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