Friday, 9 May 2014

Cameron's test of nerve..

Good morning. At the start of the week I warned that Pfizer's bid for AstraZeneca had the potential give Dave something of a headache. As the week reaches its end, Mr Cameron could be forgiven for seeking the sanctuary of a dark room.
Enemies of the takeover now seem to outnumber its allies. That Ed Miliband should oppose a profit-making enterprise is no surprise - the Today programme reports that he has refused a meeting with the Pfizer boss, Ian Read - and David Davis never misses an opportunity to make life difficult for Dave. The contagion, however, appears to be spreading. In the FT, Martin Wolf seems to be going off the entire principle of stocks and shares, warning that AstraZeneca  "can be sold and bought like a sack of potatoes" (Well, indeed.).  In the Guardian, Lord Sainsbury, argues that the government should block the takeover. Even the Wellcome Trust has joined the chorus.
In politics, you've got to know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, and when to run. The temptation must surely be at this point for Dave to throw up his hands and submit Pfizer's proposal to a public interest test. He should resist. AstraZeneca shares rose yesterday in anticipation of what Today is describing as a "knockout offer" from Pfizer. Ed Miliband could yet wake up on Monday morning to find that his fox has been bought and sold like a sack of potatoes.
GORDON'S ALIVE! Gordon Brown is to play a key role in the last few months of the campaign against Scottish independence, report the Times and the Indy today. A source within Better Together described Mr Brown - whose memoir on Scotland is due out in June - as the campaign's "star striker". Reading between the lines, this appears to be a very public wooing of Mr Brown, who is seen by Labour as the best weapon they have to keep SNP supporters from switching to the SNP and the Yes camp and still remains largely unreconciled with the cross-party campaign. One politician who needs no encouragement to return to the fray - in Scotland or anywhere - is Nigel Farage. Talking exclusively to Ben Riley-Smith ahead of his return to North Britain, Mr Farage described himself as "not particularly fazed" at the risks of a repeat of his last disastrous visit.  "If they want to make fools of themselves, let them," is Mr Farage's take on it all.
Nicholas Watt has uncovered a Conservative charm offensive to Northern Ireland's DUP. The DUP's MPs - and the first minister Peter Robinson - were invited for drinks in the Downing Street garden on Wednesday last week. Coming on the same day  that Ed Miliband lends his support to tougher sentences for people carrying knives - meaning that Nick Clegg's objections could come to nothing -, it's a reminder to the Liberals that they are replacable. Is Dave looking around for support for a minority Conservative government if things don't go to plan in 2015? As Isabel Hardman writes in today's paper, a second Coalition would "have half the policies and twice the grudges". That's assuming that the 1922 committee would even agree to one in the first place, of course. Tory minds may be increasingly concentrated on finding ways to govern alone after 2015.
CLASS WAR TURNS TO CIVIL WAROh dear. Labour's Uncredible Shrinking Man party political broadcast (video plus reaction from Dan Hodges here) doesn't appear to be doing much for the party's poll lead or its internal cohesion. "Labour's class war TV ad divides party" is the Mail's page 2 lead. "Politics with the hope stripped away," is Owen Jones' verdict. Meanwhile, Patrick Diamond, a former aide to Messrs Blair and Brown, has warned that Ed Miliband's message does nothing for aspirational voters in the South. The whole thing is likely to trigger another round of red-on-red briefing.
One of Number 10's biggest achievements of recent months has been bringing Conservative backbenchers  back on side. So it will be a worry that they may once again find themselves on the wrong side of both. HMRC 's new powers to raid bank accounts leads the Telegraph and the Mail. Meanwhile, the halal meat panic - which has even found its way into the pages of this morning's FT - has Dave on the wrong side of backbench opinion. Even the increasingly sympathetic Sun has a bit of a go:  "Mr Cameron is so terrified of offending Muslims he is a rabbit in the headlights" is their verdict.
Philip Hammond's remarks at a Press Gallery lunch are a mine of interest.  Heruled out replacing Mr Cameron should the PM quit after a yes vote. Whether or not that amounts to an end to his post-Dave leadership ambitions is unclear. More intriguing, though, are his calls for the Chilcot report to be published. It does make one wonder what the hold up is. Could it be Mr Tony?
"It's official: the Great Recession has ended" is the Times splash. For all the feelgood factor is boosting Tory hopes, the command from on high is still to avoid too much triumphalism. Esther McVey may have gone too far in the other direction when she described the recovery as "patchy", however.
James Kirkup has an excellent suggestion for Dave as he looks for a candidate to take post in the European Commission. Picking a sitting MP would cause a by-election shortly before the general, with all the complications that could cause. Appropriate candidates in the House of Lords are thin on the ground. But what about Boris? He's made a splash in Brussels before, after all. You can read more of James in our Evening Briefing.
Latest YouGov poll:Con 34%, Lab 35%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%ADAMSAdams_9_May_2905650a
We're all going to hear an awful lot more about Labour's Welsh record before the year is out:
@DavidJonesMP: Dreadful new figures on house construction come out on 15th anniversary of Labour rule in Cardiff: 15 years of economic mismanagement.
In the Telegraph

Isabel Hardman - Why the Tories dread another five years of Nick Clegg
Jeremy Warner - Household debt is Britain's hidden timebombFraser Nelson - Vladimir Putin could drive an army through the gaps in Britain's defences
James Kirkup - Cameron wouldn't quit if Scotland votes Yes: but he would forever be the man who lost the Union

Philip Collins - Ed will never have the look of a prime minister
Martin Wolf - AstraZeneca is more than investors' call
John McTernan - 2015 election will be hard to call
0930 LEEDS: Former Co-op Bank boss Paul Flowers to appear in court.
1015 LONDON: Nick Clegg speech and Q&A on Europe. Thomson Reuters Building,30 South Colonnade, Canary Wharf, E14 5EP.
1400 LONDON: Costs ruling in Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce case