Monthly Archives: July 2011

Jim Pickard

What is it in the politician’s DNA which leads them to over-promise so often on so many fronts?

The most cynical answer, of course, is that ministers usually get a sweep of positive headlines when announcing big, shiny new schemes – and much less publicity when those schemes turn out to be not quite so game-changing as expected.

At the back end of 2009 I did a thorough examination of Labour’s many recession-busting initiatives for the FT newspaper. Of the 16, some had been a success, many were faltering and a few were utter failures.

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Jim Pickard

David Miliband has won Labour backing for a new project touring British university and college campuses in a move which will be widely seen as marking a tentative rapprochement with his brother Ed.

The unofficial role is David’s first for the party since he was defeated by his younger brother in last year’s race for the Labour leadership, after which he decided not to take part in the shadow cabinet elections.

The two brothers were expected to appear on a podium together in March for the launch of “Movement for Change”, a leftwing volunteer movement, but that occasion never took place.

Aides played down the idea that David Miliband’s new project represented a major “ambassador” role for the former foreign secretary, who still has the support of some Blairite Labour MPs. University policy remains the preserve of Gareth Thomas, shadow minister for higher education and science. Read more

Jim Pickard

A flurry of letters released just now by the DCMS committee, which has also agreed to write to five potential witnesses – including James Murdoch – as I predicted last night. Perhaps the most interesting letter is from Louise Mensch, the Tory MP, who has apologised to Piers Morgan for her “error” on July 19.

“I wrongly stated that Piers Morgan, formerly editor of the Daily Mirror, had been open about personally hacking phones in a book he wrote. This was based on my misreading of an article in the Daily Telegraph,” says the letter, written on July 29 (today).

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Jim Pickard

My understanding is that the Culture, Media and Sport committee will meet tomorrow to discuss whether to summon up to five witnesses to Parliament to be questioned – of which three would be recalls.

The committee, chaired by John Whittingdale, will consider whether to bring back James Murdoch, Colin Myler and Tom Crone for further quizzing.

Myler, former editor of News of the World, and Crone, former legal manager, both issued a statement last week contradicting Murdoch’s evidence to the committee. They said they had told him about an email showing evidence of wider hacking by other journalists.

My understanding is that the committee will also consider whether to invite Jon Chapman  to answer questions for the first time. Chapman, ex-director of legal affairs at News International, has said that there were “serious inaccuracies in statements made (by others) to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee”. The MPs also have questions for law firm Harbottle & Lewis.

The committee is meeting on Friday ostensibly for a press conference publicising its latest report, into British sport. But the more pressing issue of Hackanory- and recent Read more

Jim Pickard

The Guardian is reporting that Sara Payne is “devastated” at news that she may have been hacked by the News of the World. Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered, was close to the newspaper for years – which pressed hard for a “Sarah’s Law” to reveal the location of paedophiles. This looks set to explode “Hacking gate” once more.

Payne even wrote a positive valedictory in the final edition of the NotW. As Tom Watson says: “The last edition of the News of the World made great play of the paper’s relationship with the Payne family.” Read more

Jim Pickard

A small but significant piece of good news for Labour, buried in the back of its annual report, published today.

The party’s pension fund had been sagging under a deficit of £6.6m, which may sound tiny until you remember that Labour only employs 287 staff (up from 226 a year before). Read more

Jim Pickard

This morning we reported the perplexion in Downing Street around some of Steve Hilton’s more extreme ideas. Five of the following suggestions were made by Hilton, the PM’s head of strategy; five were not. Can you guess which are which? For the answer here’s our original story.

1] Abolish all maternity leave Read more

Kiran Stacey

Reading the front page of the Daily Mail today, you could be forgiven for thinking that the government’s new system for assessing who should get incapacity benefits had been a roaring success.

Just one in 14 claimants has been found unfit to work, according to stats from DWP, suggesting the new test has rooted out an incredible number of people who were never entitled to claim IB in the first place.

Well, not really. As Paul Gregg, a professor at Bristol university who helped design the new system has pointed out on his blog, there are a number of problems with this interpretation. Read more

Jim Pickard

William Hague is hosting a press conference on Libya this very minute at the Foreign Office, amid concerns that the campaign is bogged down in what America’s Admiral Mike Mullen has called a “stalemate“.

This was not what David Cameron expected earlier in the year, when the prime minister – caught up by the excitement of the Arab Spring – privately anticipated a more decisive action.

Instead, the general spirit was in line with Lord Copper’s advice (in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop) where the newspaper proprietor outlines his policy for a war in the (fictional) north African country of Ishmaelia.

“A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side and a colourful entry into the capital. That is The Beast policy

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Kiran Stacey

Tony Blair with James Murdoch

James Murdoch with Tony Blair

Tony Blair has been talking for the first time since the hacking scandal erupted three weeks ago about his relationship with the Murdoch family, something that has been much criticised in the Commons recently.

Speaking at a press conference in Australia, of all places, Blair said:

Look, let’s be honest about it. The problem is when you’re a political leader, never mind a prime minister, you get your message across, you have to get your message across, through you guys [journalists], so whatever I say today the whole of the public’s not going to be watching every word I say. What happens is you will write about it, or you’ll put it on your television and you know, therefore of course it’s going to matter to have relationships with people in the media.

But I think one thing that is very important is to try and get those relationships right in the sense that the media is an important part of our democracy, on the other hand governments should govern for the public interest.

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Jim Pickard

The ONS has blamed one-off events for low GDP figures – 0.2 per cent growth – in the second quarter. Britain is a “safe haven in the storm” at a time of real international instability, George Osborne said. We have seen the first draft of his speech.

“……And I take great reassurance that in a sea of financial disaster, surrounded by the shattered fiscal remains of Greece, Italy, Iceland and Portugal, our great nation is nothing less than a safe haven of economic growth. A rock, no less. For sure, that growth is less exceptional than it would have been, due to several one-off factors. Read more

Jim Pickard

The FT reported last night that Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Mirror newspaper, has launched a review of its editorial controls and procedures amid investor anxiety that phone-hacking allegations could spread beyond the now-defunct News of the World.

“We have to check whether any regulations and controls are dysfunctional and whether bad practice has set in,” said a senior Trinity employee, who declined to be named. “We also need … to ensure that the provenance of stories is understood at senior editorial levels.” Read more

Kiran Stacey

George OsborneChancellors have always seen the all-important GDP numbers a day before they are formally published, which makes any event involving the chancellor on that day a fascinating game of bluff and second-guessing.

So what could we tell from Monday’s press conference with George Osborne, which was ostensibly about the UK-India trade relationship?

Osborne walked slowly and confidently into the room, his head held high and smiling. But read nothing into that: others have commented before on how he always manages to grin, whatever storm he is facing. Read more

Jim Pickard

Vince Cable’s call in the FT for the Bank of England to restart quantatative easing for the first time since February 2010 marks a remarkable intervention into monetary policy.

Since the Bank was granted operational independence in 1997, politicians have generally steered clear of giving advice on monetary policy, which has been delegated to the Bank.

Mervyn King, Bank governor, has fiercely defended its independence against much less overt interference in the past. Almost a decade ago he publicly dressed-down Ed Balls , then Gordon Brown’s special adviser, for milder remarks on monetary policy.

The business secretary’s call for more QE reflects some desperation among the coalition in advance of tomorrow’s second quarter growth figures, which are expected to be weak. (We are all looking for clues in Osborne’s body language at a press conference with the Indian finance minister today; he has just said ‘there are risks to current and future growth).

Calling for the Bank to buy more assets and be more imaginative about the assets it buys will irritate the Bank. Mr King has pointed out many times that the Bank, if it decides to restart QE will Read more

Kiran Stacey

Aftermath of the Oslo bomb

Aftermath of the Oslo bomb

The top-level National Security Council met at 9.30 on Monday morning to discuss, among other things, the UK’s response to the Norwegian massacreRead more

Jim Pickard

We brought you fresh details this morning of Nick Raynsford’s claims that a former government figure believed he was the victim of black arts.

Mr Raynsford, Labour MP for Greenwich & Woolwich, today demanded a meeting with David Cameron to discuss allegations of “phone hacking, covert surveillance and hostile media briefing” against the unnamed former government official last year.

My understanding is that the official is Tim Byles, former chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, who was last summer blamed by the education department after some schools were assured building projects were safe, only to find that they had been scrapped. Read more

Jim Pickard

By chance I was reading “Stick It Up Your Punter”, a book about the Sun – and one of the best ever written about British journalism – when the story broke about Neil Wallis’s arrest.

The book has several anecdotes about him: Read more

Jim Pickard

One of the most curious lines to emerge yesterday was the suggestion that a senior civil servant had his phone hacked since the last election. Nick Raynsford, a former Labour minister, said in the Commons that there appeared to have been “disgraceful and illegal conduct close to the heart of government” – a strong claim indeed.

He told Mr Cameron:

“A year ago during the period when Mr Coulson was director of communications, the Cabinet Secretary was alerted to evidence of illegal phone hacking, covert surveillance and hostile media briefing directed against a senior official in the Government service.”

The prime minister said he would examine the allegations.

It was suggested that there was a face-to-face meeting between the anonymous official from the Department of Education and Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, where the Read more

Jim Pickard

Nick Clegg is playing the loyal deputy in his press conference and resisting any temptation to distance himself from David Cameron.

The prime minister’s big mistake yesterday was to dodge question after question about whether he had discussed the BSkyB bid with executives from News International. His reply – that he had not had any “inappropriate” chats – hinted strongly of conversations, albeit “appropriate” ones. (Because the PM had removed himself from the decision-making process on the bid.) On 11 occasions he supplied the same evasive answer.

According to Clegg this issue is “semantic and irrelevant”. Others would strongly disagree. Read more

Jim Pickard

As Kiran noted earlier, it was Michael Gove, while at the Times, who went out on the airwaves over a decade ago to defend Tom Baldwin over his investigation into Michael Ashcroft.

Here is must a sample of Gove’s prose back in 1999, long before he was Tory education secretary – referring to both Ashcroft and Lord Archer: Read more