A swing of the handbag reveals Mrs May’s ambition

The fall of Tim Yeo is a bleak parable of political ambition and the fractional differences between a career that leads to a crack at the top job and one that descends to humiliation and a battle to clear one’s name. There was a time when Yeo saw himself as a potential contender for the Conservative leadership, a moderate Tory with broad experience in the shadow cabinet, celebrated for his annual Westminster parties.

Now he has been forced to stand aside as chairman of the Commons energy and climate change committee, while allegations that he exploited his role to help a private company influence Parliament are properly investigated. In my experience, there is a pocket of impermeable self-belief in the psyche of each and every MP that says: “I could be party leader.” Indeed, it is one of the secret affirmations they whisper to themselves when the going gets tough. In 99 per cent of cases, of course, it is pure delusion. But it is part of the senior politician’s psychological profile: a necessary component to keep them toiling away, holding surgeries on wet winter evenings, trudging into the division lobbies as the whips instruct them, driving to down-at-heel venues to eat rubber chicken with angry men in cummerbunds, rarely seeing their families.

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Osborne was the future once – now Gove drives the Tories on

Labour’s deepening crisis of confidence will prove to be the making of Michael Gove. He has both helped to accelerate it, and he is benefiting from it. As Education Secretary he has led a remorseless campaign against the last government’s failure to turn oceans of cash into better schools and smarter pupils. As a Tory thinker he has exposed Labour’s failures, and given a laser focus to the Conservative critique of the Opposition and especially of its leader. He wields politics like a rapier, sometimes with a playful flick, sometimes with a deadly thrust. Where George Osborne once reigned supreme, it is Mr Gove who is increasingly looked to by his colleagues as the party’s play-maker. The balance of power within the Conservative leadership has begun to tilt his way.

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Gay marriage passes – now the Tories must move on

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

But there is no reason why the situation should not improve. Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

That “personal message”, here in all its glory, might not be a bad start. Sure, many will feel it’s more than a little late – there has been a chasm apparent between the leadership and the grassroots since the grammar school row five years ago – but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark . Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Yes, it passed easily. Tim Loughton’s “wrecking” amendment was defeated 375 to 70. But passage of the Bill really owed to the deal passed with Labour, including on an immediate civil partnership review. No wonder the Mail describes it all as a “humiliation”.

It’s not too late for a Tory electoral recovery but, as I highlight in my column, a little more brutal self-assessment certainly wouldn’t go amiss:

At times his operation shows insufficient guile, at others a lack of interest in the mechanics – and in the people on whom his leadership should depend, notably his MPs. It is a fundamental weakness at the heart of Mr Cameron’s leadership, and one which his skills as a statesman and his undoubted sincerity as a public servant struggle to counterbalance.

To Janan Ganesh in the FT (£), all this squabbling only reinforces a truth:

The people who should have been vindicated by the Tories’ failure to win in 2010 were the Cameron modernisers

A RATHER BETTER DAY FOR ED

Meanwhile it was a rather better day for Ed Miliband. It was the perfect opportunity for him to take a cute and clever line on gay marriage, supporting the Loughton wrecking amendment for the sake of a little short-term tactical gain. Instead, as Dan Hodges blogs for us, Ed took a position that seems dangerously close to principled. Rather than win a few cheap political points, he’s got what he wanted: gay marriage.

APPEAL COURT OUTS BORIS

The Appeal Court yesterday said that the public does have a right to know about Boris Johnson’s extra-marital lovechild, who was born in November 2009, as the Daily Mail reports.

PROGRAMMES NOT WORKING

The government’s flagship Work Programme isn’t helping the most difficult cases, the Work and Pensions Select Commons committee has found. As The Independent reports, there is “growing evidence” that disadvantaged jobseekers are being ignored, and that Work Programme advisers had to deal with up to 180 jobseekers at a time. The one perk? In a payment-by-results scheme in which all 18 providers failed to meet their targets in the first year, the Government has spent £248 million less than anticipated. Meanwhile, Jonathan Aitken has attacked the “big yawning gaps” in plans to get former criminals to take on probation work – an idea that uses similar outsourcing methods to the Work Programme, as we note.

HUNT ATTACKS SURGERIES

In a speech to the King’s Fund health think-tank on Thursday, Jeremy Hunt will call for a new chief inspector of GPs to increase their quality. As the Daily Mail reports, Mr Hunt will attack “out-of-hours services where you speak to a doctor who doesn’t know you from Adam and has no access to your medical record” and complain that surgeries have become “mini A & E units” in which doctors cannot cope. Under his plans, there would be one GP per family who the “buck stops” with.

BERLIN PLANS EU TREATY CHANGE

More bad news for Dave comes from Berlin. The FT (£) reports that Angela Merkel is drawing up plans to streamline decision making in the eurozone but not going as far as a wholesale renegotiation. Two recently adopted standalone treaties – one enshrining fiscal discipline in a “fiscal compound”; another creating the €500 billion eurozone rescue fund – would be the models.

DAVE’S GOOGLE GO-SLOW

Dave has also faced criticism after treading very softly around Google during his meeting with Eric Schmidt and other business leaders yesterday at No 10. As The Times (£) reports, Dave did not seek a one-on-one meeting with Mr Schmidt despite making the case for tax transparency to the council.

UKIP BLAMED FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

Ed Davey has warned that the rise of Ukip risks populist “saloon bar” politics extending to climate change scepticism. Davey told The Independent of the dangers of the Conservatives pandering to a party that “don’t want to say that things here have to change”.

SCHOOLS – MORE BUCK BUT NOT MORE BANG

There is “no correlation at all between spending and outcomes”, according to new research from Reform, as we report. Some schools spend twice as much as others to receive the same “value-added” scores. Cue the carping from ministers of non-protected departments to begin again – that’s if it ever stopped. Reform have already argued for an end to the ring-fence in the education budget.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Apparently Diana Abbott doesn’t do subtlety:

@steve_mccabe: One of our lighter moments Diane Abbott caught tweeting about being in same lobby as David Cameron by PM who was reading over her shoulder

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Ben Brogan – Cameron shouldn’t blame our rowdy press for his own failings

Iain Martin – It feels like the Right has split irrevocably

Gillian Guy – Redemption awaits Britain’s battered banks

Telegraph View – A belated olive branch – but will it be enough?

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Those aren’t loons, they’re just the over-60s

Jenni Russell in The Guardian – Politics needs mavericks, not just the same old chumocracy and groupthink

Dominic Lawson in The Independent – Hide behind the EU and the electorate will flush you out

Janan Gamesh in the FT (£) – Tories misunderstand the last election

THE AGENDA

09:30 am: Latest inflation figures for April released by ONS.

10:00 am London: Lord Deighton at Treasury Select Committee. Commercial Secretary Lord Deighton and Geoffrey Spence, Chief Executive, Infrastructure UK, HM Treasury will give evidence as part of the committee’s review of private finance.

12:00 am London: The London boroughs of Richmond and Hillingdon are announcing the Heathrow referendum results. Boris Johnson the Mayor of London, Lord True the Leader of Richmond Council and Cllr Ray Puddifoot the Leader of Hillingdon Council are due to attend. City Hall.

David Cameron to Tories: ‘I’m not sneering at you’

The Prime Minister tonight sent a “personal message” to thousands of party volunteers, insisting that despite their differences over Europe and gay marriage, the leadership and the party had “a deep and lasting friendship”.

Mr Cameron’s email was his first comment since The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers disclosed on Saturday that a member of his inner circle had described Conservative association members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.

The Prime Minister did not refer explicitly to the remark, but insisted that he admired and respected his party’s activists.

“I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do,” he said. “I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise. We are a team, from the parish council to the local association to Parliament, and I never forget it.”

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Gay marriage row shows Dave’s wider problems

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good Morning. It’s all shaping up into another unseemly – and largely avoidable – mess for Dave and co. His control over the Tory infantry – which was always based on the premise that he represented the Tories’ best path to a Commons majority – seems more tenuous than ever.

As if last week’s fights over Europe and loonygate weren’t enough, the party is in particularly rebellious mood over gay marriage, the Bill for which reaches Report stage in the Commons today. An amendment to allow straight couples to enter into civil partnerships is seen as a wrecker. As the FT (£) reports, Maria Miller claims it would delay the introduction of same-sex marriages before the next election due to changes in IT systems. And it would cost an extra £4 billion too, in state pensions for straight couples.

Of course, officially none of this counts as a rebellion. That may be true but if, as seems likely, 150 Tory MPs oppose the PM during today’s votes – including Owen Paterson and David Jones – then it rather amounts to a primal scream against the direction of travel Dave is dragging his party in. So he is now left relying on Labour and Lib Dem support to drag the measure through. And he should be nervous: as we report, many Labour MPs plan to back the amendment, apparently unconvinced by claims of the difficulties it would cause the same-sex marriage Bill.

It all couldn’t have come at a much worse time for Dave, following on from the “loons” comment which Lord Feldman denies. Inevitably, this is being used as cover for wider attacks on Cameron and his project. As the Times (£) notes, the Bow Group have complained of the “lack of a Conservative vision and narrative in leadership and Government”. Meanwhile, over 30 current and former Conservative association chairmen yesterday handed a letter to No 10 accusing Dave of “treating the membership with contempt” over his support for gay marriage. One minister also told the Times (£), MPs are glimpsing an opportunity “to break the gang of chums”. Brian Binley, an MP and member of the party’s board, said “There is a feeling that a group of people feel that they have taken over the party.”

WATCH OUT DAVE, NIGE IS COMING FOR YA

Never one to miss the opportunity for a skirmish with Dave and co, Nige has taken out a full-page advert in today’s Daily Telegraph in which he describes the “loons” comment as “the ultimate insult” and pleads Tories sick of the “contempt” with which they’re treated to “Come and join Ukip today and together we will get out country back.”

And in truth Nige has rather a lot of material to work with as he tries to pick off a Tory base who feel, more than ever, that their party now speaks for Notting Hill and little else. As we report, one acting Tory chairman has described the loons comment as “the final straw” and is defecting to Ukip. He won’t be the only one either, especially as the feeling grows that Ukip could well win next year’s European elections – even a senior No 10 figure admits that is is a “reasonable assumption”, according to the Times (£). The latest ComRes poll puts Ukip on 19 pc.

As Tory party historian Tim Bale writes for us, the whole unfortunate charade is emblematic of the wider disenfranchisement of activists over many years – leaving only those “more ideological or careerist” left.

“To attend party conference nowadays is to see this split manifest. A few members of the silent majority still gamely turn up, but many more who might have gone before are absent – priced out of the event by the lobbyists and wannabes, or else convinced that it’s all got a bit too serious”.

Lord Feldman can expect plenty of questions at the Conservative Party’s monthly board meeting in London this afternoon. If nothing else, his party leader should be able to empathise. He is, as Tim Montgomerie writes in the Times (£), now “a man caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war.” For Steve Richards in the Guardian, the time has already arrived to evaluate where it all went wrong for Dave:

“It is too late for Cameron to change tack. He can only busk it and hope for the best. The next leader of the Conservative party must decide, without ambiguity or qualification, whether he or she wants to update their party substantially or give reheated Thatcherism one more throw of the dice. We know what happens when a young, untested leader tries to do both.”

GOVE DIGS IN SOME MORE

Michael Gove is having a spat with head teachers – whatever next? Following criticism from Bernadette Hunter, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, on Saturday, Gove has responded in today’s Times (£). He declares her reaction “so depressing” and refuses to “compromise on standards to appease the defeatists”. With not many friends in the education unions left to lose, Gove will increase his efforts to deal directly with academy heads and training schools.

NOT IN OUR BACKYARD

Tory MPs may have loved the idea of fracking in abstract, but when they face the prospect of it being in their own backyards it doesn’t seem quite so appealing. As reported in the FT (£), one Tory says “It’s a whole different matter when people will see gas production in the rolling hills of Surrey”. As the government looks to accelerate plans, 38 of the 62 MPs in the southeast – 35 of them Conservatives – are in constituencies with existing oil and gas reserves.

BUSINESS WANTS BRITAIN IN

19 senior businessmen, including Sir Richard Branson, have signed a letter to The Independent accusing Eurosceptic MPs of putting “politics before business” and warning that EU membership is worth £31 billion – £92 billion a year in income gains. They call to “strengthen and deepen the Single Market” to boost British GDP.

MPS FEEL AUSTERITY BITE

Tough work if you can get it, eh? As we report, parliamentary authorities are considering whether to give MPs a salary rise – around £10,000 is likely – in exchange for relinquishing some pension entitlements. Nothing like some shared cost-of-living concerns to help bonding with constituents.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders tries to do his bit for Tory unity:

@adriansandersmp: There’s a Conservative Councillor, Neil Wilson, in Newton Abbot who tweets under the name Swivel Eyed Loon – You couldn’t make it up

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Hop on and off the bus for a ride to freedom and growth

Tim Bale – Swivel-eyed, or seeing clearly?

Francis Maude – Why I am convinced the same-sex marriage bill is the right thing to do

Telegraph View – The Tories must water these green shoots

Best of the rest

Steve Richards in The Guardian – Cameron had the chance to defy the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ and remake his party. He failed

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – Here’s the speech Cameron should give now

Michael Gove in The Times (£) – Apologise for expecting the best? No chance

Paul Johnson in the FT (£) – Britain needs a broader debate over cuts

THE AGENDA

10:00 am London: Nick Clegg speech to Nacro on crime and rehabilitation.

A coalition divorce? Probably just another tiff

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. The Times (£) report that Dave’s aides are discussing the possibility of the Lib Dems leaving coalition before 2015. The favoured option is an “amicable divorce” whereby the Lib Dems support next year’s budget before returning to opposition for the last six to ten months of the Parliament. There will be curiosity about the sourcing: is it a Lib Dem operation to rattle the Tories? Or are the Tories feeling emboldened and frustrated enough to start muttering threats. It’s worth recalling that the Coalition relies for its existence, above all things, on the personal relationship between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The evidence remains that they both remain committed to the idea. Certainly, until very recently Tories closest to Dave expected the Coalition to last until the day the election is called, even if political distancing starts well before then.

I reckon the Times story is more mischief than likely, but put it alongside the spending review tensions the FT (£) reports, and there’s every reason to worry that what looks stable now could quickly get messy. The Coalition has suffered a series of shocks which have – until now – been absorbed by the dampeners of Dave and Nick’s equanimity. The Europe row is of a different order altogether. The Lib Dems in the centre, I am told, are fizzing over the way Mr Cameron has allowed a referendum vote this Parliament, when the Coalition deal was that there wouldn’t be one.

Mr Clegg’s complaint is largely political – he hates the idea of being seen by voters opposing giving them a say. But there is also a principled point: when is a deal not a deal? To which his Tory critics might say – boundaries. Or child care. Note though how Mr Cameron is making nice with Nick on child care: it suggests the PM can see the strain cause by the EU issue, and is trying to compensate. Again, it’s how Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg choose to play it that will decide the longevity of the Coalition.

TOO MUCH BANGING ON?

Chance always plays an important role in politics. And so it may prove with yesterday’s Private Members’ Bill ballot. James Wharton, born nine years after the last European referendum, will use his slot to push for a vote on British membership by 2017. As we report, George Osborne says it will have “the full support of the Conservative Party, David Cameron and myself”.

For the Tories it’s not quite clear what sort of luck this amounts to. With the Lib Dems opposed to giving the Bill any government time and Labour also trying to obfuscate to prevent a parliamentary vote, the Conservatives are marked out as the one unambiguously pro-referendum party. Yet, while the public shares its views on Europe, they risk banging on about Europe in an empty room.

As one MP put it: “we’re at risk of not being seen to talk about the things that matter because we’re just talking about Europe”. That was Mr Wharton on Wednesday.

There is also the risk that, even as Vince Cable says that Dave is “in the right place” on Europe, the public see only opportunism. As The Times (£) reports, only 17 pc think he feels strongly about his European strategy; 64 pc think that he is motivated by tactics.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson writes for us on the risks for Dave of being seen to follow his backbenchers. “Labour in the Eighties paid the price for indulging its own hard Left for too long before Neil Kinnock, realising that his party’s future was threatened, fought back against them and won. Similarly, the Republicans allowed the Tea Party to grow in influence, with fatal electoral consequences.”

BRITAIN’S BLACK HOLE

George Osborne is facing a cool £9 billion budget shortfall, with the National Union of Ministers having so far identified only £2.5 billion of the net £11 billion planned budget cuts, according to the FT (£). One said that the “low-hanging fruit” in savings had now all gone, but there are Whitehall murmurs of “black ops” at the Treasury to be deployed against reluctant cutters.Philip Hammond and Owen Paterson, they’re coming for you.

GOVE PLAYS IT STRAIGHT

Michael Gove knew his Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture would be scanned for any subtext of blood lust, especially after Nick Clegg’s comments that “he knows a thing or two about leadership ambitions”. But, as we report, it was a speech which marked him out as a government loyalist. Opponents of countryside planning laws were criticised as impediments to social mobility; the city was defended as a source of “wealth and opportunity for our nation”.

SUPPORT FOR STAY-AT-HOME PARENTS

As reported in the Mail, Dave is planning to make life easier for stay-at-home parents, addressing his problem of being seen as speaking only for metropolitan mothers, with support for marriage in the tax system mooted. Plans to increase the number of children a childminder can look after could also be diluted following Lib Dem opposition.

 

LETS BE CIVIL ABOUT MARRIAGE

Under Tory MP Tim Loughton’s amendment to the gay marriage Bill that we report, all couples could be allowed to choose whether to enter a civil or traditional marriage. But the Guardian reports that the government will reject the amendment, commit to passing the Bill in its current form and instead agree to a review of civil partnerships five years after gay marriage legislation is passed.

REMEMBER SCOTLAND?

With all the talk of Britain leaving the EU, Scotland’s future has been left on the back burner. But Canada’s former PM, Jean Chrétien (who led his country through two independence referenda) yesterday argued that Scottish independence should only be granted if a “clear majority” of the people supported it, as the FT reports. It’s a reminder that not only Europe is a fragile union.

POOR OLD NIGE, STUCK IN A PUB

Nigel Farage found himself locked in a pub yesterday – not normally a problem. As we report, after he was barracked as racist by hard-Left Scottish independence campaigners, Farage had to enter an Edinburgh pub for his own safety before a vehicle wisted him away from the scene. And this came as The Times (£) revealed that Ukip has been appealing for donations and admitted “we have got to improve our policy production”. Nige won’t drink to that.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Margot James wants British companies to get out more:

@margotjamesmp: Recession in Eurozone now 18 months old, even Germany at zero growth, all the more reason for Britain’s exporters to get out beyond Europe

TOP COMMENT

 

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – The truth is, we can’t afford a shiny new transport system like HS2

 

Peter Mandelson – Cameron must not cave in to the Ukip threat

 

Isabel Hardman – Why are so many MPs making fools of themselves?

 

Telegraph View – The state should help families, not judge them

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – History is more than one thing after another

 

Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – Britain is hurtling to the exit from Europe

 

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – Now we know HS2′s a fiasco. But can George Osborne admit it?

 

John Rentoul in The Independent – Cameron’s position has the support of most voters – but then so did Major’s

Boris: There are bigger issues than Europe

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. David Cameron is in Washington to help negotiate an EU trade deal with the Obama administration. Back in London his colleagues are advancing the case for leaving the EU. In Washington Dave leads (is that the right word these days?) a government for which British membership of the EU remains a bedrock of policy. In London members of that same government speak out against the policy – yet remain in government. Truly, this is a weird Monday for politics.

For the moment Dave faces a far more pressing issue: a fortnight ago he was enjoying the signs of a turnaround in his fortunes. The Tories were on the up, buoyed by a compelling story about welfare reform, global competitiveness and Labour ineptitude. The Conservative cause had a spring in its step. Now, like the weather, prospects have reverted to type: bleak. Or have they? Is a debate about the EU a vote winner for Mr Cameron? Does he benefit from being seen to allow his own side a spontaneous free-for-all on British membership? Was Michael Gove acting with the blessing of his friend Dave when he announced that he too wants out?

The traditional view is that euro navel-gazing has always been, and therefore is, bad for Tory political health. Conservatives today might argue that their willingness to edge towards the exit will tap into a mass of public discontent with Brussels. If so, let’s see the poll evidence. I defer to their greater strategic wisdom, but Dave and his mates better be certain that the British public doesn’t view all this as self-indulgent playground politics on a deadly serious issue. Mr Cameron has shaped a persuasive argument about Britain being locked in a global race for economic survival. If he consider that Britain’s membership of the EU is now an obstacle to victory, he needs to say so.

If Dave does come to that view, then he will have a tough job taking Boris with him. The Mayor’s column for us this morning recommends “a pared-down relationship based on free trade and cooperation,” an orthodox position and one held by the majority of the parliamentary party. But key to his argument is the view that Britain’s problems cannot be laid at Brussels’ door. British decline predates the EU, and will not disappear with our exit:

“Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer has nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy. In the meantime, we need a much more informed debate about the pluses and minuses of EU membership, and my economic adviser Gerard Lyons will be leading an attempt to blow away the froth and give people the facts.”

Most Tory MPs know that, and most polling of Ukip voters has suggested that the issue of EU membership is not pivotal, even to them. So why will a large section of the party condemn their own Queen’s Speech later this week, and why will Dave let them? Despite Gavin Barwell’s protestations on the Today programme, Tory MPs don’t trust Dave to deliver. His political instincts are seen by many on the backbenches as too blunted by the bubble he has created for himself in Downing Street. A referendum legislated for in the next parliament is practical, given Lib and Lab opposition in this one, but it risks being seen as lackadaisical. The absence of urgency is seen as symptomatic of a disconnect between the OEs at Number 10 and the voter. Michael Dugher‘s Labour List article on the Shaun Bailey fiasco notes our story at the weekend that a focus group of Number 10 advisers were asked what kept them awake at night – “school fees” came the response. Mondeo Man has few natural allies in Downing St.

This is what Eric Pickles is getting at in his interview with us today. The Tories have become “disconnected” from society, and a Europe vote is not a “silver bullet” solution for Ukip’s rise. The great welling of unhappiness on the blue benches over Europe suggests that whatever Dave promises, MPs either believe that he doesn’t mean it or won’t do it. As such, the leadership’s lines to follow have increasingly become advisory rather than essential – witness today’s Mail story that 150 Tory MPs have decided that they want a public referendum on gay marriage. The party may regret mistaking internal dissent for public demand.

FRATICIDE II (LIB DEM EDITION)

So is a bid to make Vince prince the reason for Lib Dem obstructiveness over childcare? Michael Gove’s suggestion that the Lib Dem leader was a “reasonable guy [who] has to show a bit of leg, as it were, on these issues” was backed up by Philip Hammond who testified in his interview of Dr Cable’s “ambitious” nature, as we report. But is there a simpler explanation? Lib Dems were briefing yesterday that Lord Oakeshott’s plans for a light spot of regicide had already floundered some months ago. Moreover, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the party leadership’s public position is honest. The Lib Dems object that there is massive institutional hostility from childcare organisations to the measure (which is true), and that they have not seen costings which explain how this will make care cheaper (which we cannot know). Moreover, the most pro-EU party in the Commons was hardly going to play ball on Europe because it suited their coalition partners to chase Ukip’s voter share. Tory accusations of Lib Dem splits? For once, it might be that the party doth protest too much.

FRATICIDE III (LABOUR EDITION)

Making it a clean sweep in the party leadership dissent stakes at Westminster, senior Labour figures are threatening to walk away if Ed Miliband refuses to sack Ed Balls in the summer. Tom Newton Dunn writes in the Sun that Jon Cruddas and Lord Glassman have told Ed M that his namesake’s links to Brownite economics render him a liability at an election. Modestly. Mr Cruddas has been campaigning for him to be replaced by…Jon Cruddas.

So that’s the national economy taken care of. Labour’s party finances might require a little more work. Lord Sainsbury, who has contributed £12m to the cause over the years, has told the Times (£) that he will not be making another contribution to the party run by the “average” Ed. And it is not only Labour present who take a beating. In a forthcoming book, he will describe the economic policies he helped put in place under Mr Tony and Gordon as “flawed to their foundations”.

UNITE LABOURS IN VAIN

The shadowy dealings of powerful figures on behalf of fading institutions, politics, money, Falkirk West – it reads like the synopsis for a Dan Brown book. Instead, it’s the accusation made by Lord Mandelson that a cabal at the head of the Labour national executive is exerting undue influence over Labour candidate selection. As the Guardian reports, Tom Watson’s office worker Karie Murphy is now likely to win selection as part of an all female shortlist. There was a Unite bid to push a candidate (part of the union’s drive to ensure the Labour benches have at least some working class representation), but she has now withdrawn.

HUNT PLEDGES ONE-TO-ONE CARE FOR THE ELDERLY

Ah, the luxuries of a ring-fenced departmental budget. Jeremy Hunt pledges in an interview with the Independent that every vulnerable elderly person in England will be given a personal NHS worker to co-ordinate their healthcare needs. He will announce today a review of later life care which will report in the autumn, but the key points we have already – more emphasis on out-of-hours care, a named individual for each elderly patient, and scaled back payments for procedures in favour of a “holistic” approach.

LORD FALCONER’S BILL ASSISTED IN DYING

The Mail, never a great fan of Lord Falconer, notes that his attempt to legalise assisted dying has run into difficulty over a little terminological inexactitude. Attempts to differentiate assisted suicide and assisted dying amount to “euphemisms, verbal evasions [and] Orwellian spin” according to Lord Carlile. Lord Falconer’s Private Member’s Bill goes before the Lords on Wednesday.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Grant Shapps has started “deficit alerts” on his Twitter account whenever a Labour politician appears on television:

@grantshapps: “Deficit Alert! Ed Balls calls for £16.5bn more borrowing “this year” on #Murnaghan -same old Labour answer would mean soaring interest rates”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – We must be ready to leave the EU if we don’t get what we want

David Blair & Rob Crilly – Has the lion been tamed

Roger Bootle – Look east and learn from the inventors of QE what happens next

Telegraph View – Europe matters, but so do the little things

Best of the rest

Tom Newton Dunn in The Sun – Red Ed’s only hope…new ‘Blue Labour’

Wolfgang Muchau in the FT (£) – Lawson is right – Britain does not need Europe

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – The Bible Belt is becoming a force for good

John Harris in The Guardian – Is Labour ready to turn the state upside down in 2015?

THE AGENDA

12:45 pm: RUSI debate on the security implications of Scottish independence. On the panel are former defence secretary Lord Browne, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson and former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell. Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall.

04:45 pm: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on the future of the civil service. Committee Room 5, House of Commons. QuiotWhen