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.