Friday, 7 February 2014

Cameron v Salmond

Good morning. David Cameron will read out his love letter to Scotland later on, at the Olympic park in Stratford. Is he an asset or a liability in the debate about the Union? That's the question that has troubled those working out how best to fight Alex Salmond. Mr Cameron is an instinctive Unionist, with an admirable record of speaking in favour of both the Union and Scotland. Recall how as opposition leader he resisted the clamour from the opportunist Englanders in his ranks to let Scotland go. He had no truck with the argument that said England and the Tories would be better off without Scotland and its masses of Labour MPs. Particularly, Mr Cameron rejected calls for Scotland in the Union to be penalised financially: he recognised the role of the Barnett formula and refused to parrot the language of subsidy junkies etc that some of his colleagues favoured. His record, and his job, surely give him permission to speak and be heard?
Up to a point. As he reminded MPs last month, he understands all too well that his appeal as a southern Tory toff who loves Scotland for the stalking is limited in Scotland. His family may be Scots in origin, but in the poisonous post-Thatcher politics of Scotland he embodies pretty much everything Scots have been told to despise by their politicians, SNP and Labour. Alistair Darling, who runs the Better Together campaign, has long recognised the danger of English voices being heard to tell Scots what's good for them. It isn't that the English don't have a legitimate right to be heard, it's what they might say that has made the No camp anxious. Warnings of economic armageddon and accusations of fiscal irresponsibility get the hackles up, as does anything that smacks of suggesting that Scotland couldn't make a decent fist of independence. A bit like the suggestion that the rest of the UK might have be allowed a vote too on the question of its future, Scotland's instinct is quite naturally to bridle at anything that looks like meddling.
The Times leads with 'Olympic effort to save the Union', the FT have splashed it 'Cameron's dramatic plea for Scots to keep Britain united', the Sun picks up on his theme '7 months to save the UK'. It's the beginning of a more concentrated effort by Mr Cameron, as he has been urged by senior figures to get involved. Some of them worry that Mr Darling is not a charismatic enough figure. Mr Cameron is the Prime Minister of the UK and so should be the foremost voice on the risk it faces. He wants the rest of the UK to use its voice, regardless of party, to urge Scotland to stay. Which is why Dame Tessa Jowell, daughter of Aberdeen and former Labour minister, has been deployed by No10 to talk up the speech this morning. So here we have two clear strands to the debate: the consequences of independence for Scotland, and the consequences of Scottish independence for the rest of the Union. Mr Cameron today is highlighting the latter, but I fear Scots voters may not be overly troubled by what happens to those left behind. It is the former that will decide how Scotland votes, regardless of the voices heard in the campaign.
Michael Gove was on the Telegram podcast yesterday (listen here) when he attacked Nick Clegg's split personality. "Good Nick, the angel on one shoulder, is saying: ‘What Gove is doing is socially progressive, socially mobile, and in tune with good old Gladstonian principles’." Unfortunately there's another Nick to contend with: "Wicked Nick, sitting on his other shoulder, is saying ‘Yes! But some of your more radical activists dislike it, so pander to them’." It's an appropriate end to a week that has seen differentiation at every turn. Fraser Nelson says that "The Coalition has, to all intents and purposes, ended. The Lib Dems have gone back into opposition mode – except they want to oppose from inside government." The answer "is for the Lib Dems to leave government, and oppose the Tories as much as they like from the back benches – offering no more support than is needed to keep things going until the election." Many may disagree with that solution, but another 15 months of Coalition bickering as relentless as that seen this week would seem intolerable, and ultimately risk damaging both partners.
In case you missed it, I wrote a bit about David Cameron and women on my blog late yesterday, Three points: Dave isn't a feminist; the Tories' main failure on the issue is the lack of anyone senior who promotes the interests of women with the determination of Harriet Harman; Wednesday's PMQs clanger was an avoidable mistake by the No10 machine.

There's a mystery bug sweeping through the Cabinet. Eric Pickles, Maria Miller, Owen Paterson and Sayeeda Warsi have all been struck down. What's to blame? Cabinet meetings, apparently. "The room is sound proof, so it's a sealed atmosphere, and a lot of people are packed in there for long periods of time", a source tells The Sun. Conspiracists will note that all four of those to fall foul to the bug are Tories.
The Sun twists the knife into Vince this morning. It has a mock-up postal stamp of Mr Cable on its front page (second class, in case you wondered) and says "This man has cost you £1 billion", and 18,7000 nurses could have been employed with the lost cash. 21 City banks all valued Royal Mail at more than the 330p each share was sold for. Michael Fallon might be relieved to have escaped any of The Sun's scrutiny for his role.
By-election fever hasn't really taken off. Perhaps that's because the result seems so certain: Lord Ashcroft's poll of Wythenshawe & Sale East gives Labour a 46-point lead over the competition. There isn't exactly a Ukip surge, but Ukip is edging out the Tories into second place (it leads 15-14), which would mean that it has come second in five of the last six by-elections. No wonder that Peter Hain has publicly voiced his concern about Ukip: "We are in a four-party fight. Anyone who does not understand that is living on another planet. I don’t think anybody in the Westminster bubble should underestimate the depth of that disaffection against all of us, of whatever party." In private other Labour MPs have been saying similar things for a while, and The Indy's leader says that "Mr Hain is right about his party neglecting its white working-class traditional support." Tim Wigmore explores Ukip campaigning strategies, and how the party is learning from an unlikely source - the Lib Dems - as it tries to win its first MP.
Helen Grant, who's in charge of managing the World War One centenary, has written that there should be no "dancing in the street" or "triumphant fanfares" over Britain's victory. The sting seems to have been taken out of the row, with Tristram Hunt pleased there has been a change in tone from the Government.
Chris Grayling has popped up again with another intervention that will play well with the Right. Mr Grayling's target is a familiar one: the BBC, who he attacks for its "left-leaning and metropolitan" bias, which is so ingrained that it shows in the "throwaway lines" in its dramas. The Justice Secretary has been increasingly noisy of late. Is there a game plan behind his posturing?
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

No fun:
@Greg Hands: Not good on 1st day back. RT@districtline: There are severe delays Putney Bridge to Wimbledon while we fix a signal failure at Wimbledon.


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - The Lib Dems are revolting, so why not just let them go?

Jeremy Warner - Look to your jobs – the robots are coming

Isabel Hardman - Cameron could do more to give women a helping hand

David Cameron speech on the importance of Scotland to the UK. Olympic Park, Stratford.

10am Hacking trial continues as the prosecution case draws to a close.

11.30am NIESR press conference to discuss analysis of economic impact of Scottish independence