MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: Dave has been addressing the Tories’ Ukip problem during an appearance on ITV’s Daybreak. He sidestepped a question on talking to Nigel Farage after the next election, arguing that he would be going flat out for a Conservative victory. That said, he distanced himself from any smear campaign arguing “I’m not calling anybody anything”. The Prime Minister’s attitude contrasted to William Hague’s when he was interviewed on the Today programme earlier. Ukip are “not clowns [but] you can see why a former chancellor feels they have a clown like aspect” he argued.
IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
Good morning. The national polls are tilted in Labour’s favour, but it isn’t the nation headed to the voting booth tomorrow, it’s the blue half of Britain. As both the Mail and Independent graphics show, the councils voting are heartland areas for Dave. A total of 2,362 seats and 34 councils are in play, with the Tories holding 1,477 councillors and 29 authorities. While they will anticipate losing the ground gained as the result of their Brown Bounce four years ago, barring a catastrophe, the Tories will still emerge with the most councils and the most councillors. But how much headway will Ukip make, and to what extent will Labour be able to tempt the Tory base? The answers, judging by a ComRes poll published last night, are a lot and a little. As ITV reported, the pollsters put the Tories on 31pc in the area voting, with Labour on 24pc and Ukip polling 22pc with the Lib Dems on 12pc. In other words, the protest votes which benefited the Tories in 2009 have not returned to Labour, but have instead flooded to Ukip.
This is a problem for Dave and Ed. The decision of Priti Patel’s father to stand as a Ukip candidate is embarrassing for the Tory leadership, but as we report his insistence that they are not a racist party counteracts many of the aspersions cast his party’s way by CCHQ. Lord Tebbit’s Telegraph blog, in which he wrote that “one can hardly blame” disaffected Tories for voting Ukip, hasn’t helped either. That said, his central point ought to resonate with the high command. The Tories must stop being abusive towards the voters they will need to win back in 2015, he argues. Given that, stunts like the fake Ukip leafleting campaign, which Labour’s John Woodcock highlighted yesterday, won’t help. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of material – today’s papers bring a Ukip candidate dressed as Jimmy Saville, and another who has photoshopped himself next to Hitler (he defends himself in a blog for us). Rather, ridiculous personalities do not always entail ridiculous policies. And the refusal to engage with the latter as a result of the former is not helping the Conservatives.
That said, it may be worse for Ed come Friday. A failure to break through in the shires from a very low base would put him at the mercy of critics who say he has been too Left leaning since assuming the leadership. This is an existential question for Labour. If it is to be a One Nation party, it cannot rely solely on the votes from the Northern cities and inner London. As the Times (£) put it in its leader: “without a strong showing in the south tomorrow, Ed Miliband’s claims of One Nation politics will start to ring hollow.” But despite the urgency, Mr Miliband’s election campaign has not been a success. Yesterday’s admission that cutting VAT would require a rise in borrowing came too late to remedy the confused impression he gave on WATO on Monday. But, as Mary Riddell writes, it’s local activistm, rather than national leadership, which Ed hopes will see him home:
“For Ed Miliband, this new political fixation is not simply a local issue. Being tough on potholes and the causes of potholes is central to his strategy to win the general election. The pitted road to 2015 begins in Lancashire, where Labour holds only 18 of 86 seats on the county council. Seven months ago, that area was chosen as the party’s laboratory of future victory.”
SPENDING REVIEW CANNIBALISM
Whitehall’s equivalent of the Hunger Games will see at least five departments making raids on the budgets of the ringfenced departments, Tim Shipman blogs for the Mail. Yesterday’s news that Philip Hammond was keen to shift defence spending on to the NHS (he earned himself an indirect rebuke from Dave at yesterday’s political Cabinet) has prompted claims on NHS money from Local Government, the MoJ, Business and the Home Office. DfID is in the crosshairs of both the MoD and the Foreign Office, with the Guardian reporting that defence chiefs wish to divert aid money to cover humanitarian work undertaken by the military. Schools could also lose out, with the Independent reporting that the robust state of many schools’ budgets could entail an end to the ring-fence arrangement. Clearly the results will have a major impact on the strategy at the next election. With that in mind, No10 were furious yesterday at suggestions that the shake up of the Downing Street operation had resulted in Oliver Letwin being in some way marginalised – it hasn’t.
BRUSSELS FUND THREATENS DEFICIT REDUCTION
Banking stability? You don’t want to worry about that. George Osborne’s message to the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee yesterday was intended to caution against strengthening the banks through greater capital requirements. To do so would risk economic growth because it would reduce the funds available for lending, the FT (£) reports. Whatever happens with the formal mandate, it’s another example of the Chancellor’s expectation that the BoE will prioritise growth over its technical objectives.
At any rate, bank stability is causing more than a few sleepless nights at the Treasury at present. The pink ‘un also reports that the Chancellor may be forced to borrow £9bn to create a new bank crisis fund under EU financial reform laws. The move would blow up this year’s deficit reduction target. There are other ideas on the table, notably the Irish suggestion of depositor preference which would ensure other creditors lost money first, but Britain’s outright opposition is hopeless – the UK’s diplomatic position is described by one insider as “stranded”. Reassuringly familiar, that.
ROLL-UP! ROLL-UP! IT’S THE GREAT CIVIL SERVICE SALE
Cabinet Office plans will see dozens of state owned services privatised in the next two years, the Independent reports. The departments will be mutualised, becoming jointly owned by private investors and employees, with up to 75,000 staff moved off the Government’s payroll. Leading the charge is the Behavioural Insights Team, aka the Nudge Unit, which Francis Maude will announce today will be mutualised. Under the terms of the agreement, the new body will be guarunteed government contracts for a number of years, and will also be able to sell its services elsewhere. Whitehall’s IT department, as well as its HR and legal functions are also being considered for mutualisation. The unions are already calling it “privatisation by the backdoor”, but perhaps employees will be a little less willing to strike when there are shares being dangled in front of them.
DFID WINS HEARTS AND MINDS IN SOUTH AFRICA
With several other Whitehall departments eyeing up their budget, DfID could be forgiven for trying to trim to fat before the results of the spending review are announced. So it was with relief that Justine Greening could announce yesterday that “I have agreed with my South African counterparts that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development.” Small problem, though. Said South African counterparts appear to be angry, rather than acquiescent. The news that the £15m aid spend in the country will disappear in 2015 was greeted robustly by Miss Greening’s counterpart in Pretoria. As the Guardian reports, a spokeswoman for the international relations department said: “ordinarily, the UK government should have informed the government of South Africa through official diplomatic channels of their intentions.” So were the South Africans told or not? Someone isn’t telling the truth.
DECLINE AND FALL
The UK would appear a “power in irreversible decline” if Scotland voted for independence, the Foreign Affairs Committee reported yesterday. The MPs argued that everything from the British seat on the security council to th special relationship would be up for review. Moreoverm, the Scots themselves would still need to make policy with one eye on the rump of the UK given that “it is difficult not to conclude that the notion of a truly independent Scottish foreign policy is in many ways a misnomer,” the MPs concluded.
PUBLIC JOIN CHARTER OPPOSITION
Only 16pc of the public believe that politicians ought to be given the power to change any Royal Charter settlement on press regulation, with 67pc opposed, the Mail reports. A poll by Survation also found that 76pc thought that any settlement ought to be opened up to a public consultation.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Chris Heaton-Harris, he’s here all week…:
@chhcalling: “Breaking: Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy.“
In the Telegraph
Anthony Seldon – Gove is winning the hearts of state heads
Joan Bakewell – Young IDS should pick his battles with care
Telegraph View – The party of protest is in pole position
Best of the rest
Alice Thomson in The Times (£) – If you think your council’s poor, think again
Dan Hodges in the Daily Mail – Cameron’s Chumocracy
Matthew Norman in The Independent – A party political broadcast by the Tories: prison’s like holiday camp
Seumas Milne in The Guardian – Miliband will fail if he locks himself into Tory austerity
Today: State visit to the UK by the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
09:00 am: Nick Clegg phone-in on LBC 97.3.
12:00 pm: Rocker Brian May dresses up as a badger to protest against culling. May will lead a five-minute ‘flashmob’ and the team will dance to May’s The Badger Song. Outside Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
12:45 pm: John Whittingdale MP at BPG lunch. The chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee will speak to members of the Broadcasting Press Guild, Little Italy, 21 Frith Street, Soho.
03:00 pm: Education Department strike. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union at the DfE in England stage a two-hour strike from 3pm in a row over office closures and jobs.