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
I reported this morning that the unions are up in arms about an imminent pay freeze announced today. The three unions representing about 1.5m council workers want a 2.5 per cent rise – the employers have offered zero.
But how hard are Unison, the GMB and Unite going to fight this one? Read more
Nick Clegg attracted some mocking laughter from MPs – including Gordon Brown – during PMQs today for daring to question the Cadbury’s takeover. How come the government couldn’t stop RBS, which is state-owned, part-funding the Kraft takeover, he asked?
Last month, Lord Mandelson declared that the government would mount a huge opposition to the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s, so why does the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is owned by this government, now want to lend vast amounts of our money to Kraft to fund that takeover? Read more
The Tory poison pen letter writer is back. A blast against the “small clique” running the party, written on House of Commons headed paper, was sent to Tory MPs about ten days ago. Here is a pdf of it in full. The anonymous author claims to be a Tory MP but there is nothing to prove it, apart from a brief reference to some internal party meetings, which frankly any Labour MP could have known about. It could well be a rather clumsy attempt at deception and political dirty tricks.
The complaints — against “arrogant” advisers, “destroying” colleagues over expenses and freezing out MPs — echo the first poison pen letter in June, which by no means fomented a revolt. There are also some stylistic similarities which do suggest the same person is behind this — note the love of semi-colons and Soviet analogies (Cameron was “Stalinist” in the first letter while the second berates Osborne’s “KGB-like staff”). The difference this time is that it is longer, more spiteful and mainly directed at the “megalomaniac” George Osborne. Read more
I wrote in the FT this morning about Tory PPCs being sent by Steve Hilton on a course (last Thursday) to teach them about climate change. It’s a sign that the leadership are worried that Cameron’s backing for the green agenda is not shared across the Conservative party.
“Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint” is the lowest priority (out of 19) of 144 PPCs, according to this Conservative Home poll. Anne Winterton in a recent PMQs voiced the idea that heavy snow proved that climate change was a nonsense. Read more