Monthly Archives: May 2012

Kiran Stacey

Journalists were told two days ago in the wake of the u-turns on the pasty tax and caravan tax that there would be no imminent decision on the charity tax. The position is the same, said Treasury officials – there will be some form of compromise with the charitable sector, but not a full u-turn, and it will come after a consultation during the summer.

Today we were told there would be no consultation, and that a full u-turn would take place immediately. What on earth is going on at the Treasury? Read more

Kiran Stacey

Two text message exchanges stand out from this morning’s Leveson testimony by Jeremy Hunt, both sent on the day we found out that Vince Cable had told undercover reporters he had “declared war on Murdoch”.

The first was one sent by the culture secretary to James Murdoch. Referring to the European Commission’s decision to let the News Corp’s bid for BSkyB proceed, Hunt texted Murdoch:

Congrats on Brussels. Only Ofcom to go.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron is fond of saying that u-turns are not a problem, they are actually a sign of strength and a government that listens to voters and is willing to change its mind.

He may be right: voters stuck with him through a spate of u-turns early in the government’s life – on selling off national forests, on GP commissioning, on sentencing. But today we have three in one day – will this now start to look like a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing?

Ken ClarkeThe key may lie in the way in which the u-turn is handled. When he announced he was abandoning plans to offer 50 per cent discounts on sentences for offenders who offer guilty pleas, Ken Clarke united the House in laughter by telling MPs:

I have done a few u-turns in my time, and they should be done with purpose and panache when you have to do them.

This is exactly the way Clarke has gone about his u-turn today on secret courtsRead more

Kiran Stacey

Vince Cable has reignited one of the questions that has dogged the coalition since it formed: when will it split up? Talking to BBC 5 Live’s John Pienaar, the business secretary said:

Everybody involved knows that before the next general election the two parties will have to establish their own separate platforms and identity.

But how that disengagement takes place, over what time period is very much an issue for the future, certainly not something we’re talking about at the moment.

The question is, what exactly does Cable mean by “disengagement”? Read more

Kiran Stacey

In the light of what we learned yesterday about Jeremy Hunt’s strong views that the News Corp bid for BSkyB should go ahead, it is interesting to read these guidelines from the Competition Commission on the standards to which their staff should be held.

The Competition Commission, was of course, one of the bodies that could have ended up examining the bid, just as Hunt was when he was asked to make a “quasi-judicial” judgement on whether it should go ahead.

The CC tells its staff (emphasis mine):

There may be instances where a CC member or staff member has or appears to have prejudged the outcome of an inquiry. Circumstances in which prejudgement might arise would include those in which an article had been written or speech made expressing strong views about a particular merger or market.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The highlight of this afternoon’s evidence by Adam Smith, the former adviser to Jeremy Hunt, was the publication of a memo sent by the culture secretary to the PM before he gained responsibility for the decision on whether to let it proceed.

Here is what Hunt wrote, with what we think of as the important bits in bold (h/t to the Guardian, which put this on its website):

James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom. He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad. Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.

The UK has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in the 80s with the Wapping move but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron in casual wearThere was a great deal of coverage in yesterday’s papers about the prime minister’s so-called “chillaxing”, details of which have emerged in an updated biography of Cameron to be published later this week.

The PM loves playing “Fruit Ninja” on his iPad, he takes breaks from the working day to watch DVDs in the Number 10 flat and he keeps an arrangement to have a regular “date night” with his wife.

Cameron’s perceived laziness enrages some of his backbenchers and gives Ed Miliband a credible way to attack him. For that reason, the PM felt obliged to deny his relaxed style in a briefing with journalists during the Nato summit in Chicago. He said:

It is an enormous privilege to do this job and it is rightly extremely demanding. It requires a huge dedication at work and I am completely dedicated to that.

But if you think the PM resents being depicted in this way, you would be wrong. Read more

Jim Pickard

The row over the Beecroft report today is fascinating because the main recommendation – allowing bosses to fire at will – has polarised political opinion.

In Westminster there is a very clear divide. There are those who think this would cause mass job insecurity, prompting a decline in consumer sentiment as people decide to save instead of spend. (While thousands of people would be sacked without any just cause by managers who simply don’t like them). Then there are those who believe that companies would hire many more staff if they didn’t have the red tape of having to maintain their services even if business turns bad. Read more

Jim Pickard

John Curtice, the respected professor of politics, warned Labour last week that the party needed to “build bridges” with the Lib Dems given the likelihood of another hung parliament in 2015. Prof Curtice wrote in Juncture, the journal of the IPPR thinktank, that Mr Miliband should not “underestimate” the potential value of improving its relations with the Lib Dems.

The quality of the relationship between the two parties could well prove crucial to Labour’s prospects of future power – before or after 2015,” he wrote.

This belies the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in contact at the highest level, according to senior figures in both camps.

Some Labour strategists are increasingly convinced that the party will have the largest number of seats at the next election but not necessarily enough for an outright majority.

As such they are keen for a rapprochement between the two parties ahead of 2015 in case there is a compelling argument for a new Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the next Parliament. “The lines of communication are now open,” said one senior Labour source.

Two years ago Mr Miliband was one of four Labour politicians negotiating with the Lib Dem leadership as it mulled which way to jump in forming a coalition, but his attitude was seen as hostile.

That tough attitude continued in the early days of his leadership, when he invited disgruntled Lib Dem activists to jump ship. “They seemed to spend the first year of opposition just kicking us,” said one senior Lib Dem aide.

Since then Labour has turned its guns more towards the Tories, the much larger party in the coalition.

A spokeswoman for Mr Cable, the business secretary, said he had met Mr Miliband twice since the general election and they had spoken “four or five times” on the phone. Mr Clegg had met the Labour leader twice and spoken on the phone “a couple of times”.

Mr Cable is seen as the most likely lynchpin between the two parties for the reason that he was a former Labour councillor in his youth.

But a source close to Mr Clegg said the Lib Dem leader said he was “relaxed” about Mr Cable’s conversations because he was “in favour of plural, grown-up politics” where MPs of different parties talked to each other.

Any Lib-Lab discussions were “not about 2015,” he said. Instead they were largely to discuss shared areas of interest such as the reform of party funding and the House of Lords.

A spokeswoman for Mr Cable said the conversations had been about issues including bank reforms. “Like other members of the Liberal Democrats, he has always been willing to talk to other politicians to discuss important areas of public policy,” she said.

Mutual suspicion still remains after Labour refused to help campaign for the Read more

Jim Pickard

As housebuilding figures show a sharp drop-off in the number of “starts” by housing associations, a critical report has been published by the National Housing Federation and Shelter. They claim that the government is not doing enough to get more homes built, a situation that appears to be borne out by today’s figures.

The report is also interesting because of its sections on homelessness, a phenomenon which appears to be on the rise after many years of welcome decline. Rising homelessness was one of the most negative elements of the Thatcher administration in the 1980s; is it making an unwelcome comeback? Read more

Jim Pickard

Peter Hain will be breathing a sigh of relief today after the Northern Ireland attorney-general has dropped a legal action against the former Labour cabinet minister. This had involved a controversial chapter criticising a judge in a forthcoming book by Hain, who was Northern Ireland secretary.

Here is the statement from the attorney-general.

“These proceedings were taken to protect public confidence in the administration of justice. They were made necessary by a passage in Mr Hain’s memoirs and by Mr Hain’s refusal until now to reduce the risk to public confidence in the administration of justice arising from that passage. Had Mr Hain responded to the statement issued by the Lord Chief Justice or to our pre-action correspondence in the way that he

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Westminster and Holyrood have been at loggerheads over various aspects of the referendum on Scottish independence. The things they disagree on are:

Now it seems as if the prime minister is preparing for defeat on the first of those points. Speaking at a reception at the Scotland Office, Cameron reportedly said he was “not fussed” over the timing but wanted a “simple, fair, decisive and legal question”. Read more