Monthly Archives: May 2011

Jim Pickard

The latest opinion poll by ComRes is far from heart-warming for Labour, suggesting that the party has lost its poll lead over the Tories for the first time in seven months. The survey was done for tomorrow’s Independent newspaper.

The poll finds that Labour support has dropped two points since the last ComRes survey to 37 per cent, putting the party level with the Tories, whose support has fallen by one point. Liberal Democrat backing has recovered by one point to 12 per cent. Read more

Jim Pickard

Most of the expenses convictions so far have been of Labour MPs – four at the current count – for whatever reason.

But just now a Tory peer* was sentenced to 12 months in jail for falsely filing for travel and overnight subsistence: Lord Taylor of Warwick. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

We have heard a lot on Nick Clegg’s “muscular liberalism” in recent weeks as the Lib Dem leader endeavours to show a bit of fight following his party’s local election drubbing. Now the fall-out of the Tories’ triumph on May 6 is also beginning to be felt. Read more

There’s going to be a short interruption of service on the FT Westminster blog.

The first reason is that Jim is on holiday. He’ll be back next week; if you see a Pickard post before then don’t mention it to his wife. Read more

Nicholas Timmins

Amid all the confusion about what is to happen to the coalition’s controversial NHS bill, maybe the one person who actually knows is Eric Pickles.

Right now David Cameron is talking to his bunch of NHS worthies, Nick Clegg to his, Andrew Lansley to his own kitchen cabinet, while Paul Bate, Cameron’s new health adviser has his own separate set of consultees as each tries to decide what can be salvaged from the bill … not that these groups do not overlap more than somewhat.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Essex Police say that there has been no change in their position re Chris Huhne and his alleged speeding offence. A spokesman said a complaint was made on May 13 and it was referred on May 16 to its serious crime directorate. “The inquiry has been underway since then, the investigation is ongoing,” he said just now.

They have put up a press notice on their website this afternoon. Read more

Jim Pickard

UPDATE: There are claims on Twitter that the injunction has been lifted; in fact it has only been partially lifted, as the Guardian explains.

Fresh details of the draconian injunction protecting Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland were exposed on Thursday by a peer on the floor of the House of Lords.

Lord Stoneham*, speaking on behalf of Lord Oakeshott, used parliamentary privilege to argue that every taxpayer had a direct public interest in the events leading up to the collapse of RBS, which only survived with a £20bn taxpayer bailout.

“So how can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague,” he said. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Liam Fox’s concerns about setting legal targets for increasing overseas aid spending – which were aired in a leaked letter yesterday – are widely shared on the Conservative benches. Many MPs believe the plan is unaffordable at a time of public spending cuts. And plenty are happy to speak out about their concerns.

Philip Davies, an executive member of the backbench 1922 committee, challenged David Cameron on the issue last week. Davies told us: Read more

Jim Pickard

Nick Clegg cut a rather solitary figure on the government’s front bench yesterday afternoon as he announced his plans for reform of the House of Lords. There was outright laughter and smirking from many MPs behind him. And as Roland Watson points out this morning, more than a dozen Lib Dem peers are urging the DPM to back off.

But this belies the fact that some of the biggest Tory beasts in Cabinet are full square behind the deputy prime minister on this issue. They include George Osborne, David Cameron, Theresa May and Liam Fox. Fox and May spoke out particularly strongly at cabinet yesterday in support of revamping the Lords – and getting on with it in time for some senate elections in 2015. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ladbrokes were offering 4:1 yesterday on Dominique Strauss-Kahn becoming the next French president. The odds have now moved out to 6:1, which still puts the IMF chief at fourth favourite to replace Nicolas Sarkozy. FT Westminster will be passing on this one.

Jim Pickard

It’s already well known that the initial proposals for the House of Lords – at least in the draft bill - are for only an 80 per cent elected upper chamber. The other 20 per cent would still be appointed. Nick Clegg is also proposing 100 per cent, in a parallel white paper, and hopes that he can get consensus to switch the 80 to 100 in time.

But this still ignores the fact that there will be 12 bishops in the senate (or whatever it will be called), which many people will see as an anachronism. Read more

Jim Pickard

The prime minister has just proclaimed that he “condemns leaks in all circumstances”, according to Sky News.

Interesting, given that the coalition agreement (page 21) takes a rather different stance, promising that: “We will introduce new protections for whistleblowers in the public sector.” There hasn’t been much visible progress on this particular pledge since  last summer.

Jim Pickard

Many are speculating about the genesis of the explosive Liam Fox letter on the front of today’s Times, a great scoop for deputy political editor Sam Coates. (In it the defence secretary argues against enshrining greater aid commitments in law.) Was it Fox himself, posturing as the champion of the Tory right wing? It wouldn’t be the first time one of his letters has ended up in the public arena. You have to wonder why he put his concerns in writing. But this seems too obvious.

Was it the ambitious development secretary Andrew Mitchell, angling for a bigger job? Or even Alan Duncan, ditto? Read more

Jim Pickard

While all eyes are on one Huhne, his namesake Geoff – give or take a bit of spelling – is finding new pastures in the corporate world. The former defence secretary, who was ensnared in a Dispatches sting (saying he would use his contacts to find employment in the private sector*) is off to work for AgustaWestland, the helicopter company. Here is the full story on ft.com.

Hoon was in charge of the MoD in 2005 when it awarded a £1bn contract to Westland to buy “Future Lynx” choppers, an agreement that saved thousands of British jobs. Read more

Jim Pickard

Chris Huhne is set to make a statement on the fourth carbon budget tomorrow (Tuesday), but I’m told it will be a written statement, probably mid-afternoon. That would mean the beleaguered energy secretary being able to avoid the House of Commons.

Labour are set to up the ante by calling on Huhne to attend Parliament for this important environmental announcement. They will provide the transport if necessary, the opposition party says. (This is of course a reference to Huhne’s spot of bother re driving penalty points.) Apparently Meg Hillier, Huhne’s shadow, will make an announcement to this effect later today. Read more

Jim Pickard

One of the many curious findings from tonight’s ComRes poll (for the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday) is that 38 per cent of people in Scotland want independence, a figure not far off the 46 per cent who don’t.

That is higher than the “third” figure usually cited in recent days. The poll suggests an uncomfortably thin margin for those who want the Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom. (ComRes found that only 32 per cent of English people wanted a schism). This sample is relatively small but other surveys will be closely watched in the coming months.

As Alex Salmond said last week:

“I wouldn’t put too much confidence in opinion polls – a month ago they said the SNP were 15 per cent behind the Labour party.”

The survey seems to contradict a similar poll in the Sun last week, suggesting that 29 per cent of Scots wanted independence for Scotland while 41 per cent of other Britons did. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’m glad to see the return of MP blogger Tom Harris as part of Iain Dale’s new online magazine; “The Daley: Iain Dale and Friends.” And there may be many who welcome the return of Dale. But how attractive a proposition is the overall venture itself, featuring as it does 60 “retired bloggers”and writers?

Anyone who reads political blogs will surely agree that there is an ocean of material out there; some good, some bad, some insightful and original, others derivative and dull. If there is a problem it is one of quality rather than quantity. There just isn’t enough time to read it all. Read more

Jim Pickard

I can’t claim this is a scientific exercise but I’ve been through the coalition agreement this week to work out which promises have already been junked – or are not making great headway.

Here’s a link to my story on ft.com. It comes as the government admits in its business plans that 87 deadlines and targets have been missed. Read more

Jim Pickard

We’ve already reported the cabinet row ahead of Monday’s decision over carbon targets, with Vince Cable among those warning about the implications on Britain’s economic competitiveness.

David Cameron and George Osborne have a complex decision to make in weighing up their promise to be “the greenest government ever” and their desperate need to get the economy on track again.

And now Ed Miliband has weighed in, saying he is “dismayed at the news that the recommendations (from the committee on climate change) may be watered down.

I’ve seen a letter that the leader of the opposition is about to send to the prime minister, suggesting that any such dilution would mark an end to the cross-party consensus on climate change. Read more

This could have been better for David Laws. The punishment imposed by the standards committee is at the worse end of expectations, at least among Lib Dems. One government figure told me he will not be returning as a minister “anytime soon”.

But, particularly in this case, it is important to define terms. If you start from the premise that the didn’t do anything seriously wrong and should be reappointed immediately, this is a terrible conclusion to the investigation. Read more