Channel Four and BBC’s Newsnight are vying to host a high-profile “chancellor’s debate” during the general election campaign, I’ve been told. Read more
Update: For early reactions to Blair at the Iraq inquiry, read this post from the ftdotcomment blog.
5.16pm: That’s it from me and Alex. I think Blair had the better of this: a refined defence and one, says former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell, that was aimed at his legacy.
Some of those who heard him will be far from happy, particularly at his decision not to voice regret. Sky reporting Blair was jeered as he left the inquiry: “You are a liar,” shouted one person. “A murderer,” shouted another. Those who wanted to hear regret, says the BBC’s Nick Robinson, will be disappointed.
5.14pm: Well, there you have it. He’s sorry – for being divisive – but firmly believes the war was right. Sure, some things could have been done better (the intel and the planning), but with or without WMD, toppling Saddam was the right thing to do. We’d all be worse off if he was still there, not least because of the growing threat from Iran. Read more
2.56pm: OK, we’ve slowed the refresh time on the post and will set up a new window for rest of coverage. Should make it easier to read. Give us a minute. Click here to read Live blog: Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry – part 2.
2.54pm: Blair says what he needed to know from him [Goldsmith] in the end was what was his conclusion? Was this lawful? “Incidentally, he wasn’t alone in international law for coming to that conclusion. As I say, if you read 1441, it was pretty clear this was Saddam’s last chance.”
2.52pm Classic politician’s trick from Blair: how can you not believe me? “When you go back and read 1441, it’s pretty obvious you can make a decent case for this,” he says, inviting agreement. Sir Rod will not be drawn. “Let me not pass judgment on this. I’m asking questions. I don’t have an opinion to state on this.” Read more
Geoff Hoon is worried that his local party activists will oust him ahead of the general election as punishment for his useless coup against Gordon Brown. I’m not sure he should be. Read more
The deputising Harriet Harman slipped in a neat riposte to William Hague during PMQs when she said: “His reversing is even worse than mine” – a reference to her spot of bother down in Peckham a few weeks back. Clearly she thought she should make the joke before Hague did.
She was less sure-footed when David Jones, a Tory MP, quoted the famous Mandelson quote about Labour being “intensely relaxed” about people getting “filthy rich”. In this light how did she feel about the commercial success of the former PM – ie Tony Blair? Read more
If you don’t follow Nick Robinson’s excellent blog it’s worth reading his last two offerings, about a secret meeting between the DUP, UUP and the Tories. There’s more in the Irish Times.
The venue was Hatfield House, home of Lord Cranborne, the former Tory MP* and peer who opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiated by Margaret Thatcher and has long been regarded as a “friend of unionism”.
A reader calls to point out that Motorway Man even has his own theme tune. Read more
The former prime minister is not taking up an advisory post or directorship at Lansdowne Partners, as others are tweeting, or so the company insists.
However, he will give four “geopolitical” talks to staff at the hedge fund. At about £50-£100,000 per speech that still adds up to a generous payment. There are also well-placed suggestions that this could be extended in the future into a more permanent role. Read more
Trying to label the vital voters who make all the difference in a close-run general election is not always easy.
But a new demographic character called “Motorway Man” has been defined by Rob Hayward (you may remember the ever-wise Hayward told you about the potential clash between football fixtures and the election TV debate long before it made the news this weekend). Read more
Tories back off from plans to give Sir Richard Dannatt a peerage and job as defence minister
Lord Mandelson explains how he bought his abode: “If you ask me whether I would rather have my nice terraced house…or have my mother still alive today, I would prefer my mother still to be alive”. Read more
The question in Westminster today is whether George Osborne – on the Today programme – softened the Tory position on Obama’s banking reforms.
It’s the wrong question. The right one should be: Did Osborne last night temporarily harden the Tory position on the issue? And if so, why? Read more
A common refrain from Iraq inquiry witnesses has been that everyone believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD — even the French. But this is partly contradicted by Hans Blix, who suggests in his book Disarming Iraq that Jacques Chirac never believed a word of it.
George Parker, our political editor, wrote a fine piece this morning* revealing that ministers reckon they are effectively saving £4bn a year on lower benefit payouts (each year up to 2014) as a result of unemployment staying lower than experts predicted.
He disclosed that Brown and Darling plan to use this “windfall” money to fund a splurge. Read more
Jack Straw’s memo to the Iraq inquiry is certainly one of the most thoughtful, detailed and entertaining pieces of evidence yet presented to the inquiry. Any British politician who can “paraphrase” Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (yes that’s his picture) while reflecting on the Iraq war surely deserves a medal. Here’s the passage. A classic.
Here is the full text of the FCO memo leaked to the Tories:
NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET: THE LATEST
Our monthly meeting on 18 December was almost entirely devoted to the next step in setting budgets for every Directorate and Post for the next financial year starting on 1 April.
We know that next year will be a lot tougher than this year. This is partly because we just have less money (like all Departments we have to make further efficiency savings next year). But it’s mostly because the value of our budget is continuing to decline as sterling has dropped against other major currencies. Since we spend most of our money abroad in foreign currency, that means the pounds we have to allocate will buy less. Read more
Chris Bryant just told the Commons that there is no attempt to “obfuscate” on the Foreign Office budget crisis. But his insistence that the overall budget is rising in pounds hardly gives a complete picture. All these statements are true:
1) FCO spending on counter-terrorism projects in Pakistan will go up from £8.2m to £9.5m next year. Read more
There was a surprise fall in unemployment by 7,000 to 2.46m announced yesterday by ONS. That means an unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent, compared to 10 per cent in the eurozone and the US.
Admittedly there could be further rises, not least when interest rates rise and the government takes an axe to public sector jobs. Read more
Pity the Foreign Office. About two years ago, Britain’s supposedly canny diplomats were comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the Treasury. In return for a modest increase in capital funding, the Treasury asked the FCO take on the risk of currency fluctuations. The result? As the pound crashed, the FCO lost almost a sixth of its core budget.
The consequences were laid bare by Baroness Kinnock yesterday, who acknowledged that counter-terrorism programmes in Pakistan were being cut on the very day Gordon Brown called it the “crucible of terrorism”. Read more