The five things you need to know on Thursday 31 October 2013...
1) LET'S TALK ABOUT ENERGY PRICES. AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN
For five consecutive weeks, PMQs has been dominated by a row over energy prices - and for every single one of those five weeks, David Cameron has been on the defensive. It's a pretty familiar script by now: Ed Miliband trumpets his much-discussed freeze on energy prices; Cameron responds rather unconvincingly by talking about the power of competition and the evils of 'green levies'.
Can the coalition get back on the front foot on energy prices today? The BBC reports:
"Energy Secretary Ed Davey is expected to unveil more details of a proposed review of competition in the energy market in a Commons statement later.
"Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs on Wednesday: 'We want a competition inquiry that starts straight away.'
"The review will be led by the regulator Ofgem, together with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
"Labour accused the PM of 'kicking the problem into the long grass'."
Of course they did. And they can also point out that a competition inquiry won't cut prices or help consumers in the short-run.
The Mirror reports:
"Energy firms could be fined if they refuse to come clean about their profits.
"Energy Secretary Ed Davey will today say they will have to open up their books or face sanctions as part of an annual review to ensure customers understand why their bills are going up.
"The Big Six will also be told to cut the time it takes customers to switch suppliers to as little as a week.
"In the Commons David Cameron was accused by Labour leader Ed Miliband of going from 'Rambo to Bambi' by his failure to stand up to the power firms.
"He told him: 'You're so on their side we should call them the Big Seven.'"
2) HS2, PART 222
It's not just the row over energy prices that continues to rumble on. Don't forget HS2. My colleague Ned Simons reports:
"Tory MPs fear David Cameron is heading full steam into a trap set by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls over the government's plan to fund a multi-billion pound new high speed rail line, warning Labour plans to ditch its support once it is too late for the Conservative Party to do the same.
"On Thursday MPs will be asked to vote in favour of a so-called paving Bill for the project, known as HS2, that will connect London to Manchester via Birmingham. The Bill opens the way for the legislation needed to begin construction of the new £50bn railway.
"... Cameron faces a hardcore of opponents on his own backbenches, including many MPs who will see the line cut through their rural constituencies.
"It has been predicted that up to 60 Tory MPs could vote against the government on Thursday. However rebels are downplaying the number, suggesting the figure is likely to be closer to 20."
But when will Labour get off the fence? It could cost them a coalition with the Lib Dems, according to the Telegraph:
"Nick Clegg has said that he would not be prepared to form a coalition government with Labour if Ed Miliband's party does not back the HS2 project.
"The Deputy Prime Minister said that Labour's failure to support the high–speed rail scheme 'beggars belief'.
"His indication that HS2 would represent a red line in future negotiations will concern senior Labour party figures."
3) HER MAJESTY AND HER PRESS
Yesterday, the Queen signed a Royal Charter governing the (self-)regulation of Britain's press. It's the end of the free press as we know it!!! At least that's the hyperbolic and near-hysterical response from some of Britain's newspaper editors, who are still in denial about the failures of self-regulation in the past and who have been bent on misrepresenting the content and structure of the royal charter in recent months (not to mention Lord Leveson's recommendations).
My colleague Paul Vale reports:
"Although short of full statutory regulation, the move has proved hugely unpopular with those working within the newspaper industry, who have argued that any political interference within the industry infringes on press freedom."
"However, despite the signing of the the much-decried Charter, the newspaper industry has said it will carry on the fight with industry sourced suggesting that an appeal could be lodged within the next week against the High Court’s refusal to review the Privy Council’s decision to reject the alternative charter put forward by newspaper publishers.
"Moreover, even if the legal wrangling amounts to nothing, some newspapers may simply refuse to sign up to the charter, although the government has promised exemplary damages should they decide not to do so."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram get a mauling from Jeremy Paxman on last night's Newsnight. When asked if he would allow his own children to go to schools with unqualified teachers, Hunt refused to answer - fives times.
4) TORIES VS THE SPOOKS
Today, MPs will take on the NSA and GCHQ in a parliamentary debate led by Tory backbencher Dominic Raab - he spoke to my colleague Ned Simons ahead of the debate:
"Dominic Raab told The Huffington Post UK that the attacks on The Guardian were 'frankly pretty febrile'.
"'Newspapers and politicians and members of the public have to make sure we don't impair this country's national security. But I have to say I haven't seen or heard or read anything which isn't really about political embarrassment for either the agencies or the government,' he said."
"I think we have to be very careful we don't let national security be a fig leaf to shout down proper debate about the oversight and accountability of the security services."
Hear, hear! And Raab isn't the only Tory who isn't taking the David Cameron 'Guardian endangered the UK' line on NSA and GCHQ revelations - my colleague Asa Bennett reports:
"Boris Johnson has robustly defended The Guardian's 'salient and interesting' revelations about the activities of global intelligence agencies, like the reported bugging of German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone by America's National Security Agency.
"Speaking at the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), the London Mayor said: 'I personally defend the Guardian's right to publish interesting information such as [the fact] that Angela Merkel's phone was bugged by Barack Obama. I think that is an interesting fact. I think the public deserves to know. The world is better for government being kept under the beady-eyed scrutiny of the media and for salient and interesting facts about public espionage being brought into the public domain.'"
5) DAVE THE POWERLESS
The Telegraph reports on the contents of Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's most powerful people
"British Prime Minister David Cameron has dropped out of the top 10 on Forbes magazine's list, slipping one place to 11th, behind Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke."
Ouch. Meanwhile, the paper reveals that Vladimir Putin tops the list for 2013:
"The controversial Russian president batted away competition from Mr Obama, Bill Gates and the Pope to claim the top spot on Forbes's annual list of the world's most powerful and influential people."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 86.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@Ed_Miliband Amazing to see team I watched as kid find way to win with ease.Didn't even put us through normal red sox agony.Great night & season. #redsox
@jreedmp Just saved a fortune on Christmas magazines by remembering that it's on Dec 25th and that I need to buy presents and put the tree up.
@chhcalling: The Yogurt aisle in my local supermarket is haunted. There's Paranormal Activia; probably caused by people dabbling with the Yakult.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Political consensus isn’t always virtuous."
George Eaton, writing in the New Statesman, says: "It’s living standards, stupid. Why a rising tide won't lift the Conservative boat."
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: 'How to make recidivism and costs rise? Privatise probation."
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