Monthly Archives: March 2011

Many anti-nuclear Lib Dems have gone quiet on the issue since they entered government; Andrew Stunell springs to mind. He is now a junior minister in DCLG: this is what he said about nuclear power in 2009.

But a Lib Dem backbencher, Martin Horwood, has today put forward an early day motion calling on the coalition to suspend Britain’s new nuclear energy programme in the wake of the Japanese crisis. Read more

If this remarkable poll is correct, Nick Clegg should be the one refusing to share a platform with Ed Miliband.

The Ipsos-Mori research turns conventional wisdom on its head and shows that Clegg is actually more liked than Miliband, scoring 40 per cent against the Labour leader’s 36. Read more

Amid the row about the reorganisation of the NHS – on which many coalition MPs have cold feet – it’s easy to forget one simple fact.

The Tories are committed to ring-fencing health; which means even more brutal decisions elsewhere in government. This was a difficult choice (some would say brave) to make in the spending review.

Labour, by contrast, said last summer they would not ring-fence the health service in quite the same way. In fact former health secretary Andy Burnham made a compelling case nearly a year ago as to why it would be a mistake.Burnham admitted it was “counter-intuitive for a health spokesman to be advocating less spending on the NHS.”

Since then – with John Healey as shadow health secretary – we haven’t heard much on what Labour’s policy would now be on this. Unsurprisingly. Read more

We raised a key problem with Ed Balls’ plan to seek a cut in VAT on petrol in this blog on Monday.

Now Justine Greening, Treasury minister, has raised five further points about this, which are topical given that Labour are seeking an opposition day motion today on the issue. I’ll update later if the Balls team want to rebut any points:

1. Ed Balls claims the UK could secure a derogation ‘immediately’ from the EU on VAT on fuel as France did for restaurants. But it took France seven years to secure this derogation and the head of the Office for Tax Simplification said the EU would be ‘unlikely’ to grant one on something as ‘fundamental’ as petrol. No EU member has ever secured a VAT derogation on petrol.

2.He admitted today he was wrong to claim on Monday that VAT on road fuel was cut in the mid-1990s. He admitted that in fact it was cut on domestic fuel.

3. He claims the government is seeking an EU derogation on VAT on fuel in rural areas. But this is regarding Fuel Duty not VAT.

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Just before the New Year the No campaign said it had gathered the names of 114 Labour MPs opposed to changing the voting system.

Today the campaign has bought a full-page advert on the back of the Guardian with an impressive list of Labour figures who are on their side. Curiously, however, the number of MPs has dropped to 102 – unless I’ve counted wrongly. Read more

There was a curious line in David Cameron’s speech during Tory spring conference where he portrayed civil servants as anti-business “bureaucrats” getting in the way of entrepreneurs.

Politicians often say this kind of thing but the language was particularly ripe: “If I have to pull those people into my office to argue this out myself and get them off the backs of business then, believe me, I’ll do it.” Read more

Expect to hear more in the coming days about changes to business rates and how this could be a spur to economic growth. The policy has the rare advantage of fitting into two of the coalition’s most favoured agendas – “growth” and “localism”.

A review was launched last October examining whether the £24bn of business rates collected each year could be kept locally. At present the money is collected by local authorities and sent to central government which then applies a complex redistribution formula and sends it back to the regions.

Ministers’ cunning wheeze is that if councils could keep the levy directly they would have a new incentive to oversee more economic growth in their neighbourhoods – because they would keep the extra cash. True.

But the complete localisation of business rates would prompt agonised complaints from scores of local authorities. Why? Because there are some such as Westminster which have Read more

The 50p rate – dubbed the “banker tax” – was always going to be a blunderbuss of a weapon with which to punish the guilty men of the UK’s financial services community. But who is it really going to affect? Read more

Ed Balls said yesterday that a Labour government would use the £800m from the recent rise in the bank levy to pay for a reversal in the rise in VAT on petrol – which would cost, by co-incidence, £800m.

It’s a neat political attack line because it will lessen any public gratitude if the coalition freezes fuel duty in the Budget. (Ministers are widely expected to cancel or limit the proposed rise of inflation plus 1 per cent). Balls will be able to turn around on March 23 and ask why ministers don’t go further and carry out his VAT plan. Read more

Fascinating story in the Sunday Telegraph about a “pact” between supermarkets and the drinks industry with the government.

A voluntary deal will be announced on Tuesday by Andrew Lansley, health secretary, showing a new commitment to “responsibility” by various companies. (For example, some food companies will promise to reduce salt and sugar content and provide better labelling).

Other measures are said to include:

- Heineken stamping the alcoholic content of its drinks on 11m branded glasses provided to clubs and bars – and also providing alcohol unit information on draught beers and ciders such as Foster’s and John Smith’s.

- Asda cutting promotional drinks offers at store entrances

- A bank on drinks adverts within 100 yards of schools

- More signs in pubs warning about problem drinking

It is reported that Heineken* is also planning to reduce the strength of a leading brand “thought to be the cider Strongbow”) by 1 per cent alcohol by volume from 5.3 per cent to 4.3 per cent.

But when? Curiously, there are two stories on this in the Sunday Tel. The first article, in the main section, mentions the Strongbow pledge without mentioning when it may happen. The other, in the business section, admits it won’t take place for at least two years: or “by 2013,” as journalist Kamal Ahmed reports.

As an ad for another alcoholic drink once said: “Good things come to those who wait.” Read more

George Eaton at the New Statesman has already summed up what was wrong with Nick Clegg saying this morning of bankers that he wanted to “wring the neck of these wretched people“.

As Eaton points out, the comments breach the ceasefire between Westminster and the Square Mile supposedly achieved via Project Merlin. They also remind the public just how ineffective Clegg has been in curbing bonuses in the banking industry. Read more

I revealed in yesterday’s FT that five unions* have lined up against AV with only one union figure – Billy Hayes of the CWU – in favour of changing the system. (And even Hayes hasn’t swung his union behind him yet). Others are likely to join them in the coming weeks.

Their backing, which will include the leafleting of millions of people, will make a considerable difference to the campaign which has otherwise struggled to raise money. Read more

What does David Cameron stand for on Libya? That’s less clear than it should be. Cameron is facing his first foreign policy crisis and wants to be seen driving a concerted international response. But he is in danger of appearing diplomatically marooned.

1) Isolated over a no fly zone: Cameron was one of the first to signal his support for this option. But the effectiveness of such action is being questioned by most of Nato, Baroness Ashton, the US defence secretary, his own defence chiefs, the list goes on. Meanwhile events on the ground seem to be outpacing the diplomatic response. Read more

This morning saw the publication of a letter by 26 historians in the Times arguing for keeping the first-past-the-post system. It co-incided with a letter from 11 business people in the Telegraph (chaperoned by spin doctor Roland Rudd) who back the alternative vote (AV).

Expect to see more of this kind of thing in the next two months. [Coming to a newspaper near you: 32 leading vets back the "No" campaign while 18 prominent chiropodists come out for "Yes". ]

Joking aside, there was some good knockabout on the Today programme this morning between historian Amanda Foreman and Mr Rudd himself. Foreman recalled that AV was discussed in Parliament in 1931. According to the records it was passed in the Commons (by 278 to 228 votes) and then rejected in the Lords.

But what exactly did the great Winston Churchill, who was a sceptic about AV, say at the time? Here is a link to the relevant Hansard:

The Government have, as it seems to me, rejected without reasonable consideration both the method of Proportional Representation and this method of the second ballot. The plan that they have adopted is the worst of all possible plans. It is the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal that the Government have embodied in their Bill. The decision of 100 or more constituencies, perhaps 200, is to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.’

‘Imagine making the representation of great constituencies dependent on the second preferences of the hindmost candidates. The hindmost candidate would become a personage of considerable importance, and the

 Read more

The coalition is changing the law to allow the Tories and Lib Dems to put up joint candidates with a single emblem on the ballot paper, according to a report by Patrick Wintour in the Guardian.

Mark Harper, Cabinet Office minister, pushed through the legal changes in the Commons this week. According to one source this was designed to allay the concerns of candidates standing for Labour and the Co-operative party simultaneously – rather than an attempt to pave the way for a Con-Dem pact for 2015. Yet the move is bound to arouse suspicions within all three main parties. Read more

At the Tory spring conference in Cardiff last weekend, the number of protesters could be counted in double figures, according to journalists at the event.

By contrast there were an estimated 300 malcontents at a Lib Dem Scotland conference at the same time. Some Lib Dems fear that the number of demonstrators coming to Sheffield for the party’s spring conference this weekend could run into tens of thousandsRead more

Interesting to see the BBC today picking up the letter to the Telegraph from 21 “high-profile” businessmen and Tories complaining about the high-speed rail project.

Britain’s public service broadcaster forgot to cover a letter two weeks ago – from over 60 businessmen – in favour of HS2, which I wrote about in the FT. Read more

It may have seemed like a throwaway comment but there was method behind Ed Miliband’s insult towards David Cameron during prime minister’s questions yesterday:

The prime minister may act like he is born to rule but the problem is he is not very good at it”.

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I revealed last summer that Labour had failed to persuade seven millionaires – who had lent it large amounts of money ahead of the 2005 election campaign – to drop those loans.

As I wrote at the time: Read more

Many observers are likely to find significance in David Cameron’s backing of the “excellent” William Hague during today’s prime minister’s questions; the comments come after rumblings in Westminster about the foreign secretary’s future.

As we wrote this morning: Read more