MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. A meeting of backbenchers, a message of defiance from an embattled leader and a desperate appeal for unity. And for a change it wasn’t David Cameron. Tories will allow themselves a brief moment to relish overnight reports that Ed Miliband had to give his troops a pep talk at the PLP last night. The troubles besetting the Labour leader are growing. The reverberations from Mr Tony’s intervention in the New Statesman last week are still being felt. He reinforced his message in a speech in the US, reported in the Guardian, namely on the perils facing parties and leaders that lose touch with the centre.
Mr Miliband must be resenting the drip-drip of ‘helpful’ advice from those associated with Mr Blair, who plainly feel that with David Miliband gone, there is nothing left to be loyal for. Dan Hodges has another of his perceptive pieces of analysis in the Telegraph today, in which he details Labour’s 35pc strategy for sneaking over the finish line, which, as Rachel Sylvester explains in the Times (£), amounts to 29pc core vote plus 6pc grumpy Lib Dems. If true, it’s unambitious. Tories believe the skids are under Mr Miliband, both on policy and party management. They should look to their own troubles. But when a leader has to issue an appeal for unity, things are not going well. Are Labour wars about to become the theme of this late spring?
Well, there’s still the possibility of peace in our time. The Mail reports that Ed Miliband has invited Mr Tony to “truce talks” with a view to keeping him quiet in the run-up to 2015. As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian, there’s fat chance of that. Mr Blair is, she writes, careering around “like a loose horse at the Grand National” and threatening to cast a shadow over the current leadership in the same way that Baroness Thatcher did with generations of Conservatives.
Of course, unlike Lady Thatcher, Tony’s message is all about consensus. But the catch-all model also flies in the face of the 35pc strategy. AsDan Hodges writes, it isn’t just Mr Blair who finds Ed’s plan wanting:
“Of course, Blair’s political judgement isn’t infallible… But his comments aren’t the act of a back-seat driver, either. They’re the act of a passenger who’s tapped the driver on the shoulder and told him ‘It’s OK, I’ll walk the rest of the way.’ He’s not grabbing for the wheel. He’s getting out before the car ends up in the ditch. And there are several members of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet starting to wish they could get out with him.”
NO THATCHER BOUNCE FOR TORIES
If Margaret Thatcher was leading the Tory party today, it would be 8pts better off in the polls, a Guardian / ICM survey has found. She isn’t though, and Dave’s troops have not profited from the wall-to-wall coverage of her passing. They register 32pc, up only 1pt, in the latest survey, with Labour slipping back a point to 38pc and Ukip’s vote share still stubbornly high on 9pc.
Lady Thatcher will lie overnight in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft, allowing MPs and peers to pay their respects. The Speaker announced yesterday that Big Ben will fall silent for the funeral, the first time the chimes have been halted since Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, as we report. Dave has defended the £10m cost of the proceedings, helpfully converted into teachers and nurses by the Guardian (not online).
Still, if the Conservatives were intending to launch again from the Right (as many have intimated since Lynton Crosby’s arrival), surely Lady Thatcher’s funeral provides an ideal opportunity? Not at all, argues the FT (£). Dave will fight the next election from the centre ground, they argue, with Andrew Cooper re-hired as an adviser once he does leave Downing Street late this year or in 2014. While Tory MPs have returned from their recess with familiar grumbles about gay marriage and the party base, Number 10 has been buoyed by what it believes is a change in the economic weather (today’s sharp rise in business confidence is a case in point). As I write in my column, Number 10 has reasons to be cheerful:
“A year ago we were settling into the disastrous aftermath of the “omnishambles” Budget. Incompetence had taken hold. The Treasury was in retreat and it seemed as if nothing could go right for Mr Cameron. Set against that, his present circumstances look better. His message that Britain is locked in a ‘global race’ that requires relentless economic reform based upon a keen understanding of the aspirational hopes of the British people is being relentlessly stuck to…the new campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, is bringing much needed rigour to the operation.”
BRITAIN SENDS MILITARY AID TO SYRIAN REBELS
Britain’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has escalated further with William Hague announcing that 34 armoured vehicles and 20 sets of body armour will be supplied to the rebels. The Mail reports that the Foreign Secretary will also seek to tear up the EU’s arms embargo, allowing Britain to supply weaponry as well as transport and defence equipment.
NAO TO PROBE 4G AUCTION
The failure of February’s 4G auction to raise the £3.5bn forecast in December’s Autumn statement will be subject to a National Audit Office investigation, the Guardian reports. The sale fell short by £1.2bn, prompting Labour claims that the auction process had not been run in a way which maximised value for money. Taking the highest bids across the board, the auction would have raised some £5.2bn, but thanks to a system of adjustments which saw the highest bidder pay little more than the second placed offer, the total take was significantly lower. That isn’t just problematic for the Coalition – if you are taking the Labour line that the auction’s timing was a cynical exercise in massaging the deficit statistics, you would have thought that the bidding process would have sought to maximise revenue too.
BORIS OF ARABIA
Well, the UAE actually. The Mayor of London is in the desert kingdom as part of a trade mission to the Gulf. Confronted by a camel meat platter, the Mail reports that he made lighter work of it than the Prince of Wales earlier this month. On the home front, Bo-Jo has given an in-depth interview to CNBC as part of a 30 minute long show airing on Wednesday. Insisting that he already has “the best job in British politics”, he goes on to deliver a paean to his political style:
“Self-deprecation is a very cunning device. Self-deprecation is all about understanding that basically people regard politicians as a bunch of shysters so you’ve got to be understood and then you try to get to the point of what people are saying, that’s what it’s all about I suppose.”
ANDREW MITCHELL: REPUTATIONAL ADVISER
One frequent criticism of politicians who take consultancy jobs is that they lack direct experience in the sector where they have been hired. That’s not a criticism that can be levied at Montrose Associates’ newest hire. Andrew Mitchell has been taken on at £3,000 a day by the firm which specialises in “reputational threats”, according to the Times (£). Clearly an astute move – Thrasher has done an excellent job of rehabilitating himself following the Plebgate smears – but does this mean he has closed the door to an EU role in the coming months?
VINCE TAKES THE WRONG DIRECTION
Presumably working on the principal that the Prime Minister’s friends are his enemies, Vince Cable launched an attack on the “immoral” size of the earnings of the band One Direction. As the Times (£) reports, the Business Secretary later recanted on the grounds that he had misheard the question and thought he was criticising chief executives and not popstars. “Apparently [they are] very popular and very succeSsful, so I have nothing against them,” he added.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Toby Perkins thoughts on last night’s events in Boston echo those of his colleagues:
@tobyperkinsmp: “The appalling+heinous criminals who detonated bombs killing ppl running to raise money for good causes are as sickening as police are brave.”
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan – A last piece of advice for the PM in the pew at St Paul’s
Philip Johnston – When does peaceful protest cross the line?
Dan Hodges – Blairite barbs expose the frailty of Labour unity
Telegraph View – Welfare reform remains a moral imperative
Best of the Rest
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Ed Miliband should be pitching a bigger tent
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Tony Blair is like a loose horse at the Grand National
Ian Birrell in The Independent – We subsidise firms that keep workers in poverty
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Conservatives should be pro-market, not pro-business
Today: Lord De Mauley to publish the Draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill clauses.
09:30 am: Ex-No 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell at Public Administration Select Committee on Civil Service reform. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Inflation figures for March are published by the Office for National Statistics.
09:30 am: Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases its house price study for February.
10:00 am: Energy and Climate Change Committee to take evidence from energy company executives on energy prices, profits and poverty. Portcullis House.
10:00 am: Money announced for railway station makeovers in Edinburgh. Transport Minister Keith Brown gives details of stations to receive money for refurbishments for next year’s Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games. Carlton Hotel, North Bridge, Edinburgh.
10:30 am Hearing in action brought by Lord McAlpine against Sally Bercow. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.
11:00 am Results of random tests for horse meat and bute by the EU to be announced today. Bussels.
11:15 am: Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman give evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on press regulation. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
04:00 pm: The body of Baroness Thatcher to rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft on the eve of her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, the Chapel will be open (from 1700 until 2100) in order that members of both Houses and parliamentary staff holding permanent passes may pay their respects. Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, Westminster.
06:00 pm: Government’s health tsar Dr Don Berwick to address The King’s Fund. The King’s Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square.
07:00 pm: William Hague speaks to Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet. The speakers at the dinner will be William Hague MP, Alderman Roger Gifford and The Ambassador of the State of Kuwait – His Excellency Mr Khaled AAS Al Duwaisan GCVO. Mansion House, Walbrook.