Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Blue on blue..

Dark business at the crossroads of the Home Office and the Department for Education overnight. Michael Gove is in a spot of bother, and seems to have got himself into a violent and now public argument with Theresa May and her spymaster Charles Farr. The action starts in the Times, with its splash "Cabinet at war over extremists in schools", and continues on Today, where the news bulletins major on Mrs May accusing Mr Gove of ignoring warnings of Islamist extremists in schools.
Quite how this started is not immediately clear. The Times leads on Mr Gove's concerns about a "Militant Tendency" of extremist Muslims plotting to take over schools, and says he blames "their influence on a reluctance within Whitehall, especially in the Home Office, to confront extremism unless it develops into terrorism…" Ofsted is due to publish the results of its investigations into Birmingham schools next week.
But the story then goes on to record an "extraordinary development", namely what at first looks like a brutal counter-strike by the May camp, including this from a Home Office source: "Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me."
The substance is that Mr Gove has let it be known that he is unimpressed by the Home Office's efforts to counter extremism. According to Greg Hurst of the Times, who has plainly been extensively briefed, Mr Gove "is particularly critical of Charles Farr, the former intelligence chief who runs the office for security and router terrorism within the Home Office." Mr Farr, I would suggest, is not a man to be trifled with, and is highly thought of by Mrs May.
At the centre of this is a letter from Mrs May which has found its way into the Times. It looks like a ministerial write-round letter, and we should remind ourselves that similar ones have been leaked before, and on those occasions the finger of blame was pointed at the DfE. One of Mrs May's many qualities is that she does not normally brief against colleagues. It would surprise me if she has done on this occasion. Whatever the source, we now know that she is angry about the way Mr Gove has tried to blame her for what she evidently believes is a failure on his watch. Really angry.
Why might that be? Mr Gove has been having a rough time this year. Some say the shine has gone off the Education Secretary. His colleagues admire him, but are also wary of his habit of wading into the affairs of other departments. The Times reports: "Some in the party believe that Mr Gove has engaged in too many unnecessary and messy disputes..." He is also an ally of George Osborne, who in turn is in a battle with Mrs May for the future leadership of the party. It may not be a coincidence that this has appeared on the same day a poll shows Mrs May is now the runaway favourite among Tories to succeed Mr Cameron. Mr Gove's office has put out a statement expressing his admiration for his colleague. Mrs May is trying to play it down. But what was supposed to be a day of good PR for the Queen's Speech will be distracted by tales of Tory manoeuvrings at the top, the prospects for Mrs May, and the state of Mr Gove's reputation. Fascinating.

"final bid for unity"? Or a last attempt to rebuff the accusations that this is a "zombie parliament"? David Cameron and Nick Clegg's joint foreword to the legislative agenda is partly both, but it's also a reminder that, as they put it, "four years on, our parties are still governing together and still taking bold steps". Few gave the Coalition any hope of lasting this far; and a list of achievements that include much-needed public sector reform and the beginnings of economic recovery. That Messrs Cameron and Clegg are coming together like this  - plus Mr Clegg's support for the attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker - will fuel speculation about a second Coalition after May 2015, and, as our leader notes, the joint foreword "almost amounts to an appeal to voters to deliver the same result next time". It seems more likely that this is the beginning of the end. Before all that, though, there's life in the old zombie parliament yet.
Tougher sentences for slavemasters. changes to the law to allow fracking to take place underneath people's homes, further controls on immigration, cuts to red tape, exemptions to green targets for small builders and further pension reforms, including a new type of 'pooled risk' (a fuller account of what's in and what's not is available here). Yes,as I blogged last night, there are some turkeys in there, of which the Recall Bill is the prime specimen. (We already have a way to fire MPs we disapprove of - they are called general elections). And for all the Mirror's leader grumbles at the lack of legislation, and Labour will say that the lack of legislation shows a government that is out of action, a government that gets out of the way and spends less time passing laws is a feature, not a bug, of Conservative rule. 
The papers are full of the story that Angela Merkel has asked Francois Hollande if the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, would make an acceptable President of the Commission.  Meanwhile, "Get Juncker" appears to be the order of the day on Fleet Street. "Six reasons why he's the most dangerous man in Europe" screams the Sun. He hasn't had a proper job, he's a self-confessed liar, he would drop crime safeguards, and he seeks a bigger EU with its own army is the charge sheet. "Democracy is a dirty word to this federalist zealot" is the headline to Leo McKinstry's denunciation of Jean-Claude Juncker in the Mail, while  the Times' leader warns that Mr Juncker's appointment "would stifle reform, enrage an already angry European fringe and render all but impossible a worthwhile negotiation  Britain's relationship with the European Union".  The danger for David Cameron is that blocking Mr Juncker may prove beyond him - his list of allies is no longer than it was yesterday, while the German government denies the story. "I cannot imagine what kind of brain thought up this stunt," says Ann Treneman
"Plot row drives Clegg and Cable to drink" is the Guardian's take. In an attempt to quell fears that the two men were irrevocably split, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable went for a pint at the Queen's Head yesterday. The papers aren't convinced ("Pull the other one, Nick!" is the Mail's take.), and that Dr Cable was unable to explain why he'd kept the DPM in the dark about Lord Oakeshott's plotting only added to the farcical air. Most reporters were shut outside, watching, while, Jim Waterson reports, passers-by "kept asking who was inside, hoping for a Kardashian".  "I cannot imagine what kind of brain thought up this stunt," is Ann Treneman's verdict, while Michael Deacon wonders where the Liberals will organise their next shindig. He wouldn't recommend a brewery.
As the campaign enters its last day, the Newark by-election has descended into class war. Ukip's Roger Helmer has attacked his Conservative rival, Robert Jenrick, over his £5 million property portfolio, in contrast to his own modest wealth (excluding his pension, Mr Helmer says, it is not more than a million) . Mr Jenrick may well feel that if wealth and success are disqualifying factors in a Conservative parliamentary candidate these are strange days indeed. On the same day, Mr Helmer has praised his Conservative rival, Mr Jernick, as "a very pleasant young man, the kind any woman would love her daughter to pick as a husband". "Or their son?" a wag asked. The FT reports that Mr Helmer declined to reply. 
Iain Duncan Smith has described the European Union's interference in Britain's welfare system as "unwarranted and unwanted", and risks undermining the public's faith in free movement. "We must be clear that freedom of movement is about work," says Mr Duncan Smith. (Steven Swinford has the story.) If this is to be an aspect of renegotiation, it is one that may command the support of Angela Merkel, who has said that it is freedom of movement "into work and not social systems". 
Stella Creasy's remarks that women would have to "breed for Britain" if immigration were halted in order to keep public services running areeverywhere.  Speaking to the Blairite pressure group Progress, Ms Creasy warned Ed Miliband against further sops to Ukip on immigration. There are now more people over the age of 65 than under 16 in Britain, she warns. Making up the gap will require womeen like me to "have a lot of children very quickly". 
He seemed like an "ordinary guy". Then he became "passionately interested in making money" and bombing people.  And his decision to quit the Commns was a "personal tragedy for him and a tragedy for the Labour Party, because a lot of what he stood for was right".  "Everyone was left abandoned, and Labour has suffered because of it". Robert Harris, the journalist turned novelist, has probably been crossed off Mr Tony's Christmas list after this interview with Total Politics. 
Good spot by Sebastian Shakespeare in today's Mail. Boris Johnson is not on the approved candidates' list. Has time run out for the Mayor to make his return?
A plastic bag levy will be introduced in the Coalition's last year. "At last! Plastic bags will be banished" is the Mail's splash after years of campaigning.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 
Never happened under Labour, of course:
@BarrySheerman: Once again Govt has leaked most of Queens Speech content before the Queen has had breakfast! 
YouGov latest:
Con 32%, Lab 36%, LD 8%, UKIP 14%
In the Telegraph
Telegraph View - The Coalition's next big step - or the last farewell
Mary Riddell - Ed Miliband will live or die on the altar of immigration
Daniel Hannan - Which faceless Eurocrat did you vote for?
Best of the Rest
Alice Thomson - The odd couple who may just save the union
Rob Philpot and Adam Harrison - 'Farage is deeply unpatriotic': Stella Creasy interview
Jesse Bowie - Fact to fiction: Robert Harris interview
0930 LONDON:  State opening of Parliament.
1130 LONDON: Queen's Speech.
1500 LONDON: Former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Mark Durkan MP and Dave Cox, former director of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of independent detectives, give evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the government's administrative scheme for fugitive republicans.