Friday, 21 November 2014

After Rochester..

Mark Reckless has won in Rochester & Strood. The numbers, in case you haven't seen them, are:

Mark Reckless (Ukip) 16,867 (42%)
Kelly Tolhurst (Conservatives) 13,947 (35%)
Naushabah Khan (Labour) 6,713 (17%)

Mr Reckless 2920 majority is well within the whips' expectation, and an outbreak of panic is likely to be limited. That our poll-of-polls shows the Conservatives drawing level for the first term highlights that the bigger threat - Labour - is still beatable. For the whips, I'm told that the bigger concern is not further defections but more first-term retirements ala Dan Byles (majority of 54) or Jonathan Evans (majority of 164) who don't fancy their chances thanks to the Ukip surge.

All in all Mark Reckless' victory looks likely to lack the impact of Douglas Carswell's triumph, but sequels often lack the oomph of the original. In any case, it's Labour's own low-budget remake - "Mrs Duffy 2: Tweet in Haste" that is attracting the attention.

Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow Attorney General, has resigned after tweeting a picture of a house with a white van and three England flags outside with the caption "Image from Rochester". "It insults people like me, the people I know, friends and family" was Labour MP John Mann's response on Today. Ed Miliband was "angrier than he's ever been" say Labour sources. I repeat: it was a picture of a house with the caption "Image from Rochester".

To my eyes, the tweet looks inoffensive when seen in the context of Ms Thornberry's habit of tweeting pictures that are wholly ordinary in a tone of wide-eyed astonishment - "All women, all in black and red!" is a recent example - and I'm inclined to agree with Tim Stanley's verdict that the sacking, rather than the offence, gives off the impression that Labour is a party dominated by middle-class liberals who are cross at being found out. (For the counter argument, Anne Perkins writes in the Guardian, calling it "the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years".)

As one Conservative pointed out last night, this is the consequence of the "gotcha politics" that Labour played over Lord Freud, something that was echoed on the Labour side: "If you make your whole argument against the government all about how they are supposedly out of touch it ramps up the need of your own side to always be in touch to such an extent that something as objectively small as this becomes a resigning issue".

It's worth stopping and thinking about the party that has just doubled its parliamentary representation. It was Mark Reckless who earlier this week suggested that Eastern Europeans could be repatriated, something that Nigel Farage described as "a minor issue". It's Ukip that sits with the far-right KNP in Brussels and Ukip activists who posed with the hard-right Britain First. It's the Ukip leader who told LBC that "you know what the difference is" when asked about Romanians, rather than Germans, moving next door and when asked about the quality level of immigrants talked baout HIV. Mr Reckless is now an MP and Mr Farage is likely to join him in May. Ms Thornberry's frontline career is over. It may be that our sense of offence is somewhat out of joint.


The PM will now seek to reclaim the agenda with a speech on immigration that could be made as early as next week. Sam Coates reports in the Times that Downing Street is divided between those favouring "eye-catching but harder to deliver" announcements or "smaller things that are at the more ambitious end of what might be deliverable".

HMRC's new powers to raid bank accounts directly will be curbed by the Chancellor, James Chapman reports in the Mail. People will have to have a face-to-face meeting with a tax collector and the right to appeal to a county court.


In the Sun, Tom Newton Dunn has got hold of an internal party study that suggests that Labour could lose up to ten MPs either as a direct loss to Ukip - Great Grimsbys and Rotherham are both believed to be under threat - or as a result of the Ukip surge knocking out the Labour lead - which happened the local elections in both Birmingham Northfield and Southampton Itchen, both Labour-held.

George Osborne has withdrawn his legal challenge to the bank bonus cap from the European Court of Justice after a leading legal adviser to the ECJ dimissed the Treasury's appeal, James Titcomb and James Quinn report. "Osborne in Bank Bonuses EU-Turn" is the Mirror's take.


Clive Efford's private member's bill to repeal parts of the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill will come before the House today, with Labour seeking to put the pressure on the Coalition on the controversial law and the forthcoming trade treaty, TTIP, which, Andy Burnham argues, "could give powerul private health interests the ability to break the inherent and essential strength of the NHS". But a group of leading GPs fear that the repeal would be a "backwards step for patient care", subjecting the Health Service to another reorganisation "at a time when it needs to be looking ahead". They've made their feelings known with a letter to the Telegraph.


Former Gove SpAd and Number 1 David Cameron fan Dominic Cummings spoke to the IPPR about Whitehall, Westminster and how to fix it - the full recording is here. Among the headlines: Sir Jeremy Heywood has the PM "completely by the balls". Ed Llewellyn and Craig Oliver, are Mr Cameron's "most important advisers" and they are "totally and utterly useless". As for the PM himself, he cannot "manage his way out of a paper bag" and has "never been part of an organisation run well".

Parliament is at risk of becoming "old fashioned" and should consider ending the practice of referring to MPs as "honourable lady" or "honourable gentleman" and instead move to a more "modern system", John Bercow suggests in an interview with the House Magazine. Steven Swinford has the details.


Boris Johnson is in a stand-off with the American taxman. The Mayor of London, who was born in New York, is refusing to pay US capital gains tax on the profit made through the sale of his house in Islington. That's Islington, London, not Islington, Massachusetts. "I think it's absolutely outrageous," Mr Johnson spluttered, "Why should I? I think, you know, I'm not a - I, you know, I haven't lived in the United States for, you know, well, since I was five years old." Holly Watt has the story.

You can get in touch with me by pressing "reply" or on Twitter. Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams - a gallery of his work is available here.



Conservatives 33% Labour 33% Liberal Democrats 7% Ukip 15% Green 5% (Ashcroft-Opinium-Populus-YouGov, 14.11.2014-21.11.2014)


YouGov: Conservatives 34%, Labour 33%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Ukip 14% Green 6%


@TomChivers: I'd love it if just once, a losing by-election candidate said "No you're quite right Justin out on the doorstep literally everyone hates us"