It is hard to imagine David Cameron delivering a more flattering speech in Ankara. His paean to Turkey’s place in Europe even included a smattering of Turkish phrases, which will have greatly impressed my Turkish grandmother watching at home. (It was a decent try, if lacking a bit of practice.)
On the political front, he tackled all the increasing number of areas where Britain is at odds with Turkey as gently as possible. He even included the extraordinary line that Turkey was the European country with “the greatest chance of persuading Iran to change course on nuclear policy”. Given they voted against toughening up UN sanctions on Iran earlier this month – which is Britain’s attempt to at persuasion – that is quite a claim.
Even so, the lovebombing will only go so far in Ankara. Read more
Mandarins are used to sudden changes of direction when the government changes. But even so, it must have been disconcerting for officials at the business department to see their former boss, Lord Mandelson, walk through the glass doors of their offices today to try and pick holes in policies they are currently defending.
Lord Mandelson and Pat McFadden, the current shadow business secretary, walked into the department to review the documents behind their decision to lend £80m to Sheffield Forgemasters, a decision the coalition has now controversially rescinded. Read more
Government officials told the FT over the weekend that today’s bank lending paper would be “very green” – essentially laying out a set of problems rather than solutions. And so it has proved.
The first 12 out of 39 pages deal with “context”: basically facts we already knew. It is not until page 13 that we get any concrete policy suggestions. And even then, they are couched in very cautious terms. Read more
News just in from the culture department where many of its 55 public bodies are to be abolished, merged or streamlined.
The most eye-catching is the abolition of the UK Film Council, which invests government grants and Lottery money in film development. (Although Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, insists that ‘government and Lottery support for film will continue’).
The body has helped to fund 900 films since it was set up in 2000, although it’s not exactly clear from its website which ones they were. (The BBC tells us that they include Bend it Like Beckham and the Last King of Scotland – pictured).
Also to be abolished is the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Ditto the Advisory Council on Libraries and the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel. And the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites. Read more
Not everyone at Unite is endorsing Ed Miliband. Jerry Hicks, maverick candidate for the union leadership – the battle takes place this autumn – says he can’t possibly endorse a former New Labour minister.
Instead, in the absence of John McDonnell on the candidate list, he tells me he’s backing Diane Abbott, for her leftwing views and anti-war stance; albeit with reservations. It’s worth taking Hicks seriously given that he came second in a challenge to Derek Simpson (for the leadership of the Amicus wing of Unite) last year, with 25 per cent of the votes. Read more
This week’s New Yorker has kindly devoted 4,000 words to the colourful history — and pure maths — of electoral systems.
Anthony Gottleib, in his review of George Szpiro’s book Numbers Rule, has done a pretty good job of bringing alive what could be a terrifically dull subject. Here are a few choice snippets: Read more
There are many flaws to the graduate tax. But this one – mentioned by Martin Wolf today – is something special. Will Ed Miliband or Vince Cable really be able to justify a system that gives a free ride to French, Polish and Romanian students?
Today there are around 120,000 European students at British universities (i.e from European Union states other than the UK).
The Treaty of Maastricht enshrined their right to a study on the same terms as any UK national. So they must be offered student loans rates at the same rates — subsidised to the tune of 23p in the £1. And they must be offered exactly the same terms on fees as any British student.
Now just imagine that a simple graduate tax was introduced. Any Greek, Irish or Spanish student would pay for their course by promising to give the British government a slice of their future income.
The snag is when they leave the UK, which most do. At the border they’ll thank us all for their superb degree — and wave goodbye to HM Revenue & Cutoms. The British taxpayer will be left to pick up the bill. Read more
Ouch. After suffering a string of negative headlines for his performance at prime minister’s questions yesterday, Nick Clegg faced another rebuke today from the speaker for calling the Iraq invasion illegal – a personal view but not government policy. John Bercow said:
Ministers are responsible for what they say in the Chamber and it is assumed they will speak on behalf of the government.
But Clegg will have been relieved to hear Bercow’s response to an enterprising Labour backbencher calling for an apology:
He is pushing his luck. I have ruled on this matter and I have nothing further to say.
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
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.
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
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
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