Monthly Archives: January 2011

Jim Pickard

Unlike Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, there was no verbal stumbling from Mervyn King when the governor of the Bank of England made his keynote speech in Newcastle last night. But the economic recovery seems to be stuttering.

Economics is such fun (despite its ‘dismal’ reputation) because very rarely are any forecasts absolutely right; even from the experts. And right now there are so many pieces of contradictory data that the overall picture is more blurred than ever. Read more

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.   Read more

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- Read more

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. Read more

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 Read more

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. Read more

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). Read more

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. Read more

Jim Pickard

Over the quiet New Year period I interviewed Grant Shapps, housing minister, who made an explicit warning about proposed changes to the mortgage market. The Financial Services Authority is carrying out a review of the industry which could result in much tighter lending criteria for home-buyers.

Now Richard Lambert, the outgoing director-general of the CBI, has made a similar warning in his parting speech today. He says: Read more

Jim Pickard

Former IFS head Robert Chote, in his new role as head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is not supposed to cast judgment on government policy. But he comes pretty close in an FT interview today.

Chote appears to question whether the “fair fuel stabiliser”, which David Cameron has promised to examine, would actually work. (The policy was in the Tory manifesto but not in the coalition agreement). Cameron has never explicitly said the government would introduce the policy – the Treasury is examining it – but said recently that he wanted some way to share the pain of rising petrol prices. The stabiliser could smooth out price fluctuations by imposing a lower duty on oil/petrol when the price rises and a higher duty when the price falls. Read more

Jim Pickard

When Ed Miliband and Ed Balls met late on Wednesday evening at the former’s offices over cups of coffee they sought to “thrash out” economic differences and agree a joint strategy for the coming years. Both men are aware that the appointment could either be seen as a sign of Miliband’s weakness – did he feel there was no one else? - or his strength, in that he now feels able (rightly or wrongly) to contain the strong Balls ego.

Their task is to convince the world that they have not entered a shotgun wedding – given that some senior colleagues suggest they do not even like one another. (One shadow cabinet member suggests their relationship has the potential to be even worse than Miliband-Miliband, given that Balls used to treat his new boss as the ‘office boy’ back in the Treasury days). Read more

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more