Monthly Archives: April 2011

Two tests await Ed Miliband, Labour leader, and his party: polls across the country, and a referendum on the alternative voting system for which he is a principal campaigner. George Parker, political editor, talks to the leader of the UK opposition about the upcoming ballots, his call for a cultural change in the City o f London, and the coalition government’s deficit reduction strategy.   Read more

The question of whether Gaddafi is a target for airstrikes has hung over the Libya campaign. The convoluted explanations from ministers can appear dry and legalistic. That’s because they are. But it is worth imagining the terrible indigestion this causes Foreign Office lawyers.

The problems started the moment General Sir David Richards said the Colonel was “absolutely not” a target under the UN resolution.

Since then, there have been strikes on command and control facilities in Tripoli. In public ministers have been opening up a bit, offering a slightly less legalistic response to questions. Take this quote from Liam Fox from an interview on the PBS NewsHour on Tuesday:

“If you look at it from Gadhafi’s point of view, [this] has been something happening at arm’s length, something happening in Misurata, something happening in Ajdabiya or out towards Benghazi.

What we’ve seen in recent days [is] attacks on Tripoli to increase the psychological pressure, apart from anything else, on Gadhafi, to make him realize that this is something that he is involved in.”

Sounds rather targeted to me. Read more

Nick Clegg has been warned by senior Conservative MPs that they will wreak revenge on him for the Liberal Democrats’ “Easter uprising”, including frustrating his plans for elections to the House of Lords. Read more

Jim Pickard

Most of the attention on the number of candidates for the May 5 local elections has centred on the relative numbers compared to 2007. The Lib Dems are contesting 59.2 per cent (down from 63.6 per cent), the Tories are fighting 93.7 per cent (up from 88.7 per cent) and Labour has candidates for 72.1 per cent (up from 60.5 per cent).

Clearly this narrative conveys a sense of momentum for Labour in particular, representing a rise of a fifth in its army of candidates. Read more

When David Cameron dispatched “military advisers” to Libya, he crossed an important line. It is a relatively small military contribution that carries with it a heavy burden of extra responsibility.

The prime minister is taking part-ownership of rebel actions, whether he likes it or not. The barbarity of the Gaddafi regime is well documented. But small wars like that in Libya usually involve both sides committing atrocities. Now that British officers are involved in helping the rebels, Britain will be more answerable for what they do.

William Hague insists the officers won’t be involved in planning or executing operations. But when they are providing advice on “military organisational structures, communications and logistics” they are bound to find out more about rebel military preparations.

What happens if they discover something unsavoury is afoot? This will be a question taxing the minds of lawyers in Whitehall. Should they attempt to stop them? Withdraw support and defence materiel that has been provided? Inform Nato so strikes can be prepared to protect civilians? Read more

Nicholas Timmins

The Liberal Democrats in their election manifesto wanted local authorities to do the purchasing of NHS care. Even now, during Cameron, Clegg and Lansley’s “pause” in their NHS reforms, their activists are pushing hard for councillors to be given a much bigger role in commissioning.

This is a really bad idea. And Enfield council, in the first test of what the Liberal Democrats would like to be the new regime, have just demonstrated why. Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron this morning sought to scupper Gordon Brown’s potential appointment to head the International Monetary Fund.

The job is expected to come up within months if and when Dominique Strauss Kahn tilts for the French presidency ahead of next year’s elections. (Although Chris Giles, our economics editor, has dismissed the idea that Brown is a front-runner). Cameron, interviewed on the Today programme, was cattily dismissive:

“I haven’t spent a huge amount of time thinking about this, but it does seem to me that if you have someone who didn’t think we had a debt problem in the UK, when we self-evidently do have a debt problem, then they might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems….

“What matters is the person running the IMF is someone who understands the danger of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that rather than someone who says that they don’t see a problem.”

It is not clear if Cameron is talking about Britain’s debt issues pre-crash or post-crash.

It is true that Gordon Brown had his head in the sand during the build-up to the financial crisis, refusing to accept that systemic risk was building up in the system. Even when the house of cards started to fall he was still in a state of disbelief. (On a return flight from New York in the autumn of 2008 he became apoplectic when I questioned his belief that Britain had not experienced any ‘subprime’ lending).

But for Cameron to pretend that the Tories were any more concerned about the situation, pre-crunch, show a degree of chutzpah. Not only did the Conservatives agree to match Labour’s spending promises right up until the crash – which they would not have done if they predicted the meltdown. They also wanted even lighter regulation on the banks.

Where the Tories outmanouvred Labour post-credit crunch was in recognising that an enormous deficit had opened up; one that could not simply be ignored. (We described Brown’s attempts to dismiss this in June 2009 as “fundamentally  Read more

Jim Pickard

You’ll find better coverage of this on FT Alphaville.

But today’s warning about the US economy from Standard & Poor’s will be closely watched in Britain today and beyond. (Bear in mind the old expression that when the US economy sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold). Read more

Jim Pickard

With several weeks to go before the AV referendum the arguments are starting to get slightly repetitive. But Vince Cable has tried a different slant on the debate during this morning’s joint press conference with Ed Miliband.

Instead of citing other countries with AV (Fiji, Australia, Papua New Guinea) he chose the – not entirely comparable – example of Strictly Come Dancing. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Office for National Statistics has told the BBC that the net EU migration figures the Prime Minister used in his speech on immigration are wrong – and that EU immigration was estimated at 57,000 not 27,000 in the year to June 2010.

The reason this matters is that Cameron used the figure to claim that Europe accounted for only a “small proportion of overall net migration to the UK.” Read more

Jim Pickard

When Nick Clegg called for paid internships last week there was an ironic twist as it emerged that the coalition had just cut funding for that purpose.

Now, as Cameron makes his most rightwing speech on immigration to date, it is worth pointing out the flaw in his vow to make incomers speak the Queen’s English.

As the Guardian points out today, the coalition is making deep cuts to the state programme for teaching immigrants the language.

From the autumn these lessons will only be free for immigrants on jobseeker’s allowance Read more

Jim Pickard

Ipsos Mori has published an interesting survey today suggesting that three quarters (75 per cent) of Britons believe that immigration is currently a problem.

There is also strong support for the government’s plan to introduce an annual cap on the on the number of workers coming into Britain from countries outside the European Union. More than half (57 per cent) support the cap and only 15 per cent (one in seven) oppose it. Read more