Clegg backs Huhne for a cabinet return - but who would make way?

Former Energy Secretary will be back "at the top table" if he is cleared over speeding claims, says Clegg.

Speaking at a Press Gallery lunch in Westminster, Nick Clegg has just said that he'd like to see his old rival Chris Huhne back in the cabinet if the former Energy Secretary succeeds in clearing his name. Huhne was charged with perverting the course of justice in February 2012 after allegedly asking his former wife Vicky Pryce to accept speeding points on his behalf. His trial was due to begin last October but was adjourned until 14 January for legal reasons.

Asked whether Huhne could return, Clegg said he would like to see him "at the top table of British politics". Then asked whether this meant the cabinet, he replied "Yes". This prompts the question of which Lib Dem cabinet minister would make way for Huhne. The party currently has a quota of five seats (Clegg, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Michael Moore and Ed Davey), with David Laws, who returned to government as an education minister in last September's reshuffle, also attending cabinet.

Clegg insisted that Davey, who replaced Huhne as Energy Secretary, was not simply warming his predecessor's seat, but this did not amount to a guarantee of his position. With Clegg unlikely to appoint a non-Scot to the post of Scottish Secretary (Michael Moore's current job) and Alexander and Cable both secure in their posts, Davey is the most likely to be sacrificed.

Former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who resigned in February 2012 after being charged with perverting the course of justice. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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When is the Budget 2017?

Chancellor Philip Hammond will present the last ever springtime Budget to Parliament on March 8th. He has a tricky hand to play.

Fans of the Chancellor’s red box photocall outside 11 Downing Street are in for a treat this year - the abolition of the Autumn Statement means Philip Hammond will present not one but two Budgets to the Commons.

The first – the last ever Spring budget – will be published on Wednesday 8 March 2017. A second – the first Autumn Budget – will come later in the year. This will be followed by a new Spring Statement, which will respond to forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility but will no longer introduce new tax and spend changes. 

But what is likely to happen this time around? The Institute for Fiscal Studies set out a grim outlook for the chancellor in its "Green Budget" earlier this month. This year’s deficit will be higher than in 47 of the 60 years before the crash of 2008, the national debt is at its highest level since 1966, and the chancellor is still committed to the diet of austerity prescribed by his predecessor, George Osborne. With day-to-day spending on public services set for a real-term fall of 4 per cent between now and 2020 and those same public services already in a parlous state, Hammond has a difficult hand to play. 

However, Theresa May’s government has proved adept at U-turning when it needs to – think the Brexit White Paper and Amber Rudd’s lists of foreign workers. Here's what to look out for:

Changes to business rates

MPs of all stripes have been pressuring the government to rethink its plans on business rates, which will see new rates based on updated property valuations introduced for the new financial year. 

Initially, the government maintained that three-quarters of businesses won’t see any changes to their rates at all. But the fact that rates for pubs, shops, GP surgeries hospitals could be set to more than double riled Tory backbenchers, several ministers, the CBI and right-wing papers including the Sun and Daily Mail

We will likely see a concession from the Treasury on controversial changes, which were slated to kick in from April. Communities and Local Government secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons that a solution would be in place by Budget Day. 

Reassurances for social care

Britain’s crisis-stricken social care system – and the vexed question of how we’re going to pay for our ageing population – also looms large. In the aftermath of the controversy around the government’s supposed “sweetheart deal” with Surrey County Council, local authorities and charities have been lobbying Number 10 for a new settlement – or at least some extra cash to ease the pain. 

Indeed, the Health Service Journal has revealed the Care Quality Commission is to be handed regulatory oversight for how councils manage their social care services, and a number MPs are increasingly convinced that the government could be set to unveil a modest increase in funding. Any such package would only be a sticking plaster.