View in your browser
The Times and Sunday Times
Friday November 18 2016
Red Box
Good morning,
That’s another week over without full and total Armageddon descending upon us. Only five weeks until Christmas, and then we can wave goodbye to 2016 once and for all.

In these strange times Piers Morgan has spent longer on the phone to the US president than our own prime minister, Nigel Farage is complaining about being victimised and Tony Blair is denying he is for hire. Well, there’s a first time for everything.

Today is also the final chance to win tickets to This House, only if you are subscribed to Red Box. Sign up here thetimes.co.uk/redboxemail
 
Top News
Tell us a joke, chancellor! (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
No laughing matter
In the run-up to the budget in 2012, George Osborne was pushing for a new tax relief for the UK film industry. Some in the Treasury were resisting, fearing little schemes and credits just made the tax system more complicated.

"In the end the message came back that while the chancellor understood the concerns, he had got a really good joke to go with it," recalls a Treasury insider.

And so the chancellor got his way, with this dig at Ed Miliband and Ed Balls: "It is the determined policy of this government to keep Wallace and Gromit exactly where they are."

He was so pleased with it that in 2014's autumn statement he took another detour to make almost the same joke.

Osborne's allies insist that no policy was actually drawn up solely on the basis of a good joke. But his budget speeches would be peppered with minor schemes and tiny pots of money because there was a gag attached.

Do not expect any of that from Philip Hammond next week. "Jokes aren't really his thing," says a colleague.

The Treasury had been preparing a pared-back statement, simply updating Parliament on the latest forecasts for growth and borrowing, and the impact on tax and public spending.

I understand there is even an active review being carried out into the idea of dropping the autumn statement altogether. "There is a feeling that there might be too many fiscal events," said a Treasury source.

At a recent cabinet meeting, Hammond briefed senior ministers on the scale of the challenge ahead, warning that forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility will make for grim reading.

Prominent Leave campaigners Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary, responded by urging colleagues to remain positive and make the most of the opportunities Brexit presents.

However, Theresa May pointedly backed Hammond and insisted the government must stand by the OBR forecasts when they are published, in what was taken as a warning against Brexiteers criticising them in public.

However, late in the day Number 10 has decided it would quit like some added sprinkles to help those people who are "Just About Managing". Team May insists it does not call these voters "JAMs" but the name will probably now stick.

So in recent days there has been talk between No. 10 and No. 11 of an accelerated rise in the personal tax allowance, help with childcare, scrapping air passenger duty and freezing fuel duty.

It is all a bit late in the day, and suggests that there is nervous at the top of government about leaving the main headlines to be dominated by a £100 billion budget black hole.

Despite hilarious complaints from some senior ministers about Hammond acting "like an accountant" obsessing about making sure the numbers add up (isn't that his job) he retains the confidence of both the PM and most colleagues.

"I'm definitely on Team Phil," said one senior Tory. "Because he's not f***ing mad."
Read the full story
Friday's best comment
How May can break free from Brexit muddle
Patriotism must no longer be a dirty word
Only lower taxes will boost housing
Yes, Theresa May should give Nigel Farage a peerage
Theresa May's Brexit strategy is to become the Killer Queen – and it is working brilliantly
Today's cartoon from Peter Brookes

Read the story: Lords reform is scrapped but ministers say: behave or else
Nine health secretaries, one message
It's easy to ignore one former health secretary having a moan. Two might look like the product of a good lunch, but not more.

But with every holder of the officer for the past 20 years publicly condemning the "enduring injustice" faced by patients with mental health problems, the government will surely have to take notice.

Andrew Lansley, Stephen Dorrell, Ken Clarke, Andy Burnham, Alan Johnson and John Reid use a letter in The Times today to say they are “alarmed and dismayed” that little has changed since the promise last year that the NHS would treat mental health on a par with physical problems. They want to see action in the autumn statement.
Read the full story
US spy chief quits
America’s chief spy, James Clapper, submitted his resignation yesterday, injecting a fresh element of uncertainty into Donald Trump’s fitful push to build a new US government.

“I submitted my letter of resignation last night,” Clapper told the House intelligence committee. “I feel pretty good. I have 64 days left and I think I’d have a hard time with my wife with anything past that.”

Proving that no matter how powerful the man, there is always one person he fears crossing. Read the story

Mexico is to provide telephone hotlines and extra consular services for its citizens living in the United States after Trump threatened to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Read the story

Tony Blair's aides have dismissed claims that he is angling for a job with Trump as "complete nonsense". Because hanging out with a controversial US president, whose vague grasp of foreign affairs has made him the butt of jokes worldwide, isn’t Blair’s style at all. Read the story
Quote of the day
"All I wanted to do was curl up with a good book and our dogs and never leave the house again."
Hillary Clinton, in her first appearance since losing the US election
Bye-bye Barack
Theresa May will join other EU leaders in bidding fond farewell to Barack Obama in Berlin today, for a summit with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande & co. in which the British PM hopes to demonstrate Britain will still play a key role on security and defence even after Brexit.
 
Taking office
When David Cameron quit Downing Street but insisted he would stay on as an MP, Tory whips set about trying to find an office in parliament fit for a prime minister.

A large room was found with views of Westminster Abbey. Special Branch were happy that it was off the beaten track in the palace.

There was just one problem. Well, four. Four Welsh Conservative MPs shared the room and were reluctantly prised out.

I'm told the room was given a makeover, new desks fitted, secure computers installed.

My spy in the stairwell says Cameron spent barely "two hours" in the office before deciding actually he was going to quit as an MP.

So the Welsh Tories in exile could return? Er, no. The room has been taken over by... Liam Fox.

Brexit means... more bills
Britain could be forced to pay into the EU for a decade after it leaves, senior European politicians said yesterday.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, backed claims from Poland that the EU would continue to demand billions of pounds in contributions after Brexit to cover its previous pledges.

They didn't put that on the side of the bus, did they?

Read the full story
Red box comment
Wilson showed how lack of passion wins a poll
Ukip and the £385,000 of taxpayers' money
"It is outrageous the way the political establishment thinks it can bend the rules and use public money to rescue their floundering popularity," Nigel Farage said last night after it emerged...

Oh no, hang on. The Ukip leader and critic of EU waste has actually complained about "pure victimisation" after it was alleged that his party misspent more than £385,000 of taxpayers' money on its own general election campaign and to bolster its Brexit drive before the referendum.

Polling paid for using Brussels money just happened to be carried out in Ukip’s target seats of Thurrock and South Thanet, where Farage failed to win a Commons seat in 2015. So not money well spent, then.
Read the full story
The Sketch
Women on top as the men pine for a day of their own
Philip Davies must have felt like a member of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. Women to right of him, women to left of him, women in front of him volley’d and thunder’d. The occupant of the Speaker’s chair was a woman, so was the clerk, even the Serjeant at Arms had left his sword in the hands of someone with two X chromosomes.

The Shipley MP had secured a debate on International Men’s Day and for 20 minutes he raised important issues about the male suicide rate, battered husbands and other men’s issues until Natascha Engel, the deputy speaker, asked him to start winding up. Winding up! Why, that is Mr Davies’s specialism.
Read the full sketch
 
Bordering on confusion
Labour’s immigration policy seems to consist of arguing over who to let in to the meeting to decide Labour’s immigration policy.

Diane Abbott has refused to appoint a shadow immigration minister, insisting she is in charge, leading Labour MPs to claim the policy will be “the more the merrier”.

Then yesterday Clive Lewis, the business secretary, announced that migrants would only be allowed in to Britain if they were a member of a trade union. Meanwhile, Corbyn’s office want a tougher stance, moving to where the public is on border control.
A day in Corbyn's shoes
By Hannah McGrath

Would you give £500 for the chance to wear a signed pair of Jeremy Corbyn’s old shoes? The Labour leader, who signs everything from apples to bathroom tiles, has donated a battered pair of brown EMYCO lace-ups “from his private collection” to a shoe auction for the Small Steps Project charity.

The press release asks, slightly optimistically, “could you own the next UK prime minister’s shoes?”. Eight fans have taken the plunge so far, and are currently bidding £500. No word yet on why there's a lifesize wooden duck on his desk. You can place your own bid here
Red Box comment
Economic division is bad for Britain... and Labour
You pay £155,000 for every ENO show
Philip Hammond might be preparing to tell us to tighten our belts again, but the money keeps rolling in for the opera.

The cost to the taxpayer of each English National Opera performance has risen to £155,000 after the company scaled back its work to cope with funding cuts.
Read the full story
Final chance to win This House tickets
Today is the final chance to enter our competition to win one of ten pairs of tickets for This House, opening at the Garrick Theatre in London from November 19. You have until midnight tonight to enter, and you must be a Red Box email subscriber. Click here to enter
Rip-off energy bills
Britain’s biggest energy supplier is earning up to £840 million per year because so many of its customers are stuck on “rip-off” tariffs, according to new industry figures seen by The Times.

British Gas, which has by far the biggest number of customers on expensive standard variable tariffs (SVTs), accounts for about 60 per cent of a total £1.4 billion of alleged “customer detriment”, according to a breakdown of data seen for the first time.
Read the full story
Spot the difference
The hardback cover of Ed Balls’s autobiography showed him looking like an academic, glowering slightly in shadow chancellor mode. A new version, which was released yesterday, boasts a full-length Ed in a shiny suit with a cheeky grin, striking a comedian’s “let me tell you another one” pose. “As seen on Strictly,” it says on the cover. And “national treasure”.

Patrick Kidd wonders in the TMS diary if Balls's new prime-time audience will enjoy reading about his ideas on post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory.
In other news
  • Security costs: The costs of providing security for MPs have more than quadrupled since the killing of Jo Cox. Read the story

  • Rail refunds: Ministers have ordered rail companies to make dramatic improvements to the compensation system for late and delayed trains after figures showed that two thirds of passengers fail to make a claim. Read the story

  • Ringing tills: Shoppers delivered the strongest growth in retail sales in 14 years last month with households shrugging off Brexit-related gloom. Read the story

  • Freedom cry: Newspaper editors and campaigners have warned the government against reviving plans to weaken freedom of information laws. Read the story

  • Remote care: An around-the-clock service that connects care home residents to nurses over a video link has slashed unnecessary ambulance journeys, hospital admissions and GP appointments. Read the story

  • In the bag: You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but you can teach owners a thing or two. New figures suggest that people are cleaning up after their dogs more than ever, their minds focused by fines introduced to punish fouling. Read the story
TMS
From the diary
In tune with the voters
Four politicians shared a recording studio in Thurrock yesterday with Ricky Wilson, the lead singer of Kaiser Chiefs, KT Tunstall, David Gray, Suzi Quatro and Steve Harley (of Cockney Rebel fame) to record a charity single in aid of the Jo Cox Foundation. Pete Wishart, Kevin Brennan, Sir Greg Knight and Ian Cawsey, who make up the cross-party band MP4, drafted in a celebrity backing group as well as members of the parliamentary choir to record You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones. A noble enterprise. David Lidington, leader of the Commons, sent a greeting, saying that he hoped they would be a parliamentary version of St Winifred’s School Choir and become the Christmas No 1.
Read more from the TMS diary
 
What the papers say
The Times
"Some in Britain may see in a President Le Pen an ally for Brexit. They should think again. Britain’s interest is in the survival, not the disintegration, of the European Union. It wants an EU that can reform itself and strike a fair and mutually rewarding deal with the United Kingdom." Read the full article

Daily Mail
"Many criminals only get locked up after every kind of soft option — from cautions to suspended sentences to community service and fines — has proved futile. Once behind bars, the public expect hardened offenders to face conditions of order, austerity and discipline, not those resembling a debauched holiday camp." Read the full article

The Guardian

"There is no sign that the Lords have wholly obstructive intent, and they do have a right of critical engagement. An undertaking to comply with the prime minister’s Brexit timetable is not one the Lords can reasonably give, nor one that government should seek." Read the full article

Daily Express
"Both the Leave and Remain camps told us before the referendum that voting for Brexit meant voting to quit not just the EU but the single market as well. The Government must defy the Remoaners and act on these unequivocal instructions." Read the full article

The Sun
"Much of Britain’s aid DOES do good. But the International Development department should solely be assessing worthy recipients case by case and policing how our money is spent. Not madly splurging it to meet a set target.The law should be repealed — and sanity restored." Read the story
Agenda
Today:
  • Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, attends the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada alongside Tim Kaine, former democratic vice-presidential candidate.
  • Scientists should be exempt from potential immigration controls after Brexit, according to a report published by the Commons science and technology committee.
  • The department for communities and local government is “complacent” about growing risks to local authority finances, according to a report by the public accounts committee.
  • 09:00am: Theresa May attends a meeting in Berlin with Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and other European leaders.
  • 10:30am: Culture, media and sport select committee holds session on homophobia in sport.
  • 8:00pm: Nigel Farage, Ukip leader, and Lord Blunkett, the former home secretary and Sir Patrick McLoughlin, are among guests on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions.
House of Commons
  • Private Members Bills:
    Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill- second reading -Disability Equality Training (Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Drivers) Bill; Kew Garden Leases Bill; Unsolicited Marketing Communications (Company Directors) Bill; Registration of Marriage Bill.
  • Adjournment debate on licensing of premises dealing in fireworks.
House of Lords
  • 10:00am: International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — second reading
  • Register of Arms Brokers Bill — committee stage
  • Renters’ Rights Bill — committee stage
  • Lobbying (Transparency) Bill — committee stage