Good morning. Nick Clegg must have hoped that today’s papers would devote themselves to reflecting his love affair with Britain, as set out in his speech to his party’s spring conference in York yesterday (“Tea ad the shipping forecast make Britain great, says Clegg” is our take, though Quentin Letts says it’s all guff).
Instead he’s stuck with headlines reflecting confusion about his plans for after the election. Will he go? Will he stay? One of the most deadly words for a politician is “clarify”, and Mr Clegg’s office had to do plenty of that after a briefing went wrong. “Clegg forced to clarify post-election plans” says the front of the Guardian. “Bungling Clegg sparks leadership race” says the Mail on p2. The Times seems clear: “Win or lose I’ll stay as Lib Dem leader, says Clegg”. What appears to have happened is that his operation initially suggested – as many have speculated – that he would stand down if he failed to lead the Lib Dems back into government after 2015. Certainly the assumption is that David Cameron will quit if he is forced to leave Downing Street (come to think of it, maybe we should ask), and so the same must apply to Mr Clegg. But yesterday the DPM’s office issued a second statement saying that he “intends to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats today, tomorrow, into the 2015 election and through the whole of he next Parliament”.
We know that when politicians appear to assume a certain outcome they invite one of those “we’ll be the judge of that” answers. In this case it may well be that the Lib Dems collectively, or more particularly members of its parliamentary party, may study Mr Clegg’s words and mutter to themselves “hang on….”. Can he credibly claim the right to remain in office after the election when he doesn’t know its outcome? It may turn out better than many predict, but his position will be decided by the party’s performance and how his colleagues react. The Tories, it is true to say, fail to give Mr Clegg credit for the support he has across his party. He is surprisingly popular given how painful coalition has been for the Lib Dems. Indeed, Mr Cameron has cause to envy the easy ride his deputy get compared to the grief the PM gets from his own side. The coverage of Mr Clegg’s leadership intentions proves the point, that politicians should avoid answering questions they aren’t asked, or providing predictions about how long they might last. Mr Clegg has legitimised what could be an awkward and public conversation about his future.
CAN UKIP COPE WITH SCRUTINY?
Ukip gets it in the neck in the papers today. The Times reports that Ukip MEPs are encouraged to pay a “tithe” of £10,000 a year to party HQ, and the party’s code of conduct says that they can afford to because MEPs receive “generous expenses” from the European Parliament “some of which does not require receipts”. It also reports on Ukip’s monthly Gadfly Dinner, which is held at Pierre-Bois et Feu, a restaurant described as “classique” in the Michelin Guide, in Strasbourg: “When Mr Farage books an evening, the restaurant is closed to other customers and a special menu is prepared, at €50 (£41) a head.” Worse, Ukip is also accused of sending invoices to the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament, which would contravene parliamentary rules. It’s also chaos at party HQ: “A senior adviser to Mr Farage occasionally brings her cat to work. Another has been known to sit with an “Orgasmatron” wire massage device on her head. At one point the office white board had a “people we want to shag” list on it, which included Mr Farage’s name.” Does any of this matter? It paints a picture of a party lacking in professionalism but, though the details are new, the general outline is not. In its leader, The Times notes that “The appeal of Ukip is that of the outsider, the party that dares to tell it as it is, unlike the professional politicians. The cost to Ukip of greater scrutiny looks likely to be that this pretence of superiority starts to fall to pieces.” There’s another important consequence, too. Ukip’s prospects of winning any MPs rest on running an immensely disciplined campaign, and focussing on the top few seats where they may have a viable chance of victory, at the expense of other constituencies. But is such discipline beyond its rag-tag operation? We will learn more when Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin’s new book, ‘Revolt on the Right’ is released on Wednesday.
LABOUR HELP YOUNG BY ATTACKING PENSIONERS
Labour have confirmed that it intends to offer a youth jobs guarantee for the whole of the next Parliament, whereby anyone under-25 out of work for a year would be given a “starter job”, or face losing their benefits. Only it’s not quite as simple as that. The flip side is that, in future, those earning over £150,000 would get only 20 per cent tax relief on pension contributions, compared with the 45 per cent now, undermining incentives to save. Both the Mail and us say that it amounts to a raid on pensioners. Given their propensity to vote – and the reluctance of the young to do so, as Tim Wigmore explains – is that a smart electoral move?
HAVE THE GOVES OVERREACHED THEMSELVES?
Libby Purves uses her Times column to attack Sarah Vine’s “gracelessly political” explanation for sending her daughter to state schools; Peter Hitchens attacked the Goves in similar terms yesterday. Libby says that the school the Education Secretary’s daughter is going to is an “Anglican Hogwarts” and “an impossible mirage for families across the land staring glumly at the much lesser school to which a tortuous entry system has condemned their equally beloved child.” The worry for the Goves is they are receiving some critical press from papers that have normally been very supportive: have they overreached themselves? Meanwhile the Mail confirms what we already knew: the Camerons are planning to send daughter Nancy, who begins secondary school in September 2015, to a state secondary. A friend of Samantha’s says: “Being in a state school is a nice antidote to that. You get to meet normal children from normal houses whose fathers don’t go off and spend the weekend with Angela Merkel. The children can be socially fluid.”
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE 40p RATE?
There has been a lot of chatter about doing something about the 40p rate ensraing ever-more taxpayers. The latest idea comes from Renewal’s David Skelton, who uses his Telegraph column to propose scrapping the 40p tax altogether, funded by lowering the threshold at which the 45p rate begins to £62,000. Those earning £85,000 or less would be better off under the changes, but someone earning £150,000 would be £2,400 worse off. Solving one problem could simply create another.
HAGUE WARNS PUTIN
William Hague has warned Vladimir Putin that there is a “real danger of a shooting conflict” if Russian forces invade Eastern Ukraine. The Sun gives the Foreign Secretary’s words a cracking write-up, under the headline “Charge of the Lightweight Brigade”. It’s also worth noting Ed Davey admitting that energy prices could be ramped up if the crisis in Ukraine deepens. If it’s not too mischevious to ask, what would then happen to Labour’s pledge of an energy price freeze?
MAIL v PICKLES
The Mail doesn’t seem to like Eric Pickles very much: it again takes the attack to the Local Government Secretary for his broken promises on bin collections – over five million families have lost their weekly collections since the Coalition began, it exclaims. Its leader suggests that the failure of Mr Pickles to match his bluster is a reason why “so many have come to believe voting is pointless”. Ouch.
ZERO HOUR CONTRACTS BALLOON
The number of people on zero-hours contracts has trebled since 2010, and is now 583,000: the story is the splash in the Guardian. As expected, Labour, led by Chuka Umunna, is on the attack. But Vince Cable launches a defence of the Government’s actions: “While Labour sat on their hands for 13 years and did nothing about it, we’re doing something about it. The government’s consultation closes this Friday and I’d urge union, employers and employees to respond so we can sort this problem out.”
BROWN BATS FOR UNION
Gordon Brown breaks his silence over Scottish independence today. In a speech in Glasgow this morning, he advocates rewriting the British constitution to give binding protection to an empower Scottish parliament, which would have freedom to determine its own welfare and tax policies. The thinking is that these ideas would undermine Alex Salmond’s claims that Scotland is ruled by a Government it didn’t vote for: “With these changes, we bury for good the idea that Westminster enjoys undivided sovereignty over the country”, Mr Brown will say.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter
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TWEETS AND TWITS
No #curseofcameron this time?
@David_Cameron: Great job by Jade Etherington too – winning her second medal. #GoParalympicsGB
In the Telegraph
David Skelton – The 40p tax rate should be scrapped
Boris Johnson – Is Vladimir Putin the new Stalin? Not now the USSR has fallen apart
Tim Wigmore – Young people are giving up on democracy
Telegraph View – The BBC licence fee cannot be sustained
Best of the rest
The Times leader – Beyond the Fringe
Libby Purves – The minister should stop his missus sneering
Guardian leader - Ukip: revolt of the dispossessed
Chris Deerin – The politicians are realising what we knew all along – true power is ours
This morning GLASGOW: Gordon Brown gives speech on Scottish independence, arguing for more devolution.
1000 EDINBURGH: Sir Menzies Campbell launches report on constitutional change. The Scottish Liberal Democrats publish the Campbell II report, the next step in their plans for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Sir Menzies will set out the recommendations of the report at a press conference with Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie. Raeburn Room, Old College, University of Edinburgh
1800 LONDON: Renewal thinktank launches its Budget proposals, with speech by Robert Halfon. The Old Star, 66 Broadway, SW1H 1DB.