Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Labour's poll worries..

Two polls giving the Tories a lead - and on the morning Labour's fancy new American hire flies in to town for his first meeting with Ed Miliband: the effect on Conservative MPs will be equal to an adrenaline shot to the heart. They have been desperate for evidence that the tide is turning, and now they have it. Even if we now get polls showing a Labour lead, Tories at last have evidence that things can go their way, and that they are steadily overhauling Labour. Polls are about psychology as much as about facts. They shape what people like me say, and they affect the mood of politicians. This morning's talk is of a boost to the Tories, but more telling will be the blow to Labour.
There is no doubt that the ICM poll in the Guardian, and the Ashcroft poll (everywhere) will liven things up. The Guardian splash catches it: "Tories on top as Labour rating sinks to four-year low". ICM's numbers are: C33 L31 LD13 Ukip15. The paper reflects nerves in the Miliband camp, and Patrick Wintour assesses what David Axelrod is likely to do when he sees the headlines. He says Barack Obama's guru will need to speak "blunt truths" to Mr Miliband about his campaign. Elsewhere it's "Labour sink to 28 year poll low" in the Sun, the Times on p1 talks of a "Pre-election boost for Cameron as Tories jump ahead in the polls", and the Mail says "Tories take first poll lead" (the Ashcroft poll, the first of what will be an important series, has C34 L32 LD9 Ukip15).
In my column this morning I look at the pressure of 24 hour social media scrutiny on David Cameron and political leaders more generally, and what it will mean for the election next year. The way polls echo on Twitter is a case in point. Twitter acts as an accelerator of fact and rumour: a poll that would have sat on a newspaper's pages now goes careening around the Internet. It gets seen by more people. Labour activists will know far more quickly than before that their party is suddenly behind in the polls, and what people are saying about it. That knowledge will reinforce the doubt that has already  taken hold. For a few months now senior Labour people have been noticeably cautious about their prospects. "The election is there to be won" they say, which is telling given that the polls have until recently said that it IS won. The polls will test Labour's capacity to remain united in the face of imminent failure.
What effect will it have on Tories? Will Mr Cameron get any credit for it? His MPs have been markedly more behaved since the turn of the year. Talk of a challenge has vanished. Even the residual threats of a visit from a delegation to demand more right-wing policies after the "failure" of the Euros have faded. The irreconcilables are quiet, save the odd muttering from David Davis. Economic success has cheered them up, and now they can see tangible psephological results. There is still miles to go before they can start to hope for that majority Mr Cameron claims to be working for. But optimism is contagious, and self-reinforcing. Good news begets more good news. It isn't quite the Big Mo, but at some point someone will speculate that next week's elections might turn out to be bad, but not disastrous. Ukip in particular should worry.
"Stop this feud!" is the Mail's page 8 headline. In a tone a little more menacing than Harold Macmillan's "little local difficulty", Dave told ITV that dealing with these "noises off" came with the territory, "and believe me, they will be dealt with.".  That means no counter-strike from Michael Gove, although he was able to work off some of his ire against Tristram Hunt in the Commons yesterday, who had a throughly bad day in the office. "Our hunky lovely has turned out to be a clunker," was Quentin Letts' verdict, which may well have been echoed in Ed Miliband's office. Mr Gove "dealt with Mr Hunt as smoothly as a snooker referee dusting the cue ball"was Michael Deacon's. John Crace summed up the whole affair: "This is currently one of parliament's bigger mismatches." A reminder, too, that the coalition may be divided over education policy, but it does at least have one.
The Mail reports that Alistair Darling has been all-but-sacked from his post at the top of Better Together. The story is that won't be a formal announcement - the last thing anyone wants is to hand Yes Scotland a scalp - Douglas Alexander is to take the reins following cross-party talks. Meanwhile, the FT discusses the Yes campaign's growing optimism. If it's true, the hope within  Better Together must be that Mr Darling's removal clears the way for Gordon Brown and the rest of Labour's Scottish beasts to play a bigger role in the campaign's closing months.
WHO PAYS THE POLICEMAN?Boko Haram's video of the abducted schoolgirls is everywhere. Stills dominate the frontpages of the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent. The pictures and the coverage have, rightly, horrified people. It's worth, however, turning to page 8 of today's Telegraph. "Forces face further cuts" is the story. "Defence ministers spend less on kit but fear surprise bills" says page 2 of the FT. Without the benefit of a ringfence, the MoD - like MoJ - has taken the brunt of the cuts. It seems that we still want to act as the policemen of the world. But are we willing to foot the bill?
Elect a Labour government and see a GP within 48 hours. That's Ed Miliband's latest wheeze as the polls tighten. It has all the hallmarks of an Ed Miliband announcement; superficially popular, expensive, but very quickly the subject of sceptical comment from experts (Sarah Wollaston is first on the scene). Privately, some Labour insiders wonder whether announcing another £100m worth of spending is what the doctor ordered. In any case, the announcement has been buried beneath the headlines about Labour's poll worries. What little there is mostly negative:   "New Ed-ache" is the Sun's verdict.
The Pfizer saga rumbles on. Ian Read, the Pfizer CEO, is due to meet with Ed Miliband and Chuka Umunna before being quizzed by the Business Select Committee. Even the Conservatives on the committee are beginning to sound suspiciously French, with Brian Binley telling the Telegraph that Britain's "crown jewels" need the same level of protection as companies on the Continent. It will be interesting to see how Robin Walker, Caroline Dineage and Nadhim Zadhawi in particular approach the hearing; the former two are PPSes while Zadhawi sits on Number 10 Policy Board. Their behaviour is likely to come under scrutiny as people look for signs of intent from the government over the takeover. Another day brings another day of hostile headlines from the Mail, too. Downing Street is likely to be grateful that Mr Miliband's woes have relegated the takeover to the business pages.
Lord Lawson's interview with the Times today is sure to make its mark. He wants the government to go further on tax and scrap the 45p rate altogether, packaged with a cut to basic rate to make it "politically easier to sell". The expansion of the 40p rate is a live issue and one that Downing Street is aware of; but they will also remember all too well how abolishing the 50p rate - for all its policy success - triggered a collapse in their poll lead. There was also a nod to George Osborne's ambitions for the top job; with Lord Lawson praising his successor's record at the Treasury.
Ukip's MEPs are the laziest MEPs. The ongoing battle between the Thunderer and the People's Army continues, David Charter reveals that Ukip has the lowest voting average of all of the 76 European parties with more than three MPs, while three of the six laziest MEPs were Ukip members, including Nigel Farage and his deputy, Paul Nuttall. In a happy note for Dave, Britain's hardest-working MEP is a Conservative, Charles Tannock.
Boris and Dave's campaign trip turned into a rescue mission when theycame to the aid of a woman who collapsed in the street while the dynamic duo were campaigning in the street. It certainly knocks Mr Tony's cornetto into a cocked hat.
Margaret Thatcher was "tricksy" when she talked about Britain's relations with the EU, Boris Johnson has told the Telegraph. The comments came as part of a video interview about his time in Brussels as part of our Europe Week.
The Times Diary reports a rare excursion into public speaking for Gordon Brown, to the exclusive Highgate School for Boys. Could the fact that the elder Brown is nearing school age have anything to do with it, the Times wonders.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow Stephen on Twitter.
Latest YouGov poll:Con 35%, Lab 36%, LD 9%, UKIP 14%TWEETS & TWITS
Glyn Davies isn't popping champagne corks quite yet:
@GlynDaviesMP: I still think no General Election opinion poll should be taken seriously til September - even if it is nice to see Tories in the lead

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - A day in the life of David Cameron 
Telegraph View - Labour's posturing is shown up by Michael Gove
Philip Johnston - Politicians have stopped listening to usBest of the Rest
Ian Birrell - Salute the super-richSteve Richards - Despite the rifts, the Coalition will stagger on until the election
Janan Ganesh - Conservatives still fail to grasp the minority vote
0930 LONDON: Chief executives of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, Vince Cable and unions give evidence on takeover bid to Commons Business Innovation and Skills Committee.
1000 LONDON: Celebrities v MPs charity football match at Craven Cottage in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Team members include Alistair Campbell, Angus Deayton, British high jumper Dalton Grant, Sunderland boss Gus Poyet and Olympic rowing champion Mark Hunter.
1300 LONDON: Nick Clegg on WATO.
1400 LONDON: Lord David Trimble briefs MPs about on-the-runs.
1600 LONDON: Prime Minister before Liaison Committee.
1800 LONDON: Oliver Letwin speech and Q&A on the role of the state. Institute for Government, 2 Carlton Gardens, SW1Y 5AA.