"As things stand, Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister,"Dan Hannan wrote in the immediate aftermath of Douglas Carswell's defection, and it's a view that is increasingly widely held in Westminster.
"Is it just me, or has the Labour lead got bigger?" was the despairing remark made by one Conservative staffer in the heady hours after the news broke. It hasn't - as this morning's FT reports, the positions of the parties are essentially stagnant. But a gap that looked narrow last week now feels like a gulf.
Labour frontbenchers who were expecting a conference marked by glum introspection are now looking forward to having to damp down a mood of triumph. It is the Tory eye that is now turned inwards, and it's reflected in this morning's papers. "100 Tory MPs to challenge Cameron on Europe"screams the i. Mark Reckless tells the Indy that his election manifesto will declare his intent to vote to leave the EU, whatever the result of David Cameron's renegotiation, while Eurosceptics predict that he could be joined between 50 to 100 of his parliamentary colleagues.
Meanwhile, the Times splashes on the plans contained within ConservativeHome's pre-election manifesto - "Reclaim our borders, PM warned" is the headline. The plans - to reclaim oversight of Britain's borders from European hands and to mandate new migrants to purchase their own health and welfare insurance cover - command the support of 70% of the public, according to YouGov. But the popularity of the measures aside, it leaves the impression of a Tory party at war with itself at a time when its cannons need to be firmly pointed at Labour.
Things will almost certainly get worse before they get better. Conservative nerves will be further frayed by findings from Matthew Goodwin showing the party is at risk of defeat to Ukip in five seats, including Boston and Skegness, a Tory stronghold, also in the Thunderer. Nigel Evans' suggestion that the party should simply write off the Clacton by-election, which they are expected to lose and lose badly, is widely reported. (The official response, reported by Steven Swinford today, is that the party will "fight tooth and nail" to hold on to the seat.) All the indications are that the by-election will be held as quickly as possible - the 9th or the 16th of October, Tom Newton Dunn reports.
I'm told that the feeling in CCHQ is that a short campaign will benefit the Conservatives' well-oiled by-election machine, and, if it does go pear-shaped, best to get it over with rather than let it poison the mood any longer. Even so, and even if the Tories can pull off what looks like a near impossible ask, the damage may already have been done. As I've said before, if the next general election follows the usual rules, the PM will be back in Downing Street. The trouble for Mr Cameron is that it feels increasingly like an unusual election.
COUGH UP, NATO TOLD
"Nato allies are told to increase defence spending" is our splash. The PM and President Obama will call on their Nato partners to increase their defence spending at this week's summit in Wales. The crises in Ukraine and Iraq will dominate proceedings in Newport, wit the White House concerned that only four Nato members, including Britain and America, are meeting the target of spending 2% of GDP on defence, although the UK has yet to commit to maintaining that level of spend in the next Parliament. Meanwhile, the PM has been attacked by Sir Richard Shirreff, formely the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Nato's forces in Europe, Ben Farmer reports. In an article for the Sindy, Sir Richard said that "Putin will have taken heart from the vacillation and loss of nerve of the UK's political leadership".
WHY SALMOND IS STILL SMILING
Time is running out for the Yes campaign, so why aren't the Nationalists losing hope? In his new blog, Ben Riley-Smith explains that they believe that the polls are underestimating the impact of unlikely voters on the contest, and they've been boosted by findings from the Scottish edition of the Sun on Sunday, showing that in low turnout, traditionally Labour estates, independence is leading by a heavy margin. That optimism appears not to extend all the way to the upper echelons of the SNP, however. As Simon Johnson reports, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney have ordered civil servants to start planning for a "No" vote, amid concerns that the SNP administration would end up a "dead duck" following a rebuff for independence. Ms Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, and Mr Swinney, the Finance Minister, are keen to be able to "move on, very quickly" after the vote.
RETURN OF THE JIHADI
A deal has been reached between the Coalition partners to allow the intelligence agencies to to have easier access to information about airline passengers and to stem the flow of British-born Jihadis to and from Iraq and Syria. The PM will set out the full details in the House later today, but what's been ruled out is a restoration of control orders - replaced, at Liberal Democrat urging by the less restrictive TPIMs (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures). That's in part because of Lib Dem objections, but also because the measures would likely face a legal challenge, Steven Swinford reports. Still, it's put the DPM firmly in the Sun's sights again. "Nick Clegg has to stop bleating on about civil liberties to block reforms," their leader growls, "The rest of us want the civil liberty of still being alive."
"YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH HOPE I INVESTED IN YOU"
Simon Hattenstone has an emotional interview with Gordon Brown in this morning's G2 as the former PM battles to keep Scotland in the union. The SNP's vision for Scotland would see tax cuts for the rich and big business and leave the poor in both England and Scotland worse off, Mr Brown says. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has blamed Mr Brown for Labour's damaged economic credibility in a a widely-reported interview with GQ, and says that the party must show "more energy" to triumph in May.
EDUCATION, EDUCATION AND WAR
James Kirkup's interview with Nicky Morgan in the Sunday Telegraph is widely reported. She has pledged to make Michael Gove's "EngBacc" compulsory if the Conservatives win the next election. But many parents are confused by the changes and teacher say they are not ready to teach the material, Ben Spencer reports in the Mail. Meanwhile, that man Dominic Cummings is back on the scene with a column in today's Times, warning that, while Ms Morgan "could and should" be less confrontational than his former boss Mr Gove, she will find it hard to do so while maintaining the pace of change against Whitehall resistance. The killer line is an exchange between Mr Cummings and a DfE official: “You’re a mutant virus, I’m the immune system and it’s my job to expel you from the organism.' It was a typical day in the Department for Education."
IT'S A GAS
"Gas costs you three times what the energy firms pay" screams the Mail's splash this morning. We have to protect ourselves from that man Ed Miliband and his energy price freeze, the boss of npower explained. Quite the reverse, says Caroline Flint. "This sort of behaviour is exactly why we need Labour's price freeze."
John Bercow is heading for a confrontation with MPs from all three major parties. The Speaker is unlikely to withdraw Carol Mills, an official at the Australian Senate, as his nominee for the Clerk of the Commons, despite a cross-party motion signed by 84 MPs. Mr Bercow believes that Ms Mills has been appointed under a "modern HR process", as opposed to the usual practice of the outgoing Clerk picking their successor. But critics say the row has permanently damaged the Speaker's standing and Michael Fabricant has called for Mr Bercow to submit to a secret ballot of MPs or risk becoming "a lame-duck Speaker".
YOU'VE MADE YOUR BED, NOW LIE IN IT...
Labour have called on the Liberal Democrat leadership to put their money where their mouth is on the bedroom tax. The Opposition will support Liberal MP Andrew George's private member's bill to abolish the policy this week, and will call on the Liberals to put their newly-minted opposition to the measure into practice on the floor of the House.
CHOPPY WATERS FOR BORIS JOHNSON
In the Mail, Andrew Pierce reports that Boris Johnson has acquired a heavyweight challenger for the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the shape of former Olympic rower James Cracknell. The Mayor's opposition to expanding Heathrow - reiterated in his Telegraph column today - is something of a handicap in the selection, and it's also put him at loggerheads with the business community, who are out in force for airport expansion today - "spades in the ground by 2020" is the CBI's demand.
BARZUN'S GOT A BEEF WITH BRITAIN
Matthew Barzun, the new American Ambassador, has complained about traditional British cuisine in next month's Tatler magazine, Sebastian Shakespeare reports. Asked for his ideal dinner party specifications: ‘I’ll tell you what I would not serve — lamb and potatoes. I must have had lamb and potatoes 180 times since I have been here. There are limits and I have reached them."
I KNOW WHAT YOU READ LAST SUMMER
ComRes' annual poll of the Commons' summer reading is good news for Thomas Piketty. The French economist's tome was top of the pops amongst parliamentarians of all colours, although Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch was almost as popular with Labour MPs as M Piketty's doorstop. In second and third place in Conservative suitcases: Charles Moore's biography of Baroness Thatcher and Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Hillary Clinton's memoir, Hard Choices, was also a popular choice, although the love of all things American didn't extend to the Liberal Democrats: The Day Britain Burned The White House did almost as well with the yellows as M Piketty.
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
Poll of polls 25th August to 1st September, Labour lead of three points (ComRes-Populus-Opinium-YouGov)
TWEETS & TWITS
The most unkindest cut of all:
@DanHannanMEP: "Know then, my name is Douglas; and I do haunt thee in the battle thus!" #NothingEscapesShakespeare @Ournewcurrency @DouglasCarswell
From the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - Only with a new hub airport will Britain truly take off
Joan Bakewell - BBC may have found the formidable chief it needs
Daniel Hannan - New jobs for the boys, but the same old EU
Best of the Rest
Dominic Cummings - Don't let the schools revolution go unfinished (Times)
Stephanie Flanders - To QE or not to QE? (Financial Times)
0930: Bank of England releases its Money and Credit report for July.0930 DUNFERMLINE: Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Vernon Coaker MP, will unveil the latest Scottish Labour campaign poster, highlighting the "threat" posed to jobs in Scotland's defence industry by independence.
1000 BIRMINGHAM: New Perry Beeches Academy opening in deprived inner city Birmingham.
1400: BPI AGM. Culture Secretary Sajid Javid and the BBC's head of music Bob Shennan will deliver keynote speeches at the BPI's AGM.
1545 DUNDEE: First Minister Alex Salmond will meet fans of Dundee and Dundee United football clubs.
1900: Sky News Tonight airs for the first time.