Good morning. Nigel Farage celebrated his by-election triumphs by drinking until almost 5am on Thursday – but it’s Dave and Ed who are nursing a hangover as the House returns from the Conference recess.
Mr Farage is in a sufficiently bouyant mood that he’s started to outline his conditions for supporting a Conservative government after the next election – it’s a referendum in July 2015 or nothing, says Farage. “I’ll Keep Tories In Power To Get EU Poll Next Year” is the Mirror’s n0-nonsense splash – read Steven Swinford’s take here. The fear in Tory circles is, for all Mr Farage’s talk of a Labour defector to come, it will be Ed Miliband who benefits from the Ukip surge next May.
If Mark Reckless can keep his seat, things could get messy, with one Cabinet minister telling James Forsyth that it would result in a leadership challenge for the PM. And there could be more defections to come. Matthew Goodwin, the author of Revolt on the Right, the definitive guide to Ukip, calculates that four MPs – Chris Kelly, David Nuttall, Martin Vickers and Nigel Mills – would have a better chance of holding onto their seats as Ukippers, while John Baron’s “never say never” response to the BBC has the nerves jangling in the Whips’ Office.
For once, though, Labour can’t take much comfort in Conservative woes. A meeting of the parliamentary Labour party will take place tonight and will be dominated by discontent over the leadership’s complacency over Ukip in general and the near-defeat in Heywood and Middleton in particular. Pressure will be brought to bear on Ed Miliband for further tough language on immigration – although that could cause problems elsewhere in the party for the Labour leader, as MPs on the Blairites right and the party’s left flank will strongly resist further overtures to Ukip.
There’s little chance that either man will be replaced – not least because no contender could know for certain that they would be able to avoid defeat either. But the anxiety around both sides will persist, not least because both are stuck trying to offer a political solution to a cultural problem. The real problem is that neither party has even begun to fix their Ukip problem – and as a result, neither the PM or his opposite number can look ahead to the contest in May with any real confidence.
DOCTOR IN DISTRESS
“NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit” is the Times’ splash. A Times investigation finds that Andrew Lansley’s health reforms have few friends in government or in the health service. It distracted from the real work of saving money and getting the Service fit for the 21st century, Chris Ham, Chief Exec of the King’s Fund, says, it’s “rearranging the deck chairs when we’re about to hit the iceberg.” “No one apart from Lansley had a clue what he was working on, certainly not the Prime Minister,” says one former No 1o advisor. “We’ve made three mistakes that I regret, the first being restructuring the NHS. The rest are minor,” a Cabinet minister tells the Times. Meanwhile, a four-hour stoppage by NHS workers and ambulance drivers over pay levels will take place today, resulting in disruption to health services for the rest of the day, Ben Farmer reports.
AYELESS IN GAZA
A backbench motion by Labour MP Grahame Morris arguing that Britain should unilaterally recognise Palestine in order to create a “level playing field” has sparked conflict both inside and outside that party. It “ignores decades of peace talks and would undermine all international efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution,” Guto Bebb writes in the Telegraph. Not so, says Douglas Alexander: recognition of statehood will be an “important contribution” to a two-state solution. Labour is split on the issue, and, as a result, MPs and shadow ministers will be able to stay away from the vote although if they are Westminster they will be asked to support the motion.
IT’S A TRAP!
Gordon Brown has warned that the PM is risking the Union by pushing for English votes for English laws and devolving control of all income tax, Simon Johnson and Steven Swinford report. It will undermine the “pooling and sharing” of fiscal resources that underpins the Union, Mr Brown argues. The government’s paper on powers for Scotland will be published today and there will be a Commons debate on devolution tomorrow.
SAVE OUR SCHOOLS
Eight new regional school commissioners will have the power to implement new uniform codes, change homework policies and fire headteachers under new proposals announced by David Cameron – read Matt Holehouse’s story here. The PM has written about the “brilliant” state education enjoyed by his children for today’s Mail. Labour is unconvinced that the measure will be effective, as the commissioners will be responsible for overseeing more than 2500 schools each.
LYDON 1 BRAND 0
Russell Brand faces opposition from an unlikely duo: Johnny Rotten (now Lydon) and and David Blunkett. Former punk rocker Johnny Lydon tells the Cheltenham Literature Festival that people who advocate non-voting as a form of protest are “bumholes”. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” Mr Lydon says. “To lash out at the establishment, you need to change the establishment,” is Mr Blunkett’s more PG-friendly take in an interview with Hugh Muir in today’s G2. He also suggests Labour must make their focus on “a team approach” to neutralise the PM’s higher ratings. “The offer is a Labour government, not a Labour presidency.”
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