Monthly Archives: April 2011

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 ft.com 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

News International, the publisher of the News of the World, has admitted liability in eight cases relating to the phone hacking scandal and offered an “unreserved apology”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Despite the fabulous sunshine today I went along to the BCC conference in a conference centre just behind Westminster Abbey to see how Ed Miliband would go down before a business audience.

The most interesting moment was when the Labour leader was asked if he had any background or experience in business. He began by saying that his grandfather was in business in Belgium before World War 2 and then selling handbags in London. As Paul Waugh overheard one businessman say: “Er, a bit long ago.

Miliband then tried a more honest approach by saying he wouldn’t claim to be a business expert. “Empathy comes not from where you come from but from your ability to listen,” he replied. Read more

Jim Pickard

We suggested on Monday that Nick Clegg could be a teeny bit hypocritical for laying into “sharp-elbowed” and “well-connected” youngsters who used family and friends to get ahead in their chosen professional field.

Not only had Clegg himself done precisely this (his neighbour Lord Carrington got him a job with Leon Brittan) but his own record vis-a-vis Lib Dem internships has also been patchy. Only “from today” would they always be remunerated (meaning expenses, not a salary), he declared.

Now it emerges – via a Times story (page 16) – that there is a fresh hypocrisy angle to the issue. That is, the government axed a scheme to provide paid internships last week, only five days before the Clegg announcement. The Graduate Internship Scheme had begun in February 2010, creating 8,060 paid internships in seven priority sectors through paying the Higher Education Funding Council. Read more

Jim Pickard

Business leaders in London should let staff work from home or travel outside rush hour to prevent gridlock during the Olympic Games, the government has urged.

Shifting to flexible working would be essential while the Underground, roads and trains contended with the weight of tourist numbers flooding into the capital, said Norman Baker, transport minister. More than 8m tickets are being sold for the 2012 event.

We are going to have a gigantic influx of people all wanting to travel to see events and it is simply not possible for everything to keep running if everyone carries on as normal,” said Mr Baker. “You have got to work differently to do this.”
A third of large companies already plan to allow staff to work flexibly during the games, according to a recent survey from Deloitte.

With just over a year to go before the event, Mr Baker is trying to spread the message that getting companies to cut their transport use could have beneficial effects beyond the Olympics.

Not only would it cut carbon emissions but also support the economy by easing congestion, he said, explaining that sometimes his brief as transport minister meant asking people not to travel.

Describing rush hour as an “insane concept”, he said: “It is crazy that we all travel on the same train on the same day at the same time. We should be able to spread the peak across different times.”

 Read more