Wednesday, 23 April 2014

New confidence..

Good morning. Dave and George's joint appearance yesterday heralds a new-found confidence in CCHQ. Rather than worrying about being two posh boys, the PM and Chancellor can present themselves as the pair who have salvaged the economy - and leave the public to make the comparisons with the two Eds. Mr Osborne said: "We are an economic team led by a very strong Prime Minister and we set out to the country four years ago the difficult decisions that we had to take as a country together and explain to people what those decisions were." Nothing particularly surprising in that, perhaps, but the significance is that the Conservatives think they have got Labour on the run over the economy. The Tories think that, after years of their economic strategy being relentlessly attacked, now it's payback time. Hence the first joint appearance of the PM and Chancellor for four years.
But the Tory concern is whether this is all translating into poll numbers. A new YouGov poll for The Sun shows the Tories trailing Labour by three points: the gap is closing but, not at the pace that the Conservatives would like, especially after you factor in the automatic seven or so points lead that labour gets from its boundary advantage. Comfort comes from the fact that Labour isn't on the 40-plus it needs to be sure, and the gap is close to the margin of error - the touching distance Lynton Crosby is looking for. In the European elections it's all rather different: The Sun's new poll has the Tories in third on 22 per cent, and Ukip on course to pip Labour on May 22. It is in this context that the papers view Dave's St George's Day message. The PM said that "St George has been England's patron saint since 1350. But for too long, his feast day - England's national day - has been overlooked." To the Guardian this only means one thing: a "play for Ukip voters".
At least the Conservatives' expectation management has been a triumph: no one will be remotely surprised if the party comes third. Labour's not-so-secret election tactic - watching Tory backbenchers drag the party on a wild goose chase after the Ukip vote - might therefore be avoided. It has become a cliche to expect the Conservatives to turn on self-destruct mode for a few months after the European elections; should they resist the urge, they may find the electoral landscape rather to their liking. Pot shots at the Tories in elections that the public don't really care for are one thing; the Conservatives will hope that handing the keys back to the guys who crashed the car is quite another.
His party may be yet to enjoy much of a polling boost from the economic good news, but Mr Osborne's personal fortunes are a rather different matter: his ratings are remarkably high for a suppossed arch axeman. The speed of his political recovery must surely qualify as one of the fastest on record. His team may deny it, but there will be interest in the Boris story in The Mail, and the suggestion that the Mayor of London will return as an MP next year (though he better make up his mind quick - vacant seats are fast running out). Is it a sign that Boris thinks the Tories are going to win, and wants to be a part of it?
Gordon Brown's five months to save the Union began yesterday. The former PM outline five "big positives" that Scotland gets from being part of the UK, and said that the "propaganda value" of the SNP blaming Westminster for everything could only go so far. What's the verdict? Our leader says that Mr Brown's "passion" is "something that has sometimes been missing from the pro-Union cause." The Guardian says that an old PM stepping out of retirement could be just the man to remind the Scots of the questions over their pensions, noting that, North of the border, "the Brown record at the ballot box is not at all bad. In 2010, which is the last time that Scots voted for the parliament whose future they are now debating, rather more of them voted for Mr Brown's Labour party than had backed that of Tony Blair in 2005." In a similar vein, Alan Cochrane writes that "the key to the referendum is winning over Labour voters – those very people in West Central Scotland who still reckon that Mr Brown got a raw deal from the British electorate in 2010." It's perhaps a mark of the state of the Better Together campaign that even the Mail says that Mr Brown's speech was a "timely intervention", though its leader can't resist saying "What a pity it has taken him until now to realise just how important pensions are."
Nigel Farage had a rather tricky interview with Nick Robinson yesterday, as Nick reflects in his blog. Mr Farage got himself in rather a tangle talking about his German wife's role as his secretary: "nobody else could do that job," he said. The backlash against the Ukip posters has continued; the party's leader says this is just another example of the Westminster elite at its worst, writing in his Indy column that "Calling Ukip’s posters ‘racist’ is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion". Is Mr Farage over-reaching himself? Even if the European elections go well for Ukip, does the party have the ability to withstand the scrutiny that will come in the next 12 months?
The Indy leads with Labour's preparations for a dirty war against the well-oiled Tory spin machine. Lynton Crosby was brought in by CCHQ months ago and is now settled in to the job. Labour have finally picked up the pace. Following the announcement of their American hire - David Axelrod - it's now reported that Labour are setting up an 'attack unit' to hit back at Tory attempts to target Ed Miliband as 'weak' or 'weird'. Whilst bracing themselves for a personalised election campaign with echoes of the attacks on Neil Kinnock in 1992 Labour's party officials insist this new, hard line strategy, will not 'match smear with smear' or wage 'class war' on Cameron and Osborne.
Sajid Javid, who some have criticised for lacking a Denis Healey style "hinterland", made the most of his new role last night with a trip to the theatre, as The Times Diary records. On the eve of William Shakespeare's 450th birthday the new Culture Secretary took Nadhim Zahawi to see Hamlet at the Globe. Perhaps Mr Javid was seeking some advice from the Dane; if things get tough he will do well to remember that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Tipped for the top, let's hope "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" don't cause him too much trouble.
We are still "doing God". Following yesterday's letter from "The Atheists" two ministers have supported Dave's notion that we are a "Christian country". Dominic Grieve, Attorney General (and Patron of the Christian Fellowship) weighs in by arguing that "atheism hasn’t made much progress in Britain" because "our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values." IDS agrees, calling those who deny Britain's latent Christianity "absurd".
Vince Cable has popped up on the Guardian's front page (and page two of the FT) after issuing a "stark warning" to the 100 biggest UK listed companies about the damage big pay deals can have on their image, ahead of Barclays' annual meeting today. The Business Secretary said that "there is now an opportunity for companies to make peace with the public". In his letter to Britain's leading boardrooms Vince urged them to crack down on bonuses in order to restore public trust and avert fresh legislation to limit executive pay which he has called "extraordinarily large". Mr Cable rounded up: "At a time when every part of the economy is striving to get more from less, I hope you find yourselves animated by the same spirit." Vince's ability to take pot shots at the City remains unrivalled. The truth, though, is no one in the Coalition takes much notice anymore.
A new coalition battle is brewing, this time over taxpayer subsidisation of gun licences. Mr Cameron - a pheasant shooter and deer stalker, as the Guardian likes to remind us - allegedly intervened back in December to stop a rise in the cost of gun licences after Owen Paterson objected to a proposed hike. Licence costs have been frozen at £50 since 2001 despite it costing the police £196 to issue one. Norman Baker, who has responsibility for shotgun certificates, questions why police should "subsidise the issuing of licences for firearms" and describes the current stance as "difficult to justify".
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter
Chris Heaton-Harris is at it again:
@chhcalling: A vandal has smeared luggage at Heathrow with Vaseline. Unfortunately the Police let the culprit slip away and have dropped the case.
Latest YouGov poll:
Con 34%, Lab 37%, LD 10%, UKIP 12%
In the Telegraph
Alan Cochrane - Panicked Tories are risking the UK’s future
Mary Riddell - Pastor Cameron has played his hand - now it’s over to Dr Miliband
Peter Oborne & Anne Williams - Honest work can't put a roof over people's heads
Telegraph View - Non-political voices need to argue to save the Union
Best of the rest
Steve Richards - David Cameron and Ed Miliband don't matter as much as they think
Nigel Farage - Calling Ukip’s posters ‘racist’ is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion
Paul Collier - Beware the impact of a Scottish oil grab
ADELAIDE: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tour New Zealand and Australia.
0730 LONDON: St George's flag flying over 10 Downing Street

1000 LONDON: Andy Coulson evidence to continue at the phone hacking trial. The Old Bailey