Friday, 14 February 2014

Conservatives fall to third in bye-election..

Good morning. Labour will be celebrating today after a comfortable hold in the Wynthenshawe and Sale East by-election. Here are the results in full:
Labour 13,261 votes - 55.34%
Ukip 4,301 votes - 17.95%
Conservatives 3,479 votes - 14.52%
Lib Dems 1,176 votes - 4.91%
Others - Green 748 votes - 3.12%; BNP 708 votes - 2.95%; Monster Raving Loony 288 votes - 1.20%
Labour will feel vindicated for choosing a local candidate (Mike Kane) and will see the result as proof of the potential of Arnie Graf's community organising techniques. For Ukip, the result is a reminder of how far the party has to come. The party increased its share of the vote by five times from 2010, and coming second is another sign of progress, but this barely constitutes a bloody nose for Labour, let alone a genuine scare - even if it's worth emphasising that Wynthenshawe and Sale East is nowhere near being one of Ukip's top target seats. Ukip's great problem was its lack of local councillors. While Labour has built up a formidable electioneering machine over decades, Ukip was effectively starting one from scratch. "They breeze into a constituency where they’ve got no established relationships, no councillors, no organisation", as Mike Kane said. "Then they will breeze out next week." Ukip's performance in the local elections will tell us much more about its general election prospects than its showing in the European elections.
For both Coalition partners, this was a uniformly grim night. The Conservatives lost 11% of its vote share from 2010 and seemed a minimal presence on the ground. But while coming third at Eastleigh last year caused reverberations in the party, this third-place showing will barely cause a ripple. For the Lib Dems, things were even worse: their vote fell 18%, and, despite saying that they couldn't, they even lost their deposit. It's the ninth time the Lib Dems have lost their deposit since the general election.    
Whether it was a great night for British democracy is another matter. Turnout was a derisory 28.4%, with even this number being boosted by a large number of postal votes.  
The floods continue to dominate the Government's preoccupations. Ministers have completed an application for natural disaster relief from the European Union's solidarity fund. Patrick McLoughlin said "all the avenues" were being explored. The FT details that after floods in 2007 Britain received £127m in flood relief form the EU. The idea of Britain going cap in hand to Brussels for cash may make some eurosceptics twitch. Equally, it might delight them if it means getting some of 'our money' back. By some measure it could be counted as repatriated foreign aid (the Mail's campaign is pushing towards 200,000 signatures). Mr Cameron needs to make good his "money no object" promise, so it makes pragmatic sense to tap up the EU if funds are available. It may look momentarily awkward given the Tory internal dynamics on Europe, but good luck to any Tory who wants to stand up and publicly reject the money. Mr Cameron also intervened (after what was paraded on Twitter as confusion in No 10 communications) to ask councils not to charge householders for sandbags (£30 for 4 apparently!). Meanwhile, another 1,000 homes are expected to be flooded as we get a month's rain in two days.
Worth noting Isabel Hardman's column. She reports on Boris Johnson's appearance before the Cameroon 301 Group of Tory MPs on Tuesday night. "It was billed as the next step on his path back to Parliament. But it didn’t quite electrify the party. One MP said some of Boris’s comments, including that Nigel Farage should be included in the televised leaders’ debates in 2015, didn’t go down particularly well. Another muttered that it was 'pretty standard stuff'," she reports, adding: "But it’s interesting that among that small group of Conservative MPs who pitched up on Tuesday, several were from the awkward squad in the party. One attendee dismissed them as 'the unpopular kids from school'. Others observe that Boris is enjoying a great deal of traction with disaffected MPs such as Anne Main and Jonathan Djanogly."
In its main leader this morning the FT concludes that the Con-Lab-LD triple whammy on Scotland the pound has called Alex Salmond's bluff. By playing "hardball", George Osborne has delivered "a critical moment in the battle to save the UK". We've got the detail of the Chancellor's Edinburgh speech here if you missed it. Or you could just read Michael Deacon's pithy summary of the SNP's strategy: "What the SNP really wanted was a nominal, sentimental kind of independence, one that consisted largely of crowing about freedom from their stuck-up neighbours, without having to do anything so scary or difficult as living without their stuck-up neighbours’ currency."
A startling finding in the FT: 860,000 more public sector jobs are expected to be lost before 2018-19, with only 240,000 of the planned 1.1 million job cuts having so far taken place, according to an IFS report.  What's more, if health and education continue to be protected from cuts, the police and military could have to shed up to 40 per cent of their workers. Women now make up two-thirds of the public sector and, because of the nature of these cuts, that would only be likely to increase, making it even harder for Dave to rectify his women problem.
Tory MPs are dishing out advice on how to get more female MPs into Parliament. In The Times, Brooks Newmark, the co-founder of Women to Win, calls on men to help female candidates get elected, likening it to men in the suffragette movement. In The Guardian, Caroline Spelman calls on there to be a 50:50 gender split in shortlists, and doesn't rule out all-female lists in some cases. But is this all too late for 2015? Fewer than three in 10 new candidates selected to stand are women.
Whatever happened to Nick Clegg's calls for the "biggest shake-up of our democracy" since the Great Reform Act? The Indy reports that David Cameron and George Osborne have refused to allow proposals for voters to recall MPs to make the Queen's speech, despite Mr Clegg's support. The Tory leadership has thus avoided an unwelcome row with its backbenchers. But it does beg the question: what is there left to legislate on this Parliament?  
Theresa Villiers says that we want to stay in the EU: "I just don't think Britain is dashing for the exit door." After the balance of competences review, it'll be taken as another sign that the Establishment is uniting behind Britain remaining in Europe - and Ukip will reckon that it leaves plenty of scope to out Euro-sceptic the Tories in the European elections.
Nick Clegg isn't giving any ground over Lord Rennard. The Lib Dem leader is refusing to reinstate him to the party, despite Lord Rennard's legal threats, and has reiterated his calls for an apology. But Mr Clegg will despair at the story on the FT's front page: a prominent Indian backer of the Lib Dems and his son have been arrested as part of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into alleged bribery by Rolls-Royce in Indonesia and China.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

Latest YouGov poll: Con 33%, Lab 39%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 9%


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - When the storms have passed, we must start dredging the quangos
Telegraph View - The CPS’s dilemma
Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times - Yakety-yak doesn’t give power to the people
Philip Stephens in The Financial Times - How to find the needle in Snowden’s haystack


5pm Speech by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. London School of Economics.