Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ed Attacks on Economics..

BREAKING NEWS: Ed Miliband has just made an appearance on the Marr show. He looked to open up clear water between the Coalition and Labour with his economic pronouncements, which included news that Labour would borrow and tax more and would re-introduce the 50p tax rate, saying:

“Cutting the 50p tax rate is like Cameron writing a £40,000 cheque to every millionaire...if there is an election tomorrow, we will put the top rate of income tax back up to 50p.”

As for the future of his brother, Mr Miliband said that he was an “asset” for the party, but would not be drawn on whether he would find a way back into the a senior position. Mr Miliband also gave a veiled rebuke to Ed Balls, saying that the Lib-Lab flirtation was “way over done”, adding that he needed to “get away from” Vince Cable, and so changed his phone number, before repeating an attack line Labour figures have pushed in interviews earlier this week:

“The Lib Dems are Tory accomplices. If there are areas where we can co-operate then great, but I want a majority Labour government.”

And finally, Mr Miliband rejected the claim that his political image needed a makeover, adding:

“I’m my own person and I am going to do it my own way.”


If Ed Miliband is to avoid the fate many predict for him - his brother says he is going to 'crash and burn', according to his biographers in the Mail on Sunday - he needs to change the way he is perceived: an image makeover is the opening theme for Labour conference in the papers this morning (though Mr Miliband has just told Marr he doesn’t read any of his coverage). Everything is being thrown at the task, including his school reports (dab hand at weaving, terrible penmanship, talked too much). He's even been getting advice on how to walk and sit down more effectively. We'll get Ed the Movie later in the week. The Labour conference stage has also been given a makeover, and is dominated by a huge Union flag, as you can see on Twitter.

The interviews and the columnists all address the issue in one form or another. Something must be done, they say, to counter the mud being thrown by the Tories, even if Ed's internal position is far stronger than it was a year ago. But it's not all about image, with Mr Miliband setting out his threat to split the banks by statute on the back of his economic emergency language yesterday: the attacks on predator capitalism continues. And if you look closely you will also spot the hints of the other issue that will preoccupy us this week, namely what to do about Ed Balls - the 'intolerable' Ed as the Lib Dems call him - who is a source of perpetual worry to those around the leader.

Mr Miliband has two interviews  in today’s papers. In the Mirror , he peddles the line that the Conservatives have sought to escalate the class divide. In the Observer , Red Ed is in more reflective form, threatening to force the break-up of banks in the City, and musing on the benefits of idealism against pragmatism:

“Ideas matter in politics. Ideas matter more than people realise. When Cameron comes along and says he wants to ‘hug a husky, hug a hoodie’ and now he wants to lock up the hoodies and who cares about the huskies, I think it massively undermines not just his authenticity.”

Across the board, leader columns and commentators are demanding some big ideas from Mr Miliband this week. The Sunday Telegraph asks, “Is Mr Miliband still in the thrall of an ideology that despises capitalism?”, a pertinent question given revelations in the Sunday Times (£) that union leaders are looking to “purge” the party of Blairites.

Further demands are made by Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, who calls for Mr Miliband to give speeches in plain English, and Matthew d’Ancona in the Telegraph who writes:

“What can be said with certainty is this: Miliband grasps that, to stand a chance of winning, he must campaign as vigorously against the last Labour government as he does against Cameron. Thatcher understood this: she was fighting Heath, as well as Callaghan, distancing herself not only from the Labour government’s failure but also from the managerial mediocrity of the Tory past. In Miliband’s case, the task is probably even harder.”

Not much to pack into a few days, eh?


The Observer reports that senior figures in the Lib Dems would find working with Ed Balls “intolerable” and would seek to exchange Nick Clegg stepping down for Mr Balls being demoted if we get another hung parliament. Vince Cable is understood to be being lined up for Chancellor. One unnamed Lib Dem source told the paper:

“Balls is Gordon Brown without any of the beliefs or passion. He is a bullying figure and working with him would be intolerable. Personalities matter, you can’t take them out of it. Ideologically, there may not be too many issues but the Labour leadership as it stands is toxic. Balls could not be trusted.”

Lib Dem frustration with Labour tribalism is such that deputy leader Simon Hughes will address a fringe meeting in Manchester later today in an attempt to bring them round to consensus politics. Whatever happened to the Marr show marriage between Ed B and Vince, though?


Even if the Lib Dems are less than impressed, Mr Balls has been at pains to produce a charm offensive for voters. In an interview with the Telegraphthis morning, he launches a tax-cutting programme which includes a two year holiday from stamp duty for first time buyers. Furthermore, Mr Balls denies that he is in conflict with Harriet Harman about tax cuts. In fact, he denies that he is in conflict with anyone. “There is nothing more despicable and weak than a bully,” he tells the paper in a tone described as “forthright”.


The Mail’s Black Dog column has some good news for Nick: rumours that Ed Davey was slimming down for a leadership challenge appear to have been wrong, given that Mr Davey was keen to stress his consumption of bacon sandwiches while at the Lib Dem conference.

Bad news in the Times (£), though. Danny Alexander is reported to be putting together a campaign team in anticipation of a future leadership contest. Given that Mr Alexander is one of Mr Clegg’s closest allies in the Coalition, and that the next general election is two and a half years away, the move hardly looks like a vote of confidence. Bookies put Danny A at 12/1 to succeed Mr Clegg. Vince is a measly 2/1.


But increasingly it is. We report this morning that ministers are split over Lib Dem proposals to add two additional levels of council tax for homes worth over £1m.  Influential Tories holding out against the plans, which would hit Conservative heartlands in southern England, are believed to include Chris Grayling, Grant Shapps, Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond. 

It looks like the plans will get the go-ahead, however. The Sun reports that George Osborne is preparing an attempt to “boost his image among working classes” by taxing the rich more. Mr Osborne was not the problem last time, though. David Cameron over-ruled his Chancellor in obstructing the ‘mansion tax’, and any shift in policy would need to be cleared with Dave.


Bo-Jo and Dave will be able to discuss their respective experiences on American television when they sit down to a lunch at Chequers today. The lunch will also aim to find other common ground and head off leadership speculation, we report.

The new-found spirit of detente was definitely in evidence yesterday. As the Sun reported, Boris used his appearance on LBC to defend Dave’s political acumen

“He was only pretending — I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means.

“It was a brilliant move in order to show his democratic credentials — and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”


Bad news for Tory traditionalists: Steve Hilton will be returning to write David Cameron’s conference speech, according to the Times (£). Dave will be delighted to have one of his closest confidantes back in the inner circle, however briefly. The rest of the party will, no doubt, also be delighted to have the mastermind behind the ‘hug a husky’ campaign back in the fold.


"I'm barely numerate": Jon Cruddas, Labour's head of policy, in theTelegraph. He also said Labour was considering a partial amnesty for illegal immigrants, doing away with the ten-yearly census, and a referendum on our EU membership. And he agreed there are tensions between Eds M and B.

"Over the past couple of years people expected us to form a circular firing squad and that hasn't happened." Douglas Alexander, interviewed in theTimes .

"Private efforts have been made to improve parts of his persona, the way he looks and sits down, but the settled view is that the image makers must now let him be." Patrick Wintour's analysis of Ed Miliband's position, in the Guardian .


The great Labour welfare reformer Malcolm Wicks has passed away. Mr Wicks held ministerial briefs under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was previously the director of the Family Policies Study Centre. The Guardianreports tributes from both sides of the House, with Mr Miliband saying:

"I have lost a wise confidant and, most importantly, a dear friend and the Labour party has lost one of its sharpest thinkers. Our thoughts go to Malcolm's wife, Margaret, and his family."


Alan Duncan has waded into the Tory aid debate this morning. In aTelegraph interview, he accuses the EU of “squandering” the UK’s contributions to its aid budget. However, while Dave’s interviews over the last week suggest that he is softening his stance on an EU referendum, his stance on aid is as firm as ever. Do not expect any movement on this issue any time soon.


Who says socialists don’t know how to have fun? Here’s Barry Gardiner with the best joke from the Labour conference so far:

@BarryGardiner: “The new #lab12 conference joke: Q. Why did 60,000 people boo George Osborne in the Olympic Stadium? A. Because 60 million couldn't fit in.”


You Gov / Sunday Times:  Con 35%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 10%, Other 15%


In The Telegraph

Matthew d’Ancona - What's the point of Labour when the coffers are empty?

Janet Daley - 'Likeability’ is the bane of modern politics

Daniel Hannan- A referendum could be the perfect solution to the perfect storm 

Andrew Sentance - Easy on the stimulus, green shoots are emerging

Best of the rest

Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer - Ed Miliband's big test is to make voters see him as prime minister 

Martin Ivens in The Times (£) - Stay vague, Ed — too red and you’re dead

John Rentoul in The Independent - Wonkish? Yes, but Miliband could be PM in 2015 


Today: Labour Party conference.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Miliband gives a tax cut to the rich..

At the same Q & A meeting in Manchester this afternoon, Mr Miliband also committed Labour to reducing the maximum tuition fee at English Universities to £6000 from the current £9000.

At a stroke the Labour leader just gave a £3000 tax cut to the wealthiest and most able students in the country - the people who in 20 years time will occupy the top jobs in British society. A tax cut for the rich. How 'fair' or 'progressive' is that?

Labour now accept the Coalition's NHS changes..

What an extraordinary afternoon for Mr Miliband. In a Q & A session with Labour supporters in Manchester this afternoon, he pledges to keep the Coalition's NHS changes.

You may remember the calls for a national strike, the promise of reversing the biggest changes in the NHS's history, the '3 months to save the NHS' hysteria and Andy Burnham's promise that the Health and Social Care Bill would hand the NHS over to the private sector.

Well it seems the hysteria was all for nothing. None of the changes are worth reversing. Labour have now decided to keep the changes, making Mr Miliband the most opportunistic Labour leader by some distance..

The poverty of JK Rowling..

JK Rowling’s success in the Harry Potter stories was, in fact, the product of a provincial life. Her magical imagination grew strong in the confined spaces of her background. She made a huge fortune. It is an unattractive feature of our celebrity culture that she now despises all those people – virtually the entire human race – who are less of a global phenomenon than herself. Left-wing she may be, but what JK Rowling is really saying to the poor old provincial England that made her is, like Harry Enfield’s famous creation, “I am considerably richer than yow!” Charles Moore on The Casual Vacancy.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Ed Balls channels Churchill..

Ed Balls has tried a spot of subliminal messaging in his Guardianinterview photo this morning. He poses by a copy of Martin Gilbert's Churchill, leaning forward in his chair, mouth set. All that's missing is the cigar. And he couples that with an account of how he sweated his way through his Grade 1 piano exam a few months ago (he passed, but without a merit). Ed Balls: shadow chancellor, would be leader, man of destiny, artist.

Westminster kremlinologists can amuse themselves wondering what Ed Miliband's office will make of this pre-conference associative mischief. Especially as it comes with his plan for a zero-based budget review if Labour get back in. He wants all expenditure to be gone through line by line to justify government activity. The snag is he has already set exemptions - DfID, Health, preventative programmes (wide open to interpretation), and anything that can achieve cross party consensus. Sceptics will wonder how much a Labour chancellor would actually cut. And he doesn't address the point some members of the shadow cabinet are beginning to mutter about, namely whether Labour should match Coalition spending plans beyond 2015. But as we prepare to head for Manchester this weekend, Mr Balls has played his first card in what will be an attempt next week to secure some economic credibility.

Harriet Harman, of course, has other ideas. She rather undermined Mr Balls’ economic plans in an interview with the Spectator in which she said:

“Our argument against the Tories is that the scale and pace of their deficit reduction is self-defeating and hurting the economy and therefore making less money available. So we have got a fundamental economic critique — we would not be signing up to doing the very thing we think is hurting the economy.”

Nothing if not consistent. Plenty of other conference plot lines are also coming nicely to the boil. The Sun reports that David Miliband will miss his brother’s speech. Ed, meanwhile, has had his phone confiscated and the number changed after the row over his texts with Vince Cable, theTimes (£) reports.

Elsewhere in the Times (£), Philip Collins sets out the challenge the Labour Party face at their conference:

“The paradox for Labour is that the source of its popularity – the failure of the coalition to clear the deficit rapidly – is also its predicament. Behind the mumblings about the credibility of the leader and the austerity denial lurks the existential question of what it means to be Labour when the cash runs out.”


The Coalition have woken up to a couple of unhelpful stories from the other side of the Channel, quite aside from the financial collapse which is spooking the markets at home. The economic situation on the continent is dire, and as Jeremey Warner argues in today’s TelegraphSpain may soon have no option but to leave the euro.
We report that Mr Cameron is planning to ‘claw-back’ powers fromBrussels in around 20 different legislative areas, with the Mail putting the figure at around 100 powers. The move is understandable given that public faith in the European project is at an all time low, and the move is unlikely to meet heavy opposition from a Labour Party conscious about its prior record.

The question remains as to whether Mr Cameron will consider an in/out referendum. While the Mail reports that it is still on the table, we reportthat the Prime Minister said it is “not a priority”, during a radio interview on his visit to Brazil.

Even so, it is Europe landing the blows this morning. The Coalition’s plan for minimum alcohol pricing is in danger thanks to Brussels , as the Mailreports. EU officials have told the Scottish government to remove its 50p-a-unit minimum price as it is a restriction on trade. The restrictions had been anticipated to be brought in for England and Wales if the Scottish experiment was a success.

Meanwhile, the FT (£) reports that the French government are pushing to increase their stake in any BAE-EADS tie-up. The French currently hold a 15 per cent stake in EADS, which would be diluted to nine per cent under the proposed merger terms. However, they have reserved the right to buy the 7.5 per cent stake in EADS held by media company Lagardere, a move which would give them 13.5 per cent of any combined entity.

Berlin is rumoured to be considering making a similar move by compulsory purchasing Daimler’s stake in EADS. Combined, the French and German governments could hold 27 per cent of the new group. Britain has said it will not permit a deal where either government owns over nine per cent. Irrespective of the stake size, the question will now inevitably be asked as to why Britain is happy to sacrifice its golden share in BAE, but the continental governments are still left with a possible blocking minority in the new company.


Dave’s gay marriage proposals have drawn him plenty of flack from his own party, but Ed Miliband may yet outflank him and win the electoral fruits.  In a video recorded for pressure group Out4Marriage, Mr Miliband said that he supported gay marriages in churches and other religious institutions.
Our leader calls Mr Miliband’s move “mischievous”, saying:

“Superficially, [Mr Miliband’s] proposal has the ring of reasonableness that is all opposition requires – why, he can ask, should couples not be allowed a religious wedding if there is a clergyman eager to perform it? It is Mr Cameron who is left in an awkward spot, forced to choose between defending the reforms as they stand and being outflanked by Mr Miliband, or accepting his rival’s suggestion and further enraging the plan’s opponents. But then, that is a dilemma he has brought entirely upon himself.”


Dave’s Letterman appearance gets three stars in the papers. The consensus seems to be that the Prime Minister left red-faced, but with little damage done. Many found it boring: “scintillating and sparkly might not be the words for the programme”, Quentin Letts writes in theMail. Meanwhile the FT (£) considers Dave to have been a qualified success:

“This was the ‘good’ Cameron, as opposed to the ‘bad’ Cameron – an over-bearing, arrogant bully – who not infrequently emerges during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.”

Would you have fared any better? You can take our Letterman style quizhere.


The Telegraph’s Mandrake column has followed up its scoop yesterday, on George Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey making an afternoon trip to the opera, with another today. George and the boys will return to the Royal Opera House for the third and fourth operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
The story has provoked mixed reactions. On Telegraph blogs, Damian Thompson is firmly of the view that “Wagner is more important than the wretched Lib Dems”. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, is furious. Its leader column thunders:
“David Cameron – who, according to his Old Etonian friend Charlie Brooks, once refused to take a call from President Obama until he had finished a tennis match – spent Wednesday making a twit of himself on an American TV show with three million viewers.

“Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne, Education Secretary Michael Gove and the arts minister Ed Vaizey took several hours off in the middle of the day enjoying free tickets to a prestigious production of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Royal Opera House in London ’s Covent Garden .

“Forgive the Mail for asking, but just who is in charge of the rattling train?”


Tory MPs are “hatching a plot” to have Andrew Mitchell fired, according to the Sun. Their reasoning is pretty straight-forward. One would-be rebel tells the paper:

“Andrew Mitchell has managed to turn us from the nasty party to the f***ing nasty party. He should be sacked.”

The rebels are planning to write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding Mr Mitchell step down. Although there is no constitutional mechanism in the party for ensuring this happens, they hope to make his position impossible by weight of support. Watch out, Thrasher…


A good Dave chillaxing story has been hard to come by since the Prime Minister’s praise for the restorative properties of ‘Fruit Ninja’. Today serves up a corker – a Old Etonian friend of the Prime Minister who is embroiled in the phone hacking row, has said that the PM refused a call from Barack Obama so that he could finish a tennis match.

As we report, Charlie Brooks, husband of Rebekah Brooks, told the Racing Post:

“I played tennis with him at Chequers one day. I won the first set easily, then he won the second set, and then someone came up to him and said ‘er ... Mr Obama is on the phone for you, Prime Minister’.
“I thought ‘okay, we’ll have to leave it there’. But he said ‘I think we’ve got time for a third set - tell Mr Obama I'll ring him back’. He obviously thought he had me on the ropes. And I beat him two sets to one.”


Strictly Come Dancing contestant turned cabinet minister Vince Cable has a tendency to fall asleep during meetings, the Mail reports. The 69-year-old Business Secretary would find it hard to take over the leadership as he “struggles to stay awake all day as it is”, say Clegg loyalists, clearly riled by Vince’s self-promotion at the party conference.


And finally…Gordon Brown may have slipped from public life in Britain , but the U.N. have recently appointed him as global special envoy for education. For this reason he was in New York to address a crowd of journalists yesterday. Unfortunately, the crowd consisted of a solitary Telegraph reporter.
Our report details the rather sad ending:

“As the former Prime Minister stood in the background, a message was played on the loudspeaker reminding the media that Mr Brown was due to speak.
“At about 4.20pm another message was played over the public address system informing the media that Mr Brown’s press conference was cancelled.”


As England take a thrashing in their Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against the West Indies in Sri Lanka , the reason becomes apparent. Tim Loughton has commandeered half the squad as dinner companions:

@timloughton “Delighted 2 host tribute dinner 4 Matt Prior in Commons tonight with Andrew Strauss + Alastair Cook.”


In The Telegraph
Jeremey Warner – Spain must leave the euro

Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Labour needs real cuts as well as real ideas
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) - A liberal case for scepticism of the EU
Mary Deievsky in The Independent - Cameron can’t do a Boris – and shouldn’t try


Today: David Cameron continues his visit to Brazil . #
08:50 am:  FSA managing director Martin Wheatley gives speech on his recommendations for reforming the Libor system.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Serious and solid is good news for Nick Clegg..

The Lib Dem conference ended with a Nick Clegg speech which has generally been well received by this morning’s papers. His advisers will be pleased with the broadly favourable coverage. If one of the most persistent accusations against the Lib Dems has been frivolity, then they will welcome descriptions of his speech as serious and solid, even if hasn't made most front pages.

Leader writers have backed Mr Clegg’s choice of tone this morning. TheTimes (£) felt that Mr Clegg succeeded in challenging his party to “be a liberal party and the third party of government”. The Independentdescribed the Deputy Prime Minister as “defiant”, even if their sketchfound him “big on hand signals, but short on inspiration”.

Commentators were less forgiving. On the right, Stephen Glover in theMail attacked Mr Clegg’s pensioner means testing in a piece headlined: “Plundering the shrinking and hard earned assets of pensioners is the daftest idea I have heard in a long time.” Polly Toynbee in the Guardianattacked Mr Clegg’s warning that an excess of government debt could lead to extremism, claiming that:

“Naïve, vain or obtuse, he has been useful yellow camouflage for this most radical and ideological of Conservative governments. As if still beguiled by Cameron's affable rose garden manner, Clegg has colluded with the great Conservative blueprint for dismantling the state, outsourcing every service and withering welfare.”

Elsewhere in the Guardian, Martin Kettle took the more moderate view that trust needs to be built between the Lib Dems and Labour to allow a progressive alliance at the next election. The article will please the Lib Dem hierarchy which has pushed the message that coalition government is here to stay all week.

The Labour-Lib Dem alliance took one small step closer to reality yesterday with Paddy Ashdown’s return to the fold. As James Forsyth writes in the Spectator, the announcement that Lord Ashdown will return to help with the 2015 election campaign signals Mr Clegg’s desire to stay on. In appointing a pro-Labour figure, it also says something about the direction of travel the party sees itself taking.

All in all, it has been a good week for the Lib Dems, as I wrote inyesterday’s blog:

I suspect we are going to have to start talking about a Lib Dem recovery at some point. No, really. Nick Clegg's speech completed a fairly successful week for the Deputy Prime Minister. The polls are still terrible, and his prospects might look bleak, but as Dan Hodges argued earlier, Labour's support is soft and as we close on the election, the economy picks up and Labour's deficiencies come under scrutiny, their position can only improve. Andrew Mitchell's implosion has done great damage to the Tories, which helped the Lib Dems no end this week: with the Conservatives silenced, Mr Clegg was able to get his fairer taxes/soak the rich message up in lights, and it's gaining traction.


Dave has been speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York . The tone and phrasing of his rebuke to the assembly for failing to intervene in Syria was remarkably strident. The Guardian reports him saying:

"The blood of these young children is a terrible stain on the reputation of this United Nations. And in particular, a stain on those who have failed to stand up to these atrocities and in some cases aided and abetted Assad's reign of terror.

"If the United Nations charter is to have any value in the 21st century we must now join together to support a rapid political transition. And at the same time no one of conscience can turn a deaf ear to the voices of suffering."

Aides confirmed that the intended targets of the remarks were Russia and China , both of which have used their Security Council veto to prevent intervention in Syria . Whatever happened to the Judo détente?

Dave’s appearance on the David Letterman show did not go entirely to plan, as we report:

“The Prime Minister was caught out on the Late Show when Mr Letterman asked him to name the author of Rule Britannia and he answered incorrectly. He also failed to explain the meaning of “Magna Carta”.
“After his errors, Mr Cameron - educated at Eton and Oxford - joked: ‘That is bad, I have ended my career on your show tonight.’”

Despite the awkward moments, the Prime Minister managed to come across as statesmanlike and warm, a performance which will win friends on the other side of the Atlantic and show that he retains his star power. As James Kirkup reports in the Telegraph:

So what did we learn tonight?  First,  Eton College and a First (in PPE) at  Oxford don't make you omniscient. And second, David Cameron is human, makes mistakes and can take a joke.
The PM may feel a bit silly tonight, but he's suffered no real harm. Who knows? This could even do him some good: in politics, a little humility goes a long way.


Former Defence Minister Gerald Howarth has been quoted in today’sMail saying that Tory backbenchers are “in despair” over the Government’s £12bn international aid spend. Sir Gerald tells the paper:      

“Most people in this country will think that 0.7 per cent is a somewhat arbitrary figure, and certainly I have not yet met a Conservative outside the immediate confines of the Government who believes that it’s right to ring-fence overseas aid and to cut our Armed Forces.”

This is the crux of the issue for the Conservative Party at large. At a time when spending is being cut elsewhere, the fencing off of aid feels out of step with the wishes of the party. On the other hand, you cannot claim that aid spending is simply a sop to the Lib Dems, as Mr Howarth does, it was part of the Cameroon re-branding exercise long before the Coalition, and Dave is unlikely to part with it now.          


Labour have been quiet on Nick Clegg’s mansion tax proposals, and some Conservatives have conceded that they may need to strike a bargain with Mr Clegg along these lines if they are to win further cuts elsewhere. One man, however, is standing firm. Boris tells the Telegraph:

“I like Nick Clegg but he can’t be serious. These proposals are a non-starter.
“He knows it. I know it. The idea of a mansion tax is crazy. The idea of a mansion tax by the back door through vastly inflated council tax bills is nonsense.
“These taxes will disproportionately hit London and Londoners, penalising people simply because of circumstance, trapping people who in many cases are cash poor. London is the motor of the UK economy; kicking it hard makes no sense at all.”

After a wildly successful summer, the Mayor of London appears determined to arrive at Birmingham, where he speaks on Tuesday, as the darling of the rank-and-file, and these comments are yet more proof that he has a knack for using his role as a senior figure, unbound by being part of a parliamentary coalition, to find the party’s sweet spot. Dave will be getting very worried about his conference speech. 
In the meantime, the Conservatives look vulnerable to a backlash over the Lib Dem means testing of the elderly idea. As the FT (£) reports, grey anger is building:

Inland Revenue data from 2009-10 tax returns, show that taxpayers with higher incomes from pensions predominantly live in Conservative constituencies. Some 47 per cent of Conservative MPs represent areas where average incomes from pension are high, while only 9 per cent of Labour MPs represent similarly wealthy areas.”


Thrasher seems to have upset someone at the Sun quite badly. After the paper broke the gate-gate story, it is now pushing the line that Mr Mitchell accepted £11,000 from Brompton Capital, whose owner is a firm domiciled in the tax haven of Jersey . The Lib Dems received £777,000. Although the payments were entirely legal, the story still leaves a bad taste after Danny Alexander’s threats earlier this week. It is a testament to the strength of feeling around Mr Mitchell at present that he is taking the bulk of the criticism, not the Lib Dems.

The Mail, meanwhile, reports that Mr Mitchell has a history of class conscious soundbites. After taking over as Chief Whip from former miner Patrick McLoughlin, he allegedly told colleagues:
“For far too long, this place has been run like a sergeant’s mess. I want it to be more like an officers’ mess.”

In the meantime, we report that Mr Mitchell is being advised to steer clear of the Conservative conference lest he overshadow proceedings. Sources close to the Chief Whip say that he intends to attend the whole event. However, this has become a no-win situation for the party hierarchy – if Mr Mitchell does not attend then it will appear to be an admission of further guilt, if he does then he will take the spotlight from the podium. Expect Thrasher to be in Birmingham , but don’t expect the papers to drop this one any time soon.


Ousted Defence Minister Sir Nick Harvey has told the Guardian that Trident is likely to be downgraded owing to the cost of maintenance and the changing geo-political picture, particularly regards relations with Russia . No doubt Tory backbenchers will take the news well, knowing that the money saved can be put to use meeting the international aid target…


The jockeying for positioning has already begun. Allan Johnson has been warning Red Ed in the Guardian that the polls are not reliable at this point in the electoral cycle. Meanwhile the Mail reports that Harriet Harman has told the Spectator she will back curbs on the freedom of the press.
Only another week of this…


Ed Vaizey was “Minister of Trade – for half an hour”, he reveals in an interview with the Independent. Sadly, it wasn’t to be:
“’I was thinking to myself... I'm an incredibly talented minister and they obviously think that despite my huge portfolio I can handle this with absolute aplomb. I sat there thinking of all the things I would do as Trade minister,’ he recalls.
And then his Liberal Democrat colleague Ed Davey walked into the room and the civil servant told Vaizey: ‘I'm so sorry, I've been briefing the wrong minister.’


Today’s Mandrake column in the Telegraph reports how George Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey managed to find time in their schedules to take in a spot of Wagner in Tony Hall’s box at the Royal Opera House.

The day of Nick Clegg's speech is as good a one as any to bunk off for a bit of culture, not least if it's the magnificent Bryn Terfel. We need more politicians to show an interest in the arts: less fake football laddism, more valkyries.


The euro crisis has been off the radar for many while the conference season is on. It has not escaped the attention of the markets, however. The FTSE 100 lost £23.2bn yesterday as civil disorder in Spain and Greece threatened to wreck budgetary reforms there. You can follow all of today’s developments on our liveblog.


And finally… Margaret Thatcher has won some unlikely new fans. Although the Iron Lady is said to have once greeted a visiting head of state with the salutation, “I hate communists”, the Chinese have taken her to heart, we report. Lady Thatcher’s style of crisis management is being used to train future Communist Party leaders in Beijing . With that in mind, whatever Argentina do about the Falklands , they better not touch the  Diaoyu/Senkaku islands…


Tom Harris rejects claims he has been diversifying: 
@tomharrismp “If you've received an email from me offering to sell you some exotic men's underwear (!) then please believe me: my account's been hacked.”


In The Telegraph

Best of the rest
Nick Pearce and Gavin Kelly in the FT (£) - Politicians cannot hide from UK finances
David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) - UKIP’s disturbed vision is a Tory nightmare

Today: William Hague meets Ecuadorian counterpart in New York to discuss Julian Assange’s asylum claim. Bank of England publishes minutes of last financial policy committee meeting.
09:30 am: Latest Q2 GDP revision published.