Friday, 13 September 2013

Few Conservatives expect a LibDem wipeout..

Good morning. Lib Dem conference starts this weekend, and by tradition the days preceding it are taken up by attempts to talk up some kind of leadership crisis or confrontation. What's striking about this year and Nick Clegg is that he's in pretty good shape. The ever-reliable Lord Oakeshott popped up yesterday as if on cue to call for Mr Clegg to go, but crashed on take-off: his views have been discounted to irrelevance from over-use. We've heard it all before, from him. It was, in fact, slightly embarrassing, to judge by the alacrity with which Vince Cable distanced himself from his friend. In fact, rather than a crisis, Mr Clegg heads for Glasgow in relatively good shape. He's finally beginning to get some credit for his resilience in the face of disaster. The more difficulties the other two leaders experience, the better his situation looks. The Sun has had a try at dressing him up as a poodle with the help of a YouGov poll, and Phil Collins has had a go in The Times, but it all feels a bit half-hearted. Psephologists might have better luck by pointing out that the polls look grim. But it's noticeable that Tories who used to talk about a Lib Dem wipe-out now mutter that a more likely outcome is for the Lib Dems to hang on to what they've got. Which means, perversely, that Mr Clegg may well be the party leader with the best chance of being in government after 2015, whatever the outcome. I predict a week of "Nick Clegg, an apology" coverage (see Peter Oborne's gracious version yesterday). It will make a nice change. 
Still, there remains a lot at stake at Lib Dem conference. Mr Clegg wants to sell the party to the electorate as a serious bunch who can be trusted with governing; Sir Menzies Campbell calls on members to "hold their nerve" in The Guardian. But not all in his party agree with Mr Clegg's approach, and Tim Farron's call for a beefing up of the party's mansion tax proposals (over and above the one per cent levy on homes worth more than £2 million it already supports) is one important example that will surface in conference over the coming days. Though Mr Clegg may be safe for now, Mr Farron is positioning himself as an alternative who would offer a distinct Leftist shift.
In April 2012 the notion that George Osborne would be a serious Tory leadership contender invited ridicule. With anemic growth and the omnishambles budget, it wasn't even clear whether he would retain his job until the next election. It's a sign of how far Mr Osborne has since come that when Ken Clarke says he "is bound to be a contender at any stage" it now seems almost a statement of the obvious. Mr Clarke, who admitted that he could retire in 2015, also had a message for Boris. He should “cool it” if he wants to lead the Conservative party at some point. Mr Clarke echoed the current mood of Tory optimism - "The chances of David Cameron being Prime Minister after the next general election are better than they have looked since he got in" - but no one should be complacent. Fraser Nelson today provides a reminder of the problems facing "Absent Ed", but Tory MPs note that while Michael Fabricant regularly sent them the latest Electoral Calculus numbers five years ago - to reassure them that all was well - he doesn't anymore.

We really do put in the hours for you on the Morning Briefing. The Briefing will run for the next three Sundays, providing all the Conference news and gossip you need by 10am. Incidentally you can sign-up for the excellent Evening Briefing politics email here.

Yep, it looks like we have another expenses row on our hands. Both the Mail and Mirror splash with the news that 155 MPs employed relatives on their payroll, as total expenses rose to a record £98 million, according to the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority figures. The Mirror exclaims that MPs "still have their snouts in the trough" and has a breakdown of the top claimants for various categories - Ian Paisley Jnr is the most expensive MP overall.  

Harriet Harman has criticised the BBC again for its attitude to elderly women appearing on screen. "Here we are in the 21st century, yet you see everywhere the old-fashioned TV format of an older man teamed up with a glamorous younger women". Miss Harman also joined those criticising the salaries and payoffs awarded by the Beeb, as the Mail reports.  

Remember that forgotten species? The Green Tories last found in the Arctic, c 2006. Greg Barker writes in the Guardian that the Government's efforts to open up the energy market to new suppliers "happily unites the drive to get a better deal for hard-pressed consumers with ambitions for a greener, more local energy sector." The Green Alliance are about to give a damning verdict on the Coalition's aim to be "the greenest government ever". 

Greg Hands is an early riser:

@Greg Hands: 4:47am and the first plane noisily overhead. I am up anyway, but night flights are what most of my constituents struggle to live with. 
In the Telegraph 
Fraser Nelson - Even Labour supporters don’t think that Ed Miliband’s up to it

Michael Gove - I’m ending this scandal over children’s care

Best of the rest

Phil Collins in the Times (£) - Liberalism triumphs while Lib Dems sink 

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times (£) - Merkel’s stealthy plan for the euro

George Osborne is in Vilnius, Lithuania for an informal Ecofin meeting.

Lincoln: Man in court charged in connection with explosion at Nick Boles's office.

14.15 Hillary Clinton receives honorary degree, University of St Andrews.

17.45 Harriet Harman speaks to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention.