Ed Balls has tried a spot of subliminal messaging in his Guardianinterview photo this morning. He poses by a copy of Martin Gilbert's Churchill, leaning forward in his chair, mouth set. All that's missing is the cigar. And he couples that with an account of how he sweated his way through his Grade 1 piano exam a few months ago (he passed, but without a merit). Ed Balls: shadow chancellor, would be leader, man of destiny, artist.
Westminster kremlinologists can amuse themselves wondering what Ed Miliband's office will make of this pre-conference associative mischief. Especially as it comes with his plan for a zero-based budget review if Labour get back in. He wants all expenditure to be gone through line by line to justify government activity. The snag is he has already set exemptions - DfID, Health, preventative programmes (wide open to interpretation), and anything that can achieve cross party consensus. Sceptics will wonder how much a Labour chancellor would actually cut. And he doesn't address the point some members of the shadow cabinet are beginning to mutter about, namely whether Labour should match Coalition spending plans beyond 2015. But as we prepare to head for Manchester this weekend, Mr Balls has played his first card in what will be an attempt next week to secure some economic credibility.
Harriet Harman, of course, has other ideas. She rather undermined Mr Balls’ economic plans in an interview with the Spectator in which she said:
“Our argument against the Tories is that the scale and pace of their deficit reduction is self-defeating and hurting the economy and therefore making less money available. So we have got a fundamental economic critique — we would not be signing up to doing the very thing we think is hurting the economy.”
Nothing if not consistent. Plenty of other conference plot lines are also coming nicely to the boil. The Sun reports that David Miliband will miss his brother’s speech. Ed, meanwhile, has had his phone confiscated and the number changed after the row over his texts with Vince Cable, theTimes (£) reports.
Elsewhere in the Times (£), Philip Collins sets out the challenge the Labour Party face at their conference:
“The paradox for Labour is that the source of its popularity – the failure of the coalition to clear the deficit rapidly – is also its predicament. Behind the mumblings about the credibility of the leader and the austerity denial lurks the existential question of what it means to be Labour when the cash runs out.”
EUROPE LENDS A HELPING HAND
The Coalition have woken up to a couple of unhelpful stories from the other side of the Channel, quite aside from the financial collapse which is spooking the markets at home. The economic situation on the continent is dire, and as Jeremey Warner argues in today’s Telegraph, Spain may soon have no option but to leave the euro.
We report that Mr Cameron is planning to ‘claw-back’ powers fromBrussels in around 20 different legislative areas, with the Mail putting the figure at around 100 powers. The move is understandable given that public faith in the European project is at an all time low, and the move is unlikely to meet heavy opposition from a Labour Party conscious about its prior record.
The question remains as to whether Mr Cameron will consider an in/out referendum. While the Mail reports that it is still on the table, we reportthat the Prime Minister said it is “not a priority”, during a radio interview on his visit to Brazil.
Even so, it is Europe landing the blows this morning. The Coalition’s plan for minimum alcohol pricing is in danger thanks to Brussels , as the Mailreports. EU officials have told the Scottish government to remove its 50p-a-unit minimum price as it is a restriction on trade. The restrictions had been anticipated to be brought in for England and Wales if the Scottish experiment was a success.
Meanwhile, the FT (£) reports that the French government are pushing to increase their stake in any BAE-EADS tie-up. The French currently hold a 15 per cent stake in EADS, which would be diluted to nine per cent under the proposed merger terms. However, they have reserved the right to buy the 7.5 per cent stake in EADS held by media company Lagardere, a move which would give them 13.5 per cent of any combined entity.
Berlin is rumoured to be considering making a similar move by compulsory purchasing Daimler’s stake in EADS. Combined, the French and German governments could hold 27 per cent of the new group. Britain has said it will not permit a deal where either government owns over nine per cent. Irrespective of the stake size, the question will now inevitably be asked as to why Britain is happy to sacrifice its golden share in BAE, but the continental governments are still left with a possible blocking minority in the new company.
ED M OUTFLANKS DAVE ON GAY MARRIAGE
Dave’s gay marriage proposals have drawn him plenty of flack from his own party, but Ed Miliband may yet outflank him and win the electoral fruits. In a video recorded for pressure group Out4Marriage, Mr Miliband said that he supported gay marriages in churches and other religious institutions.
Our leader calls Mr Miliband’s move “mischievous”, saying:
“Superficially, [Mr Miliband’s] proposal has the ring of reasonableness that is all opposition requires – why, he can ask, should couples not be allowed a religious wedding if there is a clergyman eager to perform it? It is Mr Cameron who is left in an awkward spot, forced to choose between defending the reforms as they stand and being outflanked by Mr Miliband, or accepting his rival’s suggestion and further enraging the plan’s opponents. But then, that is a dilemma he has brought entirely upon himself.”
THE LOBBY TURN TV CRITICS
Dave’s Letterman appearance gets three stars in the papers. The consensus seems to be that the Prime Minister left red-faced, but with little damage done. Many found it boring: “scintillating and sparkly might not be the words for the programme”, Quentin Letts writes in theMail. Meanwhile the FT (£) considers Dave to have been a qualified success:
“This was the ‘good’ Cameron, as opposed to the ‘bad’ Cameron – an over-bearing, arrogant bully – who not infrequently emerges during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.”
Would you have fared any better? You can take our Letterman style quizhere.
The Telegraph’s Mandrake column has followed up its scoop yesterday, on George Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey making an afternoon trip to the opera, with another today. George and the boys will return to the Royal Opera House for the third and fourth operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
The story has provoked mixed reactions. On Telegraph blogs, Damian Thompson is firmly of the view that “Wagner is more important than the wretched Lib Dems”. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, is furious. Its leader column thunders:
“David Cameron – who, according to his Old Etonian friend Charlie Brooks, once refused to take a call from President Obama until he had finished a tennis match – spent Wednesday making a twit of himself on an American TV show with three million viewers.
“Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne, Education Secretary Michael Gove and the arts minister Ed Vaizey took several hours off in the middle of the day enjoying free tickets to a prestigious production of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Royal Opera House in London ’s Covent Garden .
“Forgive the Mail for asking, but just who is in charge of the rattling train?”
WATCH YOUR BACK, THRASHER
Tory MPs are “hatching a plot” to have Andrew Mitchell fired, according to the Sun. Their reasoning is pretty straight-forward. One would-be rebel tells the paper:
“Andrew Mitchell has managed to turn us from the nasty party to the f***ing nasty party. He should be sacked.”
The rebels are planning to write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding Mr Mitchell step down. Although there is no constitutional mechanism in the party for ensuring this happens, they hope to make his position impossible by weight of support. Watch out, Thrasher…
TELL THE PRESIDENT TO HOLD…I’M CHILLAXING
A good Dave chillaxing story has been hard to come by since the Prime Minister’s praise for the restorative properties of ‘Fruit Ninja’. Today serves up a corker – a Old Etonian friend of the Prime Minister who is embroiled in the phone hacking row, has said that the PM refused a call from Barack Obama so that he could finish a tennis match.
As we report, Charlie Brooks, husband of Rebekah Brooks, told the Racing Post:
“I played tennis with him at Chequers one day. I won the first set easily, then he won the second set, and then someone came up to him and said ‘er ... Mr Obama is on the phone for you, Prime Minister’.
“I thought ‘okay, we’ll have to leave it there’. But he said ‘I think we’ve got time for a third set - tell Mr Obama I'll ring him back’. He obviously thought he had me on the ropes. And I beat him two sets to one.”
VINCE NEEDS TO WAKE UP
Strictly Come Dancing contestant turned cabinet minister Vince Cable has a tendency to fall asleep during meetings, the Mail reports. The 69-year-old Business Secretary would find it hard to take over the leadership as he “struggles to stay awake all day as it is”, say Clegg loyalists, clearly riled by Vince’s self-promotion at the party conference.
GORDON STILL PACKS THEM IN
And finally…Gordon Brown may have slipped from public life in Britain , but the U.N. have recently appointed him as global special envoy for education. For this reason he was in New York to address a crowd of journalists yesterday. Unfortunately, the crowd consisted of a solitary Telegraph reporter.
Our report details the rather sad ending:
“As the former Prime Minister stood in the background, a message was played on the loudspeaker reminding the media that Mr Brown was due to speak.
“At about 4.20pm another message was played over the public address system informing the media that Mr Brown’s press conference was cancelled.”
TWEETS AND TWITS
As England take a thrashing in their Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against the West Indies in Sri Lanka , the reason becomes apparent. Tim Loughton has commandeered half the squad as dinner companions:
@timloughton “Delighted 2 host tribute dinner 4 Matt Prior in Commons tonight with Andrew Strauss + Alastair Cook.”
In The Telegraph
Damian Reece - Germany on firm footing as rest of eurozone sinks
Jeremey Warner – Spain must leave the euro
Mark Martins - America’s best weapons are law and justice
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Labour needs real cuts as well as real ideas
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) - A liberal case for scepticism of the EU
Mary Deievsky in The Independent - Cameron can’t do a Boris – and shouldn’t try
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - Labour must face this fact – it may be better in coalition
Today: David Cameron continues his visit to Brazil . #
08:50 am: FSA managing director Martin Wheatley gives speech on his recommendations for reforming the Libor system.