable. A big majority took the latter view: these were Keynesians not flat-earthers in the main. All were friendly and happy to talk. Mr Miliband was also unlucky because the number of violent protestors was, by all accounts, small. A few hundred people vandalised branches of high street stores and banks they accuse of avoiding taxes, staged an occupation of Fortnum & Mason, the venerable Piccadilly grocers, and attacked police officers with flares and fireworks. He also repeated his honesty of Friday, telling the rally that: “I believe there is a need for difficult choices and some cuts”, though this earned him boos. But, that said, his ill-luck was also entirely predictable. Two days before the march, I found websites rallying protestors to launch physical attacks on shops in Oxford Street on Saturday, after about 10 seconds of Googling. – the Economist

It was the timing that Labour’s high command had been dreading. At the very moment their party leader began his speech at the anti-cuts rally in Hyde Park, anarchists wearing masks and waving red flags began attacking shops and banks in Oxford Street. For several minutes, live television pictures of the violence were accompanied by words from Ed Miliband. The speech could not have been further away in tone from the actions of the mindless minority. Nevertheless, the warning privately expressed by some in Labour’s high command that Mr Miliband should not be anywhere near Saturday’s events appeared to have been vindicated. The juxtaposition overshadowed the central point of Mr Miliband’s speech – an attempt to turn David Cameron’s Big Society against the Prime Minister. – the Telegraph

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was briefly heckled by an anti-paedophile demonstrator as he joined the march at Embankment. The man had to be pushed away by stewards after squaring up to Mr Balls as he stopped to speak to reporters. Mr Balls said: “It’s really important that people from all political parties, trade unions, managers, private sector, public sector and parents from up and down the country say these cuts are too deep and too fast. Employment is going up, people are saying there are less police offices, less teaching assistants.  There needs to be a better way, a fairer alternative. We don’t want to go back to the 1980s, which Cameron talks about as being a good era. It was an era of strikes and confrontation. Labour is saying there has to be a fairer alternative.” Mr Balls said Labour leader Ed Miliband, due to speak in Hyde Park, had wanted to join the march but had been told not to on police advice. – the Mirror

Clegg’s calamities continue

The Deputy Prime Minister has commissioned a complete rethink of Lib Dem strategy amid rumblings about his stewardship at the highest level. Insiders say senior party figures including Chris Huhne, a former leadership contender, have been jockeying for position behind the scenes. Rumours about Mr Clegg’s leadership have emerged after mounting discontent among party members in the country who are furious at the direction the party has been taking in government. Rank and file activists, who are more left wing than Mr Clegg, reject many of the more right wing policies adopted by their leader since he entered into coalition with the Tories. Mr Huhne, who ran Mr Clegg close in the last Lib Dem leadership election, has told colleagues privately that he would be interested in leading his party in the future. The rebranding exercise due to get under way next month will involve a total rethink of the party’s direction and could even include changing the name and logo, It is also feared the Lib Dems could lose up to 500 council seats in the local elections, further destabilising Mr Clegg. The Lib Dem leadership rules state that a leader can be removed by a vote of no confidence passed by a majority of MPs or by a statement calling on him to go submitted by 75 local constituency parties. – the Telegraph

Gaffe-prone Nick Clegg faced calls to apologise last night after claiming winter fuel payments were rising. Chancellor George ­Osborne confirmed in last week’s Budget the pay-out will fall by £50 to £200 a year for the over-60s and £100 to £300 for the over-80s. But in a radio phone-in, Deputy PM Mr Clegg said the Coalition had “increased winter fuel payments”. Labour’s Shadow Treasury minister David Hanson said: “Clegg hasn’t got a clue. He needs to come clean with pensioners and correct his mistaken claim.” – the Mirror

The government’s flagship plan to cap benefits at £500 a week per family has been thrown into crisis after the Liberal Democrats broke coalition ranks to complain that the policy risks increasing child poverty and homelessness. In a move that suggests a more assertive approach by Nick Clegg’s party, the Lib Dems have joined forces with leading charities and senior figures in local government to argue that a rigid cap could have a disastrous effect on families living in areas where the cost of housing is highest. Jenny Willott, the Lib Dems’ welfare spokesperson, told the Observer that she was pushing ministers to make major changes to avoid throwing more children into poverty and adding to homelessness. “I am very concerned about the effect on child poverty,” she said. “There are a number of possible changes that are being discussed, but at the moment I am certainly not happy with what is being proposed.” Willott made clear she had Clegg’s support and believed that ministers would amend their plans to ensure they pass through the Commons. She wants ministers to build more flexibility into the system – and to consider removing child benefit from the cap altogether. This, she argues, would help families with children in areas such as London who could end up paying £400 a week on housing, leaving just £100 to meet their other costs. – the Observer

Dress down day everyday

He has been nicknamed Gollum by senior Tories because of his strange appearance and eccentric behaviour. Now Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s shaven-headed and notoriously scruffy director of strategy, has stunned visiting dignitaries to Downing Street by hosting a reception not wearing any shoes. Business leaders who attended the formal drinks party last week were shocked to be greeted by Mr Cameron’s chief aide in his stockinged feet and looking more than ever like the impish character he is named after from The Lord Of The Rings film series. Insiders say they rarely if ever see him in shoes. He is not averse to turning up to work at Number Ten in T-shirts, jeans and trainers and is often unshaven. Some say Mr Hilton, 40, actually cultivates his scruffy appearance as he believes the casual look is all part of his modernising of the Conservative Party’s image. It was he who persuaded Mr Cameron not to wear ties while in opposition and encouraged him to make speeches with his shirt sleeves rolled up like Barack Obama. Mr Hilton, who is paid £276,000-a-year, favours T-shirts, tracksuits and red trainers and boasts that he has not worn a suit in a decade. And it seems the sock tendency is spreading to other members of the government. Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, was photographed recently in his Whitehall office greeting visitors in his stockinged feet. – the Telegraph

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