So the MoD budget is not guaranteed protection in the 2015-16 spending round after all – the perils of letting the prime minister conduct his own briefings perhaps?

The MoD budget remains vulnerable in the 2015-16 spending round now under discussion. David Cameron‘s old commitment – that he told journalists on the trip he did not resile from – is that over the course of the years 2015-20 it will rise.

No wonder they were baffled about the reports from Algeria at the MoD. Only last week the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was at an edgy cabinet meeting kicking off the spending round for 2015-16 and clearly doing his best to defend an MoD budget he knew was not being given special protection for 2015-16. Philip Hammond was amongst those ministers suggesting that the chancellor go looking for deeper savings in the benefits budget instead.

By the way, Theresa Villiers used the occasion to suggest that the Quad, the decision-making apex of the coalition, had too much power to itself. A number of Tories have complained about how key decisions are crunched in those meetings, not least because they feel the Lib Dems (19 per cent of the coalition seats) get disproportionate representation (50 per cent) at the top table.

It’s the first time I’ve heard of a Tory actually raising the matter at the cabinet table. Vince Cable took a passionate stand on his Business Department budget at the same cabinet, I hear. The prime minister is said to have done a passable impression of the headmaster role Private Eye casts him as trying to get everyone round the table to think of the big picture. George Osborne warned his cabinet colleagues that they had to stick to the austerity path and people were watching for the first signs of wobble.

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