Monthly Archives: January 2008

Jim Pickard

Great story on the front of the Telegraph today suggesting that the weekly bin round has been axed by half of  England’s councils amid pressure on local government funding.

Expect to see (and smell) rubbish piling up on the streets as people struggle to get used to fortnightly collection.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Gordon Brown may come to regret today’s boast – in today’s prime minister’s questions – that Britain has "more homeowners than ever before".

Newcomers to the market are more exposed than anyone else if and when prices fall; which looks more and more likely. Especially now that banks are cutting back mortgage lending in the wake of the credit crunch.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Thanks to the Guido Fawkes blog for pointing out that Lord Hoyle is up in front of a Lords disciplinary committee today.

The Guardian first broke the story that money changed hands between Lord Hoyle (formerly Doug Hoyle, a Labour whip) and Michael Wood, a former RAF officer now working for arms companies. A meeting subsequently took place between Lord Drayson – defence minister – and Mr Wood, although accounts differ as to how this was arranged. That was in June 2005 Read more

Jim Pickard

A growing number of pundits are wondering why the mainstream press aren’t writing much – if anything – about Lee Jasper. The London mayor’s race adviser has been subjected to a stream of allegations made by Andrew Gilligan, the investigative reporter, in the Evening Standard.

Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, was fuming to me the other day at how the story was being ignored by papers including the FT. Read more

Derek Conway is whip-less. His political prospects look bleak. His constituency association is weighing up whether to back him as an independent MP. The question is, do the Tories want to risk a by-election?

Mr Conway’s seat is Old Bexley and Sidcup. It covers an area that was represented by former prime minister Ted Heath for more than half a century. It has one of the lowest proportions of ethnic minorities in London, and the highest level of home ownership. It should be as blue as the ocean. But Mr Conway’s bungling has probably put the seat into play. Read more

Let’s face it, British politicians are the Lilliputians of the world of political money scandals. However much time journalists spend muckraking, whatever misconduct is uncovered, it is almost always small fry. Our politicians, for the last decade or more, seem incapable of corruption on a grand scale.

Hot_tub Where is the Randy "Duke" Cunningham of Westminster? The former Republican congressman pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking $2.4m in kick-backs. He cavorted with prostitutes (feeding them grapes in Hawaiian hot-tubs) and used private jets — all on the expense account of defence contractors. He did not need his party leader or a standards commissioner to tell him to step down. Read more

Five European leaders are meeting on Tuesday night in Downing St to discuss the world’s economic problems. That’s no bad thing, but how much are Mssrs Brown, Sarkozy, Prodi, Barroso and Ms Merkel really going to achieve in talks lasting no more than a few hours?

Kenneth Clarke, whom one might have expected to be sceptical about the whole thing, told Sky this morning that such events are useful, provided they can be kept informal. The former Chancellor says it is important, in an inter-connected world, to know how your counterparts in Europe are going to react to any given event. Read more

Purnell_picBond My colleague Jim Pickard, who has just joined our lobby team, is proving to be a tremendous asset.

Just today he spotted that James Purnell, the newly promoted work and pensions secretary, has a doppelgänger — Daniel Craig, the current James Bond.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Tomorrow morning we’re running two articles about donors shying away from political parties after an endless wave of unwelcome publicity. But not everyone is deterred.

Mike Slade, the flamboyant founder of Helical Bar, a property developer, says donors should ignore it when observers question their motives. Mike_slade  Read more

Jim Pickard

In the 1990s it was usually sex which got MPs into trouble. Now it’s money.

This time it’s a Tory. Derek Conway has been rebuked by the Commons standards and privileges committee for paying his 19-year old son – who was at Newcastle University at the time – a research salary.
The committee has found a lack of evidence as to what work may or may not have been done by young Frederick Conway.
Last time the committee’s members gave an MP a similar kicking it was George Galloway last summer.  Read more

Oh dear. Just what Gordon Brown didn’t want to hear. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the new head of the IMF, suggesting that the world needs a big fiscal electric-shock to help it out of its looming economic downturn.

Mr Strauss-Kahn’s view that interest rate cuts alone won’t dig the global economy out of a hole marks a surprise shift in the IMF’s position – normally it is the biggest cheerleader for fiscal consolidation. Read more

I recommend that Peter Hain reads the US papers today. Instead of dwelling on his political obituary, he can take heart from a (albeit incomplete) story of redemption: Paul Wolfowitz has made a return to government.

Jim Pickard

Rosie Winterton, a transport minister, was yesterday awarded the extra title of Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber – replacing Caroline Flint, the new housing minister.

Rosie_wintertonMeanwhile Phil Hope became minister for the East Midlands.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Lord Levy, former fund-raiser for Labour under Tony Blair, showed a delicious sense of timing in announcing plans to publish his memoirs yesterday; just after Peter Hain resigned.Lord_levy

Simon & Schuster, the publisher, has won the auction to publish the memoir of the controversial former businessman who was at the heart of the "Cash for Peerages" probe by police into Labour donations. Levy was cleared after an investigation which saw Blair become the first prime minister to be questioned by police while in office.  Read more

Jim Pickard

MPs pay was the dog which didn’t bark, let alone bite. A thinly-attended House of Commons last night capitulated to Gordon Brown’s wish for pay restraint and a 1.9 per cent pay rise was passed without even going to a vote.

It was always hard to see why anyone would have stepped out of line and fought for the 2.56 per cent recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Board.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Today’s volte-face on capital gains tax shows that the government is capable of listening to entrepreneurs and their spokesmen. But do ministers pay too much attention to business lobbyists?

That is the argument of Friends of the Earth, which – in July 2005 – made a freedom of information request for access to records of lobbying meetings between the CBI and DTI (now BERR) after the last general election.  Read more

Peter Hain’s resignation was inevitable once the police were called in to look into the shambolic financing of his doomed attempt to become Labour’s deputy leader. After coming fifth in the contest (who came sixth? Can’t remember), he must be wishing he hadn’t bothered.

But the big question at Westminster this afternoon is whether Gordon Brown will use this as a chance to beef up his cabinet, which many Labour MPs believe is lacking in heavyweights: people who can take the fight to the Tories. Read more

So it looks like MPs are going to step up this afternoon and vote themselves a below inflation pay rise — all for the good of the nation. It would be inspiring but for all the whining and grumbling. But who are the MPs blaming? The answer is both baffling and slightly disturbing.

In the tea rooms and bars, there is a growing sense of enmity towards the Senior Salaries Review Body. This is hard to explain. After all, the independent body did their bit and recommended an above inflation pay rise for MPs. But even this has failed to satisfy the honourable parliamentarians hankering for more pay.  Read more

Watching Gordon Brown in action today at PM’s questions, I couldn’t help thinking he was actually enjoying himself for the first time. The body language was more relaxed, the smile a little less robotic.

He seems to think this clever Goldman’s wheeze on saving the Northern Rock with a government-backed bond issue offers the government an escape route from the whole fiasco and could even end up with the taxpayer making a profit. Read more

Jim Pickard

The debate over the Anti-Terror Bill looks likely to be one of the biggest challenges to Gordon Brown since he became PM.

Countless legal experts have stepped up to criticise the increase in pre-charge detention from 28 days to 42.  Read more