Friday, 25 April 2014

Clegg wades in..

Good morning. Someone needs to ask Nick Clegg the obvious follow up to his statement on the case for disestablishment of the Church: will it be a Lib Dem manifesto promise next year, and will it be one of his red lines in negotiations for a Coalition Mk II is the need arises? Presumably, the answer would be no (apologies if it turns out it has been party policy for ages). Imagine though if it was. 'Coalition split on role of the Church' says the Times splash, though can it really be split on something that isn't in its agreement. For the second time in a week, we see what happens when a political leader dares to pronounce on matters of faith.  
Mr Clegg is an atheist who happens to be Lord President of the Council as well as Deputy Prime Minister, which means he oversees Her Majesty's Privy Council. As our splash reminds us, privy councillors swear an oath to "Almighty God" in which they promise not to allow anything to be done against the Queen's "person, honour, crown or dignity royal". On LBC yesterday, from where we are increasingly governed (whatever happened to that place on the river, Gothic revival, lots of panelling, green benches?), Mr Clegg said disestablishment would allow the Church to "thrive" because it would no longer be "inhibited" by its official position. Dave, unsurprisingly, said it wasn't Tory policy and wouldn't happen (of course not, it's not in the agreement etc).
It's Friday, so I'll keep this short. Mr  Cameron spoke about his faith and the place of Christianity in Britain the other day, and caused a stir. Mr Clegg, a man of no faith, has also opined on the formalised role of Christianity, and said it should end. That will cause ructions. In both cases, I suspect, the reaction will be a degree of unease at the casual way both politicians have waded in. Mr Cameron has been taken to task (by Charles Moore most notably) for not giving enough thought to the meaning and place of marriage when he pushed through same sex marriages. Likewise, Mr Clegg appears to have not troubled overmuch with what disestablishment might mean. What we might consider today, as we contemplate these supposedly benign and well-intentioned sallies on the place of faith and religion, is that we have become casual about our Christianity and its place in our society, and therefore oblivious to what changes on this scale might mean. Absent-mindedly pull one loose thread, and far more unravels.
'As pieces of political spin go, it was up there with the best,' notes Ollie Wright in an astute column in the Independent today. Yesterday, the Today Programme revealed that Labour was considering ending its affliation with the Co-op Bank; the picture that is beginning to emerge is rather different.  Rather than Labour seeking to free itself from the ailing Co-op, it was in fact the troubled bank that decided it wanted to end its relationship with Labour. A source at the Co-op told Wright: 'We are not looking at big organisations anymore. We are looking to move non-core customers elsewhere.' The bigger fear for Labour though, is not having to find another home for its debt, but the probable end of its steady stream of donations from the Co-operative Group. It's worth reading between the lines of George Eaton's piece for the New Statesman last night. In addition to the likely loss of donations from the Co-operative Group, George identifies two further 'black clouds' on Labour's horizon. The first, that Ed Miliband's party reforms will result in smaller amounts of money from the trade unions, something even the most optimistic of Labour partisans are forced to concede is a certainty. The second is the distinctly likely possibility that Labour will be office after 2015, and with it, lose its access to 'Short money'. 'A lot of people know their jobs are on the line if we win,' one Labour source told Eaton. Labour's financial position looks even more perilous if you examine their mooted new bankers at the Unity Trust Bank. As the Mail notes, its  board members include Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union and Vicky Bryce, a senior official at the hardline RMT union, while its president, Dave Prentis, is the general secretary of Unison, the country's largest public sector union. The spin isn't great for Labour in the short term but the longer term problem is rather deeper; in the event of a Labour government or Labour-led coalition, Ed Miliband would be ever more reliant on cash injections from public sector unions at the same time as he is grappling with Britain's budget deficit. 

Boris Johnson is 'Britain's first quantum politician', James Kirkup wrote yesterday. As long as the Mayor of London keeps schtum about his plans in 2015, his parliamentary ambitions, like Schroedinger's famous cat, are both dead and alive. As James noted, "sooner or later, though, the box will be opened". That day may have come a little bit closer yesterday. During an interview with BBC Radio Berkshire, David Cameron gave his strongest endorsement yet to Mr Johnson's hopes of returning to the Commons. Asked if Mr Johnson would be the candidate in North West Hampshire, a rock solid Tory seat where the Chief Whip, George Young, is standing down, the PM replied: “Obviously it is up to North West Hampshire and it's up to Boris."  He added: 'As a manager as it were I want all my star players on the field. And Boris is a star player.' In some ways, this is something of a non-event; Mr Cameron was in Hampshire, was asked about the seat and about Boris, and gave the only answer possible, which was to defer to the association. But the accompanying praise gives it a strong signal of the PM's blessing, leaving Johnson with the momentum. The question now is whether or not he truly wants to return to Parliament; as Rafael Behr notes in today's Times, 'the freewheeling style that gives him celebrity kudos as mayor made him a scandal-prone liability in Michael Howard’s shadow cabinet.'.LABOUR JOINS THE BATTLE
You wait ages for a Labour heavyweight, and three turn up at once. Labour are out in force in Scotland today, as Ed Miliband kicks off a two-day tour of the country to rally Scottish Labour supporters to the cause of the Union, Yvette Cooper is back in Inverness - the town she was born in - while Chuka Umunna will visit Scottish business. The entire Shadow Cabinet will meet today in Glasgow. It seems that Labour is finally taking the threat to the Union seriously, but there are still mutterings about the lack of engagement from Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy, John Reid and the other senior Scots who should be available. They should know better than anyone how quickly Alex Salmond can go from losing to leading, after all. The Labour blitz should be a shot in the arm to the Better Together campaign although it may not be as smooth a ride as Labour hopes. As Alison Rowat observes in the Herald, "goodwill towards Labour is running perilously low" north of the border.  Don't forget how we got here in the first place; because Scottish Labour suffered an unforeseen thumping at the hands of Mr. Salmond, something that Scottish Labour still has yet to fully come to terms with. As the FT says, part of Mr Miliband's job in Scotland is to rebuild a machine that once swept all before it but has since fallen into a state of disrepair.  As in England, Mr Miliband's challenge is to look like a Prime Minister in waiting, as the Scotsman remarks in their leader, the SNP's warning that a No vote may result in perpetual Tory government is as much a rebuke of the Leader of the Opposition as it is of David Cameron. The danger for Labour is that, while fighting to save Scotland, it does damage to its standing down south; that the Independent's front page lead is 'Labour will veer left in a bid to save the Union' is an example of the sort of coverage Labour would do best to avoid. The Mirror's coverage is an example of the worst of all worlds; in amidst the briefing about Labour's pledge on zero-hours contracts, the battle to save the Union has all but been lost. Some within Better Together remain bullish despite the difficulties of the last few weeks; as John Curtice explains in the Independent, whether or not the referendum is heading for a photo finish or the Yes campaign is dead in the water depends very much on which pollster you believe. "Even so," Curtice writes, "that could still mean that Scotland is set to have an unusually hot and sticky political summer."
Nick Clegg has kicked off the Liberals' Euro-election campaign. He's sticking to his guns on Europe; despite his humbling in the debates with Mr Farage, even the lowly 27% he scored in that second debate is still a rather better score than the 8% the Lib Dems are polling today.  But it's Mrs Clegg who gets the plaudits in this thoughtful piece by Anne Perkins.
Ukip are in the soup again. Andre Lampitt, the star of their latest party political broadcast, has been suspended from the party for tweets (now deleted, with the picture above appearing courtesy of the eagle-eyed snappers at the Guardian) that, amongst other things, claimed Ed Miliband was "not British", that Nigerians were bad people, and that Islam was a Satanic religion. The response, as you can imagine, is extremely unfavourable to Ukip, but it's the coverage in the Sun and the Mail that will really hurt Mr Farage. "Vile tweets of Farage's TV Ad Star"  says the Sun. "Star of Ukip's election ad says Islam is evil and Africans should kill themselves" is the Mail headline alongside a picture of Mr Lampitt. On the one hand, it shows that Ukip's operation is at least nimble enough to suspend a troublesome member while Labour are still patting themselves on the back about their rapid rebuttal unit. On the other, it continues the question of whether or not the party can stand up to any sort of scrutiny as voters' minds turn to the question of who to vote for. 

...are due, to Ed Balls for passing his Grade 3 Piano Exam with merit! "Rachmaninoff soon!" his Labour predecessor, Denis Healey,tweeted. Congratulations also to Charles Moore; his biography of Margaret Thatcher has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. You can read all his colums here.
Tracey Crouch was feeling blue:
@TraceyCrouch: Weird evening. Had travel vaccinations. Within 45 mins I had a fever, ached like never before & bad headache. Fell asleep & now feel fine!
Latest YouGov poll:
Con 32%, Lab 38%, LD 8%, UKIP 14%
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - Social media is now the biggest jihadi training camp of them all
Isabel Hardman- Why the Tories care more about bins than about Brussels
James Kirkup - Boris Johnson is a cat in a box
Telegraph View - A Christian country in the best sense
Best of the rest

Rafael Behr - Does Boris belong in the zombie parliament?
Anne Perkins - Miriam Gonzalez Durantez: the Michelle Obama of the coalition
Alison Rowat  - Labour must rebuild trust if they want to save Union
Oliver Wright  - Labour fears loss of Co-op's £1m gift, not its loan
GLASGOW: Labour leader Ed Miliband hosts shadow cabinet meeting. He will be joined by most of his top team in the afternoon. He will then lead a public meeting in the North Lanarkshire area.
1000 EDINBURGH: Memorial service for Margo MacDonald.