By Mark Wallace
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Yesterday, the BBC published an embarrassing leaked letter, sent by a Department of Education official, on the topic of internet porn filters. In essence, the letter asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to agree to a form of words which would exaggerate the level of protection offered - allegedly in order to allow the Prime Minister to claim a victory.
Today, the row over the leak grew, with an anonymous source within DCMS (which has now taken over the issue) telling the Daily Mail that "the Department for Education is part of the problem", implying that while Maria Miller's department is supporting Claire Perry's moral crusade, Michael Gove's team are standing in its way.
The issue is only going to get messier - not because of internal divisions on the topic, but because this is what happens when politicians promise the press they will implement an impossible policy.
The fact is that the impression Perry gives about this being a simple issue of flicking a switch is a false one. As Big Brother Watch point out, the only way to even start trying to filter all pornography is to empower the state to monitor everyone's internet browsing, all the time.
Even if we were to accept such an unpalatable and intrusive policy, it wouldn't actually do the job - for example, proponents of filtering have yet to offer an actual definition of what constitutes pornography or adult material. (It is important to remember that this issue is about filtering legal content, and is totally separate to criminal material, such as child abuse imagery or terrorist handbooks, hence the difficulty producing a definition.)
China is the world's biggest practitioner of internet censorship, and even their vast resources, technical capabilities and enthusiasm for totalitarianism have failed to prevent citizens getting round their systems.
Those Ministers who have flirted with the media by implying they support the Perry position have led people further down the garden path, deploying what is perhaps the worst argument in politics: "won't somebody think of the children".
In doing so, they have now created a monster which threatens to devour them.
The Daily Mail, for example, has publicly committed its support to a policy which Ministers are starting to realise can never happen. How will they react when they are publicly let down, as they inevitably will be? This leak is only the start of what will be an embarrassing backfire - all caused by fantasy policy-making.
Of course, there is plenty of stuff on the internet which is legal but kids still shouldn't be exposed to - somebody should indeed think of the children. What Claire Perry and her allies have yet to realise is that the only authority who can and should do so is the children's parents, not the state.
This is a congratulatory ToryDiary to mark Andy Murray's victory, written in the style of the texts and e-mails that we, the ConHome team, receive several times a day from Grant Shapps's top team at CCHQ:
It isn't necessary to believe all (or indeed any) of this to offer warm congratulations to Andy Murray on his victory, though we hope that the polls soon provide justification for today's outbreak of Conservative high spirits.
In Othello, Iago suggests to the Moor that ideas can have value, but that money has none: "Who steals my purse steals trash. 'Tis something, nothing:/'Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands." The audience knows as it listens that the man is manipulating his master - that although Iago has just told Othello that good name is an "immediate jewel" of the soul, he earlier said to Cassio that "reputation is an idle and most false imposition". But Shakespeare's words have a life beyond the motives of those who speak them, and Iago's rubbishing of money and praise of reputation is an unforgettable expression of the notion that there some things that money can't buy.
This is also the view, pretty much, of those who stalk the commanding heights of Britain's cultural life - its concert halls and theatres and cinemas and libraries and museums and opera houses. Their belief that art is worth more than money sits comfortably alongside their conviction that it none the less needs a lot of it (courtesy of the taxpayer). In principle, they have a point, and anyone who doubts it should see Nicholas Hynter's mesmerising production of Othello at the National Theatre - proof that state subsidy can sometimes produce brilliant results. In practice, though, there are a thousand qualifications, ranging from the obvious rejoinder that most subsidised art isn't as outstanding as Hynter's to the inescapable fact that the arts must shoulder part of the burden of deficit reduction. Rightly or wrongly, voters value hospital theatres above artistic ones.
By Peter Hoskin
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We don’t normally start ToryDiary posts by highlighting the words of a Labour frontbencher. That stuff’s generally reserved for LeftWatch. But there was a fairly striking moment in Harriet Harman’s Today Programme interview earlier – and it probably caught the ears of No.10, too.
It was her admission that Labour will review their policy on pensioner benefits ahead of the next election. Ed Miliband, you’ll remember, said last week that the current set-up, by which wealthy pensioners receive benefits such as Winter Fuel Allowance and free TV licences, “needs to be looked at” – before his party’s spokespeople swarmed out to reassure folk that no decisions had yet been made, that their leader didn’t like the idea of means-testing, etc, etc. But, listening to Mrs Harman, it seems as though something really is afoot. “You always have to look at everything,” is how she put it, “to make sure the provision is right for the income distribution at the time.”
As the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan suggests, there could be a strong dose of politics in Mrs Harman’s remarks. She’ll know that the Lib Dems are opposed to these universal benefits, and that – as Nick Clegg implied yesterday – it’s likely to be one of the sorest points of intra-Coalition discussion ahead of this summer’s Spending Review. Perhaps Labour are hoping to line up with the Lib Dems against the Tories, in this case.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Is David Cameron finally getting his machine into shape? There are signs that he might be.
There has been the skilful and sensitive management of the sad death of Margaret Thatcher. The PM has used the period to reconnect with some of his MPs - dining with key Thatcherites and writing handwritten notes to every one of his colleagues who spoke in the Commons debate to mark her death. He was at Tuesday night's launch of Charles Moore's biography of the Iron Lady, meeting and talking with key members of her Cabinets.
Overnight he did two things that I've long recommended: (1) He set up a policy unit of Tory MPs and (2) he rehabilitated... Some of the new members of his policy unit are people who have rebelled against his authority, notably Jesse Norman and Peter Lilley. Yesterday the Downing Street drawbridge came down. Light was let into the Number 10 bunker and new thinking was invited into the Prime Minister's operation.
Jo Johnson is an able enough individual but it is regrettable that yet another Old Etonian occupies yet another key position at the heart of the party. Overall, however, we're seeing a Prime Minister who is finally getting serious about party management. Many people are correctly crediting Lynton Crosby with improvements to the operation, but the real driving force of better personnel relations is John Hayes MP – appointed as the PM's parliamentary adviser a few days before Lady Thatcher's death.
While the PM is in a forgiving and healing mood he should warn uber-loyalist colleagues to end their briefing against Theresa May. He should also restore the whip to Nadine Dorries. The whips want this to happen but Numbers 10 and 11 are resisting.
Graphic above from today's Daily Mail
By Paul Goodman
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Towards the end of last week, David Cameron broke off talks with Nick Clegg and David Miliband over press regulation. Over the weekend, he resumed them. Yesterday, he joined the two other party leaders to propose a scheme to the Commons. There are only two ways of intepreting his actions. The first is that the Prime Minister always intended to cut a deal with Clegg and Miliband, that his main aim throughout the talks has been to avoid defeat in the Commons, and that his ending of them was a gambit which sought to squeeze as many concessions out of them as possible. The second is that he braced himself to go down to defeat last week, exasperated by Clegg and Miliband's behaviour, but changed his mind over the weekend.
He had reasons to take either course. Sticking to his guns and going down to defeat in the Commons could have won him the praise of the centre-right papers, and of the part of his party that has always been uneasy about statutory regulation. However, there was a risk that any goodwill won from those papers would be short-lived, and that being beaten in the lobbies would have weakened his position further. Restarting the talks and agreeing a deal instead has avoided that Commons defeat - a mere fourteen Conservative MPs rebelled - and enabled Mr Cameron to claim, truthfully enough, that the regulation he agreed with Clegg and Miliband was less restrictive than that they'd have proposed (and seen passed) if left to their own devices.
By Paul Goodman
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Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly. For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then). The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled". But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower. And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn. Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.
Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse. You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people. But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views. (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots). Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.
By Tim Montgomerie
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I suspect there would be little argument with the proposition that George Osborne is the most important member of David Cameron's ministerial team but who has the second most important job? You could argue it was IDS. He's making landmark reforms to welfare and is responsible for delivering the biggest cuts of the deficit reduction programme. There is an argument for Michael Gove because of the scale and reach of his education reforms. Or what about Theresa May? She is responsible for flagship immigration, police commissioner and security policies. My argument, however, would be that Jeremy Hunt can probably claim to have the second most important and difficult job in the current government.
The first reason is that he leads the NHS at a time when it faces the most difficult financial settlement in its history. Throughout nearly all of its life it has received inflation-busting increases in its budget. Those increases have helped it to keep pace with the cost of caring for Britain's ageing population, the growth of lifestyle-related diseases and the higher-than-average rising costs of new drugs and other medical technologies. During this period of austerity the NHS is going to have to cope with inflation-only increases in its resource allocation. Not for one or two years but for perhaps five or six. It will only cope if it makes unprecedented economies including the amalgamation of certain facilities and greater specialisation. A report in today's FT (£) underlines the scale of the task. Reporter Chris Cook notes that the Nuffield Trust believes that "Britain’s ageing population, salary pressures and drug price rises could cost the NHS a further £34bn by the start of the next decade".
By Matthew Barrett
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The Sunday Telegraph reports that a number of Tory MPs who wrote a letter in support of Leveson-style statutory regulation of the press have now brought their positions in line with David Cameron - opposed to such far-reaching state control. The letter, signed last month, had called for Parliament not to "duck the challenge" of changing press regulation laws.
The Sunday Telegraph were able to reach about half of the 42 MPs, and say that several now back the Prime Minister. This might well indicate a less bruising time for Mr Cameron as he attempts to debate and pass legislation on the press in 2013.
By Paul Goodman
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...That, at any rate, is pretty much the unanimous verdict of Fleet Street this morning. And it is hard to see why it should be wrong, at least as far as statutory regulation is concerned.
After all, statutory regulation needs a statute. Which means that the Government would have to introduce one.