Thursday, 15 May 2014

Even the irreconcilables are on side..

Good morning. Tory high command was initially circumspect about Lord Ashcroft's poll giving the Conservatives a lead on Monday night. They were cautious about investing too much in a new measure that didn't come with months or years of previous comparative data. The appearance a few hours later of a matching ICM poll however changed things. As I mentioned yesterday, it's had a galvanising effect. It's also served to confirm a development that has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks: the Tories are uniting behind David Cameron. I know, sounds a daft thing to say. Surely a party in power is united behind its leader? But we all know that one of the hallmarks of the Cameron premiership, until recently, was a shocking lack of unity about him and his leadership. His first four years in office were marked by mutterings, threats of a coup, letters to the chairman of the '22, and a steady drumbeat of hostility from his backbenchers. The extent of his unpopularity among his colleagues was a constant source of wonder. At one point about a year ago things were so unstable that I and other feared that Mr Cameron might find himself bundled out almost by accident, swept aside by the inchoate grumpiness of his MPs.
Consider the situation now. The muttering has almost completely stopped. The irreconcilables are quiet. There'd the odd rumble from the likes of David Davis, but otherwise all is sweetness and light. A few months ago some of them let it be known that if the Euro-elections produced the dire result everyone predicts, a delegation would be sent in to see the PM to demand…things: a tougher line on Europe and immigration etc. Now even that idea seems to have been quietly dropped. Economic success has shut everyone up. Poll success will do the same. The prospects of a panic after next week's elections are fading. Downing Street was braced for trouble but it now looks unlikely. What worried Mr Cameron and his team was not a real panic but a fake one, engineered by his opponents. On Monday night grandees of the Tory outist wing were invited in to CCHQ for supper and a chat with Grant Shapps. Those present included John Redwood, Bill Cash, Bernard Jenkin. The plan had been to enjoin them to rally round, stay on side, stay quiet. Turns out there was no need. It was Mr Redwood, I am told, who urged Mr Shapps and his colleagues to hold the line, keep their heads. The last thing anyone should do, he said, was to go out and stir trouble in the media or try to undermine Mr Cameron. Cue relief in CCHQ to find that the heavy mob are now on side.

That unity of purpose will be more evident in coming days. All ministers below Cabinet rank attended a meeting in Downing Street yesterday to be told by the Chief Whip Sir George Young and Mr Shapps that everyone is expected to make at least three appearances in the Newark by-election campaign. The suggestion was clear: with a reshuffle imminent, prospects will be directly linked to campaigning enthusiasm - Cabinet included. Mr Cameron dropped in on the meeting to reinforce the point.
So let us pause to note this moment. Whether it's because of George Osborne's economic wizardry, or Lynton Crosby's message enforcement, or Downing Street's organisational improvements, or David Cameron's resilience, or the mess Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg find themselves in, the fact is that the Tories are united in a common purpose. That is not to say that the wider Conservative family is happy, reconciled to Dave, or agreed on some big issues. But No10's hope that at some point, later rather than sooner, the party, especially its MPs, would wake up and smell the coffee seems to have been realised. Which is why we should expect the markets to shift quite quickly. Next week won't be great - though I suspect it won't be as bad as the dire third place CCHQ tells us it expects - but the betting must now be that David Cameron will indeed pull it off next year.
Nick Clegg was ambushed on Wato with revelations that his pet project -  free school meals for schoolchildren between the ages of four and seven - is the subject of a "red" rating from the DfE, which means there is a decent chance the whole thing won't happen at all. The leak will further sour relations between the coalition partners. Former Gove SpAd Dominic Cummings has added further fuel to the fire with a blog about the affair. The whole thing will further the Lib Dem sense that they are the victims of a Gove-led briefing war. Mr Cummings feels that the whole affair reveals the problems with government-via-LBC; the path to Mr Clegg's red rating was littered with poorly-costed announcements and surprises from the Liberals. Mr Cummings is scathing about the DPM's motivations, too:  "Clegg thinks he can overcome the strategic disaster of tuition fees by picking fights with his own government on page 10 of the papers".
MARKING THE OCCASION Today's big news is the publication of the Bank of England growth and inflation forecasts, although the real show is Mark Carney' s Q&A session, where he is expected to reveal whether or not rates are likely to rise in the first quarter of 2015, if not before. The rates question puts Mr Carney in something of a bind, as Hamish McRae explains in the Indy. With inflation running at 1.7%, there's a case for cheap money, but asset price inflation is far higher - house price inflation is at 11%. For all the worries about Help to Buy - Ed Balls is latest on the scene on page 3 of today's FT  - the scheme accounted for only 2,572 sales between October and January (a million homes a year are sold in the United Kingdom). The big political question is what happens if rates go up in advance of the election.
I've been asking around about the Mail's claim yesterday that Alistair Darling "has effectively been dumped" as the head of Better Together and replaced by Douglas Alexander. The answer is a firm 'No'. If anything, what we are seeing is a rallying of the clan around Mr Darling. (I've blogged about it all in a bit more detail.) With the Euro campaign coming to a close, the phoney war is about to end and the real battle for the Union is about to begin; Dave is due to make another trip to Scotland soon, and as Alan Cochrane writes today, the Union may be in better shape than we fear.
"They are turning the election into a game of  'us' and 'them'. Well, I am with 'them'." That's the verdict of Sanya-Jeet Thandi, formerly one of Ukip's bright young things, who has left the party and will now abstain in the European elections.The coverage is everywhere. Having lost Miss Thandi, Nigel Farage has also managed to upset Marine Le Pen as well. She believes that Mr Farage has attacked her as a racist in order to surpass her as Europe's leading Eurosceptic.
Ed Miliband's woes continue. "Labour panics over Ed's dismal ratings" is the Mail's page 2 lead. The Labour leader's ratings are now lower than Gordon Brown's. It's the fate of Mr Brown's opponent that will haunt Labour though; as the Mirror reminds us, Dave had a 16-point lead at this point in the parliament; and we all know what happened to that. YouGov today has Labour level with the Conservatives on thirty-four points. David Axelrod meets with the Shadow Cabinet for the first time today, but as Kevin Maguire writes "Ed Miliband is no Barack Obama and Axelrod will have his work cut out convincing Britain that Ed We Can."
Ian Read's appearance before the Business Select Committee may have been more heat than light, and most of the coverage is devoted to the eyebrow-raising claim of AstraZeneca's head, Pascal Soriot, that the Pfizer takeover will "cost lives". For all the Franco-Australian may have belied the idea that AZ is a national champion, the affair remains one of the few areas where Labour can be said to be having a good war.
A little-understood change introduced by the last Labour government means that those earning between £100,000 and £120,000 are paying a tax rate of 60p in every pound. Council tax bills are now assessed on property values which will soon be 25 years out of date, and a £1 pay rise can make you £200 worse off. The UK's tax system is increasingly unfit for purpose, says the IFS. James Kirkup has the story.
The Chilcot Inquiry is being delayed - and it's all because of Mr Tony's correspondence with George Bush. That's according to Norma Baker, at any rate.He has written a letter to Sir John about the delay and the Mail has a copy. It's worth remembering, though, that Norman Baker also believes that the government was involved in the death of David Kell.
Lord Howell has called for fracking to be kept to the North. He's made the Times and the Telegraph, but you can expect that the lefty blogs - who made a great deal of hay when he described the North as 'desolate'  - will be on it soon.
It's not just Ed Balls who crashed the car. Michael Gove is a serial offender too, his wife reveals.
In an interview with the Sun's Cabbie, Nigel Farage also appears to be coming round to Dave, offering him a coalition deal. Just one snag: as the Sun's editorial notes, if Ukip have seats in 2015, they won't have a Tory government to bargain with.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow Stephen on Twitter.
Latest YouGov poll. Welcome to Britain, Mr Axelrod:Con 34%, Lab 34%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%TWEETS & TWITS
This story isn't going away:
@ChukaUmunna: Following our meeting with Pfizer's Ian Read yesterday, I will be meeting with AstraZeneca's Pascal Soriot today.

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - As Labour stall, it's time to bring on the new Balls
Alan Cochrane - The Union is in better shape than we think
Telegraph View - Glory in defeatBest of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein - The man who won a Nobel prize for parkingHamish McRae - How much do you spend on a haircut?
Simon Jenkins - Ed Miliband must give up his love of state intervention
0900 LONDON: Vince Cable speech at the Resolution Foundation. The Business Secretary will deliver a speech on "building a shared recovery - lessons from the downturn".
0915 LONDON: Pfizer, AstraZeneca and science minister David Willetts give evidence to Commons Science and Technology Committee on takeover bid.
0930 LONDON: Unemployment figures published.
1030 LONDON: Bank of England quarterly growth and inflation forecasts, followed by Q&A with Mark Carney.
1030 Belfast: Nigel Farage in Belfast.