Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn dies..

Breaking News: Tony Benn passed away in the early hours of this morningat the age of 88. In a statement released, his children said, "We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives. But we are comforted by the memory of his long, full and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better."
Tributes have already been flowing in, from all sides; while his politics divided many, those of all stripes were united in respect for the sincerity of his beliefs. "Tony Benn was a champion of the powerless, a great Parliamentarian and a conviction politician," tweeted Ed Miliband. "Tony Benn always spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. With Tony you knew where he stood and what he stood for." There have also been gushing tributes from Conservatives - Sajid Javid described him as "A man of principle & compassion"; Stewart Jackson described him as "Articulate, courteous, principled, passionate but never a hater - like Margaret Thatcher a figure who made the weather". And the Prime Minister also offered a warm tribute: "Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him."
There will be plenty of adulation for an avuncular figure who in old age established himself as a sort of nation's uncle. As a political warrior though Mr Benn would be appalled if we didn't point out that he was wrong on most things, helped keep the party he claimed to love out of power for a generation, and advocated policies that would have finished Britain off. That's what made him such a compelling figure: unlike so many of today's politicians, he was dangerous.
You can read his Telegraph obituary here.
Good morning. The economy is on the up and, with a Labour Party having drifted Left, the stakes at the next general election are obvious. Why, then, are the Conseratives focused on bickering? In His Telegraph column, Fraser Nelson argues that the Tories have become immune to good news: many are too preoccupied with what should happen if Dave is booted out by the electorate next year to bother reminding the voters that things are getting better. A Government that neglects to emphasis its own achievements does itself no favours. As Fraser notes, recent job figures are remarkable, yet which Conservatives are saying it, loud and proud? Nicholas Watt notes in The Guardian that George Osborne "has taken to telling friends in private with a broad grin and fists clenched in victory that 'we have won' " but too many of his colleagues - led by Michael Gove - seem too distracted by other matters to make the case. As Nick observes, "The political challenge to Osborne springs from Tory MPs, often the older generation and in seats facing little threat from Labour, who are dismayed the chancellor is focusing tax cuts on the low-paid". It fell to Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday to make the case for loyalty. The question must be asked: if the prospect of a Prime Minister Miliband in barely a year isn't enough to focus Tory minds on the task at hand, then what is?
At least the voters are increasingly aware of the good news. A new Comres / ITV News poll shows that more people (41-40%) think that the country is heading in the right direction - it's the first time since October 2010 that more people have agreed than disagreed with that statement. It is news that CCHQ will welcome, although there are some caveats. There is a big gender gap - 48% of men think that things are heading in the right direction; but only 35% of women agree. And there's a huge generation gap: 55% of over 65s agree, but only 32% of under-25s do. The challenge, then, is to help more people enjoy the dividends of growth. This is no time for the Tories to indulge factionalism.


With the £1 billion freed up by Danny Alexander by changes to how public sector pensions are funded being used on increasing the personal tax allowance from £10,000 to £10,500, the Tory backlash against fiscal creep continues. Today it's Lord Lawson's turn to voice his discontent: he takes to the front page of the Telegraph to make the case for increasing the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate. His complaint that too many "middling professionals" are being dragged into the rate will resonate with many, including another former Conservative Chancellor. Lord Lamont yesterday complained that "moderate earners need more tax relief". It is too late for anything to be done to address the problem in this Budget - but there will be copious pressure for the Tories to be seen to recognise why there is growing anger, and be seen to be doing something about it, come the 2015 Budget and the party's manifesto.
Worth noting George Eaton's piece in The Times today, which observes the growing policy overlap between Labour and the Lib Dems: Ed Balls's announcement that Labour would ditch the tax break for married couples is the latest area on which the two parties agree. What on earth would they have to disagree about if they were in coalition together? Well, with David Laws and Danny Alexander on the Lib Dem team preparing for coalition negotiations, the party may still be instinctively closer to the Conservatives on deficit reduction plans. But ultimately the point stands. Coalition with the Conservatives, allowing Lib Dems to manufacture rows and be the "nice" party of government, is a better protector of Lib Dem identity than one with Ed Miliband's Labour would be. It's hard to imagine Lib Dems bragging about 16 Labour policies they said no to, as Nick Clegg did about Tory ideas last year.
IDS faces a familiar foe. Margaret Hodge has popped up with another withering assessment, saying that the Department for Work and Pensions faces "meltdown" over three of its biggest projects. "Time and again when we see failures ... it's a failure of government to manage contracts." Ouch.
The heir to Blair? Forget it. Dave yesterday met Mr Tony for the first time in over a year, and insisted that there was no "friendship" between the two of them, though he said that "I obviously listen to Tony Blair’s advice, as I listen to many people’s advice." That the former PM plans to make a significant donation to Labour will hardly have endeared him to Dave.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 33%, Lab 38%, Ukip 10%; Lib Dems 11%
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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announcement on life sciences and improving patient care in England.
Scottish Conservative party conference over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Three day conference expected to include speeches by Prime Minister David Cameron, Scottish leader Ruth Davidson and other senior members. Edinburgh International Conference Centre, The Exchange, 150 Morrison St, EH3 8EE.