Friday, 6 June 2014

The earthquake is over..

"We won well," George Osborne has just told the Today programme. For once - the first time since William Hague in 25 years - a Tory spokesman has a by-election win to crow about. The Chancellor struck the right cautious note though: "We can take some comfort but we know the job isn't done". He praised the Tory "team effort", and won the office bingo by getting "economic plan" in there more than once. And of course he stuck it to Labour for its "disastrous" performance.
Judge for yourself. If you haven't seen them yet, the numbers are:
Con 17,431 45% (-8.9%)
Ukip 10,028 25.9% (+22.1)
Labour 6,842 17.7% (-4.7)
Lib Dems 1,004 2.6% (-17.4)
Turnout: 52.79%
Meanwhile, the sighs of relief among Conservatives are audible. A concerted effort, ranging from strictly enforced attendance by MPs to the Grant Shapps "road trip" initiative to get activists to Newark, worked a treat (Mark Wallace at ConHome details how the seat was won here). But the questions will immediately follow: what confidence can Tories have that the effort can be scaled up to the 80 seats they are pinning their hopes on next year? Come the general election, how will they get activists in safe seats to go campaign elsewhere?
What does the result mean for the four parties? The Tories can be happy that they held a by-election in Government, and put in a spirited effort. Mr Cameron will, as I have suggested, try to define this as a tide-turning moment. If Ukip is smart, it will have an internal conversation about expectation management: it rashly promised great things, and failed to deliver. Nigel Farage's unwise decision to attend a jolly in Malta will be scored against him as a sign of a lack of seriousness. How does he convince us that the UKip soufflé is still rising, not falling? The Lib Dems didn't need telling that their situation is dire, but it does not follow that they will do as badly in the seats they already hold. Labour are the ones who should be shattered by this. Newark is fundamentally Tory territory, but Tony Blair took Newark in 1997. In a by-election against an unpopular administration a year from a general election, Labour's share fell by nearly 5pc. Whatever the national polls say about the situation today, the trends are against Ed Miliband.
On the basis, with all the caveats a by-election demands, Newark may give us a glimpse of what is to come. Two other trends to note, reported from the campaign trail. One Tory activist reports meeting voters claiming they would vote Tory to block Ukip - in other words, reverse tactical voting - the anti protest protest vote, as Michael Deacon describes it. And a Tory MP who did his three days in Newark claimed to detect something similar: voters, he said, were happy to vote Ukip at the European level because MEPs are not linked to a seat. But they didn't want to be the first seat to elect a Ukip MP, because they did not want to be represented at Westminster by a party with reputational issues. Straws in the mind no doubt. Safer to say that an awkward by-election is out of the way and we now wait to see whether Ukip can maintain momentum or whether this will stop them in their tracks; whether the Tories can translate hope into certainty; and whether Labour can get out of its hole. A Tory win, yes, but still great uncertainty.

Jean-Claude Juncker's leaked remarks to the EPP are everywhere today."I'll not beg Britain, vows Juncker" is the Guardian's splash. "The new battle for Europe" says the Times frontpage. In a private meeting, M Juncker has had a go at practically everyone. He won't "be forced to get on my knees" to appease Mr Cameron. Meanwhile, he believes that the EPP's leaders could be doing more to support him, complaining that he's heard from only two of them. And the British press pack has bruised M Juncker's nerves, and that he's warned his supporters to "be ready for a lot more dirt" will have them worried about exactly what there is to unearth about M Juncker. His comments that abandoning the European drive for austerity would damage Europe's credibility are likely to his hopes of picking up support from the left some harm, too. That Mario Renzi is sounding an increasingly concilatory tone towards Britain is a sign of definite movement in favour of Mr Cameron, although there is still an unwillingness to hand the PM a veto this early on the negotiations. On Today earlier George Osborne refused to comment on M Juncker's comments or candidacy but left no doubt what he thinks: "We want people who understand the need for change. They need to demonstrate they understand people's anger at what's wrong in Europe. It's for anyone who aspires to one of the top jobs to set out their case."
David Cameron has asked Sir Jeremy Heywood to investigate the row between Theresa May and Michael Gove. "I will get to the bottom of who has said what and what has happened," Mr Cameron told reporters, "and I will sort it all out once I have finished these important meetings I am having here". It's important to remember, as I noted yesterday, that the row is not just ministerial handbags; at its heart is a deadly serious conversation about how Britain deals with Islamic extremism. It iswidely reported that Ofsted will find that the schools in question are leaving children ill-prepared for life in modern Britain.
Barack Obama's endorsement of the No campaign is everywhere. "The United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us," Mr Obama told reporters, "From the outside at least, it's worked pretty well.". As I explain in my blog, that the left's darling has endorsed the Union is a hammer blow to the SNP's conceit - nurtured first by Gordon Brown in the 1980s and 1990s - that England and Great Britain are in efect a right-wing Tory thing inflicted on Scotland against its will. With attention turning away from the Westminster squabbles and towards the campaign to save the Union, there are worse starts than an endorsement from the President of the United States.
Ed Miliband appears to be cooling on the prospect of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Indy reportsReports of a meeting between Jonny Oates, Mr Clegg's chief of staff, and Neil Sherlock, a Liberal Democrat donor with Labour peers Lord Wood and Lord Adonis, had Labour partisans worried that a deal was being prepared between the parties. The suggestion is that Labour will seek a "looser arrangement" than a full Coalition, which may serve the interests of some Liberals as well (must I invoke the image of Tim Farron, lying on the groundcovered in butter and jam again?). However, it seems...somewhat odd to rule out any options before anyone has voted.
Nick Clegg's comments that the Recall Bill has been watered down because of Tory opposition have drawn a furious response from Douglas Carswell, the Guardian reports. "I wouldn't hold it against Clegg if he opposed the idea," Mr Carswell said, "but what's absolutely unforgivable is that he opposed it but pretends to be in favour".
The IMF presents its annual health check on the British economy later today. Expect a somewhat rosier picture than previous years, but with the usual caveats about Britain - specifically London's - overheating housing market. Also a cause for concern in the Treasury is the ECB's decision to charge a negative rate of interest, becoming the first of the world's monetary superpowers to do so. It's a reminder that the Eurozone's problems are far from over. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has the story.
Nigel Farage, who, as you would expect, has not been having the best day, is reported angrily denying the Mirror's story that there was anything extracurricular about his helping hand for travel chief Ande Soteri at a jolly in Malta. "The next time I see a disabled person, I am just ignoring them. I actually helped her by carrying her bag."
The Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here.
A new dawn has broken, has it not?:
@RobertJenrick: Good morning #Newark & thank you.
YouGov latest:
Con 31%, Lab 37%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - You can't reduce a 300-year-old union to a mushy peas analogy
Jenny McCartney - The trial that has to be heard in secret - and don't ask why
Benedict Brogan - Barack Obama has endorsed the Union - from the Left
Stephen Bush - Tory dawn raids are closing the gap in the ground war
Best of the Rest
Philip Collins - The Tory split on Europe can't be reconciled
Simon Jenkins - Secret justice may be right for Putin's Russia - but not peacetime Britain
1100 LONDON: George Osborne and Christine Lagarde at IMF press conference on Article IV report on UK economy.