Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Clegg needs a knockout..

Good morning. It's Nick V Nige Round 2 tonight. Do I detect a smidge less excitement about it than last week? If you want to read in, there's some useful material around. Patrick Wintour's preview in the Guardian says Mr Clegg will go for more emotion and has told staff he became "bogged down in statistical disputes with Farage that probably left viewers disengaged" (he ain't kidding).Danny Finkelstein's list of top tips for Mr Farage is smart - imagine if he took the advice. Tim Stanley has done an elegant defence of the Ukip leader's place in public life which - for my money - is too excusing of his enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin. You should also catch up with what Godfrey Bloom has to sayabout his former flatmate Farage: a salesman, not very clever, unsuited to be a party leader.
Last week YouGov concluded that Mr Farage won the bout, 57pc to 36pc. The Lib Dems argue about the methodology, but are also quietly happy that their man scored so well, given that only a quarter of the electorate shares his enthusiasm for EU membership and the party is stuck on single figures in the polls. But he needs to improve on his performance and turn the tables on Mr Farage. If his ambition is to stop Ukip, then he has to do it tonight. The Putin issue is helpful. Sucking up to dictators is a bad look, and he should be able to stick that to Mr Farage. He also must judge whether to be more aggressive. In the second half of last week's encounter the Ukip leader showed signs of melting under pressure. Equally, Mr Clegg must consider whether being more aggressive will be counter-productive, a metropolitan smoothie ganging up on Mr Ordinary. The parties will shortly be launching their campaigns for the euro-elections. By itself tonight's debate is unlikely to shift the dial. But politics is about narrative. Mr Clegg sorely needs to emerge from Round 2 an obvious winner.
George Osborne has found a new enemy: the Financial Conduct Authority.The FT splashes with the news that the Chancellor has declared himself "profoundly concerned" that the FCA bungled its announcement of a probe into the insurance industry. Clive Adamson, the director of supervision at the Financial Conduct Authority, last week revealed to the Telegraph that the regulator was planning an inquiry into 30 million pensions and savings policies sold from the 1970s to 2000, which led to a sell-off in shares of insurance companies. Mr Osborne wrote a letter to John Griffith-Jones, the regulator’s chairman, saying that "These events go to the heart of the FCA’s responsibility for the integrity and good order of UK financial markets" and warning that disciplinary action may follow.
Labour better watch out. That's Len McCluskey's message, who yesterday told Ed Miliband that he would lose if he offered only "a pale shade of austerity" at the next election. Mr McCluskey even threatens to bankroll a Left-wing alternative to Labour if no one listens to him, saying "I can envisage a debate taking place if Labour lost the election" and "The Labour party has no God-given right to exist if it doesn’t represent working people." CCHQ will have noted Mr McCluskey's comments with relish, ready to attack any further Leftward drift of Mr Miliband as proof that the Unite leader pulls the strings in the party. It could even be that, by speaking out again, Mr McCluskey has made it harder for Mr Miliband to act as he would like, for fear of being branded as in hoc to the unions. And if Mr McCluskey did fund a Left-wing alternative to Labour, the Tories would have even more reason to thank him.

The Guardian says that Dave is contemplating entering the general election with a manifesto pledge to "rid" the countryside of onshore wind farms,according to a source close to the PM. The proposal is to beef-up planning laws and reform subsidy rules to make current turbines commercially unviable. With Ed Davey as committed to onshore farms as ever, this is a real divide in the Coalition - and one that may suit both sides to emphasise in the run-up to May 2015.
Oliver Wright has a fascinating column in The Indy today. He explains how quiet and unofficial discussions are already underway between past and present civil servants and senior Labour Party figures, led by Lord Falconer and Lord Adonis, over what a future Labour government would decide to do in office. David Cameron has taken the unusual step of restricting the officially sanctioned discussions between the opposition and civil service until after party conference season, contravening the convention that the opposition be granted 16 months to "road test" its plans for government. But, Oliver reports, "on Saturday Mr Miliband received a letter from the Prime Minister informing him that as a result of new fixed-term parliaments, he had decided this was no longer necessary."
Lib Dem President Tim Farron declares war on the bedroom tax today, telling the Centre for Social Justice that it "causes huge social problems and distorts the market – we as a party cannot support this." Can the Lib Dems really pull off the trick of distancing themselves from a policy they have previously supported, just as it's getting popular? The Tories, who need them to regain Left-wing deserters to Labour, will hope so. Either way, the bedroom tax is losing friends and quickly: a work and pensions select committee report today says the tax "is having an impact especially on those living in adapted accommodation, or who need an extra room as a result of their disability, and who are unlikely to be able to move house or enter work. There is evidence that many of these people are suffering financial hardship."CAR INDUSTRY RALLIES AGAINST BREXIT
The 'business v Brexit' campaign is intensifying. The FT reports that the car industry is preparing a report detailing its vehement opposition to the UK leaving the EU, which will describe Europe as "fundamental to the current and future success of the UK automotive industry" and say that it's "critical that the UK has a strong relationship with Europe." Over 90% of companies surveyed for the report said that leaving the EU would hurt their business.
Some bad news for Dave's hopes of reforming the EU. Matteo Renzi used his first official visit to London as the Italian prime minister to suggest that EU reform was not a priority for his government, though Mr Renzi did say that "I believe absolutely crucial is the presence of UK in Europe, not only for the past but for the future." Relations seem to be going very well with Germany - but who are the UK's other allies pressing for EU reform? Dave needs to find some, and fast.
Labour is hiring. Ed Miliband wants a "Head of the Leader’s Broadcasting" tol be in charge of all "visual images of the Leader of the Opposition". The post, advertised by a Labour job advert, pays £45,000 a year, and will be charged with "developing fresh ideas for making the best of Leader of Opposition’s brand strengths and communicating his message in broadcast medium." Any takers?
Congratulations to Fraser Nelson, of this parish, who richly deserves to have been named Political Journalist of the Year at the Press Awards last night. You can read all his Telegraph columns here.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA MILLER? Worth noting Cathy Newman's piece about Maria Miller's expenses trouble, which suggests she's getting an easier ride from Dave because - incase you'd missed the fact - there aren't a lot of women sitting around his Cabinet table.
"Shirts hit the fan" says The Sun's front page. It attacks the £90 prices of England's World Cup football shirts (or £30 a game until they got knocked out, you could say) as the latest example of rip-off Britain. Sports Minister Helen Grant is leading the uproar, saying "It can't be right. I understand fans' fury." It will certainly be a popular line of attack, but unless she goes all Mili E and tries to fix prices, what can she do about it?
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  
Latest YouGov poll: Con 33%, Lab 37%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 10%
Sounds like a plan:
@Mike_Fabricant: A little rain forecast for Westminster. More Sahara dumped on my car.Should I sit in #PMQs with a face mask to filter it out? #inconspicuous
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - It’s not just prison books that are under threat, it’s British justice
Malcolm Rifkind - Farage is a buffoon for admiring Putin
Tim Stanley - Nigel Farage: an anti-politics anti-hero who confounds the Westminster consensus
Telegraph View - Scottish independence: Much better together
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Rule out any deal with the Tories, Nigel
Oliver Wright - Keeping Miliband out in the cold will haunt Tories
Dominic Sandbrook - For a ghastly vision of Red Ed's Britain, just look at the socialist shambles in France
Simon Jenkins - There was only one loser in this Royal Mail privatisation: the taxpayer
9am Pensions minister Steve Webb speech on pensions to Reform thinktank.

9.15am Visit by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to a nursery school in Greenwich to illustrate the Ofsted Early Years Annual Report.  Sir Michael will be given a tour of Windrush Primary School, Woolwich Road, by headteacher Jo Marchant.

12pm PMQs.

1.15pm  UK Government ministers visit RAF Lossiemouth. Scotland Office minister David Mundell and international security strategy minister Andrew Murrison visit the base and meet with local businesses. 

 Commons Northern Ireland Committee hears evidence on "on-the-runs". 

Graham Brady speech. The 1922 Committee chairman will give the Keith Joseph memorial lecture, on "freedom, independence and money".

**7pm** Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage hold broadcast debate on EU. The hour-long debate, to be shown on BBC2, is the second to be held in the run-up to the May 22 European Parliament elections.