Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Leadership issues..

Good morning. Boris Johnson addressed Tory MPs and candidates in London last night, at the invitation of Grant Shapps. His pep talk urged them to campaign hard in the May elections. He talked of Wellington at Waterloo - appropriately, for next year, that near run thing - and urged them to "join me on the barricades for an outright victory in 2015". His rallying cry referenced all the messages Downing Street is pushing - Miliband is a return to old Labour, no mansion tax, a vote for Ukip is a vote for Miliband. Given that David Cameron and George Osborne want Boris back for the big push next year, it was appropriate that he was doing what he does best. Come to think of it, It might be worth finding out what those present thought of him. Did they see a future leader, I wonder?
Boris is in the news because No10 and No11 have put him there, for reasons that aren't immediately obvious. I've written about what it all means in my column. The story kicked off in the Times on Saturday and ramped up by the MoS splash rumbles on in several papers. Boris' appearance on LBC yesterday kept it going: he left open the possibility that he will stand for a seat next year (I believe he will) but said "he was going to expire" if the speculation continued much more. From the conversations I had yesterday it's clear Cabinet ministers are uneasy about what they suspect is mischief orchestrated by George Osborne and Michael Gove. It's seen to be part of manoeuvrings by the Chancellor to promote his chances of succeeding David Cameron. MPs are discussing, for example, a meeting organised by the No10 adviser John Hayes during which Mr Osborne made a point of singling out his various proteges who have been appointed to ministerial jobs - "the implication was that he can reward those who help him", one of those present tells me. Of course, Team Boris are just s capable of naughtiness - they have been suggesting, for example, the Mr Osborne has taken to colouring his hair to over an incipient bald patch. Honestly…
Where does all this leave things? Don't underestimate the possibility that a friendly rivalry at the top of the party could become bad tempered and quite nasty. The weekend's events have left the Boris camp bruised and frustrated because they believe their man has been on best behaviour and has done nothing to justify being targeted by Mr Osborne. They are particularly angry with Michael Gove for briefing the Murdoch papers against Boris. How angry? One compared the Osborne/Gove combine to Gordon Brown and Damian McBride. "George is becoming increasingly like Brown, using his power to attack anyone in his way," I was told. That's strong stuff, and bodes ill for the next 15 months. Instead of concentrating on winning the next election, there is a chance that the party high-ups could find themselves in an unedifying scrap for control of the party after a defeat.
The Ukraine crisis has understandably been dominating the airwaves this morning. In the papers, the Mail's focus is on Hugh Powell's blunder, as the deputy national security adviser unintentionally revealed that Britain will not impose economic sanctions or impose military action against Russia: it's an embarrassment the Government can ill afford. The Guardian examines the economic dimension to this all: "Like other EU countries, and especially Germany, which obtains almost 40% of its gas and oil from Russia, the UK is reluctant to adopt measures that could damage its still fragile economic recovery." In the FT, the Government denies putting the City at risk through its actions. But Liam Halligan warns that Vladimir Putin won't be worried by the threat of sanctions. Lord Ashdown yesterday warned that the situation is "very dangerous" and "a mistake away from conflict", as you can watch in our video.
Patrick Rock, who has known David Cameron for 20 years, has resigned as a special adviser after being arrested by the police on suspicion of offences relating to child pornography. Mr Rock, 62, has worked for the Conservatives since the days of Margaret Thatcher. He famously coined the phrase "cows moo, dogs bark, Labour puts up taxes". And on the day John Smith died he went for a pint in the Two Chairmen with the other special adviser at the Home Office, and recalled later, "We both agreed that Blair coming meant that we [Conservatives] would be f****d." Here's what I wrote when he returned to No10 in 2011.
The Prime Minister's desire to return "every penny" that can be put from public services to the voters through tax cuts makes our front page. In a speech in the West Midlands today, Mr Cameron will try to link his tax-cutting aims to a moral policy: "Do we really want to be the ones who responded to a crisis by putting off tomorrow what we had to do today? Can we really teach our children the importance of being responsible and at the same time shirk the most fundamental responsibility of all?" It can be seen as part of the long general election campaign. The Conservative hope is that promising tax cuts will pressurise Labour to sketch out their position, leaving them vulnerable to being attacked for promising to borrow more - or, if they match the Tory plans, face a revolt on the Left.
The Indy has a useful piece on Nick Clegg's plans for a second coalition government. It reports: "Danny Alexander, the Chief Treasury Secretary, will head the team planning talks with other parties in a 'balanced parliament'. The other members are David Laws, the Schools Minister who is in charge of the Lib Dem manifesto; Baroness (Sal) Brinton; Lynne Featherstone, the International Development Minister and Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister." Will the presence of both Mr Alexander and Mr Laws, lead to Lib Dems murmuring that the team appears ideologically closer to the Tories than Labour?

A quietly significant story: OfCom has said that Ukip should be treated as a "major party" in the run-up to the European elections. This means that Ukip will be granted the same number of party election broadcasts as Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and its views should be given "due weight" in news programmes. It amounts to a significant boost for Ukip ahead of the European elections. The really significant question remains: will Ukip be included in any TV debates before the general election? OfCom's ruling makes that more likely.
Michael Gove's daughter Beatrice will attend a state secondary school. Beatrice,10, has secured a place at Grey Coat Hospital School which is a short walk from the Palace of Westminster. It is said Mr Gove is the first Tory education secretary to send a child to a state secondary. Next year the focus will fall on David Cameron and his choice for his daughter - just in time for the election.
Chuka Umunna is giving a speech to 8.30 this evening to launch Labour's Agenda 2030, a plan for long-term balanced growth. Much of the emphasis is on skills - Mr Umunna will argue that young people should study maths and English to the age of 18 and that all apprenticeships last for two years and are at level three. There are also calls for a cross-government industrial strategy and the creation of a British Small Business Administration.
Worth noting Charlotte Leslie's piece for Coffee House. As shown by Ms Leslie's question about the NHS in Wales at PMQs last week, the Conservatives plan to make attacking Labour's record in Wales a big part of the general election campaign. The question is: why does this task seem to have been assigned to Ms Leslie, the MP for Bristol North West, rather than one of the Tories' eight Welsh MPs?

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 32%, Lab 41%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 8%
Poor Stella:
@stellacreasy: Walking to work & go past neighbours kid-says having 5 pancakes & chocolate spread today & I am not invited. Some things never change..
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan - George Osborne’s intrigues against Boris are a sign of Tory panic
Elizabeth Truss - Britain’s schools need a Chinese lesson
Liam Halligan - Ukraine crisis: sanctions won’t worry Vladimir Putin
Telegraph View - Pray it again, taxman
Best of the rest
Steve Richards - Britain is responding to the crisis in Ukraine without a coherent foreign policy. And that’s a very good thing
Rachel Sylvester - Exit Mayor. Enter Labour’s own female Boris
Janan Ganesh - Resentment of migrants is about feelings
Nick Clegg - Edward Snowden's revelations made it clear: security oversight must be fit for the internet age
THE AGENDA0930: Bank of England deputy governor Sir Jon Cunliffe gives evidence to House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.
1015 London: EEF Manufacturing Conference, with speeches by Vince Cable and Kenneth Clarke.
Lunchtime West Midlands: David Cameron speech on the economy