Monday, 23 June 2014

Fix EU..

The week begins with David Cameron bracing himself for a chastening defeat in Brussels. He meets Herman Van Rompuy later today at Downing Street, where the PM will begin his last-ditch bid to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker taking post as Mr Van Rompuy's successor. He looks all but certain to fail. 
Mr Van Rompuy, for his part, sees the meeting as an attempt to dissuade Mr Cameron from bringing the issue to a vote when European leaders meet on Thursday, not least because Mr Van Rompuy - like Angela Merkel - is loath to see a bout of Anglo-German wrangling at the historically resonant location of Ypres. The PM, however, is keen to force those leaders who - like Ms Merkel and Matteo Renzi - still have private doubts about Mr Juncker's aptitude for the role to publicly support the Luxembourger. 
If the government is to be defeated, it certainly shows no sign of going gently into the night. Iain Duncan Smith's comments that selecting Mr Juncker would be "flicking two fingers" at voters are widely reported (the Sun has helpfully produced an image of the gesture in question on page 2). Meanwhile, the Mail carries a bruising attack on Mr Juncker from "a senior diplomatic source" who claims that he is a drunk who"has cognac for breakfast"; that the rumours are starting to get traction in the German press as well could yet spell the end for Mr Juncker. Or it could, as with the earlier tabloid attacks, provoke an angry counter-reaction in Germany and further box in Ms Merkel.
James Kirkup's analysis that the PM reckons he's headed for defeat and might as well pick up some extra marks for shouting is worth coming back to, but there's a risk that all this starts to look like a a temper tantrum in the chancelleries of Europe. With the jobs still to be handed out in the European Commission, not to mention the great work of renegotiation still to come, Mr Cameron may find that an acrimonious selection for Mr Juncker may leave both men with a nasty hangover. 

It's the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn tomorrow, and the SNP hope that the occasion -   Robert the Bruce's defining victory in the First War of Scottish independence - will provide a fillip to the nationalist campaign. The Nats badly need a turnaround, with the poll of polls still showing a healthy lead for the Union (56% No,  44% Yes).  Yes, the figure narrows when you include the hefty proportion of undecideds - close to 20% of the electorate - but remember that in referendums, the undecided voters tend to rally to the status quo (just ask any Quebecois nationalists you happen to know, or, closer to home, any of the veterans from the Yes to AV campaign). That is the background to Alex Salmond's U-turn on debates; he has now agreed to meet Alistair Darling in a televised debate on independence instead of holding out for the clash he really wants with David Cameron.

Nick Clegg is "toxic" on the doorstep, a Lib Dem peer told the BBC's Sunday Politics. Lord Storey, a former Mayor of Liverpool and now the Liberal education spokesman in the Lords, thinks the DPM is "a nice guy" but, concedes that Mr Clegg goes down badly on the fabled doorstep. "Some might use the word toxic," Lord Storey said (with friends like this, who needs Chris Huhne?). The remarks are, as you'd expect, everywhere (Georgia Graham has the full story here).
After a week of woe for Ed Miliband, Labour's big beasts have rallied to the cause. Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves and Andy Burnham were out on the Sunday shows flying the flag for the Labour leader. Mr Umunna dismissed concerns about Red's flatlining approval ratings. "We're not playing some game of Celebrity Big Brother," Mr Umunna told Andrew Marr, "We're talking about big issues that are affecting all of our different communities.". Wheeling out Lord Kinnock to rebut concerns that Ed Miliband is another Neil Kinnock looks to have been something of a blunder, though: "Ed must really be desperate!" is the Mail's take.As the Guardian observes in their leader, this can be all a bit self-defeating "like the question about beating your wife, it is tricky to defend a a beleaguered leader without lending credibility to the criticisms". The hope for Labour is that a new week will bring a degree of respite.
Retired pensioners could be encouraged to retrain as teachers under proposals being presented to Dave by the 2020 Group, a panel of senior Conservatives who have been tasked by George Osborne with drawing up policies for the Tories' election manifesto. Read our leader's enthusiastic take on it here and Peter Dominiczak's story here
Ukip's support is fueled by voters who are disconnected from politics and lack basic skills such as the ability to send e-mails or browse the Internet, says Chuka Umunna. (if only Ukip voters could send fewer e-mails, I say) He was citing research by the BBC that shows that 1 in 5 British voters are unable to do the online basics, and Mr Umunna reckons many of these voters are plumping for Ukip (so does Ukip's Suzanne Evans, who, you'll recall, blamed the "young and media-savvy" for the purple party's poor showing in London). Predictably enough it's provoked an angry reaction from those Ukippers who can use a computer - or, at least, can use a computer well enough to fire off angry e-mails with the words "LibLabCon" in the subject header. 
A survey of 69 central bank reserve managers by HSBC and Central Banking Publications reveals that they plan to cut their exposure to longer-term debt in order to protect themselves from losses when the Federal Reserve ends its bond-buying this autumn, which would increase the risk of market disruption, the FT reports. Along with the prospect of a rate hike and the uncertain consequences of the overheating housing market, it's a reminder that not all in the economic garden is entirely rosy. 
"£2bn NHS black hole will cause care crisis" is the Times' splash this morning. The BMA is calling for a further injection of £2 billion to ease the pressure on the NHS which, they say, is grappling with having to fork out for Britain's rising care costs and increasing numbers of lifestyle related diseases. The Indy reports that Nick Clegg favours a hike in NHS spending for 2016-17, while Jeremy Hunt believes that the £2bn can be found through further efficiency savings. 
George Osborne's a glutton for punishment. Having seen off the Nimbys and the backbench MPs, weathered Labour's vacillations and finally got HS2 to a point where it looks like it will, in fact, be built, he wants to do it all again. He wants to connect Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and Hull to help create what he calls a "Northern powerhouse".  Speeding up travel between the cities would create a hub with 7.8 million - close to London's 8.3 million.
David Blunkett is standing down in 2015 - if you haven't already, do read Fraser Nelson's farewell to the former Home Secretary - and, in an interview with Patrick Wintour in the Guardian today, calls on Ed Miliband to bring Alan Johnson back to the frontbench. Mr Johnson has "a terrific contribution to make", Mr Blunkett says.

The consequences of the Syrian conflict will be felt in Britain for "many years", says Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police's head of specialist operations, has warned, as British-born jihadis return to our shores, while Tony Blair takes to the FT to repeat his warning that the mixture of "bad religion and bad politics" continues to be felt in the Middle East and at home.

The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
@JWoodcockMP: The nights are drawing in.
@timloughton: The nights are definitely drawing in!

Poll of polls 16th to 23rd June (ICM-Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by four
In the Telegraph

Alan Johnson - A fateful decision now facing Palestinians
Cristina Odone- Opponents of a sugar tax may just have to lump it
Boris Johnson - Come on, England, don't force us to reach for the pzzzzzt!Best of the Rest
Stephen Pollard - Yet another Labour big beast departs the stage
Tony Blair - Removing Saddam Hussein did not cause this crisis
AGENDA0930: Bank of England releases its credit conditions survey for the second quarter of 20141000 LONDON: The jury in the hacking trial resume deliberations.
1200 LONDON: Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and members of the London Assembly, to honour members of the Armed Forces with a flag raising ceremony.
1230 LONDON: Nigel Farage speech to Institute for Government.1230 LONDON: Speech by Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, Head of Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police. 1500 LONDON: David Cameron meeting Herman Van Rompuy.