Monthly Archives: February 2008

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

Jim Pickard

It would take more than a few policy initiatives to knock Derek Conway, his flamboyant sons and their interesting financial arrangements out of the headlines. You can’t blame the Tories for trying though. Here are some of today’s:

1] A Childhood Review, by David Willetts, to make “outdoor space safer and more protected so that parents and children feel more confident about spending time there”. Willetts says crime against children should be recorded by the British Crime Survey. And he says there should be more adult supervision of parks and other public spaces. We’ll hear more of this stuff on Monday. Read more