Monday, 13 May 2013

Boris: there are bigger issues than Europe.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

Good morning. David Cameron is in Washington to help negotiate an EU trade deal with the Obama administration. Back in London his colleagues are advancing the case for leaving the EU. In Washington Dave leads (is that the right word these days?) a government for which British membership of the EU remains a bedrock of policy. In London members of that same government speak out against the policy - yet remain in government. Truly, this is a weird Monday for politics.

For the moment Dave faces a far more pressing issue: a fortnight ago he was enjoying the signs of a turnaround in his fortunes. The Tories were on the up, buoyed by a compelling story about welfare reform, global competitiveness and Labour ineptitude. The Conservative cause had a spring in its step. Now, like the weather, prospects have reverted to type: bleak. Or have they? Is a debate about the EU a vote winner for Mr Cameron? Does he benefit from being seen to allow his own side a spontaneous free-for-all on British membership? Was Michael Gove acting with the blessing of his friend Dave when he announced that he too wants out?
The traditional view is that euro navel-gazing has always been, and therefore is, bad for Tory political health. Conservatives today might argue that their willingness to edge towards the exit will tap into a mass of public discontent with Brussels. If so, let's see the poll evidence. I defer to their greater strategic wisdom, but Dave and his mates better be certain that the British public doesn't view all this as self-indulgent playground politics on a deadly serious issue. Mr Cameron has shaped a persuasive argument about Britain being locked in a global race for economic survival. If he consider that Britain's membership of the EU is now an obstacle to victory, he needs to say so.
If Dave does come to that view, then he will have a tough job taking Boris with him. The Mayor's column for us this morning  recommends "a pared-down relationship based on free trade and cooperation," an orthodox position and one held by the majority of the parliamentary party. But key to his argument is the view that Britain's problems cannot be laid at Brussels' door. British decline predates the EU, and will not disappear with our exit:
"Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer has nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy. In the meantime, we need a much more informed debate about the pluses and minuses of EU membership, and my economic adviser Gerard Lyons will be leading an attempt to blow away the froth and give people the facts."
Most Tory MPs know that, and most polling of Ukip voters has suggested that the issue of EU membership is not pivotal, even to them. So why will a large section of the party condemn their own Queen's Speech later this week, and why will Dave let them? Despite Gavin Barwell's protestations on the Today programme, Tory MPs don't trust Dave to deliver. His political instincts are seen by many on the backbenches as too blunted by the bubble he has created for himself in Downing Street. A referendum legislated for in the next parliament is practical, given Lib and Lab opposition in this one, but it risks being seen as lackadaisical. The absence of urgency is seen as symptomatic of a disconnect between the OEs at Number 10 and the voter. Michael Dugher's Labour List article on the Shaun Bailey fiasco notes our story at the weekend that a focus group of Number 10 advisers were asked what kept them awake at night - "school fees" came the response. Mondeo Man has few natural allies in Downing St. 
This is what Eric Pickles is getting at in his interview with us today. The Tories have become "disconnected" from society, and a Europe vote is not a "silver bullet" solution for Ukip's rise. The great welling of unhappiness on the blue benches over Europe suggests that whatever Dave promises, MPs either believe that he doesn't mean it or won't do it. As such, the leadership's lines to follow have increasingly become advisory rather than essential - witness today's Mail story that 150 Tory MPs have decided that they want a public referendum on gay marriage. The party may regret mistaking internal dissent for public demand. 
So is a bid to make Vince prince the reason for Lib Dem obstructiveness over childcare? Michael Gove's suggestion that the Lib Dem leader was a "reasonable guy [who] has to show a bit of leg, as it were, on these issues" was backed up by Philip Hammond who testified in his interview of Dr Cable's "ambitious" nature, as we report. But is there a simpler explanation? Lib Dems were briefing yesterday that Lord Oakeshott's plans for a light spot of regicide had already floundered some months ago. Moreover, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the party leadership's public position is honest. The Lib Dems object that there is massive institutional hostility from childcare organisations to the measure (which is true), and that they have not seen costings which explain how this will make care cheaper (which we cannot know).Moreover, the most pro-EU party in the Commons was hardly going to play ball on Europe because it suited their coalition partners to chase Ukip's voter share. Tory accusations of Lib Dem splits? For once, it might be that the party doth protest too much.
Making it a clean sweep in the party leadership dissent stakes at Westminster, senior Labour figures are threatening to walk away if Ed Miliband refuses to sack Ed Balls in the summer. Tom Newton Dunn writes in the Sun that Jon Cruddas and Lord Glassman have told Ed M that his namesake's links to Brownite economics render him a liability at an election. Modestly. Mr Cruddas has been campaigning for him to be replaced by...Jon Cruddas.
So that's the national economy taken care of. Labour's party finances might require a little more work. Lord Sainsbury, who has contributed £12m to the cause over the years, has told the Times (£) that he will not be making another contribution to the party run by the "average" Ed. And it is not only Labour present who take a beating. In a forthcoming book, he will describe the economic policies he helped put in place under Mr Tony and Gordon as "flawed to their foundations".
The shadowy dealings of powerful figures on behalf of fading institutions, politics, money, Falkirk West - it reads like the synopsis for a Dan Brown book. Instead, it's the accusation made by Lord Mandelson that a cabal at the head of the Labour national executive is exerting undue influence over Labour candidate selection. As the Guardian reports, Tom Watson's office worker Karie Murphy is now likely to win selection as part of an all female shortlist. There was a Unite bid to push a candidate (part of the union's drive to ensure the Labour benches have at least some working class representation), but she has now withdrawn.
Ah, the luxuries of a ring-fenced departmental budget. Jeremy Hunt pledges in an interview with the Independent that every vulnerable elderly person in England will be given a personal NHS worker to co-ordinate their healthcare needs. He will announce today a review of later life care which will report in the autumn, but the key points we have already - more emphasis on out-of-hours care, a named individual for each elderly patient, and scaled back payments for procedures in favour of a "holistic" approach.
The Mail, never a great fan of Lord Falconer, notes that his attempt to legalise assisted dying has run into difficulty over a little terminological inexactitude. Attempts to differentiate assisted suicide and assisted dying amount to "euphemisms, verbal evasions [and] Orwellian spin" according to Lord Carlile. Lord Falconer's Private Member's Bill goes before the Lords on Wednesday.

Grant Shapps has started "deficit alerts" on his Twitter account whenever a Labour politician appears on television:

@grantshapps: "Deficit Alert! Ed Balls calls for £16.5bn more borrowing "this year" on #Murnaghan -same old Labour answer would mean soaring interest rates"

David Blair & Rob Crilly - Has the lion been tamed
Telegraph View - Europe matters, but so do the little things

Best of the rest

Tom Newton Dunn in The Sun - Red Ed's only 'Blue Labour'
Wolfgang Muchau in the FT (£) - Lawson is right - Britain does not need Europe
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - The Bible Belt is becoming a force for good
John Harris in The Guardian - Is Labour ready to turn the state upside down in 2015?


12:45 pm: RUSI debate on the security implications of Scottish independence. On the panel are former defence secretary Lord Browne, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson and former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell. Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall.
04:45 pm: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on the future of the civil service. Committee Room 5, House of Commons. QuiotWhen