Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Crosby smokescreen..

Good morning. Has David Cameron done enough to kill of the Lynton Crosby story? Of course not! Labour will work away at this one in the time-honoured Westminster fashion, finding new questions every time the previous one is answered, steadily chiseling away at the relationship between the Prime Minister and his Australian strategist. The Guardian and the Times (£) are evidently eager to keep it going - I particularly like the line in Nick Watt's story that 'Labour is suspicious of the final sentence' in the Jeremy Heywood document: the saga has reached the parsing stage when words are picked apart for hidden meaning. Thankfully, Prince Whatsit of Cambridge is a lovely distraction from all politics, and Westminster is getting out the deckchairs and switching off imminently (friends in the Lords got in touch yesterday to point out that peers carry on with the task of scrutiny into next week, bless 'em). It's fast losing an audience.
Timing then favours Mr Crosby and Dave. It becomes a summer story and with most people away it doesn't really count. More importantly, it doesn't meet the critical mass test. Mr Crosby runs a consultancy that uses polling to tell companies how they might improve their message. Lobbying doesn't come into it. He has been anxious to say more and to nail the story but must deal with the reality that faces all Prime Ministers: once you start detailing what conversations you have had, where do you stop? The PM is entitled to speak to people without - to use a phrase - providing a running commentary. Yesterday Labour began lobbing in questions via helpful journalists to widen out the inquiries - has Mr Crosby ever had conversations with any other Tory MPs or anyone at CCHQ about tobacco or drink or fracking or anything else? As is traditional in affairs of this sort, an answer is never enough - it merely prompts new questions. It's worth pointing out that Mr Crosby's company has no fracking or alcohol industry clients in the UK.
The intervention of Sir Jeremy is critical. Neither he nor anyone from his office have spoken to Mr Crosby. The No10 machine is scrupulous about maintaining the separation between government and Tory party. Mr Crosby belongs to CCHQ, not No10. He does not see government papers or get involved in policy decisions. Some Tories wonder if it's the experience of life under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that make Labour assume relationships are more corrupt. I suspect he will be pressed to publish his UK clients list to 'clear the air', though, as I say, that won't be the last of it.
Is the relationship in any way corrupt? Mr Crosby is experienced and wise, and so knows the perils of leaving ambiguity in your business and political relationships. In this one, it's Dave, not Mr Crosby, who is the supplicant. He wanted the Australian to come back and it took some work to persuade him. Mr Crosby is successful enough without needing to use his British contacts to improve his standing. This whole thing is a confection being successfully (well, up to a point) run by Labour as a way of drawing attention away from Labour's Unite troubles. Stories about shadowy Rasputin types, especially foreign ones, are irresistible. But the trouble is Mr Crosby is happy to set it all out, as he did yesterday. Advisers act as lightning conductors. This one fights back.  
The Morning Briefing will take its summer break after Friday. Tim Wigmore and I need to rediscover normal sleep patterns. We'll be back, assuming we are spared and can bear it, in early September. Do send us any thoughts on how we can improve it. From feedback, the email is currently best viewed in gmail. 
Dave has said that a "frightening" decade of "lax immigration" has put too much pressure on communities, and that "The pressure it puts on our public services and communities is too great." His comments were a response to the OBR's suggestions that Britain needs millions of immigrants over the next 50 years because of its ageing population, and will be viewed as part of a wider effort to make Ukip flirters come home to the Tories. If you haven't done so already, it's worth reading Fraser Nelson's column last week arguing that immigration has become a drug concealing Britain's deeper problems.  
Today's YouGov poll provides some cheer for Labour. It gives them a seven per cent lead over the Conservatives - a reminder that, even as the summer heat looks like getting to Labour, the balance of probability just about favours Ed Miliband being in No 10 after 2015. Mary Riddell writesthat his challenge now is to learn from the resurgence of the monarchy: "Labour’s plan for primaries and community-based resurgence will be popular only if the wide swathe of voters he seeks to court think change has something to offer them."

No one has much good to say about the Help to Buy scheme, with the concerns embodied by Graeme Leach, the Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors: “The housing market needs help to supply, not help to buy and the extension of this scheme is very dangerous”. The Times (£) says that Help to Buy is diverting money away from increasing the housing stock. We take a slightly different stance, arguing that thousands of families "will appreciate the Government’s intervention, especially if it spurs the construction of new homes rather than simply raising demand for the existing stock." 

A key adviser to Prince William, Sir David Manning, has told Dave that Britain could be consigned to "irrelevance" if it left the world stage; the Mail has more. Meanwhile, Australia have joined Japan in calling for Britain to remain part of the EU. In a letter sent on 14 February as a contribution to the review of competences, foreign affairs minister Bob Carr wrote: “Australia recognises the UK’s strength and resilience and looks forward to seeing it continue as a leading economy and effective power. Strong active membership of the EU contributes to this." While the review of competences seems to be lining up in favour of EU membership, those opposed to it are not surprised about the direction the Whitehall establishment are taking. The antis will have plenty of time to plan a riposte over the summer break. 
Vince Cable has attacked the “capital Taliban” in the Bank of England for imposing an excessive financial burden on banks and holding back the recovery, reports the FT (£). Vince believes the BoE is demanding banks hold excessive levels of capital to ensure against further shocks, instead of focussing on small business lending; George Osborne holds similar views. Will Mark Carney reign in what one Treasury official calls the "jihadist tendency"?
A new executive agency, the Crown Commercial Service, will deliver the purchase of "common services" in Whitehall, challenging departmental autonomy. As the FT (£) reports, a shift in the way the government buys up to £12 billion of goods and services will be announced today. It all sounds very technical but if it succeeds in its aim is to save £1 billion a year it'll all be worth it.
Matthew Oakeshott feels ambiguous about the new arrival:
@oakeshottm: Not a great day for social mobility in 21st Century Britain.. But if the alternative's President Blair??Tough call, how do you vote? 
In the Telegraph 
David Blair - The new Cold War
Christopher Howse - Third king unlucky is a curse
Telegraph View - Quantitative housing
Best of the rest 
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Why New York survived but Detroit is dying
John McDermott in The Financial Times (£) - What is 'subprime' about Help to Buy?
Seamus Milne in The Guardian - Cut this anti-democratic dynasty out of politics
Matthew Norman in The Independent - By the time he's king
1015 LONDON: Court of Appeal ruling over Government plans to go ahead with the HS2 national high-speed rail project. The Royal Courts of Justice.
1030 LONDON: Leyton Orient FC chairman Barry Hearn (1045) and West Ham United director Karren Brady (1115) give evidence to Lords Committee on Olympic legacy. Committee Room 4A