Monthly Archives: January 2008

Jim Pickard

David Cameron had the best lines at Prime Minister’s Questions today. On Northern Rock, he claimed, the public had been offered a "sub-prime deal from a sub-prime minister". Very good.

He also suggested that Gordon Brown had turned from Prudence into Del Boy. And the difference between administration and liquidation, he quipped, was: "Administration is what the government is in at the moment, liquidation is what will happen by the British people at the next election."  Read more

Jim Pickard

The Information Commissioner wants more transparency in the publication of MPs’ expenses. Not everyone agrees.

Denis Murphy, a Labour MP, says he voted against similar proposals last time around but will listen to what the commissioner has to say.  Read more

At last, cooking is to be elevated to the level of importance of religious education on the national curriculum. The youth of Britain will have to learn about frying and filleting along with the ten commandments.

Whatever the merits of making cooking compulsory, it fits an interesting pattern. Education ministers just seem to be incapable of stopping themselves from foisting their own interests and hobbies on innocent children.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Some of Gordon Brown’s recent comments have offered curious insights into how he sees the UK’s role in the world.

Last Friday saw the prime minister jet off for India and China with the promise to teach its 2.4bn citizens how to speak his native tongue. “I want Britain to make a new gift to the world….English,” he pledged.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Theo Paphitis, one of the sour-faced arbiters of BBC’s Dragon’s Den, has agreed to join a Tory taskforce on social mobility which meets for the first time this week.

Having gone from assistant tea boy to millionaire in two decades, Paphitis is not a bad choice for the group.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Watching William Hague debating the Lisbon treaty this evening was a reminder of why he is widely seen as the finest orator in the House of Commons.

Asked by a Labour backbencher about the failure of the Tories to hold a referendum on Maastricht – just as today’s government will not hold a public poll on Lisbon – he was not phased. "The difference between then and now is that," he began. Read more

Jim Pickard

Sometimes consumer outrage is muted simply because no one can get their heads around a complex issue. Take energy prices and the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

Ofgem, the energy watchdog, popped up last week to suggest that we are being overcharged to the tune of £9bn because of a glitch in the scheme.  Read more

Jim Pickard

After a decade of running the country you might expect Tony Blair to take a breather. But it doesn’t seem to be in his nature. Last week he took a new job as an adviser to JP Morgan, the US investment bank, which is thought to be the first in a clutch of corporate posts.

Bear in mind that Mr Blair is already trying to bring peace to the Middle East; a Sisyphian task if ever there was one.  Read more

Jim Pickard

At last it seems that the 360 ex-servicemen exposed to toxic chemicals at Porton Down will get compensation from the Ministry of Defence and maybe even an apology.

It seems likely that a payment will be announced within the next week or so. But the mooted figure of £3m – equivalent to £8,300 per person – seems almost insulting. Many of the complainants have suffered decades of debilitating health problems after being exposed to sarin and other toxins at the research centre in Wiltshire. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Tories have sought to burnish their credentials as the party of business by criticising the proposed rise in capital gains tax. On Northern Rock, however, they are playing a more populist game.

Here the priorities are depositors and taxpayers, according to David Cameron, the party leader. The shareholders are – to paraphrase – almost an irrevelance. With stormy scenes expected at today’s extrardinary meeting of the stricken bank’s shareholders, the issue is highly political. Few observers want these investors to seize total control of Northern Rock’s future. Read more

Jim Pickard

You could be forgiven for wondering what element of nuclear policy has changed as of today’s Commons statement and white paper on energy.

Power companies can now go ahead and build power stations to their hearts’ content. But then they already could.  Read more

Nick Clegg got through probably the most nerve-wracking two minutes of his political career intact after a low-key but thoroughly telegenic debut at prime minister’s questions.

He avoided jokes – you end up looking desparate if nobody laughs. He didn’t try to be too clever. Instead he got away two questions on the government’s response to rising energy prices and fuel poverty. On the telly he looked serious and concerned. And he left the chamber unscathed. Read more

Jim Pickard

Gordon Brown thinks you can knock inflation on the head by giving hairshirt pay awards to millions of public sector workers. You can already see the proof of this over the last year or two, he claimed at yesterday’s monthly press conference.

Not everyone agrees. Including Andrew Oswald, the economics professor from Warwick University, who penned a waspish letter to the FT this morning. "An undergraduate who wrote in an essay that inflation was caused by public sector wage rises would receive a ‘fail’," he said. "Inflation is caused by the economy running too hot." The point being that most people work in the private sector, where wages are rising north of 4 per cent a year. Read more

The results are still not in, but there is little doubt about who the punters think will win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Take a look at this graph from Betfair, the online betting exchange, showing the odds on Hillary Clinton winning. Yes, it’s about 30 to 1.

To put it into a British context, the betting world believes Gordon Brown being ousted from Downing Street in the next two months (around 10 to 1) is three times more likely than Hillary winning this evening. This is in a state that she was odds-on to win less than a week ago. It is a remarkable turnaround. Let’s see if the punters are right. Read more

Steve Morgan, who ran Peter Hain’s deputy leadership campaign, spoke today on BBC Radio Wales of arriving half way through and discovering scenes of "absolute chaos".

This tallies. After all, Mr Hain is still trying to work out who gave money to his campaign – and how much – almost six months after he was legally obliged to do so. Read more

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have made an impressive start to 2008 – at least judged by the shambolic standards of the weeks running up to Christmas.

Mr Darling flew back to the Treasury from Edinburgh for a day to give an interview to the FT which set the tone for how he will deal with the fallout of the Northern Rock crisis. Rather than waiting for the Treasury select committee to tell him what to do, this gave the impression he was in control. Read more

By Jim Pickard

The National Gallery, Hadrian’s Wall and the whole of Bath will be free from bombardment from opposition forces – up to a point – under proposals to give heritage buildings special protection in the event of a war.

This unlikely proposition was in a draft bill published on Monday by the culture department. It marks the belated signing up by the UK to the Hague Convention of 1954, which aimed to prevent a repeat of the widespread cultural devastation – think Dresden – which took part in the second world war.

One successful prosecution has already taken place under the convention when a Yugoslav commander attacked Dubrovnik’s Old Town in Croatia during its 1991 siege. Meanwhile the UK will not be allowed to store any military hardware among the crypts and chambers of its favourite heritage sites.

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