Monday, 2 June 2014

Blair and Junkers..

Good morning. Today's back-to-school headlines illustrate the perils facing the Prime Minister on Europe. Downing Street has denied German claims that David Cameron said Britain would leave the EU if Jean-Claude Juncker is chosen as president, but that hasn't stopped them being widely reported. In reply Mr Cameron has been accused of "blackmail" by Mr Juncker (btw, someone really should do an audit of his time as the finance minister of Luxembourg who consolidated its reputation as a force in the murky world of tax arbitrage). "Stick it up your Juncker" is the Sun's groaner. Accompanying the headlines is a sense that Mr Cameron has gone public too early on Britain's opposition to the Luxembourg federalist. Ian Traynor makes the point usefully in the Guardian.

Meanwhile Mr Cameron must contend with the appearance of Tony Blair on the scene, who in a speech to the CBI this morning will try to put himself as the head of the "Save Europe" movement. He's given a preview of his argument to the Times, his outlet of choice, which leads with "Blair tells Europe to wake up". The suggestion that he is making a late play to be considered for the presidency is denied, but rule nothing out: former premier, strong record as pro-European, attitude of a reformer, big beast, speaks French…you see the gleam in his eye.

But instead of his future, consider what Mr Blair's intervention says about Mr Cameron. The Prime Minister is vulnerable to the charge that his position on Europe is not a big strategic argument based on principles, but a series of carefully judged tactical gambits designed to keep one step ahead of Nigel Farage and numbers of his backbenchers. "It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Britain playing a leading role, not just a negotiation of Britain's terms of membership. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Britain," Mr Blair says. In fairness, this is precisely the kind of argument Mr Cameron sketched out in his big Europe speech, but he hasn't made it his main theme. He now finds himself being given lessons in statesmanship by the guy who won three elections from the centre. Awkward. This is a big week for the PM - a revolutionary play on giving Scotland control over taxes today, Queen's Speech Wednesday, Newark Thursday - but as ever it is Europe that tugs at the sleeve. Mr Cameron chose to make it a battleground. Every move has consequences. He has made his against Mr Juncker, and yet it is by no means clear that it will succeed. That is a perilous position to be in.  

END OF THE POCKET-MONEY PARLIAMENTLord Strathclyde's report into the future of Scotland in the event of a 'No' vote - is due to be published today. As our Scottish edition revealedon Saturday, the report will recommend that Holyrood be given control of income tax. It would hand 40% of Holyrood's funding directly to MSPs; and be accompanied with a 40% reduction in the grant from Westminster. The move will reverse decades of Tory party policy; George Osborne and David Cameron are understood to want the party to go from being seen as devolution's opponents to its strongest supporters. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the party in Scotland, who will attend the publication of the report alongside Lord Strathclyde, believes that the move will bring real accountability to Scotland's politics. "We cannot continue with a pocket-money parliament which gets its allowance from Westminster and then spends it as it pleases," Ms Davidson said. The changes show that the Conservatives understand that devolution is here to stay; and further change is necessary both to safeguard the Union and to ensure that the Scottish parliament pays its way. The SNP line will be that the whole loaf is better than half, but it represents a further weakening of Alex Salmond's line that a Tory government in London spells the end for further devolution in Scotland.
"Labour plans big rise in NHS spending" is the Indy's splash. The party is drawing up plans to go into the next election with a manifesto pledge to increase spending on the NHS, shadow Cabinet sources reveal. The favoured mechanism is a hike in National Insurance (I can almost hear the champagne corks popping in CCHQ now) and while Labour is alive to the risks of going into the election promising a tax rise, they are reportedly spooked by marginal polling that shows that only 29% of people rate Labour as the most trusted party on the NHS. What's worth noting, though, is the remarkable absence of Ed Balls from the story. It may be that the exclusive is an attempt by Jon Cruddas and Andy Burnham, both of whom are named as being thought to support the move, to force the Shadow Chancellor's hand.
"Nige's bid to target Ed voters" says the Sun. "Farage's new bid to steal the Tory vote" says the Mail. Nigel Farage appeared on the Marr show this weekend (there's a first time for everything, etc.) and unveiled a couple of new policies. It's all designed to fend off accusations that Ukip is one-dimensional, and the mooted proposals - a grammar school in every town, taking people on the minimum wage out of tax, reducing the top rate to 40p - will doubtless  poll well amongst the voters that Mr Farage is trying to appeal to. There's the small question of how on earth Mr Farage would fund a new school in every town while slashing taxes across the board.

Who'll be up and who'll be out in the next reshuffle? Dave is set to refresh his team after the Newark by-election, with Ken Clarke, Sir George Young and Andrew Lansley all due to step down.  Olly Wright in the Indy says that Esther McVey and Nicky Morgan could be two of  the winners. Mrs Morgan, who has been attending Cabinet since the resignation of Mrs Miller in her role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, may get a department of her own, while Ms McVey, a rare Northerner in the parliamentary party, may be an asset in the election campaign.

Lord Ashdown's appearance on the Marr Show is everywhere (Georgia Graham has the story). Lord Ashdown's remarks, rather than putting an end to the "Liberals in disarray" headlines, seem to have extended them. Lord Ashdown's decision to reveal that he warned Lord Oakeshott against making trouble for the leadership seems, on the face of it, unwise: as Lord Ashdown warned the former Lib Dem peer that he would first remove his head and then his testicles, only to see Lord Oakeshott go on with his coup regardless seems to be a rather public admission of weakness. It was Lord Oakeshott's bungling, rather than Lord Ashdown's rage, that did for Vince Cable's ally, after all. Mr Clegg is secure for the present, but after the election, opponents of Nick Clegg may remember that Lord Oakeshott was neither beheaded nor castrated.

"Now HS2 route is opposed by Church" is the Telegraph splash. The proposed route goes through several cemeteries, attracting the opposition of the Archbishop's Council, one of the Church of England's most powerful bodies. Previous government excavations have shown precious little respect for the long dead, and the C of E wants legislative assurances that it will be different this time, or failing that, an alternative route.  Seeing as the Church is not exactly short of representation in the Upper House, concessions may have be made in advance of the third reading. 
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

Not the best ending to a night out:
@drwollastonmp: Just imagine, you go down the pub for a drink with #Farage but find you're stuck with #Helmer propping up the bar

YouGov latest:
Con 33%, Lab 36%, LD 7%, UKIP 15%

In the Telegraph
Telegraph View - At last, a sign that Europe is listening
Rob Crilly - Don't blame Islam for Meriam's awful fate

Charles Moore - Are freedom's enemies being proved right?
Something from the Weekend
Matthew d'Ancona - Nigel Farage, the Purple Pimpernel, can't remain an outsider forever
Janet Daley - 'We hear you' is just pious codswallop
John Rentoul - The Scottish referendum will decide David Cameron's place in history
Best of the Rest
Melanie Philips - Cry 'cover-up' and ignore the lessons of Iraq
Wolfgang Munchau - Renzi needs to organise an Italian rescue

0930 LONDON:  Bank of England releases its Money and Credit report for March.
0930 GLASGOW: Publication of the Strathclyde Report on further devolution. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will join commission chairman Lord Strathclyde.
0930 LONDON: Boris Johnson to speak at Policing Global Cities: Gangs Summit.