Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The blame game begins..

Chin up, Dave: the latest ICM poll for the Guardian sees his rivals slump to their lowest approval ratings yet. In the wake of the near wipe-out of the Liberals in the European elections and Lord Oakeshott's farcical coup attempt, Nick Clegg's approval ratings are down to basement level at -37%, while Ed Miliband's ratings, at -39%, (22% believe he is doing his job well, 61% badly) are now lower than the DPM's for the first time.  Team Dave is pinning its hopes on the glaring gap in the personal ratings of the leaders - Mr Cameron, at -5% is streets ahead, or rather, far less unpopular - to help Dave over the line next year.
The state of the parties will do little to cheer Labour hearts, either. The figures are: Labour 32%, Conservatives 31%, Ukip 16%, Liberal Democrats 10%. Yes, today's YouGov figures give the party a slightly healthier three-point lead (Conservatives 34%, Labour 37% are the numbers). Compare Labour's position with David Cameron at the end of June 2009, when he had an eleven point lead over Gordon Brown.
That the smart money must now be on a Labour defeat means that already a blame game is underway. That's the background to the game of "blame the adviser" and the increasing pressure faced by Anna Yearley, Ed Miliband's political secretary, reported in today's Times, and behind the scenes, a blame game is now well underway. As Danny Finkelstein explains in his column today, it's all part of an attempt by figures on the party's left, marshalled by Tom Watson, to make sure that Ed's team and not his left-wing policies take the blame for the defeat. 
William Hague comes in for a battering from the Mail's leader today. It's his support for Tony Blair as the quartet's representative in the Middle East that has the Mail up in arms, but the most striking remark is that Mr Hague is "increasingly detached" from his role as Foreign Secretary. They suggest that Mr Hague, who is likely to step down from the frontbench after the next election, has his eyes elsewhere. That the Foreign Secretary has restored the mission in Tehran without first seeking compensation for the mob attack on the embassy in 2011 has put noses out of joint - not least in our leader today. One feels that there is uncertainty as to whether this rapprochement with Iran is permanent - or a temporary measure to help quell the chaos in Iraq. As Con Coughlin argues today, if the confusion isn't cleared up, it could all blow up in British faces.
Nick Clegg is considering matching the Conservative offer to hold an In/Out referendum. A meeting of the Liberal Democrats' parliamentary party last night was due to discuss whether to change their position of holding a vote only if there is a "material change" in relations with Brussels (close to the Labour position of holding a referendum only if there is a further transfer of powers). Senior party figures, including other Lib Dem ministers, increasingly see the referendum as an inevitability, and it's another box ticked should the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats end up negotiating a second coalition. Equally, any change in the Liberal position will place Ed Miliband under renewed pressure from his own side to commit to an In/Out referendum at the earliest possibility.
David Cameron has vowed to oppose Jean-Claude Juncker's appointment "right up to the end", while appearing to criticise Italian premier Matteo Renzi and Angela Merkel for failing to match private words with publication action (Peter Dominiczak and Bruno Waterfield have the latest).The FT reports that Herman Van Rompuy is uneasy about the symbolism of a major row at Ypres. That doesn't mean that Mr Van Rompuy has signed up to a compromise candidate, though - he just wants to organise a second summit shortly after where the nasty business can be pushed through at a less historically sensitive location - all at taxpayers' expense, of course. On the Today programme this morning, Sir John Major suggested that if M Juncker does take the top job it won't be all bad news. There is a "subliminal" desire in Europe to make sure that, when a nation-state is seen too do badly out of one summit, they leave clutching a big victory at the next, Sir John believes.  
Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, has said he favours a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom" in another blow to the Yes campaign's claims that an independent Scotland would be welcomed - let alone listened to - in the corridors of power worldwide. That Better Together can now claim the support of the Pope, Barack Obama, Li Kequiang and Harry Potter will leave a spring in the Unionist campaign's step, but there's the risk that it could create the impression that Scotland is being browbeaten by world leaders.
"The number of democracies in the world, which grew all through the second half of the 20th century, has actually fallen in the 21st," Charles Moore reminds us in today's Telegraph. From the mortal threat to Western freedom that stretches from the Middle East to the Midlands, the retreat of American power and the support for Ed Miliband's programme of caps and state control, liberty feels in a state of some peril. I'll be chairing an event touching on some of that at 12.10 today as part of the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, which you can watch it live here. Stephen Bush and Timothy Stanley will be blogging from the conference throughout the day.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him onTwitter or Instagram, or e-mail him at
Gretchen, stop trying to make recall happen. Recall is not going to happen:
@ZacGoldsmith: 56 MPs have so-far signed the Recall motion, including @carolinenokes - who doesn't normally sign EDMs!
YouGov latest:
Con 34%, Lab 37%, LD 7%, UKIP 13%
In the Telegraph
Charles Moore - Thatcher's unfinished business
Mary Riddell - Labour's modern Magna Carta has to seal the deal with voters
Con Coughlin - Our Middle East policy is mired in confusion
Gyles Brandreth - As a former MP, I have every sympathy with Helen Goodman
Best of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Don't shoot the adviser. Ed's the one to blame
The Times - Health Costs
0900 LONDON: The CPS's Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty. Keynote speeches by VS Naipaul (9.15am), Lord Saatchi (12.10pm). Michael Gove "in conversation with" Roger Scruton, Rich Lowry and Charles Moore (6.30pm). Speakers include: General David Petraeus, V. S. Naipaul, Professor Niall Ferguson, Dr Art Laffer, Radek Sikorski, Michael Gove MP, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and Lord Saatchi. Guildhall, Gresham Street, EC2V 7HH.
0930 LONDON: Minutes of the Bank of England monetary policy committee's June meeting are published. 1000 LONDON: Visit of Chinese premier Li Keqiang continues. He will give a speech and meet Chancellor George Osborne and Ed Miliband at separate events.
1130 LONDON: Vince Cable speech on the banking sector. City Gate House, 39-45 Finsbury Square, EC2A 1PQ.1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons, London,
1430 LONDON: Ed Balls gives evidence on implications of Scottish independence to Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.1430 LONDON: Peter Hain and Christopher Daly give evidence about on-the-runs.
1630 LONDON: Mayor Boris Johnson and airports commission chair Howard Davies to speak at airports policy conference, Stratford Town Hall.
2230 LONDON: Jeremy Paxman's last Newsnight.