Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ashcroft - rise of UKIP must be taken seriously..

Good morning. The Queen will attend Cabinet this morning as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. She will find Dave in a disconsolate mood. Despite becoming increasingly daring on Europe, saying yesterday that an eventual exit was "imaginable", the Prime Minister is still dogged by the rise of Ukip. Although his concession that Britain could quit Europe at some point inspired the Sun's headline writers to "imagine there's no Belgium, it's easy if EU try", Conservative voters seem to no longer trust Mr Cameron's instincts in this area.
Both the Independent (which puts Ukip on 9pc), and the Times (£) (which has it on 10pc), report that Ukip surging, their vote share preventing the Conservatives making any impact on Labour's lead in the polls. The Times estimates that the Conservatives have now lost one sixth of their support in the last two months, largely to Nigel Farage's party. Ukip's line on the EU is also proving the more popular in the court of public opinion, with only 18pc reporting positive views, but more than one third now subscribing to Britain being "better off out".
Nor are the voters who are abandoning the Tories single issue "fruitcakes". This morning's Mail reports polling by Lord Ashcroft indicating that only one in four prospective Ukip voters believe that the EU is the most important issue facing the country. Lord Ashcroft himself writes on ConservativeHome that Ukip voters are the great disengaged:
"Many of those who are drawn to voting Ukip recognise the wilful simplicity of the party’s rhetoric: that we could cut taxes, increase defence spending and balance the budget all at once...They have effectively disengaged from the hard choices inherent in the democratic process, though they still want formally to take part in it. They say that being remote from power means Ukip can say what they really think, though there is a tacit acknowledgement that it also means they can say what they like and never be called on it."
Until now the default mantra of the Tory leadership has been that for eveRy vote they gain from tacking towards Ukip, they lose two among voters who don't want the party to strike extreme poses. But as these polls show, Ukip is attracting voters not so much for their clear-cut - though uncosted - 'EU out' policy but because they speak blunt truths about wider issues, most notably of late on gay marriage. Tory MPs in marginal seas fear Ukip's capacity to deprive them of votes and therefore their seat. They also report mass desertions among activists enraged by David Cameron's casual approach to marriage. Lord Ashcroft's poll is at first glance particularly troubling, not least because he has long been a leader among those cautioning the party against a lurch to the right. Here his research suggests that voters are crying out for more plain speaking on the issues that worry them. But as he makes clear, even if Ukip does well in the 2014 Euros, it does not mean disaster for the Tories in 2015. Voters are more concerned about immigration, the deficit, welfare, growth and the deficit than Europe. Here Lord Ashcroft echoes Mr Cameron's argument that the choice ultimately is between easy answers and tough decisions. Against Ukip, and Labour, Mr Cameron has to show that he is capable of taking the tough decisions he keeps talking about (airports, anyone?) and that they produce results.
The Commission on a British Bill of Rights will report today, and the noises are not positive from a Conservative perspective. The weekend's papers speculated that not only would the panel's recommendations fail to provide a rationale for leaving the ECHR, but that a minority report may even call for the continuance of the status quo. With the panel split, there's no hope for the Coalition parties. This looks like another shambles in the making. Chris Grayling is undeterred, however, and his op-ed in today's Telegraph calls for a "common sense" approach to human rights:
"In future there needs to be an absolutely clear balance between rights and responsibilities in law. 'I know my rights' has to stop being a defence against unacceptable behaviour."
We may be none the wiser as to what the Liberal Democrats are, following Nick Clegg's speech yesterday, but at least we know what they are not. "We are not centre-ground tourists," he told CentreForum, "under pressure we have moved to the centre". As the Guardian notes, the intention seemed to be to show that the party has not lurched to the Right, it has simply outgrown opposition for opposition's sake. As I write in my Telegraph column, this in itself poses a challenge to the instincts of many in the party:
"Mr Clegg was indulging in a spot of triangulation – defining himself as a centrist against the purported extremes of his two rivals... The heart of his speech was the choice he put to his party, between becoming 'a more permanent fixture of government' and the 'comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition'."
Ed Miliband may join Dave in offering his party a free vote on gay marriage after a fractious meeting of the shadow cabinet in which party veterans argued that a whipped vote would be a breach of religious freedoms, the Telegraph reports. Two religious shadow ministers are thought to have objected to plans for a party vote. Support for gay marriage in the wider party is strong, although Mary Glindon, Jim Dobbin and Joe Benton all signed a letter to the Telegraph yesterday opposing the plans.
On the other side of the House, the Coalition is running into more problems of its own. Divorce lawyers are claiming that unless statutes governing adultery and consummation of a marriage are changed to include same-sex couples, they may cease to be grounds for dissolvingmarriages for heterosexual couples, the Telegraph notes. Meanwhile, theMail reports that Muslim groups are now demanding a CofE style total exemption from the legislation.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...Dave must sometimes feel as though he's stick in a Stealer's Wheel song. While most of his party can be induced to vote through green initiatives only under extreme duress, Tim Yeo has popped up in this morning's Guardian threatening to rebel over the new Energy Bill because it doesn't include a decarbonisation target. As the Prime Minister is finding, the centre ground can be a lonely place. Just ask Nick.
Given that Dave seems wedded to his Royal Charter idea, Ed Miliband's call for a meeting of party leaders to hammer out the detail of press regulation may be doomed to fall on deaf ears. The Guardian reports that the Labour leader wants a "substantive discussion" with Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg given fears in his party that the Coalition will delay implementation. Given that the Lib Dems are briefing that have dropped their objection to a Royal Charter in principle, it seems that whatever discussion remains to be had, it won't be on the substantive points.
Planning approvals are up by one third since the Coalition reformed planning rules in England in March. The Telegraph reports that figures from the Home Builders Federation show a 36pc increase from July to September this year.
Michael Fabricant gets his work-out in:
@Mike_Fabricant: "Great exercise for thighs standing up &down for over an hour b4 was called to ask PM a question. Not complaining.Was called early last time."
Populus / Times: Con 29%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%, Other 10%
ComRes / Independent: Con 31%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10%, UKIP 9%, Other 9%

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - How long can Clegg rock the boat without going over the side?
Best of the rest

Steve Richards in The Independent - As Clegg seeks a purpose, the Coalition falters
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Can our leaders find their inner Hercules
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - The Tories are losing their vile war on 'scroungers'


TODAY: Energy Secretary Ed Davey to provide the Government Response to the Maitland Review on oil and gas security.  The Queen will attend Cabinet as an observer. The Queen will become the first monarch to attend the weekly briefing since Queen Victoria and will sit next to the Prime Minister during the 90-minute meeting.
09:30 am: Inflation figures for November are published by the Office for National Statistics.  
10:30 am: Paul Silk, Chair of the Commission on Devolution in Wales, gives evidence to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
02:45 pm: UK Border Agency chief executive Rob Whiteman and Immigration Minister Mark Harper give evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
03:30 pm: Energy Secretary Ed Davey gives evidence to the Commons Energy Committee on the Doha climate change talks. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
04:15 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.