Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Cameron's Constitutional Revolution..

The implications of the Strathclyde recommendations for giving Scotland control of its income tax and reviewing the workings of the Union are only just beginning to be understood. Indeed, the coverage in the London editions, with the honourable exception of the FT, is fairly patchy. Yet the proposals published yesterday by Lord Strathclyde are revolutionary. They certainly are for the Tories. You don't have to read Alan Cochrane's "Doubting Thomas" analysis to see the dangers. Follow them through to their logical conclusion and it is hard not to conclude that this puts the Conservatives on the road to championing a new, federal model for the United Kingdom.
The former leader of the Lords was careful to secure the blessing of David Cameron and George Osborne, and crucially Scottish leader Ruth Davidson, before going public with his idea for handing Scotland responsibility for financing between 40 and 60% of its annual expenditure. This is intended to be one down the chimney for Alex Salmond, designed on the expectation that he will refuse it outright. In our leader we point out that Lord Strathclyde's report "reverses decades of Conservative policy, turning the party away from a deep-rooted scepticism about devolution into its strongest supporter". But we also say that the proposed debate on the future constitutional balance of the UK should come before new powers are handed over, rather than after, to avoid imbalances that favour Scotland over Wales, Northern Ireland or England.
This is the key bit of the Strathclyde model, and what makes it so interesting and potentially transformative. He proposes convening a committee of all the parliaments and assembles of the UK to discuss how the UK is run and how power and responsibilities are allocated. The implication is obvious: it needs to change. Lord Strathclyde knows his constitutional politics. He also knows, after watching the mess the current devolution model has made and the wider state of British politics in an age of popular frustration with its practitioners, that the status quo cannot hold. Power needs to be rejigged, and that means looking to the other parts of the UK too. As the FT says in its leader "it should be the foundation of a broad constitutional settlement covering all the United Kingdom". If it is indeed a No vote in September, then the Strathclyde proposals come in to play, and at a stroke we find ourselves having a national debate about how power is allocated across the UK, and how our democracy works. We like to say that David Cameron has presided over a policy revolution. But this could be epic.

Dave's visit to Newark - and the Ashcroft poll showing the Tories storming ahead in the by-election - is everywhere. "Tories Wark It" say the Sun (My sides!).The key numbers are: Cons 42% Ukip 27% Labour 20%.   Ukip aren't giving up yet, with Roger Helmer telling the Mail: "Frankly, I don't recognise these figures.", while the Times reports that the People's Army are leafleting Labour supporters telling them that only Ukip can beat the Tories in Newark (they really are the new Lib Dems, aren't they?). Meanwhile, Michael Deacon is nonplussed by Dave's remarks that an member of Parliament is for life, not just for Christmas: "Dog owners are not typically invited to switch dogs after 11 months, nor are they typically invited to switch dogs again every five years thereafter." Ashcroft's national figures are rather more alarming to Tory hopes (Labour 34%, Tories 25%, Lib Dems 6% and Ukip on 19%), although some Tories mutter darkly about  the reliability of Lord Ashcroft's polling, and his motives (25pc nationally? Really?). They reckon if one wanted to encourage dangerous complacency in Newark, but dangerous panic nationally, these would be the kind of numbers needed. Sour grapes, no doubt. I've written about the Tories' shaky prospects in my column.
A politician who "no-one has heard of", who "does not understand" the need for reform. That's David Cameron's latest salvo against Jean-Claude Juncker. The PM's allies are growing - he is understood to have the support of Italy's Matteo Renzi, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, the Swede Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Hungarian premier Viktor Orban - but he's some way off assembling a big enough minority - 38% of the EU population - to block Mr Juncker. That leaves him relying on diplomacy, which could be further compromised if his Conservatives and Reformists group admits the anti-Euro Alternative für Deutschland. "We have a sister party in the German CDU/CSU and we are not looking for another," a Tory official tells this morning's FT, but not all his MEPs agree. After Angela Merkel signalled her continuing support for Mr Juncker, both Nirj Deva and Julie Girling signalled they would now vote to admit the AfD. Elmar Brok, a senior CDU MEP, has warned that there will be repercussions if the Tories do buddy up with Ms Merkel's Eurosceptic rivals. There's the additional headache for Downing Street that Mr Cameron's choice for the European Commission, Andrew Lansley, is attracting opposition on the backbenchers and the grassroots. "He's a cipher for Cameron and Osborne," one Tory MP from the right has told the FT. The appointment suggests that "Dave doesn't have a plan or a vision," says an MP from the party's pro-EU tendency. 
One does wonder what they put in the water in Brussels sometimes. "Europe tells Britain to increase taxes" is the Times splash."Curb Help to Buy and end property boom, says Brussels" says the Telegraph frontpage. The European Commission has called on the Coalition to change its deficit reduction plan, decreasing the level of public sector restraint and instead increase taxes. They've also warned that Help to Buy needs to be reined in and more attention paid to cooling the housing market. "As one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, we always listen to the commission's reccomendations with interest," is the official response. Privately, many more may concur with page 2 of the Mail: "Now that's rich!"
The fallout from Tony Blair's remarks yesterday continue. The Mail carries a hearty endorsement from Douglas Carswell...no, wait, sorry, I've read that wrong. "Mind-boggling arrogance," is Mr Carswell's take on Mr Blair's speech yesterday. Mr Blair said that it was "dangerous and wrong" to claim that halting immigrants would solve the problems of "white, working class, unemployed youth". What's needed is a massive increase in skills and opportunities. That he appears to be aligning himself with David Cameron's anti-Juncker campaign will only fuel speculation that Mr Blair still craves the top European job he missed out on in 2009. Meanwhile, Mr Blair's pro-immigration noises have been challenged by John Denham, a close ally of Ed Miliband. Writing for LabourList, Mr Denham says that "for the forseeable future, it would better if fewer EU migrants came here". Whether Mr Blair regards his former colleague as 'dangerous and wrong' is an open question.
Nick Clegg's torrid fortnight means that we're in for another bout of differentiation. The Guardian reports that Mr Clegg will attempt to take credit for a series of measures in the last Queen's Speech, including recall legislation, two major reforms to the pension system, and tax-free childcare for working parents. The fear for the DPM and his party that these measures end up like the threshold raise, which voters like, but don't associate with Mr Clegg or the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are braced for further obstruction; Mr Clegg intends to do his utmost to block a referendum bill and to dissuade David Cameron from using the Parliament Act to force the matter through. You can readthe full story here
Speaking of Liberal obstruction; a new study reveals that the Liberal Democrats are the most rebellious MPs, the Times reports. No Liberal backbencher has kept completely loyal to the party whip, with Andrew George the most rebellious. The new figures - from Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart's long-running study of Parliamentary discipline - also reveals the six backbenchers who have become more rebellious year-on-year; five are Conservatives from the 2010 intake: Tracey Crouch, Charlotte Leslie, Philip Lee, Chris Pincher, and Mark Pawsey. The sixth is Tim Farron. 
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 
@ericjoyce: I like this @dailytelegraph picture of The Queen giving it right in the face to quitter Kings everywhere in Spain. 
YouGov latest:
Con 30%, Lab 36%, LD 8%, UKIP 17%
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan - The earthquake is over, but the Tories are still on shaky ground
Iain Martin - The Scottish Nationalists are losing it
Dan Hodges - Why is Fifa 'corrupt'? Because it can be
Best of the Rest
Janan Ganesh - Ukip has exposed the tension in the Tory soul
Rachel Sylvester - Let's cut our comic-book leaders down to size
0700 LONDON:  Nationwide releases its house price study for May. 
1550 LONDON: William Hague at Chatham House conference.