MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good Morning. Its leader might be a soapbox politician these days, but Labour’s head-and-shoulders lead over the Tories is being slowly pulled back. A succession of poor polling performances, with the party’s lead cut in both YouGov and ICM polls, was capped by last night’s Evening Standard/Ipsos MORI effort which found that only 24pc believe Ed is up to the job of being prime minister. The result is up from his 17pc rating last year, but it franks the findings of the Guardian’s ICM poll earlier in this week which put Ed’s personal popularity at an all time low. If the Independent‘s report that the two Eds will promise to outspend the Coalition plans should Labour win in 2015 were true, it would hardly help, given that polls consistently show that it debt and deficit are most salient issues for voters. But that’s a big “if” – Ed Balls’ mob call it “total rubbish”, a spin on an upcoming Fabian report and not party policy which won’t be settled until nearer the time as “‘it would be irresponsible to do otherwise, who knows where economy and public finances will be in two months’ let alone two years’ time?”
But without headline policies for the here and now, other than opposition to welfare cuts of all stripes, the party gives the appearance of twisting in the wind. This morning’s papers prove the point. The Mail reports on an interview Ed gave to a Left wing website in which he positioned himself as the heir to Margaret Thatcher’s “utter consistency of ideas” and attacked David Cameron’s “lack of consistency”. However, in a speech at Labour’s Scottish party conference in Inverness today, he will pledge to tear up Lady Thatcher‘s legacy of “deregulation; the dominance of finance over industry; allowing large private sector vested interests to flourish; government getting out of the way in the economy,” as we report. Where’s the consistency with the Ed who was going to “save capitalism from itself” only last September? Besides which, as a Compass report, noted in the Guardian, explains this morning, “there is yet to be [public] intellectual ferment around responsible capitalism or reformed social democracy.” What ails voters is the deficit.
Next week may be more difficult still for the Labour leader. The re-emergence of activist trade unionism is a gift to the Conservatives at a time when the party needs little excuse to indulge one of its periodic transformations into a 1980s tribute band. The Times (£) reports that union backed candidates have secured the “plum [Labour] seats” in the future European Parliament elections. That looming presence, plus the threat of a General Strike being called at next Wednesday’s meeting of the TUC General Council, may yet give the Tories the opportunity to reprise one of their greatest hits. One way or another, we may soon find out just how red Ed is.
OSBORNE THOROUGHLY IMF’D
Under promise, over deliver. That’s clearly Mark Carney‘s strategy prior to taking up the keys to the Bank of England vaults. As we report, the next governor placed the UK in “the pack of crisis economies” being left behind by a resurgent America at a fringe meeting around the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington yesterday. “Can central banks provide sustainable growth? No,” he continued. “They can help with the transition, but they can’t deliver long term growth. That needs to come through true fiscal adjustments and necessary structural reforms… Sustainable growth comes from the private sector.” It’s an endorsement of the Chancellor’s fiscal vision, but it suggests that his hopes for a monetary bounce in the meantime may be overdone.
Before Mr Carney takes his post, there is the small matter of June’s annual visit by IMF officials to be negotiated. Relations between the two would not have been helped by Christine Lagarde’s speech yesterday, which the Guardian reports included her assertion that she “vividly remembered” the Chancellor’s shame at the size of his deficit. The FT (£) believes the Treasury are up for the fight, noting that “George Osborne is to go toe-to-toe” with the IMF if they call for an end to his deficit reduction strategy. As Jeremey Warner writes, the Chancellor feels that Ms Lagarde’s position is on shakier ground than those cheering her on from the opposition benches might suppose:
“Why is the UK being asked to go back to fiscal expansionism when there are no such demands made of Germany? Why, too, is Britain being told to let rip when much harsher fiscal consolidation is being urged on countries in the eurozone with smaller fiscal deficits. It makes no sense, unless explained as traditional French Anglophobia…”
Even allowing for Anglo-French rivalry, the Chancellor’s supporters have a tougher task on their hands now. Polly Toynbee argues in the Guardian that the statistical errors in the model of Harvard economists Professor Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have “blown the austerians case out of the water”. With the academics discredited and the IMF deeply sceptical, one by one, the stilts holding up the house which George built are being gradually kicked away.
END OF THE ROAD FOR THE MOD SQUAD?
Senior ministers have urged Dave to ditch the modernisation project and emulate Margaret Thatcher by giving voters “red meat” on immigration and welfare, we report. That advice isn’t easy to square with Lord Ashcroft’s latest findings. As the Mail reports, he notes that only 16pc of non-white voters supported the Tories the last time around. Only 30pc of Asian voters believe that the Tories share their values, and 16pc of black voters. On the plus side, 51pc have never heard of Enoch Powell or the Rivers of Blood speech. Even so, with this segment of the electorate increasingly influential, the Prime Minister may have cause to think again before throwing any red meat on immigration to the Tory wolves.
SCHOOLS IN FOR SUMMER
It’s no wonder the Tories are opposed to votes at 16. Michael Gove’s speech at the Spectator Education Conference yesterday would have made him decidedly unpopular among the nation’s children. As we report, the Education Secretary called for an end to Britain’s “19th century” education system, a move which means extending the school day and curtailing school holidays.
If that causes long faces in the classroom, the good news is that there’s a sweetener. Britain’s best performing pupils will receive…a letter from David Willetts, the Times (£) reports.
CIVIL SERVICE FLYNN-FLAM
The Telegraph article by Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher which appeared last week has left Labour’s Paul Flynn very cross indeed, as the Times (£) reports. When the pair appeared at the Commons Public Administration Committee yesterday, an “incorrigibly vivid” (in Quentin Letts‘ words) Mr Flynn let rip telling them they had “prostituted” their office with their “entirely sycophantic” words. As Michael Deacon reports, he was most uncivil to the civil servants:
“Such was Mr Flynn’s disgust that he addressed the objects of his ire as ‘Mr Kerslake’ and ‘Mr Heywood’, even though the nameplates on their table clearly read ‘Sir Bob’ and ‘Sir Jeremy’.”
HEALTH TOURISTS CRACKDOWN
NHS numbers entitling non-UK residents to NHS care should be handed out far more sparingly, Jeremy Hunt tells the Mail. Instead, visitors should be issued with only a temporary number which would lead to them being charged for anything other than emergency care, the Health Secretary said. The Sun adds that a consultation is expected in the next couple of months.
ALLEGED PCC WHISTLE-BLOWERS ARRESTED
MPs have called on Theresa May to intervene after the arrest of a third person in Cumbria Police’s investigation into the alleged leak of PCC Richard Rhodes’ expenses to a local newspaper. As we report, Tim Farron and Jamie Reed have both called for protection to be extended to any whistle-blowers involved.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Tracey Crocuch has been making the most of the Commons dining subsidies:
@LiamFoxMP: “Nothing says “I ate too much for lunch” than a midriff button pinging off your shirt…#chubbytummy“
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson: Will Gove’s schools revolution be just another false start?
Jeremy Warner: This is no time to go wobbly, Christine
Alistair Osborne: Has the world lost its lust for gold?
Telegraph View: Teaching unions put adults first, children last
Best of the Rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£): Small solutions should be Miliband’s big idea
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£): Thatcher was right – there is no such thing as society
Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express: So what would Mrs Thatcher do for Britain now?
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian: Osborne’s case for austerity has just started to wobble
08:30 am: Scotland Secretary Michael Moore is to deliver a speech at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. RBS HQ, Gogarburn, Edinburgh.
09:00 am: Ed Balls on LBC 97.3.
09:00 am: Scottish Labour conference. Speeches from Labour leader Ed Miliband, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, former chancellor Alistair Darling and Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar. Eden Court, Inverness.
09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending estimate for March.