Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What does Dave do now..

Tony Blair has just finished talking. He has warned Labour against echoing Ukip's rhetoric on Europe, or "worse still", its anti-Europe rhetoric. There was no apology for the uncontrolled immigration of the Blair years, saying that the idea that Britain's problems were about immigrants was a "regressive" argument. He sounded a note of support for Nick Clegg, saying that he had been courageous over the last few years, and dismissed the idea that the "Party of In" campaign had cost the Lib Dems votes. The problem is "that they ran to the left [of Labour] in 2010", before going into coalition with the Conservatives, says Mr Tony. Meanwhile, he "resents the suggestion" that he is behind the delays to Chilcot and welcomes the inquiry "as much as anyone".

Good morning.  Be more human, Ed. Stand aside, Nick. The papers are full of advice for the party leaders in the wake of the European elections. (In case you haven't seen, the final tally is Ukip on 27% with 24 seats, Labour on 25% with 20 seats, the Conservatives on 24% and 19 seats, while the Liberal Democrats are down to 1 MEP and 7%). Dave, however, faces the rather more difficult task of persuading Eurocrats to reform. Number 10's efforts to frustrate Jean-Claude Juncker's bid for the European Presidency move from the telephone to the dining table this evening. The PM is in Brussels, where the haggling starts over the next round of top jobs.

As well as the horsetrading over Jose Manuel Barroso's successor, a replacement has to be found for Herman van Rompuy, the outgoing President of the European Council, and for Baroness Ashton, the EU's High Representative and Britain's commissioner. The best-case scenario for Mr Cameron is a strong role for Britain's next commissioner and two reform-minded officials in Messrs Barroso and van Rompuy's shoes. (The Republic's Enda Kenny and Poland's Donald Tusk are two of the candidates suggested in today's FT.)

At home, the clamour for reform shows no sign of abating. "Business leaders demand new deal with EU" is the Telegraph splash. Prominent businessmen, including Sir Michael Hintze, a Conservative donor, want more detail from Downing Street about what "renegotiation" will entail. The Sun's leader wants the old parties to start paying attention to voters' fears on immigration. Abroad, Dave's efforts may well be boostedby developments on the Continent. He is by no means the only leader chastened by the rise of the populist right, and Francois Hollande's widely-reported comments that the European Union has become "remote and inaccessible" are a sign than even the old defenders of arch-federalism are beginning to come around to Mr Cameron's arguments.   

An ashen-faced Nick Clegg stares out of the Mail and the Guardian this morning. The DPM's position, which appeared to be secure after Tim Farron and Vince Cable - his two biggest threats - rallied around over the weekend, now appears to be under some threat. The leaked ICM poll that has inspired Mail and the Guardian makes for grim reading for Mr Clegg and his party. Polls of Redcar, Wells, Cmabridge and Mr Clegg's own seat of Sheffield Hallam show all would be lost by heavy margins (46% to 16% in Redcar, 41% to 21% in Wells, 41% to 28% in Cambridge and 33% to 23% in Sheffield Hallam). That the losses come to both Labour and Conservative candidates will only worry the party further. It gets worse for Mr Clegg; if Vince Cable were to become leader, the seats would immediately become competitive.  It all looks worryingly well-organised; the poll could have been designed to undermine the DPM. On the Today programme, Caron Lindsay of LibDem Voice said that she believes it is part of a concerted attempt to displace Mr Clegg. Senior Tories are beginning to contemplate life without him. 

Blairite ex-ministers Alan Miliburn and John Hutton have an article in today's Times calling om Ed Miliband to hold his nerve in the face of Ukip's surge and to make the case for immigration, while Mr Tony is out and about warning his successor against aping Ukip's anti-immigrant and anti-European rhetoric. In the Sun, Simon Danczuk disagrees. He says it's time for Labour to "grasp the nettle" on immigration. Frank Field warns that Ed Miliband risks defeat unless he wises up to the Ukip threat, while Margaret Hodge compares  Labour complacency in to the rise of Nigel Farage's People's Army to its earlier missteps in tackling the BNP. The interesting thing is what's not happening; "Elitist Ed is heading for disaster say Labour MPs" is the Mail's page 9 story, but mutinous MPs are in short supply, on the record at least. Considering that the party was a poor second in the European elections, and that no opposition has won an election while trailing on both leadership and economic competence, Labour's sang froid is remarkable.

The Ukip spring, at any rate. Alex Salmond likes to portray Ukip as a symbol of England's unregenerate conservatism. Scottish Labour say that Mr Salmond must carry the can for Ukip's arrival north of the border; his nationalism, they say, has encouraged the Kippers, while Nicola Sturgeon blames the BBC's "wall-to-wall" coverage of Ukip. David Coburn, Ukip's Scottish MEP, couldn't resist wading in, thanking the first minister for his "tremendous help" in getting him elected. Meanwhile, a new report into North Sea oil has further undermined the separatist case, the Times reports. The fall in production is set to leave Scotland's finances worse off to the tune of £1.4 billion. The Scottish government has been criticised for attempting to bury the figures; it's not the first time that the SNP has been accused of using the trappings of government to help a Yes vote;Colin and Chris Weir, the lottery-winners who have almost singlehandedly bankrolled the Yes campaign, have been invited to Bute House on several occasions. As Ben Riley-Smith reports, the second invite came only days after an investigation into the Weirs' previous visit.

Nigel Farage is now targeting Labour's heartlands as he aims to turn European success into a Commons presence at the next election. After topping the poll in Doncaster, where Ed Miliband has his seat, Mr Farage is set to launch Ukip's manifesto in the town. The visit will do little to calm the PLP, who are increasingly jittery about the Ukip threat.  Meanwhile, Mr Farage can contemplate the final signs that he has arrived in the political mainstream; his wife, Kirsten, has been interviewed by the Telegraph. Mrs Farage reveals that the Ukip leader "loves Dad's Army, loves all the 70s stuff that they still repeat", and that he is effectively computer-illiterate. You can read the complete interview with Christopher Hopehere
Michael Gove has taken to the Telegraph to dispel rumours that he has banned American authors from the GCSE curriculum. The story in the Sunday Times sparked a wave of anger online at the Education Secretary. The story may be much ado about nothing, but it will all feed the fear that Mr Gove's bellicosity is beginning to undermine his own agenda. 
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

From a man who knows a thing or two about coups:
@tom_watsonThese numbers are unprecedented and insurmountable. Whatever he's saying now Clegg's leadership is doomed.

YouGov latest:
Con 34%, Lab 35%, LD 9%, UKIP 13%

In the Telegraph
Robert Ford and Ian Warren - Ukip have torn up the map

Best of the Rest
John Hutton and Alan Milburn - Stop kowtowing to Ukip. Immigration works

1000 LONDON:  Veterans of Royal Regiment of Fusiliers mount last in a series of "honour guards" outside Downing Street in protest at disbandment of regiment.
1800 LONDON:  Launch of Rusi report on British defence policy ahead of 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.