Good morning. Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman were up in Rochester before first light for the party’s dawn raid in Rochester & Strood. Back in Westminster, the Conservatives are bracing themselves for defeat to Ukip and Mark Reckless, but the bigger question today is: are there more to come?
Mr Reckless says that two Tory MPs are waiting for the results before deciding to make the leap or not. As one senior Liberal MP mused: “It’s like the SDP. They’ll be asking themselves: can I pay the mortgage? Can I keep my seat?”
As James Kirkup points out, if Ukip can win in Rochester they will fancy their chances almost anywhere, but a by-election – as the SDP themselves learnt – is very different from a general. It may well be that those wavering defectors will wait and see what happens to Mr Reckless in May rather than switching now. On the Ukip side, there is a feeling that any would-be defectors aren’t quite ready to be brought from the oven – yet, although if today brings a bigger margin of victory than the expected 10 to 15 points, who knows?
The hope in CCHQ and Downing Street is that today proves, if not the hoped-for firewall against Ukip then at the least, a line in the sand, at least once the PM’s big speech on immigration is out of the way.
The challenge of winning back Ukippers without losing the country is laid bare by Sam Coates’ analysis in the Times. Supporters of Nigel Farage’s party are far angrier about the state of modern Britain than everyone else, with 68% wanting to turn the clock back by 30 years – just 38% of all voters agree. It may be that the PM can win even if Ukip remain a power in the land. A Survation poll for the trade union Unite shows Labour failing to make the breakthrough in their seventh target seat, Stockton South (the numbers are Conservatives 39%, Labour 37% Ukip 18%, Liberal Democrats 3%). It’s a reminder that a second term for David Cameron remains within reach, even if Ukip’s “very durable bubble” in Patrick Wintour’s phrase remains unpopped.
THINK EU BETTER LEAVE RIGHT NOW
“EU must change or we quit” is our splash. An opt-out from ever-closer union is a must in order to support staying in the EU as far as Oliver Letwin is concerned, as exit would be better than being “absorbed into a United States of Europe”. Mr Letwin, whose preference is that Britain remain within the “outer rim” of the EU, made the remarks at University College London – Ned Simons at the Huffington Post has a full account of Mr Letwin’s remarks. David Lidington, the Europe minister, has warned that Britain will never be free from “the EU’s influence or rules”, even if the UK does vote to leave.
HE LIVED HIS LIFE, LIKE A LION IN THE WIND
The PM’s hopes of a cap or a temporary pause in European migration to the UK have taken a further blow, Lucy Fisher and Michael Savage report in the Times. A delegation of German MPs has warned that such changes are non-negotiable. Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee, says that Germany is “not in favour of all brakes, moratoria or anything else”. Detlef Seif, another MP from Angel Merkel’s ruling coalition, helpfully describes David Cameron as “like a butterfly in the wind” looking for “the most support in my party and the most support in Great Britain”. But the UK “does not need a butterfly, it needs a lion in the wind,” Herr Seif says.
“THERE ARE NO NINJAS, THERE IS NO DOOR”
Former Gove SpAd and Number 1 David Cameron fan Dominic Cummings spoke to the IPPR about Whitehall, Westminster and how to fix it – the full recording is here. Among the headlines: Sir Jeremy Heywood has the PM “completely by the balls”. Ed Llewellyn and Craig Oliver, are Mr Cameron’s “most important advisers” and they are “totally and utterly useless”. As for the PM himself, he cannot “manage his way out of a paper bag” and has “never been part of an organisation run well”.
THE LONG HELLO
Nicola Sturgeon’s ascent to the top of the SNP comes to a conclusion today as she is sworn in at the Court of Session and takes questions from the SNP as First Minister. In the battle to replace her, Neil Findlay is believed to be gaining on Jim Murphy in the race to become Scottish Labour leader. It’s causing consternation among some members of Mr Miliband’s circle according to James Cusick in the Indy. One adviser close to Mr Miliband tells James “Findlay represents pain and isn’t the solution”.
A CHILLY RECEPTION
George Osborne has gone on the offensive against his Liberal Democrat deputy, Danny Alexander, after Mr Alexander claimed that the Chancellor kept the fridge locked. The key is in fact kept on the top of the fridge.”If I had been Chief Secretary and after all this time I hadn’t found the key to the fridge, I wouldn’t tell people,” Mr Osborne chuckled.