Monthly Archives: July 2010

Interesting to see that John Prescott now says he was “nervous” about the intelligence that provided the basis for the Iraq invasion.

On the basis of the Alastair Campbell diaries, “JP” – far from expressing nerves about the war - played an enforcer role in making sure that the cabinet knuckled down behind Tony Blair. Read more

A postscript to my earlier blog about the Balls campaign being on the ropes.

Here is a YouGov poll of Labour members from mid-way in the deputy leadership race in 2007 which turned out to be spectacularly wrong. It’s worth bearing in mind. Read more

Ed Balls is in a bind.

On the one hand he has been the most effective member of the shadow cabinet in recent weeks, successfully landing punch after punch on the coalition over the Building Schools for the Future programme.

On the other his leadership campaign is running into the sand. In a poll last night for the Sun he came in fifth behind all the other candidates, with just 11 per cent of those polled (against 37 per cent for David M and 29 per cent for Ed M). It seems that Labour supporters haven’t warmed to him.

So what to do? If Balls swings his weight behind one of the brothers he could give significant momentum to that candidate and therefore secure the shadow chancellorship as a reward. If he stays in the contest and comes third he might get that job anyway. But if he comes in fifth the winner is under no obvious obligation to give him that plum role, for which he is qualified and would no doubt want. Read more

Eric Pickles, communities secretary, says today that his plan for council tax will be a “radical extension of direct democracy” which will “let the people decide“.

Under his proposals, the public will have the power to veto excessive council tax rises. (At present only ministers can ‘cap’ these increases).

Any council setting its increase above a set ceiling (approved in, er, Parliament) will trigger an automatic referendum of all registered electors in its area – at the cost of tens of thousands of pounds. The cost alone (at a time of tight budgets) will prevent most local authorities from even trying to carry out big increase.

They will also shy away from such exercises because they know that - in most cases - the public will almost certainly veto the rise, judging by past experience*.

That means the vital decision is the exact level of the ceiling, which will be set by MPs in London. In which case; does this translate into a transfer of power to local people? In effect, probably not.

The most truly democratic/localist way of doing this would be to let councils do what they want. If voters are angered by council tax rises they can vote out their councillors.

* In 2002 Blair allowed a clutch of councils to hold referendums on council tax rises, including Croydon, Bristol and Milton Keynes. Most voters unsurprisingly went for the lowest rise (or freeze).  Read more

Business hates the idea of an immigration cap – FT
Osborne tells Fox his department will pay for Trident – FT
Forgemasters gives Cable an ultimatum – FT
Only 153 schools apply for academy status – Guardian
Tory promise to make work pay – Telegraph
Tornado fleet to be grounded – The Times
Boris launches his socialist bike scheme – Evening Standard

Ed Miliband’s campaign has announced that it has raised nearly £40,000 in small donations from supporters. This will help feed his narrative as being the grassroots/Obama-esque candidate; given that by early July he had only received £15,000 in large donations. Read more

Now that the Lib Dems are in power the party no longer gets “short money” and therefore has had to reduce its headcount at Cowley Street in Westminster. Unsurprisingly this has prompted a difficult period for those who have not kept their jobs or found new ones in government.

In the light of this morning’s blog about everyone wanting to hug/hire a Lib Dem I’ve been passed a list of 10 former staffers who either are or have been looking for new jobs. I’d be surprised if most don’t find new work given the sudden need for UK plc to understand/befriend the yellow party. Read more

Esquire magazine is this month tipping five coalition MPs as future cabinet ministers as part of a piece naming 20 future high-fliers in Westminster.

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There is one Gandhi-sized gap on David Cameron’s programme of visits in India.

Sonia Gandhi suddenly pulled out of a meeting with the prime minister, which was scheduled for this afternoon. The cause is still a mystery. But, at first sight, it does not bode well for the new Anglo-Indian “special relationship”.

Ms Gandhi, the president of the Congress party, is probably the most powerful person in India. Her son Rahul — who was unable to see Mr Cameron because he’s in London — is a prime minister in waiting. Meeting with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is a rite of passage for any visiting dignitary that’s serious about making an impact on India. In New Delhi, personal chemistry is everything, and the Gandhis are the people you need to know. Read more

I wrote back on June 1 about the lobbyists and other power-brokers suddenly courting the Liberal Democrats since they entered government. There has been a surge of applications to attend the Lib Dem conference this autumn from people who have never been before.

Only yesterday I was told that the Daily Mail has just upped its posse attending the autumn conference from, er, one person to 12. Expect this pattern to be repeated elsewhere; including the FT.

Given this new environment I was unsurprised to hear that Tory lobbyist-maestro Peter Bingle is now styling himself as a chum of the Lib Dem movement. Read more

I revealed this morning that the TUC has revoked an invitation to Vince Cable to address it’s autumn conference in Manchester after a decision last week by some of the big unions who are angry about public sector cuts. The general secretaries have also agreed to host a big rally next spring – comparable with the Stop the War demonstration – to protest about mass redundancies.

The Vince move has prompted concerns within the moderate end of the movement, however. Some more thoughtful characters are worried that Vince may be one of the ministers who would resist attempts by more rightwing colleagues to crack down on the movement. Antagonising Vince could be counter-productive, they fear. Read more

Black hole in council pension scheme says Audit Commission - Telegraph

The inside story of the coalition talks – Nick Robinson Read more

Some important developments to report from India.

We’ve discovered that David Cameron is scarily happy to recycle jokes.

At the end of a rather long and worthy address in Bangalore on Wednesday, he tried to lighten the atmosphere with a Casablanca gag about this being “the start of a beautiful friendship”.

You must remember this. (Don’t worry, only one more Casablanca crack to go.) It was exactly the same line he finished his first ever speech in India, almost four years ago.  Read more

The Guardian’s story that Labour is planning to vote against the AV bill as it currently stands is an important development in the passage of electoral reform. But Labour won’t be able to block the bill. What is really worrying pro-reform campaigners is the growing movement to change the date of the referendum. The FT revealed this morning that Labour is close to agreeing with Tory rebels to vote for an amendment for such a change.

Electoral reform campaigners

Electoral reform campaigners

The “yes” movement calculates the bill will get through the Commons – rebel Tories will be whipped into submission on that point by party bosses who know that without it the coalition is likely to crumble.

But if those rebels team up with Labour to force a change of date (something on which Tory whips might give them more leeway), Lib Dems and other AV campaigners know the chances of a “yes” vote are significantly reduced. At the moment, the referendum is scheduled for May 5, when there are regional elections in Wales and Scotland. That should boost the turnout in those places, where support for AV is strongest.

So what chance the government suffering its first Commons defeat on the issue of the date? Read more

Remember Manish Sood? He was the Labour candidate who called Gordon Brown the “worst prime minister in history” in the run-up to the general election. Read more

I spent a couple of hours at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday where Hans Blix was talking.

Like many people, I had understood that Blix thought Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction in early 2003 – encouraged by headlines such as this one in January: Hanx Blix warned Tony Blair Iraq may not have WMD.

The Blix position is in fact much more nuanced.

Yesterday he said he told Tony Blair one month before the Iraq invasion that he thought Saddam Hussein may still have illegal weapons in spite of his growing doubts on the matter. Read more

Outsourced workers to lose benefit guarantees – FT
Cameron to extend civil nuclear ties with India – FT
Labour to oppose voting reform bill – Guardian
Think tank urges Trident cuts – BBC
Archbishop of York stopped and searched eight times – Telegraph
Hunt angers civil servants by telling them losing the ministerial car is a ‘pain’ – Mirror

Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome offers some shrewd insights into a batch of three polls in the last 24 hours which all show the Lib Dems trailing and Labour closing ground on the Tories. According to Ipsos MORI the gap between the two main parties is down to 2 points – and this is before Labour has a new leader and the public sector cuts begin in earnest.

Yet the line in the MORI poll that jumped out at me was one implying the public may still be utterly naive in their expectations of the deficit reduction programme – and its real impact on people’s lives. Read more

David Cameron’s trip to India is the biggest diplomatic gamble of his premiership. He’s packed a plane with the cream of the cabinet and British business. It’s a bold play, but there’s a clear danger of overreaching. Here are some elephant traps for team Cameron:

1. Kashmir The quickest way to turn a charm offensive into a diplomatic fiasco. The basic rule: British ministers should say nothing. Don’t dare criticise, offer to help, or link bringing peace to tackling terrorism. Stray words have consequences. Just ask Robin Cook, Jack Straw, David Miliband and the Queen. Harold Wilson was also given the silent treatment by Indira Ghandi after giving some unsolicited advice on Pakistan. This isn’t just a Labour problem. Sayeeda Warsi, minister without portfolio, has already had a scrape with the Indian media for having the temerity to suggest that Britain should “play its due role” bringing peace to Kashmir. The Foreign Office didn’t show much sympathy for her views.

2. Poverty Terrible. More poor people than anywhere on earth. But not worth mentioning too loudly. Talk about the New India instead. Mention the aid review. A patronising tone is fatal. Definitely don’t say anything like this: “Parts of Soweto look like a paradise compared to that [Delhi slum].” Or this, from the same UK opposition leader: “This is the real contrast. You can see in the background the big buildings of new India, the smart financial centre. But here is a reminder of how deep the poverty is in this country….the huge squalor.” It may be right. But probably not wise to repeat it, prime minister. Read more

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