Monthly Archives: October 2011

Kiran Stacey

Cameron, Merkel and SarkozyDavid Cameron appears to be trying to dangle some red meat in front of his restive backbenchers by holding out the prospect of using any imminent EU treaty change to try and repatriate powers back from Brussels to London.

Speaking after meeting fellow European leaders over the weekend, the PM said:

This is the right time to sort out the eurozone’s problems, defend your national interest and look to the opportunities there may be in the future to repatriate powers back to Britain. Obviously the idea of some limited treaty change in the future might give us that opportunity.

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Jim Pickard

This is a succint blog as it is more an entreaty to read this excellent bit of research by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University into Euro-rebellions of the past. It’s a vital piece of analysis ahead of Monday’s vote over whether Britain should have a referendum on pulling out of the EU.

In a nutshell Cowley predicts that the final tally won’t be as high as the 100 that some have suggested (on the basis that the whips always peel away some potential rebels). One calculation reckons 78 have already put their heads over the parapet. Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron once rebuked his party for “banging on” about Europe, but the issue never ceases to give Conservative prime ministers a headache.

First, the important stuff. Mr Cameron and Barack Obama used a video conference on Thursday evening to impress upon Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel the need to sort out the eurozone crisis with a comprehensive package: the clock on that deal is now ticking.

Ms Merkel has told Mr Sarkozy she won’t be able to sign up to any deal until next Wednesday at the earliest, so a special second meeting of eurozone leaders has been fixed in Brussels for that day.

Of course Mr Cameron won’t be invited to that meeting, but it could still be awkward for the PM. As European leaders grapple with the economic fire raging across the English Channel, Mr Cameron will be heading to the other side of the world for a Commonwealth summit in Perth.

Not only will communications be difficult because of the time difference, but so is the symbolism. Mr Cameron has been accused by Labour of failing to get involved Read more

Kiran Stacey

Here’s a sentence to set alarm bells ringing: the Department for Work and Pensions is currently undertaking a rather large and important IT project to change the way people can claim benefits.

As part of the project to roll up all the various benefits and tax credits people receive into one “Universal Credit”, DWP is creating a new system that would allow people to log in online, fill in some basic details and quickly calculate how much they can claim. The money will then be paid automatically into their bank account. Read more

Jim Pickard

We revealed this morning that Chris Huhne is poised to make steep cuts to the subsidies for household solar panels. This is likely to be very controversial given that this summer the government cut the subsidies (feed-in tariff) for largescale solar “farms”. Details are still being worked out but I wouldn’t be surprised if the current scheme – up to 43p per kilowatt hour – is cut in half or worse; possibly by January. Huhne was asked about the story in the Commons this morning and did not deny it.

This is going to play into the narrative that the coalition’s green credentials are fading fast, as we write in this analysis today – despite headline initiatives such as the Green Investment Bank. Several MPs criticised Huhne today for the collapse of Scotland’s pioneering “carbon capture and storage” project, with Labour’s Lindsay Roy saying it had “descended into farce” and SNP’s Mike Weir calling it “disgraceful“. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Cathy Newman over at Channel 4′s Fact Check has been saying for a while that David Cameron’s figures on private sector job creation are wrong. And he repeated the claim again today:

There are half a million more private sector jobs compared with the time of the last election.

So is Cameron right? Almost certainly not. The truth is that more than half a million private sector jobs have been created since the beginning of April 2010. But that was before the last election. Read more

Even Europhile economists must have pricked up their ears at the offer of £250,000 to the person who comes up with the best plan for winding up the euro. Only the Nobel offers a more valuable bounty to the dismal scientists.

But whatever you think of the goal, is the Wolfson Economics Prize – offered by Lord Wolfson, the youthful, Eurosceptic, Conservative chief executive of Next, the UK retailer – the best way to achieve it? These days, bright business ideas often emerge through collaboration, rather than competition.

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Jim Pickard

My colleague Mark Odell reveals today that the new transport secretary is expected to announce this week who has won the first rail franchise award since the general election. Three bidders are up for the Greater Anglia network, he reports.

But for those with an interest in Britain’s rail system the award will tell us little about where the government is going in terms of rail policy as the announcement comes while the department is still formulating its position – a process that appears to be taken longer than originally envisaged, according to my colleague.

This week’s agreement doesn’t seem to fit into the coalition’s desire for longer, Read more

Jim Pickard

One of the remaining mysteries over Adam Werritty was the identity of the final donor to Pargav. This morning’s Times said the accounts only identified “Barclays PR” (contributing £30,000) as the donor. Barclays Bank said it was not the source, indicating that the money came through the private account of a Barclays customer.

Mick Davis, chief executive of Xstrata, the FTSE 100 mining company, is a close friend of both Michael Lewis and Poju Zabludowicz, two donors whose identities had already been made public. (Zabludowicz chairs Bicom, the pro-Israel lobbying group, and Lewis was deputy chair of Bicom a few years ago.) The South Africa-born executive is head of the United Jewish Israeli Appeal, a charitable body in the UK. Read more

Kiran Stacey

As Westminster waits for the publication of Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report into whether Liam Fox broke the ministerial code as a result of his friendship with Adam Werritty, Number 10 is drip-feeding new revelations into the public domain.

The latest is that Werritty met other defence ministers: specifically Gerald Howarth and Lord Astor. We don’t know when, where or how often though. Read more

Jim Pickard

When Britain signed up to some of the world’s toughest carbon-reduction targets earlier in the year there was a major get-out clause.

It was announced that the targets would be reviewed in 2014 to make sure the EU was moving in line with the UK. If Europe was not hitting its targets Britain would be allowed to miss its own. This was described then as the “rip-chord” to make sure Britain remained competitive.

George Osborne took the credit for the decision – during his conference speech – prompting some commentators to think this was a new policy.

Now Mr Osborne is once again seeking to ensure that his name is attached to a separate government initiative to alleviate the impact of a major green policy. In next month’s growth review (or ‘mini-Budget’) he will announce measures to help the energy-intensive users, such as steel companies and chemicals firms, hit by the Read more

Kiran Stacey

Liam Fox, former defence secretary

Liam Fox

There was an intriguing report this morning on (no, me neither, but stick with me) about a technical, but significant change to the way in which the Charity Commission investigates charities.

According to the report, Kenneth Dibble, the commission’s head of legal services, told an audience of charity lawyers that it would stop carrying out so-called “regulatory compliance investigations” – the type of inquiry that snared Atlantic Bridge, the charity set up by Liam Fox and  run by Adam Werritty.

The commission found earlier this year that Atlantic Bridge’s activites were more political than charitable, and rather than face the consequences of that (such as having to pay more tax), the charity shut down. Read more