Monthly Archives: March 2008

Michael Hayden, the CIA director, gave a characteristically candid assessment of Basra on Sunday that is bound to make British ministers and officials wince. The remarks blow a Basra size hole through any pretence that Britain handed over a city that Iraqi authorities were in any position to run.

He said 70 per cent of Basra is “controlled by militia, armed gangs, criminal elements”, adding that it was “a real stew down there”. In his view the reduction in violence — which underpinned Gordon Brown’s justification for the handover — was little more than a temporary stand-off between the armed factions. He finished his answer with this scathing quote: “I don’t think anyone could think that that equilibrium was an acceptable long-term solution.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Interesting interview last week in The Times between reporter Tom Baldwin and George W.Bush. The president of the free world, discussing the US/UK partnership, cited the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt as well as the more recent one “between Tony Blair and myself”. Not much mention of Gordon Brown.

Which reminds me. I overheard a tour guide at the House of Commons a few days ago talking to his posse of American/European tourists. He asked: “Can anyone tell me who is prime minister of the UK?” Read more

Jim Pickard

Confirmation earlier today of our story this morning that a handful of police authorities are to be capped after trying to lift their council tax payments by more than the target 5 per cent. One of these, Lincolnshire, had gone for a 79 per cent rise – so perhaps no surprise it was curtailed.

The net effect could be fewer police on the streets in parts of the country. Read more

gordon.jpgOne Downing Street official expressed surprise to me the other day that the Stalin nickname had stuck to Gordon Brown more than Macavity, T.S Elliot’s mystery cat.  Both names, of course, were pinned on the prime minister by Lord Turnbull in his infamous interview with my colleague Nick Timmins.

The thought of Macavity disappearing from the scene of any crime reminded me of an answer given by Mr Brown in his last Downing Street press conference.  One journalist had the gall to suggest that as chancellor Mr Brown should have spent more time watching the problems in the credit markets and less time preparing to take over from Tony Blair. Read more

I wish I could find a screen shot of Michael Martin, the Commons speaker, slapping down an David Winnick for questioning his decision to appeal the release of MPs expenses. What he said was remarkable. But the colour he turned was quite spectacular. As he said the words “media” and “expenses”, his face turned a shade of scarlet that could have set off the fire alarms in the Commons.

For those who missed Mr Martin’s outburst, here is Jim Pickard’s rough transcript of what he said: Read more

Jim Pickard

Lots of follow-up in the other papers today after the FT’s story on Thursday about the House of Lords being replaced by a “senate” with half the number of occupants. Here is the background article.

Not sure about the idea of “senators”, which is either very old-fashioned (think ancient Rome) or a bit futuristic (think Star Wars, below). Read more

Jim Pickard

A consultation paper on a new driving test is being drawn up by the Department for Transport and we’re expecting to see it within a fortnight.

So far, the government is tight-lipped about what might be in it. Read more

Jim Pickard

Nice bit of point-scoring at PMQ’s when David Cameron revealed the favourite book of David Muir, new Number 10 strategist, is: “The Unstoppable Power Of Leaderless Organisations”.

The full name of the book appears to be Read more

Jim Pickard

News that Gordon Brown is axeing the Learning & Skills Councils (known until 2001 as TECs, training and enterprise councils).

This would chime with his claim, back when Labour was in opposition, that the party would reverse the growth of quangos in the UK. Read more

pelosi.jpgNancy Pelosi’s visit to London tomorrow is a good excuse to look at how our British speaker compares on the expenses front. With all the fuss made over Michael Martin’s air miles and taxis, you would be forgiven for thinking his office is more spendthrift. The truth is that he is downright cheap.

Ms Pelosi spent about $3m in the first nine months of last year as US Speaker. This included about $16,000 on flowers — a nine-month floral bonanza that cost about double the sum Mr Martin’s wife spent on taxis over almost four years. Read more

Jim Pickard

Jimmy Cayne, the cigar-chomping, bridge & golf loving boss of Bear Sterns, had a pay packet of $34m last year.

The US bank, which was worth $140bn last summer, has just been bought by JP Morgan for $236m in a desperate rescue mission. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Commons register of interests is often worth a scan. Here are some bits and bobs from this week’s update.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party Read more

Jim Pickard

Is Tony Blair the ideal candidate to halt climate change?

He is already whizzing around the world for his work at JP Morgan, Zurich Financial Services and through his role as Middle East peace envoy. Read more

Jim Pickard

Expect some over-excited coverage of MPs “John Lewis list” which tells them how much they can spend kitting out their London homes.

The list was published by the Commons’ authorities today under a freedom of information request by Press Association. Read more

Political gamblers appear to be unimpressed with Gordon Brown. They believe the likelihood of the prime minister winning the most seats at the next election has never been lower — in spite of improved Labour polls, a makeover at Downing Street, a budget and an apparent conversion to Blairite reform.

labourmostseats.jpg Read more

Jim Pickard

Of all the people to fall foul of, Tory MP Bob Spink ended up with Bill Sharp, who is 6ft 5in and weighs 18 stone. Sharp is deputy chairman of Spink’s local Tory association at Castle Point, Essex.

It is the personal enmity between these two men which lies behind the departure of Spink from the Tory party today. Read more

Jim Pickard

What to make of Alistair Darling and his sunny forecasts? It takes an exceptional orator to combine such dour delivery with such optimistic content.

Last time I looked, the stock market had collapsed by about 15 per cent, house prices had fallen four months in a row and mortgage applications had slumped. Read more

Here is are some snippets from the budget documents. I’ll start with the bad news.

- Falling share prices will hit capital gains receipts in 2009 by an undisclosed amount. Inheritance tax receipts are also likely to be “adversely effected” Read more

Jim Pickard

This blog suggested last Friday that Labour was increasingly worried about Boris Johnson’s campaign to be mayor of London.

And now the blonde motormouth is ahead: at least, according to the betting odds. Read more

Jim Pickard

Plenty of FT readers have second homes in the countryside. So I feel it’s my duty to shed some light on two big news stories of the last couple of days which would in theory affect them.

 1] A Sunday newspaper has suggested that the government is planning a crackdown on second home owners in rural parts. It based its story on a report by Matthew Taylor, Lib Dem MP, which has not yet been written. Read more