Thursday, 3 April 2014

Is Nick Clegg cleverer than we think..

Good morning. The Sun says that Nick Farage "trounced Nick Clegg". Few will argue with that assessment. Certainly not the British public: 68% in a YouGov poll thought that Mr Farage had won; 69% agreed in an ICM poll. After seeming rather shouty and sweaty in the first debate, Mr Farage exuded calm and authority: as Tim Stanley writes, he looked, in American presidential terms, like the incumbent.
It's important to remember this was a debate between the leader of the third party and the leader of the fourth. It is unwise to draw too many broad conclusions from it: unless he imploded, Mr Farage was always likely to trump Mr Clegg by appealing to the heart. But the debates have provided a reminder, if one were needed, that the Ukip leader should not be underestimated. Rafael Behr says that the stress-testing of the pro-EU arguments failed, and it's a reminder of the extent of anti-establishment venom out there. There are shades of the battle over Scotland's future, where the establishment is struggling to best the more emotive arguments of the independence campaign.
What does it all mean for the leader of the Lib Dems? This was a dire performance from Mr Clegg. So much for the idea that he is an accomplished debater. He needs to rethink his strategy if there are TV debates next year; the appeals to trust and personal integrity, such an important part of his success in 2010, don't wash anymore. It shouldn't have taken last night to remind him of the fact, but apparently it did: in a straight fight with Mr Farage over trust, there could only be one winner.
So will Mr Clegg be regretting his challenge to Mr Farage? Surely not. Ukip are taking votes off the Lib Dems - 400,000 since the last election - but they're a much bigger threat to the Conservatives. 38 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats are in seats when they face a Tory challenger. A senior Lib Dem MP in a marginal Con-Lib seat reckons that, thanks to Ukip, he could lose one-fifth of his 2010 vote share and still be returned to Parliament. If anyone should worry about Mr Farage's success, it's David Cameron. The other Lib Dem hope, as Tim Wigmore explained, is Ukip sticking around will encourage the Tories to shift to the Right and leave space for the Lib Dems in the centre. If the debates help to ensure that Ukip is here to stay, that's brilliant news for the Lib Dems. Perhaps Mr Clegg should be getting a little more credit.
The Times splash - "Pressure on Cameron to bar Scots at next election" - is troubling. It reports that the PM is being lobbied by Tories to exclude Scottish constituencies from the next general election if Scotland votes for independence. In terms, some Tories want Scotland and Scots to be barred from taking part in the 2015 general election ahead of full independence in 2016. You can see their logic: once Scotland has voted to leave, why should it continue to play a role in deciding the government of rUK? Keeping them out would maximise Tory chances of governing outright. A number of Tories voted for a ban in the Commons last month but lost. The idea is patently a load of nonsense: until Scotland is no long part of the UK, its citizens are citizens of the UK and entitled to full representation at Westminster. To suggest otherwise is offensive. The more likely outcome, being canvassed in Whitehall, is that in the event of a Yes vote steps would be taken to suspend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and extend the life of this Parliament, putting off the general election until Scotland has separated.But this story is yet another that tells us something more worrying: England and its political classes have failed to grasp how deadly serious this referendum is, how catastrophic the consequences for the rest of the UK would be to lose Scotland and with it a significant chunk of its landmass, talent, and resources. I blogged about it last night here. The idea that we can have arguments about trifling consequentials is demented. Mr Cameron worries his voice only serves to provoke Scotland against the Union, and that anything that smacks of English whinging about the outcome gives Scots an additional reason to vote Yes. But his other problem is that on the benches of the Conservative and Unionist Party sit plenty of MPs who are happy to sacrifice the Union to advance the cause of taking the UK - in fact, England - out of Europe.
Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, gave the annual Keith Joseph Lecture last night. He probably should have picked a better day, which would have given the speeh more coverage in the papers. Anyway, there are some lines worth recording. While welcoming Dave's commitment to increasing the inheritance tax threshold, Mr Brady advocated tax breaks for legacies that help people to get on the housing ladder should be included in the next Conservative manifesto; he also - and I bet Dave loved this - said that the PM's perceived breaking of the "cast-iron" guarantee after the EU Lisbon Treaty was a factor in the failure to win a majority in 2010.
HEZZA ON BORISSome advice from one blonde would-be Tory leader to another. Michael Heseltine has given an interview to The New Statesman telling Boris that he shouldn't stand for Parliament until his term as London Mayor is finished. Will Boris be the next Tory PM? Mr Heseltine isn't convinced: "He will certainly be a candidate, and a perfectly credible candidate, but there are other candidates and one or two obvious people have got very considerable qualifications as well."
There's an important piece in The Times today. Nick Herbert and John Healey write a joint op-ed calling for "urgent, radical overhaul" in Whitehall. They write that "Paradoxically, while a weak centre exercises poor financial control in Whitehall, an entrenched centralism in the British state has seen the drive for localism stall." Is civil service reform something the three main parties can all agree on? James Forsyth suggests that there may never be a better moment to get a move on with it.

The Mail have done a treatment on Maria Miller ("Minister forced to repay expenses…but keeps job"). The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee is likely to publish its findings on her alleged misuse of the second homes allowance. The report is expected to clear her of the most serious charge but will ask her to repay £5000 that reflect her failure to adjust her mortgage payments when interest rates fell, and apologise for not cooperating properly with the inquiry. Will she have to resign? Don't bet on it. Mr Cameron has a record of standing by minsisters in trouble. And he needs women. Cathy Newman's take on his problem is worth a read.
The Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has heard some fascinating evidence from a former policeman who claimed that in 2007 Downing Street asked police in Ulster to release two suspected IRA gunmen after being asked to by Gerry Adams. The Mail has details of what it reports was an attempt to "pervert the course of justice".
A rowdy PMQs yesterday. Dave called the two Eds "the two muppets"; Ed responded by calling Dave the "dunce of Downing Street". Zinger. Clashing over Royal Mail, the PM also wrongly said that the privatisation of Royal Mail was in Labour's manifesto. It wasn't Dave finest half hour at the dispatch box.SUPERMARKET SWEEP
David Cameron visited John Lewis in Cheadle yesterday and declared Waitrose his supermarket of choice, in part because its customers are more likely to speak to him. He also revealed that he uses Ocado for his groceries in No10. But he uses Sainsbury's in his constituency in Witney - because their is no Waitrose. Waitrose, of course, is a temple to middle class aspiration, so Mr Cameron's preference may be interpreted either as a smart bit of alignment with his core vote, or simply confirmation that he is a bit posh.
Will the Tories lose the election because of a slack operation in the marginals? It's a question worth asking after James Kirkup's illuminating piece. How can it be that, seven months after Lorraine Fullbrook announced that she was standing down as MP for South Ribble (majority - 5,500), there is still no Conservative candidate in the seat? The Tories' campaigning team needs to up its game.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  
Latest YouGov poll: Con 32%, Lab 38%, Ukip 13%; Lib Dems 10%
Everything is OK again:
@GlynDaviesMP: Reunited with my IPad. Promise never to leave you behind again. Missed you so much over last few days
In the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - The Aintree cavalry charge thunders on
Dan Hodges - Labour’s union links are at breaking point
Tim Stanley - Farage v Clegg: Farage won easily. On Europe, his argument is now the one to beat
Telegraph View - Farage v Clegg: The gloves come off
Best of the rest
Rafael Behr - Anti-Establishment venom proves lethal to pro-European arguments
Nick Herbert and John Healey - Let’s reform our antiquated way of governing
John Harris - The Tories own the future – the left is trapped in the past
James Forsyth - Two coming revolutions: in election tactics, and in Whitehall
Launch of interim report of Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England.

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, to visit Rome. The Royal couple will visit the Presidential Palace where they will attend a private lunch hosted by Italian president Napolitano. Then they will have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

9.30am Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony media launch.

9.30am Ofsted to publish its Early Years Annual Report.

10am George Osborne gives evidence on the Budget to the Commons Treasury Committee. 

10.30am David Cameron visit to West Midlands.

11am Maria Miller expenses report. Commons Standards Committee publishing report into Culture Secretary's accommodation claims.

2pm Scottish Secretary visits tech firm. Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael will visit digital hologram firm Holoxica on the eve of the introduction of the UK Government's employment allowance.