Politics Summary: Wednesday, December 2nd

The Independent reports that David Cameron is facing a “growing challenge to his authority” from senior members of his own party over global warming. David Davis has joined Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Ann Widdecombe in openly questioning the political consensus on climate change. He said: “The ferocious determination to impose hair-shirt policies on the public – taxes on holiday flights, or covering our beautiful countryside with wind turbines that look like props from War of the Worlds – is bound to cause a reaction in any democratic country.” Meanwhile, 18 members of the Tories’ ECR grouping in Europe including Michal Kaminski voted against a motion calling for the Copenhagen talks to agree an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 – the official Tory policy. Lord Stern described the sceptics as being “muddled and confused.” Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that the Global Warming Policy Foundation, launched last week by climate sceptic Lord Lawson, has had to correct a graph showing global temperatures on their website. Professor Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit that had its emails hacked and posted online, will step down from his post while an inquiry into the affair is carried out.

The ONS has released figures showing that although spending has increased by more than £30 billion under Labour, “productivity” is no better than in the final years under the Conservatives. Statisticians said that the cost of hiring large numbers of support staff to ease teachers’ workloads, combined with falling pupil numbers, in effect cancelled out the benefits of improved exam results. But schools minister Vernon Coaker condemned the report: “If productivity was the main goal, then we could simply double class sizes to double the amount of teaching done by one person, but clearly that would have a devastating impact on education. What is important is raising standards across the board – and that is what we are achieving.” The Guardian also reports that in just under 900 primary schools – 100 more than last year – the majority of pupils leave without mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills. But the government insisted that 100,000 more pupils now left primary school “secure in the basics” compared with the mid-1990s.

Gordon Brown is to introduce a law to guarantee that a re-elected Labour government would hold a referendum by October 2011 on replacing the first-past-the-post electoral system with the Alternative Vote. Willie Sullivan, of the Vote for a Change campaign, said: “We welcome the government’s apparent acceptance that there’s a crisis in politics and we need a referendum on the voting system to fix it.” The Times reports that senior Lib Dem sources suggested that they would back the alternative vote as a “small step in the right direction”. Labour strategists believe the move could wrong-foot David Cameron’s Conservatives, say the Independent, by portraying the party as defenders of a discredited voting system.

The Times reports that Alistair Darling is “resisting Cabinet pressure to promise extra spending on schools and hospitals as he tries to convince the public and the markets next week that he has a credible plan for cutting debt.” The Chancellor is reported to want to shelve some big capital projects because the so-called “efficiency savings” heralded by some ministers will not be enough. In the same paper, Darling writes, “as it is unquestionably in Britain’s national interest to strengthen the European financial marketplace, so it is also in the interests of Frankfurt and Paris.” It is seen as a “blunt warning” to Michel Barnier, the new French EU Commissioner for the Single Market.

Barack Obama finally announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and promised that he will begin US troop withdrawals in July 2011, the first time that America has offered a timetable for a military pullout. Speaking about Britain’s additional commitment of 500 troops, David Miliband said: “We very much hope, in line with President Karzai’s commitment, that within five years all provinces in the country will follow Kabul in having the Afghan security leadership. However that does not mean the end of international support for the Afghan forces … and the so-called overwatch role that has developed for the circumstances of Iraq will remain an issue beyond that.”

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