MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING NEWS: The omission of measures aimed at problem drinking and smoking from today’s Queen’s Speech does not mean they have been abandoned, Jeremy Hunt told the Today programme:
“Just because something is not in the Queen’s Speech does not mean the Government can’t bring it forward as law, but we have not made a decision…On plain paper packaging, if we do it we will be the first country in Europe, the second country in the world – Australia only introduced it in January. So it is a much harder job to assess the evidence as to how effective it would be. I want to make sure we do the job properly so I’ve said I will take the time needed.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH HIGHLIGHTS DAVE’S TACTICAL CONUNDRUM
Good morning. It’s Queen’s Speech day, and what’s out is just as noteworthy as what’s in. As we report, there’s some meat this morning on immigration – landlords will be made responsible for checking their tenants’ status before arranging a letting. The headline announcements we have already – an Immigration Bill which will curb access to benefits and non-emergency NHS treatment for temporary visitors, the flat rate pension scheme, a £72,000 cap on care contributions, and a paving bill for HS2. Patrick Wintour has a full list of runners and riders over at the Guardian. The speech cannot be said to be a knee jerk reaction to the local elections – for a start it needs to be written three days in advance as the ink takes that long to dry on the goat hide (h/t Nick Robinson) – but it does bear the fingerprints of Lynton Crosby. There’s meat here for the Tory backbenches if they can stop squabbling long enough to enjoy it.
What isn’t there is also instructive. Out have gone proposed measures on plain cigarette packaging and data (the snooper’s charter), suggesting Dave is weary of another fight with the malcontents. Nor is there any mention of gay marriage (actually, there was no mention in the last speech, either) except to say that it has been carried over from the last parliament. As our leader points out, that presents Dave with a messy dilemma. Assuming it comes back from the Lords having been amended to within an inch of its life, he will be under pressure to reverse those amendments in the lower chamber. Cue a repeat of the popular Tory mods v head bangers slugfest. Party unity demands he let it slip quietly into the night, but having expended so much political capital to take the bill this far, it is difficult to see how he can drop it.
Finally, there’s Europe. Dave conceded yesterday in a letter to John Baron that he wouldn’t be legislating for a vote in this parliament after all, despite several hints to the contrary. As we report, it was only last week that Downing Street was whispering that Dave would introduce legislation even at the risk of defeat, so strong were his convictions. Now, it appears that Number 10 would stop at backing a backbencher bringing a private bill which would almost certainly run out of time. Surveys in both the Sun and the Times (£) indicate that the British public is more eurosceptic and ever. Dave choosing this moment to hide his light under a bushel is hardly calculated to make him friends in the marginals.
Nothing seems to frustrate Tory MPs more than Mr Cameron’s habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Equally, though, in the context of first Nigel Lawson and then Liam Fox, it’s worth pointing out how striking it is that otherwise thoughtful, intelligent Conservatives appear to have no sense of the harm they do to the party’s 2015 chances by airing their differences with Dave. Message discipline may have a slightly Stalinist flavour, but Labour are better at it.
KIP CLIMBING ON UP THE CHARTS
Farewell Tory poll revival, we barely knew ye. The Sun‘s YouGov poll shows Labour’s lead back out at 10pts with Ukip biting a considerable chunk from the Conservative figures (Con 29pc, Lab 39pc, Lib Dem 9pc, Ukip 16pc). Eccentrically, the majority of Ukip supporters do not even cite Europe as a priority. Only 49pc select it as an issue of utmost importance to the country, compared with 90pc worried about immigration and 73pc with the economy.
That will confuse the Conservatives. Given that hardline policies on immigration and welfare abuse, exactly the issues Ukip voters prioritise, had been trailed extensively before the local elections, Dave could be forgiven for asking what it is that the party has that the Conservatives lack. Well, an increasing number of members for a start. The FT (£) reports that the party’s membership base rose by more than 50pc in the year to April, reaching 26,097 from a base of 17,220. It’s a long way short of the Tory number (which has declined from around 500,000 in the 1990s to c.130,000 today), but the respective trajectories of the parties will concern CCHQ. At least they have not lost any MPs to Ukip in this parliament. The Mail warns that Bernard Jenkin has already raised the prospect of others departing from the Tory benches to form a Ukip parliamentary delegation.
TALKING YOUR LANGUAGE
Bad news for Polly Toynbee – she’s lost Dr Liam Fox. Writing for us, Dr Fox explains that he no longer cares what was said around the Guardian columnist’s dinner table but “it should matter to [the Conservatives] what is being said in the Dog and Duck in Daventry, Darlington or Dover.” Obviously he did not have time to watch the Chancellor’s speech to warehouse workers in Kent last month. If he had have done, he’d know that nobody was employing working class idiom more effectively in the quest for a “bedder Briddain”. What Ed Miliband would give for the Chancellor’s mockney. As Mary Riddell points out, he still doesn’t speak human very well:
“Belatedly, Labour is shifting away from vague suggestions that the growth fairy would heal the broken economy. Past indecision cut no ice in Boston or elsewhere. If the days of boom have gone for ever, as some economists suspect, then the social democrats whose programmes are tailored to good times need a new story more speedily than ever. That does not mean an instant manifesto, but nor will vision suffice. Voters deserve precision and honesty, and the main parties have offered neither.”
As befits one of Gordon Brown’s former aides, Ed Balls has perfected the Macavity-esque trick of disappearing when turbulence hits. Now he has been told to pull his socks up, through a Peter Hain article in Progress Online . Mr Hain argues that “Labour’s Treasury team need to get out on the stump now and work even harder. It shouldn’t just be left to Ed and Harriet to carry the heavy load, whether on the World at One, the Today programme or anywhere else.” The former Welsh Secretary also argues for a defence of the position that Labour will borrow more in the short term, a point of some confusion for Red Ed in his WATO interview. Labour standing for more debt? As Fraser Nelson caustically notes in the Spectator, that’s another policy they have stolen from the Tories.
CAMERON REJECTS CHARTER DEAL
Dave will reject the proposals made as an alternative to the Government’s Royal Charter, we report. The Charter was withdrawn from the order of business for the next Privy Council meeting on May 15th in order to allow due consideration of alternative proposals by the press. A public consultation will now run until May 25th, although why, given that the Prime Minister “sticks to his position”, according to a spokesman, is anyone’s guess.
BIG TROUBLE IN GREATER CHINA
He’s coming whether you like it or not. The Chinese are warned in today’s FT (£) that they will be getting a visit from Dave in the autumn, despite sources making it clear in yesterday’s Telegraph that Sino-British relations were badly damaged by the Prime Minister’s desire to have his picture taken with the Dalai Lama. In the meantime, British ministers will decide “who they meet and when they meet them”, according to Downing Street. So there.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Lord Lawson’s comments yesterday won some praise from Austin Mitchell:
@AVMitchell2010:“Bring back Lawson as chancellor.He’s learned sense on EU and he knows how to get a boom going”
TOP COMMENT In the Telegraph
Nigel Farage – Lawson calls time on the three-pint heroes
Telegraph View – New Bills – and an old one that won’t go away
Best of the rest
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – If Cameron had any sense, he would call a referendum now
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) – Cameron needs a big tent Conservatism
Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail – Why the Eton crew could sink Cameron
Matthew Norman in The Independent – If only the Queen would speak about a business that gambles with lives
Today: Civil service strike. Members of the Public and Commercial Service union at a number of government agencies and commissions stage a one-hour strike from 11am in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
11:30 am: State Opening of Parliament. Palace of Westminster.