Monday, 8 July 2013

Who runs Labour..

Good morning. An afternoon in the furnace of Centre Court and Andy Murray's triumph brought only momentary respite to Ed Miliband yesterday. The 'who runs Labour?' question remains unanswered. "I'm sure he will deal with it in the right way," Tony Blair has just said on Today, a tad optimistically. Mr Miliband will give a speech this week which will doubtless be presented as him "drawing a line under/throwing down the gauntlet/facing down his critics" or somesuch, as the FT (£) reports. Will it really? QTWTAIN. 
Pressure on the Labour leader continued to build over the weekend. Commentators urged him to turn the crisis into an opportunity to establish his authority. Senior party figures laid out the dangers facing him. Lord Reid said the party faces "oblivion" if it carries on like this. No pressure. Yesterday Mr Miliband's side sounded as if it was backing away from headlines suggesting he was ready to break the link between party and unions. By last night the suggestion was that he preferred to tinker with it. "Mend, rather than end," according to the Guardian. Harriet Harman talked up ideas for fixing candidate selection. Lord Prescott said it was time to rely entirely on state funding, one in a long list of helpful suggestions from the seldom right and no longer honourable. 
It is a marginal comfort to Mr Miliband that the tracker polls continue to show Labour in the lead, but only just. More detailed surveys are terrible for him. He is allowing public opinion to fix on the idea that he is weak. The longer he waits, the more he will have to exert himself to shift that view. Tony Blair liked to fight his party in the beginning, and he was believed because the public could see instinctively that he had neither time nor liking for the way Labour worked and behaved. Mr Miliband can't convey that same distaste, because he doesn't share it. At what point, I wonder, do those who despaired when he won the leadership, but who chose to retire and keep quiet, make their voices heard?
If there was any danger of Dave getting complacent, today's poll from James Landale might make him think again. It shows that 19 per cent of Tory members are seriously considering voting for Ukip and 53 per cent feel they are not respected by the leadership. The result is the foot soldiers can no longer be bothered to help Dave: 44 per cent say they spend no time on party activity in an average month. There is another interesting poll as the BBC's Sunday Politics which shows that 70 per cent of Ukip councillors previously voted for the Conservatives, a reminder that, though Ukip pose a threat to all parties, it is the Tories who should really be worried.
There are signs that Dave recognises the scale of the challenge ahead: the removal of Abu Qatada (hailed by Dave as "excellent news") is one example of a policy to appeal to Tories flirting with Ukip. Much else has been mentioned, like charging overseas residents to use the NHS, restricting benefits to foreign nationals and Chris Grayling's comment yesterday that the Tories would fight the next election pledging wholesale reform of the human rights act. But this approach is not without its risks either, as we write:
David Cameron must beware his habit of allowing rhetoric to outpace reality. Nothing is more guaranteed to put off voters than politicians making promises they have no intention of delivering.
New Whitehall analysis has shown that the wealthiest homeowners would be hit with an average bill of £36,000 a year if the mansion tax was introduced, as The Times (£) reports. If the levy was applied to all homes worth over £2 million a year, as Labour and the Lib Dems strongly support, it would apply to 55,000 properties and raise around £2 billion a year; the Lib Dems are considering making the mansion tax a "red line" in any future coalition negotiations with the Conservatives.  
The Conservative counter-attack has already begun - not least because the number of properties liable is 15,000 fewer than originally expected. There are concerns that the policy might lead to a wholesale revaluation of properties, liable to push thousands into a higher council tax band. The Tories will use the proposed mansion tax as part of a wider attack on Labour fighting a war on the wealthy.  
To no one's surprise, Alex Salmond tried to bask in Andy Murray's glory yesterday, as he waved the Scottish flag in the Royal Box - contrary to rules that Wimbledon spectators are barred from flags over 2ft by 2ft or "political statements" - with Dave oblivious sitting a few rows in front. Expect much more of the same before next year's independence vote. 
George Osborne will today announce that he plans to implement the overwhelming majority of Andrew Tyrie's banking recommendations, including criminal penalties for "reckless" bankers and tighter control of pay and bonuses, reports the FT (£). It should dilute the effectiveness of Labour's complaints that the Conservatives aren't doing enough to reform the City. And Labour's wider attack will also suffer when the IMF today increases its growth forecast from 0.7 per cent to around 1 per cent, as the Mail notes.
Boris Johnson has become the latest to question whether the proposed costs of High Speed Rail 2 will spiral out of control. Boris uses his column today to argue that "This thing isn’t going to cost £42 billion, my friends. The real cost is going to be way north of that (keep going till you reach £70 billion, and then keep going)." Boris said that "the word around the campfire is that Lord Mandelson is actually doing the bidding of some fainthearts in Whitehall"; his real target was the sheer scale of consultation and litigation needed to build infrastructure in the UK. Meanwhile Quentin Letts thinks the price of something else is getting out of control: that's Boris himself, as he mocks Douglas Hurd's claim that Boris has shades of Disraeli. 
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, has continued his fight against those who oppose all reforms to welfare, fresh from his TV clash with Owen Jones last week. Mr Danczuk writes in a letter to today's Independent:
That I recognise that state support can’t always solve everything and politicians have a responsibility to promote hard work makes the futile leftists that Clem Attlee warned about positively apoplectic.
Mr Danczuk's battle encapsulates the challenge for Ed Miliband of taking on those in his party who are content to oppose all cuts. But Mr Miliband has not always made it clear which particular side he is on.  
Nigel Farage will today take the next step in trying to make Ukip an electoral force by speaking in Belfast, as the FT (£) reports. Mr Farage will be hoping for a rather better result than when he ended up locked in a pub to shield from protesters on a visit to Scotland in May. 
Tom Harris on Salmond's opportunism at Wimbledon:
@Tom HarrisMP: let's keep this is perspective, folks: Salmond waving a St Andrew's flag at Wimbledon wasn't an outrage - it was just a bit, well, naff.

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest 
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Who wants a PM with no fight in him?
Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail - Boris the New Disraeli? Pull the other one!
Owen Jones in The Independent - This attack on Labour must not succeed

Today: Nigel Farage speaks in Belfast