Monday, 19 May 2014

Farage's taste of things to come..

BREAKING: Ed Miliband has just finished speaking. He has described Britain as one of the worst performers as far as low pay was concerned. He reiterated his comments that Nigel Farage had made 'a racial slur' but was not 'a racist'.  Nick Robinson has suggested that Ed Miliband's anti-business lines are, in part, designed to spike Mr Farage's guns. We'll see how effective it is on Thursday.  
Good morning. Ukip is taking a pounding, but will it make a difference? The polls give the party first place on Thursday in the Euros, but anyone reading across the papers would wonder how that can be. The main parties must wish there was a bit more time to go before polling day, as they reckon the tide has further to turn. But the postal votes have gone out, and the expectation is that the race crisis enveloping Ukip has come too late to dent its chances. And as before they may be underestimating the extent of the voter rage that gives Ukip its energy.
The "you know the difference" about Romanians row still reverberates. Mr Farage has taken out a full page advert in the Telegraph as an open letter to "Dear UK Citizen", in which he defends his comments against "a predictable storm of protest and accusations of racism". He says "it is not racist to want to stop organised criminal gangs undermining our way of life - it is common sense". Presumably the ad was submitted before he made his more conciliatory remarks about being tired and getting it wrong. Wrong or common sense? Ukip may have to unpick that one today. Mr Farage says he regrets his words, and will hold a "carnival" for black and ethnic minority voters tomorrow. Why does that sounds potentially disastrous? The Sun, which attacked Ukip as racist in a leader on Saturday, has returned to the fray with a belter from Trevor Kavanagh alongside a mock-up of Nigel Farage as a two-faced Jekyll and Hyde figure. "Is Ukip leader voice of nation…or bigoted menace - snake oil salesman offends & seduces". Trevoir voices his doubts about Mr Farage who "runs the party as his personal fiefdom". The tabloid has made a strategic decision to clobber Ukip, which in itself is interesting. The Mail rehearses Alan Sked's charge that Mr Farage once referred to "n*****" voters, while Patrick Wintour in the Guardian looks at the difficulties Ed Miliband is having with Ukip in the north, which he attributes to Labour's internal divisions over immigration. In the Telegraph, Boris issues a rallying cry against Ukip - "say no to no say".
On Saturday I interviewed Eric Pickles who, like other Tories, refused to describe Ukip as racist. When we spoke Mr Farage had not yet appeared on LBC, though I suspect that the Communities Secretary wouldn't have changed his mind, given that he went on to describe Ukip as "xenophobic", "uber nationalist" and its statements on immigration "shameful". The Tories are usually fearful of insulting Ukip voters, and prefer to let others do the pounding for them. The vigour with which the media has been pursuing Ukip, and exposing the sometimes odious views of some of its candidates, is impressive, but it will encourage the party's view that it is the victim of a politico-media establishment conspiracy. Nothing has emerged so far to contradict the expectation that Ukip will come first in the euros. But the past 48 hours have shown what the longer term outlook might be for Ukip as it struggles, with limited resources and an inexperienced machine, to cope with the sustained scrutiny that comes in the big leagues.

The Pfizer/AstraZeneca saga looks to be nearing its conclusion. Pfizer have come in with what they say is their final bid. It values AstraZeneca at around £55 a share  (1.845 shares in the new Pfizer-AZ entity plus £15.98 in cash). The offer is a 45pc premium on AstraZeneca's share price on the last day of trading before the takeover (Denise Roland has the details).  The AZ board has rejected the proposal, which leaves the the bid in the hands of the shareholders. Chuka Umunna has thrown a spanner in the works, saying that an incoming Labour government would move to block the takeover.

"Labour: we will link minimum pay to earnings" is the Guardian's frontpage."Miliband targets minimum wage for maximum gain" says the Indy's. Unfortunately "Schoolkids' Lives At Risk For £3k" is the Mirror splash, but Labour spinners will be happy this morning with the response to Ed Miliband's wheeze to link the national minimum wage to average earnings. Yes, business will be unhappy - the CBI's Katja Hall sounded the alarm on the Today programme this morning - but the Labour leader long ago waved goodbye to any chance of netting meaningful support from the business community. Labour need these crowd-pleasing announcements to stick to get their base fired up for Thursday. The question is whether they can follow through tomorrow; remember last week's announcement on GP appointments? Precisely.

Mark Carney's appearance on Sky News' Murnaghan is everywhere ("Bank's fear as house prices hit record high" is our splash), and his comments on Help to Buy have caught the imagination of the subs. "Help to Buy is threat to recovery, Bank warns" is the Times frontpage.  Mr Carney's public airing of concerns that Help to Buy is causing a return to the bad old days of sub-prime will increase speculation that the Governor will make a formal request that the policy be changed in September. Remember, though, that 77% of Help-to-Buy completions occur outside of London and the South East, and it's the overheating in the capital and its environs that really have economists worried. Capping the scheme in London would help at the margins, but it's an increase in supply that's needed. What's really happening here - in the words of the Times leader - is  Mr Carney passing the buck from Threadneedle Street to Downing Street.

Support for Scottish independence has slumped to 34%, its lowest share of the vote since September 2013.  The same ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday has No at 46%. Excluding the Don't Knows, the lead is 58% to 42%, with the prospect of reinforcements for the No campaign after the end of the local and European elections on Thursday. Dave's visit to Scotland and the promise of more powers for Scotland appears to have put the wind up the separatists, with Nicola Sturgeon on the Marr show attempting to cast doubt on the pledge. While it will be Labour figures who reach the Don't Knows, the SNP's panicked reaction shows the importance of the PM's role in the campaign.

Sources close to the 1922 Committee are quoted in the Times and Mailwarning Dave against signing up to a second coalition without a vote of his backbenchers. The parliamentary party are the parliamentary party and taking the matter to the membership. The number to watch in both pieces is 80: the number of Tory MPs believed to be dead set against a second coalition. Someone is certainly sending a message: but who?

Simon Danczuk broke ranks over the wekeend with a frank column in the Mail on Sunday. "Continually reciting a mantra of misery is not the answer," Mr Danczuk warned, saying that Labour need a broader offer than the cost of living crisis and to aim for more than just 35% of the vote. He made no apologies on Pienaar's Politics, telling Ed Miliband he needed to "get out more" and describing the party's strategy as 'suicidal'. Meanwhile, Tristan Osborne, Labour's candidate in Chatham and Aylesford, has been recorded by the Sunday Times lambasting the Labour leader's strategy. Mr Osborne is standing in one of Labour's 106 target seats; crucially, one where even the 5,832 votes that the Liberals got in third would be insufficient to overcome Tracey Crouch's 6,069 majority. Labour are starting to get jittery, as well they might; the latest YouGov poll has Labour on 37% to the Conservatives' 34%, while the Sun today finds that four in 10 Labour voters don't see Ed as a potential PM.

Number 10's efforts to block Martin Schulz as the new European president are out in the open. The Times details how ministers are frantically lobbying to put the skids under Schulz's bid. Downing Street fears that Schulz will be an enemy of Dave's plans for renegotiation. Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, that the Tories no longer sit in the EPP means that they have no direct path to block Mr Schulz and are restricted to behind-the-scenes efforts.

Nick Clegg sounded a warning note during his appearance on the Andrew Marr show that the Liberal Democrats must hold their nerve - and prepared the ground for a second coalition agreement that would include a referendum on membership of the European Union. Mr Clegg lost his cool, however, when challenged about the coalition negotiation process. The DPM is under significant pressure; his party oculd be entirely wiped out in the European Parliament. Small wonder that Mr Clegg's consigliere, Paddy Ashdown, is putting the frighteners about, while Vince Cable has been sent to China for the immediate aftermath.
The Financial Times has a guide to what's at stake for the Westminister parties in Thursday's vote. For the Conservatives, limiting the losses to 200 would be a good night all round, while the Liberals will hope that they hold onto Kingston and take Richmond; key indicators of whether their incumbency advantage can still protect them despite the coalition. Anything less than 300 seats - and Town Hall gains in suburban areas like Merton, Redbridge and Barnet - would indicate that Labour's polling decline is very real.

Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 
Latest YouGov poll:
Con 34%, Lab 37%, LD 9%, UKIP 13%

Now let's see what the shareholders have to say: 
@ChukaUmunna: I very much welcome the rejection of Pfizer's final offer by the board of AstraZeneca.The right decision for the company and for the country

In the Telegraph
Best of the Rest
Something from the Weekend
Matthew D'Ancona - It's not the Euros but the PM's response to them that counts
1145 LONDON: Photocall with Zac Goldsmith MP introducing 10,000 juvenile eels into the River Thames in front of Parliament.
1200 WALSALL: Ed Miliband launches Labour's low pay commission