Monthly Archives: August 2011

With Alistair Darling’s book about to be published, people are already getting excited by his revelations about the depth of tensions between the former chancellor and the Brown/Balls axis. He confirms the old story that Brown tried to sack him, only to be left frustrated.

Here is the Labour Uncut scoop. (Apparently the Sunday Times have paid for the serialisation, so they may be a tad unhappy).

But there is also a very interesting passage where he admits his low regard for Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England. Much of the tension between the two men revolved around King’s warnings that bank bailouts would encourage “moral hazard” and cause a repeat of the banking bubble in the future. Darling’s preoccupation was simply to get through the credit crunch with the financial system intact. Here is the relevant quote:

He is similarly scathing about the governor of the bank of England, Mervyn King, who is lambasted as “amazingly stubborn and exasperating”.

The former chancellor confirms how close the government came to not renewing King for a second term in 2008 – the first time a governor

 Read more

Jerry Hayes, the former Tory MP, wrote about Lord Mandelson on the Dale & Co blog yesterday. He observed of Mandelson’s new enterprise: “his consulting company, whose clients also seem to be as invisible as his shadow.”

It would indeed be interesting to know the identity of the clients of Global Counsel, the new advisory firm which Mandelson helped to set up. Yet it appears that there is no obligation on it to do so – despite the former business secretary sitting in the House of Lords, a legislative body.

The register of interests in the Lords says that the former deputy prime minister has these interests:


Category 1: Directorships

Director, Willbury Limited (trading entity for public speaking/writing)

Chairman, Global Counsel LLP (strategic advice consultancy)

The code of conduct can meanwhile be found here on the Lords website. Should Global Counsel have to declare its clients?

Apparently not. This is because full disclosure only applies to a] public affairs consultancies Read more

I predicted yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before Vince Cable weighed in after the head of the CBI told the FT yesterday that it would be a mistake to carry out bank reforms while Britain is still in the economic doldrums.

In a Times interview, the business secretary has criticised the banks’ “special pleading“. He says that the markets chaos, if anything, proves the need to make banks even stronger – to prevent a future bailout. Read more

David Cameron’s plan to redraw Britain’s electoral map is under threat amid fears that many Lib Dem and Tory MPs could rebel against the proposals. Tensions are rising ahead of September 12, when the Boundary Commission will reveal its first draft of the English electoral landscape (Wales, NI and Scotland follow soon after). The mood is one of trepidation and resentment.

This issue is likely to turn nasty not only because many Lib Dems are not in the mood to keep their promise over boundaries – because they feel that Cameron helped to squash their cherished AV referendum, which was the other half of the deal. There are also many Tory MPs who would rather ignore the whips and vote against their own side in order to keep their own seats. (The issue will go to a vote in late 2013). Right now we just don’t know who they are, because no one has seen the revised boundaries. Read more

We reported in mid-August that Vince Cable and George Osborne are at odds over bank reforms, in particular over the timing. Osborne is understood to have let banks believe that 2019 is a realistic timetable for the completion of the Vickers reforms – but Cable wants the internal ring-fences to be achieved as soon as possible.

And now John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, has weighed in, saying the government would be “barking mad” to press ahead with the reforms straight away. “Unilateral” changes of this nature could threaten the ability of banks to provide crucial finance for the economic recover, Cridland argued in an interview with the FT. Read more

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg in July 2011

Conference season is nearly upon us and Nick Clegg is flexing his liberal muscles as he limbers up to engage with party activists. Writing in the Guardian, the Liberal Democrat leader issues a strident defence of human rights laws in the face of growing clamour from David Cameron’s lot to water down legislation that emanates from Europe. Incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law is a “hugely positive step”. Many Tory backbenchers would be inclined to disagree.

It is all part of Clegg’s attempt to carve out more of a Lib Dem voice within the heart of government following his painful drubbing at the polls in May. And the evidence suggests that such broadsides are beginning to pay off: this month he enjoyed an uptick in approval ratings among the party, after hitting all-time lows at the beginning of the year. Read more

The official figures are out for last year’s net immigration and the data does not make happy reading for Theresa May, home secretary.

The Tories have promised to reduce the net inflows of people into Britain to “tens of thousands” by the end of the Parliament – just four years away. (Note my deliberate use of the phrase ‘Tories’ rather than ‘coalition’; the Lib Dems are not very keen on this one.) Read more

Of all the websites used by political journalists, one is the endless source of frustration and angst: that of the Electoral Commission. This is the treasure trove with all the donations and loans made to every political party in Britain over the last decade or so. There are updates every three months on all new financial gifts made to the political world.

I have worked out how to navigate the site to find out who has given donations to which party – but only by calling the EC’s press office and asking for guidance some time ago. A member of the public wanting to find out these statistics faces a gruelling journey through the commission’s online maze.

If you go to the Electoral Commission site you can see what looks like an open and transparent breakdown of the Q2 donation figures, published yesterday. “Latest donations and borrowing figures” is up in highlights at the top of the page. So far so good.

That leads you to a summary of trends, total donation numbers and so on. All very useful. But how do you find out which individuals have given money to a certain party, for example Labour?

First you have to go down the right hand column of the main page until you find a tiny heading: “finance of parties”.

That takes you to a different page full of sprawling red and blue text. Click here on “search the PEF online registers”.

This takes you to a new page, which has a blue box on the top left with half a dozen options. One of these – probably “advanced donations search” – is your Holy Grail.

But it is not plain sailing now that you are on the final page. Here you are presented with a drop box of four options. Instead of clicking the one you want (political parties) you have to delete other three; third parties, regulated donee, permitted participant. Frustrated yet?

There is then a similar process for “entity name”. But this time there are hundreds of parties, including the Pensioners Party, the Pirate Party, the Old Read more

An investigation has been launched after it emerged that former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith used day-release prisoners to paint her home when they should have been doing community work.

Two inmates, from HMP Hewell in Redditch, spent two days decorating a room at the former Labour MP’s luxury property in the Worcestershire town, the Sun newspaper revealed this morning. Read more

It’s quite risky for a Tory minister to attack the National Trust, given the overlapping membership of the two tribes.

But today Greg Clark denounces the Trust as “not serious” for making “risible” claims about the impact of the coalition’s new planning policy. He also condemns those who seek to “preserve in aspic” their communities as being guilty of “nihilistic selfishness“.

The planning minister told Beth Rigby and I that more homes are needed to address the “crisis” in terms of a housing shortage in the UK, with fewer new properties built last year than for the last half-century.

There is a “moral” imperative to get more homes built, he argues:

“It is one of the great social injustices that we are failing to provide enough housing, particularly at an affordable level of rent.”

Clark is a serious politician, with a likely cabinet future – he was in the shadow cabinet Read more

As gambles go it was an enormous one, with no guarantee of success. There was little or no public appetite for military intervention in Libya, and even the generals told David Cameron that it could be a grave mistake. There was no visible enthusiasm from Barack Obama for the cause, at least initially.

And when the invasion was put to a vote in the House of Commons, the voting figures – overwhelmingly in favour – belied a deep sense of unease about where the mission would end up. Read more

David Cameron is down in Cornwall for a few days, doing his bit for the national tourism industry. I’m told (er, by Downing Street’s press office) that this morning he purchased “scallops, mackerel and monkfish” for a barbecue from a fishmonger in Port Isaac.  (No, he didn’t order any ‘flounder’ or ‘carp’ or ‘chub’ or ‘European minnow’ or “smoothtongue*” – sorry, sketchwriters.)

Back in London, however, the political focus is on Tony Blair’s intervention into the riots debate. Blair’s key point: that a “highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally” would be counterproductive and damage Britain’s reputation overseas. Read more

One issue where the unions may have been right all along is the thorny question of the public finance initiative – which they raised concerns about a decade ago. Unions including Unison and the GMB have been arguing for years that PFI is simply more expensive than conventionally-financed schemes. (They also have an often kneejerk hostility to private companies in the public sector per se).

The coalition signalled last year that it believed the system was “discredited” and “a ploy to keep expensive projects off the balance sheet”. Read more

The idea is raised by none other than Ken Livingstone in his interview with Total Politics this week. There’s no doubt that the Europe-loving sometime cross-dressing comedian is a full-on Labour supporter with a very high profile. I also rather like the idea of three Eds at the top of the party: Miliband, Balls and Izzard.

Here is the quote from Amber Elliott’s interview: Read more

There’s a good interview in Total Politics today which is a reminder of why it would be a mistake to write off Ken Livingstone; it appears there is plenty of life left in the wily newt-loving leftwinger.

Asked why people should vote for him, Ken jokes: Read more

A gang member holds a gun behind his backIain Duncan Smith and Theresa May have begun very early work on their gangs strategy in the wake of the English riots, and will publish their findings in October. But we are already starting to get some idea of the solutions they are likely to look at it. Some of them are encouraging, some are definitely not.

On Sunday, IDS told the Sunday Times some of his preferred measures, which are heavily influenced by a 2009 report called Dying to Belong from the CSJ, the think tank he established. The report is thorough and exhaustively researched, and has a comprehensive set of proposals.

It is based on a twin-track method, whereby senior gang members are offered an amnesty to leave the gang and then harrassed by official government bodies if they refuse to do so. If the latter, youth workers turn up at their home, the police go through their entire history to find evidence of any misdemeanour, from unpaid parking fines to a missing TV license, and they are brought in front of the courts at the slightest sign of wrongdoing. Read more

David CameronTory MPs yesterday tried to play down the similarities between David Cameron’s post-riots speech and the famous “back to basics” conference speech by John Major in 1993. The latter became an albatross around Major’s neck as a string of Tory MPs were caught out in various salacious scandals in the mid-1990s.

I’ve analysed the two speeches and found some very similar echoes in tone and content. Curiously, Major does not mention “single parents” or “single mothers” or “family values” or “absent fathers” – contrary to the collective memory of what the speech was all about. (That message was instead spun by aides who pre-briefed the speech to journalists.) By contrast Cameron very clearly suggests that family breakdown is a key cause of social discontent. Read more

It was the turn of Nick Clegg to make a big speech today, following David Cameron and Ed Miliband yesterday – with Theresa May later this morning. (Perhaps tomorrow could be an oration-free occasion?)

The deputy prime minister diligently tried to avoid any open clashes with the prime minister over tricky issues around removing benefits from offenders and delivering tax breaks for married couples. Read more

David Cameron and Theresa May have insisted their cuts to police budgets can be achieved without a reduction in frontline police numbers.

But Tim Brain, the former Gloucestershire police chief and now honorary senior research fellow at Cardiff University’s Police Science Institute, has challenged that claim head on.

In a study released today, Brain calls for the government to “pause and think again” about its planned 20 per cent cut to police budgets over the next four years, saying that it is bound to affect frontline policing. Read more

George OsborneAmid the frenetic activity surrounding the response to last week’s riots, a cautiously-written, but telling article by George Osborne and a group of other finance ministers in today’s FT risks slipping by unnoticed.

The piece is moderate in tone, but has the chance to be controversial on a number of levels:

1) It calls for other countries to follow broadly the UK deficit reduction plan. When the ministers write that there should be “credible fiscal consolidation in countries with large deficits”, it is a clear message to western economies: cut your deficits now. Read more