Thursday, 31 July 2014

A flash of ankle..

Ned Simons' profile of Nicky Morgan has reminded me of one of her more perceptive observations about politics: "It's 80% how you say something and only a tiny percentage is about what you actually say."
That is an important thing to remember this morning. The Conservatives are on the offensive today - "there are only two certainties in life - death and Labour putting up taxes", Grant Shapps writes in the Express this morning. Andy Burnham's loose talk about a "death tax" overshadowed Ed Balls' speech yesterday, and the fallout dominated the Shadow Chancellor's appearance on LBC Radio as well. In the Mail,Daniel Martin has got hold of recordings of two further Labour bigwigs - onetime Ed guru Lord Glasman and opposition frontbencher Lisa Nandy - voicing their support for an estates levy. "Tax the dead" is Lord Glasman's helpful gag - one can see why Ed prefers Thomas Piketty these days. (Take a look at Chris Mason's explainer on why secret tapes are playing an increasing prominent role in political news.)
Meanwhile, Dave has flashed a bit of ankle as far as the 40p rate is concerned, much to the excitement of Fleet Street. The PM would "love" to be able to raise the threshold on a band that is now catching an ever-growing number of middle-income earners in a tax band originally intended for the rich, he says, but he can't promise anything just yet. At last, our leader cheers, there is "clear blue water" between spendthrift Ed and tax-cutter Dave. 
The reality is that, for all Team Ed might prefer to grow the state while Team Dave's instinct is to spread the wealth, the parlous state of the public finances may well mean that there isn't the money for the tax cut that the PM craves, while the feared "death tax" is not going to become Labour policy, no matter what some of that party's frontbenchers may want. But tone, as Ms Morgan notes, matters: and the PM's flash of leg may end up doing him a power of good.  
In his column today, James Forsyth gives Dave the chilling reminder that he could yet end up on the scrapheap two years before he turns 50; even this notoriously relaxed PM can't help but be a little troubled by that prospect as he heads on his holiday. He should stay that way; as one Conservative bigwig remarks: "I have never known a Prime Minister more adept at getting out of scrapes. But I have never known a Prime Minister who got into so many scrapes." The scrap over Baroness Stowell was yet another example of Team Dave's tendency to drift into avoidable crises - Dave needs to shape up if he's to avoid the sad fate of a one-term PM. But, James reminds us, the battle in May 2015 is nothing to the struggle to save the Union. Charlie Kennedy is the latest heavyweight  to pitch in - who will issue a warning to rural Scots about the cost of independence in a speech in his constituency.
It's the fight of the century. Chris Grayling will warn that voters will be £5,500 a year worse off under Labour in a speech later today, Peter Dominiczak and Steven Swinford report"Red Len Plans Will Cost You £5,500" is the Sun's disappointingly straight take on the speech. It's all because Ed Miliband will agree to a "shopping list of demands" from Len McCluskey, which include tax rises and benefit hikes, according to Mr Grayling. Meanwhile, Labour's Emma Reynolds is next up to bat for Labour with a speech warning that homebuyers will need an average deposit of £72,000 after five more years of that man David Cameron.
Owen Jones has done a lovely interview with retiring Labour MP Frank Dobson that deserves rather better than the headlines it will get. (If you click one link today, etc.) Those headlines, though: Ed's inner circle are "not of sufficient quality and clarity", while Labour needs a message boiled down to "a few simple short sharp concepts and say them time and time and time again". Oh, and "it's no good thinking you can convince the public with a lecture that you might deliver to some postgraduate thing at All Souls". NO CHAIRS LEFT FOR AUNTIE
The hunt for a new chairman for the BBC Trust is a "mess", Greg Dyke says, as Michael Portillo and former Sony chief executive Sir Howard Stringer become the latest names to say "thanks but no thanks". The number of BBC refuseniks has now climbed to nine, Steven Swinford and Anita Singh report. It's because no-one expects that role to survive the Royal Charter review in 2016, Mr Dyke says. That the eventual candidate will now be seen as not just a second but a tenth-best option can't help much, either.
Ukip's parliamentary candidate for Wells, Jake Baynes, and his branch chairman, Graham Livings, have resigned from the party, claiming that the local party has been taken over by the "Glastonbury occult crowd". They've fallen out with local Ukip activists Glen and Colleen Tucker, who run the Angelic Guidance and Healing Centre in Glastonbury. Mrs Tucker, who is the county treasurer for Ukip, desribes herself as an "angelic reiki master, soul midwife and shaman", and says she works with the Archangel Michael. "If Ukip is trying to shake off this fruitcake image thing, we're not doing a good job of it," Mr Baynes told the GuardianThe 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 POLLS31.07.14Poll of polls 24th to 31st July, Labour lead of four points (ComRes-Populus-YouGov)
From the Telegraph

Tom Chivers - Please shut up and stop telling rape victims what kind of rape is the worst
Padraig Reidy - The 'right to be forgotten' is a disaster for human knowledge
Dan Hodges - Labour is mad to pick a fight with the Tories on tax
James Kirkup 
Bankers don't deserve our grapes of wrathBest of the Rest
Chris Mason - Why politicians keep falling foul of secret recordings (BBC)Ned Simons - Could an Education Secretary charged with winning hearts and minds make it to Number 10?
Owen Jones - Frank Dobson: Labour needs to be 'knocking lumps off' this government (Guardian)AGENDA
1000 LONDON: The Mayor of London visits a cancer charity in Croydon and a sobriety scheme in Sutton.
1200 NOTTINGHAM: Emma Reynolds delivers speech on housing.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Don't shoot the messenger..

Ed Miliband's policies are "a steaming pile of fudge". His leadership is "totally dysfunctional", he "has managed to blend the worst of Blair's 'me against the world' isolation with the worst of Brown's 'they're out to get me' paranoia". His team lurch from one ill-advised photo op to another, "and when that doesn't work, worst of all, Ed is wheeled out to deny that any of this image-manipulation is taking place; saying that he's not interested in PR or photo opportunities. This is a colossal mistake." It can only mean one thing: that man Damian McBride is back, with an exclusive extract from the paperback edition of his tell-all memoir in the Mail, and this time, he's pulled no punches as far as the Labour leadership is concerned.
As you would expect, Labour is spitting blood, in private as well as in public. Those who feel that Ed's office requires an injection of talent if Labour is to prevail next year are, if anything, even crosser than the "steady as she goes" brigade. There's little chance of change now, particularly because the extract appears in the hated Mail. And as ever with Mr McBride's public interventions, one gets the unmistakable sense of him sitting in a darkened room somewhere, gently scratching names off an enemies' list. 
But ignore the messenger and focus on the message - does he have a point? Ed Miliband's policies are popular enough, says Mr McBride,  but they "rarely stand up to scrutiny". And it's true that when the cheering stops after one of Ed's announcements, what's left is a frowning wonk and a grinning lawyer. Meanwhile, Ed Balls' plans pass the "FT test", but go "entirely unnoticed in the pub". And it's difficult to find many people in, say, Swindon North, who are waxing lyrical over the benefits of a National Infrastructure Commission, despite all the approval they might attract from elite opinion.
And as for that "colossal mistake" AKA last Friday's speech? To the extent that it's changed the conversation at all, it seems to have had the effect that every critique of him now begins with some variation on "Ed Miliband thinks his problem is that he's a weirdo. Actually his problem is..." (Hugo RifkindSteve Richards and Janan Ganesh all have good entries in that emerging genre this morning) 
A traitor? Possibly. Desperately unhelpful? Most definitely. But the trouble for Labour is that there's a distinct possibility that Damian McBride is right.  

David Cameron has announced further reductions to the ability of EU migrants to claim out-of-work benefits in an article for today's Telegraph. In addition to the three-month wait before European migrants can claim out-of-work benefits, the PM has announced that they will only be able to claim for three months before those benefits are cut off,  "unless they had very clear job prospects". It's widely reported -"Cameron's immigration crackdown" is our splash. What took you so long, asks Yvette Cooper "It's been almost a year and a half since Labour called for benefit restrictions," she says, adding, "the government should get a grip and finally implement Labour's proposals."
The European Union has reached agreement on tougher - so-called 'Tier 3' - sanctions against Vladimir Putin's Russia in the wake of the MH17 crash. It's widely reported and is being seen as a sign that the EU is finally getting a grip. But hang about, says our leader. These sanctions seem to fall awfully heavily on the City of London, hurting Britain while leaving the Russian energy trade that underpins their supremacy: "Europe needs to spell out what its objectives are, while avoiding steps that lead to a new Cold War, or worse. That means talking directly and firmly to Putin with a clear goal in sight – and without the strident grandstanding that ends up punishing us more than him." THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE
"Labour heading for election win - in spite of Miliband's unpopularity"says Andy Grice in the Indy.  Their new ComRes poll has the Tories on 27% and Labour on 33%. But what's this? "Labour lead over Tories cut to just two per cent" is Chris Hope's story in the Telegraph. Lord Ashcroft's latest has the Conservatives on 32% and Labour on 34%. Times' splash. Remember Twyman's Law: if a poll is interesting, it's probably wrong. Note too the continuing unreliability of the Ashcroft polls - while the ComRes result looks more freakish it's actually just the result of a 3% drop in Tory support and a 1% uptick in the Labour vote - both within the margin of error. The latest from Lord Ashcroft shows a 5% increase in the Tory vote from last week. It's the shares, not the gap, that tell the real story of a poll - and Lord Ashcroft's are still all over the place.
Uh-oh! The House of Lords isn't happy that Baroness Stowell, the new Leader of the Lords, hasn't been accorded the status of a full Cabinet minister - they say it devalues the status of the House, as she won't have a vote in Cabinet. (How frequently are matters of government decided by votes in Cabinet exactly?) The Baroness says that she doesn't need a pay rise to stand up for the peers: "I'm an independent woman and a single lady. My noble Lords might want to think of me as the Beyonce of your Lordships' House."
Ukip's coffers have been boosted by sales of Ukip umbrellas, silk ties, pewter necklaces in the shape of a pound sign, cufflinks, and, inevitably, tote bags, Georgia Graham reports.
Labour's summer offensive continues. Andy Burnham will call for a moratorium on all new contracts between hospitals and the private sector until after the election, the Indy reports. "NHS spending on private and other providers has gone through the £10 billion barrier for the first time," he will say, "When did the British public ever give their consent for this?"
The hunt for a new BBC chairman goes on. Lord Coe has ruled himself out, the Sun reports.
The Conservatives have launched a new website this morning It's an interactive map of various locations where Labour grandees have slagged off that man Miliband or his message. Will all this Ed-bashing just make them look mean? That said, I thought the same thing about the treatment of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential elections, and Dubya won.  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 POLLS29.07.14     Poll of polls 22nd to 29th July, Labour lead of four points (ComRes-Populus-YouGov)
Don't mess with the Lords:
@StevetheQuip: This evening wasn't just a defeat for PM, it was a humiliation. Good though to hear plenty of support for the incumbent leader Bns Stowell.
From the Telegraph
David Cameron - We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first
Cathy Newman - What Yvette Cooper should have said
Tim Bale - The recovery might not deliver David Cameron a majority in 2015. Here's whyJames Kirkup - The flight of the political bumblebeesBest of the Rest
Hugo Rifkind - It's not how you look, Ed. It's how you think (Times)Janan Ganesh - Ed Miliband's talk of big ideas makes for risky politics (FT)
0900: Andy Burnham speech on the NHS.
0930: Bank of England releases its Money and Credit report for June.
1400 LONDON: Launch of ResPublica report on banking. Virtuous Banking: Placing ethos and purpose at the heart of banking.
1530 LONDON: - The Mayor of London attends the Safer Lorries Consultation Launch.
1830 LONDON:  The Mayor of London delivers a speech on air quality at the AQ awards 2014.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Put it all on purple..

"Ukip may hand keys of N0 10 to Miliband" is our front page lead. Team Ed's strategists have calculated that their man will become PM if Ukip get more than 9% of the vote at the next election. 
The question of whether or not Nigel Farage's mob are useful idiots or an existential threat is a long-running divide within the Labour Party. Are Ed's people right?  The experts are divided. Ian Warren, the elections analyst, thinks that a purple wave can carry Ed into Downing Street, but, he adds, they'll be saving up a world of trouble in their heartland seats (not least Doncaster North, home of one Mr E. Miliband) in elections to come. Marcus Roberts, one of Labour's foremost electoral strategists and a veteran of Ed's leadership campaign, thinks that they'll be lucky to get that far: "Red voters going purple can help blues win. This is particularly true of working-class communities and coastal seats where the UKIP-Labour switch is truly potent. To counter this threat, Labour must be a party of strength and responsibility as well as compassion and fairness."
Who's right? Well, it's impossible to call until the votes are cast in May 2015. It's worth noting, though, that it narrows Labour's margin for error next May. If the Ukip surge is here to stay, you can scratch off a fair number of seats from Labour's target list. It means that they're squarely aiming not for a majority but to be the largest party next year. Now as Dave can attest, that's not so bad, after all. But Dave wasn't aiming to be the largest party. What happens if Ed misses his target, too? 

"National parks to be saved from fracking" is our splash this morning. National parks and other valued areas of countryside will be protected from fracking, ministers will announce today. (Is there an election going on?) Fracking will only be allowed in areas of natural beauty in "exceptional circumstances", Peter Dominiczak explains.  Don't celebrate so quickly, warns the Guardian.  "New strings attached to fracking push" is their splash, but Rowena Mason says, there are still questions as to what "exceptional circumstances" will mean in practice. Communities will face a "fracking postcode lottery," Louise Hutchins of Greenpeace says. Our leader fears that the new guidelines are just a sop to rural communities before the election.
One in six Scots would consider emigrating from Scotland if the Yes campaign prevails in September, Lindsay McIntosh reports in the Times. (On the plus side, Sean Connery might come back.) In contrast, just 5% of adults would consider leaving in the event of a "No" vote. Stewart Maxwell, an SNP MP, points out that 700,000 people - the same number as would think about leaving in the event of a "No" vote - have already left Scotland in the last decade. Only a Yes vote can "reverse this exodus". Well, yes. Because an independent Scotland wouldn't have the right to free movement that comes with EU membership. I WARN YOU: DO NOT GET SICK
"Millions shut out of doctors' surgeries" is the Times' splash. "Critical"screams the Sun's frontpage. GPs are unable to cope with record numbers of people, and as a result, pressure is growing on  A&E units as patients crowd into hospitals in order to get treatment quickly. The Sun has an exclusive series of YouGov polls, showing that the NHS has got worse in the past year, with waiting times for GPs the biggest running sore.  It's all the result of lack of money is the Conservative line, and without reform, things would be even worse. Labour say the reorganisation has wasted money, noting that the overall planned cost of £1.1 billion has been exceeded by the cost of redundancies alone, which now top over £3 billion.
"I don’t often give newspaper interviews, and I won’t often give them in the future," Ken Clarke tells the Indy today. Uh, Ken? Today's Indy interview comes the day after Mr Clarke sat down with James Kirkup and Tim  Ross for the Sunday Telegraph. The headlines from that one: he criticised the reported use of opinion polls to decide thee fate of ministers, a warning that "running a campaign on Europe and immigration is a way of losing what should be safe Conservative seats". The government has "not got much policy at the moment", and that the future of the Union was being "gambled on an opinion poll". In today's interview: Geoffrey Dickens' reported dossier is a nonsense story, and there's a nice historical anecdote about the meeting where he told Margaret Thatcher her time was up: "She accused me of being defeatist; I remember that I replied that she had been defeated."
Thousands of domestic abusers have been let off with a "community resolution" instead of a prosecution, more than doubling under the Coalition, figures show. The figures will form part of a speech by Yvette Cooper later today; in addition, she will call for domestic violence to be made a specific criminal offence.
The Mail's campaign to halt Dave and Boris' tennis match is still going on. "Now widow of poisoned spy calls for Cameron to hand back cash" is the headline. Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvenko who died of polonium poisoning in 2006, wants dave to hand back the £160,00 donation. The Russia question is turning into a good old-fashioned Coalition squabble: Nick Clegg wants to relocate the World Cup in the wake of the MH17 disaster, but Dave's not convinced. He's got an unlikely ally in the form of the Indy: "leave the World Cup out of it", they say in their leader.CHALLENGE ED
Ed Miliband's call for a People's Question Time is widely reported. The Mail has a right old go at his appearance and his decision to seek the advice of an "autism expert" to help him empathise with voters, while Lord Bell, Baroness Thatcher's PR guru, describes Ed's decision to draw attention to his own flaws as "madness". "As is often the case, Mr Miliband’s diagnosis is correct, but his cure is problematic," our leadersighs.
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.
 28.07.14Poll of polls 21st to 28th July, Labour lead of three points (Populus-YouGov)
When you tweet into the abyss, etc:
@SimonDanczuk: Feeling philosophical! Friedrich Nietzsche said: I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.
From the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - Wallace's probelm is that he's wearing the wrong trousers 
Stephen Bush - If politicians were nicer about each other, we wouldn't hate politicians so much
Ben Riley-Smith  - Scots are utterly disillusioned with the independence referendum debateBrendan O'Neill - Is the Left anti-Semitic? Sadly, it is heading that way Best of the Rest
Tim Teeman - The Ugly Truth About Ugly Politicians (Daily Beast)Steve Richards - Cameron will lose the battle of ideas firing 1979's bullets (Guardian)
0930 LONDON: First estimate of UK GDP for the second quarter is published by the Office for National Statistics.
1000 LONDON: The Mayor of London visits the West End Impact Zone.
1130 ERDINGTON: Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper speech on law and order. Ms Cooper will also launch Labour's campaign for the West Midlands police and crime commissioner by-election.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Mission accomplished..

"Grow for it" cheers the Sun. "UK has fastest-growing economy" is our splash. "Britain's recovery outstrips the world" is the Times' front page. "Grow for it", cheers page 2 of the Sun. "Boost for Osborne as IMF uprates growth", says the Guardian. 
The IMF has raised its growth forecasts for the second time this year; the UK is now forecast to by 3.2% in 2014 and 2.7% in 2015. It's a good day for George Osborne, says the Mail's leader: now, how about some tax cuts? 
Put the champagne down, says Ed Balls in the Guardian: it's two years behind George Osborne's original plan and GDP per head is still below pre-crisis levels, it's a "lost decade for living standards", says Mr Balls.  There are further caveats, too: we don't yet know what the global effects of the prolonged period of low interest rates, or what will happen to the recovery once the flow of cheap money begins to be cut off; in the Statesman, Gavin Kelly at the Resolution Foundation outlines the squeeze on households that an uptick in bank rate could cause. And that's before we consider the possible effects of a trade war with Russia, who, Matt Holehouse reports, are threatening to hit British companies in retaliation for European sanctions. 

Assuming for a moment that those various potholes can be avoided, what matters is whether or not that growth is felt around the country, and if it creates the fiscal headroom for tax cuts to the basic rate and a rise in the threshold for the 40p rate. But today's good news will contribute to the positive feeling within the Tory party that the wind is at their backs and that their chances of defeating Ed Miliband are better than ever. 

Speaking of Ed Miliband; the Labour leader kicks off his party's summer campaign today with a speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects. The theme is "the Choice"; between a Tory government creating a Hobbesian nightmare and a Labour party putting a huggable puppy on every street corner (I paraphrase). As Allegra Stratton explains, it's partly about Team Ed getting the Shadow Cabinet to "sing for their summer holidays", particularly those middle-ranking Opposition frontbenchers who went AWOL during Ed's difficult summer last year.   Getting the whole Shadow Cabinet to pitch in will also get the party's internal machinery working in the run-up to conference and the battles to come thereafter.
Boris Johnson has defended Dave's decision to play a tennis match with Lubov Chernukhin and her husband. (He took a swipe at the PM's tennis abilities, though. Asked whether he'd be playing alongside or against the PM, he replied: "We'll have to see about that - possibly both at the same time.") Boris also reminded LBC listeners that London is now home to any number of Russian emigres who have now fallen out with the Kremlin, and that simply targeting anyone who has come from that country to this is unlikely to upset Vladimir Putin very much. Regardless, the Mail is going full pelt on this one - "Meet Dave's other chums who made billions under Putin and are bankrolling the Tories" is the story. NO SMOKE WITHOUT IRE
"Don't Mess With The Arrows" roars the Mail's front page. Michael Fallon, newly installed at the MoD, had to personally intervene to prevent an "outrageous" attempt to get the Red Arrows to trail the colours of the Scottish flag rather than the traditional red white and blue, James Chapman and Louise Eccles reveal. Sources close to Alex Salmond insist that he was unaware of the request that the planes trail the colours of the Saltire, while a spokesman for the Scottish government has described the claims as "completely untrue". Meanwhile, in today's Scotsman, John McTernan calls for a new champion for Scottish Labour's battle to save the Union: a little-known politician called Gordon Brown.
The Coalition's flagship programme to tackle youth unemployment is to be quietly ditched amid claims that it has been a failure, Jim Pickardreports in the FT. The £1 billion scheme was a personal project of Nick Clegg but just under 5,000 recruits completed placements in the scheme's first year against a target of 160,000 for the entire programme.
Nick Clegg is under growing pressure to suspend David Ward, who said he would be prepared to fire a Hamas rocket at Israeli civilians, Matt Holehouse reports. In a rare intervention, the Israeli ambassador, Daniel Taub, wrote to Nick Clegg to express his "shock and disgust" at the remarks.
I know that there are still some image issues on certain Android phones - if you are experiencing any, please let me know what device and operating system you are using. Lastly, I have got horribly behind on correspondence - apologies to those of you who are waiting for a response. Have a lovely weekend. 
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 18th to 25th July, Labour lead of three points (ComRes-Opinium-Populus-YouGov)
The recess is barely two days old, and already MPs are losing patience with their constituents' problems:
@jreedmp: Family from a haunted house flee for a new life in another house they know to be haunted. Deserve all they get in my view.
From the Telegraph
David Blair - Israel and Hamas are on the road to nowhere
Maggie Philbin - 'Tomorrow's World' doesn't belong in the past - we need it today
Harry Wallop - Don't women have opinions?Jeremy Warner - Why Britain should follow the yellow brick road to Kansas
Best of the Rest
Philip Collins - Put an end to this unspeakable abomination (Times)Mary Dejevsky - Is this the dwindling of a Scottish 'Yes'? (i)
John McTernan - None bigger than Gordon Brown (Scotsman)
0930 LONDON: First estimate of UK GDP for the second quarter is published by the Office for National Statistics.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A little less conversation..

The European response to the MH17 disaster - or rather, the lack of one - dominates today's papers. That the European Union has agreed to tighter sanctions, in principle at least, has already caused panic among London's oligarchs, who are shifting their assets out of the United Kingdom to evade sanctions. But, as the Guardian points out, the EU has threatened such measures before collapsing into arguments over implementation. It all feels troublingly familiar, as our leader observes
The nations of Europe seem rather more interested in blaming one another. It's France's fault for refusing to give up its arms exports, says Whitehall. Hang on a moment, says Paris, in the guise of the chief of Francois Hollande's Socialist Partym Jean-Christopher Cambadelis. "This is a false debate led by hypocrites," says M Cambadelis. Look at all those oligarchs buying houses in Kensington and opening up British bank accounts. "David Cameron should start by cleaning out his own backyard," he continues, pausing only to wave a shipment of French warships on their way to Russia. Meanwhile, the Germans are worried that they won't be able to keep the lights on without Russian gas. 
It all has the potential to cause trouble at home for Mr Cameron. "Hand Back the Roubles, Dave" demands the Mail's splash this morning. They're leading on Labour's call for the Tories to return their Russian donations. The combination of spying, vast wealth, and the perception - however unfair - that Britain's foreign policy is for sale could add up for a perfect storm for the PM. That all pales in significance to the rather more important concern of Mr Putin's imperial ambitions. Eventually, Europe will have to show Vladimir Putin that he will not be allowed to pursue his dreams of a revivified USSR unchecked. The side-splitter on the Sun's frontpage this morning - "Show Some Boules" - will have to be heeded, sooner or later.

KILL THE COOKTalk about the triumph of hope over experience. Dave bravely decided to hold his annual barbecue for Conservative MPs just days after the reshuffle, leading to a party that was comfortable close to a wake,Christopher Hope reports. Of the sacked, only Ken Clarke put in an appearance, while resentment among those passed over made for a toxic atmosphere. The reshuffle, for all it may have got the Tory tribe ready for the fight, has left a mood of ill feeling at the worst possible time. The Lords are ticked off that the position of the Leader of the Lords is no longer a Cabinet-level job. Baroness Stowell will not be taking the £22,000 salary injection from Conservative funds, as she feels it would jeopardise her ability to lead peers of all parties and none, which means that she will be paid less than her male predecessor. Lord Howard's chagrin at Michael Gove's sacking - expressed in an interview over at ConservativeHome - is widely reported. It could all make for a rather uglier summer than Dave would like. 
The Commonwealth Games begin tonight with a lavish opening ceremony. Within both the Yes campaign and the Unionist effort, there is a feeling that the Games could result in a boost for the nationalists, although Alex Salmond could end up whipping up a storm of negative coverage like he did at Wimbledon. In part to avoid the perception that he is politicizing the Games, Mr Salmond has vowed to keep schtum about Scottish independence during the Games. But the "self-denying ordinance" didn't last until the end of the press conference, when the First Minister attacked George Osborne for being based in London and predicted that Scottish athletes would flourish under independence.   
Vince Cable's abandonment of the sale of the student loan book will leave a further hole in the public finances, the Times reports. Graham Parker of the OBR told MPs that it was a "reasonable assumption" that cancelling the sell-off would cost the Treasury £12 billion over five years and increase the public sector debt burden. It's a further headache for George Osborne who, Denise Roland writes, is on course to miss his goal of trimming Britain's deficit this fiscal year, with public borrowing increasing by 7.3% in the first quarter.
New measures to tackle female genital mutilation have been announced by the Home Office, mandating teachers and doctors to report instances of FGM and forced marriage when they become aware of them, and opening parents up to prosecution for failing to protect their daughters from FGM, while the victims will be given lifelong anonymity. Speaking at the first Girl Summit, the PM gave a personal speech outlining his opposition to FGM. “My eldest daughter is ten," Mr Cameron said, "not that much younger than some of the children who get pushed into childhood or early marriage, not much younger than girls who get cut and have their lives in so many ways taken away from them, and this really is about the world that we want children like my daughter to grow up in.” 

One of the problems with the long summer recess is that, freed from the constraints of the bubble, MPs - and frontbenchers - can get restive. To avoid a second damaging "summer of silence", Team Ed's plan for the summer includes a speech from every member of the Shadow Cabinet - twenty-three in all.  The big theme is the choice (whatever happened to "the promise of Britain"? Or "Hardworking Britain Better Off"? Etc, etc.) between the Britain of Dave and the Land of Ed, although some of those speeches will be focused on the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. 
Peter Clarke's review into Islamic extremism in Birmingham's schools has been published and is widely reported. Liam Byrne, speaking in his capacity as the local MP, has warned that schools in Birmingham are so fragmented that it feels "like the Balkans" at times. Nicky Morgan has introduced a new raft of measures to prevent a repeat of the affair, including an education commissioner for Birmingham, inspections of city academy chains and strengthened oversight of school governors. 
The Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward, is under fire for appearing to support Hamas rocket campaign against Israel, Sam Coates reports in the Times. Mr Ward tweeted: “The big question is — if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? — probably yes.”  The Liberal Democrats are investigating the remarks - it will raise questions as to why Mr Ward, who had likened Israel to an "apartheid state" and had the whip removed for three months for his comments about Israel, was restored to the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party in the first place. 
More than half of Conservative women MPs are now in Government positions, Christopher Hope reveals. Of the 48 Tory women, 27 now have positions on the frontbench. That's there are still so few Conservative women to choose from in the House of Commons is one of the reasons why some Tories are beginning to look again at centrally-imposed all women shortlists, although figures at the top of the party remain opposed. 

Poll of polls 16th to 23rd July, Labour lead of three points (ComRes-Opinium-Populus-YouGov)

101 days, now:

@PennyMordauntMP: 100 days since the Nigerian school girls were kidnapped.  #bringbackourgirls #notforgotten
From the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - Ed Miliband must rouse himself from the chloroform of caution
Fraser Nelson - Salmond shouldn't bank on gold 

Gabriel Sassoon - Britain's hypocrisy over Israel is shamefulEmma Barnett - Anti-Semitism in Europe has a thin disguise  
Best of the Rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Blairism worked - but we can't go back to itHamish McRae - The West can't really hurt Russia


0900 LONDON: Francis Maude speaks to Reform conference on private sector and public services. 
0930 LONDON: Bank of England publishes minutes of July's monetary policy committee meeting. 

2100 GLASGOW: Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony Celtic Park.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The spectre of Blair..

It's just like old times. Tony Blair's Philip Gould Lecture is widely reported - and guess what? There was something in there for almost everyone. A warning to stick to the centre ground has been interpreted as  "a thinly veiled attack on Ed Miliband," by our man Matt Holehouse. Elsewhere, warm words on Europe and the party's policy programme are taken as an endorsement of Ed Miliband's agenda
Twenty years on, there's still no-one in British politics quite like Mr Blair. In the Indy, Steve Richards attributes Mr Blair's adoring reception to the fact "he is not Miliband, who they fear will lead their party to defeat". Certainly, Mr Miliband's image problem looks all the more acute next to the hyper-charismatic Mr Blair. But the appearance of that guy who won three elections from the centre invites unflattering comparisons between the PM and his predecessor-but-one, too. 
That said, it all makes one wonder: if, after two decades, nobody does it better than Mr Blair, why are there so few Blairites left nowadays? Mr Blair's party is - now more than ever - dominated by the Brownites.  Whatever rivalries Mr Miliband, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and the rest may have, they are all children of the House of Brown. A philosophy based around one man's personality has, inevitably, proved less enduring than one based around a dynasty. It suggests that Tory modernisers may yet regret loading quite so many of their hopes upon George Osborne, while Mr Miliband, who still boasts of his lack of "outriders" within his party, may yet pay a heavy price for his failure to build a "Milibandite" power base inside Labour. 

Something must be done about Vladimir Putin - but what? David Cameron's Commons statement dominates today's papers.  "It's time to punish Putin, says PM" is the Telegraph's splash. "Crony War" roars the Sun - they report that the PM is ready to freeze the British assets of the Russian President's pals, including the owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich. The French are firmly in the PM's sights; he wants all European countries to halt arms sales to Russia, and says it's "unthinkable" for Francois Hollande to fulfill an outstanding order for Mistral warships from Mr Putin's commanders. Charles Bremner asks the million dollar question in the Times: is the PM willing to take action against the Kremlin's biggest UK interest: the haven for Russian capital that is the City of London? George Osborne has told the BBC that the short-term economic  hit is a price worth paying to ensure security in Europe, the FT reports.
Alex Salmond's government pressured Audit Scotland - the country's independent public spending watchdog - into "watering down" a report showing Scotland sliding down the education league tables, Ben Riley-Smith reveals.  The revelations come after Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader, claimed last month that the SNP had got Audit Scotland to tone down a major report on school education, citing a leaked draft report as proof. It's another example of a government that is "more interested in spin than the truth," Scottish Labour say. LIB-LAB COALITION? THAT'S DAVEY TALK! 
Ed Davey's prediction of a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition after the next election is widely reportedThe Huffington Post's Ned Simons was at the Social Liberal Forum's conference, where Mr Davey said that he hoped the Liberal Democrats will be negotiating to form a coalition again "but probably with Labour". It's worth noting that the SLF are very firmly rooted on the Lib Dems' left; so Mr Davey's prediction - rather like a Tory MP showing a bit of leg on grammar schools or a Labour MP waxing lyrical about nationalisation - probably had rather more to with his audience than anything else. Still, it will fire up a renewed bout of interest and introspection about coalition negotiations in all three parties.
Dominic Grieve will warn that leaving the ECHR will cause "serious international reputational damage" to the United Kingdom in a speech today. It's part of an offensive by Mr Grieve to avert what he calls a "legal road crash", which kicks off with an interview in the Times this morning. Arguments about parliamentary sovereignty only get you so far, he warns.  “You could require the whole of the United Kingdom to worship the Moon, but we don’t do this and we don’t do it because it would be wrong, in exactly the same way it would be thoroughly wrong for parliament to use its power to defy an international treaty obligation.” 
STOP. OBAMA TIME!Ed Miliband had his much-coveted "drop-in" meeting with Barack Obama at the White House yesterday. During a meeting with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, the President popped by for a chat with the Labour leader. They talked for 25 minutes, Labour gushed. Mr Obama was left with a House of Commons goody bag including the original version of House of Cards. Mr Miliband's decision to travel halfway round the world rather than attend the Commons debate on the crisis in the UKraine has been criticised by the Conservatives - it's a disaster for Ed Miliband, says Dan Hodges. One can't help but feel that these American sorties so favoured by our politicians are terribly revealing of our national malaise - but Labour won't care if they fly back with some glossy video to go along with the photographs they've already bagged of their man in conversation with the leader of the free world.GOVE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
"Governed by hate" is the Mirror's headline. Shahid Akmal, the former Governor of Nansen Primary School - one of the schools in the Trojan Horse row - told an undercover reporter that white women "have the least amount of morals" and that women are "emotionally weaker" than men. The Clarke Review into the Trojan Horse will be discussed in the Commons today. A difficult first week for Nicky Morgan - a worse onefor Michael Gove's SpAds, Steerpike reveals.
Close to half of students will not pay back government loans, the Commons business select committee has said. Around 45% of loans taken out will never be repaid, the Government has estimated. This is perilously close to the 48.6% threshold at which point the rise in fees begins to cost more money than it makes for the government. 
Evan Davis has been announced as the new anchor of Newsnight, which means he'll no longer have to get up with the lark to bring the morning news. Lucky Evan....
Nick Griffin has been ousted as leader of the BNP, following an internal coup. That "basically means that he was voted out by the six remaining BNP members and a stray dog that wandered into the committee meeting," Tim Stanley explains.
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 15th to 22nd July (ComRes-Opinium-Populus-IpsosMori-YouGov) Labour lead by three points
@drwollastonmp: As Putin immune to appeals to decency & humanity, only decisive international action that critically undermines him at home can cut through

In the Telegraph
Con Coughlin - By defying the West, bully-boy Putin could lead Russia to ruin
Kate Maltby - From Palestine to parenting: we've lost the art of good faith
James Kirkup - War is terrible, but it's simple exciting and popular, so it will never go away
Tim Stanley - Nick Griffin quits frontline politics to spend more time by himself

Best of the Rest

Rachel Sylvester - Pragmatists v romantics: the Tory dilemma
Polly Toynbee - Labour's spring is back - but it won't mean a thing without a swingAGENDA 

0930 LONDON: Public sector borrowing figures for June are published by the Office for National Statistics.
1030 LONDON: FA chairman Greg Dyke and Sunday Times correspondents give evidence to Commons Culture Committee on award of 2022 football World Cup.
1100 LONDON: Liberty to launch response to Data Retention Act. Speakers: David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice & Howden; Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East; James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty; Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty. 
1230 GLASGOW: First Minister Commonwealth Games press conference. 
1315 LONDON: Theresa May oral statement to MPs on police leadership and integrity.
1400 GLASGOW: George Osborne to speak at Commonwealth Games Business Conference. 
1445 LONDON: Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on immigration from immigration minister James Brokenshire and Sir Charles Montgomery, director general of Border Force. 
1630 LONDON: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to give evidence to parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee on women bishops.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Exit, persued by a bear..

The fallout from the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 continues. (Rolling updates from the Telegraph's team arehere, and you can catch up with what's happened so far here.
The apparent seizure of flight recorders by pro-Russian separatists and their transport to Moscow is fueling fears of a cover-up by Moscow. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has said it looks "pretty clear"that the weapons system that is suspected to have shot down the plane was transferred from Russia into the hands of the separatists.
Meanwhile, the relatives of the deceased face the prospect of their bodies - also packed up and shipped off, seemingly to Moscow - being used as a bargaining chip by the Kremlin.  David Cameron has told Vladimir Putin that he is partly responsible for the tragedy. The PM has threatened Mr Putin and his "cronies" with further sanctions unless Russia withdraws its support for the rebels. 

The "Russian question" still seems beyond European policymakers - in London as much as Paris and Berlin. Philip Hammond issued a warning to Mr Putin on the Marr show yesterday; but it's his continuing opposition to the status quo in Brussels that takes the headlines. Against the backdrop of the Russian threat, it's hard not to wonder if the greatest problem facing Britain in Europe today is not the EU's continuing appetite for federalism, as shown by its appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker. It's in EUROPE's  enduring refusal to confront Russia, as shown by the defeat of the hawkish Pole Radek Sikorski in his bid to become the EU's foreign policy chief, which took place with barely a murmur from the Foreign Office.

The Guardian has a profile of Michael Gove, tracing his rise from scholarship boy at Robert Gordon's, to the Times and eventually the Department for Education. It was his  "columnist's itch to be interesting" that led him to one battle too many, is Tom Clark's conclusion. Nicky Morgan's brief is effectively to be Mr Gove - but without being quite so interesting. She faces Tristram Hunt in the Commons today. Her Labour shadow's task is to prove that Ms Morgan isn't so different from Mr Gove. He'll have been cheered by Ms Morgan's Sunday Times interview, reported today in the Mirror - "Bride of Gove"is the Mirror's enlightened sobriquet for the new Education Secretary. Labour feel it was Mr Gove's support for unqualified teachers and opposition to termtime holidays, both of which "cut through" in the focus groups that made him so unpopular, not his eye for a wounding phrase. Today marks the beginning of Ms Morgan's - who is committed to both policies - attempt to prove them wrong.
The Scottish Affairs select committee has kiboshed Alex Salmond's claim that George Osborne and Ed Balls will relent on the question of the currency union. "This parrot is dead," said committee chairman Ian Davidson as he unveiled the report, "No ifs, no buts, no fudges, no deals." (Simon Johnson has the story.)  In further bad news for the First Minister, he's lost his long-running battle with the Telegraph to keep the list of five-star hotels where he and his ministers have jollied during foreign trips - the much-delayed response to the Telegraph's FOI reveals that Mr Salmond and his ministers have spent £56,652 at 183 overseas hotels since taking power in 2007 - 64 of which were five-star and a further 100 four-star. (The details are here.) 
Nick Clegg is under fire after he spent three hours downing tequila, sipping a cocktail and learning how to bake a cake while negotiations were ongoing into the crisis in Ukraine, Matt Holehouse reports.  It's not as exciting as it sounds. It's the DPM's appearance on the Channel 4 programme "Sunday Brunch" that is raising eyebrows. Remember that Mr Clegg is a member of the National Security Council and notionally the second man in Whitehall.  The Mail is unimpressed.  "How Mr Cameron must benefit from the gravitas, dedication and diplomatic skills of this mighty statesman" is their leader's withering verdict.  Also having a go is Grant Shapps - the Lib Dem u-turn on the bedroom tax is"utterly spineless", he says.
"Job Centres Out Of A Job"! Private firms and charities could take over the state-run centres' role in a radical overhaul being looked at in the next Conservative manifesto, Tom Newton Dunn reports in the Sun. It's being pushed by figures close to George Osborne, Tom says, who believe it will boost the Conservative drive to reduce youth employment.  Senior Tories are reported to have been won over by the arguments made in a new Policy Exchange report, released today.  A source close to IDS, however, fear that the plan looks "expensive and complicated".
There's "no worse way of spending a summer weekend that doesn’t involve a painful medical procedure,” ex-Labour staffer Steve van Riel says of Labour's National Policy Forum in today's FT. It ended well for the leadership, though with activists and trade union delegates endorsing a commitment to match the Coalition's spending plans for 2015-16 and rubberstamping the much-reported compromise where, instead of full nationalisation, a state-run provider will bid for the right to take over rail franchises as they lapse. It's a particular victory for Ed Balls' economic plans in the face of noises off from the trade unions and party activists.DOMINIC, AGGRIEVED
Domnic Grieve warned that leaving the European Court of Human Rights would lead to more diktats from Brussels, not less, in an interview with Sky News' Dominic Murnaghan yesterday.  He also suggested that his dismissal may have been a bid to appease Ukip.  Ken Clarke, meanwhile, seems to be enjoying his newfound freedom. He gave a unusually frank interview with Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer- the recovery is unbalanced, Dave's administration is too right-wing on crime and there's little chance of a majority are some of the highlights. Owen Paterson's broadside against the "Green Blob" of environmentalist charities, the Green Party, climate scientists in yesterday's Telegraph is widely reported. Meanwhile, the defenestrated Cabinet minister has also joined Twitter. Could trouble be brewing?
Szu Ping Chan sat down with Robert Chote of the OBR. Among the revelations - the plants in the OBR's offices aren't government-funded, dinners with his wife, Treasury mandarin Sharon White rarely stray across work, and the squeeze on public services is far from over. IT'S ALL THE FAULT  OF MR FREEZE
Bumper profits are not being passed onto consumers because of Ed Miliband's meddling, the "Big Six" energy companies tell the Mail. "Companies will not want to be locked into a lower price," one senior executive says. "This was always a fear when Labour announced their proposal," says Peter Lilley, a member of the Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee. "This doesn't surprise me at all," says Peter Atherton, an energy analyst.
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 14th to 21st July (ComRes-Opinium-Populus-ICM--IpsosMori-YouGov) Labour lead by four points
@Conor_BurnsMP: Watching @therealgokwan Having done a course in Chinese cookery how have I not seen before. I want to meet him

In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - This is Putin's war, and this disaster is his responsibility
Charles Crawford - How can we hold Putin to account?
Daniel Hannan - Russia must choose between respecting the law of nations and becoming a rogue state
Bonnie Greer - Does London really need a Smithsonian?

Best of the Rest

Damian McBride - Ed is wasting his time at the White House
Anne McElvoy - The 2010 Tories are making waves, but there's no leadership storm yetAGENDA
0900 LONDON: Nick Clegg press conference.
1100 LONDON: Tony Blair delivers lecture in memory of Philip Gould to Progress thinktank.