It’s a lot less lonely now. When a group of unknown political players set up Ukip in 1993, the idea that the UK might someday re-establish its independence and leave the European Union was at best a minority pursuit. Now, no less a man than Lord Lawson advocates the idea, and validates Ukip’s arguments. Clearly nobody now doubts that it is a valid position. The reaction to Lord Lawson’s view has been to ask what damage it will do internally, to David Cameron’s embattled Conservative Party, and there has been speculation about the timing of the statement.
MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: Nick Clegg has told the Today programme that Britain can expect a Queen’s Speech which is “rooted in the centre ground of British politics.” He has also taken Lord Lawson to task on his comments in this morning’s Times, while opposing Dave’s plan for a referendum in the next parliament irrespective of treaty changes:
“If we were to leave the EU we would jeopardise up to three million jobs in this country… We absolutely must have a referendum [but only] the next time the rules of the European Union change. [As for Lord Lawson’s comments, they’re] part of an anguished debate within the Tory party – they’ve had it before, they’ll have it again.”
LORD LAWSON BACKS A BREXIT
Good morning. Lord Lawson’s column in the Times (£) will make difficult reading for Dave. The former Chancellor has pledged his referendum vote to the “out” camp, quoting John Maynard Keynes’ maxim that “when the facts change, I change my mind.” Of course, it is easier to have views like these when one is freed of the burdens and constraints of high office. It’s bound to jolt the Tories though, and it will be curious to see whether it triggers a Spartacus moment that reveals who the other closet outers are. It’s worth noting too that Lord Lawson’s comments are a bit equivocal on the benefits of a Brexit, and he glosses over the possible costs. It would be a brave PM who goes with a hunch on something quite so momentous.
What Lord Lawson’s intervention does do is highlight the tactical problem which Dave’s referendum ploy brings. The Prime Minister may have temporarily stifled the baying of his party’s backbenchers by promising a vote on Europe. But he will campaign to stay in. Taking the party with him is going to require a Herculean effort. When Labour figures like Keith Vaz (see Tweets and Twits) suggest that the vote is held before, or contemporaneously with, the next election, they’re trying to do Dave a mischief. The offer of an EU vote after the next election may draw back some Tory defectOrs to Ukip. The spectre of the Conservative leader campaigning on a pro-EU platform certainly won’t.
Europe isn’t the only one of Dave’s problems. A full page advert in today’s Times articulates the wish of many disillusioned voters to have “fewer political soundbites and more real action.” Yesterday’s plea from Conservative Grassroots chairman Robert Woollard for Dave to shelve his gay marriage plans highlighted the devastation of the party base under his leadership – down from 400,000 to 130,000 as the Express reports. With fewer foot soldiers, the Tories need to plunder a larger vote share than in 2010, but with a diminished capacity on the ground. A number of Tory MPs are sold on the idea that internet campaigning is the future – it may be, but success in the present is still a matter of knocking on doors.
But Conservatives shouldn’t get too carried away with all the doom and gloom. Party divisions over Europe, backbench indiscipline, a fragile economic recovery and an under-fire leader who is still more popular than his opponent. Sound familiar? Come 2015, the Tories will hope to party like it’s 1992, as I write in my column:
“For a start, the party has been galvanised by the death of Margaret Thatcher and the fortnight of commemoration and recollection that followed. Her passing reminded the Tories of their past glories and what they could achieve when united around a leader and an idea. More importantly, the hateful reaction from the Left reminded them that the old enemy has not gone away. Tories can now see the danger a Labour or Lib-Lab government would pose…Better still, the Conservatives have what looks increasingly like a clear policy platform that answers Ukip’s challenge. In a few weeks, for example, new figures will show that immigration has fallen again, allowing Mr Cameron to say that he is getting on with addressing the problem.”
DRAGON SEES RED
Given his role as Britain’s roving arms salesman trade ambassador, Dave will know there’s one important stamp missing from his passport. As we report, the Prime Minister has managed to get himself barred from China thanks to last year’s photo opportunity with the Dalai Lama. A proposed visit last autumn was cancelled by Beijing, while this year’s scheduled visit to Britain by the Chinese premier Li Keqiang has also been called off. Britain’s ambassador has been summoned and told to apologise, a political impossibility, and the Chinese embassy in London has resorted to demanding that the government make a gesture towards restoring a healthy track” noting that no political relationship means no trading one. It’s embarrassing for Dave the diplomat, but it’s worse for his Chancellor with billions of pounds of investment at risk, particularly as Britain’s energy policy is largely based on the now fragile notion that China will be willing to build us a new nuclear plant.
COALITION STUTTERS TOWARDS THE QUEEN’S SPEECH
Tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech will seek to address Dave’s women problem. As we report, yesterday’s news that those with no history of National Insurance contributions will lose their pension entitlement has been mitigated by the announcement that those caring for family members will be entitled to additional support from their local council. There will also be an Immigration Bill which limits access to some benefits for foreigners, a clean energy measure and paving legislation for HS2. To compensate for the fact that legislation on an aid target has been quietly shelved, there will be an announcement on HMRC helping African states collect taxes today.
How much will actually be achieved? The Coalition doesn’t score badly in the Guardian‘s marking of its progress on last year’s objectives – it’s only the lords Reform Bill and the Communications Data Bill which have been complete turkeys. That said, there’s a growing air of dissatisfaction about the price of buying the grey vote. The Sun highlights a report by Reform which claims that politicians are “running scared of the elderly”, while Andrew Haldenby, a Reform director, argues in a piece for us that tomorrow’s Pensions Bill will be a “missed opportunity”.
BAD MANNERS MILIBAND MEANT OPPOSITION FOR LABOUR
The serialisation of Lord Adonis’ election diary continues in today’s Times (£). Gordon was prepared to go in order to facilitate a rainbow coalition between Lib and Lab, but when it came to the negotiating table, not only were the Tories willing to concede more ground, they had better manners, he reports. The culprits? Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, apparently. Manners maketh the man, they obviously maketh governments, too:
“Another dramatic text arrived from Paddy [Ashdown]: ‘This is not going well. The meeting with you guys was a disaster. The Tories will give us MASSIVELY more than you guys and were respectful where your body language was my guys said truly shocking.'”
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM…
Nimbys of Britain, your country needs you. As we report, planning minister Nick Boles has conceded that he won’t defeat “Nimbyism”, and would instead settle for “channel[ing]” the anger of campaigners into “constructive rows”. In other words, campaigners have been invited to ameliorate developments rather than blocking them outright. But that’s only an issue if it’s the character of the development which is in question, rather than the issue of building on greenfield land. At any event, Mr Boles doesn’t appear too optimistic, conceding that “it’s never great to realise that you have not managed to persuade people of your proposal.”
DECISION TIME ON DORRIES
One of Ukip’s greatest problems in 2015 will be the lack of big-name candidates. Fortunately for them, the Tories are doing their best to hand them one. Nadine Dorries will meet Sir George Young this week in order to discuss a return to the Tory fold following a six month suspension. However, as the Times (£) reports, she will refuse to accept any deal which restores the whip in return for a promise not to criticise the leadership. The final decision rests with a three man tribunal of appeal, not with Number 10, but with Ukip waiting in the wings, it’s Mrs Dorries, not Sir George, who holds the whip hand.
NON-EXEC NO SHOW
Attempts by Francis Maude to introduce business leaders onto the management boards of Whitehall departments as non-executive directors have largely failed, according to the FT (£). Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, points out that the Treasury’s supervisory board only met once in the last financial year, and that both businessmen and ministers were confused about the contribution which was expected of them, given the lack of fiduciary duties.
HOVE V GOVE
War has broken out on the south coast over Michael Gove’s plan for a free school in Hove. Plans to concrete over an existing playing field to build the new school have outraged everyone from the usual suspects to the local (Tory) MP. “we’ve already had three offers for people to climb the trees and refuse to be moved,” one campaigner tells the Independent. Sounds like a new mission for @toryeducation.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Going early on the EU really is gaining some momentum, even that noted EU malcontent, er, Keith Vaz thinks we should get it done:
@Keith_VazMP:“An in / out referendum before the next election would clear the air. We could actually hold it on the day of the next general election. # Eu”
TOP COMMENT In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan – Mr Cameron has two years left to summon up the spirit of 1992
Andrew Haldenby – We can’t afford such generosity to the elderly
Jeevan Vasagar – Will she have to choose between Germany and Europe
Telegraph View – Mass immigration has left an alarming legacy
Best of the rest
Nigel Lawson in The Times (£) – I’ll be voting to quit the EU
Ross Clark in the Daily Express – It is time to pull the plug on the single currency
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Labour’s lesson after Ukip: put the passion into politics
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – It would be political folly for Cameron to ape Ukip
Today: Post Office strike. Workers in hundreds of Crown post offices stage an all-day strike in a row over jobs, pay and branch closures.
09:30 pm: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street. w
Lord Lawson is to be congratulated for articulating publicly what many senior Conservatives believe – that the European Union is lost to Britain and that the sooner we leave it, the better.
The fact that Lawson was once quite closely identified with the Europhile wing of the party – having backed entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism while Chancellor – makes his case, argued in characteristically compelling fashion, all the more persuasive. At the end of his long article in the Times, he quotes Keynes: when the facts change, I change my mind, what do you do sir?
Yet though it is hard to argue with any of his main contentions – that Britain gains little if anything from the single market, that creation of the euro makes the UK ever more powerless to influence European affairs, that the City would gain if freed from the insanity of Europe’s regulatory overkill, that the EU is a political, not an economic project, and so on – I think he underestimates, or at least chooses to ignore, the difficulty of Britain’s position.
Twenty years ago, on September 16, 1992, sterling was forced out of the ERM amid extreme market turbulence. It was a political catastrophe that cast a long and baleful shadow over the then government.
It ripped open divisions in the Conservative Party. It hardened battle lines in the bitter debate over Britain’s place in Europe. It destroyed tolerance in the party, and laid finally to rest the notion that loyalty was its secret weapon. The aftermath inspired more myths than the Greeks.
Margaret Thatcher and I took sterling into the ERM in 1989 to general applause. Our decision was not some reckless flight of fancy. A poll in the Financial Weekly suggested that 97 per cent of business leaders wanted sterling to join, 66 per cent of whom did not care at what exchange rate we entered. The CBI, TUC, Parliament, press and public were overwhelmingly in favour. Entry had been proposed previously by Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, but – reinforced by advisers – Margaret had said “No”.
The Conservative grandee also urged David Cameron to start modelling his premiership on Margaret Thatcher and not on Tony Blair.
The peer did not back calls for Mr Osborne to be moved out of Number 11 in a reshuffle tipped for the autumn, despite conceding the last budget was “not his biggest success”.
But he said that Mr Osborne needed to focus exclusively on the tough job of addressing the deficit following criticism that his dual role led to him taking his eye off the ball.
There was nothing to stop the Prime Minister consulting with his close ally on specific issues, as he had “on the whole a pretty good political antenna”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.
But he added: “I do think it might be sensible to give up the formal role and focus exclusively on his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer which is a tremendously important job.”
George Osborne has been told by one of his political heroes, Lord Lawson, to give up being the Conservatives’ main strategist and concentrate on the more important job of being the chancellor.
In an interview with the BBC, the former chancellor has advised his longtime admirer to devote more time to running Britain’s economy so that he no longer has to waste time on tactical discussions.
His advice echoes criticisms from two of Osborne’s biggest critics, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries. Balls has taken to calling Osborne “the part-time chancellor”.
Osborne has been the Tories’ arch strategist since Cameron became party leader in 2005. He chairs the daily 4pm strategy meeting at No 10 with key advisers.
Lawson, interviewed for today’s Westminster Hour on Radio 4, said that Osborne should now give it up.
“I think it might well be sensible now for him to give up this central strategic job, which does involve chairing meetings and so on.
As he prepares for his imminent Budget, George Osborne is like a cross housewife. The lady in question is a superb cook, and happy to create a feast: all she needs is a little notice. But her husband has just rung to say that he is bringing six friends home in half an hour. As she contemplates the fridge, she can see barely enough to fill a frying pan, which is just as well. She will need that to brain the husband.
The analogy is not wholly accurate, for there is one crucial difference. Mr Osborne knew that the first phase of his chancellorship would be about famine, not feasts. It is to be hoped that there will be a second phase, and not just for the obvious reasons. George Osborne has a restless intelligence. His officials have been impressed by his command of his brief. In his early days as shadow chancellor, he was attracted by the idea of a flat tax. In different circumstances, such a refusal to succumb to the conventional wisdom could make him the most original and creative chancellor since Nigel Lawson. But in these bleak times, it is hard to be either.
Some of the Chancellor’s critics have complained about his failure to produce a strategy for growth. To listen to them, one might think that this was a simple matter: that Mr Osborne resembled an idle s