Good morning. Is it now safe for David Cameron and George Osborne to be seen in public together? The two will be making a rare joint appearance – their first in four years it is said – to mark the government’s £36bn infrastructure programme. Other ministers – McLoughlin, Pickles, Fallon – will fan out across the country to make a similar point, which can be distilled as follows: “Long term economic plan… supporting business…hardworking people…jobs and opportunities…vote Conservative.” In the advance notice Mr Cameron is quoted as saying “crucial part of our long term economic plan” and “hardworking people” twice in the space of two paragraphs – got it? The FT leads with the announcement that planning rules will be relaxed in an Infrastructure Bill in the Queen’s Speech to allow energy companies to frack under private land without troubling the owners overmuch. It will also make road-building easier and speed up development.
Parliament is still in recess but with schools returning Westminster will be largely back at work and Downing Street is keen to get the message out about economic activism. Today’s point is about the 200-odd infrastructure projects due to get underway this tax year. Collectively they are worth £36bn, and No10 says will support about 150,000 jobs. About a third of the money comes from the public sector, proving that whatever George Osborne says, there is a little bit of Keynes in everyone. The Chancellor is the subject of a four page treatment in G2, btw, which charts his fall and rise under the headline “George’s gamble: is it paying off?” The answer is ‘sort of’ but with lots of risks both economic and political: “So having his hair restyled and telling voters ‘we’re all in this together’ will not be enough to secure his future or his reputation”.
Let’s return to the Cameron-Osborne appearance in the East Midlands. The choreography and body language will be of mild interest. Fraser Nelson said in the Guardian on Saturday that the Prime Minister is the public face of the Osborne government. Plenty will watch the two for evidence of variations in the power balance between them – think Blair buying Brown an ice cream. Simpler though to note the underlying potency of their partnership. Today may mark their coming out as an economic duo, confirming their dominance over Eds Miliband and Balls. The advantage Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have built up over their rivals in all the measures of competence and trust on the economy may prove to be their most potent weapon over the next year. Before, they didn’t want to be seen together for fear of reminding people that they are two posh blokes in power; today they can parade themselves as two politicians who have earned the right to be trusted on the economy.
BROWN’S WARNING TO SCOTLAND
It’s just like old times. Gordon Brown is making a speech today on the pensions ‘time bomb’ facing Scots, and he has the leaked DWP documents to back up his argument. Way back when, before 1997, Mr Brown made his name as a formidable Westminster operator by using leaked Government documents to stuff the Tories. Now he’s doing the same in an effort to stuff the SNP and the Yes campaign. The Guardian leads with a preview of the former Prime Minister’s intervention, his first on behalf of Better Together. “Brown warns of pensions ‘time bomb’ facing Scots; Ex-prime minister intervenes as yes campaign gains momentum” is the headline. It also details tensions inside Better Together and between Mr Brown and its leader Alistair Darling as causes for his failure to weigh in with the cross-party group before now.
Mr Brown’s worry is that the debate has been polarised into a choice between Scotland or Britain. He focuses in particular on pensions and the role London plays in underwriting pensions in Scotland, where the number of pensioners is rising faster than in the rest of the UK, and where Scotland pays 8pc of the country’s national insurance benefits but receives 8.8pc of the benefits. He also details the additional costs Scotland would face to set up its own pensions system – more than £1bn.
Yesterday I blogged about Mr Brown’s appearance, and the politics of partisanship implicit in his approach, which makes a virtue of being anti-Tory. The fact remains though that Mr Brown still has a following in Scotland, and may be just the voice to galvanise Labour’s undecided supporters in the west of Scotland who will decide the outcome of the referendum.
CAN NO ONE IN BRITAIN RUN AN ELECTION CAMPAIGN?
While we were away, Labour announced a big new hire: Barack Obama’s campaign guru David Axelrod, who is credited with turning a little-known community organiser into a two-term President. As I say in my column today, Labour’s American hire, alongside the Australian Lynton Crosby and the South African Ryan Coetzee at the helm of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s election campaigns, is a further expensive salvo in “the foreign advisers arms race”. Surely there must be someone in Britain who can run a general election campaign? It becomes even more ridiculous when you remember that Labour is close to bankruptcy.
Ukip’s campaign for the European Parliament got well underway with the unveiling of a series of eye-catching new posters. Funded by a £1.5 million donation from Paul Sykes, who writes for us today, they have already caused an online storm. Mike Gapes, Labour’s veteran MP for Ilford South, called the posters “racist”, but Nigel Farage says they are “a hard-hitting reflection of reality”. Privately, Mr Farage might reckon that anything that upsets the Twitterati is almost certain to play well amongst Ukip’s target voters.
YOU DON’T DO GOD
The “God Row” rumbles on. A letter in yesterday’s Telegraph from a number of atheist worthies warned that the PM was “risking division” by describing Britain as a “Christian country”, while Alastair Campbell, who famously said “We don’t do God”, doesn’t think that Mr Cameron does either. In a now-deleted entry on his blog, the former spin doctor claimed that the PM’s remarks were designed to deflect attention from the Maria Miller row. Charles Moore is more supportive in today’s paper, while support for Mr Cameron has come from an unexpected quarter, with Farooq Murad, of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, telling the Mail that “No-one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country.”
ETHNIC MINORITIES GOING TORY?
A lot has been made of the Tories’ troubles with ethnic minorities, so it’s worth noting the new Demos report, trailed in The Times, that is optimistic about the party’s ability to win new ethnic minority middle-class support. It says that second and third generation immigrants are moving to traditionally white middle-class areas – making them more likely to go blue on election day. Trevor Philips, the former head of the equalities watchdog who co-authors the report, argues that Labour targets like Hendon and Wolverhampton South West could be less likely to dump the Conservatives due to the presence of “upwardly mobile, Indian heritage, Tory-voting electors”.
SUN, SEA AND STINGS IN LANZAROTE
The Camerons spent the Easter weekend in an 18th century villa, but while it was all smiles – and a shiatsu massage – for Sam Cameron, there was a sting in the tail for Dave, who fell foul of a jellyfish while he was chillaxing on the beach. Aides confirmed that Mr Cameron had suffered a sting, but that it wasn’t serious enough to merit treatment. A British expat said that the PM had foregone the traditional cure for a jellyfish sting – urinating on the affected area – but told the Daily Mirror “there would have been no shortage of volunteers to administer the treatment”.
SPELMAN: CRIMINALISE BUYING SEX
The Nordic model is often invoked by Labour, but it’s cited as an example by Caroline Spelman, who wants to make it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services. The former Environment Secretary tells the Guardian that “the Nordic law is the right direction, but we need cross-party support for it. It’s very important men come out and say what they think as well because it’s very emotive.” But progress along the lines that Mrs Spelman would like seems unlikely: one frontbencher is quoted saying that there is a fear it would open a “can of worms”.
TORIES FALL BEHIND IN MARGINALS
Those worried about the state of the Conservatives’ ground campaign won’t have had their fears eased by this morning’s Independent. Of the Tories’ top fifty targets, sixteen – including Birmingham Edgbaston, where Labour’s Gisela Stuart has a majority of just 1,274 – have yet to select a candidate for next year’s election. Labour’s machine looks to be in much finer fettle, with candidates selected in all but two of its fifty target seats. CCHQ needs to revive its flagging machine – and fast.
LAWSON BACKS BREXIT
Britain’s relationship with the European Union is a sign of a nation lacking vim, vigour and get-up-and-go. That’s the verdict of Nigel Lawson, anyway. Margaret Thatcher’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer made the remarks at a private dinner organised by the Institute for Economic Affairs. “This clutching hold of the EU is a sign of a lack of national self-confidence,” Lord Lawson told guests, “which is not healthy.” In of themselves, Lawson’s words aren’t a surprise; he was a judge of the IEA’s £100,00 Brexit Prize, and earlier pooh-poohed Cameron’s hope of renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU. But it’s a symbol of the Tory journey on Europe – remember that Nigel Lawson was an early advocate of the ERM – and a reminder of how widespread their divisions are as the Euro-campaign gets underway.
LET IRELAND JOIN COMMONWEALTH, SAYS FABRICANT
The Republic of Ireland? Join the Commonwealth? It “is not so mad as it might at first seem”, Michael Fabricant writes for the Telegraph website today. When India became a republic, it remained within the Commonwealth, but anything that looks like rule from London will be fiercely resisted by die-hard Republicans. Still, as the member for Lichfield notes, when Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, can attend a state banquet at Windsor Castle, who knows what could happen?
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter
TWEETS AND TWITS
Everyone’s a football pundit today:
@LucyMPowell: I feel sorry for #Moyes It was always going to be v hard to follow Fergie. It’s all abt momentum. Backwards was only way it was going to go.
Latest YouGov poll (NB – there hasn’t been one since last Thursday):
Con 33%, Lab 35%, LD 11%, UKIP 15%
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan – Can no one in Britain be trusted to run an election campaign?
Charles Moore – Our Christian beliefs are under attack from influential and militant atheists
Paul Sykes – No more surrendering to EU bureaucrats
Telegraph View – The countdown begins to next year’s election
Best of the rest
Hugo Rifkind – Salmond is wrong. England is not the enemy
Janan Ganesh – Cost-of-living masks Labour ideas crisis
Francis Elliott – Can Gospel Dave’s values win the election?
Steve Richards – Giving the public a chance to voice their opinion could be the only way to improve the NHS
LONDON: House of Commons in recess for Easter.
ULURU: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tour New Zealand and Australia.
1000 LONDON: Andy Coulson evidence to continue at the phone hacking trial. The Old Bailey
1000 NORWICH: Ukip councillor accused of electoral fraud. Matthew Smith, 26, of High Street, Gorleston, who was elected in May, is accused of six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers and three of making a false instrument with intent.
1300 SHEFFIELD: Nigel Farage kicks off two-week Ukip euro-election tour.
1700 GLASGOW: Gordon Brown independence speech.