Wednesday, 7 May 2014

One year to go..

Good morning. One year to go, and one point in it. The countdown is marked by a clutch of polls that show the Tories have cut Labour's lead. They follow our ICM Wisdom Index at the weekend, and in the same way show the gap closed to a single point, which will put a spring in CCHQ's step. But a few cheery polls aren't enough. The papers offer their diagnoses for what's not right with the Tory case, and it all comes down to David Cameron. The consensus is that he needs to do more to persuade voters that he is on their side, particularly those tempted by Ukip.
The Mail in particular is packed with handy hints that no doubt Dave will delight in reading. "Over the coming year, he must persuade voters his party is not merely economically reliable but actually capable of delivering a better life for them and their families," its leader says. "There remains a substantial small-c conservative majority in Britain, believing in patriotism, self-reliance, hard work and the family. Mr Cameron has 365 days to unite it behind him." The PM's great friend Sarah Vine, aka Mrs Gove, lasers in on Dave's problem with women: "…as my husband is fond of saying, 'happy wife, happy life'. And Mrs Electorate isn't happy." Her tips: Listen to Sam, more female voices, fight dirty, sort out the party's dire website, and send every voter a copy of Liam Byrne's "I'm afraid there is no money" note (nice one). Mr Cameron's NBFs at the Sun say Labour is dire. Of the PM they say "Cameron may not believe in much" - thanks a lot - but knows fixing the economy is important and the voters might too. "After another year of better times, maybe they will". Hardly gushing, but useful. The Mirror in its leader says Ed Miliband is in for the "fight of his life". Its own poll by Survation is full of good news for Dave: not just a one point lead, but shows 54pc believe the economy is recovering, and two thirds - 70pc - say their financial situation is about the same or getting better. Mr Cameron also wins the PM vote ahead of Mr Miliband.
One year out is a useful landmark. What do we know? The main parties are now neck and neck, which means there is all to play for. Labour is preparing for a tight contest which is winnable, but by no means certain. The Tories are more optimistic now than at any point since 2010. Fears of a panic after the European elections are receding: even the most resolute troublemakers seem ready to rally around. Talk of a delegation demanding concessions has died down. Mr Cameron and Lynton Crosby gave a pep talk to MPs last night, and were well received: no wonder - the game's afoot. The two uncertainties are first, Scotland (of which, more below).  The other uncertainty is Ukip - will it fade or continue to be a factor? No one knows. Which means the 2015 general election is wide open.
LACK OF SERIOUSNESS BLIGHTS NO CAMPAIGNIn the event of a yes vote, the outcome of the general election would be the least of our worries. As I blogged yesterday, it would tank the markets, whack sterling, force up interest rates and see the UK relegated to the status of a second-rate player in world affairs. But despite repeated blows to the nationalist case -  today's Scotsman reveals widespread opposition to a currency union from English businesses - the Yes campaign is closing in on the Unionist effort, which is still preoccupied with internal feuding. Labour in particular seems to be letting tribal feeling get the better of them; Labour sources are busy deriding David Cameron as 'toxic' in the pages of the Herald. The whole thing reeks of a political class that is simply not taking the nationalist threat seriously enough.
As we note in our leader today, "being open for busness means we are ready to buy - and sell". The possible takeover of AstraZeneca, however, is beginning to attract more enemies than allies. Boris Johnson, never one to resist the opportunity to make trouble for the PM, said he would look "very, very hard" at the bid if he were in Number 10 on LBC yesterday. In that other, less fasionable centre of power, the House of Commons, Vince Cable put the boot in. His aside that Britain's future is a "knowledge economy, not a tax haven" will be seen as a slight on Number 11.  The FT's pink leanings are on full display; the dire warnings of the Swedes take the frontpage, while their leader argues that the research base could be undermined by Pfizer's takeover. That AstraZeneca are digging in for the long haul means that this could drag on, but as Chris Blackhurst points out in the Indy, what matters is whether Pfizer are willing to meet AstraZeneca's price; not what the politicians say.
"We are an insurgent party, we are a rather colourful party, we tend to attract colourful characters and a swash-buckling style," Roger Helmer, Ukip's candidate for the Newark by-election, says in this morning's Times. The selection of the East Midlands MEP and Tory defector is certain to trigger a search through Mr Helmer's extensive back catalogue of verbal gaffes and controversial opinions. Bookmakers have lengthened Ukip's odds of winning the seat and the selection of Mr Helmer will be a cause for relief in CCHQ.  That might be a mistake;  as the FT notes today in an in-depth feature on the party, Ukip's greatest threat is that they come to be seen as a party of the establishment; the selection of the eccentric Mr Helmer, whose opinions are already the subject of derision amongst the Twitterati, may be a more astute move than it appears. The party will be further boosted by a poll in today's FT that shows that more than half of their voters plan to stay the course in 2015.
BIG ED"Between myself and David Cameron, I feel I am the one with much more intellectual self-confidence, actually," said Ed Miliband in a remarkable interview with the Standard last night. Many observers might be inclined to agree with the verdict of a Downing Street spokesman in the Times; that this is a sign of "self-satisfaction, not self-confidence". More importantly, the aside took the attention away from Mr Miliband's latest tax on the rich - "Big Ed" is the Sun's page 2 headline - and is hardly likely to reassure the voters who fear that the Labour leader is a bookish weirdo. 
Narrowing polls and a gaffe-prone opponent shouldn't distract the government from its own problems."Bank must burst housing bubble" warns our frontpage today, while "Whitehall calls halt on £3.8bn NHS reforms" is the Guardian's splash. The OECD's warnings on Help to Buy are everywhere, and an overheating economy could put pay to all the government's endeavours. Meanwhile, the Guardian has learned that the Cabinet Office's mounting concern about the cost and viability of the Better Care Fund has led to the project being shelved, while the OECD's warnings on Help to Buy are everywhere. As with last week's defeat on legal aid, it shows a worrying vulnerability outside of the Coalition's core preoccupations of welfare, education and the deficit.
CIVIL SERVANTS FEAR YEAR OF GRIDLOCKAs the parliament enters its last year, civil servants fear that the final year of the government will be dominated by battles between the Coalition's Liberal and Conservative wings. A new report by the Institute for Government, Year Five, published later today, is previewed in the Guardian. Civil servants believe that the Coalition bust-ups over the PM's suprise announcement on energy pricing and Nick Clegg's unannounced opposition to unqualified teachers in schools will become the new normal. They want a code of behaviour to protect the civil service from losing its credentials as an impartial instrument of government.
PATTEN BOWS OUTChris Patten has stepped down as the Chairman of the BBC as a result of ill-health. As Charlotte Higgins observes, it comes at a fraught time for the BBC, still shaken by scandal and with its Royal Charter up for renewal in 2017. The Mail previews some of the runners and riders.
Latest YouGov poll:Con 34%, Lab 35%, LD 9%, UKIP 14%TWEETS & TWITS
@margotjamesmp: Shocked to hear about Lord Patten's resignation from the BBC this am, wishing him a good recovery
In the Telegraph

Daniel Hannan - Look who's not voting Tory
Mary Riddell - Homes, health and fairer taxes could put Ed in No 10Allan Massie - The difference between treachery and serving your country can be a thin line
Telegraph View - Families need suport with the burden of ageing
Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein - My contender for the stupid socialist award

Chris Blackhurst - AstraZeneca will fall to Pfizer if the price is right
Simon Jenkins - Small is beautiful. The NHS needs to be broken up
0930 LEEDS: Former Co-op Bank boss Paul Flowers to appear in court.
1100 LONDON: Boris Johnson to join international stars to launch the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge.
1430 LONDON: Danny Alexander at Scottish Affairs Committee.
1430 LONDON: PSNI chief constable at Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Chief Constable Matt Baggott and Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris will give evidence to the committee on the "on the runs" issue.