Monthly Archives: January 2008

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.  

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. 

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.  

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.  

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. 

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. 

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.  

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. 

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. 

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.

Hilary_new_hampshire_2
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. 

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. 

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.