Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Voters still don't trust Ed on the economy..

Parliament rises for conference season today with worrisome news for those on all sides of the house in the latest Times (£) Populus poll.

The headline figure is Labour’s 15 point lead over the Conservatives (Con 30%, Lab 45%, LD 10%), an increase of five points since the last poll in July. However, the Times chooses to focus on the news that the Conservatives still hold an edge over the opposition (36% to 32%) when it comes to being the party most trusted with the economy. 

“Labour may hold lead but voters still prefer Tories on economy” and “Major was right: things really aren’t quite so bad” are both headlines which will be welcome reading at CCHQ.

The findings back up Downing Street's long-standing contention that in the end the voters will reject the idea of Prime Minister Miliband.Tim Montgomerie sketched it out yesterday as the bedrock of Tory thinking. Yet while the numbers are fascinating, there is an underlying complacency to this approach that should make Conservatives nervous. 

Praying for victory based on the failings of the other guy is not a convincing strategy. Labour in private is arguing that the polls also show great voter indifference to politicians generally, and to the absence of a clear belief on the Tory side. 

Ed Miliband has told friends that Mr Cameron's lack of ideas and ambition will be a turn-off for voters who, in troubled times, want something bigger and bolder from their leaders. This may explain the breakdown in the Populus poll that shows more than half of those who want to stick with Mr Cameron - 37pc - are doing so despite being unimpressed by his performance.


Today’s inflation report should show that the Bank of England is close to achieving its target of 2% inflation, with consensus forecasts ranging between 2.3% and 2.7%. The lower figure will be a help to the Government as it answers criticism arising from a Newsnightreport which claims that the link between inflation and benefit levels is being reconsidered in Whitehall.

The decision to lift unemployment benefit 5% whilst holding public sector wages still in the last spending review drew derision for the Chancellor from both sides of the House, but it seems certain that any move to break the inflationary link would be swiftly latched onto by Labour as evidence of a coalition war on the poor.

NATO led troops are scaling back their operations with Afghanistan’s forces following a spate of “green-on-blue” attacks which have now claimed 51 lives. Unless special dispensation is granted, cooperation will only take place on a battalion level in future.
The Guardian is highly critical of the step, saying that the coalition’s strategy is now “in disarray” and that relations between the Afghan government and NATO have suffered a “collapse in trust” over military matters.
With MPs from across the Commons demanding that British troops come home for Christmas, the news will give fresh impetus to withdrawal calls.

Quite aside from the Times’ poll, Dave will need to spend some time thinking about how best to restore a sense of harmony to his party with his conference speech. This morning’s papers bring two more stories about internal disputes. Firstly, new party co-chairman Grant Shapps has come out with a veiled attack on the Mayor of London, as the Daily Mail reports:

“It takes a different set of skills… to be in office as a minister or indeed the prime minister...you have to make decisions on both sides of the equation – how you raise the money, not just how you spend it.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Express splashes on the news that Lord Stevens of Ludgate has defected to UKIP following a disagreement with the party over an in/out referendum on Europe. Looks like there are plenty of bridges to be built when the party conference rolls into Birmingham.


The GCSE is dead. Long live the EBacc. Michael Gove’s new exams for 16 year olds were unveiled yesterday, receiving a reception which largely split down tribal lines. The new exams in English, Maths and Science will be first awarded in 2017, with further qualifications following later. 

As we report, Mr Gove hopes that abolishing exam board for core subjects, outlining minimum standards and reviewing league tables will help put an end to a generation of “dumbed down” exams.

Press reaction on the right was warm. The Daily Mail hailed “the day Gove put rigour back into school exams”, with Quentin Letts on particularly vituperative form when assessing the complaints from the opposition benches:

“There was Mr Gove, announcing a policy which could at last arrest the dumbing-down that has so imprisoned poorer families from St Helens and every other town in the land. Here, at last, is a minister getting to grips with educational neglect. All groin-scratcher Watts could do was sneer that the minister will by 2017 have left his job. Won’t most of us, mate? But need that prevent one trying one’s best?”

Our leader welcomes the plans and criticises the partisan response in the Commons yesterday:

“What matters now is that consensus should be built around these changes, for the education of our children should not be used as a party political football. Labour’s initial response was disappointingly negative, though it stopped short of saying it would scrap the new exam.”

And the prize for the most disturbing take on the new reforms? Step forward Ann Treneman writing in the Times (£):

“Michael Gove was born to play the role of the old-fashioned head teacher, celebrating the smack of firm leadership, brandishing his cane for all to see. Yesterday he gave up a vintage display of 50 shades of Gove...”


Today’s FT (£) leads on the news that Mr Cameron is getting cold feet over his flagship pension reforms as he frets over the effect they will have on the grey vote. The proposed flat-rate benefit of £140 creates millions of losers, not least those higher earners on second state pensions which will be abolished. 

Even if the Independent is right in thinking that Iain Duncan Smith will be allowed to push on with his universal credit reforms, a pension rethink would not just be damaging for coalition credibility, it would be another serious blow to George Osborne’s hopes of addressing the deficit by 2015 (particularly as George isn’t getting much help from Ken Clarke).


Badgers are swiftly becoming a lightning conductor for government. Owen Patterson's enthusiasm extends to offering to show his officials how to drown them according to Hardcastle

Elsewhere the chorus of disapproval over the cull has expanded to include the scientist who recommended them in the first place. Lord Krebs is quoted by today’s Independent calling for a vaccination strategy.


The proposed merger of BAE and EADS is beginning to create a headache for Mr Cameron as senior Tory figures are firm in their opposition. Today both the Daily Mail and the FT (£) report dissent in the Tory ranks, with the latter quoting David Davies:

“With strong French and German government interest in EADS, there is a risk that the British factories will come to be seen as peripheral to the core business of the merged company, with all the threats to employment that that involves.”

With key ingredients including a takeover of a national champion by a European firm and job threats in marginal constituencies, this has the potential to become a touchstone issue for Tory back-benchers. As if there weren’t enough already.


Appointments to senior advisory positions in the coalition have outstripped the rate of those made in the Blair years, the Independentreports. More than 90 policy experts have been appointed in the two years since the last election, ranging from Mary Portas to Sir John Vickers.

Whilst advisors have always been political appointments, the same has not been true of the Civil Service. That may be about to change, however, given new proposals under consideration at the Cabinet Office. As we report, the proposals would allow for a politicised Civil Service appointed to five year terms.


And finally...The Liberal Democrats decamp to Brighton later this week for their annual exercise in bloodletting  collaborative thinking. In preparation, the party have produced a list of “achievements” in government for delegates to savour. 

Star billing goes to the mansion tax, which is still at the proposal stage. The leaflet is entitled: “What have the Liberal Democrats ever done for you?” The answer, apparently, is unsuccessfully advocate a tax which isn’t on the statute book. That should keep the delegates on-side.


Jacob Rees Mogg drills down into the finer points of Michael Gove’s GCSE replacement:

@JakeReesMogg: “One's only concern is that the abbreviation 'EBACC' sounds rather like a rather disappointing run of O level results.” 


Populus / Times: Con 30%, Lab 45%, Lib 10%, Other 15%


In The Telegraph

Mary Riddell - The Tories keep swiping, but Red Ed is an elusive target

Clive Aslet - Spare the badger your tears...

Philip Johnston - The welfare state is broken – so what’s next?

Jeremy Warner - Get ready for an autumn hurricane as Israel plots its Iranian strike

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Parties must stop playing unhappy families

Steve Richards in The Independent - This coalition is a freak, one-off arrangement

Janan Ganesh in The FT (£) - Austerity will give Tories an electoral edge

Malcolm Bruce in The Guardian - Liberal Democrats should beware a pact with Labour


Today: Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne to announce the opt out of a proposed EU Confiscation Directive. Parliament rises for recess. 

9:30 am: Inflation figures for August are published by the Office for National Statistics. 

9:30 am: The Office for National Statistics issues its latest house price index.

10:15 am: NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson gives evidence to Commons Health Committee on NHS finances. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

10:30 am: William Hague gives evidence to Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

11:00 am: Director general of Border Force and chief executive of UK Border Agency give evidence to Commons Home Affairs Committee. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.