Monthly Archives: February 2008

Jim Pickard

A host of new donors to the Boris Johnson campaign to be London mayor are today published on the Electoral Commission website.

The names include Patrick Snowball, former chief executive of Norwich Union, who has given the blond bombshell £8,000. Snowball was in the news this week as he will be leading the Tory proposal to set up a new “Green ISA” scheme. Read more

Why is David Cameron so keen to associate himself with a Jamaican ganster flick? As the Mail points out (scroll to the bottom of the piece), the “reggae anthem” chosen for his conference speech and the new Tory ad campaign has bloody and murderous associations. The tune — “You Can Get it if You Really Want” — is a Jimmy Cliff classic that plays at the beginning and the end of his shoot ‘em-up “The Harder they Come”.

The film’s tagline summarises the plot quite well: “dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail in shanty town”. I seem to remember that Jimmy Cliff — who plays Ivanhoe Martin, a wannabe singer who turns to drug-dealing and mass-murder — goes on a cop-killing rampage to the sound of “”You Can Get it if You Really Want” near the end of the movie. David Cameron may have even watched it as a student while eating jerk-chicken from his favourite Jamaican food-joint in Oxford. Read more

Jim Pickard

A new system of “yellow cards” for ministers who misbehave could be brought in as a half-way house between sacking and inaction, according to the man who advises Gordon Brown on ministerial conduct.The “yellow card” – a reference to the warning system in football – would be used for instances where ministers had breached the guidelines but did not deserve to see their career terminated.

The suggestion was made this morning by Sir Philip Mawer, former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is now the prime minister’s Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests. Read more

Commons ProtestHere are some notes from the scene of the latest House of Commons security breach.

- The protesters (Greenpeace?) came in as visitors. The yellow stickers on their jackets give it away. There are up to half a dozen of them. With the help of the security cameras at the visitors entrance, it shouldn’t be hard to find out who let them in. If the Commons pass-holder was aware of what they were up to (and looking at how these people are dressed they were not here for a pleasant meeting with an MP) they are in for a rough ride. Is this criminal? Read more

Ed Davey is angry

If initial reaction is any guide, Nick Clegg has just blundered by storming out of the House of Commons with his troops in tow. Ben Brogan brands it a “hissy” while Peter Hoskin at the Spectator Coffee House thinks it is “bizarre behaviour”. They think it is a stunt publicising a “red herring” policy backing a referendum on EU membership that is sure to backfire. I disagree, for three main reasons: Read more

VaderaSam Coates over at Red Box has just questioned why Baroness Vadera, the former banker turned minister, wasn’t doing the “heavy lifting” on Northern Rock in the Lords when she “knows more about the subject than anyone else”. Speculating over her role in any and every controversial policy decision is a popular parlour game in Westminster. The question is, can anyone prove she had any role at all?

Over the past few months, people have grumbled to me about her malign influence on everything from banking regulation to the reorganisation of the defence export services organisation. If these critics are to be believed, she stays in the shadows but her influence is unmatched. The problem is, they have almost no evidence to support their claims. Read more

Jim Pickard

We called Goldman Sachs on Wednesday (when the political donation figures came out for the end of 2007)  to ask if the Michael Sherwood who gave the Tories £8,500 in November was the same Michael Sherwood who is European co-chief executive of the ubiquitous US bank. The answer was no.

They’ve called back to admit they were wrong. It was the very same Mr Sherwood, said a spokesman from the bank. But the money was paid for tickets to a Tory event by Mr Sherwood and his wife and should have been recorded as £4,250 each. As a result the banker should not have ended up on the Electoral Commission website, which records donations of  £5,001 and over. (Although the spokesman did not know if he paid for both tickets, in which case the figure should be in the public eye.) Read more

Jim Pickard

Amid endless controversy over pay and perks, Parliament was about to start cleaning up its act. The first change would have been a move to make MPs declare any family members on their payroll. That was the plan, anyhow. All three parties leaders had expressed their support. But the measure, proposed by the standards and privileges committee – which would have sailed through the Commons and become law by early April – has run into sand.

It emerged today that the committee has taken legal advice that exposure of these names would breach employment law. What will happen is that the disclosures will instead be voluntary on the register of members’ interests. Any shift to an compulsory system will have to wait until secretaries’ and researchers’ contracts are changed to get around this. So much for the big spring clean.

Jim Pickard

One of the most curious aspects of the Northern Rock debacle is the government’s insistence that the bank’s loan book is fundamentally solid and that market conditions will soon improve. How can they be so very sure?

Yesterday, Alistair Darling continued to say that: “The Financial Services Authority continue to assure me the bank is solvent. It believes that Northern Rock‘s mortgage book is of good quality.” Just now, at the monthly 10 Downing Street press conference, Darling repeated his claim that “these are good assets”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Plenty of controversy this week about the Mosquito, a device used by irate shopkeepers to scare off loitering youths. The product, which has been sold in the thousands, emits an annoying sound which can only be heard by the under-20s. Liberty, the human rights group, is hoping to launch a legal campaign against its use.

There is an alternative, says the Local Government Association. It is called the "Manilow Method" and involves landlords playing naff music to deter teenagers.  Read more

Jim Pickard

They say turkeys never vote for Christmas. But MPs are likely to wave through new rules which force them to disclose any relatives on their payroll. The move, a response to the Derek Conway scandal, was announced by the Committee on Standards and Privileges in a press release on February 5.

With all leaders of the three main parties urging greater transparency – hoping to head off further damaging revelations – the move is likely to pass through the Commons unopposed when a vote takes place in March.  Read more

Jim Pickard

The problem with eye-catching government initiatives to save cash is that they often – um – cost money. Big money.

Bureaucrats charged with shifting thousands of civil servants out of London (the Lyons Review) soon found that it was not so easy to move staff out of their offices. Getting out of leases can involve multi-million pound payments to landlords, for example.
Civil_servants–>And so it is with the Gershon Review, where ministers agreed to wave the scythe over the civil service’s enormous workforce. The plan is to remove 84,000 posts in four years. This would reverse the huge growth in the public sector payroll under the Labour government. Read more

These are dangerous times for the government. Alistair Darling, chancellor, is in serious political trouble and the sound of muttering about his performance can be heard swelling around Whitehall.

Gordon Brown’s spokesman on Tuesday repeated the view that it was "total garbage" that the prime minister had any doubts about the performance of his neighbour. Read more

Jim Pickard

Inventive students have exploited a loophole in the education system to get thousands of pounds towards food and rent – while detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

It emerged today that £500,000 has been paid to prisoners in student grants and loans towards food and rent thanks to a glitch in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2000. David Willetts, shadow universities secretary, is outraged: "The latest in a long line of Labour fiascos," he says.  Read more

We have just heard that John McCain, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has pulled out of a planned meeting with Gordon Brown on Friday. As this was only announced by the prime minister’s spokesman this morning, it is bound to cause some embarrassment at No 10.

People are inevitably going to speculate about whether the prime minister is worth seeing. But we suspect the real reason for the cancellation has less to do with Mr McCain’s willingness to shoot the breeze with Mr Brown, and more to do with Super Tuesday. Had Mr McCain’s main rivals dropped out, he would have had the time and space to hobnob with the statesmen of Europe. But with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee clinging on, it may look somewhat presumptive to leave the US on a overseas jaunt.   Read more

Jim Pickard

Was it fair for this blog to compare Caroline Flint’s comments yesterday with the Tories (eg Tebbit) of the 1980s? Not necessarily.

I’ve gone back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous "no such thing as society" (20 years ago now) and there are clear parallels with Flint’s nowt for owt speech to the Fabian Society on Tuesday. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Guardian would seem a strange venue for Caroline Flint, new housing minister, to tell council tenants: If you want a house, go find a job. In her first interview in the job Flint has attacked the culture of "no one works around here" on public-owned housing estates.

Flint’s comments are unlikely to go down well with that newspaper’s left-leaning readership. Unison, the union, is among those who believe the minister is guilty of "stigmatising" the poor. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s 8pm and Frank Field has just emerged from the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting with the threat of disciplinary action hanging over him. His supposed wrongdoing? Lending his name to a campaign for unofficial referenduFrank_fieldms on the Lisbon Treaty run by a group called "I Want A Referendum" (Iwar).

Iwar are spending £300,000 carrying out a handful of ballots (asking if people agree with the treaty) in marginal constituencies around the UK. Read more

I’ve been tipping Tony Blair to be the first "president of Europe" since 2002 – when the creation of the job was just a twinkle in his eye – so I’m delighted the former PM is taking soundings about whether the post will be worthy of his political talents. No doubting his self-confidence, is there?

Back in 2002 I remember being told that Mr Blair thought the creation of a full-time president of the European Council – the supreme body of the EU – was the most important thing to get written into the new EU constitution, now rebranded the Treaty of Lisbon. Read more

It is rare and wonderful thing to hear a close confidant of Gordon Brown answer the "vision thing". Ever since the prime minister ducked out of calling an early election, citing his "vision for change", the question has been: have we seen it yet?

When asked, Mr Brown usually trots out the same legislative programme he outlined before the election decision. So it was intriguing to hear Douglas "wee Dougie" Alexander, one of Mr Brown’s closest political advisers, give a fuller response in an interview with the BBC on Sunday. He basically says a big vision is made up of small steps. It certainly has a whiff of self-justification — after all, Mr Alexander has not been popular with many Labour MPs since Gordon Brown’s fortunes turned. Here is the full transcript. Read more