Monthly Archives: March 2011

Jim Pickard

Oliver Letwin, Cabinet Office minister, told a committee of MPs this afternoon that Britain was facing an “immediate national crisis in the form of less growth and jobs than we needed“.

This was why ministers had focused so hard on economic growth in the run-up to the Budget, Mr Letwin told the environmental audit committee. Read more

Nicholas Timmins

“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.” Well, not quite.

But the quote attributed to Mother Teresa might be the new slogan for Whitehall civil servants, where, the Institute for Government has just noted, there has been a spectacular turnover at the top. Read more

Jim Pickard

Network Rail was structured as a private company (to keep debts off the state balance sheet) and likes to pay its senior staff private sector-style remuneration.

Others point out that the track operator is owned by the taxpayer and receives a huge annual subsidy from the government. (And its £25.6bn of debt is guaranteed by the government). As such, its pay structure ought to be of interest to the public.

For the current year senior executives are not taking an annual bonus, after the previous year’s £2m-plus bonanza was heavily criticised by Philip Hammond, transport secretary. Read more

Jim Pickard

The story broke late last night that Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister, had defected from the regime and flown to Britain via Tunisia. Here is the story from our front page this morning.

At this morning’s Downing Street press briefing there was only one story in town. Here are a few nuggets of new information about Koussa:

1] He has brought (at least some of) his family with him. Koussa’s son gave an interview to the BBC’s Arabic channel last night, although this wasn’t immediately shared with the rest of the corporation – I’m told – which is why we’re only now learning about it. Downing St would not say whether Koussa’s entire family has defected with him but you’d imagine they have.

2] He is in an unidentified “secure location” somewhere in the UK. We are not being told if he has applied for asylum or for a visa.

3] “Moussa Koussa will not, is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice”, said the spokesman. I asked whether his eventual sentence – if he were to be found guilty of any crimes – would be mitigated for any co-operation with the western powers. There wasn’t a straight answer. Instead the spokesman merely replied that there was a UN resolution in place (1970) governing a prosecution of Gaddafi over in relation to attacks on unarmed civilians in February.

4] David Cameron signed off the decision to allow Koussa into the country.

5] Koussa has been communicating with the British government throughout the recent military action.

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Jim Pickard

When I interviewed David Miliband last summer and asked him what his philosophy was he was able to sum it up in a sentence. The reply, as I recall it, was succinct: “Opportunities for the many not the few.”

Perhaps he had learned from the day that Tony Blair was asked the same question and couldn’t come up with a reply. Read more

Jim Pickard

Last time Arnie was in town (last October) Downing St made a few groan-worthy jokes about how he would help “terminate” the deficit. He promised: “I’ll be back.”

True to his word, the former governor of California returned today, attending a gathering of the Tory backbench 1922 committee. The appearance conjures up the surreal vision of grand Conservative backbenchers mingling with the star of Terminator, Conan the Barbarian and, er, Jingle all the Way. Nick Watt at the Guardian has tweeted that David Cameron unveiled the muscular movie star as his “secret weapon” just before the meeting this afternoon in a Commons committee room. Arnie told Watt: “It was very good to pump them up, to tell them they’re doing a great job on Libya.” Read more

Jim Pickard

When the new chair of the BBC, Chris Patten, admitted he was not a fan of TV soap operas it caused a mild ripple. His comments had been somewhat misquoted to suggest he didn’t watch telly at all. In fact he said: “I take slight exception to the argument that I hardly watch television, it is true you don’t find me in front of Eastenders.”

But what to make of Jeremy Hunt admitting today that he hasn’t borrowed a library book for a decade? I was at the culture committee this morning* but slipped out just before Tom Watson asked Hunt when he last borrowed a book from a library. The answer: “Certainly not in the last decade.” Read more

Jim Pickard

As news emerges of Ed Miliband’s impending nuptials, FT Westminster has obtained a secret copy of his draft speech:

“I’m so sorry that David cannot be here today, having been called away at short notice to a conference in Patagonia. David, I love you so much as a brother. Read more

Jim Pickard

When Colonel Gaddafi accused the eastern rebels of Al-Qaeda links there was a presumption that this was merely propaganda from the Libyan dictator.

Now, however, a Nato US commander has suggested that intelligence reports indicate a potential “flicker” of al-Qaeda within the resistance. James Stavridis, Nato’s supreme allied commander for Europe, was speaking during Senate testimony today. Here is the relevant transcript:

“We have seen flickers in the intelligence* of potential Al Qaida, Hezbollah. We’ve seen different things. But at this point I don’t have detail sufficient to say that — that there’s a significant Al Qaida presence or any other terrorist presence in and among these folks. We’ll continue to look at that very closely. It’s part of doing due diligence as we move forward on any kind of relationship.”

The Conservative chair, Baroness Warsi, was asked about this on Sky today; her reply wasn’t exactly reassuring. To quote

Baroness Warsi responded to reports that there are “flickers” of Al-Qaeda in the Libyan opposition by saying it was “very concerning” but she is confident that the Interim National Council’s “vision of Libya” is not a “post-Gaddafi Libya that includes Al-Qaeda”. “That is the first I’m hearing

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Jim Pickard

It’s too early to know how the May 5 local elections will pan out – and AV may get the bigger headlines – but the omens are promising for Labour.

I revealed this morning that Labour is fielding candidates for at least 67 per cent of seats, up from just 54 per cent the last time these English seats were contested – in 2007. Read more

Jim Pickard

The wisdom of ending the 50p upper tax rate half-way through this Parliament is open to doubt. If unemployment is still rising and benefits being pruned, a tax cut for the rich would send out a curious signal to the public.

Yet there is no doubt now that this is what the coalition intends, however, given David Laws writing last week in the FT that it should be done by 2013 and Nick Clegg telling us today that it would be done when people on lower middle incomes are “breathing more easily“.

How this will be done seems likely to be a combination of a crackdown on tax avoidance on the purchase of large houses (announced in the budget) and fiddling with council tax. It won’t be a mansion tax – according to Clegg – despite claims in some newspapers this morning. Read more

Jim Pickard

The coalition’s promise to be the “greenest government ever” is now rather under strain after environmental groups reacted with hostility to Wednesday’s Budget – given that it provided tax relief for motorists and air passengers.

I was surprised that George Osborne, the chancellor, repeated his regular claim that the government would raise the proportion of green taxes on individuals.

Yet this is still a realistic ambition, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies in its Budget analysis yesterday.

Having said that, the IFS said that while the target was “still on course”, the Budget had put progress back by cutting fuel duty by the equivalent of £2bn a year.

Green groups, which welcomed the commitment of £3bn of capital towards the Green Investment Bank, were disappointed that the

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