Monday, 30 September 2013

Osborne lifted by rising tide..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing.. 

Breaking News: George Osborne has been speaking on the Today programme.
Mr Osborne said there would be no pact with Ukip: "There aren't going to be any deals with UKIP, and there are not going to be Conservative-UKIP candidates locally." 
He also emphasised that the cost of living crisis was the result of the economic situation that the Government inherited, saying "if you don't have a credible economic policy you don't have a living standards policy."
Good morning. Has George Osborne won back the affection of the Conservative party he mislaid following the omnishambles budget? His speech today will give us a measure of his restored credibility with activists. There is a vacancy for the under-a-bus candidate who would be the obvious choice in case of a sudden crisis. Some suggest the Chancellor has clawed his way back to that position, though for my money William Hague is the more obvious bet.
It's the economy that's done it. A rising tide raises careers as well as yachts. The better things get, the more Mr Osborne is forgiven for his misjudgments. MPs are relieved that circumstances have changed in their favour. Activists too. Mr Osborne gets credit for holding his nerve, sticking to Plan A, and therefore crushing Ed Balls into the dust.
His success, it could be said, is two-fold: he has been proved right on the economy, and as a result has left Labour high and dry. City people say they are confident the recovery in Britain will carry on through the election, giving the Chancellor a story of success to tell the voters. A potent weapon against populist Red Ed. What also helps Mr Osborne and the party - and this is not talked about in quite the same way - is the new arrangement for campaign organisation. The Chancellor has been spared responsibility for the next election campaign by the decision to put Lynton Crosby in charge. David Cameron has made explicit that all decisions and the party's strategy are in the hands of Mr Crosby.
Mr Osborne will still have a powerful voice. But responsibility for the campaign is no longer his, which amounts to a liberation. Expect to see a buoyant Chancellor on stage, who knows things are going his way. The briefing of his speech into this morning's papers suggests the Tories know there is more mileage to be had from demanding more from those who claim welfare. House-buyers get Help to Buy, job-seekers get Help to Work, which means compulsory workfare for those who can't find paid employment. The calculation? There's plenty of evidence that the drop in claimants is evidence that many are opting for untaxed, under-the-counter work. The Tories are calculating that the tough message will act as an incentive to those who, if presented with a choice - work for benefits or find a job - will prefer the latter. Mr Osborne wants to associate himself with this no-nonsense message. He knows there are votes there.
With a flair for timing worthy of Damian McBride, Nigel Farage has opened the door to a Tory-Ukip pact. Mr Farage says that he would not stop agreements in individual constituencies. Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg are cited as Tory MPs who Ukip might want to endorse. Mr Farage writes in a piece for The Times: "If they, or others like them — even Labour MPs — with their local associations chose to propose running on a joint ticket, then I would leave the local UKIP association to have those negotiations." CCHQ would not officially sanction any such deals. But Eurosceptic Tory MPs privately think the idea could have legs, saying that it would be barmy for the Right to divide and stop a referendum on EU membership. Some MPs even concede that the Tory brand is so damaged in parts of the North that in some seats Ukip is a far more likely winner. Lord Ashcroft is unconvinced, telling Today: "I don't think that will be necessary and it will be well, well above my pay grade to suggest it."
Boris Johnson thinks he knows how to stop the Red Ed threat: stick it to the Labour leader for his record at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and present the Conservatives as the only party with the forward-thinking answers to Britain's problems. "I know how hard it is to fight against a Labour Party that dishonestly pretends it can cut your costs. I’ve done it; and I know that in the end people see through the con. The public will go for the party with vision and ambition and sheer courage to take the big long-term decisions that will boost Britain’s competitiveness, cut costs and improve the standard of living for everyone."
But evidence from conference suggests not all Tories are as confident. Tory MPs admit that Ed Miliband's speech out-performed their expectations in its delivery. James Kirkup observes the confused response to the energy plan - it seems like every Conservative has a different fightback plan, with the result that the message is all rather muddled. Is it Red Ed or weak, indecisive Ed? It can't be both. Labour sources say that they now make it £1.6 billion in "unfunded announcements" and would like reassurance that it's not based on funny money. 
Dave isn't going anywhere - at least if Sam gets her way. An interview with The Sun reveals that Samantha has said that she wants him to go on as PM until at least 2020. Mr Cameron also says that Samantha "is never going to do a Sarah Brown" and introduce him onstage and "there are boundaries" that Samantha doesn't want to cross in her dealings with the media.
Dave yesterday hinted on the Marr Show that Andrew Mitchell could make a return to ministerial life pending the conclusion of the plebgate affair. That would be a popular move with the grassroots, who feel that Mr Mitchell has been shafted. But another potential minister (although probably not in this Parliament) is Kwasi Kwarteng, who has given an interview to Total Politics suggesting that Brittannia Unchanged, which he co-authored, has influenced the PM's agenda. "It seemed a bit of a coincidence to me and to others that we started talking about the ‘global race’ at about the time it came out." Mr Kwarteng is also open about his higher ambitions: “obviously I’d love to, you know, it’d be great to be a minister one day". 
Nicholas Watt's piece provides a reminder of Lynton Crosby's qualities. At the Tory away day, Mr Crosby made a joke about the wealth he had seen at a fundraising dinner in the PM's constituency. "If just one of the ladies had managed to sell one earring we could have funded the Tory party for three months," Crosby said. The anecdote goes to the heart of Mr Crosby's appeal - his ability to talk truth onto power and his lack of deference to the PM. But while Labour's 35 per cent strategy is often mocked, the Tory approach may not be too dissimilar. Note the quote from a Tory: "There is only one type of politics Lynton Crosby understands, which is the core vote thing … He gets the vote out by really going for the lowest common denominator." 
Here's a link to the 10-minute 'Our Maggie' video that kicked off the Conservative conference. The TUC, alas, did not approve, and their Save Our NHS march outside conference turned rather ugly. Sebastian Paynewrites of his encounter with demonstrators: "If you don’t put you f**king camera way, we’ll smash it off your face... Go and f**k off back to your conference, you p***k".
Ed Miliband is agree about the Mail's profile of his dad:
The Daily Mail has agreed to publish a reply by me on Tuesday to their piece about my father headlined "Man Who Hated Britain". My dad loved Britain, he served in the Royal Navy and I am not prepared to allow his good name to be denigrated in this way.
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
Nigel Farage in the Times - I'm happy to link with the Tories
Gavin Kelly in the Financial Times - Why living standards and the deficit matter
Conservative conference day two:
9.15: Panel discussion with Owen Paterson, Exchange Auditorium 
10.30: George Osborne addresses conference. He will be followed by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin  
14.30: Speeches from Theresa May and Chris Grayling
Fringe events:
13:00: Conservatives and UKIP: enemies or allies? Nigel Farage, Peter Oborne, Bill Cash. The Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall
17:30: Europe: The challenge of 2014 William Hague. Manchester Central: Exchange 9 

18:00: An Audience With Boris Johnson: Destination signs from Manchester – how London drives the UK economy Boris Johnson. Manchester Central: Exchange Auditorium 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Conservatives target Ed not Nigel..

Good morning. David Cameron has been on the Andrew Marr show giving the customary pre-conference interview. His emphasis was on responding to concerns the Government is doing too little to address the cost of living, especially after Ed Miliband's proposed freeze on energy prices. Mr Cameron attacked the plan as "anti-business, anti-enterprise" and "nuts, frankly." We can expect plenty more similar lines over the rest of the conference. The PM also defended how the energy market was working: "I don’t accept that all the [energy] regulation is failing. Putting people on the lowest tariff is having an effect as we speak". 
Mr Cameron reaffirmed his opposition to a mansion tax: "To go after someone's house every year with a wealth tax, I don't think that is a sensible thing to do." Intriguingly, he said that he would not introduce it if he was PM after 2015, which looks an awful lot like a red line in any future coalition negotiations, as James Kirkup notes. There was also an obligatory defence of HS2 ("It's not taking up an unfair share of the budget.")
The PM was asked about TV debates and said "I want the debates to take place, I think they were good in the last election" but that he thought they took up too much campaign time in 2015. He also confirmed that he did not think Nigel Farage should take part. Clearly Dave is happier attacking Mr Miliband.
It's well worth reading Mr Cameron's interview with Matthew D'Ancona. The PM said that subsidies that support wind farms will not last “a second longer than necessary”, echoing George Osborne's warning on Saturday that Britain should not be “in front of the rest of the world” on green taxes. Mr Cameron also said that the EU deserves "one last chance" to reform itself and that there would be no referendum before 2017, despite whispers of an amendment in the EU referendum bill calling for the vote to happen next year. Tax breaks for marriage are described as a case of "promise made, promise delivered" and will be worth £200 to most couples who benefit (higher-rate taxpayers are excluded). Other policies being trailed include the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme being brought forward from January 2014 to next week and NHS GP opening hours being extended. The emphasis will be on showing that the Conservatives - not Labour - are the party who understand, and can act on, people's day-to-day concerns.
Today is Margaret Thatcher day at Tory conference. Her ashes were buried yesterday in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the homage to the late leader at conference includes an Our Maggie souvenir shop. So we should record that yesterday's eve-of coverage was marked by a strong showing from Theresa May, who attracts attention from those who wonder if she might be the next woman to lead the party. She gave an interview to the FT in the course of which she reinforced the loyalist message that she adopted a few months ago when speculation about her intentions rattled No10 and prompted her to pull back. "There is no leadership challenge, there is no leadership contest," she said. That's clear then. She also used the interview to reveal that she is giving way on the restrictions faced by Chinese tourists to make things easier for those who want to come spend some of the $102bn they spend abroad to the UK. Mrs May, though, will have been taken by the profile of her for the Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff, which is packed with insights. The most telling comes early on. According to one of her friends, she will be a contender if the Tories don't win in 2015 - and she doesn't think David Cameron will win.
Talking of potential future Tory PMs, the Indy call Matthew Hancock a "Future leader" in their interview with the Skills Minister - who's still, it's easy to forget, only 34. A more immediate contender is the new slimline Michael Gove (although he tells the Sunday Times "I won't do it" when they ask him the inevitable question). Mr Gove spent £2,500 for a week at an Austrian 'fat farm', where he was stripped of his two mobile phones and laptop, banned from drinking caffeine or alcohol, and restricted to consuming just 600 calories a day, as the Mail reports. But at least it was worth it: Mr Gove has shed 2st.
It's hard to think of two more different political advisers than the "Aussie bruiser" Lynton Crosby (although his staff report that he is rather gentler than his media image makes out) and barefoot, jean-wearing Steve Hilton. Mr Hilton left Downing Street 18 months ago but, James Forsyth reports, has returned for a few days to help Dave with his conference speech and its response to Ed Miliband's offering. As for Mr Crosby, an interview in the Sunday Times magazine reveals that he can recite all the books in the Old and New Testament. Meanwhile Dave will have to find someone to replace his polling guru Andrew Cooper who is finally making his long-anticipated departure, reports Guido Paul.
The Conservatives have unveiled their new masterplan for dealing with Nigel Farage: don't mention him. Mr Farage's name is being airbrushed away from conference listings (he's speaking three times at fringe events tomorrow), reflecting the thinking that the best way of dealing with Ukip is not to mention them. Lord Tebbit has defended the Bruges Group's decision to invite Mr Farage to a fringe meeting tomorrow, saying "Farage's views on Europe are similar to those of most people in the Bruges Group and there is no reason not to have him at such an event." Lord Tebbit also said that "Farage would not have existed if Margaret Thatcher was still leader." Ukip's continued ability to damage the Conservatives is shown by the Indy's splash that 14 former Tory donors have given a total of £500,000 to Ukip since 2010. Peter Kellner offers a sober reminder in the Sunday Times that Labour's "35 per cent strategy" could work if Mr Farage retains his appeal. 
The Sunday Telegraph has extracts from Matthew D'Ancona's new book on the coalition. It's revealed that Angela Merkel offered the PM adviceon his speech promising an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership, and Iain Duncan Smith has likened working with George Osborne and David Cameron to Ant and Dec. Nick Clegg also criticised the Tories for "over-egging" attacks on skivers and benefit fraud.  
The Conservatives will set up a 'Red Ed Lion' pub at the conference, serving a range of brews including Union Strong Ale, Leftie Blonde and David's Bitter.
Michael Fabricant is excited:
@Mike_Fabricant: Heading up this morning to Manchester from LichVegas by train. (3 actually!) And for 1st time staying in a serviced apartment. Wild parties? 
In the Telegraph 
Christopher Booker - 
Ed can’t freeze those bills he himself sent through the roof
Best of the rest
Adam Boulton in the Sunday Times - Oops! The dog ate Ed and Dave’s homework
James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday - A surprise boost for Dave
John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday - Populism? By Gove, I think they've got it
Conservative conference begins:
14.10: Grant Shapps welcomes delegates and opens Conference 
14.30-16.00: Speeches from William Hague, Justine Greening and Philip Hammond addressing Britain’s role in the world 

16.30-17.30: Q&A with Lord Feldman and Grant Shapps for party members in the Exchange Auditorium

Friday, 27 September 2013

Europe returns..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

Good morning. Just the news Dave wanted ahead of the Conservative conference: Boris fancies a Westminster comeback. With an impeccable knack for filling the news vacuum in between conferences, Boris has given an interview to the FT in which he says:  “During the whole Syria thing, for the first time in years I wished I was in parliament...I have to admit that I watched that and I thought . . . I wished. I wished.” Boris emphasised that he is focused on helping Mr Cameron win re-election - but “if the ball came loose from the back of the scrum” he might try to grab it. Translated, that means: Boris retains his leadership ambitions. That he seems less obliged to conceal them is really an indication of the relative strength of Mr Cameron's position. There is no hankering for Boris to ride in and save the Conservatives this side of the election. So this posturing shouldn't really bother Dave. It is Theresa May, George Osborne, Michael Gove and Philip Hammond - Boris's potential rivals for the leadership - who should be worried. The Boris brand seems as strong as ever.
As the conference caravan prepares to visit Manchester, the Tories need,as Isabel Hardman writes, to regain their northern soul - and the initiative after Labour's pledge to freeze energy prices. The Mail splashesthat an extension of the conditions attached to unemployment benefits - the long-term unemployed will be told they must do an unpaid full-time job or be stripped of their benefits, along the lines of the TaxPayers' Alliance proposals earlier this month - will be at the centrepiece of the conference. And we can expect it to be popular -  56 per cent support the introduction of ‘workfare’ for the long-term unemployed in a new YouGov poll.
With a nod to his 'women problem', Dave gave a pre-conference interview to Red magazine. What could possibly go wrong? The PM was asked whether he was a feminist and, as the Mail reports, didn't know quite how to respond. He eventually replied: "Umm... I... I don’t know what I’d call myself... it’s up to others to attach labels. But I believe men and women should be treated equally." Dave also said his kids see his red box "as the enemy" and that he has no plans to have more children.
But perhaps the story to watch is Europe. Dave's pledge to hold a referendum in 2017 somehow hasn't put the issue to bed. So he may be concerned by the FT's report that hardline Tory eurosceptics are making overtures to Labour MPs to call for a vote next year. It's easy to see what the motivation of the backbenchers would be: few think that the Conservatives will win a majority in 2015 and fear that the chance of a referendum will be lost. James Wharton's EU private member's bill returns to the Commons in November. A Labour source tells the FT that an amendment calling for a 2014 referendum "would unleash civil war on the Tory benches and would be devastating for Cameron." It's hard to argue. 
More proof that Lynton Crosby rather had a point: 88 per cent of Ukip voters would consider voting for Dave, according to a new YouGov poll in The Sun. Best of all for Dave, 40 per cent of Ukipers said they would defect if it was the only way to stop Labour from getting to No 10. Perhaps Toby Young has a point when he says that a bottom up Ukip pact could work at the next election and unite the right. 
Nick Clegg has attacked Ed Miliband's plan to freeze energy prices as "magic-wand politics” and "wholly incredible". Mr Clegg's intervention will add to the impression that he is more comfortable working with the Conservatives - and that the leftward turn in Mr Miliband's conference speech may have made a future Labour-Lib Dem coalition less likely.
For their part, Labour show no inclination of backing down over the policy. Indeed, they are wearing criticism from Lord Mandelson and Mr Tony ("It seemed to go down very well with people and was excellently delivered, I think. But I’m not going to comment on the policy.”) as a badge of honour. As for the policy itself, three of the big six energy companies have pledged fixed-price energy deals for the next four years. To Caroline Flint, “This shows that all the warnings about blackouts were nothing more than scaremongering." The challenge for the Tories at conference is to show it can act on the cost of living without evoking the 1970s. They will need to produce something compelling because, as Fraser Nelson writes, "Miliband has changed the record. He has been bold enough to put his new brand of populist socialism at the heart of British politics, and offer a clear choice to the public. The tedious era of “triangulation” is finally dead and was buried in Brighton." 
Chris Grayling never misses an opportunity to advertise his anti-EU credentials. Yesterday it was saying Britain should pull out of the jurisdiction of the European courts; today it's telling other European Union nations to block plans to tighten data-protection rules, saying they could burden business and destroy jobs.“The EU is unrealistic if it believes that imposing extra costs on business is not going to drive companies and jobs out of the EU in a world that is extraordinarily competitive”, Mr Grayling told Bloomberg
George Osborne will give the Bank of England new powers to intervene if there are signs of a housing boom. Following criticism the Help to Buy scheme could be fuelling another bubble, the Bank's Financial Policy Committee will reviewit every year (rather than every three). It will also be able to recommend to the Treasury that the cap on properties eligible under Help to Buy is cut from the current £600,000, reducing the impact of any price boom, as we report.

The Metropolitan Police yesterday announced that Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard would not face sexual harassment charges. The Met said that there was a “lack of evidence” and dismissed the case without formally putting the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), as we report. The CPS' refusal to mount a prosecution has dismayed Lib Dem women, and will increase pressure on Nick Clegg to deliver some kind of verdict through the party's own inquiry.
Karl McCartney paces himself:
@karlmcmartney: V light breakfast this am as later attending MacMillan Coffee Morning @Barclays Tritton Rd for the Jaffa Cake Challenge. 17 in 1min to beat! 
In the Telegraph 
Telegraph View -A lack of speed on HS2 
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in the Times -Ed can win from here. But he can’t govern 
Toby Young in The Spectator Unite the right!
George Eaton in the New Statesman -If Ed Miliband is a socialist, so are most of the public  

New York. Nick Clegg to address the UN General Assembly.

Stockholm. Major new IPCC assessment of science of climate change published.

10am, London. Former MP Denis MacShane in court over expenses. Southwark Crown Court.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The People Revolt..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

Breaking news: Margaret Hodge has been on the Today programme speaking about rural broadband and the Public Accounts Committee report into it: "BT ended up becoming the monopoly provider... The taxpayer has been ripped off with £1.2bn going to the shareholders of BT", she said.  
Good morning. Late yesterday Stewart Wood tweeted "Tory Wednesday: defending big energy companies, court action to protect bankers bonuses, & a donor fined £55m for market fixing. #onyourside". Soon afterwards Lord Mandelson attacked Ed Miliband's price control energy policy, backed by Lord Jones. And in those two positions you can see the dividing line opening up, and the challenge for the Conservatives. On the one hand a populist leadership that has calculated the advantage of striking a pose that chimes with a frustrated public; on the other a collection of powerful companies, rich types and their political mates who, however much they wrap their argument in economic logic, end up sounding like the bunch of privileged plutocrats they are (I see on Twitter folk are asking where Lord Mandy has any clients in the energy sector).
We live in an age of pitchforks and flaming torches, usually manifested in social media campaigns. Austerity and the erosion of living standards have left voters open to the idea that the state could intervene to fix things in their favour and stick it to those who have sailed unscathed through the recession (to keep the Ed Miliband anti-yacht analogy going). It is a seductive world view. Why should you listen to Peter Mandelson or the boss of Centrica or even David Cameron when you have had your hours slashed, your fuel bill is crippling, you run out of money before the end of the month, and that's despite working long hours at a thankless dead end job? It seems fantastical to imagine our politics turning into those of Venezuela, with Ed Miliband in a purple beret listening to himself tell toothy gags for hours on telly while nationalising everything in sight. We'll all have fun portraying him as a Robert Mugabe figure or worse.
But there is method to what the right will call his madness. One source close to him dismissed the return to the 70s criticism, and compared what Mr Miliband is doing instead is more like the trust busting of the American progressive era. "Our policy - to freeze energy prices until we have reformed the way the domestic energy market works - is in the interests of consumers and a more competitive industry. It is not "pro-business" for government to stand aside when regulation is failing." All this poses a challenge to Mr Cameron. I sense that he is very relaxed about it. I'm not sure he should be. While Dan Hodges makes the point that Ed risks running as a revolutionary when the public will want security, Tim Montgomerie reckons that Mr Miliband could become PM by being as popular as Neil Kinnock in 1992.
Nigel Farage will not be impressed. It looks like TV debates will happen in 2015 with broadcasters close to agreeing a deal between the main political parties, as we report. This definition excludes Ukip, with broadcasters saying they cannot take part as they lack representation in Westminster. Ed Miliband yesterday said, “Let’s have election TV debates with the three party leaders. I’m happy with the same format as last time. Let’s have those debates.” A sticking point had been David Cameron's reluctance to debate Mr Farage but now that obstacle has been removed. Mr Miliband's gamble is that the public will warm to him the more they see of him. But given that Mr Cameron has consistently much stronger personal ratings than Mr Miliband, debates may help the Conservatives turn the election into a 'presidential' contest.
So much for a break with New Labour. Ed Miliband offered to intervene in a candidate selection process to allow Alastair Campbell to become the candidate for Burnley, which Labour lost to the Lib Dems in 2010 and expects to regain in 2010. But Mr Campbell decided against the offer; his partner, Fiona Millar, considered running for the North London seat of Hampstead and Kilburn, but also decided otherwise, as The Times reports.  
The whispers are that Andy Burnham's position as Shadow Health Secretary could be in danger. But Mr Burnham's speech at Labour conference yesterday was so well-received that it may have made him tricky to axe. Mr Burnham''s pledge to repeal the Health and Social Care Act ("privatisation by the back door") at the start of a new Labour government went down a treat.
George Osborne has launched a legal challenge to try and halt European attempts to bring in a cap on bankers' bonuses. Mr Osborne believes the moves would decouple the link between performance and pay and could undermine London's role as an international financial centre. 
But while Mr Osborne resorts to the European Court of Justice, Chris Grayling wants to pull Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court. He told The Spectator that “We have to curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK, get rid of and replace Labour’s Human Rights Act." Mr Grayling wants “to see our Supreme Court being supreme again”. Others will note that the intervention seems another nod to the party's right by Mr Grayling: if the party leadership seems beyond him, higher ministerial office does not. 
Lord Younger, the Intellectual Property Ministerhas said that Google "have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10" and that he is "very aware of their power", reports the Mail. It was last year revealed that Tory ministers had held meetings with Google an average of once a month since the General Election. Rachel Whetstone, Google’s global head of communications, is married to Steve Hilton and is a friend of Dave's going back to their time together at Carlton TV.
Ukip “are mostly our cousins and we want them back.” So says Andrew Mitchell in an interview with the New Statesman. Mr Mitchell also said that NHS spending should remain protected ("It is essential because of the growing elderly population and increases in the cost and scope of medicine.") And if David Davis had won the Tory leadership in 2005, "The sun would shine every day and we’d all live healthily until the age of 100." 
Labour aren't listening to Lord Mandelson anymore:
@johnmcdonnellMP: Shock, horror!! Mandelson supports multi billion profiteering capitalist companies lining their shareholders' pockets. What's new?
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in the Times - Ed Miliband can win where Neil Kinnock could not
Chris Giles in the Financial Times - Scant choice in UK’s 2015 election 

Iain Dale is due to attend Brighton's John Street police station to face further questions about his scuffle with an anti-nukes protester.

10am Navy's newest warship - HMS Duncan - to be commissioned. Victory Gate, Portsmouth Naval Base

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Ed risks going the Romney way..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing.. 

Good morning. It's Ed Miliband's speech today. After several months of preparation - and so many drafts his team stopped numbering them - Mr Miliband needs to produce something that captures the imagination, and end the damaging narrative that has taken hold about his Labour leadership. A repeat of last year's notes-free style is expected, but it is the substance to which the electorate will be paying attention. Mr Miliband's central pitch will be an imitation of Ronald Reagan's "Are you better off than four years ago?" from the 1980 presidential election. To this end, Mr Miliband will argue that the link between economic growth and living standards has been broken, with the proceeds siphoned off by the richest in society. He will propose a shake-up of corporation tax rates, with increases for large businesses and decreases for small ones. Mr Miliband will also announce an ambitious house-building plan and say that Labour would build 200,000 new house a year by 2020.
Whether this will be enough to transform the mood around conference is unclear. The feeling is not one of defeatism, but confusion over what Labour's problem is. Is it Mr Miliband? Is it the other Ed? Is it the message itself? Or is it - and this seems the most common explanation - the way that the message is being delivered? As I write in my column, "Every conversation in Brighton, it seems, includes an admission that the Conservatives are winning the propaganda war hands down. If Craig Oliver and Lynton Crosby could hear what the shadow cabinet are saying in the bars, they would blush: “Their attack unit is ruthless. Their messaging is consistent and disciplined. They are beating us.” Polly Toynbee also notes the Conservative team's "supreme skill is sticking the stiletto into Labour".
Of course, the hope is that Mr Miliband's speech will help to change all this. By giving party activists something tangible to take to the doorsteps, he hopes to move from intellectual ideas - "pre-distribution", "responsible capitalism" and "One Nation" - into policies that will actually help; as Rachel Sylvester writes, "Too often, the Labour leader sounds more like a think-tank analyst than a prime minister in waiting." The cost of living line is a shrewd one to take; indeed, with economic growth having returned, it increasingly seems the only plausible one for Labour. Still, Labour will note the fate of the last man to try the 'Reagan line'. Mitt Romney was soundly beaten in America last year with the electorate unconvinced that they wanted to return to office the party in charge when the economic crisis occurred. Ed Miliband has a lot of work to do - as he and his team know full well - to prevent something similar happening in 2015.
Harriet Harman was on the Today programme this morning. On HS2, she said: "We think there should be more north-south links, but we want there to be value for money... This is public money at a time when finances are squeezed." On houses, Mrs Harman said: "The reason the cost of buying and renting has gone through the roof is there isn't enough supply of housing."
Damian McBride is doing a media round today that will include facing Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics later. He gets full marks for submitting himself to the most dangerous interviewers. Last night in Brighton dinners were finished early and tellies turned up for his opening appearance on Newsnight. It had great potential for interview violence: Paxman and an audience. But Mr McBride sailed through, largely by admitting everything, accepting every criticism, and offering himself for any further punishment his enemies might have in mind. All, that is, except the money: he refused an audience invitation to donate his fee from the Mail (reportedly around £130-150k) to the Labour party. His answer was matter-of-fact: he left government with nothing except debt, the cash will go towards paying them off. Apart from that he agreed he was despicable, and ashamed. His apology not just to those he targeted but particularly to the innocents caught in the cross-fire - the special advisers and civil servants - looked and sounded sincere. To the Tories calling for him to be investigated by the police and have his pension stripped he put his hands up: it's a matter for others (if anyone has any sense no more time will be wasted on that).
Where he was less convincing, or rather where his critics will be particularly sceptical, is his motivation for publication. He had the good grace to admit publishing in a party conference wasn't ideal, but Labour members will point out that he could have chosen not to publish at all. There will be speculation about which organisation offered to double his money if he held off publication until April 2015 to maximise damage to the Labour party. The (repeatable) Blairite view is that Mr McBride was never of the party, and therefore has no understanding of what loyalty to it entails. Mr McBride argues that he wants the party to avoid the factionalism and poison he embodied. He noted that his book had prompted the Shadow Cabinet to pledge never to brief against others (let's see how long that holds). His film for Newsnight though was too much of a plug for the two Eds and overlooked the tensions between the two. In fact, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr McBride's capacity to analyse Labour's position - and its recent history - with any lucidity is blinkered by his loyalty to Mr Balls, a loyalty that has hardly been repaid in public: if he wants to put it all behind him, then he should no longer allow himself to be trashed by his hero. The most telling line, for my money, came when he was asked about Gordon Brown. Do his revelations reflect on him, he was asked? "Ultimately it does, because I was employed by him." If you haven't yet, you can see what happened when we asked the former PM about Mr McBride in New York yesterday. From today we all get a chance to read the book and judge for ourselves. 
The most significant aspect of Ed Balls' speech yesterday wasn't his cheap jibe at Dave's "surprisingly small towel" (see Quentin Letts' astonishment that "The man who would be Chancellor was making a joke about David Cameron being photographed alighting from his swimming trunks") but his words on HS2."The question is not just whether a new high-speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country", Mr Balls said. It marked a new degree of scepticism - going a notch above Labour's previous "no blank cheque" comments - from Labour. But it also seems to highlight tensions between the two Eds, with a shadow cabinet minister confirming that "Ed B is much more sceptical about it than Ed M." The FT explains Labour's increased opposition, noting that complaints about HS2 have extended from the Chilterns to Labour strongholds in the North - including Yvette Cooper's constituency. Mr Balls' opposition wins rare praise from unlikely sources - the Mail and Sun - and, combined with Ukip's opposition, has the potential to create tactical problems for the Tories on the issue.
It's also a reminder, as Janan Ganesh observes in the FT, of the differences between Mr Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor. "Mr Balls values the City as a financial centre and source of revenue; Mr Miliband seems to regard it as a barely necessary evil. Mr Balls would expand London’s airport capacity to meet demand; Mr Miliband prefers the environmental case against. Mr Balls tends not to sermonise about what the economy “should” look like; Mr Miliband scolds betting shops, payday lenders and other “predatory” businesses." 
Len McCluskey continues to lurk over Labour's conference, however much many wish he would just go away. Yesterday he warned at a fringe meeting that "we’ve got no intention in Unite or in this movement of allowing laws introduced by the Bullingdon boys to restrict the legitimate and international rights that we have to protect our work." At least Mr Miliband won't have to worry about Len this evening: the Unite leader is boycotting his Gala dinner.
Jim Murphy has warned Labour that “No party in this country has a big enough core vote to win an election" and given the party some advice on how to broaden its appeal in the South. “I think there needs to be a new language about respecting diversity that is about some of those voters who live their lives in a way that is entirely straightforward. They go to church on Sunday and they have an immeasurable sense of patriotism and a real affection for the Royal Family and much else besides", Mr Murphy told a fringe meeting. Meanwhile, a Labour polling report leaked to LabourList gives the party reasons to be cheerful, emphasising its consistent lead on all the living standards issues.
Dave didn't have much of a holiday at the Queen's Scottish estate in Balmoral this year. He only pitched up on Sunday - after hosting Michael Gove and others at Chequers on Saturday night - and, less than 24 hours later, was back to London to chair a Cobra meeting on Kenya. 
Alastair Campbell isn't speaking to Damian:
@campbellclaret: Newsnight asking me to debate @DPMcBride re his book. Just asked my mate Fergie if he would do debate with Manager of Blackburn reserves 
In the Telegraph 
Telegraph View - Blustering Balls 
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in the Times - Ed is haunted by the ghosts of politics past 
Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times - Miliband the dreamer needs Balls the pragmatist
Labour Conference:
Ed Miliband speech from 2.15pm. The Brighton Centre and Conference hotel.


9.30am British Bankers' Association (BBA) releases its latest high street banking report. 

10.00am New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launches the Mayors Challenge alongside the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Living Room at City Hall.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague at UN General Assembly, New York