Friday, 30 May 2014

What earthquake..

BREAKING: Sir John Major has just finished speaking. He said that Ukip would fade away and rebuffed suggestions that David Cameron's renegotiation would fail; highlighting his own success in negotiating opt-outs of the Social Chapter and Mr Cameron's earlier victories in Europe. He said it was "a pity" that the papers concerning Tony Blair and George W. Bush's correspondence will be restricted to a gist. He said it will keep a lingering sense of suspicion around the war and will embarrass Mr Blair as the architect of Freedom of Information, but it remains outside the powers of the current government. His suggestion that the last Labour government - or Mr Blair himself - could intervene to publish the papers in more detail will doubtless cause ructions. 

Good morning. Nick Clegg will be staying on as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Ed Miliband will be Labour's standard-bearer in 2015. Meanwhile, David Cameron continues on with the mission of renegotiation ahead of a referendum in 2017.

Nigel Farage's earthquake seems remarkably short on aftershocks. After the results, politicians of all stripes tramped into the television studios and told us all that they would listen - and learn.  The Mail and the Sun report that Theresa May has suggested that freedom of movement "needs to be looked at" - but there is opposition within the Cabinet. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband believes that the cost of living crisis explains why people are voting for Ukip. None of these stories feel particularly driven by the events of last Thursday.

This looks very much like a political class is that neither listening nor learning. That a Labour MP, Alex Cunningham, is in hot waterfor calling Gillian Duffy a "bigoted woman", adds to the sense that nothing much has been changed by the Ukip spring. It may be that, for all the sound and fury around Ukip's success in the local and European elections, the circus - or the steel band - has already packed up and moved on. They may have a chance for an encorenext Thursday in Newark (although today's Survation poll for the Sun, which has numbers of Cons 36%, Ukip 28% and Lab 27%, suggests that this is unlikely). Mr Farage's impact on political affairs may be more fleeting than he will have hoped. 

ALL BUILD AND NO BUBBLEThe second phase of Help to Buy is boosting sales in the regions; not as feared, stoking a bubble in London. The findings from the Nationwide Building Society, coupled with Treasury analysis, are in the Times, FT and the Telegraph. Sir Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor of the Bank of England, warned that housing prices were the "brightest light" on the Bank's risk dashboard. But Help to Buy completions account for loans of just over three times salary; compared to those outside of the scheme, which come to 3.2% and 3.8% inside the capital. Just 385 Help to Buy completions have occured inside London, where the housing boom is developing, while the North West, North East and Yorkshire & Humberside account for 2029, where prices are still below their pre-crisis peak. It's a shot in the arm for a scheme that is politically popular but has come under fire from some politicians, including the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, and a number of his predecessors. Szu Ping Chan has the full figures.
Ed Miliband's claim not to read the newspapers or to watch television is widely discussed. Somewhat surprisingly, it's the usually supportive Mirror that is particularly scathing. "Mr Miliband needs to catch up with the news if he expects people to listen to his views," says the editorial, while Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, showing a keen eye for his audience, says that he "always enjoys reading the Daily Mirror", before adding: "No wonder he is so out of touch if he doesn't read newspapers". Mr Miliband's BuzzFeed interview also revealed that the Labour leader believes that his reputation for weirdness is a concoction of a hostile media. He might reflect that his tendency to give interviews in which he reveals a distaste for the habits of ordinary people and boasts about his intellectual self-confidence are at least a small part of the problem.

Senior Liberal Democrats are calling for Vince Cable to be stripped off his role as the Liberal Democrats' economic spokesman, James Kirkup and Georgia Graham report. The effective demotion would mean that the Business Secretary would have a reduced role in the Liberal Democrats' election campaign and that Dr Cable may lose out in the event of a second coalition. Meanwhile Liberal activists are frustrated by the latest line being spun by Cowley Street. The "if we work, we win" line upset many Liberals who felt that the leadership was turning a blind eye to the damage wrought by the years of coalition. Sam Coates in the Times has more.

Chris Leslie will today tell the Institute for Chartered Accountants that a future Labour government will not be able to undo the Coalition's cuts - because there is no money left.  The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury will say that "more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities".

More than most, Nick Clegg will greet the end of the week with relief. Lord Rennard has resurfaced with a belated apology to his alleged victims. But that it's come so late has left three out of the four women demanding that Mr Clegg expel Lord Rennard from the party. The DPM felt too weak to move Lord Rennard even before the Liberal Democrat wipeout on Thursday and the re-emergence of the scandal will do Mr Clegg's team no favours.

A full account of Tony Blair's conversations will not be included in the Chilcot report, with the conversations summarised and the former President's views kept secret. John McDonnell's description of the whole thing as a "whitewash" dominates the coverage."Chilcot inquiry accused of whitewash" say the Guardian. "Blair & Bush inquiry whitewash" says the Mirror. The Mail goes further:"This shabby whitewash" is their splash. For all the sound and fury, the inquiry is unlikely to make waves: Labour has largely moved on, and can there really be a great number of people in the country who are waiting for the report to come to a fixed opinion of Mr Blair and his administration? 

The NHS must stop closing cottage hospitals and return to treating more patients in their local communities, says Simon Stevens, the Blair adviser turned NHS chief, has said in his first interview since taking post. Mr Stevens also suggests that employers could be encouraged to help their workers keep healthy. You can read the full interview with Laura Donnelly here.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

Another crisis of public confidence in the BBC:
@StuartAndrewMP: BBC Question Time has become a joke

YouGov latest:
Con 31%, Lab 38%, LD 7%, UKIP 16%

In the Telegraph
Iain Martin - Vince Cable: from leader in waiting to loser
Isabel Hardman -  The mysterious Mr Lansley will hardly set Brussels alight

Rob Colville -
Dan Hodges - The war games are over - and it's the Tories who are smiling
Telegraph View - Spreading enterprise will spread wealth

Best of the Rest
Philip Collins - The crushed Lib Dems have a bright future
Richard McGregor - Hilary Clinton: permanent campaigner
Gaby Hinsliff - Morals in the City: don't put your money on it
George Eaton - Fighting back by turning blue

1030 BELFAST: First press conference for the Police Service of Northern Ireland's next chief constable, George Hamilton.

It's all about Newark..

Lord Oakeshott's remarkable implosion is everywhere.  "Lib Dems in meltdown" is the Mail frontpage. "Lib Dem chaos as Cable denies anti-Clegg plot" says the Guardian. "Cable in Lib-Dem 'leadership bid'" is the Telegraph's headline. From the outing of Charlie Kennedy to Ming Campbell's early retirement, the Liberals do seem to enjoy carrying out their plotting in public. The question today is: will the Oakeshott flounce have any lasting consequences?

This morning, it seems unlikely. Lord Oakeshott's resignation statement  - read it in full here - could have triggered another bout of yellow-on-yellow warfare. His revelation that Vince Cable - still in Beijing - knew that he was commissioning polls cast doubt on Dr Cable's "Who me, guv? Never heard of any Oakeshott" claims. ("Parting Shott" is the Mirror's take on it all) Would Nick Clegg have to sack Dr Cable? And what would the consequences be if he did - or didn't? That looks remote this morning. It may be that, as with Dr Cable's boast that he could"bring down the government", once the dust settles, what's left is a diminished, weaker Dr Cable, and a DPM more secure in his post than before. Reading between the lines, it may well be that it was Dr Cable himself who outed Lord Oakeshott.

The forces organising against the DPM now lack a plausible candidate; neither Tim Farron from the the left or the continuity candidate, Danny Alexander, could ascend without a leadership contest.Yes, the forthcoming Ashcroft polling on Lib-Con marginals could trigger another bout of Liberal introspection, but it now looks certain that, for better or for worse, Nick Clegg will lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election.

JUNCKER TO THE SCRAPYARDDavid Cameron appears likely to succeed in his attempt to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker from succeeding Jose Manuel Barroso, the FT reports. Nation-states within the European People's Party refused to back Mr Juncker at a meeting on Tuesday night; with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian premier, joining Sweden's Frederik Reinfeldt in voicing opposition to the appointment. Behind the very real concerns that some hold about Mr Juncker's suitability for the role is a power play between national ministers and their MEPs. "It's not just the power game, it's the implications of the power game," one EU official tells the pink paper. But if not Mr Juncker, who? That the FT's list of runners and ridersincludes Christine Lagarde (who Francois Hollande refuses to back), Irish PM Enda Kenny (who says he doesn't want the job) and Polish premier Donald Tusk (who speaks neither English or French) is a highlight of the paucity of the options available to ministers. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has written a column for today's Telegraph profiles where he says that Mr Cameron's attempt to reform the EU will "fall at the first hurdle". Well, he would, wouldn't he?
There are no news channels in office and he has no newspapers delivered to his door.  Instead, he relies on his aides to summarise what's going on in the world outside (if only there were a morning e-mail he could use).  He's only a few pages into M Piketty's tome, and his sons (aged three and four) are developing a passion for Arsenal. Read more from BuzzFeed's Jim Waterson day with Ed Miliband here.

The Sun reports that William Hague and Theresa May are at odds over immigration. Mrs May wants Dave to make a pledge to limit the influx of foreign workers from lower income European nations, while Mr Hague believes such a pledge is "undeliverable". (A Home Office spokesman insists that there is no such disagreement) Dave is reported to be on the fence. Other senior Tories, meanwhile, fear that the missed migration target will be a source of solace and support to Ukip in the run-up to the election.  

George Osborne's reform to the annunities market may have to be watered down in order to plug a £24bn hole in the pensions budget. Treasury officials have warned that the change could leave the Exchequer short because of the new freedoms given to pensioners (John Greenwood has the story). Mr Osborne may face an unpalatable choice  between reducing the level of freedom given to pensioners or reducing the percentage that can be withdrawn from their savings. The story comes as Rachel Reeves gives her first major speech today on pensions since taking up post as the opposition's lead at the DWP. The mooted proposal would reduce the earnings threshold for auto-enrolment, adding 1.5million people to the pensions system. The Times reports that the CBI and the IEA have criticised the plan, saying it would pile additional costs on business.

The division between the Treasury's £1,400 "union dividend" and Alex Samond's £1,000 "independence bonus" dominates today's Scottish coverage. (Seb Payne explains in more detail) The FT's John McDermott explains the increasingly bureaucratic tone to the debate; "romantics on both sides have made up their mind". For all the optimism of the seperatist campaign, they will have to convert an overwhelmingly large share of the undecideds to be within a chance of victory. Elsewhere, Allan Massie sifts through the Scottish results in Europe and finds that the SNP is still making inroads into Labour's heartlands where the referendum will be decided.

MPC member's Martin Weale's interview with the FT urging for an interest rate rise sooner rather than later is a sign of the increasing pressure from the MPC's hawks. Coming in the same week as Mark Carney's intervention on moral capitalism, it raises the question of whether a new, more vocal Bank of England is a permanent addition to our political life.

The emergence of Lord Coe as the frontunner to replace Lord Patten as chairman of the BBC Trust is everywhere.  I've blogged on the importance of making sure Lord Patten's successor is at ease in the corridors of Westminster as much as Broadcasting House here.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

@PhilipDaviesMP: Cable has positioned himself right behind Clegg but only because that is the best position from which to stab him in the back

YouGov latest:
Con 32%, Lab 36%, LD 9%, UKIP 14%

In the Telegraph
Sue Cameron - The clock is ticking for the traditional elite
Peter Oborne - Only our PM can lead the fight for a new look European Union
Nigel Farage - Match your words with action, Mr Cameron
Telegraph View - War is not cheap, but we must be prepared

Best of the Rest
David Aaronovitch - Let's calm down. Ukip's popularity won't last
Seb Payne - Five things you need to know about the Scottish independence papers
Steve Richards - Lib Dem discipline is gone. Convulsions will only deepen

1000 LONDON: Rachel Reeves speech to the Resolution Foundation: "A better deal for savers". Responses from Michael Johnson of the CPS, journalist Paul Lewis and Vidhya Alakeson of the Resolution Foundation. 
1800 GLASGOW: Lecture by Yes Scotland chief executive at the University of Glasgow. Blair Jenkins will speak about the opportunities of independence for Scotland. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Too big and too bossy..

David Cameron's remarks about the European Union ("too big, too bossy, too interfering") are everywhere this morning. Mr Cameron's call for "nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary" puts him at the mainstream of European thought after the populist eruption last week. If Mr Cameron is to have any chance of pulling it off, however, he'll first need to frustrate Jean-Claude Juncker.  

Francois Hollande, however, has other ideas, while the leading centre-left grouping has indicated its support for Mr Juncker. Much is being made of Angela Merkel's lukewarm support for Mr Juncker - merely describing him as the "leading" candidate for the role - but make no mistake, it will require a considerable expenditure of political capital on the PM's part to prevent Mr Juncker taking post. The ultimate loser there could be Andrew Lansley, who, the FT reports, is being lined up to become Britain's next commissioner. Mr Lansley remains the bookies' favourite, although the name Lord Hill of Oareford is doing the rounds in Whitehall. The leader of the Lords is a discreet and respected operator, and his appointment would avoid the dangers of a by-election. Meanwhile, there is support from the grassroots for Martin Callanan, the Conservatives' leader in Europe who lost his seat on Thursday.  Regardless of who Mr Cameron ends up picking, if he succeeds in replacing Mr Juncker with a more reform-minded figure, there will be little appetite in Brussels for further concessions to British desires, meaning the UK is likely to end up with a lesser portfolio in the next European Commission.

The danger for Mr Cameron is that he may be about to discover that showing one's hand this early is unwise in Brussels. Still, the case against Mr Juncker should be easy to make, as he embodies the Eurocrat class that European voters so soundly rejected in the elections, while anyone outraged by Amazon's tax avoidance should consider exactly who has run Luxembourg for the past two decades and made it such a haven for companies that like to minimise their liabilities (Hint: rhymes with Juncker!). He is not without allies; Frederik Reinfeldt, Sweden's centre-right Prime Minister, is a supporter, while privately, member states may be delighted that someone is still flying the flags for individual states, not the European Parliament, deciding who takes Europe's top jobs. 

Mr Lansley once jokingly asked a young Mr Cameron for a job in a future Cameron government - "I want to be the Governor General of Bermuda, and I would particularly like the shorts and the hat” - he said, and Dave might consider the installation of a longstanding, moderately eurosceptic loyalist and the blocking of Mr Juncker a solid British victory. It may not be enough to satisfy everyone. The Sun's frontpage "We're Seeing RED" and accompanying leader call on Dave to make migration and free movement one of his red lines in renegotiation. European affairs still retain the potential to cause Mr Cameron grief in the last year of the parliament. 

The conspiracy to remove Nick Clegg appears to have unravelled faster than you can say "Hoon-Hewitt plot". A snap poll of 992 Lib Dem party members by LibDemVoice revealed that 54% of Liberal Democrat members want the DPM to keep his post. To make matters worst for the plotters, leaking a specially-commissioned ICM poll to the Guardian led Mr Clegg's supporters right to the door of the conspirator-in-chief. To no-one's particular surprise it was Lord Oakeshott who commissioned the poll. The whole affair has been swiftly disowned by the man it was intended to help, Vince Cable, who has described Lord Oakeshott's behaviour as "utterly reprehensible".  It may well spell the end of Lord Oakeshott, who now faces the possibility of losing the Liberal Democrat whip. As for Mr Clegg? His position was secure before Lord Oakeshott's smart idea. Now it's rock solid. 

"Treasury accused of misleading Scotland's voters over cost of independent government" says the FT. "Salmond kicked into touch over debt" says the Times.  An eminent lawyer, Lee Buchheit, suggests that Alex Salmond is being economical with the actualité as far as an independent Scotland's share of the national debt is concerned. Meanwhile, a respected academic, Patrick Dunleavy, suggests that the Treasury's figures on the cost of setting up an independent government may be misleading. The Today programme revealed this morning that Better Together believe that, once the story moves on, what's left after the rows is a growing sense of uncertainty about the nationalists' promises, and Danny Alexander is due to unveil what been described as the most but it's something of a frustration that the campaign to save the Union is still so dominated by mere accountancy. 

Ed Miliband was left flummoxed by the Telegraph's fleet-footed reporters yesterday. Asked to describe his leadership in one word, he replied with two: "One Nation". Peter Dominiczak's story has been picked up by the Mail and Times.  Aides said that Mr Miliband was not "unable" to define himself in one word but simply "chose not to". They may reflect when they look at the polls today that Mr Miliband's repeated choice to eschew good media management has been something of an error. As one shadow cabinet member told a newspaper recently, it's "not just that they think he's weird. They think he's a joke and that's even more dangerous."  

The Universal Credit is a good idea but Iain Duncan Smith is not up to the job of implementing it. That's Oliver Wright's verdict in today's Indy at any rate. The Major Projects Authority issues projects with a series of ratings (Green, Amber or Red), but, after lobbying from Mr Duncan Smith, issued the Universal Credit scheme with an entirely different rating: "Reset". It will add to the fears of those in the government who do not believe that Mr Duncan Smith is the right man to carry the mission of welfare reform through to completion. 
Freya the cat has been returned, safe, to Number 11. The cat has a history of jailbreaks; fleeing first from George Osborne's Notting Hill home before being returned thanks to a microchip to their new residence in Downing Street. Miranda Prynne has the story.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

@DouglasCarswell: Are there enough Lib Dems left to form a circular firing squad?

YouGov latest:
Con 32%, Lab 34%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%

In the Telegraph

Best of the Rest

1500 LONDON: Mayor of London Boris Johnson to visit the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, a major new Hindu temple being built in Kingsbury.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What does Dave do now..

Tony Blair has just finished talking. He has warned Labour against echoing Ukip's rhetoric on Europe, or "worse still", its anti-Europe rhetoric. There was no apology for the uncontrolled immigration of the Blair years, saying that the idea that Britain's problems were about immigrants was a "regressive" argument. He sounded a note of support for Nick Clegg, saying that he had been courageous over the last few years, and dismissed the idea that the "Party of In" campaign had cost the Lib Dems votes. The problem is "that they ran to the left [of Labour] in 2010", before going into coalition with the Conservatives, says Mr Tony. Meanwhile, he "resents the suggestion" that he is behind the delays to Chilcot and welcomes the inquiry "as much as anyone".

Good morning.  Be more human, Ed. Stand aside, Nick. The papers are full of advice for the party leaders in the wake of the European elections. (In case you haven't seen, the final tally is Ukip on 27% with 24 seats, Labour on 25% with 20 seats, the Conservatives on 24% and 19 seats, while the Liberal Democrats are down to 1 MEP and 7%). Dave, however, faces the rather more difficult task of persuading Eurocrats to reform. Number 10's efforts to frustrate Jean-Claude Juncker's bid for the European Presidency move from the telephone to the dining table this evening. The PM is in Brussels, where the haggling starts over the next round of top jobs.

As well as the horsetrading over Jose Manuel Barroso's successor, a replacement has to be found for Herman van Rompuy, the outgoing President of the European Council, and for Baroness Ashton, the EU's High Representative and Britain's commissioner. The best-case scenario for Mr Cameron is a strong role for Britain's next commissioner and two reform-minded officials in Messrs Barroso and van Rompuy's shoes. (The Republic's Enda Kenny and Poland's Donald Tusk are two of the candidates suggested in today's FT.)

At home, the clamour for reform shows no sign of abating. "Business leaders demand new deal with EU" is the Telegraph splash. Prominent businessmen, including Sir Michael Hintze, a Conservative donor, want more detail from Downing Street about what "renegotiation" will entail. The Sun's leader wants the old parties to start paying attention to voters' fears on immigration. Abroad, Dave's efforts may well be boostedby developments on the Continent. He is by no means the only leader chastened by the rise of the populist right, and Francois Hollande's widely-reported comments that the European Union has become "remote and inaccessible" are a sign than even the old defenders of arch-federalism are beginning to come around to Mr Cameron's arguments.   

An ashen-faced Nick Clegg stares out of the Mail and the Guardian this morning. The DPM's position, which appeared to be secure after Tim Farron and Vince Cable - his two biggest threats - rallied around over the weekend, now appears to be under some threat. The leaked ICM poll that has inspired Mail and the Guardian makes for grim reading for Mr Clegg and his party. Polls of Redcar, Wells, Cmabridge and Mr Clegg's own seat of Sheffield Hallam show all would be lost by heavy margins (46% to 16% in Redcar, 41% to 21% in Wells, 41% to 28% in Cambridge and 33% to 23% in Sheffield Hallam). That the losses come to both Labour and Conservative candidates will only worry the party further. It gets worse for Mr Clegg; if Vince Cable were to become leader, the seats would immediately become competitive.  It all looks worryingly well-organised; the poll could have been designed to undermine the DPM. On the Today programme, Caron Lindsay of LibDem Voice said that she believes it is part of a concerted attempt to displace Mr Clegg. Senior Tories are beginning to contemplate life without him. 

Blairite ex-ministers Alan Miliburn and John Hutton have an article in today's Times calling om Ed Miliband to hold his nerve in the face of Ukip's surge and to make the case for immigration, while Mr Tony is out and about warning his successor against aping Ukip's anti-immigrant and anti-European rhetoric. In the Sun, Simon Danczuk disagrees. He says it's time for Labour to "grasp the nettle" on immigration. Frank Field warns that Ed Miliband risks defeat unless he wises up to the Ukip threat, while Margaret Hodge compares  Labour complacency in to the rise of Nigel Farage's People's Army to its earlier missteps in tackling the BNP. The interesting thing is what's not happening; "Elitist Ed is heading for disaster say Labour MPs" is the Mail's page 9 story, but mutinous MPs are in short supply, on the record at least. Considering that the party was a poor second in the European elections, and that no opposition has won an election while trailing on both leadership and economic competence, Labour's sang froid is remarkable.

The Ukip spring, at any rate. Alex Salmond likes to portray Ukip as a symbol of England's unregenerate conservatism. Scottish Labour say that Mr Salmond must carry the can for Ukip's arrival north of the border; his nationalism, they say, has encouraged the Kippers, while Nicola Sturgeon blames the BBC's "wall-to-wall" coverage of Ukip. David Coburn, Ukip's Scottish MEP, couldn't resist wading in, thanking the first minister for his "tremendous help" in getting him elected. Meanwhile, a new report into North Sea oil has further undermined the separatist case, the Times reports. The fall in production is set to leave Scotland's finances worse off to the tune of £1.4 billion. The Scottish government has been criticised for attempting to bury the figures; it's not the first time that the SNP has been accused of using the trappings of government to help a Yes vote;Colin and Chris Weir, the lottery-winners who have almost singlehandedly bankrolled the Yes campaign, have been invited to Bute House on several occasions. As Ben Riley-Smith reports, the second invite came only days after an investigation into the Weirs' previous visit.

Nigel Farage is now targeting Labour's heartlands as he aims to turn European success into a Commons presence at the next election. After topping the poll in Doncaster, where Ed Miliband has his seat, Mr Farage is set to launch Ukip's manifesto in the town. The visit will do little to calm the PLP, who are increasingly jittery about the Ukip threat.  Meanwhile, Mr Farage can contemplate the final signs that he has arrived in the political mainstream; his wife, Kirsten, has been interviewed by the Telegraph. Mrs Farage reveals that the Ukip leader "loves Dad's Army, loves all the 70s stuff that they still repeat", and that he is effectively computer-illiterate. You can read the complete interview with Christopher Hopehere
Michael Gove has taken to the Telegraph to dispel rumours that he has banned American authors from the GCSE curriculum. The story in the Sunday Times sparked a wave of anger online at the Education Secretary. The story may be much ado about nothing, but it will all feed the fear that Mr Gove's bellicosity is beginning to undermine his own agenda. 
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

From a man who knows a thing or two about coups:
@tom_watsonThese numbers are unprecedented and insurmountable. Whatever he's saying now Clegg's leadership is doomed.

YouGov latest:
Con 34%, Lab 35%, LD 9%, UKIP 13%

In the Telegraph
Robert Ford and Ian Warren - Ukip have torn up the map

Best of the Rest
John Hutton and Alan Milburn - Stop kowtowing to Ukip. Immigration works

1000 LONDON:  Veterans of Royal Regiment of Fusiliers mount last in a series of "honour guards" outside Downing Street in protest at disbandment of regiment.
1800 LONDON:  Launch of Rusi report on British defence policy ahead of 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

The era of four party politics..

At 8:30, Labour has 618 (up 101) council seats to the Conservatives' 535 (down 99), the Liberal Democrats have 175 (down 93) while Ukip have 87 (up 86). Of the councils so far declared, 27 are in Labour hands, 17 in Tory control, and two are run by the Liberals. A further sixteen have no overall control. Labour have made a net gain of 2 councils while the Tories have lost eight; the Liberals have meanwhile lost 2. Live results are available here.
Douglas Alexander has just described Ukip voters as those "left behind by the economy but locked out of politics." Their rise is the result of "trends that have built up over decades." "We've lived with four-party politics for decades in Scotland." Nonetheless, he still believes that the rise of Ukip favours Labour in the marginals: "I believe this morning as I did yesterday morning that Labour can win the general election.
Michael Gove echoed Mr Alexander's claims: "The question at the next election will be which party has genuine answers to their concern." He ruled out any pact with Ukip. "Politics doesn't work like that...and it shouldn't." "We must not for a second dismiss the degree of concern that they have. What we must do is ensure that our politics deliver."
The quote that keeps playing is Nigel Farage's triumphant "We are not going anywhere, I'm afraid." 

Good morning. A number of significant themes have emerged overnight, and there's a day of counting to come which will shift things: Ukip is confirmed as a national party (with a caveat that the nation, for the moment, is England); Ed Miliband and Labour are in deep trouble; London is another country; the Lib Dems have taken a pounding, are clinging on, but fingers are slipping; the Tories want us to focus on the troubles of others.

The early headlines, before any counts, were thematic too: "Knives out for Miliband as Labour jitters grow" was the splash in the Times, "Broken Clegg/Lib Dems battered" in the Sun, for example. Ken Clarke in the Telegraph anticipated the euro results by predicting that Brexit - wait for it - would be bad for Britain. The Guardian spoke of Nigel Farage's "one man juggernaut".

But where will we be by close today? Assuming the current trends, my hunch is that the biggest talking point will - or should - be the underlying weakness of Labour's position. It will make noise about its successes here and there, notably in London. But the pattern emerging is of the main opposition party with no tiger in its tank, struggling to advance, and showing no signs that it is motoring to victory next year. John Curtice, a voice of reason on matters psephological, said earlier: "When it comes to local elections, we have quite high expectations of what oppositions should achieve because we basically say, if a party looks as though it is potentially regarded as an alternative government, it should be doing very well in local elections, even better than you would expect to do in a general election in 12 months' time. The truth is, by that test at least, Labour have not done well enough."

That's why we have "senior figures" telling the Times that Mr Miliband looks and is weird. Graham Stringer, who has a habit of speaking plain truths about the failings of Labour leaders, has piled in. I predict that in the days and weeks to come Labour turmoil will replace Ukip surge as the running story at Westminster, with terrible consequences for Mr Miliband. With no sign of any trouble for Dave worth pursuing, the pack will shift its attention to Labour, which faces a torrid summer.

A few more preliminary observations. First, share numbers are unreliable, but it's worth triangulating local performance with Westminster seats: is Labour winning council seats in constituencies it needs to win next year? Are Lib Dems holding seats in their heartlands? Is Ukip taking votes from Tories in marginals on Lynton Crosby's list? Second, if multi-ethnic, metropolitan London rejected Ukip, and preferred the conservatism of Boris, what does that tell the Tories? Third, has Ukip produced any results that make it more likely that they will win seats at Westminster and produce that earthquake Mr Farage keeps mentioning? And fourth, the obvious one: hold off on hard conclusions, let's see what Sunday brings. That said, given that after only a handful of local council declarations we are contemplating all manner of interesting developments, these elections really have turned out to be fascinating.
"Knives out for Miliband as Labour jitters grow" is the Times splash. It says something about the party's state of mind that the bloodletting had begun before the polls had closed. The killer line comes from a leading Labour figure, who tells the Thunderer: "The narrative around Ed Miliband, because it's the truth, is that he looks weird, sounds weird, is weird.". Graham Stringer, meanwhile, told David Dimbleby early this morning that the party had run an "unforgivably unprofessional" campaign. That Labour's last week of campaigning was defined by a picture of Mr Miliband eating a bacon sandwich that went viral and his failure to  identify Swindon Labour's Jim Grant (at least he won't have a new name to learn next time; Labour have fallen short in Swindon). The results outside London, meanwhile, look bad, sound bad, and are bad for Labour. John Curtice tells the Today programme that the party is "clearly well down, something like nine points" compared to two years ago. The party's backward step is best illustrated by the loss of Thurrock; in their No.2 target seat they've lost control of the council they won in 2012. 

As expected, the night has gone badly for the Tories, too."Essex Man is turning to Ukip man" was the verdict on Today earlier; Basildon, Castle Point, Southend and Eric Pickles' home seat of Brentwood have gone from being under Conservative majorities to no overall control. It's the Ukip factor; the party made 11 gains in Basildon and five in Southend and Castle Point.  That Nigel Farage's mob have cost the Tories - and their expected third-place finish in the Euros - is the backdrop to Douglas Carswell's call for a Tory-Ukip pact last night. Mr Carswell's remarks have been picked up in this morning's Sun and he'll be speaking for many in the Conservative grassroots. He should reflect, though, that in 2009, Dave had a twelve-point lead, a stack of council gains in the marginals and still fell short. Ed Miliband has neither. The task for the Tories is to hold their nerve over the coming days. 

Ukip are a force in the North. Rotherham may well be the story of the night, where they've taken 10 out of 21 seats that were available, came top in the popular vote and will now form the main opposition to Labour, but across the North they have made big strides. Having gone from not standing they have taken approximately a third of the vote in Sunderland. In Portsmouth, they've picked up six seats and deprived the Liberal Democrats of their majority; although the Liberals say they've won on the back of ex-Labour voters drawn from the city's working-class. Ukip can no longer be seen as a uniquely Tory malaise. 

A bad night for the Liberals, as expected. Labour now has a majority on Cambridge City Council and are confident that they can take Julian Huppert's parliamentary seat next year. They've held on in Eastleigh against the Ukip assault and they look to have retained Sutton; but they've lost Kingston-upon-Thames - which under the Liberals has the highest council tax in the capital -  to the Tories, and losses in Berrylands and Alexandra - wards within Ed Davey's constituency - will be the cause of sleepless nights on Cowley Street. Meanwhile, any hope of a Liberal revival in Richmond in 2015 looks unlikely; the Tories have held on there as well. 
"Sir- How many people thought Theresa May's address to the Police Federation showed her as a future leader of more gravitas, forcefulness and strength of purpose than David Cameron?" asks Graham Bond in the Telegraph's letters page. "Her kitten heels have an inner core of tempered steel," is the verdict of Anthony Rodriguez of Staines-upon-Thames.

"Ministers signal start of the great oil rush" is our splash. Large parts of southern England will today be identified as targets for fracking by the government. Dave meanwhile says that Britain is going "all out for shale". The hope is that shale oil will reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil and bring down energy bills to boot. It could be another HS2-style source of backbench discomfort; the chairman of Michael Fallon's own association has  said he will not be able support fracking under homes without the owners' consent.POWELL TO LIBYA
Jonathan Powell, career diplomat and former Downing Street chief of staff during Mr Tony's administration, has been appointed envoy to Libya by the PM. Mr Powell, a renowned diplomat and problem-solver, will be tasked with helping to pull the troubled country back from the brink of crisis and internal conflict. The FT's Kiran Stacey has the story.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

Daggers drawn in Croydon this morning: 
@SteveReedMP: Croydon Tories will be regretting they took @GavinBarwellMP's advice to divert campaigners out of Ashburton into Addiscombe

In the Telegraph

Best of the Rest

THROUGHOUT THE DAY:  Results from the local elections.
2200:  Sky News' 'Decision Time' begins and runs throughout the night.
2235: BBC coverage begins with BBC Question Time and runs throughout the night.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

On course for an earthquake..

Good morning. Polls have been open for just under an hour and a half now in an election that Ukip is on course to win. The latest YouGov poll has Ukip at 27%, Labour at 26%, the Conservatives at 22%, while the Liberals are down in fifth on 9% behind the Greens on 10%. The Mail's Opinium survey has still better news for Ukip: they are on 32% to Labour's 25%, the Conservatives are on 22%, while the Greens and the Liberals are tied on 6%.

Ukip's earthquake receives a mixed response in the papers. "Kick politicians in the ballots" says the Sun's leader. Get the anger out now before the real contest a year from now. The Telegraph's leader is less sanguine about today's vote: "The Tories are the only party offering a realistic prospect of the referendum that Ukip longs for...backing Ukip is likely to accomplish the opposite end", is the warning." "Vote Ukip, get Tory" is the Mirror's warning. Under the headline "Farage's Camoflage" - "Cam" is thoughtfully marked out in blue just to hammer the point home - they show a picture of Dave gradually transforming into Nigel Farage. Their endorsement (a shocker, this) goes to Labour. 

Within that party, a post-mortem is already underway. "'Complacent' Labour to hold crisis talks over Ukip threat'" is the frontpage of the i. Peter Hain is reported as describing the party as complacent to the threat that Nigel Farage presents to Labour in their Northern heartlands. But there's worse in store for the Lib Dems:"Lib Dems braced for total wipeout in European poll" is the Guardian splash. The best case scenario for the Liberals is that they lose half their representation; the worst  is that they lose everything. 

The early results won't come until two o'clock tonight, when we'll see how the parties have fared in the key battlegrounds of Croydon and Swindon, and whether or not Ukip have been able to break into the Liberal Democrat's stronghold of Eastleigh. Thurrock, Ipswich, Colcehster and Bristol follow an hour later; then Peteborough, Basildon, Cambridge, Enfield, and Sutton. At five o'clock we'll find out whether Labour have taken Merton and before learning if the Liberals can hold out in Kingston-upon-Thames. Sky News will be covering the results from ten o'clock tonight, while the BBC's coverage begins with Question Time at ten thirty-five. 

As the three Westminster parties look forward to the contest to come, they'll reflect on a campaign in which the Tory machine seemed to crank into gear while Labour sputtered, while the Liberals will wonder if their fortunes can ever recover from the cost of coalition. All will have to face up to the fact that the Ukippers may be more hard-wearing than they had hoped. 

Under the headline "Lib Dems braced for total wipe-out in European poll", the Guardian has detail of a briefing note prepared by Lord Ashdown's Wheelhouse group which sets out the 'lines to take' for the party depending on different Euro outcomes. At one level, not surprising. If they are reduced to 0-2 MEPs, they should say "Aiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuurrgggghhhhhhhh". Sorry, I've misread Nick Watt's copy. They would say: "Disappointed with the result but the party remains resolute and this was expected at this point in an electoral cycle". Parties always brace themselves for bad results, and think about what they will say through gritted teeth on the election programmes. The Lib Dems are thinking hard about the mess they are in, though. Nick Clegg's future is being discussed, and despite the triple-lock in favour of coalition that he secured from his MPs, peers and activists, there is talk of him quitting or being putsched. In recent months we speculated about a Tory panic, but it now looks like the Lib Dems are the ones about to go through a fit of nerves. Objectively, it is hard to see a set of circumstances - even fifth place behind the Greens and no MEPs - that should lead to Mr Clegg's removal without making things worse. But in the meantime the Tories are troubled. Those around Mr Cameron fear for Mr Clegg's safety and worry that the Coalition could be fundamentally destabilised. And more cynical Tories wonder whether we are about to see another of those Downing Street operations to shore up the Lib Dem leader, perhaps with a concession here, a new policy there, or even a large cheque.    

Is Dave preparing to ditch the immigration target? During his campaign stop in Newark, the PM was asked about the pledge. "You'll see when we publish the manifesto," was Dave's response. The effort to limit immigration is on course to fail. The good news for Downing Street, though, is that the pledge's failure comes without any predictions of trouble from the backbenchers. Things appear more stable on that front that they have been for some time. 

"What is it about Milibands and food?" wonders Ann Treneman this morning. The unflattering pictures of Ed Miliband's early breakfast are the only lasting image of yesterday's campaign tour by the Labour leader. As I wrote in my column last week, continual scrutiny comes with the job in the digital age. That means, as James Kirkup says, if you neglect the "dull-but-important" job of making sure the leader doesn't look silly, you quickly end up with a major image problem. As a result, asGeorge Eaton notes, Mr Miliband's team is now having to attempt something that has never been done before: winning an election while lagging on leadership and economic competence. 

Dave and Boris's campaign stop in Newark is everywhere.  Mr Tony once gave Gordon Brown a cornetto; the PM gave Boris a bite of rocky road. Yesterday's Com/Res poll for the Indy showed that Boris Johnson remains the most popular politician in the battlegrounds. Expect much more of the Dave and Boris show over the next year. 

Theresa May showed that she's still Whitehall's toughest operator with a bruising address to the Police Federation. The expectation was that the Home Secretary would give a robust speech to bounce the Fed into voting for reform; but they weren't quite expecting the barracking that followed, on everything from their reluctance to reform to the record of scandals that has eroded public trust in the police. Mr Tony once called the Fed most powerful trade union in the country; Mrs May left them in stunned silence. Even the Guardian's Martin Kettle was impressed.
Uh-oh! "BoE edges closer to early rate increase" is the FT's splash. Mark Carney's statement on rates was thought to have signalled that interest rates would remain as they are  until the third quarter of 2015. The number of hawkish voices on the Monetary Policy Committee is increasing , partly as a result of fears about Britain's housing market, while the good news on retail sales has convinced some that the recovery is bedding in well enough to weather a rate hike. 

Nigel Farage is considering forming a blocking minority with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other Eurosceptic parties of the far right. It might not be a formal arrangement, but even the whiff of association with Miss Le Pen may prove too much even for Mr Farage's image to bear, particularly as Le Pen pere has recently been back in the news after describing an Ebola epidemic as the solution to France's immigration "problem".
Voters who tweet photos of themselves and their ballot papers could facea £5,00 fine or six months in prison. (Steven Swinford has the story.)

Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

YouGov projection:
Con 22%, Lab 26%, LD 9%, UKIP 27%, Green 10%

It begins:
@alisonseabeck: Off for early, very early, delivery with @plymouthlabour Still dark !! However early bird catches the 'vote'

In the Telegraph
Best of the Rest

2200:  Polls close in European and local elections.
2200:  Sky News' 'Decision Time' begins and runs throughout the night.
2235: BBC coverage begins with BBC Question Time and runs throughout the night.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

What doesn't kill Ukip only makes them stronger..

Good morning. It's the last day of campaigning before voting tomorrow. The main media event will be another joint appearance by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who are due on a walkabout in Newark about now, before going on to a gig in Enfield. We might consider at another time the growing importance of the Dave and Boris show to the Conservatives, and what that tells us about any agreements reached for his return to Westminster. But there are more pressing matters before us to ponder, namely the prospects for Ukip. The party has been pounded in recent days. The main parties, helped by the media, have tried their best to paint Ukip as a collection of unsavoury racists unfit to govern. Yesterday'sCroydon carnival fiasco was its nadir.

Yesterday though I wondered whether this might not provoke sympathy among voters and prompt greater support for an underdog at bay. And so it proves, if this morning's polls are anything to go by. They show Ukip on course to come top tomorrow. YouGov in the Sun has the parties as follows among those certain to vote: C21 L25 LD11 Ukip30 Green7. A Survation poll in the Mirror is similar: C23 L27 LD9 Ukip32 Other9. To judge by my inbox and Twitter feed, there is an ocean of anger out there among voters who think Ukip has been unfairly targeted. It's worse than that. The Guardian has on its front "Labour and Tory ratings suffer as Farage attacks backfire", and carries a useful piece of analysis from Patrick Wintour on how Nigel Farage has skated his way through "probably the most intensive scrutiny any unelected British politician has faced in decades". According to this view, Mr Farage realises the attacks have backfired. "It is a finding that Labour and Tory polling has also picked up," Patrick reports. 

On that basis, George Osborne's last minute intervention - "Osborne: Ukip is a threat to economy" is the Telegraph splash - is not only too late but will only make things worse. It may be that the Tories have worked that out, which is why Mr Cameron is appealing to angry Tories heading for Ukip, urging them to come back to the fold in his Sun cabbie interview. Again, probably too late, not least as most Ukip voters all never forgive him his "cranks, loonies, fruitcakes" remarks. The Mail leader makes the point that if only the Tories and Ukip could team up, they would have 43pc of the vote between them and guarantee a conservative majority: the Tories can win if they stop demonising Ukip is its conclusion.

CCHQ, and Labour too, will ponder the lessons of this campaign as they ponder how to anticipate and respond to Ukip for the general election. It must remain likely that, as before, Ukip support will fall back as voters concentrate on who should run the country after the general election. But the party leaders will have to consider a nagging doubt: by hitting Ukip hard and submitting it to the scrutiny it should by rights receive, have they exposed its weaknesses or made it stronger? Will voters agree that Ukip is indeed a ramshackle, single-issue fringe party? Or will they invest in it all their frustration and anger at a political system they think is detached from reality? Attacking Ukip appears to have made it stronger, like some kind of superhero who absorbs the energies of his attackers. Imagine if it doesn't stop here. There is lots to be learned and pondered from this most bizarre campaign.

Ukip's anti-racism jamboree will have done nothing to persuade those who believe that the party is a few floats, a coconut shy and indeed a steel band short of a carnival. Things started poorly when the Croydon-based Endurance Steel Orchestra stopped playing after they discovered it was a Ukip event. It fell to Winston McKenzie, a former boxer and now Ukip's Commonwealth spokesman, to provide the entertainment. "Mr McKenzie," Quentin Letts writes in the Mail, "is that most hazardous of things in politics: a character.". Mr McKenzie was soon embroiled in a series of rows with protesters before having to inform  that Nigel Farage would not be attending - "Nigel's done a bottle job", one protester told Michael Deacon. Mr McKenzie defended Mr Farage's decision to give the event a pass, suggesting that the Ukip leader risked being stabbed. "Croydon at the moment is an absolute dump," he told the local newspaper. Mr McKenzie is himself a Croydon council candidate in Thursday's poll.

The PM has an interview in this morning's Sun. The big question has finally been cleared up: "Dave is fine," he tells the Sun's Cabbie, Grant Davis. The gentle wooing of Tory defectors continues - "People are frustrated. I totally understand their frustration...but when it comes to the General Election, are we going to stick to our economic plan or are we going to risk it all?" - and Dave describes the battle ahead as "tough but not impossible". Mr Davis isn't sold just yet; he's leaning towards Ukip as a protest vote on Thursday. 

"Red Ed's Day From Hell" is the Mail's verdict on a Tuesday when the Labour leader - as our leader puts it - "bounced from blunder to blunder". Mr Miliband was in trouble before most people were out the door yesterday morning  after he stumbled over the cost of his weekly shop - he went for £80 before ITV's Susanna Reid pointed out that the average family-of-four spends closer to a £100.  The Times has been out and about in Mr Miliband's North London stomping ground and found - courtesy of some neighbours who can safely cross themselves off the Miliband family Christmas list - that  he's partial to the odd £2.25 loaf of bread.

Things went from bad to worse for Ed Miliband after an appearance on BBC Wiltshire. The interviewer, Ben Prater, asked Mr Miliband what he made of Jim Grant. The Labour leader attempted to bluff his way through but faltered when Mr Prater asked him whether he knew who Mr Grant was. ("You'll enlighten me, I'm sure" was his somewhat sullen response.) Having been told that Mr Grant was the Labour leader, Mr Miliband praised Mr Grant for doing "a good job as leader of the council". Swindon council, unfortunately, is run by the Conservative Party's David Renard. 

"Lib Dems fear the worst local election night in party history" says the Times. The number on Liberal Democrat minds is 3,817 - the number of councilors they had in 1988 when the party was formed. Their council base could fall to just over 2,100 on Thursday. They look set to lose around half - close to 350 - of the seats they are defending this week. Of the eight remaining Liberal town halls, Kingston is a near-certainty to go blue while Sutton is also on the danger list; if they lose both, it will augur poorly for their chances in either seat - Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston while Paul Burstow holds Sutton and Cheam - come 2015.

Plebgate is back in the news. Andrew Mitchell claims that one of the police officers involved in the row spoke of "toppling the Tory government, who is urging the Met Comissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to reveal more from his internal investigations into the affair. 

Lloyd Bank has announced that it will put a cap on mortgages in a bid to help stem London's rising property market - house price inflation in the capital was put at 17% yesterday - but they remain supporters of Help to Buy.The scheme has raised confidence, they say, and is not one of the factors driving the capital boom. James Titcomb has the story. 
A new ComRes poll of the 40 most marginal Con/Lab seats for the Indy has the Conservatives just two points behind the Labour Party (it's Con 33%, Lab 35%). That the lead is so small will add to Conservative hopes and only fuel Labour jitters.
An independent Scotland would need to spend £750m on a new tax system, the Institute of Chartered Accountants has said. The report further calls into question just how the post-independence campaign will pay for its pledges; the oil and gas revenues alone, the report says, are not enough. The FT's Kiran Stacey has the story.

Support for Ed Miliband comes from an unexpected quarter this morning. Sarah Vine aka Mrs Gove says that he won't be the first or the last politician to be caught out like this. Ultimately, she writes, "they're just men".

Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

Latest YouGov poll:
Con 33%, Lab 35%, LD 11%, UKIP 13%

With an itemised shopping bill and a list of Labour's council leaders, one hopes:
@SadiqKhan: Early start on busy campaigning day - on my way to #GoodMorningBritain to talk about latest prisoner absconds fiasco on this Govt's watch

In the Telegraph
Best of the Rest

1000 LONDON:  NHS boss Simon Stevens to speak at The King's Fund NHS leadership summit.
1130 LONDON:  Animal Welfare Party candidates and supporters to campaign on the streets of London in an open top routemaster. Supporters in animal costumes and candidates will carry balloons and streamers as the bus heads from Bethnal Green through Shoreditch, Islington and Camden, campaigning for Thursday's EU elections.
1200 PAISLEY: Visit by Shadow Chancellor.
1830 LONDON: CBI annual dinner.