Number 10 may have been reluctant to comment this morning on revelations by the FT’s Chris Giles about a £12bn ‘black hole’ in the public finances but Lib Dems, cornered at their conference in Birmingham, were more open.
Senior Lib Dem MPs quizzed on Monday suggested they were not entirely surprised by the 25 per cent increase in the structural deficit, but not surprisingly, are still not in any mood to back further cuts to bring it under control.
Three days in to Liberal Democrat party conference, and the strain of endless speeches, fringe meetings and late night drinking is starting to show. Especially, it seems, for Nick Clegg, who gave a somewhat grumpy performance during a 45-minute long Q&A session this afternoon.
He began, quite early on, by mocking a lack of follow up questions to one of his answers, saying:
What docility! This is like a North Korean conference meeting.
Nestled amongst the yellow revellers at CentreForum’s Lib Dem bash late last night was none other than Greg Clark, the Tory localism and cities minister.
Mr Clark, enjoying a glass of red wine and chatting to adoring Lib Dems, had come up to conference to fly the flag of coalition – and take part in a CentreForum debate with Ed Davey, Lib Dem employment minister on ‘Next steps for localism’.
It was not entirely alien territory for the cities minister: Greg Clark used to be a member of the SDP – he went to the last SDP party conference 23 years ago.
The pre-coverage of Vince Cable’s speech on executive pay – demanding an end to “pay-outs for failure” – seemed vaguely familiar. Yes, the business department issued a consultation on “The Future of Narrative Reporting” over a year ago; and the report (page 6) does home in on the links between “performance criteria” and “remuneration“.* And back in June the business secretary called on directors who set remuneration for their colleagues to show more backbone – and hinted that he wanted to expand disclosure so that it did not just apply to board members.
But I’m assured that Vince is set to put forward some new initiatives in his conference speech when he stands up in Birmingham in 10 minutes’ time.
a] Making remuneration of top executives less opaque so it is more comparable on an international basis.
b] Forcing companies to put in their annual reports if execs have missed performance targets.
c] Expanding disclosure requirements beyond board level (as has happened for the big banks) at all major listed companies.
The department will consult on where the threshold should lie, on the following lines. Will it be a certain number of people below board level? Or everyone earning over a
My Bloomberg colleague Rob Hutton got it right when we walked into a small side room at Birmingham’s ICC on Sunday to watch Hugh Grant (and others) talk about phone hacking. As we were greeted by an explosion of flashing lightbulbs, he turned to me and commented: “It looks like the ending of Notting Hill.”
Grant was impressive, his clear speaking (punctuated by plenty of swearwords) gave some relief to the political wonkery that usually characterises conference. But at times bluntness began to look like superficiality, such as when he turned on the Met for trying to use the Official Secrets Act to force the Guardian to reveal its sources:
For the [police's new investigatory team] to turn on fellow goodies in this battle is worrying and also deeply mysterious.