Tuesday, 18 March 2014

There's life in the Coalition yet..

Good morning. We should study today's big reveal with particular care. The Government's child care announcement is a leading indicator of the health of the Coalition and therefore the prospects of another one after the election. Once again, and four years in, it has shown itself capable of doing business. Nick Clegg has been allowed out to claim the credit for the £2000 initiative announced today, and has manfully defended the increase in the numbers paying tax at 40p on the Today programme (he argues that anyone on up to £100,000 is better off because of the increase in the personal allowance - it's "wrong" to suggest otherwise, he said). It's a big moment in policy terms, because the child care handout goes further than expected - it's more generous and helps more people. The Mail is in a bate because, it says, the measure doesn't help stay-at-home mums. Its leader, complete with italics, concludes "if the Conservatives wish to win next year's election, they need to remember the hard-working, aspirational, traditional families who were the bedrock of Ms Thatcher's success". That's the worst of it in coverage terms.
More interesting is the story it tells about relations between the two parties. Helped in part by the Osborne/Alexander love-in at the Treasury, they were able to put together a deal that goes further than anticipated. But as Rachel Sylvester chronicles in her column, the relationship at the top is constructive and useful. They agree on the economy and austerity, and as has been noted often enough, the disagreements when they come are usually scripted. The Coalition has political stabilisers that allow anger to be vented without harm being done.
A while back we learned that Mr Cameron has had enough of Coalition and the Lib Dems, and would like to go it alone if the Tories emerge as the largest party but without a majority - he is even contemplating making a pledge to do so. That remains the case. In political terms, the Coalition has run its course: it is difficult to imagine what a second programme would look like or how they would fill the time in another five year parliament. Mr Cameron is being harried by his MPs who would dearly love to jettison the yellow peril, and get back to tax-cutting (resist the lure to the tax-cut "sugar rush", cautions Janan Ganesh). On Mr Clegg's side there are plenty of MPs who just can't stand being in bed with the hated Tories. But all that's politics. What we should note today is that politics is also about numbers - know how to count, as George Osborne keeps saying - and about what's possible. Today's staged announcement in an otherwise humdrum Budget week reminds us that those in the Coalition can still find ways to do business. And whatever they might think of each other, when it comes to power and securing it, business is what matters.
Ed Miliband takes to the Guardian today to launch Labour's counter-attack ahead of the Budget. And the message is clear: Labour thinks that it can win on inequality, with Mr Miliband's aides seeing Bill de Blasio's triumph in the New York Mayoral election last year as a sign that the "inequality moment" has arrived. Mr Miliband says that the recovery will only benefit the "privileged few", and cites the words of Barack Obama - that the "cold, hard truth" of US growth is that "corporate profit and stock prices have gone through the roof, but average wages have remained stagnant and inequality has deepened." The Labour leader also contends that "A recovery for the few is not an accident of this government's economic policy – this is its economic policy" and notes that "Rewards in the banking sector in London grew nearly five times faster than the wages of the average worker last year." Mr Miliband is striking an increasingly assertive pose, giving the impression of a man with no regard for the centre ground. So what's going on? Well, Mr Miliband does think that the centre-ground has shifted - although, of course, that's always what those in opposition like to think, as anyone who remembers the Tory election campaigns in 2001 and 2005 will remember. But there's also an obvious electoral rationale to the posturing. Labour needs to retain the 2010 Lib Dem voters who now support it - many of whom voted Lib Dems because they thought they were to the Left of Labour. And Labour strategists also don't under-estimate the strength of anti-politics feeling, and reckon that a bold offer is what it will take to stop sympathisers with the party from staying at home and thinking that none of it makes a difference.
Remember the europhile Tories? Turns out they still exist, and have just relaunched their "European Mainstream" group, with Ken Clarke saying "We may be outliers but we are by far from the only ones in and outside the cabinet." Ben Wallace also reckons that banging on only helps the purple team: "The first lesson is, if you go around telling everyone your opponents are right, do not be surprised if they go and vote for your opponents." But here's the trouble: as the FT notes, fewer than 20 Tory MPs attended the event.

The EU is pushing for further sanctions against Russia; William Hague says what's to come depends upon Russia's actions in the coming weeks. But today's real news is that Philip Hammond yesterday offered to send Typhoon aircraft to police the Russian borders with the Baltic States. It all sounds ominous and deeply worrying - especially with there being no sign that Russia has any inclination to back down. In the last few hours, Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising Crimea as a sovereign state.
Baroness Warsi used her appearance on The Agenda last night to echo Michael Gove's complaints over the weekend about the "ridiculous" number of Old Etonians in Dave's inner circle (for which the PM gave the Education Secretary "a right royal bollocking", according to Isabel Hardman). Lady Warsi appeared with a mock-up front page - "Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu" - that, rather unhelpfully, showed Dave and the three other Old Etonians involved in writing the manifesto (Jo Johnson, Oliver Letwin and Ed Llewellyn) in a pudding bowl. Lady Warsi said: "Michael was making an incredibly serious point that it can't be right that the 7 per cent of kids who go to independent school end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking, and law, and every other profession." It amounted to a deeply unhelpful intervention. With two months until the European elections and 13 and a half until the general election, going on about what school people went to risks the Tories giving the impression of choosing factionalism and in-fighting over responsible government. Not very clever.
More evidence that Tory attentions are increasingly focused on who could replace Dave. Stanley Johnson pops up to advocate that Conservative party rules should be changed to allow his son to stand in the next leadership contest from outside Westminster, as it would "not be reasonable" to leave Boris out. He says there would be a precedent, too: "If you go back to 1963, which I do, you remember what happened when Macmillan resigned. They cast around. Alec Douglas-Home was not a member of the House of Commons. He was a peer. But they found a way."
I use my column to explain how the Scottish independence referendum promises to be a dry run for any In/Out vote on Britain's membership of the European Union, noting that there's also a lesson for the EU on how to get Britain to stay: Mr Cameron's offer of greater autonomy for Scotland – the devo max the Prime Minister has in mind – is precisely what he seeks to negotiate for Britain in Europe. It's also worth noting The Independent's analysis of Alex Salmond's MOT tests. There is still no certificate awarded for Scotland's use of the pound or membership of the EU.
WHAT A ROYAL CHARTER WOULD REALLY MEANThe World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers has released a damning report into the Government's Royal Charter on press regulation. They describe it as "no form of solution at all" and say that excluding newspapers from the final drafting process was "a major error". The report adds that "A solution that did not include any of the media industry is entirely counterproductive, and can be described as no form of solution at all."


Ed Davey and Michael Fallon yesterday both pledged to sign up to The Big Deal campaign, which aims to bring people together to sign up to a national collective switch in their energy providers. Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson, the co-founders, have now written to every MP. For Conservatives, the appeal is obvious: it could deliver cheaper bills to the public; and, if the campaign took off, it could completely take the sting out of Labour's offer of a freeze on energy prices.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 32%, Lab 40%, Ukip 11%; Lib Dems 9%
The charms of the capital:
@SteveRotheramMP: Still getting use to London. Guy running for tube drops a small plastic bag. Me behind him shouts to inform him; picks up the stray item - and hands it to him. He snatches said item and without a bye your leave jumps on the train. Love that there London me! BEST COMMENTIn the TelegraphBenedict Brogan - Scotland’s independence referendum could be a dry run for a Euro In/Out vote in 2017
Con Coughlin - We have to stand up to Russia – it’s a rogue state
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David Cameron hosts Paralympic medal winners to tea.

Europe minister David Lidington attends EU General Affairs Council.

9.30am Cabinet meeting at No 10 Downing Street.

12.30pm House of Commons debate on situation in Ukraine.

3.30pm William Hague appears before the Foreign Affairs select committee.At 3.30pm the Foreign Secretary will discuss UK policy towards Iran. At 4.20pm Mr Hague will discuss developments in UK Foreign Policy. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

6pm Press conference, speech and Q&A by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. Cass Business School