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.”
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.”
In the Telegraph
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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
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.