The five things you need to know on Monday October 5, 2015...
1) THE OSBORNE IDENTITY
George Osborne will be pleased at front pages lauding his political coup de theatre in getting Lord Adonis to chair his new independent infrastructure commission. (Anorak note however, Osbo talked about Adonis becoming a crossbencher, but he won’t. He will be non-affiliated and remains a Labour party member).
The Chancellor’s sale of billions of Lloyds shares to the public to is another classic Osbo move, underlining just how much he’s in charge of the big levers of Government.
The infrastructure commission and grandparent shared leave are both policies he opposed just months ago when Labour had them in their manifesto. And like the national living wage, it proves he’s unafraid of poaching the Opposition’s best ideas, while reassuring the voters he’s got a firm hand on the tiller of the economy. (Although he insisted Davies had also offered the option of Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow looks like a good bet now, given Osborne told Today the airports commission was ‘a good example’ for the national body).
This is all part of Osborne's political identity as a shrewd strategist, the CEO of Government to Cameron's chairman role.
But some in his party think Osborne’s real weakness is a tin ear for how some policies play out on the ground. And the sound of pain over tax credits cuts is getting louder (not for nothing did The Sun warn about this last week in its leader).
Like the PM yesterday, Osborne played hardball on Good Morning Britain today, saying this was ‘a new settlement’ of lower welfare and lower taxes and ‘we’ve got to get on with it’. Yet he couldn’t answer how single mum of three Becca Baker – who earns more than the minimum wage – would find the £35 a week she was losing. He kept talking about ‘a typical family’ or ‘an average family’ benefitting from the NLW, lower taxes and free childcare. He had a vague line that ‘the whole wage scale will be pushed up’ by the living wage but it didn’t sound like the kind of robust statistical analysis needed to rebut the IFS, Resolution Foundation and others. In this PR battle, he’s losing.
Osborne has little cash to spend this autumn and if he does act he won’t change tax credits but may offer a distraction (an extra childcare bump, costing a mere couple of hundred million may not work tho).
The Sun quotes David Davis saying “I hope this doesn’t turn out to be our Poll Tax”, the FT says IDS is among those who fear the voter backlash. And two cabinet ministers tell The Times that some help is likely in the Autumn Statement – or the Budget (which may be too late in PR terms). “Let’s see where we are, and how tax receipts, particularly corporate tax receipts, are doing.”
Note Ruth Davidson said at a fringe yesterday “I think we do need to see a little bit more detail about how it will work in practice and I would expect that to be brought forward in the autumn statement”. Let’s see. Osborne's big speech is at noon.
2) LEADER COLUMNS
With upto 20 possible names in the frame for the Tory leadership this weekend, the PM’s decision to preannounce his departure certainly has triggered a Wacky Races-style rush of contenders. Having broken his usual rule of not talking about the leadership yesterday (telling the Sunday Tel he’ll ‘see how it flies’), today he was back on message refusing to engage on the issue.
The PM on Marr yesterday joked about the dangers for the frontrunner (which Osborne has rapidly become since May): “As I said to Jeremy Corbyn sometimes the outsider wins.” But Boris arrived in town last night and clearly hasn’t given up (in fact he’s not overly amused with what allies suspect was Osbornite briefing behind the Speccie cover story last week suggesting he was ‘in the wilderness’).
The Spectator was right however to point to frustration among some MPs that Boris has so far failed to do enough meeting and greeting, particularly of the new intake. If he’s to get through the Donkey Derby and join Osborne on the final ballot (just two names, unlike Labour, don’t forget), his Parliamentary operation needs to buck up soon. The Times has the new ConHome member poll keeping Osbo ahead of Boris in 4th. But our HuffPost/Survation poll and IpsosMORI last week (giving him a lead, especially among skilled manual workers) is the kind of thing that will get him on that final ballot. Bojo’s Tuesday speaking slot will be worth watching for the audience reaction, but also for just how serious he gets.
Some on the Right think Boris could be the best alternative to Osborne, but they are putting down tests already. Chris Grayling made clear at a fringe last night that the Tories can’t go for the centre ground: “Our response to the crucial challenge that we face must not be to move to the left ... We must continue to embrace the free market. We need to look to shrink the size of the state.” Note the PM uses the phrase ‘common ground’, a phrase first dreamed up by Keith Joseph.
Sajid Javid (who has his speech today), when asked by Andrew Neil yesterday if he would be following Nicky Morgan and making clear his own ambition to succeed Cameron, replied: “Of course not”. That reply surprised some but maybe it was more an expression of Osbornite irritation with Morgan than a clear pledge (after all Boris once said he’d not run or return to Parliament). Javid was popular on the fringe yesterday and notably was the star guest at the ConHome/1922 Committee reception late last night.
Of course, last year David Cameron was the star guest at this same event in Birmingham and was introduced by a certain Lord Ashcroft. Asked last night by friends why he wasn’t going to the Ashcroft event, he pointed out that the event sponsor was Heathrow. “Can’t go to that!” he joked, referring to the quasi-judicial decision on new runways.
As for Ashcroft (whose book is published today), Cameron made one of his risqué gags last night at the Scots Tory event. “I know the press are expecting it’s going to just be an orgy of backslapping and self-congratulation…we’ll leave the orgy bit to the next Ashcroft book!”
3) LEANING IN
Another area where Cameron has done a remarkable job of overshadowing his own victory conference is of course on the issue of Europe. But for all the talk of pigs in recent weeks, it’s chickens that Eurosceptics are talking about. And they think the PM is playing a game of chicken with Brussels, Berlin and his own party, pretending he’ll back Brexit until the very last minute when he’ll opt for an ‘In’ vote.
On the EU hokey-cokey, his words on Marr yesterday sounded more In than Out: “once I’ve got them [renegotiated powers] then I will turn around and make the case for staying in a reformed Europe” and doled out a swipe at O-Patz (“‘there’s nothing I’m going to bring back that will satisfy those people’). He ducked the issue of giving freedom to campaign for ministers, but that pressure won’t go away this week.
The Guardian quotes an In campaign source: “There has been a massive change in tone. Ministers have looked at the polls – which show a 50/50 split if you take out those unlikely to vote – and suddenly realised that if you leave a vacuum then it is sceptics who gain.”
What about timing? A Cabinet minister tells the Sun the Prime Minister should delay the referendum until "well into" 2017, saying the migration crisis will force Europe to make big changes. “We are telling the PM that there is no longer any hurry and he recognises that.” The danger is that the longer he leaves it, the longer the Farage stress on migration will be irreversible – a third of Sun readers are more likely to vote Out now after the summer migrant stories.
Nicky Morgan became the latest pro-EU minister to go on record: “I will want to be staying in, other people will want to put forward different views.” Asked if she could ever imagine herself campaigning to leave, she said: “Personally not”.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Listen to the daft but uncanny Chewbacca toilet roll
4) SPITTING IMAGE
After last night’s Scottish Tory reception, David Cameron was asked about the street protests and joked “I thought this was the age of the kinder politics that Jeremy Corbyn is talking about”. It’s true there was not much evidence of that yesterday on the anti-Tory march here in Manchester and photos and videos of journalists being spat at just underline how polarised politics is becoming.
My colleague Owen Bennett (read his blog here) was in the thick of it, and relates how he and the Telegraph’s Kate McCann had to be rescued by the cops who feared they would be ‘lynched’ by protestors. The TUC’s Frances O’Grady condemned the attacks on reporters, as did Owen Jones. Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman says he “strongly agrees with Frances O’Grady, what has happened is inexcusable and journalists must be able to do their jobs”.
But as he arrives in Manchester today for a postal workers union rally, the Labour leader has to counter the perception that fiery rhetoric on cuts is being exploited by the anarchist fringe in a way that could undermine his whole ‘New Left movement’ of protest. As for Cameron himself, when asked by colleagues last night just how long he think Corbyn would last, he replied: “As long as possible!”
5) FINDING NIMO, THE NEW NORMAL
Nicky Morgan (nicknamed ‘NiMo’ by spads) was on good form yesterday at our WaughZoneLive event at conference, talking about everything from mobile phones in classrooms (and her bid to protect school 6th form budgets) to why she changed her mind on gay marriage.
But of course we had a packed room thanks to her remarks to the Spectator in which she made clear she could stand as next Tory leader. Rather than backing off or suggesting this was some kind of off-the-cuff slip, Morgan did the refreshing thing and instead confirmed she was interested in succeeding Cameron – and proceeded to set out just what kind of politician she was.
“I was asked a question and I gave a straight answer and if that’s news then so be it. I said what I thought” she said. “We will cross that bridge, as a party, when we come to it. The time will come.”
And there was more. Pointing out "good leaders are nurtured", and she wants schools to "spot good talent and to not leave it to chance", she added: "Whether that's the same with the Conservative Party that's for other people to decide”.
Unlike almost all of the leadership contenders to replace the PM, Morgan has a marginal rather than a safe seat and stressed that winning Loughborough involved "leading a campaign team, and you are having to provide leadership".
She ducked my comparison to Margaret Thatcher, who was Education Secretary before going on to lead the Tory party, but explained what she felt leadership was about: "It’s that ability for people to follow you – whether you are a school leader, a chairman of governors or leader of a party, it’s that ability to say to people we've had a discussion and people will now follow."
And as for that Telegraph headline last week wondering if she was "too normal" to be leader, she gave a big guffaw. "It’s for other people to judge. People have a view of what politicians are like. I quite like confounding that. [People say] 'You are', hopefully, 'remarkably normal and rounded'."
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