Daily Archives: July 21, 2010

David Cameron has arrived in New York’s Penn Station to be given a traditional greeting from Mayor Mike Bloomberg – a hot dog from a street stand on W31st St.

Abdus Salam, the 41 year old vendor, tells the FT that Cameron had his beef frank without any condiments, avoiding the risk of a ketchup photo op disaster. Read more

David Cameron’s decision to take a commercial flight to Washington has brought giggles of surprise from US interviewers and much ribaldry from White House staff accustomed to travelling on Air Force One.

But that is nothing compared with the surprise expressed by his US hosts when they discover that he is making the trip from Washington to New York … on the train. In spite of the fact the cities are linked by an efficient Amtrak service, the idea of a world leader using it is seen by some as astonishing. Read more

Kiran Stacey

The government manages to hold three positions on the legality of invading Iraq

The government manages to hold three positions on the legality of invading Iraq

When Nick Clegg stood at the despatch box today and accused Jack Straw of being partly to blame for the “illegal invasion of Iraq”, you could almost see his Tory colleagues behind him wince.

Clegg had said this many times before, and it has long been the party’s official position (although it has never been approved by the full Lib Dem conference, so can’t be described as “policy”). But of course, it has never been the Tories’ position. Having voted for the invasion, the party still thinks it was legal.

Number 10 was quick to tell reporters this afternoon that Clegg was speaking “in a personal capacity”. But if he wasn’t articulating the government’s position, what is the government’s position? Read more

The competition is fierce. But this must be a contender for the worst question ever asked — or should I say not asked — at a select committee hearing.

Just take a look at James Arbuthnot’s forensic examination of Liam Fox’s position on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan: Read more

UPDATE, early morning, July 22: Simon Fraser’s appointment as new permanent secretary at the Foreign Office was confirmed by David Cameron on the train from Washington to New York last night.

But still no news on the appointment of a high-profile trade minister and nobody on the horizon.

Original post:

Breaking news from Washington as David Cameron prepares to make a speech to Wall Street titans, flying the flag for the City of London and urging them to invest in Britain.

Cameron’s “messianic” approach to drumming up trade for Britain has been hindered by the fact that the government is not very well set up to deliver: notably the prime minister has tried and failed for two months to recruit a high profile trade minister.

I gather that Cameron may soon have an announcement on that front, possibly before he arrives in New York later today. But in the meantime, I gather that another key appointment is imminent.

The word is that Simon Fraser, the urbane permanent secretary at the Department of Business, is about to transfer to the Foreign Office, to beef up that department’s commercial focus. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg and Jack Straw

Nick Clegg and Jack Straw

This blog tries not to resort to negative cynicism about politics and our politicians: other media outlets do a sterling job of that. But watching the historic moment when a Liberal Democrat stood at the despatch box for the first time ever at PMQs, I couldn’t help feel that the history of the moment was drowned by farcically long-winded questions, non-answers and puerile interruptions. (Although I don’t want to sound too po-faced, if you ignore the substantive politics, it was very good fun.)

The mood in the Commons was especially rowdy, even for a normal PMQs. With the Lib Dems sinking in the polls Labour sniffed a chance to give Nick Clegg a kicking while both Tories and the Lib Dems sensed the need to give their man their full backing. All this led to a bubbling cauldron of noise, with John Bercow, the speaker, telling MPs off even before questions began.

And by the time it came to the main event, Jack Straw versus Nick Clegg, the House was at boiling point. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband

Unison has become the second big union to back the younger Miliband in the labour leadership contest, following the GMB’s decision to do so last week. Unions carry a third of the vote in the leadership contest, and with two of the biggest now supporting Ed, he is starting to be talked about as a very credible challenger to his brother David, who remains favourite.

Ed said: “To have received the backing of a union representing millions of frontline workers is a real boost for my campaign to lead our party.”

But the big one is still to declare. That is Unite, the combined mega-union which has among its members the BA cabin crew.

It has been assumed that since Charlie Whelan, a former Brown adviser and close friend of Ed Balls, is Unite’s political director, the union would back Balls. But as the Guardian’s Michael White points out, Unite is not particularly, erm, united – and at least one of its general secretaries, Derek Simpson, supports Ed Miliband. If Unite do swing behind Mili-E, his campaign will have all the momentum. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Lloyd George, the last Liberal to face questions to a prime minister

David Lloyd George, the last Liberal to face questions to a prime minister

This afternoon Nick Clegg will become the first Liberal to face questions to a prime minister since Lloyd George in 1922, and the first ever Liberal Democrat to face prime minister’s questions as they were formalised in 1961.

After his successful performances on the television debates during the campaign, you might think this would be a pushover for Clegg. But PMQs is a strange beast, where prime ministers (or their deputies) can suddenly be blindsided by an unexpected question or have to face the mocking laughter of a packed House after an unconvincing answer. Read more

By George Parker, political editor

David Cameron was still glowing last night after his three-hour bonding session with President Obama, who took him on a tour of his personal apartments in the White House as well as the garden: a far cry from the short “brush by” offered to him when he was still leader of the opposition.

In spite of all the pre-meeting efforts to dampen expectations – Cameron wrote that he was not bothered by the “baubles” of the “special relationship” – his team were immediately anxious to tell journalists how well the meeting had gone.

In spite of the little local difficulty over BP, the two leaders joshed about the state of their children’s bedrooms and exchanged gifts: Sam Cameron bought a natty pair of pink and purple Hunter wellies for the Obama children. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron has refused to hold a full inquiry into the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, in spite of pressure from US senators to do so. The FT reports that he will hold a review on whether to release some of the documents that led to the decision however.

Meanwhile the BBC is reporting that the Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has defended al-Megrahi’s release and offered to release all the correspondence between Scottish ministers and the UK and US governments leading up to the decision. Salmond was on Radio 4 this morning, however, saying he opposed the wider prisoner transfer agreement signed between the British and Libyan governments. Read more