A rough landing for Jo Johnson

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Jo Johnson and his policy pals have not received a warm welcome in the last 24 hours. Though some are pleased that Dave is – at long last – listening to his backbenchers, Tory MPs have voiced concern, we report, that the new head of the Downing Street Policy Unit is too pro-European and too posh. “Jo thinks that Europe and the single market are the way to go. I do not and nor do a lot of colleagues,” says Bill Cash. Another Tory MP whispers: “Appointing more Etonians doesn’t exactly make it harder for Labour to say we’re all out-of-touch toffs.”

So what is Dave playing at? A senior Tory tells the Guardian that it’s about “divide and rule” – a charge that may well stick.

“The new policy board does look a bit lefty. Some say it is all about divide and rule. There are committees of the 1922 which are meant to be reporting to Oliver Letwin. Who do they report to now? Graham Brady is saying they should carry on with our work.”

Paul Goodman, meanwhile, offers insight this morning into No 10’s current thinking. First, Dave thinks he’s close to Tory MPs. “No Conservative leader,” Paul has been told, “has done more to make himself available to Conservative MPs.” Second, Team Dave believes the Tories can win in 2015: Dave himself is said to be “pumped up” and relishing Ed Miliband’s struggles over welfare. Third, with 2015 in mind, No 10 may start encouraging backbenchers to open up “clear blue water” in the Commons on welfare, immigration, crime and the ECHR. Paul reports: “On an EU referendum bill, there is a range of options from not publishing one at all through simply publishing one, to publishing one – and then introducing it. On tax breaks for marriage, there are signals that the policy will be implemented, perhaps as early as the autumn.”

This is where the new policy board could take the lead. And they have help in the shape of Steve Hilton who, the Mail reports, will be flying back from California “a few times a year” to help push through Conservative ideas. The ’22 will be jumping for joy.

GEORGE OFF THE HOOK

Yesterday’s GDP figures – 0.3pc growth in the first quarter of 2013 – confirmed that the recovery remains “sluggish and unpredictable”, reports the FT (£). But Osborne was pleased that “despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making progress”. For now he’s off the hook, says Larry Elliott in the Guardian.

Politically… the first quarter growth numbers mattered a lot. After a sticky couple of weeks that has included a second credit downgrade, a wigging from the International Monetary Fund and a setback for the labour market, George Osborne could ill afford Britain plunging into its first triple-dip recession.

But Sarah O’Connor warns in the FT (£) that the economy is not rebalancing. She quotes Amit Kara, a UBS economist, who says: “The manufacturing sector has shrunk in three out of the last four quarters whereas the services sector has expanded in three out of the last four quarters.” So much, she says, for the “march of the makers”.

Our leader, meanwhile, highlights an inconvenient truth for Ed Balls. “Government spending was in fact up both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter.”

CLEGG VS HOME OFFICE

It only took four words. But when Nick Clegg said the controversial snoopers’ charter was “not going to happen”, live on his LBC radio phone-in, he effectively ripped up £400 million of Home Office work. “Officials believed they had a commitment from Mr Clegg that the Liberal Democrats would support the legislation being included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech,” reports the Mail. Without it, they are stuffed. The plan to allow police and the security services to monitor the public’s emails and internet use – key to Theresa May’s counter-terrorism strategy – will go no further. Clegg isn’t for turning, either. He writes in the Telegraph: “The Liberal Democrats cannot permit what would be a significant reduction in personal privacy, based on proposals where the workability remains in question.”

CHEMICAL ASSAD

A gruesome image on the front page of the Times shows the victim of a nerve gas attack in Aleppo, Syria. According to Anthony Loyd, the man’s family “died twitching, hallucinating and choking on white froth that poured from their noses and mouths”. The Foreign Office, we report, said tests at Porton Down found “limited but persuasive” evidence that sarin had been deployed in Syria. In the US, meanwhile, Senator John McCain urged Barack Obama to intervene.

He said it was “pretty clear that the red line has been crossed”. He warned that the world was watching Mr Obama, whom he urged to “provide weapons to people in the resistance who we trust”.

FARAGE’S NASTY PARTY

Are the wheels going to come off Ukip’s election campaign? One of their candidates has been suspended after reportedly posting anti-Semitic comments online. It looks bad for Nigel Farage: as the Guardian reports, he says Ukip does not have the “apparatus” to investigate its 1700 election candidates. “I have no doubt one or two slipped through the net,” he says. Oops. In a Birmingham speech today, the Mirror reports, Liam Fox will kick Farage while he’s down. Margaret Thatcher would be “horrified”, he’ll say, at the thought that Tory voters switching to Ukip could open the door to her “mortal enemy”, the Labour Party.

THE RICHEST MP

Richard Benyon, the Tory MP for Newbury, is the richest man in the House, according to the The Times Daily Rich List. He’s the heir to an £110 million real estate fortune – and has spoken of his family’s background in “small business”. Benyon comes behind six peers, of whom Lord Ashcroft – with a net worth of £1.2 billion – is the richest. Ashcroft will be dropping down the list in years to come, however. Next month he will sign up to the Giving Pledge, a promise to give half his wealth to philanthropy.

O’NEIL THROWS IN THE TOWEL

The FT (£) splashes on the resignation of Jim O’Neil, chief executive of UK Financial Investments. It’s a spanner in the works for George Osborne. The paper reports:

The chances of a speedy reprivatisation of Britain’s bailed-out banks have been thrown further into doubt with the resignation of the banker appointed to oversee the pivotal element of the financial recovery. He had, he told friends, run out of patience to see the job through.

What pushed him over the edge? Well, the FT suggests it may have been political interference. “Critics blame the current government’s sporadic meddling in the running of the banks, particularly over pay and lending policies, which in turn has undermined their share prices.” That’s a damaging verdict for George.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Oh dear. Labour’s Austin Mitchell is one MP who’s not buying into the BBC’s new political drama:

@AVMitchell2010: “Should have got the Danes in to do The Politician’s Wife. Boring, not Borgen, and so unlike the home life of our own dear House.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: It’s official – spending more doesn’t improve public services

Jeremy Warner: Will Merkel be the Abe Lincoln of her age?

David Blair: The true cost of cheap clothing

Telegraph View: Self-regulation that is tough but independent

Telegraph View: GDP figures are a small step forward

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in the Times (£): Miliband believes age of Ed began in 2008

Alice Thomson in the Times (£): More Old Etonians at No 10? Fine

Philip Stephens in the FT (£): More reform, less austerity for Europe

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: Europe is in need of a reality check

THE AGENDA

10.00 Sentencing of Hackney council worker caught with terrorist material, Old Bailey.

11.00 Beekeepers march on Defra, urge Owen Paterson not to block EU pesticides ban. Parliament Square.

Time tbc Liam Fox speaks to Business leaders in Birmingham.

12.00 Funeral of teenage dog-attack victim, Jade Anderson. Manchester.

Jo Johnson beats Boris to No 10

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Westminster awakes to the news of a Johnson in Downing Street, at last. There are plenty of gags around, and quite a bit of excitement, on the back of Dave’s internal re-engineering of the No 10 policy machine. The appointment of Jo Johnson to run the policy unit, and alongside him a policy board of interesting MPs (including Peter Lilley), tells us that the parliamentary party is winning its long-running campaign to get Dave to pay more attention to what his backbenchers want. “The appointment of the Orpington MP is one of a series of moves designed to build bridges with the Prime Minister’s backbench critics and to capitalise on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher,” reports the Times.

 

As a measure of where power lies, it could be said to tilt it further towards the ’22 membership. But as one MP texted me last night, “when will Dave realise it’s leadership we want, not go-betweens?!” You can see the point: put the Jo J appointment alongside John Hayes as “senior” parliamentary adviser, and even the purpose-built Cabinet table extension Sue Cameron mentions, and there’s a lot of tinkering going on that gives No 10 an increasingly patchwork air. Or does if you are among those who view the shake-up with scepticism: another Old Etonian Bullingdon Oxford graduate, and – really dubious, this – a former journalist to boot.

 

Once we’ve finished with the gags about a Johnson in No 10, there’s also the Boris thing. It’s tempting to wonder if putting the MP for Orpington in a central role in the machine isn’t a deliberate tweak of the Mayor’s tail. Those Johnsons are very competitive, they say. It will be worth finding out if Johnson J will be put in charge of the manifesto, a critical position for the 2015 election. And where will he fit alongside Lynton Crosby, who has the PM’s undivided attention, and is now working nearly full time to streamline what Dave does down to a few core issues?

 

At the mid-way point of the Parliament, the policy-making focus shifts naturally back towards party HQ and preparations for the election and a second term. In No 10 the focus should be on implementing existing ideas, not necessarily cooking up new ones. Jo J has impressed his colleagues by being thoughtful, bright, smart. He’s one of a handful tipped for great things by other peers, and some talk of him as a better leadership bet than his brother. His friends are working on improving his people skills. The question for Dave, though, is one of practical politics: he may be good, but he’s new and untested. He’s investing a lot of hope and responsibility in Johnson J, for an uncertain return. Given the need to improve the No 10 operation, and give it some edge, it’s worth a try.

 

TRIPLE DIP?

 

The countdown has begun. At 9.30am the ONS will publish GDP figures for the first quarter of this year. If they are negative, George is in serious trouble. “A triple-dip recession,” the PA reports, “would take the UK into uncharted economic waters not even encountered during the dark days of the 1970s.”

Understandably, the Chancellor and the Treasury are “desperate to announce measures to restart growth,” reports the FT (£). But George is struggling to find a game changer: an extension of the Funding for Lending scheme is the latest flop.

“…if Mr Osborne thought the nation’s experts on credit supply, lending and the economy would be grateful, he had another thing coming. In a display of rare unanimity, economists and Bank of England insiders thought the scheme was welcome, but would have only a marginal effect.”

Good thing that the Chancellor is as tough as old boots. His biographer Janan Ganesh writes in the FT: “It is hard to think of a politician more indifferent to hostility – which is just as well, for surveys find him to be the least popular in the UK. If a man is already seen as rich and cocky, and then let it be known that he supports Chelsea football club, he cannot be fussy about his own public image.”

But what can be done to encourage growth? Well, David Cameron’s official spokesman, we report, says it would help if stay-at-home mothers returned to work. It’s “good for the economy” that the Coalition is helping parents to pay high nursery fees, apparently. The campaign group, Mothers at Home Matter, says the Government is “obsessed” with GDP at the expense of family life. In an hour, we’ll be reminded why.

‘DISASTROUS’ NHS

Millions of NHS patients are being forced to attend hospital A & E departments because their GPs won’t treat them outside normal working hours. In a speech this afternoon, Jeremy Hunt will say this cushy set-up for GPs is “disastrous” – and that it’s the “biggest operational challenge” facing the NHS. Our splash has the details:

The NHS is conducting a review of out-of-hours care which may lead to GPs again taking responsibility for looking after patients outside normal working hours.

Controversial changes to GPs’ contracts made under Labour in 2004 allowed them to opt out of treating patients outside normal office hours. The review could see that policy reversed.

The Health Secretary says there has been a “fundamental failure” by the NHS to care for elderly patients with long-term health conditions.

MEET MRS MILIBAND

Ed Miliband has “reached for the emergency card,” says Quentin Letts in the Mail – namely, his wife Justine, on a media-friendly visit to her old school. Quentin is impressed: “Think Cherie Blair with turbo boosters (but better ankles).” But does she risk upstaging the Labour leader? We report that she was a bit cooler than Ed at school: “During the school visit Mr Miliband was told that his wife had once jumped out of a window in order to avoid a teacher spotting her with lipstick. She also received a number of detentions for wearing a purple coat instead of the regulation black one.” Wild thing!

UKIP WARNING

Start taking Nigel Farage seriously or you’re finished. That’s the message from Plymouth University election experts, reported in the Times (£). They say Ukip is the “most serious fourth party incursion in English politics” since the Second World War and that it could take 6 per cent of the Tory vote in 2015. In the short-term, the anti-EU party “could double its councillors in the county council elections on May 2 and scupper Tory chances in hundreds of other seats”. Peter Oborne is enjoying this “marvellous chaos”: Ukip, he says, has “become a symbol of national protest against the political class and its now bankrupt methodologies of triangulation, voter targeting, focus groups, eye-catching initiatives and advertising gimmicks”.

QATADA GOES NUCLEAR

Kaboom Qatada is the Sun’s splash today. Dave is “drawing up explosive plans to ram a new law through Parliament to kick out” the radical cleric, the paper reports. But this nuclear option could “spark a huge row with Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem MPs — and may even run the risk of bringing down the Coalition”. Meanwhile, in the Commons yesterday, Theresa May told a joke. Michael Deacon sketches the momentous occasion:

Mark Reckless, Tory MP for Rochester & Strood, had been huffing and puffing about the gross injustices of the European court in Strasbourg, whose mania for human rights had foiled the Government in its efforts to deport Qatada. We couldn’t let them “move the goalposts”, he growled. The last word must go to our own Supreme Court.

Mrs May rose. She had to operate within the law, she told Mr Reckless, effortlessly teeing up her punchline. Because to break the law would be – “dare I say it” – a “reckless” move!

Reckless! Like his name! Mark Reckless!

LABOUR CIVIL WAR

Red Ed suffered a fit of rage yesterday, after Len McCluskey said he was being “seduced” by the Blairites in his shadow cabinet. Unite’s general secretary told the New Statesman: “If [Ed Miliband] gets seduced by the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders, then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history.” As the Guardian reports, Ed has given him both barrels in return: “This attempt to divide the Labour Party is reprehensible. It is the kind of politics that lost Labour many elections in the 1980s. It won’t work. It is wrong. It is disloyal to the party he claims to represent.” Ouch.

CABINET TABLE AMENDMENT

Superb detail from Sue Cameron’s column. The Cabinet room is so crowded on Tuesday mornings that No 10 is having to upscale the furniture. She’s not kidding.

With 32 crowding into Cabinet, it was so hard for everyone to find a perch that some ministers had to squeeze up on the clerks’ table at the end. Now a 4ft-long section has been made to fit perfectly on to the coffin-shaped Cabinet table, originally commissioned by Harold Macmillan more than half a century ago.

TWEETS AND TWITS

A superb #accidentalpartridge from Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds:

@jreynoldsMP: There is only one thing that will improve the day I’ve had… #classic

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne: Ukip has thrown British politics into marvellous chaos

Nicholas Hytner: Art subsidies and War Horse

Sue Cameron: Let’s make more leg room at the Cabinet table

Allison Pearson: Nurses shouldn’t carry the bedpan for the NHS

Telegraph View: The Abu Qatada farce is scripted by our judges

Telegraph View: Labour’s welfare legacy

Best of the rest

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£): Myths surround the austerity chancellor

Chris Giles in the FT (£): A more nominal view of the UK economy

Steve Richards in the Times (£): Reheating Thatcherism won’t save Cameron

Samantha Callan in the Times (£): Strong families should lead the war on poverty

 

Martin Kettle in the Guardian: Salmond is giving unionism a shot in the arm

 

Luke Johnson in the Mail: Google is a gigantic parasite

 

THE AGENDA

 

09.00 Nick Clegg’s phone-in on LBC 97.3.

 

09.30 **Q1 GDP figures published by the ONS.** Convocation Hall, Church House.

1030 Tony Hall, the BBC’s DG, and Beeb chairman Lord Patten appear before the culture, media and sport select committee.

13.30 Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab, gives cyber crime speech, The Connaught.

 

15.30 Jeremy Hunt speech on long-term health conditions. Church House Conference Centre, Westminster.