Friday, 19 July 2013

Coalition is working..

Good morning. The summer holidays started yesterday - the Mirror and Sun have the ritual pics of a deserted Commons chamber to prove it - but David Cameron is around for another week or so: it's business as usual, for government at least, until he goes away. The mood though is distinctly summerful. Tories are chipper. Various polls show the gap with Labour closing to insignificance - it's nothing at all according to ICM and down to five per cent with YouGov, though Ipsos still have it at 11 per cent - not bad for mid-term.
There is no running story to challenge the broad narrative of a competent government getting on with its work. Crime is down despite police spending cuts, as we laud, the economy is improving, the sun is shining, what's not to like? Maria Miller is having a bit of a 'mare - the Times reminds us that her nickname in Whitehall is Nicola Murray - but that will hardly trouble Dave. Labour is going all out for Lynton Crosby (who will quit his "conflicting" roles at the end of the year), but it doesn't feel particularly toxic. George Osborne has got his bounce back - his move to cut tax on shale production to 30 per cent is the latest sign - though he knows better than to say anything about green shoots until they are a thicket. According to the FT (£), he held a beauty contest for potential ministers at Dorneywood in March, a reminder that his writ extends well beyond the Treasury.
Above all the Coalition is working. It may pain some Tories (the Independent has a survey of grassroots members that shows remarkably strong hostility to any extension beyond 2015) but the Cameron/Clegg motor is still firing strong. Whatever frustrations they may occasionally feel about each other, they are still in the game, still bound to the project, and have a clear idea of how they will make it to 2015 in one piece. The Indy reports that the Quad met for dinner in No10 the other day, another reminder that at the top it's still working well. And that will be helped by success.
On all the big policy areas, led by the economy, the Coalition's work is being rewarded. Warriors against complacency will rehearse the dangers: universal credit could yet turn into a short-and medium-term horror show; and there's the Coulson/Brooks trial that will provide a tricky backdrop to the autumn. But on a sunny Friday at the start of the recess, both Conservatives and Lib Dems have cause to show a bit of optimism after a difficult winter. What the past few weeks teach them, I suspect, is that their best bet is to let the election campaign look after itself, and make a virtue of what they are doing now, namely governing.
Maria Murray Miller has opened up a wider sexism row with her complaints about the BBC and the ban on women members at Muirfield golf club. Mr Cameron has got involved, calling gentlemen's clubs a "thing of the past" and saying he had quit White's, the all-male club of which he was previously a member. Quite why the PM thinks it necessary to stick his oar in is frankly baffling.  
Nick Clegg is pressing to establish the Liberal Democrats as the party of the centre ground. He will use this September's conference to try and push the Lib Dems to the centre ground on the economy, tuition fees and the retention of a limited nuclear deterrent, as the Guardian reports. Many Lib Dems, including the Social Liberal Forum pressure group, are reluctant to be seen to take ownership for the Coalition's economic policy at the next election.
The Lib Dems have suspended David Ward for remarks he made over Israel. Mr Ward, who has been warned by his party before over comments on Israel, tweeted, "Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle - how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?" The Lib Dems have suspended the whip until mid-September. Ward, MP for Bradford East, is defending a majority of only 365 votes.
Bob Roberts attacked a tabloid journalist for writing "the worst piece of journalism" he had "ever read" over a piece written about the Keogh Report. Bob, who used to work for the Mirror, is one of the great unflappables of Westminster, so he really must have been cross.
Ed Balls has become the first shadow cabinet member to publicly express concerns over High Speed 2, telling the FT (£) that he was “concerned about rising costs” and the project could not be handed a "blank cheque". Ed Miliband remains staunchly in favour of HS2, hinting at a potential rift between the two Eds, to go with their differing opinions on a third Heathrow runway - Mr Balls is in favour while Mr Miliband is opposed.
No one feels much like driving in this heat. Norman Baker is considering almost doubling parking fines outside London - from £70 to £130, as the Mail reports - amid concerns that they no longer act as a deterrent. Evidently he thinks it's a good time to park bad news. 
Andrew Stephenson on the perks of the job: 
@Andrew4Pendle: Arrived at Barrowford's Got Talent Competition...judging this event is certainly the best part of my job!!  
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest 
Ed Conway in The Times (£) - Bad news: house prices are bubbling up again
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - Cameron has failed to resist the lobbyists' lure
Nigel Morris in The Independent - Why falling crime is not a Tory victory

1415 London: David Cameron to meet Gamesmakers who are taking part in summer activities to boost volunteering. Olympic Park.