BREAKING NEWS: William Hague has been doing a round of the studios this morning. His message? This has been a serious conference for serious times. He told the Today programme:
“This has been a very unified but very serious conference. The Prime Minister's speech will, of course, reflect that...The world has changed. It is tougher. It is not going to change back to how it was ten years ago - we have to reform education, welfare, have a tax system that attracts people back to this country. And we are doing those things that Labour would not have done.”
Mr Hague also denied that the Conservatives would suffer for appearing to nail their colours to the Barack Obama mast were Mitt Romney to be elected. He told Sky News:
“We will work with whoever is President. We don't take sides in an American election...We will work with whoever...They will remain our indispensable ally in the world.”
Apologies to those who didn't receive their Morning Briefing on some days this week. The snag has been fixed. Maybe.
CAMERON: BRITAIN MUST SINK OR SWIM
It has been an uneventful week in Birmingham. A mid-term conference in an age of fixed parliaments means there’s no teasing about the election date, and so less excitement.The warm-up acts have gone to plan. George Osborne gave a sober, responsible speech earlier this week which reiterated his focus on the deficit, Boris Johnson stuck largely to script, Theresa May and Chris Grayling provided succor for the Right of the party. The only awkwardness in an otherwise uneventful conference was provided by rumours that Andrew Mitchell might be shoved out by a men in grey suits operation. That may yet come. All that is left is for Dave to deliver with his speech today.
Two big speech themes have been briefed out to this morning’s papers, though not without some shouty moments behind the scenes, apparently. The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister will seek to “level” with the public about the dangers of international relegation, telling conference:
“Unless we act, unless we take difficult, painful decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past.
“The truth is this, we are in a global race today and that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim, do or decline.”
Mr Cameron will also speak about the stoicism his late father showed in adversity and emphasise his father’s pride in his “hard work”. Presumably he wants to dispel the image of chillaxed DVD Dave. The Times (£) stresses that Mr Cameron will also try to burnish his credentials as a moderniser, although he will not mention gay marriage. Meanwhile, the Guardian lead on Mr Cameron’s line that the Conservatives are “for everyone, north or south, black or white, straight or gay.”
The Prime Minister faces conflicting demands. The Mirror tells him it is “time to start talking us down, time to start listening”, demanding the sort of optimism found in Bo-Jo’s enterprise economy speech. On the other hand, Danny Finkelstein, writing in the Times (£), sees modern politics as akin to a colonoscopy, arguing that voters will take intense pain for a limited duration, and that Mr Cameron should gamble now an improving economy:
“Where does all this leave David Cameron? There are only three types of election campaign: ‘It’s time for a change’, ‘Better the devil you know’ and ‘Britain’s on the right track; don’t turn back’... [Mr Cameron is] left with the third one. He has to persuade people that Britain’s on the right track and they shouldn’t turn back.
“Set against this, his party conference speech doesn’t matter nearly as much. But he does, nevertheless, have an important task today. A ‘Britain’s on the right track; don’t turn back’ campaign requires a Prime Minister’s address that explains what the track is and where it leads.”
Over to you, Prime Minister.
BAE DEAL ON LIFE SUPPORT
Politicians and businessmen on both sides of the Channel are mulling abandoning the merger between BAE and EADS, the Telegraphreports. The odds of BAE even requesting an extension from the Takeover Panel have been put at only 50/50 by insiders. Other sources have told theBBC’s Robert Peston that the deal is “close to collapse”. Even if the deal does get the go-ahead, the Mail reports that ministers are demanding a full Cabinet meeting to discuss the plans which they want to be subject to a vote. Echoes of Westland, anybody?
BORIS SETS THE STANDARD
The Independent’s cartoon this morning shows Boris dancing on the Prime Minister’s grave following his conference speech yesterday. The Prime Minister needn’t worry - while Boris proved wildly popular with delegates, and teased Dave at times, his message was largely London-centric and loyal. In fact, it almost sounded hackneyed. Ann Treneman in the Times (£) reports that love was in the air:
How they love to love Mr Olympotastic and how he loves to be loved... He told us that David Cameron was a great PM. ‘Happy Birthday!’ he cried to Dave. The PM, sitting in the eighth row, raised his hand, as if he was in school. Boris waved back. ‘I commend the tough decisions you have taken,’ cried Boris, ‘not least to come along and hear this speech!’ Dave threw his head back, laughing, to show what a good sport he was.
“Boris noted that Dave had called him a ‘blond-haired mop’. ‘Well, if I am a mop, David, you are a broom!’ cried Boris. ‘Cleaning up the mess left by a Labour government and a fantastic job you are doing.’ More head-throwing from Dave the Broom.”
Boris went on to compare George Osborne to a dustpan and Michael Gove to a jay-cloth. Michael Deacon, writing in the Telegraph, thinks Boris is the product of an age where politicians are little more than glorified cheerleaders. Is that a problem? In the Mail Quentin Letts thought Mr Johnson a “hostage to hilarity”. Elsewhere in the same paper, Boris’ former boss Max Hastings was rather ruder:
“If the Mayor of London is the answer, there is something desperately wrong with the question.
“If the day ever comes that Boris Johnson becomes tenant of Downing Street, I shall be among those packing my bags for a new life in Buenos Aires ... because it means that Britain has abandoned its last pretensions to be a serious country.
“I have known the mayor for more than 20 years...He proved himself the perfect maitre d’ for the London Olympics. But few maitre d’s are fit to cook the dinner.”
Harry Mount, in the Telegraph, takes a more positive view, arguing that Boris in Number 10 is “no longer the stuff of fantasy”. Meanwhile, on the Labour benches, gratitude for the appearance of such a divisive figure in the Tory midst appears to be the main emotion. As Denis MacShane puts it in the FT (£), the Mayor is at times a “one-man opposition”.
If the gift of a fairly well behaved Boris was not a present enough for the Prime Minister yesterday, Boris had another one up his sleeve. Dave was presented with a copy of Bo-Jo’s own book for a little bedtime reading.
OSBORNE’S SOCIAL CLIMBING BLAMED FOR YACHT ROW
The Mail’s serialisation of Janan Ganesh’s Osborne biography finishes today with a round-up of the scandals which have dogged the Chancellor. Mr Osborne emerges looking ridiculous over the Oleg Deripaska yacht affair, particularly given that he himself brought the holiday to public attention in an attempt to smear Peter Mandelson, Mr Ganesh attributes his bad judgement to a fascination with glamour:
“[Osborne’s] attraction to glamour and power, addiction to the game of political intrigue and occasionally sybaritic lifestyle — all these dangerous quirks had been known to insiders, but were now unmistakable to a wider audience, too.
“At Oxford, he had joined the aristocratic Bullingdon Club out of a desire to belong to the loftiest social circles, and he may have boarded Deripaska’s yacht for much the same reason. Though Cameron was another Bullingdon man, it was hard to imagine him, with his social confidence and emotional security, craving glitzy company in quite the same way.”
The subsequent furore underlined to Mr Osborne how unpopular he was among Tory MPs. Reliant upon Dave’s patronage, Mr Osborne found that only Liam Fox was ready to defend him in public. Mr Ganesh also revisits the story of Mr Osborne’s alleged cocaine taking with prostitute Natalie Rowe, which he says did “little lasting damage” to his reputation. He also rejects the notion that Andy Coulson’s appointment was a result of the editor going easy on damaging photos of Mr Osborne.
Mr Coulson, described as Dave’s “only truly A1” advisor”, proved hard to prize from his director of communications role at Number 10:
“Cameron and Osborne fought to keep him, and not only because his departure might bring the hacking scandal closer to them. They had rated him highly. They would miss his wise counsel...Downing Street sources claim Osborne was asked to ‘bat for Cameron’ during the worst of the Murdoch scandal that summer, but declined, insisting that his intervention would draw only more fire towards the Government.”
EU REFERENDUM NUDGES CLOSER
The Prime Minister’s remark that a referendum on EU membership would be the “cleanest” solution to the ongoing debate, reported in theTelegraph, has prompted further demands to name a date. The Telegraph’s leader praises Mr Cameron for “showing a little more ankle” on Europe, but calls for a referendum rather than just the prospect of one at some undefined point in the future:
“So why did Mr Cameron feel the need to set the referendum hare running once again? Well, a struggling economy has made this a tricky mid-term conference, and a hint at a vote on Europe will always appeal to some of his critics on the Right. He may also have thought he was at risk of being upstaged by Boris Johnson, whose high-wattage star quality gave the conference some much needed uplift yesterday. But the Prime Minister needs to tread carefully. Three years ago, he abandoned his “cast iron guarantee” that the Tories would hold a referendum on the terms of the Lisbon Treaty... The U-turn remains a source of deep grievance with a great many Conservatives.”
Elsewhere, enthusiasm for the furniture of EU membership continues unabated. As we report, Dominic Grieve has said that any attempt to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights would lead to the UK becoming a “pariah state” like Belarus.
NIESR FORECAST GREEN SHOOTS
There is some good news for the Chancellor this morning. The Telegraphreports that NIESR forecasts 0.8 per cent growth in the third quarter of the year thanks to a boost from Olympic spending and fewer bank holidays than the second quarter which included the Royal Wedding. The bad news is that it is likely to be a one-off, with long term growth rates falling back to little above zero. Still, at least the Chancellor will gain some succor in the face of Tuesday’s IMF report which threatens to undermine key parts of his economic strategy, as the FT (£) report this morning in their Q&A. Sample:
“6. Is there any good news for the chancellor?
“Not unless you take a highly political view of the world. The IMF has looked into the past and decided the previous decade was much more unsustainable than previously thought. It now believes the economy was overheating so much in 2007 that it was running 3.6 per cent faster than the sustainable level of gross domestic product. The structural deficit when Gordon Brown left the Treasury was 5.2 per cent of GDP, the IMF now says.”
HS2 TO BE FAST-TRACKED
The Independent splash this morning comes from the paper’s interview with Patrick McLoughlin in which he says he will defy “grief and hassle” to push through HS2 without significant compromises. He told the paper he would “love to” get the project completed within 5 years, adding:
"The easiest thing for any government to do on a project the size of HS2 is to say we're not doing it. All we get is grief. All we get is hassle. But one of the things that government has got to try and do is to look to the long-term future.”
Number 10 needs an enforcer, says Roland Watson in the Times(£). He argues that the Number 10 machine is so wet that it cannot force through the Prime Minister’s agenda:
“What is the difference between David Cameron’s Downing Street machine and a marshmallow? Nothing, according to one minister — problems that need fixing enter No 10 only to get stuck in a squidgy mess. The criticism is echoed to varying degrees by many who have dealings with the inner workings of Downing Street.
“There is a lack of rigour; no clear structure to decision-making; key aides are too busy to pick up issues or drive through the Prime Minister’s wishes; Mr Cameron is too reliant on old friends and lacks a single authority figure able to bend the machine to his will.”
If Number 10 need an enforcer, one man’s name springs to mind. Send for Thrasher...
MITCHELL MAY BE ASKED TO STAND DOWN
...too late, he’s already here. The Telegraphreports that Mr Mitchell may be subject to a private appeal by senior ministers asking him to step down “for the good of the party”. We add that:
“‘It’s still doing a lot of harm and someone needs to put an end to it,’ one Cabinet minister said. ‘There’s a chance that Andrew will do that himself, but people may have to talk to him.’”
CONSERVATIVE PARTY LIVE
You can follow live coverage of the Tory conference in Birmingham, including Dave’s speech, via the Telegraph’s website, by clicking here.
There is also a text commentary which is available here.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Boris’ speech inspired this meditation from Helen Goodman :
@HelenGoodmanMP:“Boris is a mop, Dave is a broom, George is a dustpan, Michael is a Jcloth, so who is the loobrush? #cpc12”