MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. Was it a breakthrough night for Ukip? It seems like it this morning, but caveats first: we have just seven council results and a by-election on which to base our conclusions. Let’s not stampede just yet. The Tories are not quite saying that things have turned out not as bad as feared, though you sense they hope so. But the numbers don’t give them much comfort: they may not lose many councils, but Ukip is riping huge chunks out of Tory heartlands. John Curtice is making the point that we are seeing a historic result with huge consequences for the three main parties.
Already voices are being raised from Tory backbenches demanding concessions from Dave. John Baron was on Today pressing the case for his referendum legislation. Expect others to follow. Mr Cameron’s tentative offer of a Bill this week was a pre-emptive strike. It seems that the trouble for Dave will be about policy rather than his leadership. His frenemies on the backbenches reckon they have him on the ropes: he has accepted changes to the policy-making machine that give backbenchers the whip hand, so they will use Ukip’s share to beat him into more submissions. The argument today will be in part around the protest vote question: have voters lent their support to Ukip merely to make a (temporary) point, or is this the beginning of a long-term shift? Mr Cameron will argue that on immigration, Europe, welfare he is already well ahead of Ukip and doing what angry voters want. But will he be able to hold his nerve when the scale of Ukip’s advance becomes clear? He’ll be helped by Labour’s difficulties. Ukip may take its votes from the Tories, but we may also conclude today that Ed Miliband’s offer is going nowhere, in particular in the areas where it needs to recover if it is to return to power. The result may panic Dave and the Tories, but by tea-time today will it be Labour that has the most to fear? Keep up to date with our live coverage and interactive results map. The key details so far:
Local Council Elections
- Seven declarations. Seat movements: Con -66, Lab +30, Lib Dem -15, Ukip +42
- Tories lose Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire to no overall control.
- Tories hold Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Somerset and Hertfordshire
- BBC reports that Ukip is averaging 26pc of the vote in the wards where it is standing. Polling on average 12p% higher in wards where it stood in 2009.
- Ukip win 16 seats in Lincolnshire making it the official opposition.
South Shields By-election
- Labour hold. Lab 50.5% (-1.5$), Ukip 24.2% (+24.2%), Con 11.6% (-10.0%)
- Lib Dems seventh with 352 votes or 1.4%, down 12.8% and behind two independents and a BNP candidate.
- Labour majority falls from 11,109 to 6,505 (-42%)
Grant Shapps has been across the airwaves this morning insisting that while the Tories had been hurt by defection, 2015 would be a two horse race. “Ukip have done well, I don’t make any secret about that at all. We need to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of the public,” he said. He later conceded to the Today programme that the Tories needed to take responsibility for failing to get their message across, adding that “[the vote] is a loud and clear message. We get it. We’ve heard you…we need to get on with it.” A senior Lib Dem told the Press Association that the Tories were the big losers on the night: “these results are set to prove that the Tories can’t win a majority in 2015, partly because the Lib Dems remain strong in  held seats, and partly because Ukip has peeled off a significant section of Tory support.” Hilary Benn, on the other hand, was more dismissive. He told Daybreak that “”It’s a party of protest, I don’t think it’s a party of government.”
Nigel Farage? Well, he was a little more upbeat, telling the programme that it was a breakthrough moment: “We have always done well in European elections… but people haven’t seen us as being relevant to local elections or in some ways general elections. So for us to be scoring, on average, 26% of the vote where we stand is I think very significant indeed.” Appearing on the Today programme, he added that Ukip could emulate Canada’s Reform Party and go from being a fringe party to parliamentary majority in one cycle. He also noted that: “We’ve been gaining momentum for over two years…the people who vote for us are rejecting the establishment. And quite right too. I understand that completely. But are they voting Ukip just to stick two fingers up or because we’re offering positive policy alternatives?”
Uncomfortable questions loom for every party leader. For Dave, the focus will be on immigration and the economy, the Mail reports. Restrictions on immigrants accessing benefits, the NHS and other public services will be at the core of the new offer, with nannying reforms like the “snooper’s charter” and plain pack cigarette advertising dropped. The FT (£) has further colour, adding that the Queen’s Speech will also see minimum alcohol pricing and a measure to enshrine the 0.7pc aid target in law shelved. In come the HS2 paving Bill, an immigration Bill making deportations easier, the abolition of the second state pension, and a £75,000 cap on residential care costs for the elderly. Dave’s husky hugging days seem well behind him. As for Ed, the Independent warns that his colleagues are unhappy that he has fallen into the trap of making Labour “the welfare party” and are demanding a Labour deficit elimination plan which would see debt reducing from 2017/18.
What both men need to discover quickly is what makes Ukippers tick. The Times (£) has published a YouGov poll which notes that the party’s voters are largely ex-Tories and prefer Dave to Ed. That’s the good news for CCHQ, the bad news is the number who have defected. Of Tory voters at the last election, they have lost only 6pc to Labour, 2pc to the Lib Dems, but 18pc, nearly one in five, to Ukip. Labour have lost 4pc of their voters to the purple team, with the Lib Dems losing 8pc. As Iain Martin writes, it may take more than tinkering around the margins to rebuild the Tory coalition:
“Ironically, when David Cameron eventually stands down in 2015 or 2017, the question confronting his party will be very similar to the one he posed in 2005. How can the Tory family be extended and broadened so that it can win properly? I suspect that the answer may lie outside the sphere of conventional Westminster politics. When the time comes, it will take a leader with the ability to make voters – sick of austerity and relative decline – forget their differences. Someone with Thatcher-like charisma, Reaganite optimism, star power, chutzpah, pragmatism, vision, luck, experience of holding office in a leading world city, and perhaps a mop of blond hair. Is there such a person available?”
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN PRIME MINISTERS
Making a pledge on Europe is the easy part (cf. EU constitution referendum). As Dave well knows, action is the hard part. But action there must be, as Boris warned while speaking at a, er, chocoate factory yesterday. Suggesting that the Prime Minister “ram [the Europe] message home” with legislation for a referendum tabled in this parliament, Boris also delicately skirted around Dave’s track record adding “I think it’s very important that there should be clarity in people’s minds, that we don’t have a repeat of the situation we had with the Lisbon Treaty where we thought we were going to get a referendum and then it was somehow whisked off the table.” Quite. As our leader instructs, “don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron.”
Fortunately for Dave, he may soon have the benefit of Boris’ advice at first hand. Zac Goldsmith conceded in an interview with the Evening Standard yesterday that he had discussed the option with the Mayor, but insisted it only arose after he had seen it in a political blog. Bo-Jo has “magic dust” and “integrity” according to Mr Goldsmith who “can imagine him as a future and very successful leader of the Conservative Party”. Dave, on the other hand, has problems. Mr Goldsmith attacked his leadership, particularly his indecisiveness over Heathrow, saying “even critics respect leadership and decisiveness and I do think we are lacking in that up to a point.”
THE STRAINED ALLIANCE
No wonder Philip Hammond has been eyeing the ringfenced budgets hungrily. As we report, Whitehall sources fear that the coming spending review may force British defence expenditure below the 2pc of GDP threshold required as a NATO member, straining further the British relationship with the US. Mr Hammond, who met US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday, is also said to have been warned that the US believes the UK will be able to take on less of a leadership role in Europe if further cuts are imposed, and will be more dependent of cooperation with France and other continental powers. Quelle Horreur!
NO CLIMATE CHANGE – IT’S STILL FROSTY
Ed Davey has written to Michael Gove to request that he reinstates climate change as part of the Geography curriculum. The Guardian reports that Mr Davey has requested a meeting between officials from the DoE and DoECC to discuss the issue. Mr Gove’s response was thanks, but no thanks. His officials wrote back to the Energy Secretary to say that “it is not true that climate change has been removed from the new draft national curriculum,” adding that its coverage in science teaching was more extensive than ever.
Older MPs are treated as “dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots” by party leaders fumes Austin Mitchell in a piece for this month’s Oldie. As we report, Mr Mitchell, a sprightly 78, really gives it both barrels:
“Arrivistes, garagistes and City whiz-kids replaced the older Tory elite, while Labour fielded fewer trade unionists and real workers. All are noisier and pushier than their predecessors, resulting in more frantic activity and more pre-cooked questions and debating points. Pressure to speak leaves no time for eloquence or opportunities to deploy specialist knowledge.
“We [older politicians] are not clamouring for promotion or publicity, so we can concentrate on being good parliamentarians. Yet we are discounted as irrelevant failures. The few of us misguided enough to act young by going on Twitter are abused as dinosaurs, geriatrics or out-of-touch idiots. Constituency parties might be supportive but the national party will certainly be merciless in its desire to pick the youthful and the brainless.”
Dave was “seriously naughty” not to declare his wife’s stake in a company which plans to build hundreds of houses on greenfield land, according to Paul Flynn, a member of the Public Administration Select Committee. As we report, following discussions with Sir Jeremy Heywood, Dave decided not to declare his wife’s holdings as a relevant interest, although he did find room to mention his role as patron for three charities (no beekeeping duties noted, sadly) and as ambassador for the British Fashion Council. Mr Flynn places the blame at Sir Jeremy’s door: “the problem is that when they chose the most recent independent advisers for ministers, they chose a poodle, not a Rottweiler.”
TWEETS AND TWITS
Even Jim Murphy concedes the brilliance of the Lib Dem campaign in South Shields:
@jimmurphymp: “Respite for Clegg as Lib Dems humiliate the Monster Raving Loony Party into a sorry 8th place by trouncing them by 154 votes. #southshields“
In the Telegraph
Iain Martin – Wanted: a leader who can unite the warring Tory tribes
Jeremy Warner – Will Carney be a man of independent mind?
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet – Mr Normal has become a pitiful president
Telegraph View – Don’t just say it – do it, Mr Cameron
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Panic is pointless. Ukip’s not a serious party
Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express – Mass immigration has changed our country for ever
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it?
John Kampfner in the Daily Mail – The public has a right to know who’s charged with a crime. This police secrecy insults democracy
Today: Counting of votes in some council elections. Daytime counts include Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Bristol. Doncaster mayoral election is also a daytime count.
Launch of adoption passport. Education Minister Edward Timpson is launching the adoption passport and responding to the adoption and fostering consultation.
09:30 am: Insolvency figures for the first quarter of 2013 are released.