Monthly Archives: May 2011

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

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 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

Jim Pickard

With all attention on the coalition, it’s unsurprising that media coverage of opinion polls has been more focused on the Tories and Lib Dems than on Labour. For this reason, Ed Miliband’s far from overwhelming ratings have remained largely under the radar in recent months.

Also there is an element of giving the man a chance, given he only began work as Labour leader in SeptemberRead more

Jim Pickard

By Beth Rigby

Cameron flashed his tribal colours at the 1922 committee on Wednesday. He delighted his backbench MPs by insisting that there would be no concessions to the battered Lib Dems on the back of their dreary election performance, while also robbing Nick Clegg of his self-appointed title of the saviour of the NHS. To the thumping of tables, the prime minister made it very clear that the pause in the NHS reform was his idea.
But he was not the only one retrenching following a bruising AV campaign and local election. Earlier, in an address to his party at the National Liberal Club, Clegg also flexed some muscle as he reminded his deflated activists of all the policies that he had managed to block: replacing the Human Rights Act, cutting inheritance tax for the most wealthy, replacing Trident in this parliament.
The new coalition politics is not just synthetic. On Wednesday night, Lib Dem peers forced through a vote that will see new police commissioners to be appointed rather than elected. Clegg’s “muscular liberalism” would appear to have begun; although Labour points out that many Lib Dem peers voted – as their whips demanded – against the opposition amendment.

Jim Pickard

It is hard not to conclude that Ed Miliband won the major clash of the day at PMQs* over the direction of NHS reform.

David Cameron cited today’s letter to the Telegraph from 42 GPs, saying they wanted what they called “evolution not revolution”.(They are all heads of recently-formed GPs’ consortia). Read more

Jim Pickard

Even David Laws’ admirers would pause for thought before rushing to his defence before the report into his expenses is even published tomorrow. Laws has apparently been found guilty of six breaches of the rules and may have to pay back a huge sum of money, according to the Telegraph today. (Although he has already paid back £56,000, as his friend Olly Grender points out in the comments below.)

Sky is reporting that Laws will be suspended from the Commons for seven days and have to make an apology to the House. Read more