Monday, 16 December 2013

Why aren't the Conservatives doing better?

Good morning. Westminster is winding down, but, while there's a lot of noise, nothing is really changing. As the latest Polling Observatory report puts it, "there is almost no movement at all: Labour have been dead steady at around 37% to 38% for more than six months." The report continues: "What little movement there is in blue support is also in the wrong direction – and our most recent estimates find Conservative support at 30.9%, down 0.9% on last month. Support for the Conservatives among the electorate has moved around more in 2013 compared to Labour, largely because of a strong link with UKIP support – when Nigel Farage’s party has been up in the polls, this has tended to hurt the Conservatives." So, 11 months after David Cameron's pledge of an In-Out referendum was meant to shoot Ukip's fox for good, the Conservatives are still looking over their shoulders at Ukip.
The consolation, of course, is that, as Iain Martin writes today, there is "no discernible enthusiasm whatsoever on the part of the electorate" for Labour. This is the rationale underpinning the Conservatives' determination to fight populist wheezes with grown-up politics: a belief that, when it comes to polling day, the electorate will plump for what Tories on Twitter call their "#longtermplan". But that doesn't do much for the immediate polling figures - nor for those Tory MPs prone to asking "Why aren't we doing better?" Iain's solution is for the Conservatives to "go it alone and summon up the most deadly, clear-sighted campaign they can – to "throw the kitchen sink at Miliband" in the words of one Westminster veteran – and hope that it jolts the electorate into life."
A leaked Home Office report proposes limiting net EU immigration to 75,000 a year. The problem is that would require a renegotiation of the European Union, so there are no quick fixes. Speaking on the Today programme, Theresa May hinted that the idea is being looked at. The Home Secretary said that "there is a growing concern about the abuse of free movement" in the EU and "this is not something that is just being raised in the UK". Expect plenty more tough talk on immigration before January 1.
Danny Alexander will today announce the creation of a new position, akin to a company CFO, which will include the roles of head of public spending and head of the government finance profession - essentially, in charge of looking at spending priorites over the whole of government.The FT reports that Government insiders are considering appointing a senior FTSE 100 executive, rather than a career civil servant. Whoever takes the job is likely to report directly to Sharon White, the second permanent secretary at the Treasury.
Fracking could create over 30,000 new jobs, according to a Government report out tomorrow. The central projection for an expanded shale industry will put the figure closer to 20,000 jobs directly employed in the energy industry.
David Cameron has launched an SOS campaign: "Save Our Selfie". Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt wants to destroy the photo - but Mr Cameron has urged that it to be auctioned off for charity instead.
Labour aim to make housebuilding a central plank of their pitch to the electorate in 2015 and, to that end, Ed Miliband is giving a speech on the topic in Stevenage today, attacking "stick-in-the-mud councils". Labour would order a national planning inspectorate to give priority to local authorities that want to expand if they are being blocked by neighbouring councils refusing to release land. Mr Miliband will commit the next Labour government to giving communities "use it or lose it" powers to release land that is being hoarded by developers. He is expected to say: "The next Labour government will give councils powers to charge fees or, if necessary, purchase such land, so that developers have an incentive to do what they went into business to do. We will back home builders. But we will tell land hoarders with sites that have planning permission that they must use it or lose it."
The Home Office has said that it's set to publish anti-slavery legislation proposing to bring in tougher sentences for human traffickers. The Modern Slavery Bill aims to increase the maximum custodial sentence for offenders from 14 years to life. On the Today programme, Theresa May praised Frank Field for his work on the issue.
How can residents near Heathrow be convinced about the need for an extra runway? The IEA today publishes its solution: tax cuts to allow residents to share in the benefits of extra runways. The IEA also argues that politicians should be removed from decisions on airport expansion and local communities given the final say.
There's an interesting poll in today's Indy, showing a generation gap in attitudes towards the EU. Young adults under 25 are pro-EU by eight points - compared to an anti-EU majority of 35 points among over-65s. But will the young bother actually vote in any referendum? 
So much for working together in the spirit of Christmas. Bipartisan attempts to save the Gay Hussar have failed, with a mystery bidder trumping the £175,000 offer by Lord Kinnock, Tom Watson, Lord Ashcroft and Andrew Mitchell. Former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth wasn't feeling sentimental, telling The Times diary: "The truth is, the restaurant must have failed because it failed. Old lefties don’t spend any money; they just want to sit there drinking."
Westminster has been overtaken by collective gloom in recent weeks: sleep deprivation has been for nothing, as England's Ashes has brought only humiliation. The urn could be lost today - but it's not all bad news. Thanks to Nigel Farage we now know the problem: "lack of opportunity to play cricket in many of our state schools is at the heart of this problem. Our Test team, like so many sectors of our public life, are increasingly a reflection of the private education system... How are we to build a world-beating team when we do not even attempt to ensure we have a plethora of talent to choose from?"  
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
Tom Watson has a bad Monday morning: 
@tom_watson: Walked out to winter. Missed my train to London. Forgot my bag. It never seems to happen to other MPs. Why is that?

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest 
David Aaronovitch in The Times - Segregation rules in the dominion of dirty minds
Philip Stephens in The Financial Times - Osborne joins futile quest for holy grail of economics
1430 London: Theresa May gives evidence to Home Affairs Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House
1515 London: Public Accounts Committee hearing on student loans. Martin Donnelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Mick Laverty, Chief Executive of the Student Loans Company and Luke Edwards, Deputy Director, HMRC giving evidence. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

1600 London: Sir John Major gives evidence to House of Lords committee on UK soft power. The other witness will be Tara D. Sonenshine, former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs for the US Department of State. Committee Room 1, House of Lords