Saturday, 2 August 2014

The sound of silence..

The big stories are all, for one reason or another, largely beyond the reach of Britain's politicians. The ongoing conflict in Gaza is the cause of much discussion, but, bluntly, will be resolved in Washington and Jerusalem, not Westminster. Ebola may reach Britain's shores  - if you haven't yet, do read Tom Chivers' lucid explainer about the epidemic -  but it's unlikely to cause any political divides.
The problem for the politicians is that empty spaces tend to be filled one way or another. Chris Grayling's announcement that ministers will "curtail" the power of the European Court of Human Rights, putting British judges in control, may cause the government to founder if a common cause can be made between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and those Tories, like Dominic Grieve, who are still powerful advocates for the Court.
As for Labour, their frontbenchers still have another 52 speeches to deliver between now and the end of the summer. Several shadow ministers are frustrated and perplexed that their capacity for innovation has been cut to the bone and that speeches very rarely make for lasting headlines. There's a particular feeling that the 2010 intake - who are particularly loyal to Ed Miliband - are being made to work, largely fruitlessly, to make up for the listlessness of the older generation last summer. And with things so quiet, you only need one shadow minister to fluff their lines for even a relatively minor gaffe to echo on for days.
The hope for both Team Dave and Team Ed is that, when we get back, things will be much the same. A point shaved off the Labour lead, perhaps. (Perversely, both sides are relaxed about the state of the polls - the Tories because they feel confident of overhauling Labour next year, while Team Ed believe that they can win with a smaller share of the vote than the Conservatives.) The fear is that, for one reason or another, the political picture looks markedly different at summer's end.  

David Hoare, the businessman, has been appointed as the new head of Ofsted, replacing Baroness Morgan in September - he's been profiled by the Guardian. He's come from a successful career in business and a stint as a trustee for the academy chain AET. "Pro-academies, but not a Tory donor" is the somewhat grudging headline to Anne Perkins' analysis of the appointment. The hope is that the appointment will avoid controversy and will go some way to healing relationships between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - although it's already been attacked by Tristram Hunt, who says the Tories are "playing politics" with children's education.
Scotland is on course to vote No to independence by a margin of 57% to 43%, according to John Curtice's calculations, the Indy reports, leaving the Nationalists desperately hoping that Alex Salmond can pull off a miracle in the debate against Alistair Darling next week. Meanwhile, Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary, has attacked the Yes campaign for "scaremongering" about the dire fate of the NHS should Scotland remain part of the union, while RBS has warned that independence would "significantly increase" its costs. 
Chris Grayling's attack on the pernicious influence of Len McCluskey on the Labour party's policies were overshadowed somewhat by continuing questions about that £160,00 donation from Lubov Chernukhin,Georgia Graham reports. Worse still, Mr Grayling came under fire himself as new figures emerged showing that the number of prisoners absconding has risen by 10%, to four prisoners a week. Figures rose to 225 in the year to March from 204 in 2012/13.
George Osborne's "hard hat tour" has been criticised by Sheila Gilmore, a Labour MP, the Times reports. The Chancellor's habit of announcing infrastructure projects on the road seems to take in an awful lot of marginal constituencies, Ms Gilmore says. 
"Millions more are dragged into stamp duty trap" is the Telegraph's splash today. The number of households being forced to pay higher raters of stamp duty has more than doubled in the past decade according to government statistics due to rising house prices, while death duties have also increased to £3.4 billion last year, the most since the start of the financial crisis. 
A group of senior doctors have expressed their concern at Andy Burnham's plans to restrict the number of private firms running NHS services, warning that the restrictions could worsen services if the Health Service is unable to choose the best providers in a letter to the Mail. Also flying the flag for private providers is John McTernan in today's Times, delivering a strong rebuke to Mr Burnham.  
The advantages of higher wages and a younger population are outweighed by the additional pressues on schools, hospitals and other public services, a new report from the think tank Civitas says.  
Lynton Crosby is "the most successful propagandist since Joseph Goebbels," Ken Livingstone said on Newsnight last night.  Leopards, spots, etc. 
In the Times, Billy Kenber reports on the party leaders' plans for the holiday. The Cameron family will make their traditional jaunt to Cornwall in addition to a ten-day break in southern Europe next week, while Nick Clegg will be in Spain visiting his in-laws. Ed Miliband will be in the French countryside, while a Ukip spokesman would not comment on Nigel Farage's summer plans. Magaluf, perhaps? Have a lovely summer.
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush, who tweets as@stephenkb. Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams; you can see his cartoons on Instagram.
Poll of polls 25th July to 1st August, Labour lead of three points (ComRes-Populus-TNS-YouGov)
From the Telegraph

Harry de Quetteville - Replacing photojournalists with drones will only bring us 'war porn'
Charles Crawford - Is Nato ready for Russia? 
Allister Heath - If we don't save the City from this EU power grab, we'll all be poorer The 'right to be forgotten' is a disaster for human knowledge
Con Coughlin - An ill-equipped Britain must not sleepwalk into another disaster
Best of the Rest
Philip Collins - France should be a disaster, but it's glorious  (Times)
John McTernan - We always knew Ed Balls was bright (Scotsman)
WARSAW: The Mayor of London participates in events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising alongside other dignitaries.