Too tired after Tai Chi to discover what I think today, so here’s a story instead… a soldier’s life is terrible hard, said Alice – when Christopher Robin went down to the Palace! It didn’t seem that way to me when I joined the army at eighteen.
I’d left school, and was mooning around at home not knowing how to get myself to university. I didn’t think I was pretty enough to be a model, or clever enough to be a nurse, so uni seemed the only option; until the day my military father came home and told me he’d made an appointment for me with the local recruiting officer. To say I was flabbergasted would be only a partial description. I was also deeply depressed, but consoled myself with the thought that at least I’d be earning money so I could buy books and records and bury myself in…
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There was a headline on one of the television news channel websites last week which read (this is an exact quote): “PM David Cameron addressed the UN on the need to support the Arab Spring, before appearing on the Letterman show”. Does anybody else see the incongruity here? What if it had said, “Prime Minister offers plan for world peace before doing limbo dance with banana balanced on his nose”? We have now apparently reached the point where a major national leader’s stint on a comedy programme has pretty much the same political news value as an intervention in the most dangerous global conflict of our time. Indeed, it may be the case that the national leader in question actually saw his Letterman debut as being more important than his speech to the UN General Assembly – at least in electoral terms.
“What do you think of Ed Miliband?”, I asked my cab driver as we sped furiously towards the Labour leader’s much heralded Q&A with the “ordinary voters” of Manchester. “What do I think about what?” “Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party”. “Don’t do politics, boss. You need a big head and a big gob for that.”
Ed Miliband has neither an especially large head or gob. Which could be one reason why he’s doing so badly personally in the recent opinion polls.
But as he breezed into the drama hall of the East Manchester Academy he was looking tanned and relaxed, and sporting that dark suit/open neck white shirt, “morning after the stag do” combo so beloved of modern politicians. His arrival had been heralded first by a strange a capella version of Fly Me To The Moon, then what sounded like a wedding march, and finally what to my ears seemed to be the theme tune from Night Rider.
The European Court of Human Rights has given its initial approval to a submission claiming that UK laws unfairly restrict the power of unions to take industrial action.
The decision brought an angry response from Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, who last night condemned the intervention by the Strasbourg court as “totally unacceptable”.
Mr Johnson – who has urged David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to introduce laws making it harder for unions to call strikes – said: “The Government needs to watch this like a hawk.”
The row comes weeks after the TUC voted to consider calling a general strike over the Government’s austerity programme.
The Strasbourg case is being brought by the hard-left National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: Ed Miliband has just made an appearance on the Marr show. He looked to open up clear water between the Coalition and Labour with his economic pronouncements, which included news that Labour would borrow and tax more and would re-introduce the 50p tax rate, saying:
“Cutting the 50p tax rate is like Cameron writing a £40,000 cheque to every millionaire…if there is an election tomorrow, we will put the top rate of income tax back up to 50p.”
As for the future of his brother, Mr Miliband said that he was an “asset” for the party, but would not be drawn on whether he would find a way back into the a senior position. Mr Miliband also gave a veiled rebuke to Ed Balls, saying that the Lib-Lab flirtation was “way over done”, adding that he needed to “get away from” Vince Cable, and so changed his phone number, before repeating an attack line Labour figures have pushed in interviews earlier this week:
“The Lib Dems are Tory accomplices. If there are areas where we can co-operate then great, but I want a majority Labour government.”
And finally, Mr Miliband rejected the claim that his political image needed a makeover, adding:
“I’m my own person and I am going to do it my own way.”
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE THE CHALLENGES FOR ED
If Ed Miliband is to avoid the fate many predict for him – his brother says he is going to ‘crash and burn’, according to his biographers in the Mail on Sunday – he needs to change the way he is perceived: an image makeover is the opening theme for Labour conference in the papers this morning (though Mr Miliband has just told Marr he doesn’t read any of his coverage). Everything is being thrown at the task, including his school reports (dab hand at weaving, terrible penmanship, talked too much). He’s even been getting advice on how to walk and sit down more effectively. We’ll get Ed the Movie later in the week. The Labour conference stage has also been given a makeover, and is dominated by a huge Union flag, as you can see on Twitter.
The interviews and the columnists all address the issue in one form or another. Something must be done, they say, to counter the mud being thrown by the Tories, even if Ed’s internal position is far stronger than it was a year ago. But it’s not all about image, with Mr Miliband setting out his threat to split the banks by statute on the back of his economic emergency language yesterday: the attacks on predator capitalism continues. And if you look closely you will also spot the hints of the other issue that will preoccupy us this week, namely what to do about Ed Balls – the ‘intolerable’ Ed as the Lib Dems call him – who is a source of perpetual worry to those around the leader.
Mr Miliband has two interviews in today’s papers. In the Mirror , he peddles the line that the Conservatives have sought to escalate the class divide. In the Observer , Red Ed is in more reflective form, threatening to force the break-up of banks in the City, and musing on the benefits of idealism against pragmatism:
“Ideas matter in politics. Ideas matter more than people realise. When Cameron comes along and says he wants to ‘hug a husky, hug a hoodie’ and now he wants to lock up the hoodies and who cares about the huskies, I think it massively undermines not just his authenticity.”
Across the board, leader columns and commentators are demanding some big ideas from Mr Miliband this week. The Sunday Telegraph asks, “Is Mr Miliband still in the thrall of an ideology that despises capitalism?”, a pertinent question given revelations in the Sunday Times (£) that union leaders are looking to “purge” the party of Blairites.
“What can be said with certainty is this: Miliband grasps that, to stand a chance of winning, he must campaign as vigorously against the last Labour government as he does against Cameron. Thatcher understood this: she was fighting Heath, as well as Callaghan, distancing herself not only from the Labour government’s failure but also from the managerial mediocrity of the Tory past. In Miliband’s case, the task is probably even harder.”
Not much to pack into a few days, eh?
LIB-LAB MARRIAGE WOULD LACK BALLS
The Observer reports that senior figures in the Lib Dems would find working with Ed Balls “intolerable” and would seek to exchange Nick Clegg stepping down for Mr Balls being demoted if we get another hung parliament. Vince Cable is understood to be being lined up for Chancellor. One unnamed Lib Dem source told the paper:
“Balls is Gordon Brown without any of the beliefs or passion. He is a bullying figure and working with him would be intolerable. Personalities matter, you can’t take them out of it. Ideologically, there may not be too many issues but the Labour leadership as it stands is toxic. Balls could not be trusted.”
Lib Dem frustration with Labour tribalism is such that deputy leader Simon Hughes will address a fringe meeting in Manchester later today in an attempt to bring them round to consensus politics. Whatever happened to the Marr show marriage between Ed B and Vince, though?
BALLS LOOKS FOR STAMP DUTY BOOST
Even if the Lib Dems are less than impressed, Mr Balls has been at pains to produce a charm offensive for voters. In an interview with the Telegraph this morning, he launches a tax-cutting programme which includes a two year holiday from stamp duty for first time buyers. Furthermore, Mr Balls denies that he is in conflict with Harriet Harman about tax cuts. In fact, he denies that he is in conflict with anyone. “There is nothing more despicable and weak than a bully,” he tells the paper in a tone described as “forthright”.
WEEKEND REGICIDE, LIB DEM EDITION
The Mail’s Black Dog column has some good news for Nick: rumours that Ed Davey was slimming down for a leadership challenge appear to have been wrong, given that Mr Davey was keen to stress his consumption of bacon sandwiches while at the Lib Dem conference.
Bad news in the Times (£), though. Danny Alexander is reported to be putting together a campaign team in anticipation of a future leadership contest. Given that Mr Alexander is one of Mr Clegg’s closest allies in the Coalition, and that the next general election is two and a half years away, the move hardly looks like a vote of confidence. Bookies put Danny A at 12/1 to succeed Mr Clegg. Vince is a measly 2/1.
COALITION DOESN’T HAVE TO BE TAXING
But increasingly it is. We report this morning that ministers are split over Lib Dem proposals to add two additional levels of council tax for homes worth over £1m. Influential Tories holding out against the plans, which would hit Conservative heartlands in southern England, are believed to include Chris Grayling, Grant Shapps, Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond.
It looks like the plans will get the go-ahead, however. The Sun reports that George Osborne is preparing an attempt to “boost his image among working classes” by taxing the rich more. Mr Osborne was not the problem last time, though. David Cameron over-ruled his Chancellor in obstructing the ‘mansion tax’, and any shift in policy would need to be cleared with Dave.
BREAKING BREAD WITH THE ENEMY
Bo-Jo and Dave will be able to discuss their respective experiences on American television when they sit down to a lunch at Chequers today. The lunch will also aim to find other common ground and head off leadership speculation, we report.
The new-found spirit of detente was definitely in evidence yesterday. As the Sun reported, Boris used his appearance on LBC to defend Dave’s political acumen
“He was only pretending — I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means.
“It was a brilliant move in order to show his democratic credentials — and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”
BLUE SKIES AHEAD FOR TORY FAITHFUL
Bad news for Tory traditionalists: Steve Hilton will be returning to write David Cameron’s conference speech, according to the Times (£). Dave will be delighted to have one of his closest confidantes back in the inner circle, however briefly. The rest of the party will, no doubt, also be delighted to have the mastermind behind the ‘hug a husky’ campaign back in the fold.
SATURDAY BEST, IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM
“I’m barely numerate”: Jon Cruddas, Labour’s head of policy, in the Telegraph. He also said Labour was considering a partial amnesty for illegal immigrants, doing away with the ten-yearly census, and a referendum on our EU membership. And he agreed there are tensions between Eds M and B.
“Over the past couple of years people expected us to form a circular firing squad and that hasn’t happened.” Douglas Alexander, interviewed in the Times .
“Private efforts have been made to improve parts of his persona, the way he looks and sits down, but the settled view is that the image makers must now let him be.” Patrick Wintour’s analysis of Ed Miliband’s position, in the Guardian .
MALCOLM WICKS PASSES AWAY
The great Labour welfare reformer Malcolm Wicks has passed away. Mr Wicks held ministerial briefs under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was previously the director of the Family Policies Study Centre. The Guardian reports tributes from both sides of the House, with Mr Miliband saying:
“I have lost a wise confidant and, most importantly, a dear friend and the Labour party has lost one of its sharpest thinkers. Our thoughts go to Malcolm’s wife, Margaret, and his family.”
TORY TENSIONS GROW OVER AID
Alan Duncan has waded into the Tory aid debate this morning. In a Telegraph interview, he accuses the EU of “squandering” the UK’s contributions to its aid budget. However, while Dave’s interviews over the last week suggest that he is softening his stance on an EU referendum, his stance on aid is as firm as ever. Do not expect any movement on this issue any time soon.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Who says socialists don’t know how to have fun? Here’s Barry Gardiner with the best joke from the Labour conference so far:
@BarryGardiner: “The new #lab12 conference joke: Q. Why did 60,000 people boo George Osborne in the Olympic Stadium? A. Because 60 million couldn’t fit in.”
You Gov / Sunday Times: Con 35%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 10%, Other 15%
In The Telegraph
Matthew d’Ancona – What’s the point of Labour when the coffers are empty?
Janet Daley – ‘Likeability’ is the bane of modern politics
Andrew Sentance – Easy on the stimulus, green shoots are emerging
Best of the rest
Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer – Ed Miliband’s big test is to make voters see him as prime minister
Martin Ivens in The Times (£) – Stay vague, Ed — too red and you’re dead
John Rentoul in The Independent – Wonkish? Yes, but Miliband could be PM in 2015
Today: Labour Party conference.
Ed Miliband has vowed to reverse the forthcoming tax cut from 50p to 45p for higher earners if Labour wins the next election.
Speaking ahead of the opening of the party’s annual conference in Manchester, the Labour leader also announced that he would tax bankers’ bonuses in order to pay for measures to tackle youth unemployment.
Saying that a Labour government would slow the rate at which public spending was cut, he insisted that Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, would nonetheless maintain an “iron grip” on the public finances.
He claimed that the Coalition’s Government’s austerity drive was harming the economy by pushing up unemployment, which meant that borrowing was rising in order to pay benefits to “keep people idle”.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Miliband described the cut in the top rate of income tax, which is due to come into force next year, as a hand-out to “millionaires”.