Attack-mails from Grant Shapps and his sorcerer's apprentices in CCHQ's kitchen seem to be arriving in my in-box at a rate of approximately one a minute. I'm not going to report each time the Party Chairman announces a new attack website, but here's today's, timed for the start of Labour's Conference, which gives a sense of how much the Tory assault operation has improved.
It's no surprise to see Conservative attack dog Chris Grayling sinking his fangs into Labour's spending pledges in today's Sunday Telegraph. By the same token, it wouldn't be a shock to see Conservative attack dog Michael Gove unleashed on Ed Miliband's vulnerabities (I leave it to the reader to decide exactly what and where these are). After all, Grant Shapps and his apprentices in CCHQ's devil's kitchen cannot be expected to carry out every assault themselves.
But who's this popping up behind the Sunday Times paywall? Why, none other than the relatively lowly figure of Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove - and number five in the Treasury team, the bottom figure in the ranks. Javid warns that Miliband has a £27 billion hole in his spending plans. Watch for that figure to rise as this week's conference goes on.
And watch out for Javid, too. That so junior a Minister in the Government pecking-order is trusted to work at the same level as Cabinet Ministers such as Grayling says much about him - and how highly the Party leadership rates him. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury is a very modern success story.
The son of a family of Pakistani origin, he was brought up for a while in "Britain's most dangerous street", went first a Bristol comprehensive, then to Exeter University, and onwards to Chase Manhattan - where he became the youngest Vice-President in the history of the bank. Elected to the Commons in 2010 and already a Minister, he will be promoted before 2015.
The move may stir suspicions of tokenism. It shouldn't. You don't get to a senior level at Chase Manhattan by being a slouch. Javid is very bright, straightforward, sharp and, for that matter, right-wing: he pushed earlier in this Parliament and on this site for a debt ceiling. My only question is whether he is, well, political enough: business people and politics don't always mix.
This is presumably why George Osborne - whose previous PPS, Greg Hands, is very political indeed - talent-spotted Javid and made him his PPS. (The Bromsgrove MP had previously served John Hayes in the same position.) Javid will be learning some of the political tricks of the trade in the Treasury, not to mention gaining experience of Whitehall's most senior department. You will hear more about Sajid Javid in the months to come. Which is why I say: watch him.
By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?
Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:
With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'. Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.
Blues 3 - 2 Yellows
The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.
Blues 0 - 0 Yellows
It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.
Blues 5 - 1 Yellows
Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.
Blues 2 - 1 Yellows
The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.
Blues 1 - 1 Yellows
Energy and Environment
Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition.
Blues 1 - Yellows 5
Tax and Spend
Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.
On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.
Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.
Blues 2 - Yellows 2
Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
Business and Banks
Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.
Blues 2 - Yellows 3
To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.
Blues 1 - Yellows 2
Scores so far
Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.
The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.
By Mark Wallace
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Nick Clegg has emerged victorious from his calculated confrontation with the left of the Liberal Democrats over government economic policy. It's a personal victory for him and a political victory for the coalition, ensuring the principle of deficit reduction goes untouched (although the practice will continue to be difficult around the Cabinet table).
By the same token, today's result is a blow to the Lib Dem left and Vince Cable in particular.
Any political party is a coalition of sorts - we Conservatives certainly have plenty of tribes of our own, who disagree about plenty of issues. But Lib Demmery is a more divided creed than most.
Having been formed from a merger of two parties, it has never succeeded in bringing the left and centre any closer together. The rift extends to the social level as well as just the ideological - you don't see many deficit hawks hanging out over beers with the Keynesian wing of the party.
Today's debate and vote in Glasgow was a symptom of that affliction.
By Harry Phibbs
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In the 1997 General Election campaign the Conservatives ran a huge advertising campaign with billboards across the country bearing the legend:
Britain is booming. Don't let Labour blow it.
The message was true. The economy was in a very good shape. After a couple of years of prudence Labour did gradually blow it. However, this was not an effective slogan for two reasons.
Firstly, it was boastful. This was particularly ill-judged as many felt that the economic revival had something to do with our exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism - an outcome the Government had been striving to avoid. In any case, for Conservatives particularly, humility is a more fitting message. Government's don't create wealth and jobs. They can avoid getting in the way. Any claiming of credit for success should be seen in these terms.
I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll. It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth. On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.
Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:
There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them. However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.
By Mark Wallace
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The ONS' Labour Market Statistics paint a familiar picture today:
The latter statistic is particularly interesting - this represents people of working age who are for one reason or another not seeking work, or not able to work. As such, it includes carers, students, the disabled and so on, who for obvious reasons often find it difficult to move into the workforce. A reduction in these figures without a rise in unemployment is a positive sign both economically and socially.
There are still problems, though.
Youth unemployment rose on the previous quarter by 9,000. The picture is slightly confusing - as Lottie Dexter from the Million Jobs campaign points out, that is a 9,000 rise from 951,000 in February-April 2013 to 960,000 in May-July 2013, but we also know from last month's release that the figure for April-June 2013 was 973,000. Therefore while things got worse in April-June, there is some sign they improved in July.
In practice, this means there is a fluctuation around the 950,000 - 970,000 mark, bumping up and down. Whichever way you look at it, that is too high.
There are other issues - for example, while the economy's flexibility cushioned the impact of the recession by allowing people to become part-time rather than pitching them into outright unemployment, we have yet to see that phenomenon reversed. The proportion of workers in part-time unemployment who would like to have a full-time job is just about static:
As I said last month, now the overall employment figures are improving, more focus is needed on those at risk of being left behind.
By Peter Hoskin
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I wonder who does the location scouting for these big, ministerial speeches. George Osborne’s today was delivered in a building development that ceased, er, developing in 2008, but where construction started again last year. So, y’know, the economy has turned a corner, etc, etc. But it mostly reminded me of the Chancellor’s speech in a Morrisons depot in Kent in April. His appearances are ever more considered and camera-friendly.
Here are some numbers to chew over with your Sunday brunch. In December last year, George Osborne’s approval rating in our Cabinet rankings stood at a measly minus 1 per cent. In the latest Cabinet league table he’s on 52 per cent.
That’s a faster, steeper rise than any of the Chancellor’s colleagues have enjoyed, and it tallies with a report in today’s Mail on Sunday. Whether Osborne is now officially the Tory backbenchers’ favourite to replace David Cameron as party leader, as the report suggests, I don’t know – but his position is certainly far less vulnerable than it was last summer, when I wrote about it for the Times (£). Funny what a little ol’ economic recovery can do.