Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Miliband v the left..

Good morning. The Budget has helped the Tories but what we hadn't perhaps expected was that it would cause such trouble Labour. Ed Miliband's bizarre response has provoked an outbreak of scrutiny that is doing his party no favours. The Guardian has compounded the misery by splashing a letter from 19 "progressives" under the headline "Miliband told: don't play safe with manifesto". It should be pointed out that the letter, whose signatories include Lord Glasman, Neal Lawson, Patrick Diamond and Mark Ferguson is not directly critical of the leadership. It merely suggests that Mr Miliband is relying on Tory unpopularity to win the election. But its wider point chimes with the complaint heard more and more among anxious Labour folk, that Mr Miliband is relying on a few populist tactical plays that are not connected to a wider strategic narrative. Blighty in the Economist has some essential analysisof what it means.
The Budget demonstrated the problem: Mr Miliband was reduced to rehearsing well-worn criticisms of Bullingdon Tories but had nothing to say about pensions reform, help for savers and the other major changes announced by the Chancellor. The result, the Tories claim, is the weekend's polls showing the gap between the parties closed to a single point. In CCHQ they say it is unusual - and therefore significant - to get such a clear, immediate response to a Budget. The rest of the papers pick up the theme: Miliband under pressure say the Times and Telegraph, Labour all over the place on pensions in the FTThe Mail also picks up on a YouGov poll that has 41 per cent of respondents declaring the Labour leader to be "very weird" or "somewhat weird".
Of course, we could reverse the criticism and say that the Tories have shown signs of relying too much on Mr Miliband's inadequacies to carry them to victory next year. The Budget might remind them that what works is clear, compelling policies that speak to a wider vision of how the country should be run. But to judge by the way Labour is being put on the spot about its policy choices, we may look back on Mr Osborne's Budget not only as a turbocharger for Tory fortunes but also as a potent weapon against Mr Miliband.
The PM will proudly trumpet his pension reforms in a speech to the over-50s group Saga today, describing them as a "historic savings revolution" and accusing Labour of "patronising" pensioners. It's the latest sign of Dave moving onto the offensive after the success of last week's budget: it has settled the troops and created some neat new dividing lines with Labour that seem to have put Tory backbenchers - temporarily, at least - off friendly fire. And even Boris is firmly on side. In his Telegraph column, the Mayor of London says the  reform was "Thatcherite in its elegance" and embodied Conservative values of "trusting people to run their own lives". In this climate, every narrowing poll will further add to the new-found Tory cheer - so perhaps it's time to stop obsessing over who will succeed Dave as party leader.
The Ukraine crisis provides a timely moment for the wisdom of the Government's defence cuts to be questioned. In The Telegraph, Richard Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, makes the case that it's time for Britain to make a "military statement" and retain 3,000 soldiers in Germany in a reversal of planned defence cuts, "sending the signal that Britain takes its defence responsibilities seriously, not only on behalf of its citizens but on behalf of our EU and Nato allies, too". Lord Dannatt warns that diplomacy must be underpinned by "greater military capability" to be effective, citing recent crises like Ukraine and Syria. There have long been murmurings on the Tory Right - including from Philip Hammond's camp - that the defence cuts go further than advisable, and such voices may sense an opportunity to raise their discontent. But, given that the cuts have been signed and sealed, if not quite delivered, Lord Dannatt's suggestion would necessitate a significant, and politically problematic, U-turn.
We learned over the weekend that George Osborne and Lynton Crosby signed off the notorious "beer n' bingo" poster and Mr Osborne's aides were involved in drawing it up. Grant Shapps has copped a lot of flack for tweeting it, but the suggestion is that he  "took one for the team" and it would reek of scapegoating to dispense with him as party chairman over the incident. Tories may also reflect that Labour continuing to "bang on" about the poster is a sign that no other attacks on the Budget have stuck.
THE RISE OF THE RED PRINCESStephen Kinnock, the son of Neil and Glenys and wife of Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, has been confirmed as Labour candidate for the safe seat of Aberavon in South Wales. Elizabeth Truss has complained about the rise of the "Red Princes" (Euan Blair and David Prescott could be next, while Will Straw has already been selected), saying "If you look at the Labour team we've got a husband and wife in the top team – we've got brothers in the Labour party as well". Miss Truss is demanding that attempts are made to "broaden it out beyond the usual suspects" and parties need to do more to help "people feel part of their local community … and aspire to enter Parliament". It's advice that all parties in Westminster would do well to heed. In the Mail,Dominic Lawson says that Labour's ruling dynasties have just as much social capital as Dave's Etonians.
To pursue their house-building targets the Conservatives will have to contend with plenty more of this: the Campaign to Protect Rural England warns that 700,000 new homes are planned for the countryside in the next 20 years, including 200,000 that will be built in protected green belt land. There is electoral pressure too: many of these homes are in Conservative seats, and MPs are warning that radical house-building plans could coat the party votes in 13 months. Not that Nick Boles is backing down: he describes CPRE's report as "inaccurate, exaggerated and based on a spurious analysis of the facts."
DOES THE NHS NEED MORE CASH?In the FT, Sir David Nicholson pops up with a grim reminder of how stretched the NHS is. The outgoing chief executive - he steps down this week - says that the NHS faces "a bridge too far" and needs another £2 billion to avoid being pushed into the red before the next general election, for the first time since 2006. Given how David Cameron has tied himself to the NHS, this poses a particular risk for him. But it's worth remembering that the NHS's "winter of discontent", which Labour were warning about for months, didn't materialise.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  
Latest YouGov poll: Con 36%, Lab 37%, Ukip 11%; Lib Dems 9%
It wasn't worth the wait:
@jreedmp: Just watched - at the fifth attempt - 'The Devil Inside'. I'm aghast at how pointless this film is. Just awful.BEST COMMENT
In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - Budget 2014: the Lamborghini ride that says: power to the people
Richard Dannatt - Armed Forces: Britain needs another brigade
Charles Moore - Roy Jenkins: the claret-lover whose ideas haven’t aged well
Telegraph View - Keep our defences up
Best of the restMatt Ridley - We'll be relying on Putin’s gas for years yet 
Jeremy Cliffe - Labour's new divide: Centralisers versus decentralisers
Mary Dejevsky - Let’s celebrate the Chancellor’s bravery on pensions – now perhaps the Government can tackle other mighty vested interests
Dominic Lawson - Never mind Dave's Etonians. Labour's ruling dynasties are just as privileged
THE HAGUE: 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 Peace Palace.
1000 BRIGHTON: Green MP Caroline Lucas to stand trial over public order offences allegedly committed during anti-fracking protests in Balcombe. Brighton Magistrates' Court
1045 CARDIFF: Scottish Deputy First Minister speech. Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, deputy leader of the SNP, will highlight the "inequalities" of the UK in speech to mark two years to go until the SNP's proposed Scottish independence day. Pierhead, Cardiff Bay.
1200 LONDON: Bob Crow's funeral. Funeral of RMT leader Bob Crow. Procession from 12 noon at Snakes Lane (IG8 7GF), ending at gates to City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. Funeral service will be private, at request of family.
1200 LONDON: The hacking trial resumes. Clive Goodman will be cross examined. The Old Bailey
1500 LONDON: Jim Murphy speech on future of development aid. 1st Floor, ICA, 12 Carlton House Terrace