Wednesday, 11 June 2014

An uneasy summer..

As the weather improves, the political agenda gets a little lighter. In such circumstances, even a small crisis - such as the continuing row over the backlog of passports - has the potential to catch fire and cause the government no end of grief. The same goes for the Opposition.
Consider Labour's position. Today's YouGov figures are Conservatives 35%, Labour 37%, Liberal Democrats 8%, and Ukip 12%. Ed Miliband's approval ratings are dire, while Labour lag, badly, on the all important issue of economic competence. Meanwhile, for all the recent rows at the top of the party, the economy is picking up speed and the government's agenda is - mostly - on track. 
It gets worse for Labour when you remember that, at this point in 2009, David Cameron had an average lead of fifteen points to an average Labour lead of four today. No opposition has won from where Labour is now. That's the background to today's warning from the Fabian Society, Labour's oldest think tank, in this morning's Indy, that the party is losing working-class voters to Ukip. Add that to Charles Clarke'swarning on the Daily Politics yesterday that Ed Miliband's cost-of-living crisis agenda was, in itself, in crisis, and you can see a party that is starting to realise it is in a bad position that is likely to get worse. As I said, it's a quiet day, and, as the World Cup gets underway, likely to get quieter over the coming weeks. Mr Miliband could be in for an uncomfortable summer. 

David Cameron's attempts to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker have suffered a setback. A press conference following a meeting with Mark Rutte, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Angela Merkel was meant to signal the beginning of the end for Mr Juncker; but Ms Merkel's rebuke to Mr Cameron's "threats" over Britain's membership of the European Union take the headlines. Meanwhile, Messrs Rutte and Reinfeldt made clear the need for reform, but avoided commenting directly on Mr Juncker "Merkel vents anger at Cameron" is the Guardian's take;"Merkel warns UK on 'threats'" is the FT's somewhat more measured take.  The worry for the PM is that, at the moment, his list of the allies on the Continent isn't getting any longer; the hope in Downing Street is that the Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, will signal his opposition to Mr Juncker, but, at present, the PM looks increasingly isolated. Should the PM pull it off, it may result in the top job going to Denmark's selfie-taking PM, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Ms Thorning-Schmidt is a member by marriage of the Kinnock family, who, Steven Swinford explains, are rapidly turning into Brussels' answer to the Kennedys.
The energy regular, Ofgem, has written to the energy companies demanding that they explain why a decline in wholesale gas and electricity prices has not led to lower fuel bills ("Energy big six feel heat on prices" is the FT's groaner). Caroline Flint's comment that the energy prices are "up to their old tricks" is pretty much everywhere. The energy companies will point out that they buy gas some way in advance, and not all of the savings have worked their way through. They might also add they will need to build up a buffer to prepare for the possibility of a costly price freeze in 2015.  
The war of the Michaels has come to an abrupt end. Sir Michael Wilshaw's comments on Newsnight that Michael Gove had blocked his plans for "no-notice" inspections of schools looked set to trigger a war of words - at the least - between Sir Michael and Mr Gove, but the Ofsted inspector has been forced to backtrack. (Peter Dominiczak has the story.) Still, as James Kirkup notes, it does make one wonder why Mr Gove is getting into quite so many scraps these days. Consider the recent stories: Gove vs May, Gove vs Boris, Gove vs Laws and now Gove vs Wilshaw. There is a common thread here, and it ain't the word 'vs'. James suggests that some believe that Mr Gove, having defeated his enemies in the Blob, is getting bored. Some of Mr Gove's admirers believe that Dave should find him a new challenge in the reshuffle. (You can sign up to James' Evening Briefing here.)
Speaking of reshuffles, the BBC's James Landale speculates that the reshuffle - which some believed had been scheduled for Monday - may be delayed until later on in the summer. There is not yet agreement on who Britain's next European Commissioner should be, but there is an appetite to reshuffle the government and announce Dave's nomination for the European Commission at the same time. Even should the name be decided, there is an increasing desire to hold fire on revealing that name until the battle over Jean-Claude Juncker is over. That the Tories eased to victory in Newark means that Dave is under no pressure to shuffle the pack quickly. It all means that the reshuffle could be off  until as late as the end of July. Read James' blog in full here.
Archbishop Justin Wellby's call for responsible lending has inspired Charles Bailey to produce a new rap, titled "We Need A Union On The Streets", the Indy reports. It's unlikely to go down as one of the great classics of the genre, in my view. Listen for yourself here.
Good news! Another Star Wars film will be made in Britain, George Osborne has announced. Bad news! Ben is away until Monday. I'm in sole charge of the MB for the rest of the week. Tips, press releases, and the rest to
The Morning Briefing is edited - and this week, written - by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram
He's not wrong:
@murdo_fraser: If @UK_Together is such a terrible campaign, as @YesScotland folk constantly claim, then why is it so far ahead in the polls? #justasking
YouGov latest:
Con 35%, Lab 37%, LD 8%, UKIP 12%
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - Labour must 'dare to lose' and champion parish pump politics 
Ted Cantle - Muslim schoolchildren are still leading parallel lives
Telegraph View - The core British values that define our nation
Best of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Juncker: the embodiment of outdated ideas
Martin Wolf - Three events that shaped our world
0930: Unemployment figures. Latest unemployment figures published by ONS.
0930 CAMBRIDGESHIRE: Owen Paterson speaks at 'Cereals 2014' on the Common Agricultural Policy.
0930 LONDON: Conference on Combating Organised Crime and Illicit Finance, with speeches by Home Secretary Theresa May and US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.
0930 LONDON: Francis Maude gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on civil service impartiality in referendums.
1030 LONDON: National Audit Office to publish report on MoD's restructuring of Army. 
1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions. 
1400 LONDON: Drivers of London black cabs plan to 'gridlock' the area around Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and government buildings on Whitehall in a protest against the Uber app-based service. 
1730 MANCHESTER: "We Need To Talk About Fracking" panel discussion with Dame Vivienne Westwood.