Friday, 22 May 2015

Dave's eurovision contest..

David Cameron is meeting EU leaders in Riga today, where he will keep pushing for significant concessions from Brussels, pointing to his re-election as a clear mandate to argue for them. Part of the Prime Minister's message, or "song for Europe" as the Independent says, is the need for a crackdown on benefits for EU migrants, as well as - the Times reports - an acknowledgement that the Euro is not Europe's "single currency". 

The Prime Minister is hoping to shrug off yesterday's immigration figures, which revealed that 318,000 more people had arrived in Britain last year than left, exposing how off-target he is with his pledge to get net migration below 100,000. Cameron is still sticking by the target, despite spending five years failing to hit it in the last Parliament, insisting on Thursday that he would not "cave in". 

Cameron's speech had some blunt rhetoric, like "If you have uncontrolled immigration, you have uncontrolled pressure on public services". "Hmmmmm, now where did he get that line from then?" a Ukip official deadpanned to me. Nigel Farage, who often warns of "uncontrolled" immigration, picked up on "familiar echoes" in the speech, writing in the Telegraph: "[David Cameron] noticed that migrants were "using the NHS for free". Do you remember the squeals of outrage during the campaign when I sought to highlight that fact?" However, "the unsayable truth about immigration to Britain is that it has been a stunning success"Fraser Nelson points out. 

The media wasn't bowled over by the Tory leader's address, which's Ian Dunt summarised as promising to "make illegal immigration illegal". "Cameron's great immigration con exposed," said the Daily Mirror. The Sun accused him of thinking voters were "gullible enough to swallow the message 'Don't worry, it's all under control", going on to bewail the "migrant tsunami", asking "why can't we stop the flood?" The Indie snorted at his "futile gestures", while the Times lambasted Cameron's "foolish" migration cap. 

As Cameron faces down EU leaders, they'll be keener to do business now they know he'll be sticking around for a few years to deliver his referendum. Some think a "grand bargain" could be on the horizon.

In advance of the vote, Tory MP Michael Fabricant has issued a call to arms to fellow "outters", writing on the Telegraph website: "This is ours to lose if we're not very careful". Others, like Alex Salmond, have said they will campaign to remain part of the EU. Support for staying in the EU has been on the up, with 61% saying they would prefer to stay in, compared to 39% to stay out. We'll no doubt see this Europhilia over the weekend at the Eurovision finals. 


Len McCluskey is attempting to "sabotage" the Labour leadership contest, Liz Kendall has said as she warned trade union bosses must not determine who wins, Ben Riley-Smith reports. The Labour health minister pledged to fight defence cuts, back free schools and give "radial devolution" to England if she became leader in an open pitch to Tory voters.

The Labour leadership contender made her remarks as she spoke to journalists at a press gallery lunch in Parliament. "She seems like something approaching a normal human being, which in modern politics is so unusual it makes me suspicious," our sketchwriter Michael Deacon said. "Come on. A party leader can't be normal."


The Scottish National Party's new MPs are behaving like "goons" whose "infantile" behaviour is undermining their reputation, Britain's longest serving MP has said. Labour's Sir Gerald Kaufman criticised their attempt at trying to unseat Dennis Skinner from his usual spot on the opposition front benches. Ben Riley-Smith has more

Meanwhile, Camilla Turner reports on lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone announcing that she is leaving Scotland and denouncing "SNP muppets" as an "angry, hated, jealous lot". The founder of Ultimo, who was a fervent critic of Scottish independence, said she was moving due to "global biz commitments" and denied that she had "turned [her] back on Scotland".


Theresa May's plan to introduce counter-extremism powers to vet British broadcasters' programmes before transmission was attacked by a Conservative cabinet colleague, a letter leaked to the Guardian has revealed. Sajid Javid described the Home Secretary's proposal to give Ofcom extra powers to weed out extremist content as a threat to freedom of speech and reducing the watchdog to the role of a censor.


Tobacco companies are preparing to launch what could be one of the biggest ever legal claims against the British Government for losses as a result of the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, John Bingham reports. They are expected to begin lodging papers at the High Court as early as Friday, seeking a multi-billion compensation payout for being stripped of the right to use instantly recognisable brands.


Faith groups are now filling a "huge gap" in British life occupied by the state until the financial crisis and onset of austerity forced a rethink, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Most Rev Justin Welby said churches, mosques, temples synagogues and other religious organisations had stepped in "in a most extraordinary way" over the past seven years, John Bingham reports


Sugary foods may have to be taxed to cover the costs of treating obesity, a health minister has warned. George Freeman, the life sciences minister, said that food companies should be aware that if they continued to produce food that could lead to poor lifestyles and ill health they would be penalised, Sarah Knapton reports.


Nicola Sturgeon has demanded that David Cameron give her a veto over cutting taxpayer subsidies for wind farms as experts warned MSPs that "over-egging" renewable energy will lead to increased consumer bills and intermittent supply, Simon Johnson reports. This comes as Scottish ministers have revealed that fewer criminals will have to tell prospective employers about their records, under measures unveiled to help rehabilitate them.

Meanwhile, Scotland's Education Minister has been accused of attempting to gloss over eight years of the SNP failing the country's pupils in a belated attempt to close the dreadful gap between the best and worst state schools. Here are more details


Green leader Natalie Bennett (no relation) insists her party's performance at the election was "excellent", although it heavily lost support during the campaign, ending up with just four per cent of votes cast – about half the level of support recorded by earlier opinion polls. This led Geoffrey Lean to ask "Would Britain be better off without the Greens?" 

Now Zoe Hall, a former press officer at the Green Party, has waded in, writing on the Telegraph website that the Greens should ditch Bennett in favour of Caroline Lucas. "If the Greens are to kick on and add to their number in parliament in 2020, they need a leader capable of communicating their message," she warns. 


@JessicaElgot: Pollsters have offered us shy Tories and lazy Labour to avoid truth -normal people don't answer polling phone calls or join Internet surveys


From The Telegraph

Nigel Farage - We can't control our borders while remaining in the EU

Fraser Nelson - The unsayable truth about immigration: it's been a stunning success for Britain

From elsewhere

Mark Steel - Finally, Labour and the Conservatives are agreeing on... everything!

Mark Wallace - Cameron is now more exposed on immigration than before


David Cameron in Riga for talks with EU leaders

12:45 Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock speaks at the Institute for Government in London on his vision for public sector reform 


No business

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The immigration game..

David Cameron is talking about immigration today, delivering a speech - which we have splashed on - in which he will pledge that illegal immigrants working in Britain will have their wages seized by police and face deportation without appeal. 

Why is Cameron suddenly unveiling a "migrant crackdown" (as the i newspaper bills it)? The Office for National Statistics' latest numbers - out today - are set to show that the Prime Minister has still not managed to get net migration down below 100,000 every year, and so by promising action, he hopes to take the sting out of the awkward headlines. Although some may wonder, isn't the Prime Minister just promising to make illegal immigration illegal? 

Downing Street has been bracing itself for today's figures, with the Sun reporting that the Prime Minister has "read his top ministers the riot act on immigration", telling them it was "every single department's responsibility" to help get net migration down. The Tories are still committed to the target, even though they failed to meet it over the last Parliament, with the most recent figures putting net migration at 298,000The pledge will still be a struggle to keep, as my colleague Laurence Dodds concluded: "It is going to be very difficult - at least so long as Britain cannot directly control the number of EU nationals who can enter the country."

Immigration also feeds into the Prime Minister's fight to renegotiate a better deal with Brussels, where he is hoping to change EU laws to restrict migrants' access to benefits in the UK. Once a leader who warned his party to stop "banging on about Europe", he'll be doing plenty more of that at a major EU summit in Riga on Friday, while his Europe minister has suggested that he could secure a referendum before 2017. Dangling some Eurosceptic red meat that will leave many Tory MPs salivating, David Lidington said his boss would "welcome" an earlier referendum. The SNP would back him on this, with Alex Salmond telling Newsnight that the vote should happen "as soon as it can be democratically and properly arranged". 

Lidington also said that the government was pushing for "serious reform" in EU talks that were "picking up pace". Such rhetoric will ramp up expectations over what Cameron can get out of Brussels, which may be risky, as a Tory MP mused to me recently: "If he presents us with a fig leaf, he will quickly be found out." Cameron isn't getting much support from his Eeyore-ish former business secretary, Vince Cable, who has written in the New Statesman that "the chances of things going badly wrong are endless".

Potential Conservative rebels have so far been well-behaved so far, reportedly pledging their "undying loyalty" to the Prime Minister. But for how long will this remain? Peter Bone has already predicted that Cameron will "fail to get the British people want", so he will need to manage expectations if he wants to impress voters and backbenchers.



Members of the public can see original copies of MPs' expenses receipts for the first time in six years after the Parliamentary expenses watchdog dropped a £187,000 legal case, Chris Hope reports. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Watchdog said it was dropping a legal challenge dating from 2010 to a request from The Sunday Telegraph under Freedom of Information laws to see MPs' original receipts.


The idea of Labour electing an interim leader, who would be "reaffirmed" in 2018 ahead of the general election, is gathering pace. Tristram Hunt floated the idea of a "break clause" on Wednesday, and now the Guardian has backed the idea. In a leader column on the "daft" and "absurd" leadership contest, the newspaper argued: "Labour should put its thinking head on before it is too late. It should have agreed on an experienced interim leader who commands general confidence...while preparing Labour – and its electoral system – for a proper contest between its next generation of leadership candidates in time for 2020. Ideally it should still do this."

Meanwhile, the shadow education secretary has said he would not stand for the leadership, endorsing Liz Kendall for the job. He said he had been "surprised" by how many MPs had been signed up to back just two candidates within five days of the election, and wanted to make sure there was a chance for outsiders like Kendall to get on the ballot paper. Read more here. "Nobody called Tristram Hunt could ever have been Labour leader," says Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Others are even more scathing about the leadership contest. "Labour seem destined to chew on the same issues, extracting precious little nourishment," warns Allison Pearson. "Extinction seems inevitable".


George Osborne has told the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments that they still need to find billions of pounds worth of cuts this year to help Britain go into "that extra gear" and secure the economic recovery, Steven Swinford reports. Speaking to the Confederation of British Industry in London, the Chancellor declared that "the more you can do early, the smoother the ride", as he said that unprotected departments will be expected to find £13 billion worth of departmental savings.


The head of Airbus in the UK has said the aerospace and defence giant would reconisder future investment in the UK were it to leave the European Union, James Quinn reports. Paul Kahn, president of Airbus UK, has used a speech in London to make a strong stand in favour of Britain's EU membership.


Labour will "rue the day" it ordered the party's manifesto pledges to be carved in rock, the man who made the eight-foot stone plinth has said, Peter Dominiczak reports. Ed Miliband faced criticism after in the final week of the general election campaign after unveiling a huge limestone block with the party's key manifesto pledges carved into it. Steve Vanhinsbergh, director of Stone Circle, which carved the plinth - dubbed the "EdStone" - said it was was full of "vague" promises and that are "not worth what they are written on".


Nigel Farage plotted against himself, Ukip's deputy chairman Suzanne Evans has claimed, denying that she or others planned a coup for the party leadership, Emily Gosden reports. This comes as the Ukip leader returned to Brussels, and was branded a "big loser" by MEPs. "Nigel Farage is the Europhile's greatest weapon," says Dan Hodges. "Hooray for Ukip!"

Meanwhile, Ukip's former deputy leader Mike Natrass has claimed that Farage wanted "total power" over the party and adapted the constitution to ensure that he had control over everything. Natrass, who resigned from the party in 2013, told LBC: "He's always been like that. Absolute monarchy? I used to call him the dictator."


Theresa May has a revealed the police service is to face more cuts as she warned rank and file leaders to stop "scaremongering" and "crying wolf", Tom Whitehead reports. In a hard-hitting speech, the Home Secretary said there was "no ducking the fact" that police spending will have to come down again as the Government's austerity drive continues. She also pledged to free up police officers from having to care for people with mental health issues with millions of pounds to provide beds.


SNP MPs have been urged to start behaving like "adults" in the Commons as senior party figures fear they are developing a lightweight reputation, Ben Riley-Smith reports. New MPs have been told not to take "selfies" in Parliament by staff of the chief whip, Mike Weir, following a backlash when one party member posed at the Dispatch Box.


Ministers must stop their "surreal obsession" with wanting to see GPs' surgeries opening seven days a week, one of the UK's most senior doctors is set to warn today. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association's (BMA) GP committee chairman, will highlight how its recent survey revealed a "potential catastrophic time bomb ready to explode", with one in three GPs intending to retire in the next five years. Read more here

This comes as health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has vowed to make tackling the "great scandal" of childhood obesity one of the main priorities of this Parliament. Laura Donnelly has more. It has also been found that MPs and peers accepted gifts from the tobacco industry, such as tickets to the men's final at Wimbledon and the opera at Glyndebourne, before voting against plain packaging.


Landowners' rights to use their property as they wish are to be watered down for the public good, a senior SNP minister has warned as she unveiled a Left-wing agenda to create a socialist society over the next century, Simon Johnson reports. This comes as new figures reveal house prices have skyrocketed in Scotland at twice the rate of England partly thanks to a stampede from buyers to avoid the SNP's new tax on purchasing a home.

Meanwhile, David Cameron's father-in-law has said he may have to put on a "Rob Roy-style Scottish accent" to stop the Scottish National Party launching a "Mugabe-style" raid on his family's estate in Scotland. Viscount Astor, writing in this week's edition of The Spectator magazine, said he was worried the SNP was planning land reforms to take away estates from large landowners north of the Border.


@SilvesterLdnI don't understand this "Labour should back a referendum" stuff. It's happening. It's like backing the fact that tomorrow is Thursday.


From The Telegraph

Robin Birley - Ditching 'quixotic' Nigel Farage now would be a fatal blow to Ukip

Allister Heath - Be bold, Prime Minister, and you can change the course of history

From elsewhere

David Aaronovitch - Europe isn't just about the economy, stupid

Seumas MilneThis New Labour revival could end with a party split


08:00 Sarah Wollaston MP speaks at a King's Fund event in London on the impact of the election on health and social care 

09.30 The Office for National Statistics publishes migration statistics, retail sale statistics, short term migration estimates, overseas travel and tourism statistics and young people not in education, employment or training statistics

11:00 David Cameron makes speech on immigration



14:40 The House will go to the House of Lords to receive Royal approbation for its choice of Speaker, with Swearing in of Members of the Commons to follow.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Revenge of the Red Baron..

Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union, has chucked a hand grenade into the Labour leadership race, threatening to pull his union's funding if the party fails to elect the "correct leader".  His threat makes our front page, as well as that of the Times ("Union holds Labour to ransom over leadership"). 

Why did McCluskey choose to make this threat now? In short, the union baron wants to throw his weight around. Unite donated around £19 million to Labour over the last parliament, just under a third of its entire donation income and more than all its individual donors added together. "Without Unite, Labour would be bankrupt," says Andrew Gilligan. McCluskey wants to remind Labour's leadership candidates of his importance, knowing they would view the idea of Unite's money going elsewhere as an anathema.

More Labour MPs than ever have links to Unite, following a successful drive by the union to secure safe seats for its favoured candidates. McCluskey, whose union has already been signing up affiliate members for the upcoming leadership election, could hold sway over who succeeds Ed Miliband, with Andy Burnham the likely beneficiaryBurnham, who has been praised by McCluskey, is trying to avoid being pigeonholed as "the left-winger", boasting of support from Lord Falconer, Tony Blair's former Solicitor General (and flatmate), as well as shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves. "I am attracting support from all parts of the party," he told the Andrew Marr show over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Unite chief, known by critics as "Red Len", has suggested he could start backing SNP candidates in Scotland. This warning is targeted at Scottish Labour, which has plunged into a downward spiral after its 40 MPs were reduced by the SNP surge to just one. Outgoing Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, who was among those to lose their Westminster seats, lashed out at McCluskey's "poison", branding it the "kiss of death" to be supported by him. 

Murphy said: "The siren voice from behind a big desk in Unite's headquarters in London shouldn't be allowed to instruct what the Scottish Labour Party does." This marks the latest twist in Scottish Labour's fight to exert its independence, after Johann Lamont, Murphy's predecessor, warned that her Westminster colleagues treated it as a "branch office". 

Scottish Labour will hope to be rid of its own Murphy's law - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong - as it hunts for his successor. His replacement will be Labour's 8th elected leader in Scotland since 1999, after Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont. Whoever emerges to lead in Scotland may be just as important in Labour's rebuilding process as its next Westminster leader.


Thousands more GPs are to be recruited to the National Health Service to ensure patients can be treated seven days a week, David Cameron will announce today. In his first major speech since winning the general election, the Prime Minister will set out his plans to transform how hospitals and doctors' surgeries are run. Chris Hope has more.

This comes as new research showed that doctors at two scandal-hit NHS trusts, Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay, were handed millions of pounds in bonuses for "clinical excellence". Meanwhile, the Independent reports that nurses may call a strike over Cameron's seven-day NHS plans if he cuts pay in order to achieve it. 


Nigel Farage has refused calls to move to the centre ground as tensions with his deputy and only MP grow ahead of meeting this week. The Ukip leader said he would continue to speak out on controversial topics like immigration, despite pressure from his deputy chairman Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell, who joked about the upcoming meeting on Twitter last night, writing: "Looking forward to meeting of Ukip Parliamentary party tomorrow. Thinking of pitching to be chief whip." 


Candidates for the Labour leadership have denounced Ed Miliband's manifesto, Matthew Holehouse reports. Opposition to the EU referendum, the mansion tax and a defence of Gordon Brown's deficits were cast aside in what the Tories hailed as a "bonfire of the policies".


Nicola Sturgeon has warned David Cameron he would be personally responsible for a second independence referendum if he blocks her demands for an extra swathe of powers being transferred to Scotland, Simon Johnson reports. Sources close to the First Minister confirmed that she used a private meeting, before their official talks in Edinburgh last Friday, to tell the Prime Minister that his response would determine whether Scots demand another vote on leaving the UK.


Sir Mick Jagger correctly forecast the Conservative victory in the general election weeks before polling day, according to the party's former US adviser, Chris Hope reports. Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said the Rolling Stones lead singer was "one of the savviest political observers I've come across".


John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons is poised announce that he is to divorce his wife Sally over her alleged affair with his cousin, John Bingham understands. A friend of the family indicated he is likely make a public statement in the next few days in an effort to draw a veil over the painful chapter which has overshadowed his public role.

Meanwhile, Bercow is set to be installed unopposed as Speaker of the House of Commons, as Tory backbenchers agree not to protest. An MP told the Huffington Post UK that it would be "wrong to kick a man when he's down".


The unexpected Conservative majority earlier this month could jump start the housing market, which suffered an unseasonable slump in May not seen since the last general election five years ago, Lauren Davidson reports. This comes as research out today found that retail investors' appetite for UK assets evaporated this month amid the uncertainty of the election combined with growing demand for other assets such as eurozone shares.


Former Labour leadership candidate Chuka Umunna could be made shadow foreign secretary in the run-up to the 'in/out' referendum on the European Union in two years' time. The former Labour leadership contender is understood to be keen to play a role campaigning to keep Britain in the European Union ahead the vote, currently set for 2017. Here are more details


Nick Clegg, who quit as leader of the Liberal Democrats after the party's disastrous election result, could be rehabilitated politically like former Tory leader William Hague, Tim Farron has said. Farron, a former party president, said he would like to give Mr Clegg a job possibly as the party's foreign affairs spokesman, if he is elected leader in the party's forthcoming election.


The bosses of one of the biggest manufacturing companies in the UK have said Britain should vote to leave the European Union in an in-out referendum because the departure would not make a "blind bit of difference" to trade with Europe. Graeme MacDonald, chief executive of JCB - the third biggest maker of construction equipment in the world - said the impact on business had been overhyped if Britain voted to leave the single market. Read more here


No more on shore wind farm schemes will be given the go ahead unless they have the support of local people, the new Energy secretary has said. Amber Rudd, who was appointed last week in the post-election reshuffle, said the new powers would be in next week's Queen's Speech. Here are more details


@BenRileySmithEvery Labour leadership candidate went to Oxbridge.


From The Telegraph

Boris Johnson - We must save Palmyra or the maniacs will raze civilisation

Michael Heseltine Why England's future is bright

From elsewhere

Chris Deerin - Labour needs two leaders with one vision

Matthew Norman - A politician shouldn't care more about himself than his party


Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is expected to attend an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on how best to tackle the Mediterranean migrant crisis

House of Commons to sit for the first time since the General Election. The process for electing the Speaker of the House of Commons is to begin and could last until Tuesday. 

11:00 Douglas Carswell MP, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Liberal Democrat president Sal Brinton hold a photo call in London to promote electoral reform 

12.45: Lord O'Donnell and Baroness Taylor attend an Institute for Government event in London on governing with a small majority 


14.30 - Swearing in of MPs, and election of Commons Speaker

14.30 - 19.30 Swearing in of members of the House of Lords

Friday, 15 May 2015


Nigel Farage has been subject to a farrago of controversies in his time, with his latest perhaps the most dangerous yet, as Chris Hope reports on today's front page that he "clings to Ukip leadership as former allies call for his resignation".

The Ukip leader has tried to put on a brave face, rubbishing "the idea of a coup" and musing that the "one or two" senior kippers who wanted to be leader "will be sadly disappointed" by the party's ruling executive asking him to stay on instead. Farage didn't pretend all was well when asked by ITV News later on if he had lost the confidence of his party, replying: "Big time".

Tensions have come to the fore, just days after Ukip won 3.8 million votes at the general election, after Farage's "unresignation". A row with Douglas Carswell, Ukip's only MP, over Short money followed, and then senior MEP Patrick O'Flynn attacked Farage, labelling him "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive". It wasn't the Ukip leader's fault though, he insisted, but his advisers, who he said were "poisonous influences" and should be sacked. 

This spat has revealed two distinct Ukip factions, the modernising "Carswellians" and the uber-loyalist "Faragites". Ben Riley-Smith has rounded up who is in which camp. Farage has had to bow to pressure, with two of his senior advisers leaving the party. He also declared on Question Time that Ukip will not take the £650,000 a year it is entitled to take to fund its parliamentary operations, in a big win for Douglas Carswell, who wanted to do just that. The debate over what to do with the money led to days of awkward headlines, with Ukip sources initially insisting "the Short Money is ours" and that Carswell was trying to get himself sacked, so Farage had to shut down the argument quickly. 

In response to O'Flynn's attack, Farage's aides swiftly told the Spectator that he was suffering from "personal problems". Raheem Kassam, Farage's outgoing chief of staff, couldn't help repeating this slur and calling on O'Flynn to resign on Sky News last night, in a rather graceless bid to draw a line under the matter. He repeated his call for O'Flynn to go this morning, adding that Douglas Carswell should also leave, chucking a molotov cocktail - not water - onto the embers of this row. 

Kassam's boss remains safe, although an MEP claimed that officials had attempted to force them to sign a letter pledging support to Farage. Ukip HQ was busy yesterday firing out supportive statements from pro-Farage donors and party grandees. The General of the "People's Army" has faced down some mutinous lieutenants, but he marches on a wounded man. 



Nicola Sturgeon has warned David Cameron that his response to the "message Scotland has sent" in electing 56 SNP MPs could set the timetable for another independence referendum, Auslan Cramb reports. The First Minister, addressing the Scottish Parliament on the outcome of the election, suggested a second vote could be hastened if the new UK Government failed to meet SNP demands. 

Meanwhile, David Cameron has warned Nicola Sturgeon that she must "respect" his role as Prime Minister as he travels to Scotland for his first showdown talks with the SNP leader following the general election. I've also been looking at how the Conservatives aim to keep the Nationalists happy, and the nation united


During a live broadcast about insults being levelled at Nigel Farage by his own party, a BBC journalist has accidentally added one of his own. The corporation's assistant political editor, Norman Smith, was reporting the internal row engulfing Ukip when he slipped up when he repeated campaign leader Patrick O'Flynn's accusation that Farage is turning Ukip into a "personality cult". You can watch what happened here.


Philip Hammond has signalled that Britain will not insist on major treaty change during negotiations over the country's future relationship with Europe. The Foreign Secretary told the Financial Times that treaty change was not "in itself" a political goal for the British government, adding: "For the vast majority of the British people the important thing is where we end up, the outcome."


Yvette Cooper has denied that Labour spent too much in the run-up to the financial crisis, as she launched her campaign to be the party's leader, Emily Gosden reports. This comes after Liz Kendall, a Blairite who was first to enter the Labour leadership race, on Wednesday admitted that spending levels were too high in the Blair and Brown years. Meanwhile, Labour's shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh has launched her leadership bid with an article on MailOnline.


Unite Union boss Len McCluskey has blamed Labour's election defeat on the party's Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, and called on him to resign, the Guardian reports. McCluskey said Murphy's leadership of Scottish Labour had made the Tory victory a certainty because it allowed Conservatives to play "the anti-Scottish card" in the closing stages, and provoke a backlash amongst English voters.


The BBC has been attacked for the "disgusting " views of one of its most senior journalists after he compared hate preacher Anjem Choudary to Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill, Tom Whitehead reports. Mark Easton, the corporation's Home Editor, criticised Government plans to clamp down on fanatics and said extreme views were needed "to challenge very established values".


Millions more homes should have solar panels on their roofs, the new energy secretary has suggested, vowing to "unleash a new solar revolution" across Britain, Emily Gosden reports. Amber Rudd, the former climate change minister, was promoted to lead the energy department in this week's reshuffle, in a move that was welcomed by many green groups.


Jim O'Neill, Goldman Sachs's former chief economist, will help lead Government plans to devolve more power, Peter Spence reports. He will become commercial secretary for city devolution and infrastructure at the Treasury, and receive a peerage. The role is unpaid.


@FiFiSymsUKIP, with it's one MP, is managing both to implode and have a backbench rebellion. Happy Days.


From The Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - This feud between Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell could tear Ukip apart

David Campbell-Bannerman - Nigel Farage should focus on winning the EU referendum, not leading Ukip

From elsewhere

Andrew Pierce - Monstrous egos, pure venom and the battle ripping Ukip apart  

Andrew Marr - Why the pundits got it wrong - and what the parties should do next


Labour's 'election period' opens in the contest to decide its next leader and deputy leader

Andy Coulson's perjury trial in relation to the Tommy Sheridan case is to begin in Glasgow

Prime Minister David Cameron meets Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland

Thursday, 14 May 2015

How Hunt outgunned Burnham on health..

The NHS was one of the most important issues to voters in the General Election – if not the most important.  (See here and here).  One of Labour’s strategic aims in the campaign was to turn it into a referendum on healthcare.  And so wherever the service was a big local issue, Conservative incumbents and candidates came under pressure.  Tory insiders believe that good candidates and MPs – such as Angie Bray, Nick de Bois and Eric Ollerenshaw – lost their seats because of Labour’s relentless and dishonest campaigning.  Had the election actually turned into that plebiscite on healthcare, Ed Miliband would probably be Prime Minister today.
That it did not has most to do with the prominence during the campaign of other matters – such as voter fear of a Miliband/Sturgeon government.  But it also had quite a lot to do with the changing voter scene on healthcare, hard-working Conservative MPs with a track record on health that they could prove, Labour’s dire NHS record in Wales…and Jeremy Hunt.  Let’s look at those factors in reverse order.
Hunt, the first counter-attacking Tory Health Secretary.  For Conservative politicians, health has traditionally been a defensive brief: even self-confident Tory Health Secretaries, such as Ken Clarke, have had limited scope to assail Labour.  Jeremy Hunt arrived at the department with a bruised reputation (after the fracas over BSkyB) and succeeded a politician with a broken one – Andrew Lansley, who had worked hard on reform, but failed to explain its purpose to voters.
The new Health Secretary’s priorities were thus to avoid a “winter crisis”, close down weaknesses, press on with change, explain its purpose clearly  – and attack Labour if possible.  As this site has explained, Hunt swiftly borrowed from the Gove reforms at Education, using transparency and accountability to improve the service (for example, by putting failing hospitals into special measures).  But where Gove had been confrontational, Hunt was collegiate – believing that in a service in which 70 per cent of staff vote Labour, he had to tread softly to catch his monkey.
The Health Secretary’s business background served him well, as did his natural talents as a salesman.  His message was clear: the Government’s changes are about making the service better for patients. As the election approached, Hunt found satisfaction ratings with the NHS at their second-highest on record.  This was an unfavourable background for Labour’s campaign.  But the Health Secretary couldn’t simply rely on the Coalition’s record; nor could he stop Labour making the “privatisation” charge.  What he could do, however, was blunt it.
Hunt was able to stop it gaining traction by making the facts known.  These were taken up by the media in general and Newsnight in particular, which projected the famous graph showing that use of the private sector by the NHS grew faster under Labour than the Coalition, and subjected Andy Burnham to what turned out to be a car-crash interview.  Most voters will neither have seen the footage nor clocked the Tory pledge to spend more on the NHS than Labour.  However, those who take a special interest in the NHS were presented with the facts.
Mid-Staffs, Wales, “Weaponising the NHS”…and Burnham.
Hunt was also able to go on the counter-attack over the terrible failure in Mid-Staffs on Labour’s watch – urged on by backbench MPs such as Stephen Barclay and our own Charlotte Leslie – and, above all, by the party’s failure to manage healthcare as well in Wales as in England – see hereherehere and here.
Ed Miliband hasn’t denied that he or one of his closest aides said that Labour’s aim was to “weaponise the NHS”.  The quote and his inability to disown it haunted him.  Finally, Burnham himself was a symbol of Labour’s healthcare blunders in office.
A different health spokesman running a different campaign might have given Labour’s NHS campaign more of a cutting edge in even more marginals.  But the Shadow Health Secretary was wooing the unions to prepare for a leadership contest, and thus had an interest in pitching Labour’s NHS push to the left.  He seems to have had his gaze more fixed on his own future than his party’s.
The track record of Conservative MPs on health
The charge of a secret plan to privatise the NHS was always going to be harder to sustain against a Tory leader who has personal experience of the service in the most tragic of circumstances.  David Cameron himself was a symbol of Tory commitment to the NHS – the one that mattered most.
And as Guy Opperman argued in his article on this site earlier this week, too many Conservative MPs had first-rate campaigning records on health in their own constituencies for Labour’s charges to gain traction.  Too often, Miliband’s party looked stuck in the past.
Is Labour losing its monopoly on healthcare?
Finally, there is some evidence that, as memories of the Bevin healthcare settlement fade, Labour is losing some of the grip that it has had on the NHS issue – not so much because the Tories are doing better as because distrust in all parties’ management of the system has risen.
Indeed, one survey found last year that Cameron was more trusted on healthcare than Miliband – a position only reversed in the run-up to election day itself.  Hunt was able to brief the new Cabinet earlier this week on how the health campaign had gone during the election.  His colleagues have reason to be satisfied.
However, Hunt would warn Tories not to be triumphalist.  “There’s still a lot of work to do in persuading voters who don’t vote Conservative to do so,” said a source close to the Health Secretary.  “And there’s no room for complacency.”  The main who arrived at the Health Department in a jittery condition is one of the success stories of the election – and now a heavyweight politician of the first rank.