Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The truth about Scotland is no April fool..

Good morning. Let's hope the Scots have a sense of humour. The Guardian, Mail and Telegraph have all opted for April Fool's jokes on the theme of independence. The gags are quite good. We've got the design for the new Scottish pound coin, with Alex Salmond's profile, and not the Queen's, on one side. The Mail has the secret plans for a new British flag, minus the blue. And the Guardian details how Scotland will switch to driving on the right, with ingenious devices for swapping from one side to the other at the border. It's all gentle, harmless fun, isn't it?
But here's the problem. The truth is distinctly unfunny. On the front of the FTthere's the latest on the growing tensions between the centre and Alistair Darling: "No10 scotches Darling on pound vote". This is the fall out from yesterday's Today programme confusion when the former Chancellor appeared to suggest there should be a referendum in the rest of the UK on a currency union with Scotland. "I don't know what process he was going through," a Downing Street source says. Inside the FT develops the theme with "Policy rifts rock No campaign in Scotland vote", and then hammers it with a leader: "Mixed messages on Scotland's future - The unionists need to re-energise their campaign". The FT has been leading the English pack on the Scotland debate, but even if we aim off for its enthusiasm, this is grim reading.
All this highlights two issues: the no campaign is in difficulty - polls show the yes vote increasing - and England is indifferent. Mr Cameron's appeal for those of us who live south of the border to weigh in and fight for the Union has patently not worked. Alan Cochrane's cri de coeur yesterday made the point that it's time for unionists to get the collective finger out was eloquent, but the scale of his task is underscored by today's April Fool jokes. Yes, I know, it's all a bit of fun, but we should save the laughs for after September 18. The English need to wake up to the fact that Scottish independence won't help the Scots, and it will screw them too.

George Osborne's desire for "full employment" leads The Sun to christen him 'Jobsborne'. He's been called worse. In our leader, we reckon that the motives are strictly political: "In committing himself to full employment, Mr Osborne hopes to put a human face on an economic policy that Labour has attempted, with some success, to portray as heartless and geared to help the Chancellor’s wealthy friends." The Guardian thinks Mr Osborne's aim is to bury the toxic legacy of old Tory governments, and Norman Lamont's infamous comment that unemployment was a price "well worth paying" to bring down inflation.Tim Montgomerie says that the aim of the Chancellor's rhetoric is "to capitalise on the coalition’s biggest success story — that 1.3 million more people are in work than in 2010." Meanwhile Janan Ganesh foresees trouble ahead for Ed Miliband, but can't envisage the next general election producing anything other than another hung parliament. Janan reckons that Mr Miliband will attempt to match his energy price freeze, "but now, with journalists withholding the benefit of the doubt and voters suspicious of anything that smells of free money, it will flop." Could that be a price freeze on rail fares, as we report? Not on April Fool's Day, no. On Today they are going with the line that Nick Clegg has vetoed Conservative plans to destroy all windfarms - and, no, this one doesn't seem to be a gag.
Vince Cable is getting it in the neck over the privatisation of Royal Mail. Again. Today's National Audit Office inquiry finds that the privatisation left taxpayers over £1 billion out of pocket. Margaret Hodge describes the Business Department's handling of it all as "clueless" in The Times. The Mail blames Vince for losing taxpayers £2.3 billion (the difference between the price of the shares today and when they were sold off). Will any of the mud stick to Vince? One notable effect is that it has given Labour a stick to beat the Business Secretary with - and perhaps reduced his chances of landing a plumb job in a Lib-Lab coalition.
The Times splashes with the news that Mr Cameron has ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood over fears that it is planning extremist activities in Britain. MI5 is investigating how many senior leaders are based in Britain, while MI6 is is reviewing claims that the Brotherhood was behind the murder of three tourists on a bus in Egypt in February. A No 10 spokesman said: "Given the concerns about the group and its alleged links to violent extremism, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we get a better handle of what the Brotherhood stands for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for Britain."FICKLE VOTERS

No April's Fool for Lib Dems, sadly: the party has lost 72% of its 2010 voters, a poll for the FT finds. The Conservatives have lost 35% of their supporters from the last election, while Labour has lost 22% - proof that British voters are a more promiscuous bunch than often supposed.


In my column today, I explain the importance of the North to the Conservatives' hopes of winning a majority next year. I travelled to Stockton South, Harold MacMillan's old seat where James Wharton is currently the MP with a majority of 332 votes, to find out how the Tories can win in the North. "Mr Wharton attributes his success locally to "being a proper Conservative". Faith in others, trusting individuals to choose what is best for them, reducing the appetite of an overweening state, his prescriptions are traditional."
The very best of luck to Simon Stevens, who replaces Sir David Nicholson as chief executive of NHS England today. We wish him all the best. Mr Stevens, a former adviser to Labour health secretaries Frank Dobson and Alan Milburn, has decided to base himself in London, rather than HQ in Leeds, to give himself regular action to ministers.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter  
Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 37%, Ukip 13%; Lib Dems 11%
Better late than never:
@swilliamsmp: Watched first couple of episodes of @houseofcards series 1. Think I may be hooked 
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan - The Tories’ electoral hopes rest on their friends in the North
Dan Hodges - The gay marriage fight had no benefits for David Cameron. That’s why he should be proud of it
Philip Johnston - A valuable Cinderella Law. . . or more state meddling?
Telegraph View - George Osborne is interested in votes, not dogma
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie - Osborne dares to dream a dream of jobs for everyone
Rachel Sylvester - When migrants have a name, they’re welcome
Janan Ganesh - Voters are about to wake up and smell the hogwash
Ben Chu - Choose your targets carefully, George, or you’ll end up with egg on your face
Environment minister Dan Rogerson to announce details of repair and renewal scheme for flood victims.

New NHS England boss to start his job. Simon Stevens will visit a hospital, a GP practice and a research centre.

William Hague attending Nato foreign ministers meeting, Brussels.

9am Boris Johnson on LBC.

11am All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty launches commission of inquiry into hunger and food poverty in Britain. Guard Room, Lambeth Palace. 

1.30pm  David Cameron holds press conference with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. 10 Downing Street.

2.45pm Immigration Minister James Brokenshire gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on the Immigration Directorates.

3.45pm The Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on reform of the Police Federation.