Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Labour rows..

Good morning. Another bad round of headlines for Ed Miliband. Just about everyone has some version of Miliband under pressure: "Labour MPs urge Miliband to change tune" in the FT, Miliband under pressure to end 'the old politics'", in the Guardian (with a traditional Polly Toynbee exhortation to him to "be bold"). The Mail is "Miliband faces revolt…." and mentions "Labour civil war" in the intro. The Sun is more original: "Up leadership creek - Labour hit by Ed-ache". In the Telegraph it's "Miliband faces MPs rebellion", a reference to those MPs who won't join him in voting for the Government's welfare cap tomorrow.
The Times says there's a row between Douglas Alexander and Jon Cruddas over the manifesto. More broadly the papers report on various expressions of backbench grumbling, and the latest evidence that the polls are closing. It's all grist to the Tory mill, of course. Downing Street intends to focus its efforts on the economy. On the back of the Budget, the Tories reckon they are at their strongest talking about their success at getting the recovery going, and believe that talking about the economy serves to highlight Labour's inadequacies. What they are really hoping for, though, is more of what we see this morning. David Cameron believes Mr Miliband is in for a lengthy period of scrutiny as the media begin to focus on the Opposition. He hopes that everyone else will notice what he believes is the glaring hole in the Labour offer: that Mr Miliband has a series of observations about the economy, but no overarching story to tell about what he would do if he was in charge. "He's worked out that people have found it tough since 2008. Well done. Congratulations. Full marks. We spotted that a while ago and have done lots about it," is how one member of Team Cameron put it to me yesterday. If it is the case that we are settling in for a period of Labour internal turmoil provoked by George Osborne's Excocet Budget, then we will indeed look back at it as a telling moment of the Parliament.

Almost as if by accident, Dave has earned the Mail's approval. In a Q and A session, the PM voiced his concern about what could only be described as the creep of inheritance tax. The result is the Mail's splash: "I will act on death taxes" (and 'Will' is underlined just incase the message isn't clear enough). Mr Cameron said that inheritance tax was "something we’ll have to address in our manifesto" and said that it "should only really be paid by the rich – it shouldn’t be paid by people who’ve worked hard and saved and who bought a family house." In the short-term, many will welcome the words as a way of winning back grey votes hurt by low interest rates, many of whom may have been tempted to vote for Ukip. Yet the serious point is a more prosaic one: we are barely halfway through austerity. Can the Conservatives afford tax-cutting promises without storing up problems for tomorrow? And, given that something similar was promised before 2010, there may also be a trust issue. A Labour shadow cabinet member says it's all "odd" and mocks the PM's suggestion as: "Inheritance Tax...again: 'This time, it's serious' ".

In the Mail, Ephraim Hardcastle, having already explained the measures that the Chancellor is undertaking to restore youthful vim to his hair, has another update on how George Osborne is getting himself into shape. As if to celebrate the public backing of Felicity Kendal and Simon Callow for tax breaks for theatres, Mr Osborne has had acting and voice lessons from RADA, and speech therapy from Valerie Savage, a Harley Street specialist. If these aren't the actions of a man with designs of making himself more electable for the top job, then what are?

Chris Grayling has got himself into a few battles. Prison campaigners are furious over regulations (actually introduced in November) that stop prisoners receiving books and other small items in prison; authors including Philip Pullman have put the boot in. Meanwhile The Times reports that thousands of prisoners could mount compensation claims after being held for months and even years beyond their minimum sentence. An alliance of peers want Mr Grayling to speed up the release of prisoners serving "indeterminate sentences for public protection". Has the Justice Secretary over-reached himself?  

What will Ukip make of this? Tory MP Mark Field has created a group calling for calm in the immigration debate: Conservatives for Managed Migration.Is this a sensible attempt by the Tories to change the tone of the debate, and stop trying to "out-Ukip Ukip", as MPs concede is impossible? Or does it simply give Ukip more space to exploit voters' angst? Meanwhile it's worth noting John Harris's piece in the Guardian, on how Ukip is targetting the East of England, especially Lincolonshire and East Anglia.  There's an interesting comment from Matthew Smith, Ukip's candidate in Great Yarmouth: "I don't talk about Europe at all," he says. "It's not on any of the election leaflets. Why is that an issue for people?" Ukip have decided to stage their autumn conference in Doncaster - not coincidentally, on the border of Ed Miliband's seat.

It's Clegg v Farage at 7pm tomorrow night. I look ahead to their debate in my column, explaining why some are frustrated that Mr Cameron isn't taking part and Tory MPs fear that it could be a "lose-lose" for the Conservatives: "Both parties depend for their success on taking votes off the Tories. Whichever one does well out of the debate, it will be at the expense of the Conservatives. Both parties depend for their success on taking votes off the Tories. Whichever one does well out of the debate, it will be at the expense of the Conservatives." Meanwhile Rachel Sylvester calls on the main parties to counter fear with a sense of progress and optimism.

Some developments in the Andrew Mitchell case worth recording. The High Court yesterday heard that Mr Mitchell had "form or history" of "verbal aggression" against the police. The hearing was held ahead of full libel cases, which are unlikely to start before next year.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  

Latest YouGov poll: Con 36%, Lab 38%, Ukip 10%; Lib Dems 10%
@iswalesChris Grayling wants more rehabilitation of offenders but bans them receiving books in prison??
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan - The Clegg-Farage showdown could seriously damage the PM
Dan Hodges - Everyone now agrees: Miliband isn’t working
Iain Martin - Margaret Thatcher would not have liked Ukip
Telegraph View - Barack Obama cannot abdicate from his role in Europe
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester - The coalition must fight fear with progress
Janan Ganesh - Cameron’s coalition is a radical bazaar
John Harris - Why Ukip's Little England is full of eastern promise
Steve Richards - It's easy to argue that there should be ‘power to the people’. But what does it actually mean?
David Cameron attends Nuclear Security Summit. US president Barack Obama will participate in the event, hosted by the Dutch government, where world leaders will highlight progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism. The Hague.

70th anniversary of the Great Escape. 

No weekly Cabinet meeting, as Prime Minister away. 

0830 Labour donor John Mills launches The £ Campaign. Civitas, 55 Tufton Street.

0930 Inflation figures for February are published by the Office for National Statistics. 

1000 Treasury Select Committee takes evidence on Budget from banks and IFS.

1030 Launch of Conservatives for Managed Migration group. Chaired by Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster.The Albert Suite, The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.

1400 Commons Transport Committee takes evidence from Sir David Higgins of HS2 Ltd and Lord Deighton, chair of HS2 Growth Taskforce. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.

1445 Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders gives evidence to Commons Home Affairs Committee on female genital mutilation. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

1515 Hillsborough families give evidence to Commons Home Affairs Committee. 

1615  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe gives evidence to Commons Home Affairs Committee on Stephen Lawrence Independent Review