Friday, 27 June 2014

Come back a winner..

Come back with your shield - or not at all." That's what Spartan mothers used to say to their sons before they went off to battle. Barring a miracle, David Cameron is on course to lose his shield and the battle to block Jean-Claude Juncker. He still looks likely to come back, if not to cheering crowds, but to a united party and a country broadly in support of his approach.
That's despite the fact that the negotiations have, been, quite plainly, a disaster. It is clear that the PM went in too hard and too early, and, as Douglas Alexander's put it yesterday, "turned a Europe divided over Jean-Claude Juncker into a Europe apparently united against David Cameron". 
Does it matter? Public opinion in Britain increasingly favours David Cameron's stance of renegotiation then a referendum, softly Eurosceptic, not Better-Off-Out. In any case, what matters is that his party is no longer hopelessly divided on the Europe issue, that Labour's lead - up to five in our poll of polls today - is not big enough by historical standards and that no-one much cares about the European Union anyway.
My colleague Tim Stanley, however, pointed out to me yesterday that, while the politics may be good for David Cameron, his is the one policy that has been discredited by recent weeks. The pro-European case that a more collegiate, less detached approach would secure reform in Europe is still intact; the "they'll never change, let's leave" case is still standing. What no longer appears tenable is the PM's approach of seeking reform from the sidelines. It remains to be seen whether the conflict between popular politics and effective policy-making on the European stage will cause the PM further grief. 

Mark Carney's measures to prevent the housing market from overheating are widely reported. No more than 15% of new mortgages are to be given to people borrowing more than 4.5 times their income, while banks will have to stress test the ability of borrowers to pay back their mortgages if their mortgage rate were 3% higher than the rate at the time the loan was approved. Meanwhile, George Osborne has announced that Help to Buy will not cover any new loans larger than 4.5 times income. Jeremy Warner isn't sold: "in principle and practice, credit rationing is a bad idea whose unintended consequenes we can at this stage only guess at", is his take. You can read the full story from Szu Ping Chan here
The Cybernats who abused JK Rowling after she endorsed Better Together may have been "secret service plants", an SNP MSP has claimed. Writing for her local paper, the Hamilton Advertiser, Ms McKelvie wrote that the attacks were "down to a very few people whose accounts no one could track back to having anything to do with the Yes campaign". She continued: "Whoever made them - there are interesting conspiracy theorists who think it might all have been down to secret service plants - should be totally condemned." Meanwhile, the Nationalist campaign has been thrown into disarray after Professor Patrick Dunleavy, an academic repeatedly quoted by Alex Salmond, suggested that the cost of setting up a new state could reach up to £1.5 billion. Mr Salmond had previously cited a much smaller figure of £200m - Professor Dunleavy now estimates that it would be at least three times that amount. 
Abu Qatada - the radical preacher who was once dubbed "Bin Laden's European N0. 2" - has been acquitted of terrorism offences by a court in Jordan, Damien McElroy reports. The deportation of Qatada is one of Theresa May's greatest triumphs at the Home Office; Nick Clegg confirmed yeterday that he won't be coming back. Jonathan Miller explains that the acquittal reveals how troubled the kingdom of Jordan has become; with Isis threatening the border and tension with the country's Salafist Muslims, a guilty verdict could have stirred trouble. 
Labour will mount a summer campaign to dispel perceptions that the party is anti-business, the FT reports. Ed Miliband will appear with hundreds of business people next week at the Science Museum alongside Lord Sainsbury and Ed Balls, while a more pro-business speech is also being planned.
The number of people who get more in benefits and public services than they pay in tax is at record levels, according to the Office of National Services. Around 52% of households, or 13.8 million families receive more in benefits and public services. In 1977, only 40% of households received more than they contributed.  It's all the result of "unbridled spending and unchecked socialist dreams" of the Labour years, our leader says
People in civil partnerships will be able to convert them to full marriages from December, Sajid Javid has announced.  Here's a lovely Matthew Parris piece on the question of whether to hold a second party to celebrate the "upgrade". 
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
A new dawn, etc:
@IanAustinMP: Oh dear. Humiliating: Absolutely no applause on @BBCQuestionTime for Paul Nuttall's rallying cry to leave the EU. #bbcqt
Poll of polls 20th to 27th June (Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by five points
In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Cameron and his gang haven't learnt their lesson
Tim Bale - The youth of today will probably never vote Ukip - great news for the Conservative Party?
Isabel Hardman -Honourable Members have no reason to be camera-shy
Jeremy Warner - Stop meddling, Mark Carney, and bite the bullet on interest rates 
Best of the Rest
Rafael Behr - David Cameron's weaknesses are his greatest strength...for now

Philip Collins -Petulance will get you nowhere, Mr Cameron
0845 BRUSSELS: European Council summit of EU leaders, including David Cameron.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Jean-Claude is winning..

Defeat with honour? That's what David Cameron is hoping for in the next two days will bring. Dave travels to Ypres today to meet with European leaders as the battle to block Jean-Claude Juncker enters its final stages.
He believed that the "reform quad" of himself, Mark Rutte, Angela Merkel and Frederik Reinfeldt would be able to secure an alternative to M Juncker - it didn't. He thought that Matteo Renzi would come out against the Luxembourger - he hasn't. The PM's last hope - that he would be able to use the Luxembourg Compromise to call off the vote citing "national interests" - now appears to have been ruled out, with the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, warning against the use of the so-called "L-Bomb" (although considering developments elsewhere today he may feel it wise to seek a second opinion).
The plan now is to leave the summit having salvaged a PR victory from the rout. The PM will bring the matter to a vote, a vote where he will be joined only by Viktor Orban of Hungary. He reasons that being seen to stand up to Brussels is worth the ire of the Eurocrats, who are already making grumpy noises - "Why give a gift to the one who is blocking?" is the question asked by a European diplomat in today's FT. Not all is rosy back home, however. Vince Cable is in a troublesome mood - must be a day of the week with a 'y' at the end - saying that Dave's tactics are bad for Britain.
While copping flack from the Opposition won't cause sleepless nights in Downing Street, Douglas Alexander's warning that this is all taste of failures to come will echo what many Tories - even those sympathetic to the renegotiation mission - are thinking. Then there's the suggestion that it may not be playing as well domestically as Dave hopes. That man Dominic Cummings has commissioned a series of focus groups - and takes a swipe at the PM's professed Eurosceptic credentials in the Times this morning - that suggest that neither Dave (or Ed Miliband for that matter) are trusted to deliver in Europe as far as welfare and immigration are concerned. ("We don't trust either of EU 2" is the Sun's groaner.) 
That focus groups commissioned by a vocal critic of Dave are producing news that he doesn't want to hear might be filed alongside the religion of the Pope and the defecatory habits of bears; but that not all of his ultras are willing to stay quiet until after the election doesn't bode well for the PM. 
One definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. At PMQs yesterday, Ed Miliband used all six of his questions on Andy Coulson. It went so badly for Ed that Dave was able to adopt the argot of a teenaged girl -  "I totally disproved him," he said - and still come out the winner.  Remember that yesterday saw Vince Cable moving to restrict zero hour contracts, further uncertainty in Iraq, and looming defeat for Downing Street on the European stage, so it was ripe with opportunity for Ed Miliband. Instead he fluffed it, and went from Red Ed to Redfaced Ed when Dave reminded him that the Labour leader isn't adverse to the odd bout of Sun-pleasing populism himself. Meanwhile the Labour leader still lags on personal ratings and economic competence, while the fight for OBR approval of Labour's manifesto was lost without a mention from the Labour leader himself.  The moment when he claimed that "the whole country" was on tenterhooks was a particular low - but it did at least inspire a brilliant sketch from Michael Deacon, which you can read here.   
Teachers must stop "reinventing the wheel" and must instead return to teaching from the text book, Elizabeth Truss says today - read her article here - citing an OECD report that shows that teachers in Britain spendmore time planning lessons and filling out worksheets than their more successful international counterparts. The study showed that British teachers work for eight hours longer than the international average - they are exceeded only by Japan, Singapore and the Canadian province of Alberta - but much of that time is spent outside of the classroom.
"PM's judgement in the dock" is the Guardian's splash. Mr Justice Saunders - the judge in the phone hacking trial - has criticised Dave for making a public statement attacking Andy Coulson while the jury was still considering its verdicts. Ken Clarke was in a helpful mood, saying that the legal problems probably never "crossed David's mind", as the PM has no legal training. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, is unlikely to be sending Mr Clarke a Christmas card any time soon. 
The No campaign is dominated by "grumpy old men" despite the fact that many of the undecided voters are women, Baroness Vadera, a Labour peer has said. The man in her sights is Alistair Darling, who clashed with the Baroness when she was an adviser to Gordon Brown during his premiership, refusing to have her as part of his Treasury team. (Matt Holehouse has the story). 
The right to buy your council house has been scrapped in Scotland in a bid to maintain Scotland's vanishing supply of social housing, Simon Johnson reports. Our Scottish editor, Alan Cochrane, is throughly unimpressed
Theresa May's speech in Mansion House on MI5's snooping powers was the subject of last-minute alterations between the draft released to reporters and the one delivered, raising further questions about the oversight of the nation's spooks. Peter Dominiczak has the story
Michael Gove may have picked one fight too many this time. Admiral Lord West of Spithead, a Labour peer and former security minister, has taken umbrage at Mr Gove's suggestion that socialists are unpatriotic, and has invited him to discuss the matter further in a boxing ring. Lord West concedes that Mr Gove's remarks may have been "reported wrongly". Read the full story here and keep an eye peeled for the inevitable "Gove vs West" liveblog. 
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
Amusingly the lift company's latest tweet asks: "Is this the scariest lift ever?"  
@joswinson: Looking forward to introducing @titangroupuk engineer to my baby when he finally gets here to release us from 1hr+ stuck in lift
Poll of polls 19th to 25th June (Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by five points
In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne - Cameron and his gang haven't learnt their lesson
Sue Cameron - Taxmen turn a blind eye to Magna Carta
Shashank Joshi - Why an Isis caliphate is no more than a pipe dream
Dan Hodges - Boko Haram didn't Bring back Our Girls. So what are we going to do now?
Iain Martin - Juncker's appointment is a grand historical disaster which makes Brexit very likely
Best of the Rest
David Aaronovitch - Archduke Ferdinand - father of today's EU

George Eaton - The Tories are obsessed with Miliband's "weakness". They'd do better to reflect on their own
Dominic Cummings - Cameron's empty Euroscepticism fools no one
0900: Call Clegg on LBC 97.3 

1000 LONDON: Health and Social Care Information Centre briefing on the care of older people. 
1030 LONDON: Bank of England publishes financial stability report followed by press conference. 
1345 EDINBURGH: Ed Balls visit to Scotland. 
1500 GLASGOW: Referendum voters aged 16-22 meet Alistair Carmichael. Forty young voters have been given the chance to question the Scottish Secretary
1600 YPRES: European Council leaders, including David Cameron, visit to Menin Gate to mark centenary of the start of First World War. 
1800 BIRMINGHAM: A public meeting to discuss Trojan Horse's impact on the community. A meeting entitled Putting Birmingham School Kids First convened by the former Respect party leader and city councillor Salma Yaqoob is being held. 
1800 EDINBURGH: Public panel discussion on the economic impact of independence to take place.
1900 LONDON: Andrew Mitchell speech. The former Secretary of State for International Development, will deliver the sixth bi-annual lecture of the Durham Global Security Institute Royal United Services Institute

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A sincere apology..

"£100m phone-hacking trial ends in Brooks walking free" is the Telegraph's splash this morning. "Great Day for Red Tops" roars the Sun. Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges in the phone-hacking trial but the PM is still in the dock.  
"Humiliation of Cameron" is the Mail's frontpage; "Coulson: the criminal who had Cameron's confidence" is the Guardian's. David Cameron's apology is everywhere - read the Telegraph's take and watch the video here - as are Ed Miliband's remarks says that the PM brought"a criminal into the heart of Downing Street".
The verdicts are "better for Rupert Murdoch than David Cameron" says John Gapper in the FT, and it means that PMQs later today could go badly for Dave, and with more still to come from the hacking trial, things could worse before they get better for Downing Street.
Does it really matter? As depressing as it is, it's the charges, not the verdict, that do the damage in a highly publicised trial. Any loss of support suffered by the PM happened in 2011, not today, and it seems highly unlikely that, come 2015, the appointment of Andy Coulson will sway any voters. Instead, the election will hinge on the questions of who people trust with their wallets, the launch codes, and, most of all, who looks best on television. Those are the fundamentals of the next election, and, today as yesterday, they very much favour David Cameron. 
Mark Carney was criticised by MPs yesterday after he played down suggestions of an imminent interest rate rise, having suggested in his Mansion House that a rate hike was likely to happen sooner than the markets expect. Now the Governor warns that wages and productivity are still low despite the return to growth. Pat McFadden told Mr Carneythat the Bank of England is "behaving like an unreliable boyfriend; one day hot, one day cold, and the people left on the other side of the message are left not really knowing where they stand". Mr Carney's vacillation appears to be hurting the value of the pound; sterling suffered its steepest fall in a month a the close of play yesterday, losing 0.3% against the Euro. (Read Szu Ping Chan's story here, and Camilla Turner's liveblog from yesterday here)
Danny Alexander was embarrassed when he fell short in a children's shopping challenge. Pupils at Cauldeen Primary School in Inverness were tasked with buying food for one person within a week on a £10 budget. They all succeeded, but when Mr Alexander's bill went through the checkout in the city's Asda, his bill came in at £11.16. His constituency assistant, Jamie Mackie, took the blame, saying he had misread the price of tinned tomatoes while helping to fill the basket. Read Simon Johnson's story here
Jean-Claude Juncker has taken a pop at Dave.  M Juncker says he will become President of the European Commission by the end of the week"if common sense prevails". The good news for Dave is that, according to a Populus poll for the FT, the voters back his tough stance on M Juncker, even if it ends in defeat. 43% of respondents say that the PM is "right in any case" to try to block the Luxembourger, with just 14% saying he is right only if he succeeds. Also from the FT: doubts are growing about M Juncker's management style.  "He's a bad organiser, he's a bad manager, he's too political" is the glowing reference from a senior lawyer from Luxembourg's namesake capital. 
Stronger powers on cyber-surveillance are needed to counter the terror threat from British jihadists in Syria, Theresa May said last night at the Lord Mayor's Defence and Security Lecture. The idea that intelligence agencies were "trawling at will" through people's private lives is "absurd", according to Mrs May. Rather than an all-hearing Leviathan, Mrs May says, British cyber-surveillance is too weak and needs to be strengthened. The plans are unlikely to escape the surveillance of her Coalition partners, however. 
After news yesterday that revenue raised from inheritance tax and stamp duty is now higher than so-called "sin taxes" on cigarettes and alcohol, Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, has called for reforms to inheritance tax. Mr Johnson says that reducing exemptions and loopholes exploited by the wealthy would allow a reduction of the inheritance taxes levied on middle-class earners - read Matt Holehouse's story here
A new permanent body could be set up by Parliament to teach MPs the difference between right and wrong in the wake of the Maria Miller scandal. (Day One: Kantian ethics. Day Two: Claiming expenses and man's inhumanity to man) Geoffrey Cox, an MP on the Standards committee, suggests that stronger codification will prevent further ethics scandals amongst Parliamentarians. Christopher Hope has the story
Labour is forcing a vote today on allowing the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit their promises.  While they are certain to be defeated - and be unable to go into the election brandishing an OBR-approved clean bill of health, they reason that at the least the Conservatives can't say that Labour fears financial scrutiny. On the Today programme this morning, Ed Balls said that he believes that all parties should be able to seek the independent certification of the OBR. 
Lenny Henry has warned that the BBC risks driving black and minority ethnic talent to America because the corporation does not do enough to promote non-white talent. Even programmes with black leads tend to have unrealistically white casts, Mr Henry says: where are Luther's friends, he asks? (Has he seen Luther?) Lord Hall, the director-general, has pledged that 15% of on-air BBC staff will be non-white by 2017.  Georgia Graham has the story.
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
You're both wrong; it's Return of the Jedi: 
@stellacreasy: RT @johnmcternan: Is Rambo III the greatest three-quel ever? I think so.< I beg to differ sir when Toy Story 3 taken into account...
Poll of polls 18th to 24th June (Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by four points
In the Telegraph

Telegraph View - Scandal that could not scupper press freedom
Mary Riddell - The shockwaves of terror must not bend the sacred rule of law
Jeremy Warner - Currency markets overshoot - get used to it
Martha Gill - The NHS works best as a socialist institution,  not a free market
Best of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Cameron will pay a price for hiring Coulson
Rachel Sylvester - The NHS dog will not stay silent for long
LONDON: Business Secretary Vince Cable publishing the Small Business Bill.
0945 LONDON: The UK's highest court gives its decision in right-to-die cases. 
1000 LONDON: Nick Clegg and David Laws to attend the Pupil Premium award ceremony.
1000 PORTSMOUTH: Son of MP Mike Hancock to be sentenced for assaulting a photographer. 
1015 LONDON: Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger and deputy president Baroness Hale give evidence to Lords Constitution Committee. 
1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Luxembourg compromise..

Could the PM have found a way to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming President of the European Commission after all? In the Times, Francis Elliott and Sam Coates reveal that David Cameron is considering deploying the "L-bomb", the so-called Luxembourg Compromise.
The Luxembourg Compromise - devised to appease Charles de Gaulle's frustration that France was continually out-voted by smaller countries in what was then the European Economic Community - allows member-states to defer any decision that affects "a very important national interest" until a unanimously acceptable solution can be found, and could, theoretically, be used to stop M Juncker at the eleventh hour. (Cognac all round at Number 10!) 
There's just one problem: the legal weight of the L-Bomb is not a strong as Downing Street might like; it has never been recognised by the European Court of Justice and it hasn't been deployed for over a decade (by France, on June 19 2003, to block a vote on agricultural policy). 
In the meantime, Downing Street has to contend with another type of bomb entirely. In a series of leaked recordings of Polish ministers, leaked to the magazine Wprost, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, has been recorded giving the PM's European policy a good going-over. "He f----- it up" is the running theme. Renegotiation is "either a very badly thought through move, or, not for the first time, a kind of incompetence in European affairs". The PM "stupidly tries to play the system" and his tactic of feeding his critics "scraps in order to satisfy them is turning against him".
The comments are everywhere (read our story here, and a translated transcript here). That even Britain's natural allies are casting doubts on his competence is not a good look for the PM - and if he does drop the L-bomb, expect many more unprintable comments about Britain - and Dave - in Warsaw, Berlin and everywhere else.


Ed Miliband will try to stay on as Labour leader after the 2015 election - no matter what the outcome. "Ed believes he's given up too much - including his relationship with his own brother just to quit after one election defeat," a Shadow Cabinet source tells the Mail. As I understand it, Red's comments last week that his party would have to "defy historical odds" to win put the wind up Labour frontbenchers, who feared that Mr Miliband was preparing to dig in should he lose. These latest comments will only make the parliamentary Labour Party more uneasy.

Families with two earners face a £550 hike in their council tax. That's the splash in our Scottish edition this morning. Economists in the Scottish Parliament's Information Centre have calculated that Alex Salmond's plans to move from council tax to a local income tax would have to be set at 5.4p in the pound - almost double the rate that the SNP is proposing. Simon Johnson has the full details, but it is £549.74 more than the average Band D council tax bill for a family with two average earners in it. A frontline nurse would pay £746.55, a teacher £1,460.20 and a police constable £1,152.41.
Every Northern city should have a Boris, George Osborne said yesterday as he made the case for HS3. Mr Osborne believes that strong leadership - coupled with transport innovations such as HS3 - will allow the cities of the North to challenge London's dominance. (Georgia Graham has the story) That it's quicker to travel by train from London to Paris than it is from Liverpool to Hull, that Southampton and Oxford are easier to  travel between than Manchester and Sheffield attest to the importance of improving Britain's transport links - no wonder that Liverpool's elected Mayor, Joe Anderson, is impressed with Mr Osborne's support for HS3, calling it a "bold step", but the Taxpayers' Alliance sounds a warning in this morning's City AM. Make no mistake: HS3 will be just as much of a political battle as HS2.
Graham Brady wants a period of "conscious uncoupling" between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the run-up to the election,the Times reports. He wants both parties to be able to differentiate themselves from one another without creating the impression of a government at war with itself. It's unlikely to happen, though; most Liberal Democrats are of the view that, in such a situation, they would still carry the taint of propping up a minority Tory government without the influence of ministerial office.  
The Indy reports that another mis-selling scandal could lead to yet more automated calls for bank consumers - and, more importantly, a £22bn compensation bill. That banks could have many more outstanding charges to pay than believed previously could frustrate the Government's hopes of returning the entirety of Lloyds to the private sector before the election. 
Not enough new homes are being built to meet demand, housebuilders have warned. Housebuilders say that planning regulations must be further relaxed to allow the scale of building needed - Christopher Hopehas the story. Meanwhile, George Osborne has been cheered by the news of a £1 billion collaboration between Manchester City Council and the Abu Dhabi United Group, that will lead to a new housing project called "Manchester Life", that will eventually lead to the development of more than 6,000 properties.
Chuka Umunna has been bombarded with e-mails from Young Ukippers who are incensed at the suggestion that they are unable to use the Internet, Georgia Graham reports.
Ed Miliband is advertising for an apprentice to avenge him after he is struck down by - no, wait, sorry. Wrong job description. The job will involve providing support for meetings and events; organising correspondence and drafting letters. Applicants have until the June the 30th to apply, and they must say in fewer than 250 words what interests them about working for the Labour leader. My tip to applicants: don't take any tips from the comments underneath Christopher Hope's story on it all.

The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
Everyone in Portsmouth North should have their own owl:
@PennyMordauntMP: Good evening all, apols for the rather unusual tweets you've been receiving from my account today. I am now, hopefully, unhacked.

Poll of polls 17th to 24th June (ICM-Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by three points
In the Telegraph

John McTernan - Another assault on the freedom of the press
Mats Persson - Berlin is playing with fire over the EU's top job
Con Coughlin - How does cutting the counter-terrorism budget make Britain's streets safer?Best of the Rest
Gideon Rachman - Britain's wooing of Germany has fallen flat
Rachel Sylvester - The NHS dog will not stay silent for long
AGENDA0900 LONDON: Launch of Kids Company report on social care for children. Speakers include Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh and former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer.
0930 LONDON: Bank of England governor Mark Carney gives evidence to Commons Treasury Committee.
0930: British Bankers' Association (BBA) releases its latest high street banking report.
1030 LONDON: Lenny Henry gives evidence to Commons Culture Committee on the future of the BBC.
1800 LONDON: Theresa May will give the Lord Mayor's Security and Defence Lecture in London.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fix EU..

The week begins with David Cameron bracing himself for a chastening defeat in Brussels. He meets Herman Van Rompuy later today at Downing Street, where the PM will begin his last-ditch bid to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker taking post as Mr Van Rompuy's successor. He looks all but certain to fail. 
Mr Van Rompuy, for his part, sees the meeting as an attempt to dissuade Mr Cameron from bringing the issue to a vote when European leaders meet on Thursday, not least because Mr Van Rompuy - like Angela Merkel - is loath to see a bout of Anglo-German wrangling at the historically resonant location of Ypres. The PM, however, is keen to force those leaders who - like Ms Merkel and Matteo Renzi - still have private doubts about Mr Juncker's aptitude for the role to publicly support the Luxembourger. 
If the government is to be defeated, it certainly shows no sign of going gently into the night. Iain Duncan Smith's comments that selecting Mr Juncker would be "flicking two fingers" at voters are widely reported (the Sun has helpfully produced an image of the gesture in question on page 2). Meanwhile, the Mail carries a bruising attack on Mr Juncker from "a senior diplomatic source" who claims that he is a drunk who"has cognac for breakfast"; that the rumours are starting to get traction in the German press as well could yet spell the end for Mr Juncker. Or it could, as with the earlier tabloid attacks, provoke an angry counter-reaction in Germany and further box in Ms Merkel.
James Kirkup's analysis that the PM reckons he's headed for defeat and might as well pick up some extra marks for shouting is worth coming back to, but there's a risk that all this starts to look like a a temper tantrum in the chancelleries of Europe. With the jobs still to be handed out in the European Commission, not to mention the great work of renegotiation still to come, Mr Cameron may find that an acrimonious selection for Mr Juncker may leave both men with a nasty hangover. 

It's the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn tomorrow, and the SNP hope that the occasion -   Robert the Bruce's defining victory in the First War of Scottish independence - will provide a fillip to the nationalist campaign. The Nats badly need a turnaround, with the poll of polls still showing a healthy lead for the Union (56% No,  44% Yes).  Yes, the figure narrows when you include the hefty proportion of undecideds - close to 20% of the electorate - but remember that in referendums, the undecided voters tend to rally to the status quo (just ask any Quebecois nationalists you happen to know, or, closer to home, any of the veterans from the Yes to AV campaign). That is the background to Alex Salmond's U-turn on debates; he has now agreed to meet Alistair Darling in a televised debate on independence instead of holding out for the clash he really wants with David Cameron.

Nick Clegg is "toxic" on the doorstep, a Lib Dem peer told the BBC's Sunday Politics. Lord Storey, a former Mayor of Liverpool and now the Liberal education spokesman in the Lords, thinks the DPM is "a nice guy" but, concedes that Mr Clegg goes down badly on the fabled doorstep. "Some might use the word toxic," Lord Storey said (with friends like this, who needs Chris Huhne?). The remarks are, as you'd expect, everywhere (Georgia Graham has the full story here).
After a week of woe for Ed Miliband, Labour's big beasts have rallied to the cause. Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves and Andy Burnham were out on the Sunday shows flying the flag for the Labour leader. Mr Umunna dismissed concerns about Red's flatlining approval ratings. "We're not playing some game of Celebrity Big Brother," Mr Umunna told Andrew Marr, "We're talking about big issues that are affecting all of our different communities.". Wheeling out Lord Kinnock to rebut concerns that Ed Miliband is another Neil Kinnock looks to have been something of a blunder, though: "Ed must really be desperate!" is the Mail's take.As the Guardian observes in their leader, this can be all a bit self-defeating "like the question about beating your wife, it is tricky to defend a a beleaguered leader without lending credibility to the criticisms". The hope for Labour is that a new week will bring a degree of respite.
Retired pensioners could be encouraged to retrain as teachers under proposals being presented to Dave by the 2020 Group, a panel of senior Conservatives who have been tasked by George Osborne with drawing up policies for the Tories' election manifesto. Read our leader's enthusiastic take on it here and Peter Dominiczak's story here
Ukip's support is fueled by voters who are disconnected from politics and lack basic skills such as the ability to send e-mails or browse the Internet, says Chuka Umunna. (if only Ukip voters could send fewer e-mails, I say) He was citing research by the BBC that shows that 1 in 5 British voters are unable to do the online basics, and Mr Umunna reckons many of these voters are plumping for Ukip (so does Ukip's Suzanne Evans, who, you'll recall, blamed the "young and media-savvy" for the purple party's poor showing in London). Predictably enough it's provoked an angry reaction from those Ukippers who can use a computer - or, at least, can use a computer well enough to fire off angry e-mails with the words "LibLabCon" in the subject header. 
A survey of 69 central bank reserve managers by HSBC and Central Banking Publications reveals that they plan to cut their exposure to longer-term debt in order to protect themselves from losses when the Federal Reserve ends its bond-buying this autumn, which would increase the risk of market disruption, the FT reports. Along with the prospect of a rate hike and the uncertain consequences of the overheating housing market, it's a reminder that not all in the economic garden is entirely rosy. 
"£2bn NHS black hole will cause care crisis" is the Times' splash this morning. The BMA is calling for a further injection of £2 billion to ease the pressure on the NHS which, they say, is grappling with having to fork out for Britain's rising care costs and increasing numbers of lifestyle related diseases. The Indy reports that Nick Clegg favours a hike in NHS spending for 2016-17, while Jeremy Hunt believes that the £2bn can be found through further efficiency savings. 
George Osborne's a glutton for punishment. Having seen off the Nimbys and the backbench MPs, weathered Labour's vacillations and finally got HS2 to a point where it looks like it will, in fact, be built, he wants to do it all again. He wants to connect Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and Hull to help create what he calls a "Northern powerhouse".  Speeding up travel between the cities would create a hub with 7.8 million - close to London's 8.3 million.
David Blunkett is standing down in 2015 - if you haven't already, do read Fraser Nelson's farewell to the former Home Secretary - and, in an interview with Patrick Wintour in the Guardian today, calls on Ed Miliband to bring Alan Johnson back to the frontbench. Mr Johnson has "a terrific contribution to make", Mr Blunkett says.

The consequences of the Syrian conflict will be felt in Britain for "many years", says Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police's head of specialist operations, has warned, as British-born jihadis return to our shores, while Tony Blair takes to the FT to repeat his warning that the mixture of "bad religion and bad politics" continues to be felt in the Middle East and at home.

The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
@JWoodcockMP: The nights are drawing in.
@timloughton: The nights are definitely drawing in!

Poll of polls 16th to 23rd June (ICM-Populus-Opinium-YouGov) Labour lead by four
In the Telegraph

Alan Johnson - A fateful decision now facing Palestinians
Cristina Odone- Opponents of a sugar tax may just have to lump it
Boris Johnson - Come on, England, don't force us to reach for the pzzzzzt!Best of the Rest
Stephen Pollard - Yet another Labour big beast departs the stage
Tony Blair - Removing Saddam Hussein did not cause this crisis
AGENDA0930: Bank of England releases its credit conditions survey for the second quarter of 20141000 LONDON: The jury in the hacking trial resume deliberations.
1200 LONDON: Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and members of the London Assembly, to honour members of the Armed Forces with a flag raising ceremony.
1230 LONDON: Nigel Farage speech to Institute for Government.1230 LONDON: Speech by Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, Head of Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police. 1500 LONDON: David Cameron meeting Herman Van Rompuy.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Schoolboy errors..

If you are the leader of the Opposition, there is a great deal that you can neither predict nor control. You cannot predict, for instance, that David Petraeus will warn of the threat of "a terrorist army" - that's Con Coughlin's exclusive that takes the front page of the Telegraph today - or that the Government's reforms to disability benefits will be savaged by a parliamentary watchdog - that's the Indy's splash this morning.  Surely no one could have predicted that a former Ed Miliband adviser would defect from the Labour Party to the Lib Dems, branding poor old Red "weak" into the bargain ("Ed's weak" is the page 2 story in the Mirror). And you cannot control when Damian McBride chooses to make his return to the political fray with a broadside at the Labour machine.
"A thinly-disguised attack on Lord Wood," is Matt Holehouse's take on Mr McBride's blog and there's a feeling in some Labour circles that Mr McBride's intervention - coupled with Tom Watson's line on "schoolboy errors" earlier in the week - is the beginnings of a power grab by the friends of Mr Watson and the former supporters of Ed Balls. 
There may be some truth to that - Mr McBride's list of the exiled "warriors" that Mr Miliband should restore to prominence includes two former Balls-backers, plus the man himself. But here's something that Team Ed should be reflecting on this morning: pitting a 280-page report, however worthy, against the England football team, is almost criminally negligent. Mr McBride is right: Labour badly needs an inject of fight and backbone - and fast. 
Lord Ashcroft's latest poll of Lib-Con marginal seats makes grim reading for the Liberal Democrats. That Liberal MPs defending seats in Labour territory are in trouble is priced in - as James Forsyth explained a few weeks back, around a third of Liberal Democrat MPs are "cut off behind enemy lines and there is nothing that can be done to save them" - but this poll suggests that they will lose at least a dozen seats in Conservative territory too. This suggests that rather more of the army is in jeopardy than they might expect. When you look at the contact numbers, there's some evidence that the Liberal dictum of "where we work, we win" may have some weight to it: the higher the proportion of voters who say they have heard from the Liberals locally, the more well-placed they are to hold onto the seat. Even so, it suggests that there is no sign of a coalition dividend for the Liberal Democrats - and that the price they pay for taking out the shares in the first place may be greater than they think.   

"Governors told to abide by 'British values'" is the Guardian's splash today.  New rules will mean that governors of academies and free schools in England can be dismissed by the Secretary of State if they do not uphold "British values". Those values are given a name, too: religious tolerance, respect for the law, democracy and equality. "Community leaders" warn that it could bar Muslims from becoming trustees or governors. No one has yet seen fit to ask these self-appointed "community leaders" why exactly they think that tolerance, respect for the law, democracy and equality are incompatible with the religion of Islam.  
The introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been a "fiasco",  Margaret Hodge has warned. MPs in the Commons Public Accounts Committee have given the replacement for the Disability Living Allowance a rollicking, with delayed assessments and late payments a feature of the handdover. Steven Ford, the chief executive of Parkinson's UK, has described the handover as "utterly shambolic". "Disabled people 'let down' by benefit 'fiasco'" is the FT's take. The Sun reports it as a blow for Iain Duncan Smith. Meanwhile, the man himself is in the Mail reporting that the pilots for the Universal Credit are on track and are helping to drive the boost in employment among British-born workers. The scheme's aims are admirable, certainly, but, considering the troubling "reset" rating awarded to the programme by the Major Projects Authority and the failings reported today, it will fuel fears that there is a troubling gulf between the idea and the implementation at the DWP. 
Helen Grant's interview with the House Magazine has the papers aflutter. She suggests that people waiting for passports should stay at home instead - before going on to say that she has no fear of live interviews. Christopher Hope has the story.
Ian Traynor has put together an excellent profile of the man who looks increasingly likely to be the next head of the European Commission: Jean-Claude Juncker. Tidbits: until his resignation in December, Mr Juncker was the only person at the summit table who had taken part in the Maastricht summit that created the Euro, he has few interests outside politics, and is described by Vivian Reding, a European Commissioner and a fellow Luxembourger as "a well-recognised statesman, a safe pair of hands...he is in a long line of people who have been building Europe." Those last two, of course, are regarded as a bug rather than a feature by Team Dave. 
Zac Goldsmith is still trying to make recall happen.  After Nick Clegg said that Mike Hancock should resign from the Liberal Democrats - on LBC, of course - Mr Goldsmith criticised the Coalition's recall bill - which would not be enough to recall Mr Hancock, and called for stronger measures to hold rogue MPs to account
Boris Johnson turned 50 yesterday. "Nifty at fifty" is the Sun's take...on Yasmin Le Bon, pictured looking svelte in a swimsuit alongside a picture of a "knackered old Mayor" (ouch!). The Mail's double spread is kinder, and includes some of Boris' best quotes over the years. His defence of copying from a textbook at Oxford: "I'm sorry, I didn't have time to put in the mistakes" and his comments on fighting his first seat: "I fought Clywd South - and Clwyd South fought back" are my favourites. 

The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush. You can follow him onTwitter or Instagram.
Greg Mulholland takes a measured view:
@GregMulholland1: To all the naive muppets who said it was ok for England to lose their 1st game. It wasn't. Now a national embarrassment. Useless..
YouGov latest:
Con 33%, Lab 37%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%
In the Telegraph
Best of the Rest
BERKSHIRE: Festival of Education.Speaks include Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove.
0930 LONDON: Public sector borrowing figures for May are published by the Office for National Statistics.
1230 CARDIFF: Labour shadow cabinet meets Welsh Government, followed by Ed Miliband Q&A.