Monthly Archives: June 2011

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband is set to give a speech on Saturday proposing an end to Labour’s two-yearly shadow cabinet elections. The move may antagonise some of his frontbenchers but will be welcomed elsewhere; the system did seem like a bit of an anachronism.

It also cements Ed Miliband’s power base. Any challenge to his authority can now be nipped in the bud; he also has greater power of patronage over any young up-coming – and most importantly, loyal – MP who catches his eye.

Aides say that this is not the prelude to a “night of the long knives” reshuffle by Miliband, who moved swiftly to get rid of Nick Brown last autumn as chief whip. There won’t be a reshuffle this summer or around conference time, they insist.

Here is a link to our full story on And here is Miliband’s letter to his MPs.

Incidentally, David Miliband gave a private speech yesterday for a charity (UPDATE: sorry, fund-raising) event at a hotel in Bloomsbury. He doesn’t seem to be a fan of the shadow cabinet elections (which he didn’t enter) either; he said it was a great shame that the talented Pat McFadden hadn’t made it in. Hard to disagree.

FURTHER UPDATE: (Friday morning). Yes, David Miliband has publically endorsed the move as a good idea.

Ed Miliband will announce his proposal at the national policy forum in Wrexham Read more

Kiran Stacey

When the FT broke the news that a rebellion was brewing on Conservative benches over a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, we never expected the rebellion would get this interesting.

Number 10′s resistance to the idea is based on worries the government could face a legal challenge under the EU services directive if it goes ahead with a ban. But it could have essentially ignored the debate, which was a backbench motion which carries no legislative power.

So it came as a shock when the Tories ordered a three-line whip on the vote: effectively instructing all their MPs to turn up and vote against it. Read more

From the FT’s Business blog:

Some have attributed Nick Clegg’s proposal to give every British voter a share in the UK’s state-owned banks (floated during a trade visit to Rio de Janeiro) to a combination of jet lag, domestic political calculation and Copacabana sunstroke. But the UK deputy prime minister’s suggestion has a long pedigree – longer than perhaps even he recognises. Read more

Jim Pickard

John Redwood is among those who support the idea of a bank shares giveaway, calling it an “excellent plan”. Others are rather more muted in their support, admitting that it is not the most straightforward way to return cash to the taxpayers who saved RBS and Lloyds at the height of the banking crisis.

Vince Cable admitted on the BBC this morning that the concept would be a “technically quite a demanding exercise” but “it can be solved”. He said that the handing out of shares was “not imminent by any means” and that it would take “several years” to complete. (Vince seems more focused on the issue of separating retail banking from more risky functions, ie the Sir John Vickers review).

This doesn’t quite tally with my understanding, which was that the Treasury wanted to begin the privatisation of both banks early next year.

Downing Street said only that Clegg’s suggestion is one of several under consideration, adding: “We need to make sure we get value for taxpayers.”

Ed Balls said the future of the nationalised banks should be decided on the “long-term best Read more

Kiran Stacey

Good and bad news for Labour from this month’s political trends report by Ipsos Mori.

First the good news: The party is re-establishing a clear lead on the NHS – the issue on which David Cameron has worked so hard to win voters’ trust. Since March 2010, the percentage of people who think the Tories have the best policies on the NHS has gone from 24 to 21, while Labour has risen from 33 to 37.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

My colleague Beth Rigby reveals tonight that Nick Clegg is pressing the Treasury to give every British voter shares in the state-owned banks when they are privatised – creating a “people’s banking system”.

It’s a move that smacks of populism. Clegg has briefed the press corps following him around Brazil that he has penned a letter to George Osborne asking them to look into a “mass share ownership scheme” as part of the privatisations of RBS and Lloyds. Read more

Kiran Stacey

This afternoon’s defence select committee on the strategic defence and security review began on a sour note.

Like an errant schoolboy, or rather the best friend of an errant schoolboy, armed forces minister Nick Harvey was forced by James Arbuthnot, the committee chair, to explain why it was he and not his boss in the hot seat. Read more

Jim Pickard

I said I’d give you Labour’s response to Ian Davidson’s use of the word “neo-fascist” to describe the Scottish National party – a bizarre lapse given that he chairs the Scottish affairs select committee. Labour says select committee chairmanships are a matter for the House. But a spokesman says:

“The use of the word ‘neo-fascist’ was unacceptable and Ian on reflection will want to apologise and withdraw the comment.”

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband clearly has a new strategy for PMQs.

He began with some warm-up questions about the cost of the Afghanistan war, which he ended with a nice line about Cameron being “very crass and high-handed” when telling army chiefs, “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking”. These were easily enough dealt with by the PM (although he did have an interesting line about wanting the strategic defence review to be implemented more quickly – more on that to follow.

But he scored a more direct hit when he began asking about DNA records of people who have been arrested for rape, but not charged. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Apparently it’s a sign of strength to change your mind – at least that’s what David Cameron said yesterday about the sentencing U-turn.

So how’s this for a sign of strength? The foreign office this morning declared proudly on its website an additional £2.2m in funding for the World Service, headlining the announcement “Massive U-turn on BBC world funding”. (H/T to Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home for the pic.)

Foreign office website at 10.15 on Wednesday morning

 Read more

Jim Pickard

We revealed last night that shadow cabinet members are unhappy that they weren’t told about Ed Balls’ announcement (last Thursday) about Labour’s plans for a £13bn a year VAT cut. Some are not sure that it adds to the party’s economic credibility.

On one level the policy may seem unsurprising, given that Miliband and Balls both spoke out loudly against the rise from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent at the start of January. But in the political world, opposing a rise is not the same as pledging to reverse it. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’m told that senior figures from the Scottish National party met Labour whips this morning to call for the resignation of Ian Davidson, chairman of the Commons Scottish affairs select committee.

During a heated debate last night (just before 11pm) Mr Davidson described the SNP’s outlook as “narrow, neo-fascism“. When the remarks prompted an uproar, the MP repeated his insult, saying: “Is it not neo-fascist to attempt to shout down speakers that you disagree with?” (Answer: technically, no.) Read more

Jim Pickard

Tensions emerged in the shadow cabinet this morning as senior Labour MPs expressed annoyance that they were not informed last week before Ed Balls announced party support for a temporary reversal in January’s rise in VAT.

Mr Balls held back his unveiling of the policy until the morning of his speech on the economy at the London School of Economics on Thursday, surprising many of his senior colleagues.

Tessa Jowell, shadow Olympics minister, pointedly asked during a four-hour meeting of the shadow cabinet why its members had not been consulted about the announcement.

One Labour frontbencher described the lack of discussion as “weird”, given that Mr Balls had made a lengthy speech to the parliamentary Labour party the previous Monday.

Another said: “It’s ridiculous when all our policies have to go past both Eds but then we have to go out on the airwaves and defend this VAT policy without any warning.” Read more

Kiran Stacey

Headlines about the government performing a U-turn on reduced sentences for offenders who plead guilty early risk distracting attention from the hole in the budget that has just been created by the move. It is a policy that throws up more questions than it answers, some of which are:

1) Where will the extra £130m come from? Government sources suggest it will be from probation and courts services. But where, and what effect will this have? Clarke was pretty vague in the Commons:

The savings are not coming from any particular area. We are achieving more efficiency. Half is coming from administrative costs. If there are any new policies I will come forward with them.

If half are coming through administrative costs, where is the other half coming from? Read more

Jim Pickard

I wrote a few days ago about my gut instinct that Boris Johnson would win next year’s London mayoral elections.

Today’s YouGov poll puts Boris ahead by 48 per cent to 41 per cent, a clear but not exactly decisive margin. Read more

Jim Pickard

First it was Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, warning about the viability of an extended Libya campaign. Then today Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant, deputy head of the RAF,  warned that the service’s capability to carry out future missions will be threatened if the Libyan operation continues beyond the summer.

David Cameron was just asked about it at his Downing St press conference: “There are moments I wake up and read the newspapers and think, I tell you what, you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking.” Read more

Jim Pickard

The Lib Dems introduced a business dinner for the first time at annual conference last autumn, charging £250 a head. This time around the third party is instigating an inflation-busting price increase; corporate titans can pay £350 or £500 a head depending on whether they want marketing opportunities thrown in as well. It’s a sign of either the Lib Dems’ newfound power or their need – now they aren’t getting short money – to find new sources of funds. Our full story is here on

Kiran Stacey

Yes, that headline is right. Labour, half the Lib Dems and some Tories have been calling for the timetable to raise the women’s state pension age to 65 and 66 to be delayed. This would avoid penalising 330,000 women who were expecting to claim their pensions up to two years earlier.

Labour admits this will cost money, so in order to pay for it, Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has asked whether DWP has looked at bringing forward the dates on which the pension age is due to rise to 67 and 68 by two years.

It is a smart move in one way, as it avoids the accusation that Labour are full of uncosted economic policies. But it nullifies their argument that changing the system is unfair to those who suddenly see the goalposts move and their planned retirement fade into the distance. DWP officials say such a change could affect millions of people, not just the 330,000 hit by Iain Duncan Smith’s proposals. Read more

Jim Pickard

I dropped into a speech by Lord Mandelson this evening organised by Progress at Portcullis House in Westminster. He was fairly calm and restrained, but made a few interesting points:

* Politics needs more people from the real world, not just party apparatchiks and former union chiefs in the Westminster bubble. Labour needs politicians “from every region and every social background,” he said. True – but the point would be more forceful coming from someone with a different background. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’m skimming my way through Ed – the biography of Miliband by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre – and it’s well worth a read. Much of the best morsels have already been publicised in the Mail on Sunday but there are some other gems.

For example, we know that the Brown speech at 2008 conference was designed to undermine David Miliband’s leadership ambitions; “This is no time for a novice” (scripted by Ed Balls, apparently) was officially aimed at David Cameron but widely taken to refer to Mili-D. Read more