Politics Summary: Thursday, May 20th

The prime minister and deputy prime minister will unveil full details of the coalitions programme of government this morning.

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The prime minister and deputy prime minister will unveil full details of the coalition’s programme of government this morning. The Times calls it a “victory” for the Tories, with Oliver Letwin reported to have “fought off a last-minute effort by the Liberal Democrats to water down school and welfare reforms”. David Cameron and Nick Clegg will herald “common ground” at the launch of the full programme; they will say: “We share a conviction that the days of big government are over… [By devolving power] we can build the free, fair and responsible society we want to see.” On school reforms, the Times says there will be “no role for local authorities in enforcing fair school admission policies”, though the biggest compromise on the Tories’ side is likely to see them deferring a decision on abolishing the Human Rights Act with a British “Bill of Rights”, which will be subject to a review.

Yesterday, Left Foot Forward warned of the “Human rights timebomb” that threatens to destabilise the coalition. The Standard adds that the two leaders will insist that “they have found enough common ground to stay in power for five years”: “The Prime Minister and his deputy are to launch the final document setting out their administration’s programme at an event in Westminster. The agreement is around ten times as long as the four-page version produced during protracted negotiations in the wake of the inconclusive General Election.”

The Telegraph reports how the prime minister took on the Tory backbench “awkward squad” – aka the 1922 Committee, in “an audacious attempt to stamp his authority on Conservative MPs and smother back-bench dissent”. Mr Cameron “announced a controversial move to neutralise the 1922 Committee which gives back-bench MPs a forum for criticising the Conservative leadership”, turning “simmering anger” at the deal with the Liberal Democrats into “fury” among Tory MPs: “One senior Right-winger described it as a ‘deliberate provocation’ that could split the party. Others likened the moment to Tony Blair’s ‘Clause IV’ confrontation with Labour members in 1995… During the private meeting, Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, told Mr Cameron that the changes were an unacceptable attempt to control the party. Bill Cash complained there had been no consultation or discussion of the proposed changes, which would ‘end the independence of backbenchers’. After the meeting, one MP said: ‘This is an attempt to crush dissent, nothing less. He’s effectively trying to abolish the 1922.’ A former minister added: ‘He’s caused enormous resentment. People who were feeling sullen before are now feeling furious.'” The Times also reports Mr Cameron’s confrontation with his backbenchers: “David Cameron has ambushed his party’s internal critics with an audacious move to stifle backbench opposition. Conservative MPs reacted with fury when he proposed opening up membership of the 1922 Committee, created to represent backbenchers’ interests, to frontbenchers. One described it as ‘a stitch-up that would make Robert Mugabe blush’.”

The Guardian reports the latest on the Labour leadership race, which will today see Andy Burnham join David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and John McDonnell – who both declared yesterday – and Diane Abbott, who the BBC reports in the past half hour has now enetered the race. Mr Burnham will launch his campaign at the People’s History Museum in Manchester this afternoon, telling the Guardian that Labour “had our fingers in our ears and our hands over our eyes” over election issues including immigration: “For me the big task is for Labour to reconnect with people who are feeling this. They need to feel that Labour understands what they are saying and then will take steps to address it.” On welfare and pensions, the former health secretary said: “You just heard it all over the country – it was a sense that for people who, in their eyes, were doing the right thing and trying to get on, that when they looked around, Labour wasn’t on their side any more… That came out through this feeling about benefits… that money and help was going to people who were not, like them, trying to do the right things.” Meanwhile, Mr Balls launched his campaign by saying of his opponents: “We’ve been friends and colleagues for a long period of time and I’m very proud of my friendships with colleagues … Whoever wins this, I will back them 110%. We all have some similarities but we have some differences: David’s been a foreign secretary travelling around the world … I was born in Norwich … [and] I’m a Yorkshire MP. I’ve had a different set of challenges. Being different’s good.”

The Times reports on the Electoral Commission investigation into the polling day blunders which left thousands of people unable to vote. The commission’s report, to be be published today, will “highlight shortcomings by election officers and draw up new guidance to stop it happening again” and may include “recommendations to ensure a higher number of polling stations are open in each constituency”. It will look at “the extent of the problems on May 6, whether returning officers had made adequate preparations before polling day, and whether the commission’s guidance was followed”. Returning officers, who are said to be “furious” at the way they have been blamed by commission chairman Jenny Watson, have called for “electronic registers” as one way to speed up the process of voting in polling booths on election night. Ms Watson had blamed the country’s 400 returning officers, claiming they should have followed guidance and been prepared for extra numbers.

And the Financial Times has the latest on the eurozone crisis. The FT reports how: “Europe’s leaders scrambled to restore unity in the face of the sovereign debt crisis after Germany dismayed allies with a unilateral ban on naked short selling… The ban, introduced with no warning to other European nations, knocked global stock markets and sent the euro tumbling to fresh four-year lows against the dollar. An unrepentant Angela Merkel, German chancellor, told parliament in Berlin on Wednesday that the eurozone crisis was the greatest test for the European Union since its creation.” Ms Merkel warned: “It is a question of survival… The euro is in danger. If the euro fails, then Europe fails. If we succeed, Europe will be stronger.” The FT adds: “For officials in several EU capitals, the most disturbing aspect of the dispute is that it points to Germany’s willingness to act on its own in the financial crisis, albeit in what it conceives to be the general European interest. It also underlines the difficulties that Germany and France have encountered in trying to forge common answers to the sovereign debt emergency. Neither the European Commission nor finance ministers received advance warning about Germany’s action at two meetings in Brussels this week that were devoted to financial regulation and a €440bn stabilisation fund for vulnerable eurozone countries.”

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