Friday, 4 October 2013

The rising tide..

Good morning. If it really is the economy stupid, then CCHQ will be celebrating the latest figures. The UK economy is growing at the fastest rate in the developed world. The headlines include output across the services sector rose at the strongest pace for 16 years between July and September while house prices rose at 6.2 per cent, more than twice the rate of inflation. Labour may ask what this all means for those who feel left behind, but there is evidence that the rising tide is lifting more than just the yachts: petrol prices have fallen nationwide by almost 5p a litre in the past month, after a round of cuts by supermarkets. And, whisper it, but the benefits are even extending beyond the South: the FT has an uplifting story that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China will invest in a business district at Manchester airport and this may mark a new wave of Chinese investment in Britain. 
Every piece of news like this will add to the impression that the Conservatives are turning the economy around, and will make Labour's case more difficult to win. They also add to George Osborne's remarkable political recovery - from omnishambles Chancellor to (along with William Hague) the favoured "under-the-bus" leadership candidate in barely a year. It's true that, as plenty of Tories acknowledge, the party cannot be seen to be complacent about the recovery. But increasingly it looks as if the Conservatives may enter the general election with a couple of years of good economic news to show the electorate. And that would make Labour's message of a cost of living crisis a much harder sell.
There is talk that Andy Burnham may lose his job as Shadow Health Secretary. Labour stands accused of pressurising the NHS watchdog the Care Quality Commission not to reveal damaging information before the last election. Andy Burnham, the then Health Secretary, was "furious" when "graphic details" of the failings at Basildon University Hospital, where patients were dying needlessly on filthy wards, became public; Mike O'Brien, the former Labour minister of state for health, separately warned the NHS watchdog that "anything you do is political" in the run up to the General Election. The emails, from 2009, were obtained by Steven Barclay after four months of repeated requests. The significance is two-fold. Firstly, Labour's wish to turn back the clock on the NHS - not just to before Lansley and Hunt, but to before Blair - looks increasingly out of sync with the realities; as we write, they have no right to claim the NHS moral high ground. Secondly, speculation that Mr Burnham will lose his job in Labour's reshuffle - which many say is imminent - will increase.  
This story ain't going away. The Mili-Mail Wars have gained new life after the Mail on Sunday admitted to sending two journalists to a service for the Labour leader's uncle, seeking reaction to the original Daily Mail article. Ed Miliband yesterday wrote an open letter to Lord Rothermere asking him to take a "long, hard look" at the "culture and practices" of the titles and that "sending a reporter to my late uncle's memorial crosses a line of common decency". Mr Miliband also said that he would not seek recourse to the Press Complaints Commission, and also found room to mention "the worst cost of living crisis for a century". The Guardian fly the flag for Ed, with Ian Aitken writing that "The Ralph Miliband I knew embodied the British values the Daily Mail rejects" and Polly Toynbee praising Mr Miliband for standing up to Paul Dacre just as he stood up to Murdoch. Given Ed's challenge in overcoming his image of being "weak", the Mail has inadvertently played right into his hands.
Ed Davey and George Osborne yesterday rowed again over green energy targets, reports the FT. The Committee on Climate Change said there was no economic or legal reason to amend global warming targets - to Mr Davey's delight - but the Chancellor believes they may undermine his plans to build 40 new gas-fired power stations in the next 20 years, and ultimately economic growth. For now, it looks like Mr Davey is getting his way. He will doubtless love to think that he is increasingly overtaking Jeremiah Cable as the Tories' least favourite Lib Dem. 
Lord Ashcroft's polling tends to produce bad news for the Tories, like last month's poll of marginal constituencies. But his latest poll has some encouraging signs for the Conservatives. As he writes in the Mirror, "Most voters, including two fifths of those who would vote Labour, fear the party would spend and borrow more than the country can afford, and has not learned the right lessons from its time in government." The finding that "only a quarter of Conservative defectors say they will vote UKIP" will doubtless reinforce Mr Cameron's belief that the way to win is from the centre, rather than tacking to the right. 
Chris Grayling has announced an end to automatic early release for prison for hardened criminals. Its another move that will be popular with the Tory right, as shown by the Mail's editorial - "the country has a justice secretary who puts the safety of the public first".
That's how many party conferences Eric Pickles has now attended. Or if you prefer, a year and four months worth of his life.
Brooks Newmark is busy:
@TweetBrooks: Organising petition 2 B presented to Parliament against proposal for 240 acres of solar panels which will blight our countryside in N Essex
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in the Times - No one party can unite this divided nation
9am  Plea hearing for Constance Briscoe. The barrister and part-time judge is accused of perverting the course of justice in connection with the Chris Huhne case.
Dublin: Referendum on abolition of the upper house of Irish parliament. Voters go to the polls to decide future of the Seanad.
10.30am Preliminary hearing for MP Nigel Evans, 55, accused of committing various sexual offences against seven men, Preston.

1pm Launch of overnight Byte Night challenge for fundraisers hoping to raise £1million to tackle youth homelessness.