Monthly Archives: July 2013

When the coalition promised a lobbying bill it was only belatedly – after the scandal involving Tory MP Patrick Mercer offering to ask questions on behalf of a fictitious Fijian company.

Weeks earlier the bill had been conspicuously absent from the Queen’s Speech, despite having been an obvious candidate for inclusion. Read more

Len McCluskeyLen McCluskey’s speech today to members of his Unite union was something of a barnstormer. The union boss was forthright on his views of the Labour party and its investigation into what happened in Falkirk, where Unite is accused of manipulating Labour candidate selection to boost its favoured candidates.

McCluskey tore into Ed Miliband and those around him, calling their decision to refer the Falkirk matter to police an “utter, utter disgrace”. He added:

Assertion was passed off as fact, allegation became reality.

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David CameronIt was the Americans who first broke ranks. Soon after David Cameron announced in January that he wanted to have a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2017 (if he is elected prime minister), the US declared its opposition to the UK leaving. In remarkably frank words for a diplomat, a senior American official told reporters:

We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU. That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.

Since then, the Japanese have also weighed in on the Americans’ side. In evidence submitted to the first round of the government’s review of EU powers, Japan warns that as many as 130,000 jobs could be at risk if the UK does leave the union. In a memo to the foreign office, the Japanese government said: Read more

The Freedom of Information Act has a clause which allows public authorities to ignore a request for information “if the request is vexatious”. It says little about what members of the public can do if they encounter vexatious government departments.

The Cabinet Office – which includes the prime minister’s office – seems now to be openly refusing to comply with the transparency law, especially when it comes to the person of the prime minister. His courtiers seem to regard FoIA requests as lèse-majesté, and to regard their job as being to fight transparency. Read more

Chuka UmunnaChuka Umunna is ambitious: that much is well known. George Parker, the FT’s political editor, has a feature-length profile in this weekend’s FT Magazine, looking at the man, his goals, his standing in the party, and whether he really likes being compared to Barack Obama.

More of that later, but it is worth mentioning an interesting tale of the shadow business secretary’s self-confidence and grand ambitious that has reached us this week.

Several months ago, Umunna sat his shadow cabinet colleagues down and told them he had a great new idea for how to run government procurement. Instead of allowing the MoD to buy weapons, for example, or the Department for Transport to buy trains, why not have the business department do it all? Read more

Maria Miller, the culture secretary, has urged the BBC to tackle alleged sexism in its sports department in a row which could overshadow the corporation’s coverage of the Open golf championship at all-male Muirfield.

Ms Miller has written to Tony Hall, BBC director-general, to establish what he is doing to avoid a repeat of the kind of offence caused by John Inverdale, the sports presenter, in comments about the winner of this year’s Wimbledon women’s tennis title.

Mr Inverdale provoked outrage when he said that Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker”, a remark for which he and the BBC later apologised.

He will be anchoring coverage of this week’s Open. Read more

David Cameron will today to publish a bill cracking down on union funding as the Tories attempt to shift the political spotlight away from their elections adviser Lynton Crosby, a lobbyist for several controversial industries.

The main thrust of the new lobbying bill is to force all third-party lobbyists to publish a full list of their clients to bring “sunlight” into the dealings between the government and outside interests.

They will include Mr Crosby, an Australian pollster whose firm Crosby Textor has advised the tobacco, alcohol, property development, airport and oil industries.

The prime minister is under pressure to disclose whether he had conversations with Mr Crosby before he dropped plans for plain cigarette packets and minimum alcohol pricing in the spring. Downing Street will Read more

Mark Carney has been given a pretty weighty task as he starts his tenure as governor of the Bank of England. In recent weeks, almost every time the chancellor or one of his aides has been asked about the prospects for growth, he has mentioned Carney and his track record of boosting the economy through unusual monetary policy tools.

Already we may have started to see signs of this, with Carney’s highly unusual first statement in which he said expectations of interest rates in 2015 were “unwarranted” – in effect a guarantee of long-term low rates.

But Lord Mandelson, Labour’s former business secretary, and a prominent pro-European, wants Carney to pay attention to what is happening on the other side of the channel too. Read more

A plain cigarette packetThis morning, Anna Soubry came to the Commons to explain why the government is shelving plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. The problem is, the order to halt the plans came from Number 10 – Anna Soubry has repeatedly been clear that she supports plain packaging. She told a House of Lords Committee in March:

We know that the package itself plays an important part in the process of young people and their decision to buy a packet and to smoke cigarettes.

Those in favour of standardised packaging also make this important point: they say that there is evidence—and they are right… that the tobacco companies have changed their packaging quite deliberately to make very small packets of cigarettes that young women can slip into a small clutch, or 23 even into a part of their clothing, when they go out of an evening.

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Sir Ian Kennedy, head of Ipsa

Sir Ian Kennedy, head of Ipsa

When they said that Ipsa was all about taking the politics out of MPs pay they weren’t joking: the independent body has come up with a set of proposals that look sensible on paper but lack political judgment.

The bit that is making headlines – predictably – is that pay will rise by 9.7 per cent in 2015 to £74,000. After that it would go up in line with national wage inflation.

That salary proposal alone would cost an extra £4.6m.

What many people won’t notice is that the other recommendations from Read more

It has taken 24 hours to work it out, and I warn you: It’s complicated. It’s head-scratching stuff.

But if you are wondering why Len McCluskey seems so relaxed about Miliband’s reforms of the link between Labour and the unions, here is the answer. The change could shift millions of pounds of money away from the party and into the hands of the union barons.

That is so at odds with the TV headlines – suggesting a dilution of union power – that it might seem unbelievable. After all, the changes have been cast as an historic break with the union stranglehold: even by persistent critics such as Dan Hodges.

The Labour leader was praised by his predecessor Tony Blair as he used a Fleet Street speech to offer an “historic” overhaul of his party’s relationship with the trade unions which provide the majority of its private funding.

Blair responded fast, saying the “bold” plan – ending the automatic affiliation fee paid by 3m union members to Labour – was something that he had never dared to attempt. But had he read the small print?

Miliband, by changing to an “opt in” system, hopes to increase party membership and get Read more

Another strange twist in the Labour/Falkirk story. After days of insisting this was an internal party matter, the party has now handed its investigation into the matter to police.

The allegations are that the Unite union bulk-bought membership of the party for its officers in an attempt to unfairly influence the outcome of the ballot to select a new candidate in the Scottish constituency.

Tom Watson

The affair yesterday claimed the scalp of Tom Watson (left), Ed Miliband’s elections coordinator, who is close to Unite – he is a former flatmate of its secretary general, Len McCluskey. The party also suspended officials up in Falkirk and suspended the candidate selection process, hoping that might put an end to the matter. Read more

Today’s PMQs was dubbed the “Len McCluskey show” after David Cameron turned almost every answer into an attack on Labour’s links to the Unite union – as Kiran pointed out earlier.

And now a private document from Unite has emerged which spells out its attempts to support candidates in no fewer than 41 constituencies.

In the report, the union’s political officer describes a “furious” operation to help with selections, with more than three officials working almost full-time on “candidate selection matters”.

He notes the growing press interest in the “malign” influence of the union, adding: “A Times editorial attacking us is a medal of honour.”

Despite the “vilification” over Falkirk – where the union has been accused of flooding the seat with members ahead of the Read more

Traditional roles were reversed at today’s PMQs. Cameron pulled the ingenious trick of almost entirely ignoring what Ed Miliband asked (it was about school places). He attacked instead on the news that Unite have apparently tried to unfairly influence the outcome of a Labour candidate selection process in Falkirk.

The attacks were clumsily crowbarred in, but that will not matter when it comes to replaying the clips on television tonight. Here was one example: Read more

HS2 protest signThe planned high speed rail project from London to the midlands and the north is starting to look very uncertain indeed.

After the news last week that the estimated costs have spiked by £10bn since the beginning of the year, we then revealed in the FT that the government’s cost/benefit analysis assumed that no one would work on a train, increasing the apparent benefit of getting to your destination more quickly. Another chunk was taken out of the expected returns.

Now it seems that, having proposed the scheme in the first place, Labour is also getting cold feet. Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary who does not usually have much truck for nimbyism, launched a bitter attack on the project in this morning’s FT. He writes: Read more