George must face his dragons

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. It’s St George’s Day and already fire-breathing dragons are circling the Chancellor. Spy Chiefs have played the terror card, reports the Times (£). If George Osborne wants to slash MI5 and MI6 budgets in the drive to save an extra £11.5 billion, they say, then Britain would be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Coming so soon after the Boston bombings and the latest foiled plot on a New York passenger train, it’s a powerful message. Britain faces multiple security threats, and they are not cheap to deal with – the FT reports (£), for instance, that the cost of cyber attacks has tripled in a year: “The cost of security breaches to UK companies amounts to billions of pounds annually.”

But the Spending Review must go ahead – government departments have to submit their opening bids by Monday – and there are few risk-free or painless options on the table. George knows that he will have to live with the consequences of austerity, whatever they may be.

Making his task that bit harder is the Government’s machinery, which is far from well-oiled. As Rachel Sylvester notes in the Times, there has been an “extraordinary hollowing out of the centre” as civil servants and political advisers depart in droves (particularly from No 10). It’s “less omnishambles, more omnirambles as everyone walks out,” she says. There remains a “structural problem” at the Treasury, too.

What George will have to be on guard for, according to a senior figure quoted in the Times, is ministers waving “bleeding stumps”.

“Cabinet ministers will come in and say, ‘Of course I’m happy to make savings, but the only thing I can possibly cut is the children’s cancer unit. Perhaps the Chancellor would like to announce the closure?’ ”

Those are the dragons that must be slayed first.


There’s a storm brewing. Dave’s plan to opt out of 130 EU justice and police co-operation measures has been denounced by senior peers. The FT (£) has the detail: “A report by the cross-party Lords EU committee echoes concerns by police and security chiefs by warning that opting out of the laws would have ‘significant adverse negative repercussions’ for British security and justice.” It’s a sticky wicket, and not helped one bit by the Lib Dems, who are hardening their stance. Danny Alexander, their chief negotiator on this issue, is quoted in the Guardian: “I am clear that any final package will have to ensure the UK’s continued participation in all the key measures which are important for public safety,” he says, “including the European arrest warrant and Europol.”


On the News at 10 last night, Ed Miliband confirmed that if he wins power in 2015, his government would be “very different” to Mr Tony’s. The Mail reports that Labour’s leader “laid out plans to impose more regulation, tax bankers more heavily and build ‘a different banking system'”. But what’s his strategy? There’s one clue in the Indie, which carries an interview with Matthew McGregor, the digital strategist who embarrassed Mitt Romney so much last year. Obama’s online “attack dog” says his work would be about creating a narrative. “Storytelling is a really big part of building a movement so when you say ‘would you like to knock on doors?’ people know what you mean. They know what making calls for Ed Miliband looks like because they’ve read it on a blog post.” In the FT, however, Janan Ganesh argues persuasively that Labour’s boldness and clarity could be its undoing. Ed is “one of the the least tentative among postwar opposition leaders”.


Eric Pickles has an ingenious thought for St George’s Day: he wants to resurrect county names that were banned by Ted Heath in the Seventies, we report. Cumberland, Huntingdonshire and Westmorland were all scrapped. Eric wants to bring ’em back. No doubt the Government would also like to bring back the “Knights of the Shire” Tory MPs of yesteryear who, Bruce Anderson explains in a column to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1922 committee, were far more manageable that their present-day heirs.


Michael Gove could soon face an inquisition from Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, into Durand Academy, a proposed state-run boarding school in Stedham, West Sussex. We report that local “residents objecting to the plan have challenged [the academy’s] spending on the boarding project”, which stands at more than £3 million so far. Our own Tom Rowley visited Stedham yesterday: he found that “few residents were in favour of the school”. Anthony Seldon, meanwhile, supports the idea and compares it to the evacuation of children from London during the Second World War.


Britain is in the grip of a depression. That’s according to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Mail reports his comments, made last night at a Bible Society Debate: “What we are in at the moment is not a recession, but is essentially some kind of depression… Part of the banking system should be local, not London-based.” Watch this space.


Whips have come up with a novel way to keep members of the House of Lords entertained when they have to stay for late-night votes, reports the Times (£). A programme of films, including Skyfall and The Spirit of ’45, has been arranged to stop peers leaving early. It’s been nicknamed the “Ping-Pong Cinema Club”, after the way in which Bills bounce between both Houses. Will they serve popcorn?


But how many of them? We report that the BBC has been accused of “heavy spin” after polling 1,000 people in Bulgaria and Romania earlier this year. Newsnight found 1 per cent of Romanians and 4 per cent of Bulgarians said they were looking for work in the UK. Those percentages convert to a worrying total of 350,000. But the Beeb didn’t convert them, instead saying they showed “very small numbers of people” were considering coming.


Labour’s Kevin Brennan with some biting humour on aggressive football players:

@KevinBrennanmp: “A compromise on Suarez could be not to ban him but make him wear a muzzle – they do it in other sports like greyhound racing.”


In the Telegraph

Bruce Anderson: The PM should be wary of the heirs to the Knights of the Shire

Telegraph View: A new deal would benefit all of Europe

Philip Johnston: The growing cry for England and St George

Tom Rowley: The inner city and the village school

Jonathan Glancey: Bungalows are back in favour

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£): Don’t expect decisions from deserted No 10

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£): Labour’s clarity may be its undoing

Gideon Rachman in the FT (£): France should not indulge in daydreams of guillotines

John Cridland in the Times (£): Business is stirring, but ministers must do more

Kathy Gyngell in the Mail: Why can’t government do more for stay-at-home mums?


09.00 Osborne and Alexander launch Scotland analysis paper on currency, Glasgow.

09.30 Public sector borrowing figures are released.

09.30 Boris in academy visit to support Teach First campaign, Deptford.

14.30 Michael Fallon speech to Open Europe on EU and regulation, London.

14.30 Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to Health Committee on Mid-Staffs.

15.40 Mark Harper and Romanian/Bulgarian ambassadors at Home Affairs Committee.


An emotional week for George

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Big week for George Osborne. If it goes wrong, he really will have something to cry about. Thursday’s Q1 GDP figure will define the narrative for the weeks ahead. If we go into triple dip, it’s disaster and we can expect the calls for his head to intensify.

Plan A would be up for grabs, not on merit but because the likely panic on the Tory benches would create an overwhelming pressure to do something else. All this talk of a change in fortunes that I and others have been indulging in would be out the window. Thankfully for the Chancellor, all the betting seems to be that he’ll get some growth, despite the wrong kind of cold this winter.

And if he does then the pressure will ease, his “steady as she goes, long road to recovery” account of what’s happening will be intact, and the Coalition will be able to make the case for a change in its fortunes. Growth this week helps the Tories and the Lib Dems next week when they have to account for themselves in the locals. Growth, albeit anaemic growth, won’t be a surprise and so won’t be a story in the way that a triple dip would be. That will make it easier for the Tories to keep pressure on Labour over its plans. Thursday’s number will decide whether the story is indeed switching from the Tories to Labour.

As our Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup reports, the economy is one reason the Tories are starting to look a bit perky.

“Lots of people in the blue team have recently told me they see signs that the UK is about to turn the corner and emerge from the doldrums. This optimism, which is being quietly stoked by HM Treasury, is at odds with some of the economic data.

As we say in our leader, “inevitably there will be calls for the Chancellor to change course, abandon austerity and borrow more money to spend our way out of the slump. This has been the Labour Party’s approach for some time; and last week, even the IMF… began to wobble.” The Times’s leader joins us in saying that George must stick to his guns – and keep Plan A alive: “To veer from the path of deficit reduction when its pockets are so empty would, far from accelerating Britain’s economic recovery, put any recovery in jeopardy.”

Trouble is, as the Times (£) reports, “the four most senior members of the Cabinet all champion different projects and policies” when it comes to growth. That comes via Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, who told a private meeting of bankers that: Dave prioritises exports, free trade, micro and small business; Nick “wants greater concentration on regional growth”; Vince prefers to bash the bankers; and George is focused on infrastructure investment and attracting overseas businesses to Britain. (On that front, he may enjoy Boris’s column: the mayor says we can’t afford to ignore our dynamic friends in the Gulf.)

The banks aren’t being helpful, either. The FT’s splash warns the “banks have put a damper on George Osborne’s hopes that an expansion of the Funding for Lending scheme will spark a rush of credit to small and medium-sized companies”. The scheme is “not a panacea”, says Stephen Pegge of Lloyds.

But how much of this is a sideshow? Roger Bootle explains in our Business section that Thursday’s GDP figures certainly are. “You should rather focus attention on commodity prices and developments in the eurozone. Cyprus could yet provide a shock that shakes the world.” There’s only one bit of good news for George: Ed Miliband’s sheer incompetence. In the Telegraph Jeff Randall writes persuasively that Ed has had “a flow of killer passes into an undefended box with an open goal before him”, yet somehow he “continues to miss the target more often than he hits it”.


Ed Miliband’s strike-rate is not the only thing that’s letting him down. We report that David Watts, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, says Ed has “a way to go” before voters see him as a prospective PM. Welfare is a problem area: voters think he’s a softy. As one shadow minister says: “Our welfare position is wrong and needs to be tougher. Otherwise we have no chance of actually winning votes directly from the Conservatives.”

If you missed it, check out Toby Helm’s Observer piece, which quotes a senior Labour figure saying “the lesson for us is you cannot underestimate Cameron and Osborne… After last year’s omnishambles Budget we thought Osborne was finished. We have seen he definitely isn’t.”

The problem for Ed, as I blogged yesterday, is that Labour is suddenly the story – and it hurts.

We are seeing a trend, of stories about Labour divisions, party arguments about policy, complaints about its economic strategy, hostile briefing from insiders, and worries that the polls are going the wrong way. Politics is a fickle business. If Westminster and the media have decided that Labour is now the story, it’s going to hurt.

It seemed to hurt Jim Murphy yesterday, who refused to say whether Labour would increase spending if it won power in 2015. He blamed his party’s narrowing poll lead on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “We’ve just had a week… where the country appeared like a one-party state, where it was the Conservative Party and those who were supporting Mrs Thatcher eulogising what they considered to be her achievements.”


A group of 500 business leaders has called on the Coalition to negotiate a better deal for Britain with Brussels, we report. The new Business for Britain campaign backs Dave’s approach to renegotiation and calls for a cross-party “national drive to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU”. It’s heartening stuff for No 10. As John Caudwell writes in the Times, “Business for Britain will be at the Prime Minister’s elbow, encouraging him to be bold in his demands for a more competitive EU.”


In the Mail, Andrew Pierce reveals the “funeral plot to bury Dave” which centres on the county council elections on May 2. Some of the “biggest beasts in the Tory parliamentary jungle,” he says, “have quietly determined how many losses the PM can sustain before there is a challenge to his leadership.” Says one Thatcherite MP: “If we lose 400 councilllors he’s safe, but if it’s double that, he’s not.” Estimates vary, but Plymouth University research, reported in the Sunday Times, reckons the Tories will lose 310 seats.


A 73-year-old Tory councillor has resigned after suggesting inner-city children from a “coloured area” would not be welcome at a proposed new school in the countryside. “Ninety-seven per cent of pupils will be black or Asian. It depends what type of Asian. If they’re Chinese they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Indian they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Pakistani they won’t,” John Cherry told the Mail on Sunday. Michael Gove said those opposed to the plan were “trying to obstruct an inspirational project”.


Too many nurseries allow toddlers to run around “with no sense of purpose”, says Liz Truss. Her comments were leapt on by the lefty Twitterati. But there is nuance: “This isn’t about two-year-olds doing academic work. It’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading.”


The FT reports that up to half the 21 companies in which the government has a shareholding could be privatised in the next few years. That’s according to Mark Russell, the newly appointed head of the Shareholder Executive.


First prize for marathon #humblebrag goes to Labour’s speedy Jim Murphy:

@jimmurphymp: “My main achievement at #LondonMarathon2013 was outsprinting the guy dressed as Scooby-Doo in home straight to finish in 3hrs31min45sec.


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson: We can’t afford to ignore our dynamic friends in the East

Jeff Randall: A sitter for Miliband, but he still can’t score

Margot James: Shorter school days only thwart the young

Telegraph View: Osborne must fight to keep Plan A alive

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in the Times (£): To beat the Left, Tories must aim for its heart

Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun: Police become a law unto themselves

John Gieve in the FT (£): Who is supposed to be in charge of the British economy?


08.45 Michael Gove makes announcement about the TechBacc; visits Uxbridge College with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

10.00 A court hearing will decide how much Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce should pay for their points-swapping prosecution. Southwark Crown Court

12.00 To mark the Queen’s 87th birthday, a 41-gun salute in Hyde park.

14.30 Memorial service today to mark the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.

18.30 Parliamentary ethics and finance panel debate, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Andrea Leadsom MP and the BBC’s Robert Peston. Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

Labour cannot go into the next election with the chancellor who lost the last one

Alistair Darling was out and about on the airwaves yesterday, dispensing some of his trademark patrician wisdom. Labour, he said, should keep its economic powder dry: “I don’t think my Labour colleagues need to take a position until we see what the present Government is proposing” he told Sky News. “We don’t actually know what they are doing. It’s very difficult to plan ahead in any sort of sensible way. I think what we are better doing at the moment is concentrating our fire on the Government.”

Just for good measure, he then proceeded to fire off a few well aimed rounds himself: “How long does the present government simply lumber on and hope something will turn up?” he asked. “What you saw last week were more and more people saying (George Osborne’s) policy isn’t working”.


A slippery slope for soapbox Ed

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good Morning. Its leader might be a soapbox politician these days, but Labour’s head-and-shoulders lead over the Tories is being slowly pulled back. A succession of poor polling performances, with the party’s lead cut in both YouGov and ICM polls, was capped by last night’s Evening Standard/Ipsos MORI effort which found that only 24pc believe Ed is up to the job of being prime minister. The result is up from his 17pc rating last year, but it franks the findings of the Guardian’s ICM poll earlier in this week which put Ed’s personal popularity at an all time low. If the Independent‘s report that the two Eds will promise to outspend the Coalition plans should Labour win in 2015 were true, it would hardly help, given that polls consistently show that it debt and deficit are most salient issues for voters. But that’s a big “if” – Ed Balls’ mob call it “total rubbish”, a spin on an upcoming Fabian report and not party policy which won’t be settled until nearer the time as “‘it would be irresponsible to do otherwise, who knows where economy and public finances will be in two months’ let alone two years’ time?”

But without headline policies for the here and now, other than opposition to welfare cuts of all stripes, the party gives the appearance of twisting in the wind. This morning’s papers prove the point. The Mail reports on an interview Ed gave to a Left wing website in which he positioned himself as the heir to Margaret Thatcher’s “utter consistency of ideas” and attacked David Cameron’s “lack of consistency”. However, in a speech at Labour’s Scottish party conference in Inverness today, he will pledge to tear up Lady Thatcher‘s legacy of “deregulation; the dominance of finance over industry; allowing large private sector vested interests to flourish; government getting out of the way in the economy,” as we report. Where’s the consistency with the Ed who was going to “save capitalism from itself” only last September? Besides which, as a Compass report, noted in the Guardian, explains this morning, “there is yet to be [public] intellectual ferment around responsible capitalism or reformed social democracy.” What ails voters is the deficit.

Next week may be more difficult still for the Labour leader. The re-emergence of activist trade unionism is a gift to the Conservatives at a time when the party needs little excuse to indulge one of its periodic transformations into a 1980s tribute band. The Times (£) reports that union backed candidates have secured the “plum [Labour] seats” in the future European Parliament elections. That looming presence, plus the threat of a General Strike being called at next Wednesday’s meeting of the TUC General Council, may yet give the Tories the opportunity to reprise one of their greatest hits. One way or another, we may soon find out just how red Ed is.


Under promise, over deliver. That’s clearly Mark Carney‘s strategy prior to taking up the keys to the Bank of England vaults. As we report, the next governor placed the UK in “the pack of crisis economies” being left behind by a resurgent America at a fringe meeting around the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington yesterday. “Can central banks provide sustainable growth? No,” he continued. “They can help with the transition, but they can’t deliver long term growth. That needs to come through true fiscal adjustments and necessary structural reforms… Sustainable growth comes from the private sector.” It’s an endorsement of the Chancellor’s fiscal vision, but it suggests that his hopes for a monetary bounce in the meantime may be overdone.

Before Mr Carney takes his post, there is the small matter of June’s annual visit by IMF officials to be negotiated. Relations between the two would not have been helped by Christine Lagarde’s speech yesterday, which the Guardian reports included her assertion that she “vividly remembered” the Chancellor’s shame at the size of his deficit. The FT (£) believes the Treasury are up for the fight, noting that “George Osborne is to go toe-to-toe” with the IMF if they call for an end to his deficit reduction strategy. As Jeremey Warner writes, the Chancellor feels that Ms Lagarde’s position is on shakier ground than those cheering her on from the opposition benches might suppose:

“Why is the UK being asked to go back to fiscal expansionism when there are no such demands made of Germany? Why, too, is Britain being told to let rip when much harsher fiscal consolidation is being urged on countries in the eurozone with smaller fiscal deficits. It makes no sense, unless explained as traditional French Anglophobia…”

Even allowing for Anglo-French rivalry, the Chancellor’s supporters have a tougher task on their hands now. Polly Toynbee argues in the Guardian that the statistical errors in the model of Harvard economists Professor Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have “blown the austerians case out of the water”. With the academics discredited and the IMF deeply sceptical, one by one, the stilts holding up the house which George built are being gradually kicked away.


Senior ministers have urged Dave to ditch the modernisation project and emulate Margaret Thatcher by giving voters “red meat” on immigration and welfare, we report. That advice isn’t easy to square with Lord Ashcroft’s latest findings. As the Mail reports, he notes that only 16pc of non-white voters supported the Tories the last time around. Only 30pc of Asian voters believe that the Tories share their values, and 16pc of black voters. On the plus side, 51pc have never heard of Enoch Powell or the Rivers of Blood speech. Even so, with this segment of the electorate increasingly influential, the Prime Minister may have cause to think again before throwing any red meat on immigration to the Tory wolves.


It’s no wonder the Tories are opposed to votes at 16. Michael Gove’s speech at the Spectator Education Conference yesterday would have made him decidedly unpopular among the nation’s children. As we report, the Education Secretary called for an end to Britain’s “19th century” education system, a move which means extending the school day and curtailing school holidays.

If that causes long faces in the classroom, the good news is that there’s a sweetener. Britain’s best performing pupils will receive…a letter from David Willetts, the Times (£) reports.


The Telegraph article by Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher which appeared last week has left Labour’s Paul Flynn very cross indeed, as the Times (£) reports. When the pair appeared at the Commons Public Administration Committee yesterday, an “incorrigibly vivid” (in Quentin Letts‘ words) Mr Flynn let rip telling them they had “prostituted” their office with their “entirely sycophantic” words. As Michael Deacon reports, he was most uncivil to the civil servants:

“Such was Mr Flynn’s disgust that he addressed the objects of his ire as ‘Mr Kerslake’ and ‘Mr Heywood’, even though the nameplates on their table clearly read ‘Sir Bob’ and ‘Sir Jeremy’.”


NHS numbers entitling non-UK residents to NHS care should be handed out far more sparingly, Jeremy Hunt tells the Mail. Instead, visitors should be issued with only a temporary number which would lead to them being charged for anything other than emergency care, the Health Secretary said. The Sun adds that a consultation is expected in the next couple of months.


MPs have called on Theresa May to intervene after the arrest of a third person in Cumbria Police’s investigation into the alleged leak of PCC Richard Rhodes’ expenses to a local newspaper. As we report, Tim Farron and Jamie Reed have both called for protection to be extended to any whistle-blowers involved.


Tracey Crocuch has been making the most of the Commons dining subsidies:

@LiamFoxMP:Nothing says “I ate too much for lunch” than a midriff button pinging off your shirt…#chubbytummy


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: Will Gove’s schools revolution be just another false start?

Jeremy Warner: This is no time to go wobbly, Christine

Alistair Osborne: Has the world lost its lust for gold?

Telegraph View: Teaching unions put adults first, children last

Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£): Small solutions should be Miliband’s big idea

Samuel Brittan in the FT (£): Thatcher was right – there is no such thing as society

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express: So what would Mrs Thatcher do for Britain now?

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian: Osborne’s case for austerity has just started to wobble


08:30 am: Scotland Secretary Michael Moore is to deliver a speech at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. RBS HQ, Gogarburn, Edinburgh.

09:00 am: Ed Balls on LBC 97.3.

09:00 am: Scottish Labour conference. Speeches from Labour leader Ed Miliband, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, former chancellor Alistair Darling and Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar. Eden Court, Inverness.

09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending estimate for March.

Ed forced to defend leadership at PLP meeting

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. A meeting of backbenchers, a message of defiance from an embattled leader and a desperate appeal for unity. And for a change it wasn’t David Cameron. Tories will allow themselves a brief moment to relish overnight reports that Ed Miliband had to give his troops a pep talk at the PLP last night. The troubles besetting the Labour leader are growing. The reverberations from Mr Tony’s intervention in the New Statesman last week are still being felt. He reinforced his message in a speech in the US, reported in the Guardian, namely on the perils facing parties and leaders that lose touch with the centre.

Mr Miliband must be resenting the drip-drip of ‘helpful’ advice from those associated with Mr Blair, who plainly feel that with David Miliband gone, there is nothing left to be loyal for. Dan Hodges has another of his perceptive pieces of analysis in the Telegraph today, in which he details Labour’s 35pc strategy for sneaking over the finish line, which, as Rachel Sylvester explains in the Times (£), amounts to 29pc core vote plus 6pc grumpy Lib Dems. If true, it’s unambitious. Tories believe the skids are under Mr Miliband, both on policy and party management. They should look to their own troubles. But when a leader has to issue an appeal for unity, things are not going well. Are Labour wars about to become the theme of this late spring?

Well, there’s still the possibility of peace in our time. The Mail reports that Ed Miliband has invited Mr Tony to “truce talks” with a view to keeping him quiet in the run-up to 2015. As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian, there’s fat chance of that. Mr Blair is, she writes, careering around “like a loose horse at the Grand National” and threatening to cast a shadow over the current leadership in the same way that Baroness Thatcher did with generations of Conservatives.

Of course, unlike Lady Thatcher, Tony’s message is all about consensus. But the catch-all model also flies in the face of the 35pc strategy. AsDan Hodges writes, it isn’t just Mr Blair who finds Ed’s plan wanting:

“Of course, Blair’s political judgement isn’t infallible… But his comments aren’t the act of a back-seat driver, either. They’re the act of a passenger who’s tapped the driver on the shoulder and told him ‘It’s OK, I’ll walk the rest of the way.’ He’s not grabbing for the wheel. He’s getting out before the car ends up in the ditch. And there are several members of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet starting to wish they could get out with him.”


If Margaret Thatcher was leading the Tory party today, it would be 8pts better off in the polls, a Guardian / ICM survey has found. She isn’t though, and Dave’s troops have not profited from the wall-to-wall coverage of her passing. They register 32pc, up only 1pt, in the latest survey, with Labour slipping back a point to 38pc and Ukip’s vote share still stubbornly high on 9pc.

Lady Thatcher will lie overnight in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft, allowing MPs and peers to pay their respects. The Speaker announced yesterday that Big Ben will fall silent for the funeral, the first time the chimes have been halted since Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, as we report. Dave has defended the £10m cost of the proceedings, helpfully converted into teachers and nurses by the Guardian (not online).

Still, if the Conservatives were intending to launch again from the Right (as many have intimated since Lynton Crosby’s arrival), surely Lady Thatcher’s funeral provides an ideal opportunity? Not at all, argues the FT (£). Dave will fight the next election from the centre ground, they argue, with Andrew Cooper re-hired as an adviser once he does leave Downing Street late this year or in 2014. While Tory MPs have returned from their recess with familiar grumbles about gay marriage and the party base, Number 10 has been buoyed by what it believes is a change in the economic weather (today’s sharp rise in business confidence is a case in point). As I write in my column, Number 10 has reasons to be cheerful:

“A year ago we were settling into the disastrous aftermath of the “omnishambles” Budget. Incompetence had taken hold. The Treasury was in retreat and it seemed as if nothing could go right for Mr Cameron. Set against that, his present circumstances look better. His message that Britain is locked in a ‘global race’ that requires relentless economic reform based upon a keen understanding of the aspirational hopes of the British people is being relentlessly stuck to…the new campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, is bringing much needed rigour to the operation.


Britain’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has escalated further with William Hague announcing that 34 armoured vehicles and 20 sets of body armour will be supplied to the rebels. The Mail reports that the Foreign Secretary will also seek to tear up the EU’s arms embargo, allowing Britain to supply weaponry as well as transport and defence equipment.


The failure of February’s 4G auction to raise the £3.5bn forecast in December’s Autumn statement will be subject to a National Audit Office investigation, the Guardian reports. The sale fell short by £1.2bn, prompting Labour claims that the auction process had not been run in a way which maximised value for money. Taking the highest bids across the board, the auction would have raised some £5.2bn, but thanks to a system of adjustments which saw the highest bidder pay little more than the second placed offer, the total take was significantly lower. That isn’t just problematic for the Coalition – if you are taking the Labour line that the auction’s timing was a cynical exercise in massaging the deficit statistics, you would have thought that the bidding process would have sought to maximise revenue too.


Well, the UAE actually. The Mayor of London is in the desert kingdom as part of a trade mission to the Gulf. Confronted by a camel meat platter, the Mail reports that he made lighter work of it than the Prince of Wales earlier this month. On the home front, Bo-Jo has given an in-depth interview to CNBC as part of a 30 minute long show airing on Wednesday. Insisting that he already has “the best job in British politics”, he goes on to deliver a paean to his political style:

“Self-deprecation is a very cunning device. Self-deprecation is all about understanding that basically people regard politicians as a bunch of shysters so you’ve got to be understood and then you try to get to the point of what people are saying, that’s what it’s all about I suppose.”


One frequent criticism of politicians who take consultancy jobs is that they lack direct experience in the sector where they have been hired. That’s not a criticism that can be levied at Montrose Associates’ newest hire. Andrew Mitchell has been taken on at £3,000 a day by the firm which specialises in “reputational threats”, according to the Times (£). Clearly an astute move – Thrasher has done an excellent job of rehabilitating himself following the Plebgate smears – but does this mean he has closed the door to an EU role in the coming months?


Presumably working on the principal that the Prime Minister’s friends are his enemies, Vince Cable launched an attack on the “immoral” size of the earnings of the band One Direction. As the Times (£) reports, the Business Secretary later recanted on the grounds that he had misheard the question and thought he was criticising chief executives and not popstars. “Apparently [they are] very popular and very succeSsful, so I have nothing against them,” he added.


Toby Perkins thoughts on last night’s events in Boston echo those of his colleagues:

@tobyperkinsmp: The appalling+heinous criminals who detonated bombs killing ppl running to raise money for good causes are as sickening as police are brave.”


In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – A last piece of advice for the PM in the pew at St Paul’s

Philip Johnston – When does peaceful protest cross the line?

Dan Hodges – Blairite barbs expose the frailty of Labour unity

Telegraph View – Welfare reform remains a moral imperative

Best of the Rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Ed Miliband should be pitching a bigger tent

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Tony Blair is like a loose horse at the Grand National

Ian Birrell in The Independent – We subsidise firms that keep workers in poverty

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Conservatives should be pro-market, not pro-business


Today: Lord De Mauley to publish the Draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill clauses.

09:30 am: Ex-No 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell at Public Administration Select Committee on Civil Service reform. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

09:30 am: Inflation figures for March are published by the Office for National Statistics.

09:30 am: Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases its house price study for February.

10:00 am: Energy and Climate Change Committee to take evidence from energy company executives on energy prices, profits and poverty. Portcullis House.

10:00 am: Money announced for railway station makeovers in Edinburgh. Transport Minister Keith Brown gives details of stations to receive money for refurbishments for next year’s Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games. Carlton Hotel, North Bridge, Edinburgh.

10:30 am Hearing in action brought by Lord McAlpine against Sally Bercow. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.

11:00 am Results of random tests for horse meat and bute by the EU to be announced today. Bussels.

11:15 am: Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman give evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on press regulation. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

04:00 pm: The body of Baroness Thatcher to rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft on the eve of her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, the Chapel will be open (from 1700 until 2100) in order that members of both Houses and parliamentary staff holding permanent passes may pay their respects. Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, Westminster.

06:00 pm: Government’s health tsar Dr Don Berwick to address The King’s Fund. The King’s Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square.

07:00 pm: William Hague speaks to Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet. The speakers at the dinner will be William Hague MP, Alderman Roger Gifford and The Ambassador of the State of Kuwait – His Excellency Mr Khaled AAS Al Duwaisan GCVO. Mansion House, Walbrook.

Subdued Westminster continues to mourn Thatcher

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. British politics is in abeyance in the run-up to Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Despite the intervention of the Bishop of Grantham and the Guardian‘s report that Scotland Yard has approved an organised protest at the funeral, the respective party leaderships have largely set aside ventures into tribal territory to play the statesmen. As Nicholas Watt writes, the Prime Minister has done well to unite his party, a process which included meeting with a group of “sane Thatcherites” consisting of John Wittingdale, Sir Gerald Howarth, Conor Burns and John Redwood, and offering his condolences that “their leader” had passed away. The suggestion that a museum dedicated to Lady Thatcher might be housed in the former Lib Dem HQ on Cowley Street has delighted some on the Tory benches, as the Times (£) reports, but as mischief making goes, it’s fairly restrained.

Not everybody labours under the restraints of office, however. Nigel Farage tells the Times (£) that Ukip would have been unnecessary had Lady Thatcher survived the leadership contest of 1990, a pointed attempt to paint Dave as firmly in the tradition of the Tory wets. This sounds optimistic, and ignores Mrs Thatcher’s capacity for compromising at home and abroad. Boris, meanwhile, is in rumbustious form in his column for us:

“Ding dong, the Soviet Union is dead! Ding dong, communism is dead! And so is the British disease. They are all dead as doornails…Ding dong! Old Labour’s dead! The Labour Party has given up its ridiculous belief in the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange – the slogan that used to be printed on the back of every party membership card. Ding dong, Clause Four is dead as a dodo.”

Our report on Dame Mary Archer’s relationship with Lady Thatcher is also notable for the comments from Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood on the former Prime Minister’s relationship with Whitehall. She would be remembered as “kindly and unswervingly loyal to her team…the best kind of boss” they said. Surely not a very discreet dig at Francis Maude?


It never rains but it pours. Under bombardment from friendly fire, confronted by blanket coverage of Lady Thatcher’s death which must seem at times like a Tory greatest hits parade, Ed Miliband also had a broken wrist to contend with which was operated on over the weekend. The Mirror gamely pays tribute to Ed the “iron man” who delivered his Lady Thatcher tribute despite his fracture, but you can’t help but feel that there’s something about fracturing a wrist while on a walking holiday in Devon that fits Ed’s Mr Milibean image perfectly.

Of more significant strategic concern is the leader’s increasing isolation from the big beasts of the Blair years. Mr Tony, of course, started the ball rolling last week. As we report, John Reid has echoed his former boss, arguing on the Sunday Politics that Labour needed to “move from being a vote of protest to offering solutions” and adding that Ed had yet to “set out the direction of a future Labour government.” In yesterday’s Observer, David Blunkett also got in on the act, writing that Labour needs to move beyond “politics built on grievance”. All of which raises the question – if the old guard are like this with a near double digit poll lead, what will they be like when the gap narrows near polling day? It’s not just the Conservatives who need worry about internal divisions come 2015.


Despite the good behaviour, two reports of Tory revolts in this morning’s papers are a sure sign that normal service is ready to resume soon at Westminster . As we report, MPs from both halves of the Coalition are likely to oppose the relaxation of planning laws in a vote on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill on Thursday. Zac Goldsmith is leading the Tory dissenters, backed by Anne Main and Bob Blackman. On the Lib Dem side, Paul Burstow is also planning to either abstain or join Labour in opposing the measures.

Britain’s stay at home mothers are the beneficiary of the second Tory revolt. The Mail reports that dozens of Conservatives will vote for an amendment to the Finance Bill being pushed by Tim Loughton which would introduce a tax break for married couples. This, of course, is Tory policy in any case, but it would seem a shame to waste it so far out from an election year.


The Mail reports that Dave’s back office team, gently hemorrhaging modernisers midway through parliament, has lost Andrew Cooper, the brains behind the party’s gay marriage stance. Following a power struggle with Lynton Crosby, the paper reports that Mr Cooper will return to his old job at Populus, the polling firm he co-founded, doing a little part time work on the side for CCHQ.

I’m doubtful. As the Independent reports, Downing Street says the story is nonsense, while Mr Cooper and Mr Crosby get on fine behind the scenes. Although Mr Cooper was always planning to go at some point in this parliament, talk is of the date not being for another nine months.


Tired with the Foreign Office’s lack of ambition, Dave has set the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs the task of conducting parallel negotiations on EU reform, Bloomberg reports. Angela Leadsom will visit Berlin later this month, with other delegations heading to Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain. Hardly a vote of confidence in the Civil Service, but rest assured, there’s no risk of confusion. As Chris Heaton-Harris explains “we’re not negotiating. We’re putting ideas forward and listening to the reaction to them.” Quite different.


The Ernst & Young ITEM Club report out this morning predicts a swift recovery in 2014 fuelled by improving real incomes and a stimulated housing market. Growth of 0.6pc this year will be followed by 1.9pc in 2014 and 2.5pc in 2015, the report predicts. Added to the positive BCC report earlier this month, there may be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel for the Treasury.


Any future coalition negotiations between the Tories and the Lib Dems will be contingent on the former accepting Lords reform, Simon Hughes tells the FT (£). Given the state of relations between the parties, the prospect of another union won’t thrill Tory backbenchers no matter what form it takes, but given the common belief in the parliamentary party that a semi-elected second chamber would threaten a constitutional crisis, the Lib Dem leadership would be asking Dave to write a cheque his party might not honour.

60, THE NEW 20

Pensioners of Britain, your country needs you! We report Steve Webb’s remarks that, with a projected 13.5m job vacancies in the coming 10 years and only 7m young people coming into the workplace, those close to retirement are going to have to keep going for longer. The “untapped resource” of a generation of older workers will “tackle ageist attitudes” as employers come to rely on them, the pensions minister added. Unfortunately for Mr Webb, David Willetts already has plans to send the 60+ generation back to university. Perhaps they’ll have time for both, provided, that is, they survive Fresher’s Week…


The new and responsible attitude to expenses and the public purse found Jim McGovern in court last month challenging IPSA’s decision not to reimburse a £23.90 rail fare between Dundee and Glasgow, which he claimed was the first leg of a journey between his constituency and Westminster, and which the independent claims body found was for a Labour Party meeting unrelated to his work as an MP. As the Sunday Herald reported, IPSA won the day, but with each side meeting their own legal costs, the taxpayer is responsible for the £27,000 in costs run up defending the decision. Mr McGovern’s costs were met by the GMB.


Cutting, from Douglas Carswell:

@DouglasCarswell: Just read John Prescott comments re funeral of former Prime Minister. For such a large man, he is really very small.”


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Thatcherism is no museum piece – it’s alive and kicking

Roger Bootle – Thatcher set the ball rolling, it is up to others to ensure legacy is not wasted

Mary Archer with Peter Stanford – My unique chemistry with the Iron Lady

Telegraph View – Secret arrests would be an affront to justice

Best of the Rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – The Right won on economics. Now for Act II

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – Unions that Maggie crushed are on the rise

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – Has Cameron at last leant Blair’s lesson that the British are NOT naturally Left-wing?

John Harris in The Guardian – Spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory


09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending breakdown figures for February.

11:30 am: Foreign Secretary William Hague launches the annual Foreign Office human rights report.

Tony Blair is right, but Ed Miliband won’t listen

Tony Blair has written a stinging critique of Ed Miliband’s leadership for the New Statesman. The former prime minister argues, astutely, that Labour under Mr Miliband risks becoming a party of protest rather than a serious government-in-waiting. Mr Blair says that Labour must be “the seekers after answers, not the repository for people’s anger”. Instead, it drifts towards being “fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all people want leadership.”