Monday, 17 February 2014

Would Clegg do a deal with Miliband..

Good morning. Would Nick Clegg really do a deal with Ed Miliband? His musings in a radio documentary to be broadcast tonight are taken as a spot of deliberate flirtation. He claims to have noticed that Labour is showing interest in power sharing, and says the Lib Dems in Coalition with Labour would "not break the bank". The Tories, by contrast, have turned more ideological since entering government, and he urges them to "rediscover a talent for actually talking to mainstream voters about mainstream concerns." His intervention has been reported across the papers, on the front in the case of the GuardianIndy and Times - "Clegg raises prospect of Lib Dem deal", "Clegg hints at Lib/Lab pact", "Labour is moving in our direction, says Clegg" - and has got air time on Today. It's a distinct shift in position. Mr Clegg has mused about a rapprochement with Labour before but this is more explicit. In the past he and his colleagues have been critical of Labour's economic record, pointing out the party has never shown remorse for it mistakes, and still cannot be trusted with the economy. This time the criticism is tempered. Mr Clegg's attack on the Tories, specifically his point that the experience of government has somehow changed them, is telling. If they are different, are they therefore no longer suitable partners for the Lib Dems?
Should we believe any of it? The mistake, I suggest, is to treat this three-way relationship as just that, a relationship, with Nick Clegg as a bit of a slapper enraging the boyfriend by flirting with the geek at the bar. Far better to see it as what it is, a calculated manoeuvre to keep options open after polling day next year. Tories too often delude themselves into thinking that it is inconceivable that Mr Clegg might do a deal with Mr Miliband. They point to the bad blood between the parties, Labour's pathological loathing of power-sharing, and the dire consequences reputationally for a party that flips from right to left to stay in power. But that's precisely the point: Mr Clegg has been consistent and clear for some time that his objective is to maintain the Lib Dems in power with whichever party will cut a deal. He considers that his responsibility is to keep the Lib Dems in play, and in a position to bring their moderating influence (his terms) to bear on whichever of the major parties is in power. Tories should see it for what it is, cold-eyed positioning. Come the day after polling day, all bets are off and all past remarks are erased. Mr Clegg will do a deal, with Labour. Or with the Tories. That's his point.
There's another thought worth retaining from this. Mr Clegg's willingness to praise Labour and attack the Tories speaks to another issue confronting the Conservatives, which was underscored by last week's by-election. As those Tory MPs who fear the party is doomed will keep telling you, David Cameron is presiding over the fracturing of the Right and the uniting of the left. What will trouble Downing Street and CCHQ as they ponder what to do about Nigel Farage, is yet more evidence the parties of the Left are reaching out for each other.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, popped up on the Marr Show yesterday to deliver another blow to Scotland's hopes of joing the EU, saying that it would be "very difficult, if not impossible" for Scotland to get the agreement of all EU states to join the bloc, largely because of Spain's reluctance to do anything to make the separation of Caralonia more likely. Mr Barroso's splash get a lot of coverage in this morning's papers, with our "Scottish EU bid would fail" capturing the mood. In its leader, The Times twists the knife: "again and again in the independence campaigners’ arguments, there are indications that hard questions have not been thought through." Not that Alex Salmond believes any of it: in a speech today, Mr Salmond will declare that "the pound is as much Scotland's as the rest of the UK" and say that the three main parties' attempts to deny this "are reaping a backlash from the ordinary people of Scotland, who feel this is an attempt to bully Scotland ahead of the democratic choice we all look forward to this September."
There's been a backlash to Ed Miliband's Observer interview linking the floods to climate change. Lord Levy, Labour's former chief fundraiser, accuses Mr Miliband of "scoring cheap political points"; similarly, a No 10 source says: "We are 100 per cent focused on helping people who are flooded, not on trying to make political points off the back of the crisis." On Marr yesterday, Philip Hammond said that climate change was "clearly a factor" in the floods: a significant position from one of the Government's most high-profile Right-wingers.
Ukip has "maxed out" the number of Conservatives that the party can attract, Patrick O'Flynn, Ukip's communications director has admitted. Patrick said that Ukip was now targeting "blue-collar, disenchanted former Labour voters" as the party's potential for growth. Behind the wind-up, the real significance is that Ukip knows that it needs to broaden its appeal to challenge for seats next year.
Maria Miller is in a spot of bother. The criticism of Mrs Miller by the expenses watchdog for claiming over £90,000 in taxpayers' funds for a second home lived in by her parents gets plenty of coverage in today's papers (we cite it on our front page; the Mail devotes it a whole page, ending with a pointed reference to David Laws' resignation over expenses in 2010). Making it all more tricky, as the Mail notes, is that this would be a terribly inopportune time for Dave to lose one of his few female Cabinet ministers. 
There's plenty of talk about Esther McVey's chances of promotion doing the rounds (with her chances of replacing Grant Shapps as Tory chairman being particularly talked up) so it's worth noting our interview with her. Ms Mcvey ("Marriage never came my way. I don’t know why") rejects the idea of quotas for women, and asks "are women in their forties really suited to politics? It needs to fit in with your lifestyle. That’s hard when, Monday nights, you can be in Parliament until 11pm, and you have to be totally dedicated." She also insists that she has no aspirations to replace Mr Shapps: "If I was offered it now, I would have to say no. I do not know anywhere near enough. What do they say? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s important to know what you can do and what you can’t."
There's a salutary reminder to Tories of the challenge winning over ethnic minority voters in the FT, with a Cabinet minister quoted saying that the gulf between the governing Tories and British minority ethnic voters is the "biggest challenge" the Conservatives face. There are also some party tips from the Conservative community engagement guide. The crux is simple: if the Tories don't transform their standing with ethnic minorities, then they face defeat by demographics. Tim Wigmore explains why the row over stop-and-search could be pivotal in the context of the next election and beyond: "Over the next 40 years, the percentage of the electorate that are from ethnic minorities will more than double."
Justine Greening has implored Whitehall departments to stop wasting the aid budget by giving funds to wealthy countries. "British taxpayers rightly expect all overseas development aid, irrespective of the spending department, to be high quality and well targeted," Mrs Greening wrote in a letter to ministers. "All departments need to make sure they are delivering this and show they are meeting the OECD eligibility criteria."
The FT reveals why the mooted raise in the minimum wage to £7 an hour looks to have been scraped: it would cost an estimated 14,000 jobs according to the Treasury's own analysis. David Skleton reckons that "The Tories must not let their opponents take the mantle of helping the low paid; they need to show they’re acting to help people who are struggling because their wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living since 2004." But if raising the minimum wage isn't the answer, then what is?
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

Latest YouGov poll: Con 32%, Lab 39%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 9%
@andrewpercy: Far as I'm concerned, Scotland can keep the EU membership card in any divorce, we'll keep sterling instead.


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Riding my broken bike is like working with the Lib Dems
Best of the rest

The Times leader - Costs of Separation

0900 GLASGOW: Edward Snowden in vote for Glasgow University rector
1000 EDINBURGH: Better Together leader Alistair Darling will discuss the impact of Scottish independence on currency. He will be joined by a small group, including business people and trade unionists, in a coffee shop. Piecebox Cafe, 2 Polwarth Crescent
** 1100 ABERDEEN: Alex Salmond speech on currency. The First Minister will speak at a Business for Scotland event, where he is expect to respond to Chancellor George Osborne's recent speech on currency and an independent Scotland. Marcliffe Hotel, North Deeside Road

1730 CAMBRIDGE: European Commssion vice-president Viviane Reding speech. Commisioner Reding will deliver the 2014 Mackenzie-Stuart Lecture: "Great Britain and the EU: Inevitably Drifting Apart?" Centre for European Legal Studies, University of Cambridge.10 West Road