BREAKING NEWS: Nigel Farage has appeared on the Today programme playing down talk of a UKIP offer to the Conservatives (or Labour, who he pointedly includes). He would listen to an offer, but he won’t be making one:
“I have not offered a deal at all. The Tory Party look at the polls and say we have got to do a deal with UKIP. If we were offered a deal, of course we would look at it, but I would not even consider doing a deal unless it was written in blood that there would be a referendum on Europe.
“Doing this deal is not very easy... That deal would enable us to get electoral representation in the House of Commons. I’m not offering a deal to anybody, but if the Conservative Party or the Labour Party came and offered a sensible deal in the national interest, then I would listen.”
PACT TO THE FUTURE
The next general election might not be until May 2015, but all the talk in Westminster is of electoral pacts, future and present. As the Labour leadership appeared to close the door on a future alliance with the Liberal Democrats, UKIP threw a lifeline to the Tory right.
Of course, as the experience of 2010 showed, much of it comes down to personal chemistry: Nick Clegg and David Cameron did not really know each other but discovered an immediate affinity in negotiations, whereas both found Gordon Brown overbearing and weird, and Mr Clegg couldn't face working with him. In the end it boils down to expectations for 2015: it's striking how many Tories close to Mr Cameron have given up on outright victory in 2015 and instead speak of keeping the Coalition alive.
The Expresscarries the news that Nigel Farage will use his UKIP conference speech to offer an electoral pact with the Conservatives in exchange for an in/out vote on membership of the EU. The offer will give Cameron a severe headache. On the one hand, with UKIP polling 7pc in the most recent YouGov poll, the deal potentially offers the Conservatives a winning hand at the next election. On the other hand, it would alienate their Lib Dem coalition partners and make coalition in the next parliament impossible.
Mr Farage knows the prospects of a tie-up are nil, but with Peter Kelner predicting on Today that UKIP will win the Europeans in 2014, he knows just the mention of a deal sends the Tory party into a fit.
Meanwhile, Harriet Harman has squashed talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ between Labour and the Lib Dems. The Independent reports that Labour’s deputy leader was on savage form when asked about a post-election coalition with the Lib Dems, even if Vince were at the helm:
"There will be no cosying up to the Lib Dems. No nods and winks. No political games. No hidden agenda aiming for a future coalition.
“We have to judge people by what they have done. The Liberal Democrats have broken their promises. They are not a brake on the Tories. They are their accomplices... [these] are Cable actions as much as Clegg actions."
This is a new line for Labour and can be viewed as a rebuke to Ed Balls whose overtures to Vince on the Marr show unsettled the coalition. It will also surprise the Lib Dems, not least Tim Farron, who is making overtures towards Labour in the most recent House magazine, we report.
This is a new direction too for Ed Miliband, now that his deputy has ruled out a coalition with his texting buddy, Vince. Ultimately, it is also a sign of confidence from a party running with a polling lead sufficient to give them an outright majority.
Nick Clegg’s tuition fee apology seems to have won him some friends and some breathing space, a platform for new South African advisor Ryan Coetzee (profiled in today’s Guardian) to build from. Our leader hails “a welcome outburst of plain speaking”, while the FT (£) praises his “brave atonement”.
A rougher press comes from Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, who is disappointed that Mr Clegg did not use his video appearance to attack George Osborne, and Tom Utley, in the Mail, who issues his own apology for ever praising Clegg. More balanced is the Independent’s Mary Ann Seighart:
“So will this apology do any good? Well, it can’t do him much harm. People who think the apology is risible already think he is risible – they won’t vote for him anyway. But some undecideds may think better of him now, or at least be more willing to listen to him, and the Lib Dems only need an increase of a few percentage points to make a big difference to the number of seats they win or lose.”
Still, all who thought that the coalition’s musical high-point came with SamCam’s embrace of Azealia Banks (celebrated in today’s Guardian), may need to think again. Mr Clegg has given permission for a remixed version of his apology to be a released as a single, as we report. Profits from the single will go to a Sheffield children’s charity.
At 25/1 to make number one in the charts, the odds are considerably shorter than an outright Lib Dem victory at the next election (100/1 at William Hill).
OFFICERS, KNOW YOUR PLACE
Thrasher is in trouble, and it's bad. The Sun splashes on an account of a tirade Andrew Mitchell unleashed against a No10 policeman who refused to let him ride his fold up bike out the front gates. He denies the Sun's account of the language used, but has apologised.
It's not the swearing that will hurt, but the suggestion that he lorded it over the cops and called them 'plebs'. It speaks to the toffs narrative that Mr Cameron is desperate to avoid. Mr Mitchell, who once boasted a formidable collection of Lazard directorships, has posh houses, a sumptuous wine cellar, and is big mates with George Osborne, who championed his promotion.
The paper’s leader calls for Mr Mitchell’s resignation saying that his behaviour would “shame a football hooligan”. Mr Mitchell told officers:
“Best you learn your ******* place. You don’t run this ******* government.
“You’re ******* plebs.”
Possibly for the best that Mr Mitchell is not running as a candidate for police commissioner later this year.
BURSTOW: TREASURY RESPONSIBLE FOR CARE HOME CRISIS
Former care services minister Paul Burstow clearly feels that the shackles are off after he was reshuffled to a backbench role. In an article for today’sTelegraph, he lets fly at the Treasury which he blames for obstructing both Labour and coalition attempts to find a solution to the elderly care:
“So, why did Labour fail? And why, despite the signs the Prime Minister had changed his mind over the Summer, could the Coalition fail too? Answer: HM Treasury.
“The Treasury’s view is simple: kick the can down the road despite our rising elderly population. There's no sense of urgency. No recognition that left unreformed there is no incentive for families to plan and prepare.”
Strong words, and another reminder of the depth of opposition to Treasury bean counting on the Lib Dem side. As the FT (£) reports today, 60pc of the austerity programme is yet to be implemented, those grumbles are only going to get louder over the course of the parliament.
KING LETS GEORGE OFF THE HOOK
The late arrival of those savings has itself prompted complaints on the Conservative benches, especially given that the Chancellor is expected to abandon the Treasury’s debt reduction target in his Autumn Statement.
This was an impression confirmed by Mervyn King’s remarks yesterday, reported in the Telegraph today:
“If it’s because the world economy is growing more slowly, then it would be acceptable.
“It would not be acceptable to miss the debt target if there was no excuse for it.”
Losing the debt target now looks highly likely. The softening up exercise is well advanced, and Sir Mervyn’s intervention has given a politically non-partisan endorsement of the move. The real question now is whether the deficit target will go as well.
LET’S STICK TOGETHER
All the talk of new coalitions is perhaps a reflection on the perceived health of this one. David Laws is the latest minister to attempt to apply the magic sponge, writing in today’s Sun that:
“I have seen how easy it is for both parties to constantly block rather than deliver and build on ideas. There must be no more ‘nothing for nothing’ politics.
“I believe both Leaders have looked over the edge of the Coalition cliff and neither likes what he sees.”
PICKLES FLYING THE FLAG
And finally...Patriots throughout the land can breathe easier after Eric Pickles announced that people who want to fly a flag outside their homes or offices will no longer need to ask for permission, we report.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Steve McCabe re-lives his youth:
@steve_mccabe: “Been to Fresher's week with Birmingham Lab students. Asking people to play snog marry avoid with politicians. 'So sorry' Clegg doing badly”
But which of Ed and Dave did they want to settle down with?
YouGov / The Sun: Con 33%, Lab 45%, Lib Dem 10%, UKIP 7%;
Today: UKIP party conference begins in Birmingham. Health Minister Norman Lamb to launch new dementia campaign for England.
9:30 am: Public sector borrowing figures are published by the Office for National Statistics.
9:45 am: Labour launches its consumer report. Speakers and QandA with: Report author Ed Mayo, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, consumer affairs spokesman Ian Murray to speak. Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), 6th Floor, Lynton House, 7-12 Tavistock Square.
10:15 am: David Cameron visits Northamptonshire en route to Manchester.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister David Cameron visits central Manchester following the fatal shooting of two female police officers.