Good morning (and a particularly fraternal one to Guido Paul). How do the Tories earn credit for the recovery? Yesterday's remarkable employment figures have left Conservatives scratching their heads over a dilemma that grows with every new piece of economic good news: where is the growth dividend? To the extent that one can discern anything useful, the polls tell us that the gap between the two main parties has narrowed slightly. They also suggest that it is Labour that has seen its support dissipate as Ed Miliband's cost of living attack collides with the reality of slowly improving circumstances. The Tories though are stuck. Senior figures speak of the doldrums. The party's projected vote share for the general election is nowhere near what it needs it to be. To adapt the old saw, oppositions don't lose elections, governments have to win them. At PMQs yesterday David Cameron laid into Ed Miliband and his economic record with his customary vigour. His line about the arsonist complaining that the fire brigade isn't doing enough is familiar and resonates. But so does Mr Miliband's familiar lament about Bullingdon toffs being out of touch with the rest of the country.
The Times suggests that senior figures in the City are increasingly worried about Mr Miliband's 'irrational and unpredictable policies' and worry that Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna are unable to rein him in. One FTSE chief exec told the Times: 'Ed Miliband doesn't give a toss about business.' That may be because many voters don't either, of course, and as a good populist the Labour leader knows his audience.
But the Tories can't rely on a growing chorus of complaints about Mr Miliband from whatever quarter. Earlier this week I suggested that the Tories had become adept at whacking Labour wherever it tried to gain an advantage. But so far there is little evidence that the Tories have put together a - sorry to use the word - narrative. I get the impression that this hole in the operation is obvious to many in Downing Street and that thought is being given to how better to promote Mr Cameron and to 'humanise' the Tory message. At the moment it's considered as too dry and dominated by economics, when - it is felt - it should be about people and what the Coalition's work so far has done for them. It's about time you might say. The Tories are enjoying beating up Mr Miliband, and relish seeing the Lib Dems sunk in a mess of sex claims. But they also know that they must urgently come up with a formula that turns Britain's economic recovery into a story of success for Mr Cameron and his party, a story good enough to persuade the voters not only not to go back to Labour, but to give the Tories another go, with or without the Lib Dems.
IT GETS EVEN WORSE FOR CLEGG
Nick Clegg might have thought his party had hit rock bottom. If he did, he was wrong. With the Rennard scandal rumbling unceremoniously on -Alistair Carmichael hasn't helped by warning the party against "washing its dirty linen in public" and calling for immediate mediation to end the dispute - the Lib Dems have a new sex scandal to contend with. Mike Hancock, the MP for Portsmouth South, has been suspended by the partyafter being accused of making "unwelcome sexual approaches" to a vulnerable constituent. The Lib Dems risk gaining a perception as a women-free zone - only seven of their 57 MPS are women. Mr Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, was out in force yesterday, and gave an interview to The Times in which she said that many leading private schools turn out "unimpressive" young men who can't speak any foreign languages.
Peter Oborne says that the Conservatives need the Lib Dem vote to hold up to have a good chance of remaining in government: "Tory strategists have already started to ponder ways of rescuing Mr Clegg from a mire that is partly of his own creation – such as handing the increasingly beleaguered Lib Dem leader some ostentatious Cabinet victories. For Mr Cameron, the alternative is dire: that the next general election turns into a hand-to-hand battle between Labour and the Tories over Nick Clegg’s corpse, with Ukip the grinning joker in the wings." Mr Clegg could be forgiven for needing cheering up, and The Times diary does its best: at a conference yesterday, Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn were asked who they thought would be in power after the next election. As one, they blurted out: "The Lib Dems."
IDS: MAKING BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN?
Iain Duncan Smith has never been lacking in criticism but he will see the buoyant new jobs figures as further evidence that his benefit reforms are changing. This is the crucial line from the Monetary Policy Committee's minutes: "tightening in the eligibility requirements for some state benefits might have led to an intensification of job search". In a speech at the Centre for Social Justice today, Mr Duncan Smith will say that his welfare reforms will "make Britain great again" but will also warn of the hidden "ghettos" of long-term unemployment that still exist and will pledge to transform lives by "lifting people up". We say that "Mr Duncan Smith’s ambition is to return to the original spirit of the Beveridge Report." Meanwhile, Steve Webb will confirm today that the Government will delay plans to introduce a cap on pensions charges by a year, which won't leave savers feeling very pleased.
Whatever criticism can be thrown at Ed Miliband, being rude is not one of them. And he's been lavishing more attention on Tory backbenchers than Dave, according to a Times report. "Ultimately, Ed is just a much nicer guy than Dave", according to one Tory MP. After the death of Margaret Thatcher last year, Ed sent a handwritten letter of condolence to Conor Burns, who was close to her.
Is there a secret Tory dining club for devotees of Beethoven? Was the London Phil running an "Intro to Classical" night for Tory MPs? The stalls at the Royal Festival Hall were packed with Conservative members to hear a terrific LPO programme of Bach, Hartmann and Beethoven. I spotted Owen Paterson (no doubt improving his Europeanness, just in case), Graham Brady, John Hayes, Tim Loughton, Anne McIntosh, Desmond Swayne and others. The clue may be in the title of the programme: Champions of Freedom.
BUYING ACCESS TO THE PM
The Mail has a report on cash for access to Dave. It says that the Leader's Group of major donors to the Conservative Party, which provides direct access to David Cameron in return for donations of at least £50,000 a year, has given over £43 million to the party since 2001. 72 members of the group have dined privately with Mr Cameron and other senior ministers in the past 18 months. Tamasin Cave, of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, described it as "straight up cash for access of the type that we’ve got very used to in this country. A seat at these dinner parties provides these businessmen with a private space in which to discuss their concerns, whether its taxes, regulation or policy. They’re not just social occasions."
MORE ARMY CUTS
The Tory Right won't be impressed: it's been confirmed that a further 1,400 jobs are to be cut from the Armed Forces, including about 350 Gurkhas, the Guardian reports: it will be the fourth round of army redundancies. Robert Gates's warning that cutting defence spending would reduce Britain's international influence has obviously fallen on deaf ears.
HUNT WANTS CULTURE CHANGE
Jeremy Hunt will use a speech today to call for a "culture change" in the NHS. Mr Hunt will say that patients should be treated "like people", not body parts, and will say that "whole-stay doctors" should take charge of a patient’s entire period in hospital – rather than pass them from one consultant to another. It's a further example of Mr Hunt's determination to be seen to take on vested interests, and side with the interests of consumers over producers; James Forsyth's column on the subject is worth a read. The Health Secretary's admiration for what Michael Gove has done is well known.
PAYMENT BY RESULTS
A new report by the Institute for Government suggests that payment by results may be harming the social sector’s ability to help most vulnerable. It finds that social sector organisations can deliver high quality outcomes for users of complex services, like drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but their size makes them more vulnerable to financial risk compared to larger providers.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Even Nadine is happy:
@NadineDorriesMP: Jobs, new jobs, everywhere. 1700 in my constituency 1000 in Pboro and unemployment now at a 5 year low. Jobs = security =happy families
In the Telegraph
Sue Cameron - Ed Miliband's lordly wreckers aren’t holding back
Polling Observatory - The Tories are edging closer to defeat
Telegraph View - Iain Duncan Smith's policies on welfare are working
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in The Times - Goodbye bongo-bongo land, hello NewKIP
Stephen Glover in The Daily Mail - If they want voters to love them, the Tories really must stop hating themselves
James Forsyth in The Spectator - Jeremy Hunt is doing a good job in reducing the political salience of health care
Robert Shrimsley in The Financial Times - Davos 2014: Another day on Deficit StreetDavos 2014: Another day on Deficit Street
David Cameron arrives at World Economic Forum, Davos. Speech at 9.30am on Friday.
9.30am Publication of secondary school GCSE and A-level performance tables for England.
9.30am Quarterly crime statistics to be released on ONS website.