Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Tories believe big arguments are going their way..

Good morning. On another sluggish day for politics, Michael Gove is once again making the weather. Not intentionally, mind, but for my money it's the Indy splash that catches the eye. It reports that the Department for Education is pressing ahead with plans to allow free schools and academies to become profit-making and be allowed to dispose of school land. The sourcing appears to be former DoE employees who don't like the idea, which will give credence to the Gove argument that some officials have tried to sabotage his work (though it should be pointed out that relations between Team Gove and officials are far improved these days). Whatever the origin, the gist is that Mr Gove "is considering the controversial financial revamp of his academy schools programme after advisers predicted his reforms will stall unless operators and sponsors are given new financial incentives to get involved". 
Considering is not the same as doing, and this may well be about manifesto ambitions rather than imminent change. I see no sign of denials out there, but the day is young. Actually, it sounds right. We know it's what Mr Gove would like, and we know that this has been one of the deferred battles of his campaign. But we also know that the Education Secretary is feeling increasingly confident that his reforms are entrenched and that his success so far has earned him permission to be more audacious. Giving schools the ultimate financial freedom is the logical next step of his programme, so it shouldn't be surprising that work is going on behind the scenes to push the idea. Keep an eye on this issue: the Conservatives have their tails up because they think the big arguments are going their way. This emboldens them. As I note in my column, there is a whiff of "irrational exuberance" in the air about an outright victory in 2015, even though the electoral facts remains stacked against David Cameron. "We are best when we are boldest," Mr Tony once said. Mr Gove is a big admirer of the triple-winner, and so it isn't surprising to find him constantly pushing for more.
While John Mills's claim that Labour helped arrange his "tax efficient" donations is uncomfortable, the party's real problem concerns the unseemly brawl over Falkirk, where the trade union Unite has signed up new candidates to try and get their favoured candidate nominated. It shows no sign of ending anytime soon, and is all deeply damaging to the party's claims of being ready to return to government, pointing to underlying problems within Labour. As Dan Hodges writes:
Events in Falkirk have not emerged out of the blue. Instead, they are the inevitable consequence of what happens when a party lacking clear leadership and political direction gives a licence to freelance to those with strong wills and even stronger agendas. 
Dan suggests the defining test of Ed Miliband's leadership will be how he deals with Labour’s campaign co-ordinator Tom Watson, who has defended Unite's involvement in Falkirk. To Rachel Sylvester, in The Times (£), "Mr Miliband must not look as if he is in hock to a public sector interest group. The unions should lose their share of the vote at party conferences and leadership elections."
Mr Miliband is proud of Labour's links to trade unions; he wouldn't have become leader without their support. But unless he dismantles the charge of being a union man, Tory HQ will have plenty of ammo to fire come 2015.  
The EU Referendum Bill has problems. James Wharton has said that it is in danger of running out of debating time if too many amendments are proposed, while admitting (as we reported yesterday) that his Bill could not legally guarantee a future referendum. But a bigger problem for supporters of a referendum could be Nick Clegg: the FT (£) says that he does not support Dave's planned referendum in 2017. That could be the biggest barrier to Dave remaining PM if, as very possible, 2015 produces another Hung Parliament. 
Only emergency laws can now stop MPs from receiving a pay rise against the wishes of all three party leaders, notes The Times (£); indeed, Nick Clegg has even gone as far as saying that he would not take any pay increases, reports The Guardian. The populism can be hard to escape -Paul Staines says in The Times (£) that MPs couldn't accept any increase,  though Jack Straw takes a different view. Perhaps the most interesting dynamic is the split between the well-remunerated front benchers who are saying no and the backbenchers (especially those frustrated at not being offered ministerial posts) who are understandably a bit peeved. 
Dave used a Q and A session with students in Kazakhstan to admit he wants "to be Harry Potter". That may be fair enough, but our readers would seem not to agree: when asked which Harry Potter character Dave most resembled, they opted for Draco Malfoy.  
Boris Johnson is leading efforts to get Britain fracking. He has written to The Times (£), saying that "in London we should leave no stone unturned, or unfracked, in the cause of keeping the lights on" although the nearest fracking site currently proposed is in West Sussex. 
Jeremy Hunt will tomorrow unveil a new scheme aimed at curbing NHS spending on foreigners, reports The Sun. Mr Hunt will propose a mandatory levy, paid upfront, for everyone staying longer than six months. But the policy is hugely controversial in the Coalition: the Business and Education departments are worried it could make Britain a less attractive place to work and study. 
Pressure is growing against the building of High Speed 2. A few days after the increase in costs to £42.6 billion, the economic benefits of HS2 are being revised downwards. The original estimate of £48 billion of economic benefits included £21 billion based on the assumption that people did not work on trains, reports the FT (£). It's a reminder that, where big projects are concerned, initial cost-benefit analyses are never quite what they seem.  
Mark Carney has begun work as Governor of the Bank of England. No one can accuse him of slacking: he reported for duty before 7am and opted for the tube ahead of the car reserved for governors, as the FT (£) reports. Embracing cricket and now the tube: Mr Carney is certainly getting used to English life. 
Dave tries to join in Wimbledon fever:
@David_Cameron: Just back from a successful trip to Kazakhstan to hear the great news about @Andy_Murray. Bad luck @laurarobson5 - you did Britain proud. 
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest 
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Does Len McCluskey or Ed Miliband run Labour?
Janan Ganesh in The Financial Times (£) - Even the British left is turning against Europe
John Taylor in The Financial Times (£) - Share your thoughts, Mr Carney
1830 London: 'NHS at 65: rejuvenate or retire?' debate at the RSA with Alan Milburn.