"Back to work," was David Cameron's message to the Cabinet yesterday, Francis Elliot reports in the Times. The PM is frustrated at that "zombie parliament" tag and feels that the Government needs to recover its work ethic.
But it's the consequences of the zombie election campaign that are being felt in today's papers. The spirit-sapping pattern of the contest so far means that trivia can easily dominate, and Labour finds itself embroiled in two largely forgettable rows.
Row #1: Ed Miliband's non-appearance at yesterday's Chambers of Conference annual conference. Chris Hope, who was there, finds the delegates are put out at the Labourr leader's no-show. "It's a shock," says one, "frankly he should be here"."A missed opportunity," says another. "We wanted to see Miliband, say business leaders"is the i's take. It's "disappointing" says John Longworth of the BCC. "Firms: Where's Milli?" is the Sun's headline, accompanied by a mock-up of the Labour leader dressed in the red-and-white stripes of Where's Wally. "I've absolutely no idea where he is," says Ed Balls, when asked about the diary clash that kept Mr Miliband from attending. "Where's Red Ed?" demands the Mail.
Row #2: The announcement of Labour's Women-to-Women tour is overshadowed by a row over whether or not the pink bus chosen for the tour is patronising and/or sexist. (There's also a row-within-a-row over whether the bus is pink at all. It's "magenta", suggests Harriet Harman, or "cherise" according to Gloria de Piero.)
Jacqui Smith's tweet that "Lots of people who couldn't usually give a flying f.... about the representation of women suddenly fretting about our bus? Give me strength!" echoes what many in Labour are saying privately. (One noted that the 16-seater van could comfortably include every female Liberal Democrat MP in that party's history "so they can **** off".) It's been pointed out that, as Ms Harman says, it is in fact the same shade used when the party unveils its pledges (the next of which is targeted at young people and will come out at the end of the month). But both rows highlight the Opposition's continuing flat-footedness under fire.
Bluntly, why does it fall to Labour activists on Twitter to point out that when the deputy leader says that it is a "One Nation colour" she is speaking literally not metaphorically? Why wasn't Ed Balls given a better line to take on where his leader was than a shrug of the shoulders?
It comes back to the big question of the campaign so far: why, when the Conservative campaign is so slick and disciplined, can Labour not be given the ball without thumping it into its own net? Yes, no-one is really paying attention yet and the blows that the Opposition is suffering don't seem to be being felt on its poll share. But bluntly these are the same unforced errors that made the last few weeks of the European campaign a disaster for the Opposition. It doesn't suggest that the short campaign will go any better for them this time around.
CHATERAMA WITH OBAMA CAUSES DRAMA
Barack Obama has privately urged the PM to stick to the Nato commitment of 2% spending on defence, or risk sending a damaging example to his European allies. The warning came in a face-to-face meeting during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington last month. "Don't cut defence, Obama warns UK" is our splash.
Nicola Sturgeon will set out the SNP's approach to public spending and the deficit in a speech in London later today. The deficit is a "symptom and not just a cause" of economic difficulties, and the current economic programme is "morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable", Ms Sturgeon will say. "Austerity has failed," the First Minister told the Today programme, "Why should we trust that it will work in the future when it hasn't worked over the life of this parliament?" Kate Devlin has the story in the Herald.
A FULLY-OPERATIONAL BENEFITS SYSTEM?
The universal credit will begin being rolled out from next week, Jill Sherman reports in the Times, while Iain Duncan Smith will accuse Ed Miliband of "sitting on the fence" as far as the welfare debate is concerned. Labour will seek to turn the tables with an opposition day debate later today calling on the government to support its jobs guarantee for young people, putting a time limit on how long people can claim Jobseekers without being required to work.
The outsourcing giant Capita is facing investigation after allegations that it used a major government contract to short-change small business, resulting in some going out of business, Chris Green and Olly Wright reveal in the Indy. "Whitehall, Capita and the betrayal of small business" is their splash.
A blunder at CCHQ has led to candidate photographs being uploaded with the phrase "non-target candidate" in the images - Mark Wallace over at ConservativeHome has the full list. Some are safe seats or no-hopers (that the Conservatives are unlikely to win West Ham or lose South East Cambridgeshire will surprise nobody), but that the Labour-held marginals of Walsall South, Birmingham Edgbaston, and Eltham all appear to be off the Conservative menu tells its own story about Tory hopes of a majority. It's the apparent writing-off of the parties chances in Rochester & Strood that has caught the headlines, however.
Tom Newton Dunn has spotted an embarrassing exchangefrom David Axelrod's US book tour. Asked whether he was reading to take on another campaign, Labour's expensive hire replied: "I'm not going back on that circuit. It's exhilarating, it's addictive, but it's not good for you." He was "clearly only talking about the 2016 US election campaign," a Labour spokesman tells the Sun.
HAZZA'S HALF HOUR
Harriet Harman talks to Medhi Hasan about pink vans, the fight for gender equality and the election campaign. The best thing about Ed Miliband? "He's not cynical," Ms Harman says. The important thing about the van is that it looks "like itself. Because it's new, it's different." She explains the rationale behind the campaign, saying there is an "accelerated decline" in turnout among women, with 9.1 women staying at home compared to 8 million women, and that the Coalition has "turned the clock back" on women's rights.BORIS WANTS EARLY REFERENDUM
Boris Johnson tells LBC that he favours an early poll on Britain's relationship with the EU. "Let's get it done and knock it on the head and do it for the good of Europe," the Mayor says. Peter Dominiczak has the story.
CHUKA ON BUSINESS
Chuka Umunna gave one of the 1% of political speeches that is actually worth reading yesterday at the Chambers of Commerce in which he talked about watching his late father set up his own business and his own previous career as a solicitor. "For Britain to succeed we need you to succeed," Mr Umunna said.
DUP NOT IN THE BAG
The DUP "can do business" with Ed Miliband, the party's leader, tells George Eaton. His price to the party leaders? A commitment to spending 2% on defence, maintenance of the welfare state and an In/Out referendum on Europe are among the shopping list.
MANSION TAX "WILL BRING THE BLACK DEATH BACK TO EUROPE"
The palaces of bishops could be taxed under Labour's mooted mansion tax, David Sanderson reports in the Times. The average value of an Anglican bishop's home is £2.26 million while the homes of the 42 diocesan bishops have a collective value of just under £95 million. The CofE pays all the property taxes associated with its clergy's dwellings, so the collective bill will be quite large for the Church, although it looks likely that as the palaces are owned by a charitable body they will be exempt from the tax.
A CUT TOO FAR?
Vince Cable is considering shutting down a compensation schem for victims of the Nazis as part of a Whitehall cost-cutting drive, Matt Holehouse reports. Campaigners warn the move, which would leave families whose savings and property were seized unable to claim the money back, would be a "travesty of justice".EL JAMES: "WELL, THE NEW ROUTEMASTER'S AWFUL."
Fifty Shades of Grey is "terrible bilge", Boris Johnson says. He has tried "several times" to read it but it has never started "hotting up" for him. However, he added, it "is a brilliant British export and I support it in that sense."
The Morning Briefing was rather late yesterday - we had a slight IT problem. Apologies.
POLL OF POLLS
Labour 33% Conservatives 33% Ukip 15% Liberal Democrat 7% Ukip 15% Greens 7% (Ashcroft-Opinium-Populus-YouGov)
LATEST POLLS:YouGov: Labour 35% Conservatives 33% Ukip 13% Green 8% Liberal Democrat 6%
TOO MANY TWEETS...
@faisalislam: So we've had Mr Osborne's Help to Buy, we've had Help to Work. Now there's PM's Help To Grow... Help to Eat, & Help to Dance not far off now
From the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - Against all odds, a welfare revolution is quietly under way
Lord Renwick - Margaret Thatcher's untold role in the end of apartheid
Rafael Behr - What Nungate tells us about British politics in 2015 (Guardian)
Alice Thomson - Clean politics costs less than a packet of crisps (Times)
0930 LONDON: Steve Webb speech on pensions.
1000 LONDON: Government launches driverless car projects. Business Secretary Vince Cable and Transport Minister Claire Perry will show off trial vehicles in static display.
1030 LONDON: Scottish Secretary gives evidence to Lords. Alistair Carmichael and Advocate General for Scotland Lord Wallace will be questioned by members of the Lords Constitution Committee on the draft clauses for a new Scotland Bill.
1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions.
1400 LONDON: Child abuse inquiry chair Justice Lowell Goddard pre-appointment hearing at Commons Home Affairs Committee.
1400 LONDON: Nicola Sturgeon economy speech. The Scottish First Minister will make an address titled 'Austerity, inequality and the Scottish approach to economic growth'.
1415 LONDON: HMRC chief Lin Homer at Public Accounts Committee hearing on tax.
1900: Call Chuka on LBC.
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
Cabinet Office Questions.
Prime Minister's Questions.
A Ten Minute Rule Motion: Job Creation Powers (Scotland).
Two Opposition day debates: i) Labour's Job Guarantee ii) Tax avoidance
Consideration of any Lords amendments
A short debate on the future of adult education services in Merton.
0930: Operation of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments Scheme.
1100: Housing in Horden, County Durham.
1430: Lessons from the war in Afghanistan.
1600: Quality of mental health care in the NHS.
1630: Environmental issues with commercial waste recycling site at Eccles.
Deregulation Bill - Report stage (Day 3).
Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill - all stages.
Hammond: EU “Silly” For Not Moving Talks On to Next Stage
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