MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
The shock news for a Friday morning – George Galloway has won the Bradford West by-election for Respect, taking 18,341 votes – or 56 per cent.
Labour, who had held the seat, were humiliated – dropping to second place with 8,201 votes, or 25 per cent, down 20 per cent on the 2010 election result. The Conservatives lost almost as much, coming third on a particularly low 8.4 per cent – 2,746 votes. The Lib Dems came fourth on 4.6 per cent, just 1,505 votes – losing their deposit. Turnout was 50.8 per cent.
Galloway, with no sense of irony, is calling this the “Bradford Spring”, not to mention “the most sensational result in British by-election history”. He says he won because the people of Bradford rejected the “path of treason” of Tony Blair’s wars.
Word on the street in Bradford last night was that Labour expected to win and had laid plans for Ed Miliband to appear there for a victory lap today. You can imagine the calculation: Government in disarray, Tories in chaos, Labour triumphant.
But no, and now gorgeous George is back in Parliament and Labour is nursing a terrible setback. Harriet Harman says that “there’s no denying” that it’s a terrible result for Labour, while Baroness Warsi on Today poured scorn on Labour’s inability to win votes in such a typically safe seat. As a No 10 source says: “The byelection is a shattering defeat for Labour.”
A caveat: it’s a by-election, it’s Bradford, and the contest is overlaid by the complexities of race and communal politics. Mr Galloway’s Bradford spring won’t last long, but will leave some difficult questions about how Labour’s relationship with Asian voters and the power of politics tinged with extremism.
In the meantime it brings to a shuddering halt the fuel panic media bandwagon, as we turn our attention to Mr Miliband’s difficulties, for the next few hours at least.
KUNG FUEL FIGHTING
That said, the newspapers, which came out before the by-election results, are full of stories about the panic buying of petrol, as the Coalition’s strategy of telling people ‘not to panic, but sort of panic’ completely failed.
The Daily Mirror has splashed on “Everybody was Kung Fuel fighting”, the Sun goes for “Total Panic” and the Mail calls it “Pandemonium at the pumps”. Our headline is slightly more restrained – “Ministers blamed for fuel shambles as panic grows” – and you can read our splash story here.
Thus concludes a bad week for the Government, from cash-for-access through pasties and now onto fuel; in presentation terms, at least, this week has been disastrous. Craig Oliver gets a namecheck in The Times and you sense that the knives are out for the No 10 communications director. As they report: “he has difficult relationship with several other key media figures at No 10 that are tarnishing the reputation of the Conservatives.”
I also detect inter-Coalition politics, with what looks like the Lib Dem end briefing against the ineptitude of its Tory colleagues. Then there’s Labour and Unite; the energy secretary Ed Davey will meet the hauliers to keep pressure on the unions to reach an agreement and avert a strike. The Mail meanwhile points out the Unite chief handling the drivers is Labour’s Treasurer.
Then there’s David Davis and the internal Tory wrangling – yesterday, DD told The World At One that working class voters “resent” privileged Cabinet ministers: “They look at the front bench, they see them all very well dressed, well turned out, well fed and perhaps feel that they are in a different world to them.”
I’ve blogged about what this week means for David Cameron; it’s not ultimately about class, as now seems to be the current argument. As Bagehot notes, the problem is not that Mr Cameron too posh, but that he is too grand. His problem is that since becoming an MP he has accumulated more enemies than friends on his own benches, and now finds there are too few folk willing to come to his aid, and too many willing to stamp on his head.
In our leader, we point out that all this wouldn’t be so bad if the economy were recovering, but it’s not: “The fuel panic has been an unwelcome distraction from the overwhelming priority of getting Britain growing again…Unless the Government gets this right, it will not be out of touch, but out of office.”
The Guardian agrees – they say that: “This past week may yet be seen as the moment the wheels started to wobble.”
OSBORNE TO BALLS
Still, George Osborne is trying to get the Government onto the back foot. The FT has a fascinating story about the Chancellor’s political strategy.
Apparently, Mr Osborne intends to outline his plans for further cuts after the 2015 election to eliminate the structural deficit by 2017, and he is calling for Labour to do the same, something made all the more urgent by the news from the OECD yesterday that Britain is very likely to enter a double dip recession.
As the newspaper reports, “senior Tory and Lib Dem officials are looking to complete a tough spending review by the autumn of 2013, setting out detailed plans for 2015-16 and 2016-17” , including the £10 billion more of welfare cuts announced in last week’s Budget.
As the paper adds: “Mr Osborne and Mr Clegg believe the detailed fiscal choices could be painful for Labour, including a choice on whether to support big new welfare cuts – generally popular with voters – or to focus on other spending cuts”.
I’m sure the Treasury’s overworked staff will love that. The strain there is illustrated in another FT story: the Treasury is struggling to hold onto staff, while the average Treasury employee is just 32 years old, compared with an average of 47 across Whitehall. That story is part of a p2 look at the department, which also reports on how badly prepared it was for the financial crisis.
Last year, George Osborne seemed quite aware of the strain that Government is putting on the Treasury, as he complained that our tax code is longer than India’s. This year, however, his finance Bill is the longest in history, at 686 pages.
The FT’s splash is important, too. And it’s bad news for the Government’s nuclear power programme: two German companies, Eon and RWE, pulled out from multi-billion pound plans to build new nuclear power stations in the UK, leaving our energy strategy “in tatters”. That means that the Horizon project to build reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucester are now much less likely to go ahead.
In the Guardian, Juliette Jowit provides some useful analysis of what this means for British energy strategy: this is a “a blow”, but not a “meltdown”. “The announcement will be a reminder to ministers that they cannot be complacent about their commitment when relying on private money to build essential national infrastructure.”
Interesting news from Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary; he’s considering leaving the shadow cabinet and indeed Parliament to stand for Birmingham’s mayoral race, if Birmingham votes yes in the referendum on whether to actually have a mayor in May.
That would put Byrne up against the formidable Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart, as well as former Labour MP Sion Simon in the race for the Labour candidacy. The brilliantly named Sir Albert Bore, who is chairman of the Labour group in Birmingham City Council, may also stand.
Latest YouGov/Sun: Conservatives 35%, Labour 42%, Liberal Democrats 9%; Government net approval: -31%
TWEETS AND TWITS
Glyn Davies again, doing well: “Feel so unimportant. No-one has asked me when I last bought a pastie. Feel as ignored by society as those who have never been ‘hacked’.” Diddums.
In The Telegraph
Neil O’Brien: David Cameron needs friends in the North – here’s how to win them
Jeremy Warner: Why a Brics-built bank to rival the IMF is doomed to fail
Con Coughlin: The West will pay a terrible price if we leave Afghanistan in the lurch
Leader: Ministers must get their priorities right
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£): I’m a Labour member, but I can’t vote for Ken
Bagehot on his Economist blog: Pasty-gate is a proxy for Tory angst about class, but class is a proxy for the anger of the Tory right
Martin Wolf in the FT (£): We badly need public funding of political parties
Bruce Anderson in the FT (£): Cameron should look to the future, not to the pasty
Today: EU finance ministers meet for ECOFIN in Copenhagen
Today: Housing minister Grant Shapps announces the Government’s response to Mary Portas’s report on the British high street