Monthly Archives: May 2011

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

Jim Pickard

We have been passed the letter (see last night’s blog) that sheds new light on the inter-departmental row over increasing carbon-cuts targets. Ministers must decide this month whether to legislate for the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations in full in Britain’s fourth “carbon budget”.

The row is not quite as straightforward as it first appeared; it’s not a binary argument over whether to accept the report or not. Read more

Jim Pickard

The recent clash over AV has been portrayed as evidence of a rot at the heart of government between Lib Dems and Tories.

In fact, many of the rows within Whitehall since last May have not fallen into a predictable party pattern. If anything, ministers have tended to take a stance based on the department they occupy rather than their party’s pre-election manifesto. Immigration was one such issue, where certain Tories surprised their new comrades by being more liberal than the Liberals.

Take BIS, for example, where Lib Dems Vince Cable and Ed Davey are not exactly showing a herbivore sandal-wearing attitude. Last week, Davey and Francis Maude held private talks with Boris Johnson over ways to tackle the London strikes. It was Davey, I’m told, who showed a tougher outlook than Maude, wondering why Britain couldn’t – for instance – have the “minimum service agreements” (used in Spain) to stop public services being crippled by strikes.

David Willetts made a similar point this evening about the need for both coalition partners to share responsibility for all policy, good and bad. Read more

Jim Pickard

Security minister Baroness (Pauline) Neville-Jones has stepped down from the government “at her own request”, Downing Street has said.

She was appointed to head the Conservative Party’s security policy group in 2006 and took up her ministerial appointment in May 2010. That means she has served in government for barely a year. Read more

Jim Pickard

One psephologist has passed on to me the information that Ed Miliband’s victory in Gravesham – the scene of his walkabout on Friday - was not quite as ringing as the Labour leader might have hoped.

UPDATE: But it appears that he is not necessarily right*. Read more

Jim Pickard

Not in England, you understand.

But if you take a close look at Friday’s results from elections in Wales and Scotland you can see that the Conservative party profited to a great extent from PR-type systems.

In Holyrood, The Tories picked up just 3 constituency seats – but 12 of the regional ones.

In Cardiff Bay, the Tories got 6 constituencies and no fewer than 8 regional seats. Read more

Jim Pickard

There is a deluge of election material out there today; I would recommend www.ft.com for those looking for superior coverage.

Here is my succint summary:

SNP 10/10. Alex Salmond pulls off Holyrood majority, prompting imminent referendum on Scottish devolution and the resignation – by the autumn – of Iain Gray, Scotland’s Labour leader.

Conservatives 9/10. Any government – let alone one conducting large public spending cuts – is supposed to lose ground in mid-term polls. As of now the Tories have made 77 net gains and have won control of four councils. And are only around two points behind Labour overall. Bizarre. Bear in mind that they were already starting from a high base of councillors. Plus they won the AV argument, we presume. Read more

The coalition is entering a dangerous period and it is probably no surprise that Paddy Ashdown is one of the first to reach for his knife.

In some extraordinary remarks to the Guardian, the Captain accuses Cameron of a breach of faith and warns that there will be “consequences”. He claims the prime minister “panicked in the face of his right-wingers” and helped propagate a “regiment of lies” during the AV campaign.

The remarks appear to have the backing of the Lib Dem command. Here are the Ashdown quotes – given to Patrick Wintour at the Guardian — in full:

“So far the coalition has been lubricrated by a large element of goodwill and trust. It is not any longer. The consequence is that when it comes to the bonhomie of the Downing Street rose garden, that has gone. It will never again be glad confident morning.”

After only partially quoting Robert Browning, he goes on to explain that the coalition is to become more “transactional”. Great news for the lawyers. Read more

Britain went to the polls on Thursday in a mix of local elections in England and national polls for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Voters also have their say in a referendum on changing the electoral system to the alternative vote. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband’s stag do will be a very “Miliband affair” as it will take place at his home and partner Justine will be there, writes Allegra Stratton of the Guardian in her increasingly must-read column*.

How does this fit with Ed’s attempts to portray himself as a down-to-earth man of the people? Read more

Jim Pickard

One rumour of recent days is that the Lib Dems are so demoralised about their impending AV defeat that none will bother to attend the official count down in Docklands. The theory adds to the relentlessly negative narrative about Clegg’s party.

In fact it’s not quite true. I’m told that Chris Huhne, Lord Ashdown, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes will all in fact be at Friday’s count, if not for the entire afternoon/evening. Read more

George Parker, political editor, tells the FT’s Daniel Garrahan that the referendum on the alternative vote has been dominated by party political bickering. And the cracks that have started to appear in the coalition will lead to a more business-like relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ve just returned from the final No 2 AV rally at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster*. (Inexplicably the Yes rally is at 8.30pm tonight, after most journalists have gone home/to the pub.)

A succession of speakers took to the stage. One was Lord Owen, his lush hair in contrast to the shaved heads of the others – John Healey, Paul Boateng, William Hague - declaring the referendum was an unfortunate “experiment”. The peer revealed that Gordon Brown had offered the LibDems a referendum on PR (Owen’s preference) as well as AV.

Labour’s Healey was quite persuasive, albeit slightly party political, suggesting that Britain should be concentrating on more important issues such as job losses in the NHS. Read more

Jim Pickard

US and Pakistan are odd bedfellows in the “war on terror” – David Pilling, FT

bin Laden’s comfortable bolthole just miles from Islamabad – James Lamont, FT Read more

Jim Pickard

To all intents and purposes Labour’s position on Libya is still the same; that is, the party backs the government in the pursuit of UN Resolution 1973. But last night’s Nato air strikes, which killed Gaddafi’s youngest son and three of his grandchildren, may mark a divergence in the extent of its support.

Though there are highly critical voices raised today, they belong mainly to coalition MPs who are already on the record as sceptics of the action. John Baron, the only Tory to vote against intervention, told me that the UK has now “lost any sort of credibility when it comes to taking the moral high ground“. Peter Bone, another Tory backbencher, said the action was further proof that Nato was seeking regime change in Libya, which was “certainly not envisaged” when MPs debated the initial action several weeks ago. Read more

Jim Pickard

I reported a few weeks back that Iain McNichol, political officer at GMB, is widely regarded in Labour circles as the best candidate to be Labour’s next general secretary. (He also faces opposition from Joe Irvin, Gordon Brown’s former political adviser).

Interesting then to see a throwaway line today in Anne McElvoy’s profile of Ed Miliband for the Sunday Times: Read more