Thursday, 10 April 2014

Osborne in the ascendancy..

Good morning. Maria Miller's resignation has played out rather well for George Osborne and his friends. The Times splash - "Osborne led revolt to force Miller out" - reports that Mr Osborne and Lynton Crosby joined forces to argue that Mrs Miller's future had become an intolerable distraction, so she had to go. If the papers are any judge, they had a point. The Culture Secretary stepping down is welcomed throughout. Our leader says that "in purely political terms, so long as Mrs Miller’s property portfolio was the main topic of conversation, the Tories risked losing substantial numbers of votes to Ukip at the upcoming European elections." The Times says that "In a democracy, public opinion is a fact of life and, belatedly and reluctantly, she has had to bow to it"; the FT says that, because of his dithering, "Mr Cameron must live with a mess of his own creation." Dave's instinct for loyalty has been made to look ill-judged, and he has been weakened in the eyes of his colleagues as a result. In an ITV News / Comres poll, 63% believe that Dave had handled the problems with Maria Miller's expenses badly, and 88% believe that Mrs Miller was right to resign. Given the public's loathing of politicians, it almost seems heartening that only 53% believe her behaviour over expenses is typical of most MPs.
The uphot, though, is the Osbornites are on the rise. Nicky Morgan has been handed policy responsibility for women’s affairs, which gives her the right to attend Cabinet. It's worth noting that for the second time Mr Cameron has chosen to promote from ministerial ranks: as a result he has reduced the payroll, and hasn't brought in new talent from the backbenches (will his colleagues notice?). But the big winner is Sajid Javid, who was appointed new Culture Secretary. The lesson? Simple, say Sam Coates and Francis Elliott in the Times: "There are two types of minister in trouble in David Cameron’s Tory party. There are those like Liam Fox and Jeremy Hunt who got the comprehensive and warm public backing from Team Osborne when their career hit the rocks. Then there are those, such as Maria Miller, who did not."
Mr Javid's elevation has the feeling of being deeply significant. As our profile outlines, he has a remarkable life story. The son of a Pakistani bus driver, he made millions in the City - reportedly earning £3 million a year at Bloomberg - before entering Parliament in 2010. The Chancellor hand-picked him early on, making him a Parliamentary aide the following year, economic secretary to the Treasury in 2012 and financial secretary last year. Now he is the first British Asian to land a Cabinet job. Few think that it will be his last, either;Andrew Pierce notes that "Already some Tories are speculating that Javid’s portrait will one day hang on the same wall as Margaret Thatcher’s on the Downing Street Prime Ministers’ staircase." In the meantime, what will Mr Javid do? Tim Montgomerie reckons that "he is likely to use his new portfolio to uphold press freedom, protect commercial media organisations from BBC expansionism and champion private investment in the arts." But he also warns that Mr Javid "risks seeming too partisan on occasions and too ready to confront, rather than persuade, doubters. His and his party’s success depends upon learning from the Iron Lady’s weaknesses as well as her strengths." Mr Javid will also want to learn from his predecessor, who came to rely on anger and confrontation - and aggression from her special adviser - to manage her relationships, with unfortunate consequences.

Spare a thought for Michael Fabricant, who was fired as a Tory vice-chairman yesterday. A combination of his opposition to HS2, which "blights the environment, homes and lives" and his denunciation of Maria Miller appears to have done for him. He wrote on Twitter: "Been asked to resign as Vice Chairman, refused, so sacked over HS2 and my views on a recent Cabinet Minister." But the Conservative hierarchy were also said to be distinctly unimpressed by his use of Twitter - so it's worth keeping an eye on Tweets and Twits below for who could be next...
YVETTE SPEAKS OUT ABOUT IMMIGRATIONYvette Cooper is talking tough on immigration in a speech today. The shadow home secretary warns that Britain risks becoming "dependent" on cheap migrant labour and will say that Labour would make the "serious exploitation" of migrants by businesses a criminal offence, with custodial sentences for the wholesale employment of illegal immigrants. But there's a little snag: the Guardian reckons that "the specific proposal is legally fraught since employers will be concerned that it could give the state greater control over the setting of wages in the private sector above and beyond the minimum wage." Ms Cooper will attack the current policy as the "worst of all worlds" and will say that foreign students should be exempt from any immigration cap. The government of which she was a part relied on unfettered, low-skilled migration for economic growth of course.
Alastair Campbell famously said that "We don't do God". The PM didn't take his advice yesterday, when addressing an audience of Christian leaders and politicians. "The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens," Mr Cameron said. "After the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for volunteers." He went further than before in explaining his faith, saying that his "moments of greatest peace" come "perhaps every other Thursday morning" when he visits the Eucharist at St. Mary Abbots' church in Kensington, and highlighted Mark Abrey, the vicar of his local church in Witney, as "the person who looked after me". Mr Cameron also explained the mystery of the Big Society's origins:  "Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago; I just want to see more of it." Bloomberg has the full story.
Ephraim Hardcastle picks up on a curious letter in the Louth Leader concerning who should replace Sir Peter Tapsell, who recently announced that he is standing down as MP for Louth and Horncastle. There's one person the author, one 'Tory Rawle', certainly doesn't want: "it is with some shock, even disgust, that I hear that the rumour mills are suggesting that this is to allow a 'shoo in' for that clown, The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson." Ephraim mischievously asks: "Do you suspect Osborne fans are behind it?"
A mansion tax could be coming very soon. Danny Alexander yesterday saidthat a mansion tax "could be implemented quickly after the election", with "a modest additional banded levy on top of council tax for high value properties" meaning there would be "no need for a detailed valuation of the small proportion of properties affected". It all means that a mansion tax could be legislated for in the first hundred days of a Lib-Lab coalition. Or even a second Tory-Lib one?
Students, look away now. A new IFS report says that under the tuition fees system middle-income graduates would still be making loan repayments of about £2,000 a year into their 50s, before their debts are written off after 30 years - 73% of all students will never repay their debts in full. Allowing for inflation and interest, the average graduate would expect to repay £73,000. Ouch. Labour now proposes to cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year but, as Tim Wigmore notes, the only beneficiaries would be highly-paid graduates.
More expenses angst for Alex Salmond. A six-month Telegraph investigation finds that he spent £3,000 for four nights with his wife in a "grand deluxe suite" at the Peninsula Hotel, Chicago, during the Ryder Cup in September 2012. Mr Salmond previously dismissed as"ridiculous frippery" demands he account for the cost of his stay, even claiming that disclosing the information would jeopardise his safety.The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  
Latest YouGov poll: Con 33%, Lab 36%, Ukip 14%; Lib Dems 10%
Easy on the celebrations:
@gavinshuker: It's my half-birthday. No cards, please.
In the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - David Cameron pays the price for grievous lapse of judgment
Sue Cameron - Mess and muddle as the Scots’ vote looms
Mike Martin - Britain didn't understand the enemy
Telegraph View - Maria Miller’s exit will allow the Tories to move on
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie - The first of Thatcher’s children has arrived
Anthony King - Listless David Cameron lost authority by indulging Maria Miller
Rafael Behr - Maria Miller’s belated resignation shows that Cameron is a slow reader of the public mood
Andrew Pierce - The Muslim bus driver's son set to become a Commons superstar

State Visit to the UK by the President of Ireland continues.
1200 Bank of England decision on interest rates and quantitative easing. London.
1230 Danny Alexander speech on sustainable transport. Mr Alexander due to speak around 1340, followed by Q&A. RICS, 12 Great George Street, London.