Friday, 24 April 2015

This England..

The Conservative pitch to English voters steps up another gear today with more detail on the plan for an English rate of income tax, part of the party's English Manifesto.  William Hague has been talking to the Telegraph about this. You can read his thoughts here.

The tax plan is part of a wider appeal to English unhappiness at the current constitutional settlement and the prospect of SNP influence in a hung parliament. The particular target is Ukip voters. Polls show they're more inclined than others to feel that England is getting a bad deal as things stand.
Waving the flag of St George is good for Tory morale, since it allows the party to feel like it's reconnecting with its natural supporters, many of whom have been lost to Ukip.  But this flag must be handled with care. For one thing, looking like the English National Party angry at Scotland undermines the Tories' Unionist credentials and may help the SNP.
And then there's how it plays in England. Some senior people at CCHQ have recently been heard to worry that the politics of English nationalism can rebound on the Tories: stir up English anger and the most likely beneficiaries are Ukip, they fear.
David Cameron will address those concerns today, declaring: "We do not support English nationalists, we do not want an English Parliament, we are the Conservative and Unionist Party through and through. This manifesto simply recognises that the democratic picture has got more complicated in the UK, so beyond our main manifesto, English voters deserve one document, clarifying in black and white what they can expect."
But who is the party talking to when it speaks to the "English"? An excellent Policy Exchange report  
last year noted that the English identity is largely confined to white people.  Black and Asian people are much more likely to define themselves as British. It found only 12 per cent of Indian Britons described themselves as English. Among those of Pakistani origin, the figure was 15 per cent, and 26 per cent for black people of Caribbean descent. An overtly English Conservative Party may struggle to address its recent underperformance among non-white voters.
Incidentally, that report was co-written by one Rishi Sunak, now Tory PPC for Richmond and a man some people tip as a future party leader.

Another day, another business leader criticises Labour. The twist is that this one is a former ministerial colleague of Ed Miliband. Lord Jones of Birmingham (Digby to his friends) was a business minister under Gordon Brown, though not a Labour member.  He has written a scathing open letter to Mr Miliband, which you can read in full in the Telegraph.

Ed Miliband is taking the election into the largely unexplored territory of foreign affairs today. He'll give a very punchy-sounding speech suggesting that migrants are drowning in the Med because of David Cameron's failures. If that sounds overdone, consider the detail of the argument. Most of the migrants board their boats in Libya, which is possible because that country is increasingly lawless. And it's lawless because of the intervention that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and left a void behind. Hence Mr Miliband's suggestion that British neglect of post-Gaddafi has contributed to the crisis in the Mediterranean. It's a fair criticism, and one that the Telegraph made in a leader last week. Mr Cameron may just agree too: after an EU summit in Brussels, he's suggested more military action in Libya may be needed.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies assessment of the parties' spending plans gets extensive coverage, but little of it will surprise voters: the Tories want to cut the deficit but don't want to tell voters about how they'll cut spending to do it. Labour say they'll cut less, but are coy about the extra borrowing that would entail.  Still, Steve Swinford has managed to squeeze some surprises out of the IFS report. 

The Tories didn't want this election to be about immigration, calculating that the more people talk about it, the better it is for Ukip, which revels in that broken Conservative promise to cut net immigration to tens of thousand. But it looks like the Mail has forced the PM onto the issue: he's written an oped for the paper in answer to its poll showing voters are still unhappy. His message, loosely translated: if you think I'm bad at controlling our borders, that Miliband bloke would be even worse. Nigel Farage, already celebrating a Survation poll putting him nine points ahead of his Tory rival in Thanet South, will be delighted.

Talking to politicians and staff across the spectrum this week, one common feeling comes across: everyone's tired. It's already been a long campaign, and it hasn't really shifted public opinion at all. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could have a day or two off to recharge?  In other words, the political world is really looking forward to the arrival of a certain baby.

Asa's actually off having a well-deserved break, so your briefing this morning is actually being written by me, James Kirkup. All mistakes and omissions are mine and mine alone.

Nigel Farage is wearing England flag cuff links, he had roast beef for lunch and he's having fish and chips for dinner. God save the Queen


David Cameron and William Hague launch English manifesto Lincolnshire, 10.30.
Miliband delivers speech on foreign affairs, London 11.00
Alexander warns of dangers to economy of Labour / SNP government in Aberdeen