Telegraph Morning Briefing: Defence of the Realm, 02/03/2015Posted: March 2, 2015
This political briefing was sent as an email to Telegraph readers, March 2, 2015
Good morning. Our splash today reveals that the chief of the US Army, General Raymond Odierno, is “very concerned” about cuts to Britain’s defence budget and has called on the government to maintain the Nato target of keeping defence spending at 2 per cent of GDP. David Cameron has so far refused to give that promise.
The story adds to a growing headache for Mr Cameron. His, and Britain’s, credibility in Washington have been questioned because of our shrinking military clout. There are also growing Conservative criticisms about Cameron’s refusal to protect defence from any future cuts. On Sunday, Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, said during an interview with The Daily Politics show that Tory MPs will find the commitment to aid spending while cutting the defence budget “difficult to swallow”. He was joined by General Sir Peter Wall, the former head of the British Army, who called for all parties to commit to the 2 per cent target to help Britain deal with “unforeseen” threats.
Britain’s lack of military investment is evident. The shortage of a maritime patrol aircraft meant ally assistance was requested last year when a Russian submarine was suspected in the UK’s nuclear deterrent transit area. The shortage of combat ships, moreover, was highlighted during the Libyan intervention. There are not enough combat aircraft, and the Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF all want for specialised personnel. Britain’s place as a first-rank global power is now in question.
The US intervention will sharpen fears among grassroots Tories. How, they might ask, could a Conservative-led government ring-fence foreign aid budgets for countries with powerful militaries and space programs, like India, but cut defence spending? There are no votes in defence, they say. But with the Russian bear rampant and Islamic extremists dreadfully active, can Mr Cameron really make it to the election without committing himself and his party to the defence of the realm? It may not be a full promise on the 2 per cent, but some sort of Tory statement on defence spending is starting to look inevitable.
TORY IMMIGRATION SPLIT
The Times splashes today with “Scrap migrant target, No 10 told” , which details Tory infighting following the embarrassing revelation that Cameron’s “no ifs, no buts” immigration policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Ken Clarke, a former home secretary, said the policy had been a mistake, while Baroness Warsi, the former Tory party chairwoman, said pledging such an “unrealistic target” again would set the party up for failure. No 10 could shrug off their concerns, but Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, are also reported to have raised concerns. A forlorn Mr Cameron has been left asking why he and his home secretary, Theresa May, are the only ones left who support the official policy.
SHAPPS vs CABLE
A row has erupted over the Tory plan to ban hate preachers from universities. Grant Shapps has accused Vince Cable of trying to water down Cameron’s campus plan. The Tory chairman said his party wanted “proper, decent, tough rules that don’t ban free speech, but do ban preaching death”. His comments came after Cable blocked guidance that would have imposed a blanket ban. With the revelations this weekend that part of Jihadi John’s radicalisation took place at Westminster University, expect this one to roll on.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
Mr Cameron will pledge today to build more than 200,000 “decent, well-built homes with gardens” that will be discounted 20 per cent for first-time buyers. During a speech later today in Essex, the PM will outline the plan to build these houses on brownfield land over the next five years. However, with England needing approximately 250,000 new houses a year to keep up with the growing number of households, is this policy really enough to solve the housing crisis, particularly in London and the south east? Conservatives will be hoping instead that voters take it as a sign of good faith, proof that they understand the concern here, and are not, as Labour would suggest, the party of rich people who already own big houses.
GOODNIGHT & GOOD LUCK
The BBC is to back a radical overhaul of the licence fee, the Corporation’s head, Lord Hall will say later today. “BBC accepts the end of the licence fee” is the Independent’s splash. Last week the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee said the £145.50 annual licence fee should be replaced by a German-style “broadcasting levy” that would apply to every household. This would allow the BBC to collect funds from an estimated 500,000 households that do not to have a television. Hmmm. How do we feel about a “BBC tax”?
HOUSE OF LORDS: “ONE IN, ONE OUT”
“The House of Lords has an image problem,” writes Baroness D’Souza, the Lord Speaker for the Telegraph. “It is seen as having too many members, and its conventions are popularly regarded as ancient and old-fashioned, operating uncomfortably in the modern world.” She isn’t wrong. Whilst there is very little appetite for an elected second chamber, people don’t particularly care for it. YouGov polls show that the electorate would prefer a partially or fully elected upper chamber. D’Souza suggests there should be a system where peers should join the Lords on a “one in, one out” basis. It is an interesting notion. However, besides the sheer number of peers (nearly 800), it fails to address the lack of direct democratic legitimacy which, for most people, is the real issue. Of the 182 democracies in the world, 67 have a bicameral system, and of these, 48 have a largely or wholly elected second chamber. Those who have no elected members in their upper house are less developed states. Whether anything comes from the Baroness’ suggestion remains to be seen. Reforming the Lords is notoriously difficult; Robin Cook once compared it to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – “[it] never arrives and some are rather doubtful whether it even exists.”
The government’s plan to make more pharmaceutical drugs has failed spectacularly, the FT reports. In 2011, the industry – which was worth £60 billion – was identified as a priority for rebalancing the economy and reducing dependence on the financial services. However, since the coalition was formed, the UK’s drug output has dropped by a quarter, despite an expanding domestic market. This should have been one of the coalition’s success stories. The UK has gone backwards in the drug production market.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@iainmartin1: That’s right… The EU made and kept the peace in Europe. Nothing to do with the US and NATO… #TheGreatEuropeanDisasterMovie
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Alloa: Scottish cabinet meeting
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1800 John Bercow speaks is to speak at a Hansard society event
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
1430 Oral Questions: Education, including Topical Questions
Debate: Estimates Day (2nd allotted day) – (i) Devolution in England: the case for local government (Communities and Local Government Committee first report, session 2014-15: HC 503 2014-15, and the Government response 2014-15) (ii) Towards the next Defence and Security Review: part two – NATO (Defence Committee third report session 2014-15: HC 358 2014-15, and the Government response: HC 755 2014-15)
Adjournment: Extension of the Warm Home Discount Scheme to Northern Ireland – Ms Margaret Ritchie
1400 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Witness(es): Andrew and Susan Smith, Mr and Mrs Fruscher, The Edgecote Estate, Chris Dawes, Celia Shenton, Fred Smith, George Birchall, Anthony Birchall, Leonard Shenton, Ryan Mifflin, Robert Birchill, Phill Dann, Andy Ward, Alwyn and Sharon Ralphs, Nick Rafferty, Lorraine Bailey, Elizabeth Hulme, Sir William Cash MP on behalf of Swynnerton, Whitmore and Madeley HS2 Action Group , Keith Ralls, Gillian Ralls, Darren Swinton , Richard Nicholls, The Culcheth Community Group, Dr Dan Mitchell and John Lee, John Lee, Catherine Lea and Kenneth Lea. Location: Room 5, Palace of Westminster
1515 Public Accounts: The Equipment Plan and Major Projects Report 2014 and reforming defence acquisition. Witness(es): Jon Thompson, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, Ministry of Defence, Air Marshal Sir Stephen John Hillier KCB CBE DFC, Deputy of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence and David Williams, Director General Finance, Ministry of Defence. Location: Room 15, Palace of Westminster
1605 Transport: The work of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Witness(es): Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Ian Woodman, Director, Maritime Directorate, Department for Transport. Location: The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House
1605 Science and Technology: Pre-appointment hearing with the Government’s preferred candidate for Chair of the BBSRC. Witness(es): Professor Sir Gordon Duff, Government’s preferred candidate for the Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Location: Room 6, Palace of Westminster
1715 Political and Constitutional Reform: Individual Electoral Registration 2015. Witness(es): Jenny Watson, Chair, Electoral Commission, Andrew Scallan, Director of Electoral Administration, Electoral Commission and Phil Thompson, Head of Research and Party Registration, Electoral Commission. Location: Room 8, Palace of Westminster
1900 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Witness(es): As for afternoon session, unless already heard. Location: Room 5, Palace of Westminster
HOUSE OF LORDS
1430 Oral Questions:
Effectiveness of the Conventions between the two Houses of Parliament
Preparations for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and availability prior to the general election
When the Chargé d’Affaires to Iran will operate from a re-opened British Embassy in Tehran
Whether time taken to build an Astute-class submarine has been reduced
Legislation: Recall of MPs Bill – Third reading – Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Legislation: Serious Crime Bill [HL] – Consideration of Commons amendments – Lord Taylor of Holbeach
1600 Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment (EU Sub-Committee B): Private meeting. Location: Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster
1600 Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection (EU Sub-Committee E): Witness(es): (at 4.05pm) evidence will be heard from the Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, who will be giving evidence on the Draft Rules of Procedure of the General Court one-off evidence session. Location: Committee Room 4, Palace of Westminster