At last, Dave and Ed are telling us they're losers...

The security guards at the BBC studios in Salford had an odd task on Friday morning. They had to keep David Cameron and Ed Miliband and their entourages apart.

The two groups were sent to separate floors before their leaders’ respective interviews in an attempt to avoid any difficult encounters in the hallways.

This was just as well for tensions are running high with only days to go before the biggest electoral test of the year: voters in every English county go to the polls this Thursday.

Ed Miliband MP
Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron

Kept apart: David Cameron and Ed Miliband had to  be kept from bumping into each other at the BBC

Both the Tories and Labour are desperately trying to downplay expectations ahead of these contests. The Tories are arguing that they are bound to lose hundreds of councillors as the last time these seats were contested was in 2009, the nadir of Gordon Brown’s government.

Labour are quick to counter that 80 per cent of the areas that are going to the polls on Thursday are represented by a Tory MP, so they’re unlikely to get more votes than the Tories.

But the odd truth is that all three main parties could do badly. For these elections look like being the latest act in UKIP’s dramatic rise to being a permanent, and potentially mould-breaking, presence. In a sign of his confidence, Nigel Farage is the only party leader talking up his side’s chances.

Those who have been out on the trail agree the Farage insurgency is gathering steam. One close Cameron ally tells me: ‘In the places where our vote is going anywhere, it is going to UKIP.’  And one of those intimately involved in the Liberal Democrat campaign predicts that ‘across the South and the South West, UKIP are going to do very well.’

But in private, many Tories are confident that the results will be nowhere near as dire as Conservative campaign headquarters  suggest – people there are talking about losing 600-plus councillors. One Minister who has canvassed the views of MPs, says: ‘I don’t think it is going to be as bad as people say.’ MPs talk of a ‘Thatcher effect’ that has motivated their activists and shored up support for the party.

 Inside No 10 there’s a sense that the national political mood is shifting in their favour. A briefing from Cameron’s director of strategy, the pollster Andrew Cooper, points out that in 12 of the last 13 polls, Labour’s lead has been in single figures and that in 13 of the 15 previous polls it had been double digits. Cameron’s circle give a lot of the credit for this narrowing to their emphasis on welfare. The Tories will return to this on Monday with the launch of the pilot of Universal Credit, the Iain Duncan Smith scheme meant to ensure that work pays more than benefits.

A No 10 source describes it as ‘another opportunity to put the sword into Labour’. Expect to hear more of the line, which Cameron himself came up with while preparing for PMQs, that ‘the Labour party is now the welfare party.’ This Tory revival has also been based on a greater sense of unity. No 10 is now striving to find ways to make MPs feel part of the team – hence the appointment of Boris Johnson’s MP brother Jo to head the policy unit and the creation of a new policy board of Tory MPs.

John Hayes, the minister brought in to No 10 to build bridges between Cameron and the backbenches, is working on a way to get MPs more involved. Cameron has, with teasing affection, nicknamed him Shrek after the movie ogre.

Tory MPs were also pleasantly surprised when they received their invitations to the party’s awayday this September.

Normally, they have to stump up £50 for the privilege, but this year it will be free, which will boost attendance and spirits.

This Tory recovery poses a challenge to Miliband. In the last year, most things have gone his way. But one close ally admits that there is ‘nervousness and anxiety’ in the Labour ranks after the past few weeks.

By Friday afternoon, we’ll know if bad election results have ended this Tory revival. Or if the Labour leader is about to have a mid-term wobble.

PM survives a racy day at the tyre factory

On his visit to a Pirelli factory on Friday, David Cameron was given a tyre and one of the company’s famous calendars.

 In any other year, the gift of a Pirelli calendar would have caused the Prime Minister some embarrassment.

They are, normally, made up of photos of scantily clad models and not safe for work and certainly not No 10.

Tasteful: One of the models featured in the 2013 Pirelli calendar

Tasteful: One of the models featured in the 2013 Pirelli calendar

But fortunately for Cameron, the  2013 version was shot by a distinguished war photographer.

It is composed of portraits of fully clothed women taken on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

If it had been the traditional, racy affair, I suspect we would have seen the skidmarks on the floor as his entourage sped to return the tyre and the calendar.


The Lords has already had a hugely destabilising effect on the Coalition – and now it has triggered another row. This time, it is over how many peers the two parties should be allowed to appoint. 

A new set of proposed peers was meant to be published at Easter. But wrangling means the list is not expected until June. This situation is becoming urgent. Not only is the Coalition struggling in the Lords, but Cameron is trying to reunite the Tories – and there are a few better ways to make someone feel valued than by draping them in ermine.

One Tory Minister observes that, in recent weeks: ‘Number 10 has become more assertive, borderline aggressive.’

Simultaneously, the Lib Dems are now arguing against things they said they could accept. It is a sign that with just two years to the General Election, the Coalition is becoming far more confrontational.


Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, is being blocked by a Tory Minister in his bid to exempt the details of various defence deals from the Freedom of Information Act.

 Hammond wrote to Cabinet colleagues seeking clearance ‘to prevent the release of specific elements of commercially and market sensitive information’ supplied to the Ministry of Defence.

 One Whitehall source notes that the Act already provides such protections and that the relationship between defence contractors and the Government could do with more transparency, not less. 

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling informed Hammond and other Ministers by letter  that he was ‘not persuaded, a statutory bar  is necessary’.

 Government insiders expect that this dispute will have to be settled before the Queen’s speech on the May 8 – which is expected to include a major defence reform bill.

Quotes of the week

Don't you know who I am? Reese Witherspoon after her arrest

Don't you know who I am? Reese Witherspoon

‘Do you know my name? You’re about to find out who I am. You are going to be on national news.’
Actress Reese Witherspoon goes into diva mode with a traffic policeman after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

‘If Gwyneth Paltrow is the most beautiful woman in the world, then I am a 10-times Olympic bobsled gold medallist and Top Gun fighter pilot.’
A Twitter user is unimpressed by the accolade given to the actress by a US magazine.

‘My ribs are a bit sore. Feel like I’ve been hit by a bus.’
England rugby star Danny Cipriani makes light of his injuries after  being knocked over by a double-decker on a pub crawl.

‘Princess Margaret prefers meals to be as simple as possible and not to last too long. Three or four courses (including cheese or fruit)  for lunch, and five for dinner are quite sufficient.’
Clarence House officials brief the Governor of Mauritius on the Princess’s food requirements for her tour of the island in 1956.

‘This is exactly how my brother is going to be.’
Prince Harry struggles to change a nappy on a doll during a visit to a charity workshop.

‘The night I ate paint was the only time I’ve ever woken up.’
Divorcee Lesley Cusack discovers her weight ballooned because she gorged on food  when she went sleepwalking.

‘Going to the shop miles away, having to drive to post letters? I like to be able to walk, or get on a bike or on the Tube.’
Actor Sir Ian McKellen finds fault with living in the countryside.

‘Collection boxes are not  what they used to be.’
Christopher Coulthard, Britain’s most prolific church burglar, reflects after his latest conviction.

‘He is shorter than you  would think but has the  most lovely smell.’
Springwatch presenter Kate Humble observes the Prince  of Wales.

‘I had it done just for maintenance.’
Former Tory MP Louise Mensch finally admits to having a facelift now she has quit politics.