Good morning. He’s bottled it. That will be the snap verdict of Nigel Farage’s decision not to stand in Newark. “I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior,” he laughs on Today, dismissing the charge. Arguably, the Ukip leader has made the right calculation. As he says he is not local, and he can read the numbers as well as any of us. He also acknowledges that if he lost, “the bubble would burst”. Too right. The Tories are well entrenched in Newark, even after the harm done to the image of politics by Patrick Mercer. Ukip’s prospects, even in a by-election, are not great. It’s not really their turf. Mr Farage says that the best tactic is to select someone local who stands a chance. As Nottinghamshire man Ken Clarke said on Today, “whatever else Nigel is, he’s not an idiot”.
So has he bottled it? The Tories will want us to say so. They can make the argument that if he truly had the courage of his convictions, and really did think that Ukip is on the verge of making British political history – his line – then he should put his money where his mega-mouth is and lead from the front. Mr Farage’s problem is that he chose not to stand in Eastleigh, and now he’s ducked Newark. Some might start to wonder when he is going to put up. Ukip has been under intense pressure for weeks, and it is going to get worse. It suffers from having its candidates and members routinely exposed as unpleasant, its finances are under scrutiny, and Mr Farage knows that much – too much – rests on his shoulders. Mr Clarke used his Today interview to hammer the point about seriousness and who you want to govern. Expect more of that from the Tories. Mr Farage, to his credit, has moved swiftly to end the speculation. Newark suddenly becomes less interesting. The Ukip breakthrough at Westminster is no nearer.
LABOUR TO WIPE OUT THE WORK OF ‘KAFKA’ GOVE
Tristram Hunt’s answer to Michael Gove’s reforms emerges today with the publication of David Blunkett’s report on schools. The detail is on the front of the Guardian: “Labour vows to rub out Gove era in education”. The central element a new breed of school commissioners who would enforce standards and deal with failing schools. Mr Blunkett imagines 40 to 80 directors of school standards in cities and groups of local authorities, answering the Labour complaint that Mr Gove has created 20,000 autonomous schools run from Whitehall. They would be appointed by local authorities from a shortlist drawn up by the Department for Education. According to the former Labour education secretary, his Tory successor presides over “an unmanageable Kafkaesque caricature freeing schools from everything except the secretary of state”. Mr Gove will be glad to see the whites of his opponents eyes, and now has something to get stuck into. Happily for him, the government is today announcing a £2bn extension to its schools building program intended to give Mr Gove “a pre-election boost”. As it happens I’ve considered Mr Gove’s position in a blog on reshuffle prospects.
HIGH NOON AT THE 1922
Lynton Crosby could be in for an ear-bashing from Tory backbenchers at today’s meeting of the 1922 committee after David Cameron’s no-show at the HS2 vote. For the PM not to vote when the result is a certainty is hardly novel, but with so many Tory MPs voting for the bill despite the concerns of their constituents, there is dismay at Mr Cameron’s failure to show ‘solidarity’ with his backbench MPs. Ephraim Hardcastle suggests that a date with Samantha Cameron may be to blame.
THAT SCOTLAND BUSINESS
“Independent Scotland ‘will lose finance jobs'” is the business splash in today’s paper, as the Centre for Economics and Business Research reveals new figures about the cost of independence. It may be, though, that the stark warnings being issued by government figures are not sufficient to revive Better Together’s fortunes, even Danny Alexander joins the battle with a speech in Edinburgh. “People cast votes on major issues by reference to overarching narratives about autonomy, identity and prosperity,” John Kay warns in today’s FT, “A truth the wilting No campaign seems not to have grasped.”
PFIZER’S CHARM OFFENSIVE
The management of Pfizer are in London to persuade everyone that taking over AstraZeneca is a great idea. George Osborne thinks it is but last night warned Ian Read, Pfizer’s chief exec, that the £60bn bid will be scrutinised closely. The charm offensive is on the front of the FT. Vince Cable is sceptical, and politicians clearly fear the prospect of Pfizer closing down R&D capacity in the UK, and eliminating highly skilled jobs. “We are expecting them to show serious commitment to R&D and manufacturing in the UK”. Mr Read phoned Mr Cable on Monday to reassure him, but the fact that Pfizer shut down its R&D operations in Kent in 2011 with no notice is not forgotten. The Government can hit Pfizer by withholding subsidies and tax breaks, but Labour has gone in another direction: Chuka Umunna announced Labour would consider enshrining in law powers for boards to block hostile foreign takeovers.
DEBT FREE IS THE WAY TO BE
While Labour is still almost bankrupt and in hock to the unions, the Conservatives are set to become debt-free for the first time in their modern history. There’s more to the rival pictures of the parties than the wagging tongues that these figures will suggest; it also means a Conservative machine in the pink of health as we head into the final year of the Parliament. Peter Dominiczak has the story.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour’s expectations management in Newark not getting off to the best start:
Canvas today in Newark by my activists. Labour vote strong and growing, very few ukip, Tory vote unsure
Latest YouGov poll:
Con 32%, Lab 37%, LD 9%, UKIP 14%
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell – Miliband must aim to reduce inequality, not the size of gas bills
Jeremy Warner – We shouldn’t rush to save national champions
James Delingpole – Courses on bias at the Beeb? That’ll be a hoot
Willard Foxton – Sack the drivers, and roll out the robots
Best of the rest
Fiona Laird – I’m British, and I want to be able to talk about Scotland’s independence vote
Daniel Finkelstein – Cyril Smith and the ghost of politics future
Stephen Glover – I’m no Farage fan. But caling those thinking of voting Ukip racist is dangerous folly.
EDINBURGH: Danny Alexander speech on Scottish independence.
LONDON: Government review of gambling – including fixed-odds betting terminals – published by DCMS.
0930 LONDON: Steve Webb at Work and Pensions Select Committee.
1400 LONDON: Pakistan Prime Minister talks with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street.
1430 LONDON: Public Accounts Committee hearing on Royal Mail sale continues. Witnesses include UBS managing director James Robertson and BIS permanent secretary Martin Donnelly.
1800 LONDON: Vince Cable panel discussion at Institute for Government.