Thursday News Review

U-turn after U-turn

Dithering David Cameron was ridiculed yesterday after performing yet another spectacular backflip over Government policy. He ordered a rethink on controversial plans to halve jail sentences for violent criminals – shelving proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. It came just two days he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on sweeping health reforms. And it showed that, unlike one of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, this Tory PM definitely IS for turning. The hapless leader’s latest about-face is seen as a humiliating blow for Mr Clarke. – Daily Mirror

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke faced embarrassment yesterday after David Cameron vetoed his proposal to cut by up to half the prison terms for rapists and other violent offenders who make early guilty pleas. It was the Prime Minister’s second major policy U-turn in less than 24 hours following his concessions on NHS reform. Mr Clarke’s plans to cut up to 50 per cent from sentences of offenders who plead guilty early (an increase from 33 per cent) faced savage criticism from Tory right-wingers. The Independent understands that ministers are considering a two-tier scheme, under which a maximum 33 per cent discount will be retained for the most severe crimes such as rape, assault and armed robbery but 50 per cent could be introduced for less serious offences. The latter option is being backed by Mr Clarke and Liberal Democrat ministers, while many Tories are pressing for the 50 per cent proposal to be scrapped outright. – the Independent

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has been forced by Number 10 to abandon a plan to give rapists, and other serious offenders, a 50% sentence discount in return for early guilty pleas, but he is fiercely resisting Treasury demands to make his justice ministry bear the multi-million pound cost. Clarke had proposed to increase the discount from 33% to 50% for all offenders, so saving £130m from a departmental budget being slashed by a quarter. Following talks with David Cameron over the past 48 hours, Clarke accepted rapists will now be excluded, but he is battling to retain the extra discount for less serious offences, a policy that would free up badly needed prison places. In difficult talks yesterday with the Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, Clarke pointed out he had last year won Treasury agreement that if the government’s so-called rehabilitation revolution did not deliver a lower jail population, then the Treasury would bear the costs from the reserve. – the Guardian

Another U-turn on pensions possible

Senior Liberal Democrats are understood to be determined to reverse the plans. Jenny Willott, the Lib Dem backbench spokeswoman on pensions, has also called for the proposals to be reconsidered. But the Treasury is likely to fiercely resist attempts to unpick the state pension age changes, which will save the taxpayer billions in the years ahead, unless they can be made to pay for themselves. Former Lib Dem party leader Charles Kennedy, John Hemming and Annette Brooke are among those who have opposed the changes. While Tory MPs Peter Bottomley, James Gray and Chloe Smith have asked for the rules to be amended. She told the Commons: ‘Women currently in their late 50s are getting a very bad deal. No men will see their state pension age increase by more than a year but half a million women will.’ – Daily Mail

Tory and Lib Dem rebels sided with Labour in raising concerns about the impact a decision to raise it to 66 by 2018 will have on around 300,000 women born in 1953 and 1954. They have been given just seven years notice. David Cameron was challenged over it by Lib Dem Annette Brook at PM’s Questions. She urged him to review it, saying: “The women affected will be asked to work up to two extra years over and above what they had planned for, whereas men will be asked to work only an extra year. The discrimination concerns me.” Mr Cameron said he “understood” but argued pensioners would be better off in increased pension payments agreed by the Coalition. – Daily Express

Politicians pay tribute to Prince Philip at 90

Taking time out after Prime Minister’s Questions to propose a “humble address” to be presented to the Queen to mark the occasion, Mr Cameron described the Duke as “a source of rock solid strength” during his record-breaking 59 years as consort. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, was equally effusive, saying the Duke “embodies qualities of duty, loyalty public service and good humour – great British qualities”. But it was the two leaders’ frequent references to the Duke’s famed sense of mischief that drew the biggest response from the House. Mr Cameron promised to keep his speech short, quoting the Duke’s observation that “the mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot endure”, and shared his favourite blunt comment by the Duke, when he was once asked how his flight had been. “Have you ever been on a plane?” the Duke had told a dignitary. “Well, you know how it goes up in the air and comes down again – it was like that.” – Daily Telegraph

Its up to you Carwyn

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that policies taken forward by Carwyn Jones’ Welsh Government would shape his party’s next UK manifesto – and he gave the First Minister a free hand to negotiate coalition deals with either Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats. Speaking in a London press conference yesterday, Mr Miliband made it clear he would not oppose Assembly link-ups with Plaid or the Lib Dems if the Welsh Labour leader considered these necessary. He said: “These are decisions for him. He’s an excellent First Minister. “He’s done a brilliant job since he’s taken over from Rhodri Morgan. Those kind of decisions are for him.” – Western Mail

Encouraging for Labour, but worrying figures for Ed

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are struggling to improve their image with voters while David Cameron remains almost twice as popular as his two rival leaders.  After a mini-revival early this year, the Liberal Democrats are back at the 11 per cent rating to which they slumped last year after their tuition fees U-turn. Labour (40 per cent) enjoys a four-point advantage over the Tories (36 per cent). Mr Cameron, dubbed “Teflon Man” by Tory aides, appears to float above the political fray. Mr Clegg seems to be the fall guy for ministers’ unpopular decisions while Mr Miliband makes little impact on voters. Mr Clegg’s personal ratings have hit a new low. ComRes found only 21 per cent believe he is a good leader. Professor Curtice said: “There must now be question marks about Clegg’s ability to recover from his unpopularity, which is beginning to be on a par with that endured by Gordon Brown. Leaders rarely recover popularity once most of the public have decided to write them off.” There is little either for Mr Miliband to celebrate. ComRes found only 22 per cent deem him a good leader, compared with Mr Cameron’s 39 per cent. Ominously for Labour, none of the last three opposition leaders with a negative satisfaction rating after eight months in the post – William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Howard – went on to become prime minister. – the Independent

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