Daily Archives: January 25, 2011

Jim Pickard

A rumour has been circulating for a while about David and Ed Miliband staging an imminent public rapprochement in an attempt to cauterise the bad blood* between the brothers. In fact we asked Lord Kinnock about the prospect during an interview this morning; he didn’t think it was a very advisable idea.

Now Allegra Stratton at the Guardian has the story that the meeting is in the diary for March and revolves around the brothers Mili setting up a revived Movement for Change campaign. Clearly this may be largely symbolic – and may not convince the general public that the wounds have healed. It’s hard to believe that David suddenly no longer resents his younger brother for winning the leadership with the help of the trade unions. Still, it is an important part of Labour’s attempts to move on.   

Jim Pickard

Here is an amusing quote from last night’s Lords Hansard; it doesn’t really require explanation:

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, although I have not participated greatly, I have attended quite a few of the Committee’s meetings. The Minister says that he will take away and consider issues such as those raised by my noble friend Lord Deben. With the great efficiency of this Committee, we are presently discussing the clauses to do with England and Wales, but exactly mirroring clauses, which are word for word the same, later extend the provisions to Scotland. However, nobody has thought to extend their amendments into that same text, but no doubt the Minister will consider- 

Jim Pickard

One of last week’s big stories was about Riven Vincent, the mother of a disabled child struggling to get extra care from her council. It encapsulated the problem of passing responsibility to communities – a key theme of the coalition – while still ensuring that councils provide vital services. Ministers have got rid of ring-fencing for many council revenue streams, just as authorities face a 28 per cent cut to their main grant over four years.

What then to make of Grant Shapps, housing minister, writing today to the chair of the Local Government Association to complain about several councils cutting their funding for homelessness? The minister said this was “disappointing” and “hard to understand“. The minister has asked the LGA to encourage and support councils to prioritise such services. 

Jim Pickard

Gordon Brown is perfectly entitled to his views on the economic situation, given the prestigious government posts he occupied for 13 years – regardless of your opinion of his time in office. But his intervention into the debate today is not particularly helpful for the new shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

Remember the old Tory slogan about Labour economic policy: “It’s not Brown, it’s Balls.” It was a reference to the idea that many of the party’s key policies emanated from brain of the Treasury adviser rather than Brown himself.

One of the biggest challenges for Balls is to shed the idea of himself as some kind of mini-Gordon, nurtured at the feet of the last prime minister. It’s a particularly damaging 

This must be one of the stranger ideas to emerge from Gordon Brown’s Treasury.

Lord Wilson, the former cabinet secretary, has just told the Iraq inquiry of his one-man battle to stop the chancellor from introducing an internal market for intelligence. 

Jim Pickard

This hasn’t been picked up by the House of Commons mikes, as far as I am aware. But apparently whenever Rory Stewart stands up to speak there is now a low rumbling of MPs humming the Pink Panther theme.

Fellow Tories tell me that the tune is a reference to Mr Stewart’s mysterious career path, which – some say – has an MI6 air. (The Tory MP has himself admitted that his career may “give the impression” that he was in the agency, although he denies this was the case). 

Jim Pickard

Economic activity in Britain contracted unexpectedly in the fourth quarter of 2010 – partly as a result of freezing weather – according to preliminary figures that create a fresh headache for the coalition government.

This is in contrast to the 0.5 per cent increase that was the average forecast of a poll of economists conducted by Thomson Reuters. The economy expanded by 1.2 per cent and 0.7 per cent in the second and third quarters of the year respectively

The Office of National Statistics, which provides the data, said that it was “clearly affected by the extremely bad weather in December last year.” Without this the picture would have been flat. Hotels, restaurants and retailers were all hard hit by the freezing conditions, a fact which has depressed the figures further.

Four political points to make:

1] The least subtle point is that the coalition will now be terrified about the threat of a double-dip recession, which Labour has warned about for months as the potential consequence of the cuts programme. The definition of a recession is two quarters of negative growth in succession – making the next set of figures in April a crucial moment for the government. If the economy shrinks in January to March it could give many ministers cold feet about the scale and pace of spending reductions.