MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Employment is up, inflation down, positive GDP numbers on the horizon and the opposition internally split over its attitude to cuts. The last thing the Government should need is a relaunch, yet this morning’s criminal justice announcement by David Cameron feel like an attempt to stop the rot. It shouldn’t have come to this, and the fact that the machinery of Number 10, rather than the policy direction it wishes to take, is now the story, is symptomatic of chronic problems with news management.
The catchily titled ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ ‘tough but intelligent’ programme marks the last rites for Mr Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ phase, something he will underline today by saying “retribution is not a dirty word”. The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister will also announce new policies include fining private prisons when former inmates reoffend, stopping inmates from watching Sky TV, and legislating to make possessing a handgun with an intent to supply an offence.
Mr Cameron wants to be personally associated with the new, harder stance on criminal justice. Given the mauling his leadership style has taken over the weekend, he will be desperate to project a more forceful image to the electorate. Many remain to be convinced. Tim Montgomerie in the Mail argues that the Prime Minister has failed to capitalise on good economic news so far and now must pin his hopes on the GDP numbers coming on “turnaround Thursday” changing the public perception of his party. Stronger still, Iain Martin, writing in today’s Telegraph, asks whether Mr Cameron is simply out of his depth:
“Mr Cameron has long emphasised pragmatism to the point where many wonder what, if anything, he believes. This means that when he encounters difficulties – as Prime Ministers tend to, especially mid-term – there is not a cadre of Conservatives keen to defend him. If they felt he was engaged in a great mission to restore the country to health they might be more inclined to overlook errors.”
Given this, the Conservatives will hope there is no truth in the Guardian story that one of Mr Cameron’s aides has admitted that there is no money available to back up today’s calls for longer sentences and more rehabilitation. If that were true, the Prime Minister would be guilty of announcing an uncosted policy which would then need to be retracted or substantially amended by his juniors in the days that followed. Difficult to imagine, I know…
OMNISHAMBLES WRECKAGE BURNS AWAY
The Tories desperately need the relaunch to go well. Policy content and the direction of the economy have been positive in recent weeks, but Government competence is now up for question. This morning’s Times (£) leader describes the government as “self harming”, and as the Independent reports, Conservative MPs are howling for Number 10 to “get a grip”, with Andrew Percy one of a number breaking cover to criticse publicly the lacklustre manner in which the party machine handled the Thrasher affair. Gate-gate has undoubtedly left a party more divided than ever, with the Mail one of a number of papers to trace the Cabinet fault lines which emerged, pitching Mr Cameron and Michael Gove against Theresa May and the backbenchers.
Today’s papers are not reassuring for the “get a grip” brigade. The Telegraph reports that Mr Cameron’s deputy chief of staff has confessed on US television that he is frequently surprised by the daily news agenda which he discovers by listening to the Today programme. Many Tories argue that is the problem, the party should be setting the agenda, not following it. Maybe that’s about to change, though. The Times (£) reports that Lynton Crosby, Bo-Jo’s election mastermind, has been asked to take over the Conservative election campaign. If he takes the role, he will need to get Conservative MPs singing from the same hymn sheet. This looks easier said than done at the moment. As Roland Watson writes elsewhere in the Times (£), forcing the new intake to behave has been like trying to herd cats:
“Even before they tasted Mr Mitchell’s blood, the new intake had flexed its muscles. Jesse Norman and Nadhim Zahawi had postponed their ministerial careers by at least a year in leading the revolt over reform of the House of Lords. Meanwhile, Kwasi Kwarteng has agitated for a fourth runway at Heathrow while Zac Goldsmith has threatened to quit if there is ever a third.”
BLUE COLLAR TORIES V ONE NATION LABOUR
Conservative efforts to win the ‘stivers’ will step up a gear with the launch of a new group called Blue Collar Conservatism, a movement which has so far attracted 40 MPs. The Telegraph reports that the group will attempt draw parallels with Harold MacMillan’s 1959 election win which saw an Old Etonian buoyed by the working class vote beat a Hampstead intellectual in Hugh Gaitskell.
In the meantime, Labour will push for the same ground. The shadow cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss putting One Nation at the heart of everything the party does, the Independent reports. The campaign is likely to include the sensitive issue of immigration as Labour seeks to reconnect with the white working class voters it lost at the last election.
MAKING FRIENDS AND INFLUENCING PEOPLE: INTERNATIONAL EDITION
Theresa May has been slow to build a bridge over the troubled waters of the Atlantic following her refusal to extradite Gary McKinnon, the Telegraph reported at the weekend. Five days after Mrs May intervened to prevent Mr McKinnon being tried in the US, she has still not spoken to the Attorny General Eric Holder, who is apparently too angry to take her calls. Commenting in today’s Telegraph, Con Coughlin argues that a lack of trust in the special relationship puts us all in danger:
“[The British] intelligence lifeline is at risk if Britain cannot guarantee that sensitive information shared by the Americans is safe. Indeed, there is already evidence that Washington has reduced the quality of information it provides to London.”
Closer to home, the FT (£) reports that Germany is threatening to cancel next month’s EU budget sumit if Dave sticks to his guns on a spending freeze. Angela Merkel sees the gathering as pointless if the Prime Minister continues to show no interest in her proposed compromise deal which would cap EU spending at 1 per cent of continental GDP. Dave and Angie have a tete-a-tete scheduled for early November, but with British diplomats emphasising that Mr Cameron’s position is final, this may be the only time they see each other that month.
LIB DEMS PAWNS IN CIVIL SERVICE GAME
The Civil Service will face an inquiry into its future as a result of tensions between officials and ministers, the Times (£) reports. Relations between the Conservatives and public servants are at an all time low with Bernard Jenkin urging a cross-party parliamentary commission be called to address a “crisis of competence” in Whitehall, and rumours circulating that Lib Dem ministers are being manipulated by civil servants into blocking policy changes. You wouldn’t have thought they would need the encouragement…
GOVERNMENT’S ATOMIC AMBITIONS
The Government will write a “blank cheque” to the nuclear industry in an attempt to cover the costs of building a new generation of reactors, according to a group of academics whose letter is published in today’s Independent. All parties have spoken out against nuclear subsidies in the past, but with Chinese money absenting itself from the latest bidding round, there is a growing sense that only the Government will be able to take on the balance sheet risk for projects bound to be delivered late and over-budget.
CUTS TO CHILD BENEFIT LEFT TOO LATE
Only 11 weeks before George Osborne’s child benefit cuts are due to take effect, the Institute of Chartered Accountants has warned that most of the 500,000 people affected, many of whom will need to fill out tax self-assessment forms for the first time, are completely in the dark, the Telegraph reports. HMRC have still not written to the families concerned, and accountants warn that the taxman will be left trying to claw back overpaid benefit, rather than simply paying out less. Obviously, this will all go a long way towards salvaging that reputation for competence…
WHEN I GROW UP, I WANT TO BE A POLICE COMMISSIONER…
…says John Prescott, aged 74 ¾. Writing in today’s Times (£), he says he wants the role so he can be “tough on the causes of crime”. Obviously he’s taking a leaf out of Dave’s book. Prezza captures the mood on the police commissioner elections saying:
“As someone who has contested 11 elections since 1966, I have never seen such a poorly thought-out one as this.”
It is hard not to agree with him. An 18.5 per cent turnout is predicted by the Electoral Reform Society, and today’s FT (£) makes the case for an information gap with voters largely unaware that there is an election on. Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, is actively urging people not to vote in order to strangle the scheme at birth. It’s unlikely that will happen. With candidates like Prezza and Mervyn Barrett, who today’s Independent reports has just seen his entire campaign team resign en masse owing to funding concerns, in the hunt, the public is bound to get interested sooner or later.
SUNDAY BEST – AND WORST, IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM
That was “a bad week to bury good news”, as the Sunday Telegraph’ s leader put it. The Tory tendency to snatch serial defeats from the jaws of victory dominated the Sunday comment sections. The machine, rather than the pilot took most of the flack. Martin Ivens’ column in the Sunday Times (£) called for some thug life to be injected into Number 10’s operation: “I don’t advise him to adopt new Labour’s cynical spin-doctoring — it disguised a lack of substance in Blair’s first years of government and its moral inadequacy eventually became a bad news story in itself. But he does need to change the way No 10 operates and get a grip. It can be done even now.”
“I like the conspiracy theory that his resignation was timed to distract from George Osborne’s Great Train Snobbery, but to believe that is to assume a level of organisational skill on the part of this government that it is conspicuously lacking,” wrote Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. He adds that it was wasn’t the Sun or the Telegraph which hammered the final nail into Thrasher’s column, it was…Bruce Forsyth.
“This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anyone can beat it. It has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs…The abiding sin of the government is not that some ministers are rich, but that it seems unable to manage its affairs competently. The Blair government was scarcely rocked by the discovery that the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, had exercised his droit de seigneur by fornicating with a civil servant on his office desk during working hours. This government has difficulty in managing a non-story about the chancellor upgrading his ticket on a train, or the stupidity of the former chief whip (who is no toff) behaving like a saloon-bar bore,” Norman Tebbit let rip in the Observer.
Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph wrote that history has come full circle: “Because [Margaret Thatcher] was from the most despised social caste – the lower middle class – she owed no loyalty in the war of attrition to either the sentimentalised proletariat or the arrogant born-to-rule elite. So powerful and liberating was her effect on the political dynamics of the country that Labour had to reinvent itself too, and become a champion of ambition and mobility rather than entrenched class defensiveness. Well, that’s all over now. Here we are again (almost), back where we started. Policemen are told that they should know their place and a Prime Minister who considers himself to be the embodiment of modern social attitudes shrugs it off – until the pressure overwhelms him.”
Finally, a stark warning from Nadine Dorries on ConservativeHome: “George Osborne and David Cameron surround themselves with a hand-picked coterie of well-bred and well placed MPs. The jobs for the boys system which allowed both men to progress through the party based not on what but who they knew is already in place to bring through the next generation of little Dave’s and George’s. Many MPs in the modern party find this behaviour both arrogant and unacceptable in a modern, meritocratic Britain. Unfortunately, it is that brooding resentment which may lead the party into even darker waters yet.”
TWEETS AND TWITS
Brooks Newmark gets all tribal:
@TweetBrooks: “Did all we could to help the Mackems! 10 men (Tiote sent off) and scored both goals (incl Ba OG) @ Sunderland Ended Sunderland 1 Newcastle 1”
Today’s Morning Briefing was edited by Thomas Pascoe.
In The Telegraph
Iain Martin – Out of his depth?
Con Coughlin – We keep Gary McKinnon but lose the trust of Americans
Charles Moore – How technology will create true democracy
Nick Gibb – Soon history will come alive again in class
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in the Daily Mail – The real problem isn’t class… it’s just incompetence
Libby Purves in The Times (£) – Take away the dish marked ‘free money’
Edward Luce in the FT (£) – Shadow of 9/11 towers over the US election
Nigel Farage in The Sun – David Cameron’s Euro pledge is a load of Brussels spouts