Monthly Archives: June 2012

Kiran Stacey

As Jim wrote earlier on this blog, the Tories and Labour are trading accusations of hypocrisy over their response to the news that Barclays has been hit with a record fine for trying to manipulate key interest rates.

The Tories are accusing Labour of under-regulating the banks; Labour reply they were under pressure from the Tories to regulate even less. Both are right, and here are a couple of quotes both will use to score points off each other.

The first is from Lord Tunnicliffe, Labour’s deputy chief whip in the Lords, who admitted today that his party did not legislate to make such manipulation a criminal offence: 

Jim Pickard

The line from Downing St this morning was very clear: the Barclays/Libor scandal and others were less likely to be repeated under the government’s new regulatory regime. The prime minister’s spokeswoman said:

The government is taking measures over regulation because soft-touch regulation under the previous government hasn’t worked. Hence we have seen this sort of thing happen. This activity happened at a time when there was soft-touch regulation in place.

George Osborne is in the Commons right now extolling the virtues of the coalition’s reform of the regulatory regime and replacement of the FSA, the City watchdog which is currently being dismantled: “How were such failures allowed to continue unchecked?” he asked MPs of the old regulatory system. 

Kiran Stacey

One of the questions being asked about yesterday’s Treasury questions, during which George Osborne announced he would freeze the planned fuel tax rise, was: “How did Ed Balls know?”

The shadow chancellor had written an opinion piece in the Sun just that morning arguing for such a move: coincidence, prescience, or had he been tipped off? Whatever the answer, Labour’s early move in calling for the government to reverse its initial refusal to cut fuel tax has meant blunted any credit ministers would have like to take from the move.

That was clear today during prime minister’s questions, when Tory MPs seemed muted in their cheers when Cameron said:

Why not get up an congratulate the government for being on the side of the motorist and the people who work hard and do the right thing?

 

Kiran Stacey

Members of the House of LordsAfter weeks of shadow boxing, ministers are finally publishing their proposals on reforming the House of Lords today. They include an 80 per cent elected chamber, filled with 450 part-time “senators”, elected by regional list.

Tory backbenchers are already up in arms, threatening rebellion and, in the case of some ministerial aides, resignation. Conor Burns, PPS to Owen Paterson, said this morning:

If I lose my job for something that was a mainstream view within the Conservative party within the last parliament, which serving cabinet ministers held as their view, so be it.

 

Jim Pickard

A report is coming out on Tuesday suggesting that councils are facing a doomsday scenario with cash cuts of 90 per cent by 2020 to services such as roads, libraries, leisure centres and parks.

The LGA has done the research to co-incide with its annual conference and the findings are stark. Unless there is reform of social care – perhaps under the Dilnot system – councils are heading for some existential decisions about what they can provide.

The chart shows neatly the problem faced by councils: The LGA anticipates that the main council grant will be cut by around 30 per cent in next year’s comprehensive spending review. (It is already being sliced by 28 per cent during the current Parliament). 

Jim Pickard

During the prime minster’s speech today he castigated the unfair system whereby families were punished if their child got a job:

“If a family living on benefits wants their adult child to stay living at home they are actually penalised – as soon as that child does the right thing and goes out to work”. 

Kiran Stacey

The Mail on Sunday reports this morning on a radical idea from David Cameron to cut housing benefit for under-25s altogether, something that would save £1.8bn a year, he says. It’s a proposal bound to garner a lot of interest, and designed to win back faltering support from Tory voters.

But another suggestion caught my eye lower down this piece. The paper reports:

Well-placed sources say Ministers are also taking a fresh look at plans to limit child benefit to a couple’s first three children, although Mr Cameron is not expected to address this issue directly tomorrow.

Long-time readers of FT Westminster will know all about this proposal: I first reported it on this site back in March. At the time I wrote

Kiran Stacey

Reading this morning’s papers, you would have known that Michael Gove’s proposals to scrap GCSEs and bring back two levels of qualification for 16-year-olds have sparked a row. But to a greater extent than any recent government, this row is not between the government and the opposition, it is within the government. The papers reported:

Michael Gove has ignited a furious coalition row with the Liberal Democrats… (FT)

Nick Clegg vows to block Michael Gove’s plan to ditch GCSEs (Guardian)

Nick Clegg erupted with fury and vowed to block Michael Gove’s proposals… (Daily Mail)

To an extent, this suits both coalition partners: Gove gets to posture in front of the Tory faithful, while the Lib Dems get to show their muscle when the eventual compromise is reached. 

Jim Pickard

I wrote a while back about how Lord Mandelson had sidestepped a new requirement for peers to disclose certain business clients after exploiting a loophole in the system. As I wrote:

He had been expected to be among a wave of peers to publish a full list of their clients under new rules voted through the House of Lords last November. 

Jim Pickard

It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.

But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.

Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.

During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in 

Jim Pickard

I wrote a while back about the refusal of the Lords’ authorities to hand over their estimates for the cost of an elected upper chamber - despite receiving an FOI.

It appears that the government will next week produce their own estimate for the first time as they set out the Lords reform legislation. 

Helen Warrell

It is not often that political parties admit to having made mistakes, and this particular mea culpa has been a long time coming. But in an opinion piece for The Times today, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, says that the Labour government was wrong not to have recognised sooner that immigration needed to be controlled. She writes:

We should have brought the points-based system in earlier to restrict low-skilled migration. And we should have adopted transitional controls for Eastern Europe.

This is an important moment, since Labour figures have always privately acknowledged that they cannot really take the Home Office to task on its immigration reforms until they have publicly addressed their own historical mistakes in this area (although Jonathan Portes, an economist who worked as a civil servant in Downing St at the time, would argue that no such apology is necessary). Ed Miliband is due to announce a new policy approach on immigration tomorrow, and it seems that a certain amount of self-punishment is required in the run-up. Cooper says candidly in her article that this is not the “easiest subject” for Labour to discuss, and suggests that the party lost touch with the electorate’s anxieties about the effect that migration would have on jobs and communities: