Friday, 10 May 2013

Ben Brogan's morning briefing: Ed misses his opportunity on Europe..

Good Morning. Welcome to the 90s. The fragile Tory truce on Europe is swiftly becoming the peace that passeth all understanding. If Ed Miliband had less caution and a little more low cunning, the Conservatives would be in very troubled waters this morning. As it is, we seem to have reached a position where the Prime Minister intends to allow his flagship measure to be brought forward by backbenchers despite being left out of the Queen's Speech. He will allow ministers to condemn his own Queen's Speech on the basis that it does not legislate for a referendum date enshrined in law, but will not criticise it himself. As things stand, the bill will fall before a Lib-Lab coalition, but it is difficult to see how this will benefit Mr Cameron in 2015 if he does not associate himself more strongly with any attempt to bring it.
It's hard to understand what Dave's playing at. If the backbench bill does capture the national mood, then he has surrendered his personal association with it and the rebels get the glory. If his ministers back the bill and he does not, then his hold on the party big guns looks weak. If he doesn't vote for the bill he looks unprincipled, and if he does vote for a bill which is almost certain to be defeated, he looks a prisoner in his own government.
It's hard to fathom Ed's tactics, too. A pledge to go with a referendum following the next election would remove one of Dave's biggest vote winning weapons. Mr Cameron would then find himself in the same position as Mr Miliband, committed to defending Britain in Europe some time around 2018. Dave's backbenchers would bay for him to go early, calmer voices would point out that there was nothing on the table as negotiations had not happened, and bingo, the fragile Tory entente over Europe which dates back to Maastricht is in play. High ability in low politics is important. It's something Mr Tony understood when he kicked William Hague's Euro stool away from him in the run-up to the 2001 election. Talk of predistribution is fine, but the electorate also need a solid reason not to go with the incumbent parties. Europe is an opportunity Ed may regret wasting.
Part of Ed's problems, of course, is that his own party is also divided on the EU. Alistair Darling pops up in the Times (£) this morning defending it, while Gisela Stewart, Frank Field and others have pointed out that at present such an idea is without popular legitimacy. On the Tory side, Boris yesterday gave an all things to all people response on the issue, saying that Britain could walk away, but that he did not back it without seeing how renegotiations went. Lord Lamont also joined Lord Lawson in supporting a Brexit. Both party leaderships are clearly watching their backs while formulating EU policy. But if the Ukip surge was, in part, down to the idea that politicians had shown contempt for public opinion, neither party is adopting a stance which will remedy that situation.
That was the view of Elizabeth Truss, who appeared in the Commons yesterday to deny that there was a significant problem with the Coalition's childcare policies following Mr Clegg's objections. Her line was that the Lib Dems are committed to childcare reforms and this was a little local difficulty over the detail. The Independent's Whitehall mole seems less confident, complaining that "Clegg agreed this policy and has proved as trustworthy as on tuition fees and Europe referendums." Labour are sitting back and enjoying the sport. As a masterclass in the Coalition's tendency to promise first, ask questions later, this is hard to beat, and unless there is a long and inevitably costly rethink, the proposals look dead in the water. What remains is DC's "women problem", and Dave is finding that his Coalition spouse is rather an obstacle in his mission to reach out to other women... 
Whatever you say about the Chinese, you cannot deny they have a fine sense of humour. Despite his protestations that there was no ban and that he would travel in Autumn, Boris has beaten him to the punch. Aswe report, Bo-Jo is headed out to Beijing at the head of a trade mission which departs in January. According to Boris, Dave won't be going with him "unless he's in the hold." But for now, the PM's thoughts are of the Bear, not the Dragon. Dave is in Russia today meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Writing for us, Con Coughlin argues that while the visit will be marked by the "mind games" of the Russian leader, there is an opportunity for the pair to hasten the end of the Syrian civil war:
"But just as Mr Putin seems impervious to criticism of Russia’s human rights record, so he is determined not to let long-standing Russian allies such as Syria fall into the clutches of his Western rivals. Indeed, given his aggressive determination to defend Russian interests at all costs, there will be many people in Britain wondering why Mr Cameron is even bothering to make the trip, irrespective of the welcome he receives. The answer lies in Moscow’s growing realisation that the crisis in Syria could have serious implications for its regional interests, particularly if Islamist elements within the rebel movement were to achieve their goal of replacing the Assad regime."
The data is headed in the right direction for George Osborne. Yesterday's positive National Institute of Economic and Social Research output number came in at +0.8pc between February and April, the best return since the Olympics. On the downside, the economy will not regain 2008 levels of productivity until 2015. It has been that bad. But at least the trend is positive, and as the Mail reports, manufacturing output has experienced its first back-to-back rise for two years. If there's a black cloud on the horizon, it is the visit of the increasingly doveish IMF. TheFT (£) predicts that there will be a call for austerity to be relaxed. Don't expect the Treasury to agree - IMF approval has been a useful figleaf until this point, but the Treasury is sold on austerity, and, more importantly, so are the public.
Mayday! Mayday! Boris Island going down! What we need instead is a new runway at Heathrow, the Transport Select Committee will report today. As we note, the huge cost of providing infrastructure for Boris International has ruled it out of the running, while neither Gatwick nor Stansted is large enough to cope with the overflow from another runway. The committee chairman is Louise Ellman, a Labour MP and hardly a Dave stooge. Even so, there will be some significant brooding in City Hall today.
Michael Gove laid into the infantalisation of history teaching yesterday in a speech to a conference of...history teachers. As we report, he cited the use of Mr Men cartoons to teach about the Nazis, and the use of Disney films to instruct children on the realities of Middle Ages life (talking bears, pusillanimous wolves - standard stuff). Unfortunately, he also hailed the achievements of Richard J. Evans, a man who had condemned Mr Gove's reforms as "a pub quiz" in the New Statesman a while back. A for oratory, D for homework, Master Gove.
The expenses regulator is dragging Stewart Jackson through the courts in pursuit of the capital gains made on his taxpayer funded second home. As we report, Ipsa's action arises following a dispute between the regulator (which has valued Mr Jackson's home at £524,000) and the MP, who says it has declined in value since he purchased it for £470,000 in May 2005. Settlements have been reached with 70 other MPs who had been assessed for capital gains payback, 29 of whom paid back in full. Collectively, MPs have made more than £1m on capital gains from second homes since 2010, as we report, with some gaining up to £180,000.
But it isn't just MPs at it. Following yesterday's revelation that good typing was sufficient for a £1,000 bonus in the civil service, today sees the publication of the Tax Payers' Alliance's annual town hall rich list. The winner? Step forward Katherine Kerswell, a former Group Managing Director in Kent, whose £589,165 package included £420,000 ofseverance pay. Meanwhile Francis Maude has piled in to the mandarins he suspects of briefing Sue Cameron yesterday. He says, in a letter to us, that: "It’s not glamorous work; it’s often difficult. These hard-working civil servants deserve the support of “senior mandarins”, rather than being trashed in poisonous anonymous briefings."
Frank Field has called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to give up the right of 25 bishops to sit in the upper chamber, the Independent reports. Mr Field accuses the bishops of playing "gesture politics" but seldom voting. It's not beyond the modern Church of England to fall on its sword if a suitably Lib Dem proposal should arise, and Mr Field's suggestion that this move would "kickstart Lords reform" is about as Lib Dem as it gets. A spokesman for the CofE, however, issued a stinging rebuke: "This article is an interesting contribution to debate but it does not look as if there is a favourable political context for returning to the subject of constitutional reform just at the moment." Blistering.

The producers of The Politician's Husbnd clearly got the important things right:

@PeteWishart:"Quite enjoyed the Politician's Husband. They never quite get the feel or appearance of Parliament but liked the attempt at Stranger's Bar."
In the Telegraph

Con Coughlin - A man we can do business with?
Dr Sarah Wollaston - We doctors worry about NHS failings, too

Best of the rest

Alistair Darling in the Times (£)- Stay in the EU. It's clearly in our interests
James Delingpole in The Express - Why sneer at the worthy values of our middle class?

Today: Civil service strike. Members of the Public and Commercial Service union at a number of government agencies and commissions stage a one-hour strike from 11am in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
11:00 am: Commons Defence Committee to publish Government response to its report on defence acquisitions.