Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Education, education and war..

Good morning. The playground spat between Michael Gove and Nick Clegg is turning serious. At this rate, it will become difficult for the Prime Minister to brush it aside as a little local difficulty. With Westminster about to go through the turmoil of the European and local elections, the dispute could destabilise the Coalition beyond what it is capable of enduring. Does someone need to call in the dog handlers?
Quite who started it is debatable. There is no doubt that the Education Secretary has for some time been pursuing a sustained guerrilla war against the Lib Dems in government, to the delight of his colleagues (and more often than not Number 10). This has become more apparent since the departure of Dominic Cummings. If it is true that by their special advisers ye shall know them, then Mr Cummings is proof that behind Mr Gove's charming exterior there is a vicious street fighter who understands that politics is combat that allows no quarter. Mr Cummings holds the Lib Dems in contempt, Downing Street, David Cameron and most of the Civil Service ditto. He has been open in recent days about what he thinks of the way Mr Clegg has used education policy for his own selfish ends. The Lib Dems think he, with Mr Gove's blessing, has leaked correspondence on schools funding. The Tories in turn say it is the Lib Dems who have run bleating to their friends in the left-wing press to moan about just how damned unfair it all is.
The upshot is that the papers are full of coverage that suggests a counter-offensive against Mr Gove is underway. The chief line is that the Treasury is scrutinising the free schools budget - "taking control" according to the Guardian (although it should be pointed out that this is not new). The suggestion is that senior Treasury officials are taking a special interest. And that Danny Alexander is pulling rank on Mr Gove. The words being used to describe the Department for Education include "meltdown" and "completely dysfunctional". Mr Gove is said not to be on speaking terms with his deputy David Laws. Mr Gove is said to be "out of control" and is behaving like "a vandal".  Phew - the Lib Dems have been in action over the weekend: that's fighting talk.
How will Mr Gove reply, if at all? Mr Cameron has been robust in his support of the free schools programme in recent days. He won't countenance criticism. He is also privately happy to see someone on his side holding Lib Dem feet to the fire. But he is occasionally frustrated, I am told, by the exuberance Mr Gove shows in pursuing his political vendettas. He will have to calculate whether it is time to intervene and order an end to the feud in order to preserve the capacity of the Coalition to function, or whether there is political advantage for the Tories in allowing the occasional drive-by shooting of their deadly enemies. Tory MPs, as far as I can judge, love seeing the perfidy of the Lib Dems exposed, admire Mr Gove for it, and want more of that kind of thing. It may be that for Mr Cameron, Lib Dem bashing is the bread and circuses his troops need to keep them entertained.
ADAMS110514_2908075aDave's support for free movement on the Marr show yesterday has ruffled a few feathers. The PM wants freedom of movement to be about work not welfare -  "It's to go and get a job, not to claim," Dave told the Beeb - and anything further is likely to go down about as well in Brussels as Graham Norton did in Denmark on Saturday. The Sun, however, wants more, calling on Dave to make free movement his red line come the renegotiation. Predictably enough, David Davis has leant his support to the effort.  Their editorial is delivered in a similarly pugnacious tone: "until Cameron shows a willingness to have Britain not Brussels control this key issue", he's going to struggle. Meanwhile, James Kirkup reports from Llaneli, and finds a complex response to new arrivals. One successful businessman expanding his home explains why he's hiring Welsh builders: "I want someone reliable, so I get someone I know," says Mr Radek Tuczynsky.
The increasingly tempestous nature of Coalition affairs means that there is an increasing dearth of Parliamentary business. Less than a month after coming back from their Easter holidays, MPs are to be given another sabbatical this Thursday; they won't be back until the Queen's speech on the 4th of June. Jon Ashworth's put-down of the "Zombie Parliament" has caught the eye of the Mail. It leads page 10 and the unexpected 19-day holiday gets a through going-over in their leader. Privately, though, Labour will be worried. Less time in the Commons takes the battle out of Europe and onto the television screens. Their leader doesn't do too well there.
MR READ GOES TO WESTMINSTEROne person who may well be wishing that Parliament were going on holiday sooner is Ian Read. The Pfizer boss is due in the Commons tomorrow and Wednesday to be questioned by MPs about Pfizer's bid for AstraZeneca. Maths and science are the topics; Tuesday he'll be fending off wories that it's all about tax minimisation, while on Wednesday he'll be talking up his commitment to British pharmaceuticals. The Mail is still sounding the alarm. They've got a poll showing thatt two-thirds of voters want Dave to step in and block the takeover. Dave, meanwhile, was sounding a warning  was in a bullish mood about the whole thing on Marr; coupled with his support for free movement this may be the most confidently pro-market we've seen Mr Cameron, which bodes well for the campaign to come. It all comes down to whether and when AZ's shareholders blink; having seen the share price fall back from its post-proposal peak, that may come sooner rather than later.
James Kirkup dubbed the 2015 election "the selfie election" on Friday. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour persuaded Dave to pose with the Bring Back Our Girls sign; that a campaign can spread from Lagos to London in a few weeks hightlights how volatile our politics has become.  But it's Washington that may matter, and, quietly, Westminster may be heading for a deeper and more prolonged involvement in Nigeria than anyone expects. As David Aaronovitch notes, when it comes down to it "the West will be asked to do the heavy lifting". And don't expect many of the Tweeters to be supportive of that. 
John Cridland of the CBI has attacked "headline-grabbing policies" for endangering the recovery. He's not pleased with Dave's immigration cap, Nigel's Brexitism, or Ed Miliband's love of intervention. He's also joined the growing ranks of those calling for a rise in interest rates to prevent the economy from overheating.
The Herald revealed last week that gamblers were more likely to vote Yes. They also give most of the  donations for the Yes campaign. 79% of the campaign's donations have come from EuroMillions lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir, the Guardianreveals. Not willing to take any risks with the Union is Sam McCrory. The former commander of the Ulster Defence Association has urged the Scottish Orange Order to refrain from marching through Edinburgh in the days before the vote, believing it will enflame tensions, potentially handing victory to the Nationalists. 
John Smith died unexpectedly twenty years ago today. In the Guardian today, John McTernan imagines what kind of Prime Minister he would have made. It was a very different world back then; as McTernan notes, one of Smith's most-praised attributes was 'decency'. Now we salute 'mavericks'. How things have changed, indeed.
Baroness Lawrence has distanced herself from the campaign group Unite Against Fascism, whose members are accused of a campaign of violence and intimidation against Nigel Farage and his party. The organisation - which is one the grubbier corners of left politics - claims the Labour peer as one of its honorary presidents and a regular supporter. The Baroness has denied it, however. James Kirkup and Claire Carter have the story.
Sir Antonio Pappano isn't happy. The Royal Opera House's music director wants more bums on seats at opening night; political ones in particular. Politicians are "scared" to be seen at the opera because of its elitist reputation, he says. Could Sajid Javid be about to add Tosca or the Marriage of Figaro to his whistlestop tour of the arts?
The Guardian carries a warning fromthe Local Government Association that local government now reached the limits of what can be cut without reducing frontline services. For all the political noise noise about "the cuts", they've remained in the abstract for most people. That may change if people start to notice potholes in the streets and 'Closed' signs at swimming pools.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow Stephen on Twitter.
Latest YouGov poll:Con 31%, Lab 38%, LD 9%, UKIP 13%TWEETS & TWITS
@tracey_crouch: dear Hungary Denis Healey called. He wants his eyebrows back #eurovison2014
(Jeremy Browne's beard ended up with the last laugh, however.)

In the Telegraph

James Kirkup - Is immigration good for Britain?
Boris Johnson - In our own modest way, we're living in a Boko Haram world
Alan Cochrane - Could John Smith have envisaged where his 'parliament' would lead?
Telegraph View - The EU debate must be realistic  and honest
Something from the Weekend

Charles Moore - Ed Miliband is peddling the politics of resentment
Simon Schama - A splendid mess of a union should not be torn asunder
Matthew D'Ancona - Rebirth of class war holds perils for the ToriesBest of the Rest
Brian Monteith - Cameron and Salmond better have resignation speeches ready
John McTernan - 20 years on from the death of Labour leader John Smith the party needs to rediscover his passion and humour 
1130 LONDON: Hacking trial resumes.