Thursday, 3 October 2013

Tories seek centre ground..

Good morning. It's the morning after the end of the conference season, and all politicos have earned a couple of days off until the serious business recommences on Monday. David Cameron will certainly feel he deserves a break after producing a speech that was confident, well-delivered and intellectually compelling. As I wrote in my blog, it re-established Mr Cameron's credentials as the true heir to Blair. While Ed Miliband thinks that the next election can be won from the Left, Mr Cameron is sticking to Mr Tony's playbook of keeping to the centre ground. It is a strategy that certainly does not lack critics, as the appeal of Ukip to Thatcherite Conservatives reminds us, and the conference hall's feelings towards their leader were those of respect rather than love. But ultimately Mr Cameron remains a tremendous asset to his party. His claims that it is the Conservatives who represent opportunity, aspiration and optimism were compelling, and we can expect to hear plenty more of them as the next election nears.
Michael Deacon heard "something woolly about dreams. Something woolly about opportunity. Something woolly about our children and our grandchildren. And most important of all: a reminder that I married a woman"We write that "Mr Cameron’s speech did not just occupy the centre ground, but showed how far he and his party have shifted it. It is no longer considered Right-wing to propose restrictions on immigration or to reform and cap welfare." To The Mail, Mr Cameron has learned from his previous mistakes and "may even be 'One of Us'." Meanwhile The Times detects growing signs of "bad old habits of promising costly goodies to voters" and warns that it is "dangerous nonsense" to suggest that deficit reduction is even close to a finished task. But perhaps the PM's speech wasn't that significant after all. To George Parker in the FT, George Osborne's speech on Monday was "the second most important moment in the conference season, an economic prospectus of striking political clarity." It signalled the Chancellor's "attempt to wrest the political debate on to the terrain where the Tories hold the biggest advantage: economic credibility."
Some have complained that Mr Cameron's speech was light on policy. But the truth is that was quite deliberate: the PM has never been a fan of using his conference speech for big announcements, though the crackdown on benefits for the under-25s was well-received by the hall.The Times reports that there will soon be a series of announcements on the cost of living, including water bills, rail fares and bank fees. Steve Richards suggests that Ed Miliband has been more successful than any opposition leader since Margaret Thatcher in setting the political agenda. While it is true that Mr Miliband's emphasis on the cost of living has pushed the Conservative response, it does not mean that the public thinks Labour's solutions are the right ones. Soon enough, we will find out which vision the public prefers: as Peter Oborne writes, "the next election will be about two different views of the role of the state."
Every minister I spoke to in Manchester asked about the reshuffle. To say they are anxious is an understatement. It has been called off at the last moment at least twice - by my reckoning - in recent months. The speculation goes like this: Dave has been mulling a refreshing of the middle ranks for ages, but may now be considering something more ambitious that would cover the Cabinet; the reshuffle might take place on Monday. Or tomorrow. Or today. Or not at all; Sir George Young could be sacked and replaced by Eric Pickles. Or not; Maria Miller and Justine Greening could be axed. or not. You get the idea. My advice: none of the speculation about names is reliable. And my hunch? Not this week. But stand by your phones.
The Mili-Mail war continues. Lord Moore of Lower Marsh, a former member of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, has accused the Daily Mail of "telling lies" about Ralph Miliband, while Lord Heseltine said that the Mail demeaned politics by publishing the piece. Ed Miliband yesterday told the Evening Standard that newspapers had an obligation "not to conduct politics in the gutter" while his brother David tweeted: "My dad loved Britain." Ed has said that he will not complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the article. The Guardian reports that the row may have repercussions for a meeting of MPs next Wednesday on press regulation. Meanwhile, Labour may revive their rapid rebuttal unit operation to ensure no negative spin goes unanswered.
The support from Dave for Boris to stand for Parliament in 2015 has prompted more chatter about his prospects of becoming Tory leader, despite Boris's repeated denials on LBC. But, as ever, Boris is keeping his options open. The more interesting speculation is the hint he's given some people that if Mr Cameron wins outright and his prospects of being Tory leader fade, he might be tempted to stand for a third term as Mayor of London.
Lord Heseltine has described Ukip as "racist". He told the BBC: "Of course it’s racist, who doubts that? Farage isn’t racist but his party is very attractive to a racist agenda", and made comparisons with Enoch Powell and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Challenged to a debate with Ukip after his claims,Lord Heseltine said "It all reminds me of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s. They also wanted me to debate with them in order to get an audience."
Michael Fallon is taking on the nimbys, saying "We are sitting on top of an awful lot of shale so I don't think colleagues can be picky about this and say they're not going to have it in their constituencies." Mr Fallon was fighting back against the wishes of some Tories for a 'go slow' approach to fracking in the South. He has also had to cope with a 'go slow' attitude in Whitehall, with the Civil Service's encouragement of ministers writing letters to each other sometimes reaching farcical levels. Nick Herbert told a fringe meeting that "At one point Michael Fallon had ministerial responsibilities in two departments at the same time – and they were trying to make him write letters to himself", as Sue Cameron reports.
The success of Lynton Crosby in revitalising the Conservative Party has made him an obvious target for attacks. The Mirror splashes with reports that Mr Crosby is a non-dom and is involved in an offshore company in the tax haven of Malta.
Chris Heaton-Harris with some early morning whimsy:
@chhcalling: Supposedly Noah kept fish in the carpark
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
The Times leader - Cameron's high ground
Steve Richards in the Independent - Cameron responds to Miliband, but still keeps his options open
9.30am Department for Education to publish the latest national figures on its phonics check and the results of national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds.
10am News conference unveiling details of plans to regenerate Crystal Palace Park, London. Attended by Boris.

2.30pm Hearing in case against huntsman breaching Hunting Act 2004, Worcester.