It's Thrilling Thursday/Super Thursday/Nearly the weekend. Whatever you want to call it, the combination of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and three byelections will be an insight into the public mood given the mixture of an improving economic picture and the Government's omnishambolic news management. If you are wondering why we are voting on a gloomy day in mid November, the story goes that the Lib Dems objected to having the police commissioner elections on the same day as the locals in May so asked for them to be deferred to October, then changed their minds when they realised they would clash with their party conference.
The Sun is expecting "a hammerin' for Cameron", with the Tories beaten in all three byelections (Cardiff South & Penarth and Manchester Central are safe Labour), and claims the acid test will be how well the Conservative vote holds up in Corby. A mid-term defeat in a seat where the opposition need only a 2pc swing is no disgrace, a thrashing would see a resurgence of the regicide talk laid to bed after the Prime Minister's conference speech.
It is harder to gauge what a good result would be for each party in the PCC elections (although Prezza not getting into a fight would be a start, as the Independent reports). As YouGov's Anthony Wells notes, there has been no serious polling prior to the event. The public and the pollsters don't seem to think the elections matter, but the Times (£) disagrees. Its leader argues that "the police themselves would benefit from having a directly elected insider". Interpreting the results will also be difficult, as the Guardian points out, a Tory win in Warwickshire and a Labour win in Greater Manchester are not equivalent given the latter serves five times as many people. One man who decided he was better off out was Nick Herbert, who resigned rather than oversee the elections. He writes to the Telegraph this morning:
"Chief constables are the professionals who will run their forces. But commissioners will, like the Mayor of London, speak for local people and hold the police to account."
That cleared that up. For the night owls proposing to stay up and watch, Cardiff South & Penarth and Manchester Central results are expected at around 3am. The Corby count will begin in the morning with the result around 1pm tomorrow. Of the PCC elections, only Wiltshire will announce overnight, at about 4am. The other results should filter in between 12:30 pm and 6 pm tomorrow.
AAA STATUS THREATENED BY THE FOURTH QUARTER OF THE LIVING DEAD
It was an economic data day yesterday, and not a good one for the Government. A gloomy Mervyn King produced the Bank of England's most downcast assessment yet of medium-term growth and predicted that the economy could contract in Q4, making this a triple dip recession. The BOE sees the economy remaining below its 2008 level until Q3 2014 at the earliest. The blame this time is on stronger Sterling, up 8pc year-on-year, and "zombie" companies propped up by low interest rates, as the FT (£) reports. As the Telegraph notes, Sir Mervyn believes the recovery will be "slow and protracted" while we experience a period of "persistently low growth". For a Government wedded to its credibility in the international money markets, this morning's news that Moody's will review the UK's AAA rating in January is potentially dire (Telegraph report here).
The good news? Unemployment has fallen again (although the claimant count nudged up slightly), although the productivity puzzle remains as perplexing as ever. George Osborne must be bold to build further on this base, our leader argues:
"[Ministers] must display greater strategic boldness, starting the groundwork for the radical supply-side reforms that can haul the UK economy out of this downturn. A low-growth future is no option at all."
TORY BACKBENCHERS GET BEHIND STATE CONTROLS
Government backbenchers are beginning to show a similar level of enthusiasm for press control as the opposition frontbench. This morning's Guardian reports that nearly 30 Conservative MPs have added their names to a list of 42 who had written to the paper last week to express support for state regulation. The FT (£) also has the story. The additional MPs who support state regulation claim they object to being bullied by the media, notably the Telegraph, but are unnamed. They are out of tune with the public, in any case. A YouGov poll for the Sun this morning finds that 75pc of Britons see a state-run watchdog as a "gag" on the free press.
RICHARDS TURNS GUNS ON MINISTERS
General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, unleashes a fearsome barrage on ministers who have left the forces overstretched and undermanned in a lecture reported in this morning's Telegraph. He told Oxford University's Department of Politics and International Relations:
"We have a whole load of tasks expected of us. Our political masters are quite happy to reduce the size of the Armed Forces, but their appetite to exercise influence on the world stage is, quite understandably, the same as it has always been. Often politicians say to me, 'Can you go and do this?’ I say to them, 'With what?’ "
And the Greeks think they have problems... Civil unrest stalked the streets of Falmer last night as a Tory MP was apparently stoned when on his way to speak at a debate at Sussex University. The BBC reports that Mike Weatherley was pelted with rocks by a group of about 50 pro-squatting protesters. He was barricaded in a room by security staff and had to be rescued by the police.
The Greenpeace tapes keep on coming. Today it is the turn of Lord Howell of Guildford, George Osborne's father-in-law, and Peter Lilley to find themselves in the Independent. Although Dave "isn't aware of these issues" when it comes to climate change, the Chancellor is making his scepticism increasingly felt, Lord Howell contends. The highlight, though, is probably this gem on foreign affairs:
"Qatar is a great place and it's full of skyscrapers and rich people. But it's also rather near to a lot of Jihadists and, you know, if Qatar was just to... go into chaos, we would be up **** Creek, we really would."
Meanwhile James Delingpole, subject of Chris Heaton-Harris' loose talk, has written in today's Telegraph explaining his decision to withdraw:
"[Mr Heaton-Harris] was the one who drew my attention to the anti-wind speeches made by Owen Paterson and the new energy minister, John Hayes, at the Tory conference. It was newspaper reports of some even stronger anti-wind remarks by Hayes which gave me just the excuse I needed to withdraw from the election with honour, claiming victory."
Peter Oborne is on scathing form in this morning's Telegraph calling John Bercow a "bully" and noting that "incredibly...MPs are still unable to accept they did anything wrong in the expenses scandal." Two board members who quit the Ipsa watchdog also wrote to the Speaker yesterday accusing him of interfering in a way that would threaten the credibility of the body, as the Mail reports. The Speaker will need to exercise his famous gift for winning friends and influencing people to fix this one.
LIZ KENDALL AND THE MYSTERY OF THE DISAPPEARING LUNCHBOX
What qualifies someone as a very sick individual? For Liz Kendall, the answer is clear, taking her lunch (photos from Guido Fawkes)
Tonight's Question Time will be live from Corby. The panelists will beChris Grayling, Harriet Harman, Nigel Farage, Tessa Munt and Moray MacLennan, chief executive of the advertising agency M&C Saatchi.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Michael Fabricant is less than impressed to find himself campaigning against the opposition's Chief Whip:
@Mike_Fabricant: "#Corby @byelection On final day, Conservatives bring out Home Secretary. Labour brings out, OMG, Rosie Winterton (who?)"
In the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - Bercow and his bullies bring shame on our parliament
Sue Cameron - At 90, Auntie will have to change her ways
Con Coughlin - All the presidential men
James Delingpole - An orgy of greed is spoiling our countryside
Best of the rest
Steve Richards in The Independent - Gay marriage and Labour bashing: the Tory recipe for election win
David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) - Misplaced lust is no reason to lose this man
Chris Giles in The FT (£) - Policy ruses put Britain's economic credibility on the line
Martin Kettle in The Guardian - Austerity is here to stay, and we'd better get used to it
TODAY: Parliamentary by-elections in Corby, Cardiff South & Penarth and Manchester Central. Cardiff South & Penarth result expected 0300 Friday, Manchester Central expected 04:00 Friday, Corby expected 13:00 Friday.
Police and Crime Commissioners elections. Voting takes place for commissioners in 41 police areas in England and Wales (excluding London). Polling from 07:00 to 22:00. The Wiltshire count will take place on the night (eta 04:00). Counting in the rest will not start until the following day (Friday) with results expected between 12:30 and 18:00. There is also a poll for an executive mayor in Bristol and a vote on whether to keep the mayor in Hartlepool. Both these counts will begin straight after polls close.
11:15 am: Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and education minister David Laws launch consultation on the measurement of child poverty. Clyde Children's Centre, Alverton Street, Deptford.
05:00 pm: David Cameron meets Chilean president Sebastian Pinera. 10 Downing Street, London.
06:00 pm: Vince Cable speech on the European Union. Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 St James's Square London.