Sunday, 15 September 2013

Clegg upbeat..

Good morning. It's sunny in London but pouring in Glasgow, the weather no doubt reflecting some kind of political truth. Nick Clegg has just had a good outing on Marr. New lines delivered ('die in a trench', 'let us finish the job', 'signature tune'), new policy unveiled (even higher personal allowance), Tory policy holed below the waterline (go home vans). What have we learned overall? The LibDems and Nick Clegg are in surprisingly good form - if you put aside the polls, the usual sniping from the Vince/Farron brigade, and the ritual conference spats over sandal policy. Mr Clegg is still there, he has enough Coalition achievements to claim the credit for, and he can see that events are leading towards delivering what he told Andrew Marr was his central preoccupation: getting the Lib Dems back into power in 2015. Because we are unlikely to get a 'slam dunk result' at the election - he predicts a future of coalitions - 'it is incumbent on all the parties to be up front with the British people on which issues they are going to die in he trench for.' In other words, he has challenged Dave and Ed to produce shopping list manifestos that distinguish which policies are red lines and which they are prepared to haggle over. He opened the negotiation by confirming that he will pitch to raise the personal tax allowance (his 'signature tune') to take anyone on the minimum wage out of tax altogether (my back-of-the-envelope calculation works that out at £11,484/pa - expensive).
As for Farronesque flirtation with Ed Miliband and Labour, Mr Clegg seemed to tilt slightly to the Tories when he said "Labour would wreck the recovery and under the Conservatives who don't have the same approach to fairness we will get the wrong kind of recovery". But he went on to repeat his mantra that the LibDems would be guided by the electorate. Asked if either he or David Cameron had broached the possibility of a new Coalition agreement, he said they hadn't. "I would give them short shrift. Let the British people have their say first". As I mentioned last week, Mr Clegg looks increasingly like the one leader who can be sure of being around and in office after 2015. That's some achievement given the turmoil he's gone through and the policy debacles he has to his name (Lords, AV). It might be said that his relative strength is more the product of the weakness of his two rivals. He's also helped by having an explicit mandate for Coalition from his party. As he starts his conference week, Mr Clegg increasingly looks like the unavoidable man of British politics.
A few snippets from Conference announcements today. Lord Ashdown will give the traditional Sunday night 'rally' - one message, seemingly trailed in his Observer interview, is that Lib Dems should dislike Labour and the Tories equally. But he advises you read with caution, complaining that "This is the worst misrepresentation of an interview given by me i have ever known" on Twitter.
David Laws will announce plans to cut the cost of school uniforms by ending the practice of a single uniform supplier. Ed Davey will announcean ambitious relaunch of the £250 million Green Deal, making cash available for loans to pay for measures such as a new boiler, loft insulation or solar panels is now available to householders. Danny Alexander will also give a Q and A on the economy where, based on his interview in the Telegraph, he will make the case that workers deserve a "share in the success" of the recovering economy. And he thinks Nick Clegg deserves to recover too, telling the People, “If there's a dog which fights hard and wins arguments then that's the one”.
A comprehensive survey by Lord Ashcroft will provide Ed Miliband with some welcome cheer. It gives Labour a 14-point advantage in the 32 seats that have the smallest current Tory majorities over Labour, largely because of support for Ukip. But there is little to please the Lib Dems in the polls - the Tories are on course to hold on to all eight of the seats in which the Lib Dems are the main challengers. Dave also has a female problem - he's too elitist and posh, according to a poll by Mumsnet reported in the Sunday Times.
Vince Cable supports a tax on the value of land for homeowners to address the unequal "accumulation of wealth". Given staunch Tory opposition, it is an idea that - at least until the next election - will do nothing more than win applause from conference. One opponent is Vicky Pryce, who takes to the Mail to attack the idea of a mansion tax, writing that "it is a tax that is set at an arbitrary level with no economic justification for that level or the rate imposed except to raise a certain amount of money." 
Jo Swinson was the sole beneficiary of last night's Lib Dem conference dinner. The proceeds went towards boosting Mrs Swinson's re-election fund which, given her majority of 2,184 in East Dunbartonshire, needs all the help it can get. And there is a wider importance for the Lib Dems: they only have seven female MPs - and five of them are in the party's 12 most vulnerable seats.
The Conservatives are off on a parliamentary away day next week - which, very conveniently for Dave and his Chipping North chums, will be in Oxfordshire. But, as James Forsyth points out, about 50 Tory MPs are expected to give it a miss. Iain Duncan Smith will be there but he might be in nervous mood, with whispers in the People about his future. There are also rumours that Karren Brady - who will introduce George Osborne's speech - is interested in going into politics.
Yesterday's Mail carried a house ad asking who is the mystery figure who will reveal all about the wars inside Labour in next Saturday's Mail? The answer of course is Damian McBride, who has secured a six-figure sum to serialise his memoirs in the Mail. Westminster can't wait, because Damian kept notes, has a phenomenal memory, and can write. MPs are terrified of what he might reveal. Ed Miliband's office warned him that he would be finished in the party if he went ahead. One MP telephoned to ask if he planned to use a certain story and was told 'thanks for reminding me. The possibilities are endless.' The Sunday Times warns that Ed will be accused of "dirty tricks" and "bungling" and the release date - September 24th, during the Labour Conference - could hardly be more provocative. 
Lord Ashdown isn't happy:
@paddyashdown: If you're reading the Observer this morning please note. This is the worst misrepresentation of an interview given by me i have ever known 
In the Telegraph 
Matthew D'Ancona - Lib Dems know their future lies in power-sharing
Christopher Booker - Myths about our EU membership
Best of the rest

James Forsyth in the Daily Mail - You don't like Nick any more? Ask him if he is bothered...

Adam Boulton in the Sunday (£) - Clegg looks doomed but the cavalry are coming