Monthly Archives: October 2012

Jim Pickard

It is one year since David Cameron summoned the biggest power companies to an “energy summit” at Downing Street where they were ordered to keep bills down for hard-pressed consumers.

In a joint article previewing that event, the prime minister and the energy secretary (one Chris Huhne) expressed their determination to see a fall in prices.

Speaking before the meeting, Huhne told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that the government would be on the consumers’ side to ensure they got a better deal, as the Guardian reported at the time.

Often this stuff gets written up without any comeback; so how has the situation improved since then? Read more

Chris Cook

By Chris Cook

Correspondence between Prince Charles and government ministers must remain secret, the government has decided.

Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general, is using a ministerial veto that has been deployed only four times, to block publication of the documents.

The letters had been requested by the Guardian newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act. This veto overturns a ruling by the upper tribunal, a higher court, that ruled in favour of disclosure. Ministers have used the veto in three other cases, to block disclosures relating to the Iraq war, Scottish devolution and NHS reform. The Prince has caused controversy in the past with his advocacy of causes from homeopathy, a reversion to “traditional” teaching methods to his dislike for modern Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne’s plan to offer workers company shares in return for giving up employment rights has been slammed as “awful” by an American group that exists to encourage share ownership.

The National Center for Employee Ownership told me that Mr Osborne’s proposals were a “very bad idea” and that no “rational person” would give up employment rights for a small capital gains tax break.

The California-based NCEO is a not-for-profit group that provides “objective” information to its 3,000 members including companies, consultants and employment academics.

Corey Rosen, the group’s founder, told me that he was an “unabashed advocate of employee ownership” who spent his career making the case for workers to own more stock and options.

“There is a lot of employee ownership in our country,” he said. “But not one of these employees and not one of these plans asks employees to give up any employment rights to get any of the various tax benefits associated with employee ownership.”

The idea had never been suggested in the US, “no one, Republican or Democrat, right or left”, he said. “It simply does not make sense for an employee to give up rights that could potentially be worth a great deal of Read more

Kiran Stacey

Alex Salmond and David CameronDavid Cameron will meet Alex Salmond in Edinburgh on Monday morning to put the seal on a deal to transfer the power to the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence.

As part of that deal, the British government will make sure there is a straightforward, single question, while giving way on allowing the Scottish government to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote.

This is being treated with some consternation at Westminster, where many fear it will undermine the current constitutional settlement of only allowing adults to vote. Lord Forsyth, the Tory peer, called it a “backdoor way” of changing the voting rules, arguing that it should be debated properly in parliament. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron left the symphony hall in Birmingham’s ICC after Boris Johnson’s speech today beaming – and well he might. The prime minister’s most serious rival for the leadership of the Tory party had just delivered an admirably loyal speech – and while it was entertaining and funny, it did not raise the roof in the way Number 10 must have feared.

The London mayor began his speech in the best way possible if his aim was to damp down speculation about him challenging for the top job, with lavish and lengthy praise for the PM:

If we can win in the middle of a recession and wipe out a 17 point Labour poll lead then I know that David Cameron will win in 2015. [Addressing the PM directly] When the economy has turned around and people are benefiting in jobs and growth from the firm leadership you have shown and the tough decisions you have taken.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

The idea of swapping employment rights for shares in a company may sound like a great deal to some people; in particular those without dependents, or who feel completely secure in their jobs.

The unions say that this is some kind of devil’s pact – and that no amount of equity is worth trading your right to work. George Osborne, who announced this yesterday, would obviously disagree.

But the idea raises some other, more technical, questions. Read more

What a difference a political hat makes. Around 20 years ago, Vince Cable as a company economist angered Nigeria’s military rulers by pointing out corruption – but got away with it.

Returning to Nigeria as British business secretary to foster links, he chose somewhat safer topics, discussing areas for improvement for both countries.

The last time Vince Cable set foot in Nigeria was “during the dark days of military rule” in the mid-90s.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

This blog revealed back in March just before the Budget that George Osborne was considering capping child benefit at a certain number of children per family. At the moment, parents receive £20.30 a week for their first child and £13.40 for each additional child after that, but Treasury officials were looking at stopping those payments once a family had reached a certain number of children.

At the time, the measure was supposed to be an alternative to capping child benefit at a certain income level: the family-size measure would have been easier to implement and involve less of a cliff-edge for

people increasing their earnings. In the end, it was ruled out as too controversial, but judging by George Osborne’s speech at the Tory party conference today, the idea is back on the table. The chancellor said:

How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don’t?

 Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne targeted his fire firmly on Ed Miliband in the strongest proof yet that the Labour leader’s successful oration last week has rattled the Conservative party.

Miliband had spent “a third of his life working for Gordon Brown”; he did not mention the word “deficit” in his conference speech; he was Brown “reincarnated”, the chancellor of the exchequer told the Birmingham conference hall.

Until recently many in Conservative HQ had believed that “geeky” or “odd” Miliband would be their secret weapon in the 2015 election campaign and that the public would never warm to their rival.

The Miliband speech in Manchester, where he spoke confidently without notes for over an Read more

Kiran Stacey

One of Ed Balls’ big announcements during his speech on Monday was his call for the government to use £4bn of the money from the auction of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build 100,000 affordable homes.

Even before he spoke, the Guido Fawkes blog was speculating that the shadow chancellor may have been tipped off that the government was going to do exactly this, and wanted to get out ahead of them and look like he was setting the agenda. According to Guido:

It’s well known that Balls still has ‘people’ inside the Treasury and there is plenty of speculation doing the rounds that he had got wind of the 4G auction goodies fund and has pulled a fast one on the chancellor.

 Read more

Helen Warrell

Ed Miliband cannot have enjoyed the revelation last Friday that two out of three Labour voters want to ditch him and install his brother as party leader instead. But a new poll released today is potentially far more damaging.

According to a Times/ Populus survey, a third of Labour’s own voters prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband as prime minister. It also showed that over the last four months, there has been a 5 percentage point increase in the number of people who are dissatisfied with Cameron but would still prefer him to be in Downing St than the Labour leader.

Speaking at Labour’s conference fringe, Rick Nye, director of Populus, made clear that Mr Miliband has a difficult task – because even if his party is increasing its lead against the Tories, the statistics do not look so good when the leaders are pitched head to head. As a result, the likeliest outcome of next election is a hung parliament, with Labour the largest party but no overall majority, Nye said. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed Balls’ speech to Labour conference was sweeping in its scope, taking in equalities, police, the NHS and education, and ending with a passage parading through Labour’s greatest hits. His passage on the post-war Labour government was stirring stuff:

Conference, our predecessors were elected that year to rebuild a country ravaged by conflict.

They faced even greater challenges than we face today: an economy enfeebled by war; a national debt double the size of ours today. And they made tough and unpopular decisions: to continue with rationing; to cut defence spending; and to introduce prescription charges.
But that Labour Cabinet also remained focussed on the long-term task ahead. And they learned from history and rejected the failed austerity of the 1930s.

And that meant they could put in place long-term reforms, enduring achievements, vital to our country’s future: the Beveridge report; new homes for heroes; the school leaving age raised; and, for the first time ever, a National Health Service free to all, based on need not ability to pay – over 60 years later, celebrated in our Olympics opening ceremony for all the world to see, still today the greatest health service in the world.

 Read more