Monday, 16 June 2014

He may be mad, but he's right..

What is David Cameron's response to the Isis surge in Iraq? In fact, what is his response to the wider spread of Islam-inspired medievalism that challenges the West and its values, from Brunei's adoption of Sharia, to feudal Pakistani culture, to Boko Haram in Nigeria, to the pockets of such thinking in the UK, from Birmingham schools to Tower Hamlets? Magna Carta? A week ago I wrote about the shortfalls of British foreign policy and our failure to keep an eye on the horizon, and popped off to Iran for a look around. Talk about coincidence: I get back last night and find Washington is panicked into talking about allying with Tehran against the Sunni crazies, while we are having an argument about the last war.
Tony Blair's weekend intervention has provoked a predictable response of outrage, with the Mail in the forefront: "Fury at 'Blair the Warmonger'" is its splash, with a leader raging at the obscenity of his claim that all this has nothing to do with the Iraq war. Boris will be seen to have put his finger on it when he writes in the Telegraph "I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad". But if you want to start with what is in fact happening, look no further than Richard Spencer's chilling despatch from Erbil and his account of doomed men in Man U shirts apparently lined up and executed by Isis, many - irony of ironies - at Saddam Hussein's old palace. Then to get the full horror of what we are facing, the Guardian's Martin Chulov has a remarkable account of an intelligence find revealing the extent of Isis' financial power and organisational reach. Any idea that this is a ragtag bunch of bloodthirsty loonies should be reviewed: this is a highly organised, very rich, and remarkably powerful ragtag bunch of bloodthirsty loonies.
All this suggests that however much we might enjoy a drawn out discussion about what happened in 2003, Tony Blair's credibility, and what the origins of this mess might be, we might more usefully consider what we might do to prevent the West looking even less powerful than it already does. Barack Obama has said no ground troops. We have said...not a hell of a lot.  It certainly doesn't seem to preoccupy our politicians  overmuch, to judge by last week's PMQs. "There are things that we have got wrong that we have to learn from," William Hague said on the Today programme this morning, but there's little sign of learning from what we are getting wrong right now and not a decade ago. 
"Someone else's problem" is the message of the day. It's the Iraqi government's job to fix it all, says Mr Hague. Small wonder, when the Syria vote showed that we have no appetite for any of this. Meanwhile, Iran's General Suleimani is in Baghdad with his Quds force and the power balance in the area is shifting fast. We can hope it might all go away or be someone else's problem. But when David Cameron talks about British values, does he know he's talking about Isis and what's happening several thousand miles away? Loathe Tony Blair as much as you like, he is right to connect the dots and to say loudly that we face a direct challenge to our values not just here but across the world. If we can trouble to pause in our endless recriminations about events 12 years ago, we should start by acknowledging that at least.

"Gove ally savages No 10 on schools" is the Times splash. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester sat down with Don Michael's defenestrated consigliere, Dominic Cummings. Dave and his team come in for a particular bashing. Ed Llewellyn, Dave's Chief of Staff, is described as a "a classic third-rate suck-up-kick-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court" . Craig Oliver, the director of comms, is "just clueless". Dave himself is "a sphinx without a riddle - he bumbles from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose". "Everyone is trying to find the secret of David Cameron,"  says Mr Cummings, "But he is what he appears to be. He had a picture of Macmillan on his wall - that's all you need to know." (You can read the full interview here) The discomfort for Downing Street is that these quotes come from someone who was - and is still - incredibly close to Michael Gove; "like Batman and Robin" is the the money quote from one friend of the duo.  It answers the question of why Andy Coulson banned Mr Cummings from government in the first place, but it leaves others in its place. Mr Cummings still advises Mr Gove unofficially. Will No10 demand that they break all links? Will Dave believe his friend when he says he didn't know what Mr Cummings was up to? Will the Lord Oakeshott of the Tory party - minus the insufferable smugness - belt up?
In case you missed it: on Thursday Ed Miliband posed with the Sun, as did Dave and Nick Clegg. On Friday he apologised - after a fashion. But it wasn't enough to stop a Labour councillor in Liverpool resigning from the party, while several Merseyside MPs have had cross words. It's all the fault of his advisers, apparently - the guilty men are profiled in today's FT - and  Tom Watson says they need to shape up or ship out, sharpish. (Matt Holehouse has the story). As James Forsyth observedthis weekend, whenever Ed Miliband's machine cranks into gear, something falls off. Someone's to blame: but is it the men behind the man, or simply the man himself? Meanwhile, in today's Mail, Andrew Pierce reveals that the number of special advisers has ballooned under the Coalition - from 78 under Gordon Brown to 98 today.
"Warning over Nato obligations as UK defence budget shrinks" says the frontpage of the FT. Figures drawn up by an independent consultancy and shown to the FT show that the UK's miltary expenditure will fall to 1.9% of the state's GDP by 2017 - Nato's target is 2% - meaning that the United States will become the only Nato member to meet its obligations. Oh well. It's not as if Russian tanks have crossed the Ukraine or the Middle East is in turmoil, after all.
More misery for Ed Miliband in the Sun. "Tories £30m to destroy Ed Mili" sceams page 2. CCHQ is aiming to raise £100,000 - one third of a David Axelrod - every day between now and next May. If they do it, it will be double the amount that the Conservatives spent in 2010, and will also dwarf the amount that Labour can expect to receive.
Li Kequiang, the Chinese PM, is visiting Britain and has begun his visit with a column for the Times. It's the usual warm words and bright future stuff that you'd expect from a visiting dignitary. Less congenial to British readers will be the Chinese ambassador's comments that the UK is now Europe's third power, behind Germany and France. Nick Watt says it's a pointed reminder from the Chinese to one of Europe's heavyweights that it is China, not old Europe, that is now top dog.
The licence fee is a "large amount of money", and "needs to be looked at", Sajid Javid told Andrew Marr yesterday (James Kirkup has the story). The fee has been frozen at £145.50 a year until 2015, but Mr Javid feels that it is still too high. His Labour shadow, Harriet Harman,has already suggested that the licence fee would be reviewed in the event of a Labour-led government. Even the BBC's strongest adherents now recognise that, in the era of Netflix and YouTube, a flat fee for a television set is no longer an adequate mechanism to fund the BBC.
Labour's focus this week is the big reveal of the IPPR's "Condition of Britain" report that will help form much of their manifesto. The first policy to emerge from the release is a near-doubling of paternity pay from £3.45 an hour to the minimum wage (£6.31 an hour). Labour likes the policy, but insiders say they are unlikely to adopt the IPPR's plan to pay for it all by freezing child benefit. That Labour enjoys eating the meal but not footing the bill won't come as a surprise - but it does make one wonder what exact;y their plan is for closing the gap on economic competence before the election.
Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary has made a splash calling for an English parliament - or regional assemblies - with their own powers. It's something of a non-story; the Liberal Democrats have been committed to a federal UK since their foundation, as both the SDP and the old Liberals were committed federalists at the time. However, it's a reminder of just how much constitutional change has been wrought over the last decades - and how much could still come, regardless of how Scotland votes in September. With the aim of making sure they vote the right way, the three leaders will have a joint photo-op today to underline their commitment to the Union later today.
D-Day veterans will no longer have to pay to travel to the Normandy beaches to mark the anniversary of the landings, George Osborne has announced.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him onTwitter or Instagram, or e-mail him at
No idea what she's on about? Don't miss this excellent Slate article:
@stellacreasy: oh boo. boo. *big round of applause for bosnia for effort* #ArgentinaBosnia
YouGov latest:
Con 33%, Lab 37%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%
In the Telegraph
Allan Massie - There was nothing revolutionary about 1215
John O'Sullivan - Today's Tories have forgotten the need for hard thinking
Boris Johnson - Blair's Iraq invasion was a tragic error, and he's mad to deny it

Something from the Weekend
James Forsyth - As Ed moves up a gear, which bit of his jalopy will drop off next
Andrew Rawnsley - Labour needs to be candid about the painful cuts it will have to make
Best of the Rest
Jeremy Cliffe - The New Working Class
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - Beware the politician who thinks a debate about 'British values' is the way to voters' hearts
0930 BELFAST: MoD to announce a new weapons contract.
0945 LONDON: Nick Clegg press conference. He will outline the party's manifesto process and take questions from journalists.
1030 LONDON: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg to mark the start of the first London Technology Week.
1430 ST ANDREWS: Alistair Darling speech on referendum at St Andrews University.
1830 LONDON: Michael Gove presents Disraeli Prize to Canadian MP Jason Kenney. Policy Exchange