Monday, 3 September 2012

Brogan's morning briefing..


BREAKING: Michael Gove was just on the Today programme discussing the recent debacle over changes to the GCSE grade boundaries. He said the difficulties encountered “reinforces the case for reform” and that everyone who sat GCSEs this time round had been treated unfairly by the system, not just those who missed out on a C.

He said it was wrong for the government to give instructions to Ofqual since they are an independent regulator. All very interesting, but is he wondering how he’ll be graded by David Cameron in this week’s reshuffle? 


It's back-to-Westminster time for the political classes, and so far the Coalition's relaunch is on track: there are no surprises in the papers to short-circuit the No 10 grid. 

Yesterday's economic messaging from David Cameron and George Osborne is faithfully reported, and speculation about tomorrow's reshuffle remains just that. For my money, the most interesting suggestion, detailed particularly in the Mail, is that Andrew Mitchell will be made Chief Whip. He's admired in No 10, but even his friends recognise that Thrasher's bedside manner might not be to everyone's taste. 

Exasperated MPs - particularly women - have been clamouring for a clear-out of the Whips' operation, and may get it. Mr Mitchell would bring rigour, and he is a member of the officer class, which is said to matter to No 10. 

For Mr Cameron the question is whether he, as the Times has it, can be a “good butcher”. Who knows? We have no form on Mr Cameron and reshuffles, so it's impossible to call. His advisers are said to be studying white boards covered in yellow post-its. 

The Guardian says it will be a “major” reshuffle, but how can it be if the major offices of state are unaffected, I wonder? The other possible permutations have all been trailed before, which must mean there is scope for surprises. 

Will Ken Clarke survive? What about Sayeeda Warsi? How will they make room for David Laws (we report the Tories want a “blood price” i.e. the head of another Lib Dem for his return)? And who from the 2010 intake will be the first to get a job, and so earn the jealous hatred of his colleagues? 


We've led on the big policy development this week, namely the Treasury's push on planning. Paul Goodman sets out why this road is perilous for Dave, as does our leader . Mr Osborne is said to want a scrap over the issue. Yesterday he repeated his refrain that planning restrictions in Britain leave us at a competitive disadvantage. He's doubtless right, though it doesn't follow that loosening green belt protections is the solution. 

The biggest obstacle, surely, is the perpetual absence of political will: the Chinese and the French find it easy to build high-speed rail lines or power stations because their politicians take decisions. Here, the Coalition is going to trumpet its decisiveness in setting up yet another consultation commission on airport capacity, when all the info they need is sitting on the shelves of the DfT. 

Tory backbenchers seem to agree - well, Kwasi Kwarteng and a group of others do, at least. He’s got a column in today’s Telegraph saying the state of our psychology as a nation is as worrying as that of the economy. He and a group of other Tory backbenchers have written a book on the matter, Britannia Unchained - we’ll be running a series on it in the paper this week. 


Worth also studying the various accounts of Nick Clegg's internal difficulties, especially in the Guardian . His friends have taken to describing the “friends of Cable” briefing against him as the “Continuity SDP”.

James Kirkup reports that No 10 is anxious to protect “Right-wing” Lib Dems, notably Mr Clegg and Danny Alexander. It's not just Mr Clegg who's got difficulties: Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun concludes that a leadership challenge against David Cameron remains unlikely but “is no longer impossible” - then proceeds to put his money on Michael Gove.


Grant Shapps might be tipped for promotion this week, but he’s unlikely to have a good day. He’ll probably spend today trying to squash the Guardian’s attack on his former business, TrafficPaymaster - now owned by his wife. The paper claims that the software business makes money by breaching Google's code of practice. (If you’re interested in the technical details, you can read the full story here.) 

The most interesting revelation to me, however, is that Mr Shapps goes under the name Michael Green when he’s doing business, selling online toolkits such as Michael Green's "How To Bounce Back From Recession". Let’s hope he brings a bit of Mike’s magic to government if he gets promoted. 


It might be lost among the Tory reshuffle talk, but the Greens are due to unveil their new leader at 11am today. It’s worth watching out for because the Greens could be a more important factor at the next election. Lefty students aren’t going to be voting for the Lib Dems after the tuition fees debacle, after all.  


And let’s not forget that the impending eurogeddon hasn’t gone away. The dithering continues as the German population’s resolve not to be the cash cow hardens. The FT has some interesting polling on its front page that shows that only a quarter of Germans think Greece should stay in the eurozone or get more help. Angela Merkel, who faces a general election next year, won’t be pleased with that result.


Useful snippets from yesterday's papers if you missed them:  Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer on Nick Clegg's state of mind: "More than one of his senior colleagues has since told me that Mr Clegg is very twitchy about threats to his leadership. In the words of one: 'Nick has been jumpy for months'."

Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph on Chris Grayling's good example: "If only more of Grayling's comrades on the Right had his grasp of the sheer complexity of government."

Simon Walters in the Mail on Sunday tips Andrew “Thrasher” Mitchell to be made Chief Whip in the reshuffle (apparently, he got the name as a 'stern disciplinarian' at Rugby). "Ex-Tory whip turned author Gyles Brandreth said Mitchell was 'the most ambitious man I know, almost crazy with ambition'."

David Cameron on “cutting through the dither” in the Mail on Sunday: "That's why I wasn't prepared to allow the debate on House of Lords reform to crowd out the parliamentary timetable." Hang on - is he saying he did sabotage Nick Clegg's pet project?


Welcome back to the morning briefing. Regulars will know that this is a random and entirely subjective collection of what I find interesting in the papers each morning. I make no claim to be authoritative, comprehensive or even entirely accurate. I am always happy to entertain requests for a plug, be they from Lobby colleagues with an exclusive to push, ministers - and shadow spokesmen - planning an announcement, or think tanks with a report to promote. Ping me an email or a text the night before.


Tory MP Mark Spencer for Sherwood may be waiting for some time:

“‏@MarkSpencerMP: Still no call from Downing St, on the re shuffle, don't ring me I need to keep the line free!” 


Latest Sunday Times/YouGov results: Conservatives 35%, Labour 41%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 7%

Overall government approval rating: -36 


In The Telegraph

Paul Goodman: Planning rule reform: David Cameron signals the start of a street fight 

Boris Johnson: The beautiful nation of Croatia is placing its head in the Brussels noose

Kwasi Kwarteng: Britain must stop the rot and go for gold

Leader: Reefs ahead as the PM maps out his new course

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in the Times: The Left are the good guys? Give me a break

Jackie Ashley in the Guardian: Cameron and Clegg are too weak for a major reshuffle

Patrick Diamond in the FT: Labour must restore economic credibility

FT leader: Back to school 


Today: Parliament returns from its break 

10am: Rebekah Brooks is due in court on phone hacking charges. Westminster Magistrates' Court

11am: The Green Party announces its new leader. Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London

12.30: David Davis speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on why the Government needs a growth strategy. Chartered Accountants' Hall, 1 Moorgate Place

2.30pm: Education questions