Monday, 14 July 2014

A Government of Combat..

"The truth is that these events are always very bad and perhaps the worst of all the duties of a PM," Harold Macmillan once wrote. David Cameron is expected to begin his reshuffle later tonight. "Old pals axe" is the Sun's take on a night in which the PM could put up to 20 ministers to the sword. 
Nothing is set in stone, although Iain Duncan Smith may well have been granted a reprieve at the DWP. What is known is that it will be a good day to be a Conservative woman, with of Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, Penny Mordaunt and Anna Soubry all reported to be on the up. Esther McVey is tipped to replace Ken Clarke in the Cabinet as minister without portfolio, although her unofficial role will be "minister for television". Also expected to do well is Liam Fox. Much of the dead wood that the PM wants to prune is drawn from the Tory Right, and restoring Dr Fox should soothe any grumbles from that wing of the party. (That Dr Fox is more TV-friendly than, say, Owen Paterson is also a bonus.)

None of this will make for particularly good government, at least in the short term. As Emma Norris of the IfG explains on their blog, keeping junior ministers in one place makes for better policy-making, better legislation and more effective government. The focus on presentation skills speaks to one thing: with the election looming, this is now, in François Hollande's phrase, "a government of combat". The goal is not to come up with intriguing policy ideas, but to present to voters an image of compassionate, competent and appealingly distinctive Conservatism. Yes, the House of Osborne should continue to do well - but the spirit behind the reshuffle will be as much Lynton's as George's.

If a statistic or polling result looks particularly interesting, it's probably wrong. That's Twyman's Law, and it's worth bearing in mind when you look at the polls. Even our poll of polls should be treated with some scepticism. For most of last week the average Labour lead was down to three points - which would have made for a startling decline. Then on Friday it leapt up to five points - which would have been an implausible rise. It's now back down to four. (Today's numbers are Conservatives 33%, Labour 37%, Liberal Democrat 9% and Ukip 13%) It's important not to get het up by day-to-day fluctuations, even in a rolling average. The week to week pattern remains unchanged: some Labour slippage, but with the Conservative vote share largely flat. Professor Stephen Fisher at the University of Oxford's has updated his election forecast to show the Tories still trending to finish first in the popular vote but to trail Labour slightly on seats, with the Lib Dems once again the kingmakers.
George Osborne has ordered the Treasury to prepare plans for a pre-election "hard hat tour", George Parker and Chris Giles report in the FT. His team are preparing visits on an almost weekly basis, where he will announce new spending commitments in science, transport and infrastructure schemes. In hi-vis, of course. THE WOMAN PROBLEM
The Conservatives' "woman problem" is firmly back in the spotlight. Maria Miller's suggestion yesterday that the Tories turn to all-women shortlists is widely reported. It's a non-starter, party officials say, although Dave has ordered Grant Shapps to get more women into winnable seats in 2015. Meanwhile,  the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women has called for a "gender audit" of Parliament's paintings and sculptures. The APPG warns that the art in Westminster is "off-putting" for women MPs and the culture and ceremonies are "too masculine. The Commons is currently ranked 65th in the world for female representation, behind Rwanda, Cuba Angola and the majority of Latin American and Scandinavian nations. Steven Swinford has the story.IN MY TIME OF DYING
Introducing assisted suicide may lead to the terminally ill ending their lives because they fear they are a burden and could endanger the vulnerable, a group of parliamentarians including Baronnes Grey-Thompson and David Blunkett have warned in a letter to the Times.
Senior lawyers are demanding that Alex Salmond address a series of questions about Scotland's currency, tax system and EU membership, Lindsay McIntosh reports in the Times. The Law Society of Scotland wants to hear more about Mr Salmond's "Plan B" in the event that Scotland's path to EU membership and a currency union proves rather thornier than the First Minister suggests.
The DWP's plans to force benefit claimants to undergo treatment for depression would be "unethical and completely ridiculous", Sarah Wollaston has said. Dr Wollaston, the Conservative chairman of the health select committee, has described it as "enormously damaging" for the Tories and has called on the PM to squash the move. However, sources at the DWP deny that the treatment will be compulsory, the Times reports. It's "not a sensible idea", Norman Lamb says.
CABLE MOVES TO SHOOT CHUKA'S PHFOXVince Cable wants to increase the scope of the national interest test to include "critical infrastructure" in the wake of the Pfizer-AstraZeneca saga. Figures in the City are unconvinced, fearing that it will increase uncertainty and the failure of Pfizer's bid shows that the existing rules work perfectly fine.
Tony Blair will be quizzed by MPs over the so-called "comfort  letters", which assured IRA suspects they were not wanted by the police . The peace process agreed between Mr Blair's government and Sinn Fein saw around 200 letters produced, the Indy reports.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life has reccommended that new MPs be taught the "seven commandments" about how to behave as elected officials. (Peter Dominiczak has the story.) The Sun's not thrilled. Voters should be able to have faith that their MP is honest, they say, and should have the right of "proper" recall if they aren't.
I'm experimenting with a larger font size today as some readers have reported issues. Let me know if this causes any issue on your computer/iPhone/tablet device, etc.
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush, who tweets as@stephenkb. Our cartoon is the work of the Telegraph's excellent cartoonist Christian Adams; you can view sketches and recent Telegraph cartoons on his InstagramPOLL OF POLLS
Poll of polls 7th to 14th July (Populus-YouGov) Labour lead by four points

@Alison_McGovern: Look at those possession numbers #statsdontlie
In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - We must tread carefully along the path to assisted dying

Iain Martin - Royal Mail was undersold because ministers feared a flop
Charles Moore - Life at the top is rough, but that's politics
Best of the Rest

Tim Montgomerie - Get these A-list Tory women on the front bench now
John  Rentoul - The Lib Dems might have even more influence next time 
0930 YORK: General Synod of Church of England meets.
1500: Home Secretary Theresa May before the Home Affairs committee.
1515 LONDON: DWP officials before select committee on delivery of the Work Programme.
1600 LONDON: Michael Moore MP speech on his backbench bill to enshrine 0.7% aid target in law.
1630 LONDON: Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd before the Public Administration Committee.