Monthly Archives: August 2010

Jim Pickard

For the Blair memoirs to be a genuine bestseller and pageturner it would help if they answered some of the outstanding questions of his decade in 10 Downing Street. You could write an entire book on those concerning the Iraq invasion – but instead I’ve come up with an alternative list:

1] Which of the current leadership candidates does he prefer? Is it David Miliband, as widely presumed? What is his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the shadow foreign secretary? Ditto the other four candidates? If DM, at what point did he identify him as a future party leader and bearer of the New Labour torch? Also, did he have doubts about DM’s commitment to the “Blairite” reform agenda?

2] Did he believe that Gordon Brown was trying to undermine him during the run-up to the Iraq invasion? How committed was GB in private to the process? Did Brown try to rein him back? Did he fear that if the war went badly GB would mount a coup? What role did religion play in Blair’s thought processes?

3] Just how influential was Alastair Campbell (pictured) in government? Did the former head of communications play a key role in reshuffles, big policy decisions and so on? Did Blair ever regret giving him so much influence? Was AC instrumental in the second sacking of Mandelson? How hard did Blair try to keep Mandy in post?

4] Relations between Downing Street and the Treasury. How did things get so bad ? Did Blair feel frustrated that the domestic agenda was in Brown’s hands? What were his feelings in only getting Budget announcements at the last minute? How close did he come to sacking Brown and why did he refuse to? Was this out of weakness or brotherly love?

5] Euro. Why did he believe that entering the single currency was such a great idea and how hard did he fight for it internally? How did he feel when he was frustrated over the issue? Is he still a euro believer? Read more

Jim Pickard

One of the flagship proposals in Ed Miliband’s policy manifesto is his plan for a “living wage” which would mean workers getting no less than £7.60 an hour (we’ve looked at it before here). This would not be imposed on companies by law. Instead they would be offered tax breaks in return for instigating the policy.

Mili-E (pictured) claims this would not cost anything because there would be a corresponding fall in the cost of tax credits and benefits. The problem is, he has not produced any costings to show how this maths would work. Read more

Jim Pickard

No doubt there will be voices raised in dissent at news that Britain and France are likely to proceed with plans to share three aircraft carriers. (Liam Fox is meeting his French counterparts on Friday).

Expect Labour figures to accuse the coalition of taking risks with British security given that the two countries don’t share identical geopolitical priorities. The decision is likely to be portrayed as evidence that the comprehensive spending review is cutting far too deep.

But – as the Times revealed in May 2008 – these talks were initiated when Gordon Brown was in power. As that newspaper reported back then:

The “bilateral carrier group interoperability initiative” was proposed by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, at his summit meeting with Gordon Brown in London in March (2008).

MoD officials did not deny those talks at the time, describing them instead as “aspirational”. Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne to cut Treasury staff numbers by a quarter - George Parker, FT
Star chamber gathers, knives ready – FT
Hatred of Blair is over the top – Gideon Rachman, FT
UK and France press ahead with plan to share aircraft carriers – Sun
Will Blair “trash” Brown in his autobiography? - Tim Shipman, Daily Mail

Jim Pickard

Lord Mandelson made clear in his recent autobiography that the last Labour manifesto, written by Ed Miliband, was not to his liking. It seemed to have been road-tested by Guardian columnists, he observed.

With this in mind, no one in Westminster should have been truly surprised by Lord Mandelson’s implicit decision to endorse the older, more Blairite David Miliband. Less predictable was that he would come out in public to slam the younger Ed. As Sam Coates reveals in today’s Times(£), Mandelson warned that if Mili-E wanted to “create a pre-new-Labour future” then he would quickly discover it was an “electoral cul-de-sac“. For the party to turn its back on New Labour would make it a minority force for the future, he said. Read more

Jim Pickard

£15.9bn Crossrail project set to survive spending cuts - FT
Balls not guaranteed to become shadow chancellor – FT
“Security” to play greater role in picking aid priorities – FT
Campbell and Mandelson sound the anti-Ed Miliband trumpet – New Statesman
Maybe Boris isn’t going to resign after all - Guardian

Jim Pickard

In the run-up to the general election George Osborne scored a big propaganda coup by enlisting the names of scores of business leaders in a letter criticising Gordon Brown’s planned rise in National Insurance.

(No matter that in Osborne’s subsequent Budget VAT went up by a similar amount to help plug the fiscal hole).

For Labour that stung; not least because some of the figures had sat at various times on its own advisory boards. David Miliband has since said, on several occasions, that he never wants Labour to enter a general election campaign with no business support. Read more

Jim Pickard

Red Ed would be disastrous for Labour - Fraser Nelson, News of the World
The tax burden won’t fall during this Parliament* says Danny Alexander – Observer
Pay MPs more to keep them honest - AA Gill, Sunday Times
Gurkha regiment faces axe? – Observer
Will Boris Johnson really resign over cuts? - Tim Montgomerie, ConservativeHome
Danny Alexander risks Tory backlash on cuts - FT
Does Cameron fear Mili-D the most? - Guardian

* Did anyone in their right mind think that it would (except, maybe, in the last budget before the May 2015 election)?

Jim Pickard

David Cameron’s lucky escape from the Taleban prompts security revamp – Tim Shipman, Daily Mail
Prime minister’s close shave in Afghanistan – James Kirkup, Telegraph
GDP figures revised upwards – Reuters
Lines drawn in the AV battle
– FT Notebook
Crispin Blunt comes out and leaves wife - Telegraph

Jim Pickard

In a keynote speech at Bloomberg HQ on Friday Ed Balls will lay into the coalition in a way that exceeds anything we have heard before.

He will warn that “a hurricane is about to hit” Britain’s economy, in the most dramatic warning yet by a Labour politician that the coalition’s deficit reduction programme could prompt a double-dip recession.

Balls will label George Osborne, chancellor, as a “growth denier”, who is ignoring warning signs of a global slowdown. Read more

Jim Pickard

Over at Left Foot Forward they have an interview with Labour leadership contender Ed Balls where he has a not-to-subtle dig at the Brothers Mili-E/D.

1] He tells them to stop trying to split the British public into pointless demographic segments. 2] He suggests that he was battling Tory cuts while they were wandering around harvesting CLP backing. Read more

Jim Pickard

Hearing the coalition criticise the IFS – after it skewered their theory that their Budget had been “progressive” – reminds me of happier times, when Conservative MPs queued up to praise the independent economic thinktank.

Yesterday we had Mark Hoban describing the report as “selective” and Nick Clegg criticising it as “partial”. Read more

Jim Pickard

It was only February but this speech by David Cameron seems like ages ago. And it doesn’t sound quite so convincing in the light of the Conservatives selling seats next to MPs at their conference dinner for thousands of pounds.

(Although, as I pointed out earlier, the Tories are not exactly alone).

Decisions made behind closed doors. The Houses of Parliament bypassed and undermined. Money buying influence. Too often just an elite few choosing the people who become MPs for many years. We can’t go on like this…..

I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

I revealed last night that five of Britain’s main aid charities (including Oxfam and Save the Children) have written to Andrew Mitchell, development secretary, to express concerns about his dropping of scores of aid targets. He has replied, insisting that aid will still be ring-fenced and that in some cases will in fact increase.

The story is buried deep in the furthest corner of ft.com but you can find it here. Larry Elliott, economics editor at the Guardian, has his own take on it this morning here. As I wrote:

Coalition officials insist that the targets were only “input tracking mechanisms” that are irrelevant to spending decisions or resource allocation by Dfid. This would instead be determined by three seperate reviews of aid that are taking place at present….But in their letter the five charities said that those public commitments being dropped had often been “vital political and technical tools” to ensure effective delivery of policy. Many had strong public backing, were measurable targets for holding governments to account and provided international comparison and leverage on other governments.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

The Daily Telegraph splashes this morning with news of an “exclusive networking event” for business people at Tory conference. Places start at £500 and each table will be hosted by a Tory MP. Those prepared to spend more – £1,000 a head – can guarantee dining with at least one serving government minister, according to the report.

But as the Tel admits, this is exactly what was done by Labour when it was in government. Except they were more subtle and less explicit about access to politicians.

You would pay for a corporate table and you’d get somebody, usually a Labour MP or minister, sitting with you,” one lobbyist tells me. “You might select or choose someone and then either that person or someone else would turn up on your table. The only difference is that Labour doesn’t have ministers any more and the Tories do.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Apologies if this argument has already been made elsewhere – if so I haven’t seen it. Amid all the hoopla about the IFS report on the Budget (which suggests that it falls hardest on the poor) most commentators seem to have missed a very simple point: cuts to public spending are, by their very nature, bad news for poor people.

Why? Because people with less money are more reliant, proportionately, on the state. That applies to a vast range of public services such as subsidised transport, care, education and of course benefits.

I do agree with Nicolas Smith of the TUC when she says that “it’s time for the Government to stop pretending that the steepest cuts since WW2 are compatible with fairness”. That always seemed a tenuous argument by the coalition. Read more

Jim Pickard

Robert Chote proves his mettle for OBR role by releasing critical IFS report on “progressive” Budget – FT
Why I’m backing David Miliband for Labour leader - Jon Cruddas, Mirror
“Piggy-eyed” Eric Pickles is my hero – Paul Goodman, Telegraph
Clegg rejects criticism of coalition Budget - FT

Jim Pickard

I wasn’t sure I entirely agreed with the Times’ interpretation of its David Miliband column today in which the Labour leadership candidate said the party shouldn’t naively return to its ‘comfort zone’. That newspaper wrote it up as an all-out assault on his brother.

(The splash was Gloves off as Miliband rounds on his brother – attack on naive rivals for Labour leadership). Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ll provide a link to the relevant bit of the IPSA site in a minute (it’s under the FOI section of this page). But meanwhile here are some extracts of encounters between MPs and staff at the new expenses body. They don’t reflect too well on MPs, to say the least, given that many of the Ipsa staff are young female temps.

(Credit to Simon Walters at the Mail on Sunday for providing much of the flavour in this article two weeks ago…)

Reported incidents of behaviour of MPs towards IPSA staff:

- “At several times during the session he exclaimed, “This system is a f***ing abortion!”, which I found deeply inappropriate and offensive.”

- “He struck the laptop on the facilitator’s desk and loomed over the facilitator in an intimidating manner.”

- “Walked off on a staff member in the middle of her explanation, branding all the trainers and staff ‘monkey’.” Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne’s Budget was not progressive, says IFS – FT
David Cameron is in danger of turning into a “Heathite” - Bruce Anderson, FT
How John Bercow will sit in judgment over civil service redundancy payments – FT
Politicians should stay clear of rich donors – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
Clegg faces rough ride at Lib Dem conference – Nick Watt, Guardian