Monday, 3 February 2014

Lib Dems go to war against Gove..

Good morning. In pursuit of public sector votes, the Lib Dems have decided to be cross about Michael Gove's refusal to re-appoint Sally Morgan as chairman of Ofsted. Labour has piled in behind them by trying to turn it into a conspiracy against women. Michael Dugher, taking the part of Captain Renault, has told the Guardian that there "seems to be a pattern in Whitehall where non-Conservatives are replaced by Conservatives". Such is his shock that he will write to Sir Jeremy Heywood to demand answers. According to the Times, the Lib Dems complain they were blindsided by a decision on which they were not consulted, and will now demand the right to decide who should replace Lady Morgan. She in turn has told the FT she was the victim of "a determined effort from No10" to appoint more Tories to public roles.
Despite the intervention of Sir David Bell, the former permanent secretary at the DfE, who cautions Mr Gove against surrounding himself with 'yes men' rather than 'independent voices', it's not evident that the row is picking up steam. There seems to be an understanding that a Conservative minister may occasionally choose to appoint someone who is more in tune with his party's outlook and aspirations. Labour's record of quango-packing is such that the attacks from that quarter are unlikely to get much traction. As for the education lobby, it is perceived as being genetically anti-Tory and so its criticisms too will be discounted. The row itself, I reckon, will run out of puff as the day progresses.
But that doesn't get Michael Gove off the hook. First, it will draw attention once again to how he operates inside the Coalition. Unlike most of his colleagues, the Education Secretary is not the sort to muddle along and stick to the the detail of his brief like a technocrat. He has ideas, views and an ideological outlook, and wants to promote it. However courteous he may appear, integral to his view is that he wants to smash the Lib Dems to a pulp. If they are cross, he is happy. Nothing personal, only business, and his business is to defeat the Lib Dems and work for an outright Tory victory. In so doing of course, he drives certain colleagues crazy, prompting recent accusations that his incursions cause headaches for David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Number 10 may not be wild about having another Coalition row on their hands.
Here's the interesting thing though. The Lib Dems may have misjudged this one. Admitting that they are motivated by polling showing that they could win vote among public sector workers, especially teachers, by attacking Mr Gove, is hardly admirable. Desperate, more like. And the way David Laws briefed out that he was "absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicise Ofsted" goes some way beyond the scripted discourtesies of Coalition politics. As Peter McKay rightly observes in the Mail, why not just come out and say it? Far more than the question of public appointments, this morning's saga invites some searching questions about the politics of Gove and the state of the Lib Dems.
There are a few significant announcements coming in Michael Gove's speech today, which is at the London Academy of Excellence at 1115. Mr Gove will say that he wants to end the perception of state education as "bog standard" by emulating independent schools with tougher tests (the Education Secretary will argue for "state schools to try out Common Entrance exams"), longer school days, more extra-curricular activities and better discipline. He will also announce a manifesto pledge for all state schools to get a ten hour day, The Sun reports.
Theresa May is the one that the Tory grassroots long for. Mrs May has won the ConHome leadership poll for the second month running, pipping Boris Johnson 23-22, while Michael Gove and William Hague are tied on 14% each. Few would doubt that Mrs May has enough support among Tory members to win the leadership. Her difficulty is they might not get the chance to back her: under Tory leadership rules, MPs narrow the field to two candidates before it goes to a vote of the members. And, when it comes to MPs, Mrs May is far shorter of friends than is desirable: her ostentatious courting of the leadership has not endeared her to many. Sticking with the leadership theme, the Mail on Sunday saw the leadership contest as a battle between FOGs (Friends of George) and FOBs (Friends of Boris). The Chancellor has been assidious in promoring his allies at reshuffle time, but the ConHome survey still sees his support stuck on 6%. Another good line from the ConHome survey is that 41% of Tories now favour an electoral pact with Ukip. MeanwhileNigel Farage uses his Independent column to highlight Ukip's threat to Labour's working class vote, and argue that "No one has done more to damage the BNP than me."  
The "triple lock" on pensions is often seem as emblematic of the largesse bestowed to pensioners - but it looks here to stay. The Lib Dems have joined the Conservatives and Labour in promising to protect it after the 2015 election, according to the FT, sealing a political consensus on the issue. And that means the parties will have to look elsewhere - again - to cut the welfare budget.
Spain (which fears separatism of its own), has promised not to intervene in Scotland's battle for independence. But foreign minister José-Manuel García-Margallo says that an independent Scotland would "have to resolve a mountain of problems" on EU membership. The FT also has a useful summary of what would happens if Scotland voted Yes. The European Commission doesn't expect that to happen, but it's hardly reassuring that one official says "Nobody is working on this, it’s simply not a scenario."
Defence ministers, led by Philip Hammond, fear that Labour is wobbling on Ed Miliband's backing for plans to renew Trident. The Guardian reports that Mr Hammond is telling defence ministers to lobby the shipbuilding unions after concerns that support among backbench Labour MPs is diminishing. A Whitehall source says: "Hammond clearly doesn't like what he has been hearing."
Remember all that hype about a £7 minimum wage? The FT says that it ain't gonna happen. This is the crucial passage: "There is 'no way' the Low Pay Commission, which sets the minimum wage, would sanction such a steep rise this side of the election, said one Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insider. 'We have no idea how they got to the £7 figure,' said another. 'We are baffled.'" The Chancellor "was just being cunning" mooting the raise, according to a 'senior figure'. All of which begs the question: will Mr Osborne regret raising expectations if this steep rise doesn't materialise after all? Labour, which acknowledged the tactical sense of the Chancellor's support for a significant rise, might be rather relieved.
'Vote Blue, Go Green' could be back from the political dead. The Guardian reports that the 2020 group of modernising Tory MPs will today publish a manifesto saying that environmentally friendly policies could lead toan annual £5 billion boost for the economy, and the creation of 300,000 new jobs. The 2020 group also wants to ban households from throwing away old plastic and food leftovers to help councils save £1billion a year.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
Don't say MPs have it easy:
@NiaGriffithMP: 5.28 Arriva train held back to let FirstGreatWestern overtake so passengers from West Wales miss connection to London. How mean is that
In the Telegraph  
Best of the rest 
Melanie Philips in The Times - Gove needs more allies against "un-teaching"
1115 LONDON: Education Secretary Michael Gove giving speech on education reform. London Academy of Excellence, 322 High Street, Stratford, London
1300 LONDON: Tube strike press conference. Leaders of the RMT and TSSA unions press conference ahead of two 48-hour Tube strikes. Thompsons Conference Suite, TUC HQ, Gt Russell St. London

1630 LONDON: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith gives evidence to Commons Work and Pensions Committee. Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House