Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cameron loses to Farage from the sidelines..

Good morning. Nigel Farage will be delighted by last night, and by this morning's coverage. He's given the win, thanks to a snap YouGov poll in the Sun, which favoured him over Nick Clegg by 57pc to 36pc (we should note that LBC's reaction tracker "worm" during the debate was less decisive). The YouGov margin is "convincing" to the Times, "decisive" to the Guardian. The Mail doesn't qualify the win, but headlines "First blood to Farage". The Sun declares: "Nigel fries Clegg for breakfast - he wins TV debate". The Telegraph concludes that both men will be happy with the event, which has "whetted the appetite for similar televised clashes in the general election campaign next year". That said, the coverage is a touch muted: the Guardian and Times use pictures of the two on their fronts, but there's no mention of it on p1 of the Sun, Mirror, Mail or - even - the Express. Quentin Letts had it right: "This was an interesting duel. And as can happen in duels, neither combatant sustained anything more than a glancing flesh wound. Both live to delight us another day."
The more detailed coverage carries some worrying points for Mr Farage though. He won't like the Times riff on the buffoon who managed not to fall off the stage. Or Michel Deacon's observation that he shone - because he sweated. The Guardian records the "surprise" in the spin room, where opinion "appeared to come down on the side of Clegg". The spin room was noticeable not just for Kay Burley's walk and talk heroics, but for who turned up to do the spinning, particularly on the Tory side. Andrew Mitchell, Peter Bone and John Redwood were on hand to lend their insights, which rather neatly captures the problem David Cameron faces. His absence from the fray leaves a vacuum, and he has no control over who will fill it for him. He may judge that too few will have tuned in for it to matter, but those that did will have heard Tory voices that might not necessarily talk Mr Cameron's language.
In my column this week I suggested that far from the win-win outcome Downing Street imagined, the debate could be a lose-lose for the Tories. If Mr Farage is accepted to have won last night, what might that mean? Tory activists fighting Ukip in marginals will have watched and, I suggest, tugged at their hair in despair, knowing that his performance will have helped the Ukip cause. Tory MPs too will be anxious, as Ukip successes underscore their anxieties about Mr Cameron. He has launched a debate on Britain's place in Europe, but is leaving it to others for the moment. He says he believes Britain should stay in the EU, but is not doing much to make the case. As I argued on my blog last night, it is possible to lose from the sidelines.
For a quick recap of the debate you can watch Matthew Holehouse's video analysis here.
Immigration isn't only in the papers for its prominence in the Clegg-Farage debate. The Times splashes with how Dave is being pressurised to follow Angela Merkel's lead. A German government panel yesterday proposed that EU migrants should be removed if they failed to find work within three months, and Tory backbenchers, including Nigel Mills, Dominic Raab and David Davis, have already called on the PM to do something similar in Britain; Conservatives will be intrigued that more can be done to address concerns on immigration without particularly upsetting other countries in the EU. Meanwhile the FT reports on an ingenious new way of reducing net migration: fiddle the figures. Theresa May believes net migration could be cut by 19,000 through shortening visas for foreign employees by as little as one day, which will avoid designating them as migrants. The danger, of course, is such a nakedly political move could backfire. But with the latest figures showing net migration in 212,000, Mrs May's attempts to reduce the figure to a little closer to the "tens of thousands" target are understandable.
BIG SIX UNDER THE COSHThe energy market is dominating much of the coverage on Today this morning, with the announcement that Ofgem have made their first full investigation into whether the Big Six are impeding competition. Dermot Nolan, the OfGem chief executive, told Today: "We've done a long study of the market and found competition is not working as well for consumers as it should be." Labour MPs are already flooding Twitter to argue that this amounts to vinidcation for Ed Miliband. In fact, it gives Mr Cameron an opportunity to argue that a price freeze is pointless when we don't know what the outcome of the two year referral process will be. On Today, Centrica's Sam Laidlaw said that "If we have this inquiry and it re-establishes trust in the sector, that can only be good" but he also warned that there would be an "increasing risk" of blackouts due to the competition probe. Perhaps not the wisest PR move.


Dave yesterday announced - with "regret" - that plans to relax the hunting ban are likely to be abandoned, with the Liberal Democrats being blamed. The Coalition Agreement promised a free Commons vote on whether to retain the hunting ban, but there's still no sign of a timetable. Shire Tories will be livid.
MAKE YOUR MIND UP, BOJOPaul Goodman takes to the Guardian to plead with Boris to make his mind up, once and for all, over whether he's standing at the next general election. What exactly, is taking Boris so long? Simple: "the mayor simply does not want to serve under Cameron." This leaves him with an awkward dilemma: "If he doesn't stand, he may miss out on a leadership election; but if he does, that contest may not happen."
Iain Duncan Smith last night branded Ed Miliband's backing for the welfare cap as a "scam" and called on him to "immediately" outline what cuts Labour would make to ensure the budget was kept within the legal cap. Mr Miliband yesterday voted for the welfare cap, which means that welfare spending cannot rise above inflation from its current level of £119.5 billion until 2020. The measure was passed by 520 votes to 22, but there were some significant dissident voices: 13 Labour MPs opposed the cap, including former frontbenchers Tom Watson and Diane Abbott. In the Times, Jenni Russell says that Mr Miliband's inner circle "is private, secretive, centralised and controlled" and the Labour leader is alienating too many people in his party. In the New Statesman, Rafael Behr argues that "Labour’s problem is that, when the Conservative attacks are constant, Miliband’s silences are too long and too loud."
The FT sheds light on the links between the British establishment and the Russian business world. Lord Mandelson, Lord Owen and the Tory MP Charles Hendry are among those with lucrative paid links. But the piece pays particular attention to Lord Skidelsky, who has a directorship with Rusnano Capital, which aims to attract investment into nano-tech projects in Russia, and has advocated Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine being given the chance to break away from Kiev.
SCOTS DON'T TRUST GEORGEGeorge Osborne may be at ease in a bingo hall, but Scots think that he's bluffing when it comes to ruling out a currency union. The Times finds that only 40% believe Mr Osborne's assertion that the rest of the UK would reject a currency deal. There's also bad news for the head of the Better Together campaign: only 28% of Scots trust Alistair Darling, compared with 61% who do not.
The Education Secretary is edging nearer to No 10. 4,000 ft closer, to be exact. As The Times diary reports, the Department for Education is moving into the Old Admiralty Building, which is being vacated by the Foreign Office, after the general election. The building has plenty of history to inspire Michael Gove: the Government sent its telegram declaring war on Germany from there in 1914, and Ian Fleming developed James Bond when he worked there in World War Two.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  

Latest YouGov poll: Con 35%, Lab 37%, Ukip 11%; Lib Dems 9%
@AnneMiltonMPThoughts of a seat a distant dream - even a place to stand feels like an significant achievement @SW_Trains
In the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - There’s a quiet rebellion under way against bossy government
Sue Cameron - The man who believed in being ruthless with the NHS
Dan Hodges - We saw the worst of Farage and the best of Clegg
Telegraph View - Clegg v Farage: no knock-out blow, but an important debate
Best of the rest
Jenni Russell - Aloof Miliband is alienating his own support
Paul Goodman - Boris Johnson's will-he-won't-he show risks derailing his party
Rafael Behr - The sound of Labour silence: Miliband can’t rely on the Tories to keep hurting Cameron for him
Chris Giles - Caution is the byword for squeezed UK
David Cameron talks with Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong, at No 10 Downing Street.

Pensions minister Steve Webb announcement on pension charges.

Some changes to give people more flexibility over their pension pots announced in the Budget come into force today. They include the overall amount of pension wealth you can take as a lump sum being increased from £18,000 to £30,000. 

10am Boris Johnson speech to London Infrastructure Summit. King's Place,90 York Way, London.

11am Funeral of Tony Benn. Mr Benn's funeral will take place opposite parliament at St Margaret's Church after his body is taken by hearse from the gates of New Palace Yard, with family members following on foot. St Margaret's Church, Westminster.

1130am London Mayor Boris Johnson appear before the London Assembly Police & Crime committee.