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

Jim Pickard

We were expecting a Lib Dem backlash against David Cameron’s immigration speech* but not necessarily from one of the party’s most senior cabinet ministers.

If you haven’t yet seen Vince Cable’s comments they are worth a read. Cable has described the prime minister’s speech as “very unwise” and suggested it could fuel a backlash over immigration.

The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only,” Mr Cable told the BBC.

I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed.”

Cameron’s speech should be seen in the light of next month’s local elections, where he needs to head off Ukip and bring out the Tory core vote. After all, he doesn’t seem to be promising any new policies as such. (The majority of immigration to this country is from EU citizens who cannot be stopped.) Nick Clegg’s aides are saying that they wouldn’t have used Cameron’s language but “there are elections on“. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise is loved by middle England because he provides them with nice clothes from his chainstore Next and is also a fierce opponent of the High Speed 2 rail project. The £17bn route, which will cut through the picturesque Chilterns as it makes it way from London to Birmingham, is hated by the home counties who fear it will destroy their countryside. Lord Wolfson, a Tory peer and former economic advisor to the current top team, thinks it is a waste of money.

But the  respected businessman’s vocal opposition has been a thorn in the side of Philip Hammond already struggling to shore up support for the project among recalcitrant Tories. So imagine the transport secretary’s delight this morning when he opened a copy of the Times newspaper to find Lord Wolfson arguing the case for building a huge motorway between Cambridge to Oxford to create a British ‘brain belt’ to rival Silicon valley. Read more

Norman Lamb’s intervention on the NHS posed a tricky dilemma for Nick Clegg. In responding to the strong criticisms made by his closest aide, Clegg was likely to reveal his own thinking on how to fix NHS reforms.

Yet, if you read the papers today, you’ll see two very different interpretations of what Clegg wants. The clashing theories go something like this: Read more

Jim Pickard

The Guardian yesterday ran a fascinating story on their front page about how Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service, had “blocked” an attempt by Gordon Brown to hold a judicial review into phone hacking. We followed up the story on this morning.

Here are a few extra details which did not make the final cut and may be of interest: Read more

Politicians do love to share their views on Oxbridge admissions. This time around David Cameron has taken a pop at Oxford over the number of black students, using some pretty forthright language.

“I saw figures the other day that showed that only one black person went to Oxford last year. I think that is disgraceful, we have got to do better than that.”

It’s a startling statistic — and almost true. Cameron would be advised to check his facts before picking this fight.

Here’s a rebuttal from Oxford, which they put out a few weeks ago:

On a related point, much has been made of the ‘one black Caribbean student’ admitted to Oxford in 2009. Not one black student, but one black Caribbean student – in one year, looking at only UK candidates, and only undergraduates.

As Oxford has pointed out before, this is very selective use of data. In that year, there were actually 27 black UK students admitted to Oxford. Beyond black students alone, 22% of Oxford’s overall student body is non-white (BME).

As this BBC story shows, Oxford have put some effort into attracting black students over the years. Their campaign has not been a resounding success. But the issues are certainly more complicated than Cameron suggests.

UPDATE: Oxford have put out an official response to Cameron’s comments. Apparently they’ve been in touch with Downing Street to correct his figures. Full statement below: Read more

Jim Pickard

Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) was asked in 2003 the following question by Chris Bryant, a Labour MP on the DCMS committee. Here also is her reply:

467. And on the element of whether you ever pay the police for information?
(Ms Wade) We have paid the police for information in the past.
468. And will you do it in the future?
(Ms Wade) It depends—

 Read more

Jim Pickard

There were suggestions at the weekend that today’s banking report would not go far enough to please Vince Cable and his fellow Lib Dems. That is because Cable had previously called for a total separation of retail and casino banking – not merely internal ringfencing, as the report suggests.

But that is not true, according to Matthew Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer and hammer of the banks. Lord Oakeshott has just given his seal of approval to the work done by the Vickers Commission on banking, declaring it an “excellent piece of work“. Read more

Lloyds Banking Group could be forced to sell hundreds of extra branches under initial recommendations put forward by the UK’s Independent Commission on Banking as part of its efforts to make banks safer and inject more competition into the retail market. Read more