Monthly Archives: May 2010

The government today (Tuesday) releases a list of the 172 civil servants who earn more than £150,000 a year. Some of it is not new information – for example the permanent secretaries’ salaries – although it’s instructive to have it all in one place.

Credit for these disclosures should go to Gordon Brown, who announced the move last November while he was prime minister.

Curiously, 11 mandarins refused to disclose their salaries; it is not clear why the government can’t publish them without permission. Another three were withheld, presumably for reasons of security.

Bear in mind that these salaries are dwarfed by some at various publically-funded bodies, however. Kevin Lygo, director of programmes at Channel 4, picked up £1.14m in 2008/9. Adam Crozier earned £995,000 in the same year and Iain Coucher, head of Network Rail, picked up £830,000.

These should be among the further disclosure of payments later in the year from all public bodies as David Cameron widens out the process of disclosure. (He is also lowering the threshold to £58,000 by January).

Here is the entire list. In the meantime here are all 21 of those over £200,000:

Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary – £235,000-239,999

Stephen Laws, first parliamentary counsel – £225,000-229,999

Robert Parker: parliamentary counsel – £210,000-214,999 Read more

John Redwood argues that the job of chief secretary to the Treasury is more political than financial; and therefore Danny Alexander does not need City of London experience. This, curiously, is borne out by a bit of hasty research on my part:

Of the last 14 politicians in the job – spanning two decades – not one seems to have spent significant time in the City; apart from David Laws.

UPDATE: Liam Byrne also spent a couple of years at NM Rothschild in the mid-1990s

(2009-10) Liam Byrne: management consultant at Accenture (and entrepreneur)

(2008-9) Yvette Cooper: economics researcher and economics correspondent

(2007-8) Andy Burnham: researcher, and administrator for Football Task Force

(2006-7) Stephen Timms: worked in telecoms

( 2005-6) Des Browne: solicitor

(2002-2005) Paul Boateng: solicitor Read more

I’ve never met Danny Alexander, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, and have no axe to grind on his behalf. I also share the widespread concerns about whether he has David Laws’ mettle for the job. More than a week ago this blog was pondering how the 38-year old had gone from Cairngorms National Park press officer to key government figure in only five years.

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In the spring of 2008, just as the drip-drip of revelations about MPs’ expenses was starting to gather momentum, I was despatched to write a magazine feature article for the Weekend FT about Britain’s politicians: were they paid too much for the job they did?

Seeking to write a balanced piece, I made sure that I interviewed at least one MP who exemplified public service; someone who had stepped down from a highly-paid City job to take a relatively low salary at the Liberal Democrats – the party which would never (as it then seemed) take power. His name was David Laws.

I spent a Friday in Laws’ constituency of Yeovil, watching him deal with constituents’ complaints in a diligent and attentive manner. Afterwards we had a pint in a local pub; I told him I could never understand why anyone would want to be an MP, with people trawling through your private life. His answer was non-committal. He struck me – much as he has since – as polite, slightly prim, self-contained and highly intelligent.

When the Telegraph revelations were published a year ago I was quietly relieved that Laws was unscathed.

Fast-foward two years and Laws is the first casualty of the Lib-Con coalition, as reports tonight. His position as chief secretary to the Treasury had become untenable after he said he would repay £40,000 of expenses claimed for rent paid to his boyfriend; since 2006 MPs were not allowed to lease accommodation from their partners. Read more

Treasury chief David Laws ‘should stand aside’ – The Telegraph
David Laws: I hope he Survives – Iain Dale
David Laws’ full statement via the BBC
Julian Glover: I fear he won’t survive – The Guardian
Andrew Grice: Suddenly the coalition’s star is not in control of his destiny – The Independent
David Laws on ’the most difficult day of my life’ – The Times

We started covering the imminent battle to run Unite some time ago. The identity of the new general secretary, to be picked this autumn, is important given that the union is Labour’s biggest backer. The name to watch is Jerry Hicks, who – as the most strident left-winger in the contest – has the potential to shake things up.

Here is a video from film director Ken Loach supporting the Hicks candidacy, saying he is the right man for the “massive battles ahead” now that the “old ruling classes are back in power.” Read more

The official announcement has just come through. There are 56 new peers entering the House of Lords. There are 29 Labour, 16 Tories, 9 Lib Dems, 1 DUP and 1 cross-bencher.


John Prescott (pictured): Croquet-playing, Tweeting, sentence-mangling former deputy prime minister.

John Reid: Scottish former defence secretary (and home secretary, and health secretary) who now chairs Celtic football club

Margaret Wheeler: Unison, director of organisation

Michael Williams: former adviser on foreign affairs

Des Browne: Scottish former defence secretary

Quentin Davies (pictured): former defence secretary who crossed the floor from the Tories and put his bell tower on expenses

Bev Hughes: Former immigration and prisons minister

Sir Jeremy Beecham, former chair of Local Government Association

Rita Donaghy, former chair of Conciliation and Arbitration Service

Tommy McAvoy: Former senior whip in the Commons

Hilary Armstrong: North-east MP who remained loyal to Blair until the end.

John Hutton (pictured): Blarite former defence secretary who resigned last summer but did not knife Gordon Brown Read more

For those with plenty of time on their hands, I can recommend a new site, Twung Parliament, that corrals zillions of Tweets from MPs of all parties in a single venue. Don’t go there expecting to find our what’s really going on in Westminster – but it’s amusing enough. Incredibly, more than 200 MPs in the current Parliament use Twitter.

Today, for example, Grant Shapps is re-opening a pub in Welwyn; Tim Farron (contender for Lib Dem deputy leadership) has had a Pot Noodle for lunch, Tristram Hunt is visiting a “head of youth services” and Tom Watson has just discovered that :”Aussies drink less beer than in 1950s”.

Ed Balls is still one nomination short of the requisite 33 nominations needed to enter the contest. But – if the worst comes to the worst – he can rely on Gordon Brown’s support, surely? I predicted a week ago that he would cross the threshold with ease. Read more

Robert Peston is not only a former colleague but also a superb financial journalist. But I can’t quite agree with the premise on his blog today – “a coalition housing crash” – that changing stamp duty could prompt a damaging property downturn. (To be fair his argument is more nuanced than the heading suggests).

I’ve been pondering for some time how the government could restrain any newfound housing bubble if the current trends (prices rose 10.5 per cent in the year to April, according to Nationwide*) continue. Prices are still lower than their peak but shooting up in many parts of the country (admittedly not all) as a direct result of the Bank of England base rate being at the artificially low rate of 0.5 per cent. Mortgage rates are therefore lower than they might otherwise be, a situation that could in the coming few years have a dangerous impact on the market. Letting this trend continue – until it is once again unsustainable – is the real risk for the coalition. Read more

Ed Miliband, Labour leadership contender, appears to be making a bold call today:

In a speech at the London School of Economics, Ed Miliband will say he wants to get the Labour Party as a whole behind the “living wage” campaign, calling for a rate of £7.60 in London and a national average outside the capital of £7.16. About five million workers would benefit. The actual minimum wage is set to rise to £5.93 in October. (PA)

At first glance this seemed hugely radical/drastic depending on your point of view; given that it would represent a 28 per cent rise in wages for the lowest paid. Surely the CBI et al should be horrified? Read more

The by-election result in Thirsk and Malton last night, near where I grew up*, was bad news for Labour. The party had hoped that former Lib Dem voters (of the left-leaning variety) would rush to their arms in protest at the coalition. Except that’s not what happened in this ballot, prompted by the death of a candidate on the eve of the general election.

Instead, the Tory share of the vote crept up from 52 per cent to 53 per cent, a comfortable win for incumbent Anne McIntosh. The Lib Dems rose from 19 to 23 per cent. It was Labour which saw support crumble – from 23 per cent to 13.5 per cent – in the newly-created constituency.

On paper that looks disastrous for Labour, an indictment on a party that is leaderless, directionless and still in a state of shock. It is also appears confirmation that the coalition is on the right track.

In fact it may be symptomatic of the fact that all new governments enjoy a honeymoon; even Gordon Brown had three months or so of public goodwill in the distant summer of 2007. How long this one will last remains to be seen. Read more

Back in 1997 Tony Blair famously told Frank Field to “think the unthinkable” in the effort to reduce poverty, rationalise welfare benefits and improve work incentives. When Field returned to Downing Street some time later clutching a plan to overhaul the system, he found his ideas rebuffed. The Treasury had deemed them to be, well, unthinkable. Gordon Brown had his own ideas.

So old Whitehall hands could be forgiven a sense of deja vu when Iain Duncan Smith unveiled the latest project to reform a system that grew still more expensive and complex during 13 years of Labour rule. No one could quarrel with Duncan Smith’s analysis – the present system is riddled with disincentives, unfairnesses and complexities, and the costs are still spiralling. A much simpler system, with fewer benefits and much lower withdrawal rates, would ultimately help more people back into work and reduce the overall bill. Read more

Here are the new rules under which Parliament will – for the first time – elect three deputy speakers. The opposition (Labour) get two and the government (presumably a Tory) get one.

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Mild bemusement/amusement at hearing the new prime minister read out the racing tips on the radio this morning with a few choice puns. His spokesman later joked at today’s Downing St press conference: “We were quite surprised he didn’t back Fantastic Sam, running at Newcastle today.”

You don’t have to be entirely cynical to wonder whether David Davis’s intervention over capital gains tax is a calculated political move designed to plant his flag firmly in the “Tory troublemaker” camp.

The coalition is planning to lift CGT from 18 per cent (over a threshold of £10,100 a year) to a level closer to that of income tax – which is paid at 40 per cent by high-earning middle classes.

The phrasing was originally that CGT would be “similar or close to” income tax levels. Now it’s “closer to” income tax levels, a subtle shift which could allow for a less radical move.

Despite this, however, Tory backbenchers are up in arms; on behalf of their constituents and not only themselves. John Redwood is also at the forefront of the rebellion, having written to the Treasury yesterday to ratchet up the lobbying for a taper to restrict the most punitive tax rate to assets that are not held long-term. Read more

Among Patrick Hennessy’s weekend scoops (the entire Queen’s Speech being one) was news from within 10 Downing Street, where staff have been hiding away the silverware and antiques to make the new regime look less ostentatious. (He also revealed that Steve Hilton has been padding around the building in “stockinged feet”.)

That’s not the only reason some pieces of furniture have suddenly disappeared, however. I’m told that one particular antique – a fine table used by Gordon Brown – was sent to the restorers in recent days because it was covered in dents and black marker pen*. Read more

It was William Hague who predicted in 1999 that the public response to Labour would go through four phases: His timing was amiss but the sentiment was correct. It’s a similar angle to the saying that all political careers end in failure.

For when I spoke to you in this hall two years ago I said that New Labour would bring first fascination, then admiration, then disillusionment and finally contempt. At that stage the admiration was running high; now the disillusionment is beginning; and mark my words, they are not so far away from contempt.”

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We normally stick to UK politics. But I couldn’t resist passing on this gem from the New York Times, sent by one of my senior colleagues in the US. The Washington journalists are up in arms about not being allowed to travel on the charter plane that accompanies Air Force One, the report says. Read more

The new expenses body for MPs put out a release this evening saying it would relent on two fronts after pressure from all sides:

1] MPs will no longer automatically have to pay 15 per cent of their phone bills out of their own pockets. Yet – and this could be more of a pain – they will have to separate their private/political calls from work ones. Read more