Friday, 21 March 2014

The Boris factor..

Good morning. The Prime Minister has kindly popped up to enliven a dreary morning with an interview with James Corden in The Sun. Dave's comments that "we were lied to" about the bid for the 2018 World Cup will attract attention, as will his support for European Championship matches to be hosted in London, Glasgow and Cardiff in 2020. But the real focus will be upon the PM's support for a return to Parliament for Boris Johnson.
Inside CCHQ there is scepticism about the prospects for Boris. They point out, for example, that he is not on the candidates list. To be considered for a seat he would first have to put himself forward for assessment and one of those selection weekends. That applies even if he waits until the last minute when the centre takes over candidate selection: he has first to get himself on the list. In his interview Mr Cameron addresses three key points: first he confirms that he wants Boris back - 'you want your best striker on the pitch'; second he accepts that Boris could complete his term as mayor as an MP; third he kills off the charge put about by George Osborne's friends that an attempt to return would be a deliberate act of treachery intended to destabilise Dave.
The onus now is on Hizzoner, who will, I suspect, find himself under pressure to say what he is going to do. Given that the PM - his leader, fer goodness' sake! - says he should come back, the prevarication hedging thing he does won't wash any more. Mr Cameron has rather niftily turned the tables on Boris. If Dave can say plainly that he should come back next year, then Boris should find a way to say yes or no. It would amount to him saying 'please' to his party, and would at last test the Team Boris claim that he will have no difficulty finding a sitting Tory willing to lay down his seat for the blonde bomber. One suggestion is that Jo Johnson might stand aside in Orpington because he's had enough, but the Boris boys says that's rubbish. Alright then, who? This story will keep us entertained for a while yet. I hope Boris can now say of Dave, as the PM says of him in the Sun, 'I find him genuinely amusing'.
Steve Webb's comments about the pensions shake-up - "if people do get a Lamborghini, and end up on the state pension, the state is much less concerned about that, and that is their choice" - get plenty of coverage in the papers today. But Team Osborne may be more concerned with the splash inThe Times. It highlights the popularity of the Chancellor's offer to give people more freedom over how to spend their retirement savings: 66 per cent support the measures, while helping savers hit by low interest rates is also very popular. Mr Osborne's plans are well-received in the leaders, too: the FT saysthat "Mr Osborne chose to uphold the important principle that individuals do not need the state to tell them what is best for their future"; there's a similar message in the TimesOur leader says that the Chancellor's rabbit will cause problems for Labour: "A party wedded to high taxation, in order to fund programmes that it considers important, will find it hard to adapt to this new reality. For the rest of us, it is a welcome and bracing change."
But not everyone can win from the Budget: Labour's response has raised serious questions about the sense of direction of the party. The pension shake-up is proving so effective, in crude political terms, partly because it is a "wedge issue" of the kind that Lynton Crosby is fond, splitting Labour between those who want to empower the people and those who are uncomfortable doing so. Perhaps this tension explains why we still don't really know Labour's stance.Sam Coates reports: "The Labour front bench may determine their position on the central issue of the Budget today in Perth as key players gather for the start of Labour’s Scottish conference. Sources said that a decision had to be made before next Thursday when the welfare section of the Budget is debated." Philip Collins believes that the Budget draws attention to the party's crucial weakness: "Labour, the party that takes on private vested interests, has been too ready to turn into the party of the public sector interest."

The other big Budget loser is someone who should be leading the celebrations at CCHQ. But Grant Shapps is paying the price for that ill-judged beer n' bingo tweet, leading the Mail to ask: "Will 'patronising' ad cost party boss Shapps his job?" Mr Shapps is already not the most popular figure among Tory MPs, and he must now be considered on probation ahead of any ministerial reshuffle in the summer. The piece quotes a Conservative MP asking: "Has it boiled down to this? A Grant Shapps beer and bingo poster? God help us. It’s like they want us to lose." Other Tories take a more sanguine view. Mr Shapps brings an enthusiasm to politics that many of his colleagues could learn from. Mistakes in execution are an occupational hazard in this game, and Mr Cameron may conclude that he won't have his reshuffle decided by Labour.
Worth noting a new ITV News / Comres poll, which suggests that Labour's plans to hike up taxes on the rich, through restoring the 50p rate and introducing a mansion tax, resonate with the public. 65% of people reckon that those on high incomes don't pay enough tax; and 75% want banks and big business to pay more. It's a reminder for the Conservatives of the risks of being seen to give the rich an easy ride, and the need to convey their message that their tax cuts benefit everyone.THE SECRET OF THE CHANCELLOR'S HAIR

As the great battle for the succession rumbles on, Boris's team have been putting about rumours that the Chancellor colours his hair to try and look a bit younger. Ephraim Hardcastle suggests that Mr Osborne's reduced bald patch is not due to his new hair-do, but because he's using hair loss treatments "on a daily basis".
The Home Secretary has been unusually quiet recently, but the Guardian reports that she yesterday summoned Yahoo for an urgent meeting to raise security concerns about the company's planned move to Dublin. The concern is that it would be beyond the reach of British security laws, with a Whitehall source describing it as "a very serious issue".
Norman Tebbit's comments about food banks gets picked up on in the Mirror, who describe an "astonishing attack". Lord Tebbit said that "There is always a near-infinite demand for valuable goods that are free."The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 39%, Ukip 11%; Lib Dems 10%
@chhcalling: Bought a dog from the local blacksmith. As soon as I got him home he made a bolt for the door.BEST COMMENTIn the TelegraphFraser Nelson - Politics is in new territory after George Osborne’s pensions revolution
Sue Cameron - A happiness index makes for sound economics
Isabel Hardman - George Osborne brings out the worst in Labour thinking
Telegraph View - Trusting pensioners with their own money is a welcome change
Best of the rest
Patrick Hosking - Osborne puts us in charge of our pensions
Philip Collins - One by one, Labour is losing the arguments
Polly Toynbee - Older people vote – that's why George Osborne's budget is for them 
Simon Jenkins - Tourism overwhelms the world's historic places, but pays no dues
David Cameron to attend European Council summit, Downing Street.

0930 Launch of Wellbeing and Policy Commission report, with Lord (Gus) O'Donnell. Live stream of event available at Legatum Institute, 11 Charles Street, London.

0930 Public sector borrowing figures for February are published by the Office for National Statistics, London.

1400 Michael Gove speech to ASCL annual conferenc