Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Too big and too bossy..

David Cameron's remarks about the European Union ("too big, too bossy, too interfering") are everywhere this morning. Mr Cameron's call for "nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary" puts him at the mainstream of European thought after the populist eruption last week. If Mr Cameron is to have any chance of pulling it off, however, he'll first need to frustrate Jean-Claude Juncker.  

Francois Hollande, however, has other ideas, while the leading centre-left grouping has indicated its support for Mr Juncker. Much is being made of Angela Merkel's lukewarm support for Mr Juncker - merely describing him as the "leading" candidate for the role - but make no mistake, it will require a considerable expenditure of political capital on the PM's part to prevent Mr Juncker taking post. The ultimate loser there could be Andrew Lansley, who, the FT reports, is being lined up to become Britain's next commissioner. Mr Lansley remains the bookies' favourite, although the name Lord Hill of Oareford is doing the rounds in Whitehall. The leader of the Lords is a discreet and respected operator, and his appointment would avoid the dangers of a by-election. Meanwhile, there is support from the grassroots for Martin Callanan, the Conservatives' leader in Europe who lost his seat on Thursday.  Regardless of who Mr Cameron ends up picking, if he succeeds in replacing Mr Juncker with a more reform-minded figure, there will be little appetite in Brussels for further concessions to British desires, meaning the UK is likely to end up with a lesser portfolio in the next European Commission.

The danger for Mr Cameron is that he may be about to discover that showing one's hand this early is unwise in Brussels. Still, the case against Mr Juncker should be easy to make, as he embodies the Eurocrat class that European voters so soundly rejected in the elections, while anyone outraged by Amazon's tax avoidance should consider exactly who has run Luxembourg for the past two decades and made it such a haven for companies that like to minimise their liabilities (Hint: rhymes with Juncker!). He is not without allies; Frederik Reinfeldt, Sweden's centre-right Prime Minister, is a supporter, while privately, member states may be delighted that someone is still flying the flags for individual states, not the European Parliament, deciding who takes Europe's top jobs. 

Mr Lansley once jokingly asked a young Mr Cameron for a job in a future Cameron government - "I want to be the Governor General of Bermuda, and I would particularly like the shorts and the hat” - he said, and Dave might consider the installation of a longstanding, moderately eurosceptic loyalist and the blocking of Mr Juncker a solid British victory. It may not be enough to satisfy everyone. The Sun's frontpage "We're Seeing RED" and accompanying leader call on Dave to make migration and free movement one of his red lines in renegotiation. European affairs still retain the potential to cause Mr Cameron grief in the last year of the parliament. 

The conspiracy to remove Nick Clegg appears to have unravelled faster than you can say "Hoon-Hewitt plot". A snap poll of 992 Lib Dem party members by LibDemVoice revealed that 54% of Liberal Democrat members want the DPM to keep his post. To make matters worst for the plotters, leaking a specially-commissioned ICM poll to the Guardian led Mr Clegg's supporters right to the door of the conspirator-in-chief. To no-one's particular surprise it was Lord Oakeshott who commissioned the poll. The whole affair has been swiftly disowned by the man it was intended to help, Vince Cable, who has described Lord Oakeshott's behaviour as "utterly reprehensible".  It may well spell the end of Lord Oakeshott, who now faces the possibility of losing the Liberal Democrat whip. As for Mr Clegg? His position was secure before Lord Oakeshott's smart idea. Now it's rock solid. 

"Treasury accused of misleading Scotland's voters over cost of independent government" says the FT. "Salmond kicked into touch over debt" says the Times.  An eminent lawyer, Lee Buchheit, suggests that Alex Salmond is being economical with the actualité as far as an independent Scotland's share of the national debt is concerned. Meanwhile, a respected academic, Patrick Dunleavy, suggests that the Treasury's figures on the cost of setting up an independent government may be misleading. The Today programme revealed this morning that Better Together believe that, once the story moves on, what's left after the rows is a growing sense of uncertainty about the nationalists' promises, and Danny Alexander is due to unveil what been described as the most but it's something of a frustration that the campaign to save the Union is still so dominated by mere accountancy. 

Ed Miliband was left flummoxed by the Telegraph's fleet-footed reporters yesterday. Asked to describe his leadership in one word, he replied with two: "One Nation". Peter Dominiczak's story has been picked up by the Mail and Times.  Aides said that Mr Miliband was not "unable" to define himself in one word but simply "chose not to". They may reflect when they look at the polls today that Mr Miliband's repeated choice to eschew good media management has been something of an error. As one shadow cabinet member told a newspaper recently, it's "not just that they think he's weird. They think he's a joke and that's even more dangerous."  

The Universal Credit is a good idea but Iain Duncan Smith is not up to the job of implementing it. That's Oliver Wright's verdict in today's Indy at any rate. The Major Projects Authority issues projects with a series of ratings (Green, Amber or Red), but, after lobbying from Mr Duncan Smith, issued the Universal Credit scheme with an entirely different rating: "Reset". It will add to the fears of those in the government who do not believe that Mr Duncan Smith is the right man to carry the mission of welfare reform through to completion. 
Freya the cat has been returned, safe, to Number 11. The cat has a history of jailbreaks; fleeing first from George Osborne's Notting Hill home before being returned thanks to a microchip to their new residence in Downing Street. Miranda Prynne has the story.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

@DouglasCarswell: Are there enough Lib Dems left to form a circular firing squad?

YouGov latest:
Con 32%, Lab 34%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%

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