Two factors stand out as having contributed to David Cameron’s unprecedented defeat last night at the hands of Labour, and more significantly, government rebels: a pinch of farce and a great deal of hubris.
First the hubris. Cameron recalled parliament to vote on an issue of going to war, without properly having prepared the ground. The case for launching strikes on Syria had not been made, the consequences had not been spelled out, and the intelligence was slim.
This blasé attitude from the government was summed up in Cameron’s answer to one particular question: Read more
Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.
Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more
One of the most cunning tricks up the sleeves of the Exchequer is so-called “fiscal drag”: the way that the government can raise more income simply through inflation.
That is because unless tax thresholds rise in line with prices, people slip into higher bands: for example the upper rate of income tax. And they may not even notice.
It is a politically less painful way of raising extra tax than by visibly lifting rates at Budget time.
Property is a case in point: According to new research published today, the Treasury could see an extra haul of £2bn a year through stamp duty if house prices continue to rise as anticipated by experts.
The research has come from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who are campaigning actively against stamp duty. Read more
Labour people are starting to come back from their holidays, and they are in a mood little short of despair. Ed Miliband’s “summer of silence” and the criticism it has attracted from some of the party’s biggest beasts have made for a rather gloomy return for many of their MPs and advisers.
Miliband is relying on two events to reset that narrative and re-energise his party: the conference speech and a reshuffle either soon before or soon after conference. Both timings might seem unfair: just before the conference and new shadow ministers don’t have enough time to prepare for interviews and speeches; just after and all the hard pre-conference work is wasted. But such is politics. Read more
The Telegraph has a very interesting story today about Tory plans to change the way they would sign up to a coalition deal in future. In 2010, the leadership decided it wanted to do a deal with the Lib Dems – the rest of the parliamentary party was simply told to get in line.
This contrasted with the way the Lib Dems handled their side of the negotiation, calling a parliamentary meeting to discuss the deal before putting it to a vote of MPs and peers, before holding a special conference of the whole party so members could vote too.
Many Lib Dems have credited this process as the reason their party has been relatively disciplined while in coalition, while many Tory backbenchers have campaigned openly for them to ditch their partners. Read more
If the Tories appear to be gaining traction in the political debate of recent months it may reflect the decision to focus on a small number of core “wedge issues”: immigration, benefits, the economy, the unions. On these the Conservatives know they have an electoral advantage: in contrast to say “NHS” or “jobs”.
That stategy was drawn up at Chequers two months ago at a gathering of senior Conservative figures including David Cameron; Grant Shapps, chairman; and Craig Oliver, head of press.
It was there that the decision was taken to take the gloves off over the Labour links with the unions: the fruits of which could be seen at a bruising session of prime minister’s questions not long before recess began.
There will be more to come on the unions, with Michael Gove, education secretary, to lead the charge on this at the end of the month, I hear. (You may remember that the Read more
It’s not totally unheard of for political donors to spread their largesse over more than one party. (Andrew Rosenfeld, now one of Labour’s most generous benefactors, was previously seen as close to the Conservative party. The property developer and one-time tax exile gave £10,000 to Ken Clarke in 2001 and was even considered a potential Tory Treasurer.)
But today’s donation figures include an unprecedented gem involving the mysterious “Ms Joan L B Edwards”.
Mrs Edwards gave more than half a million pounds in her will after she died in September 2012: spread between both the Tories and the Lib Dems.
According to party sources, her will specified that the money should go towards “whoever Read more
This morning Labour is trying to relaunch its summer after a fairly lethargic first couple of weeks in which the party was knocked sideways by outspoken comments by the previously little known MP George Mudie.
Chris Leslie, the shadow chief secretary, is holding a press event on falling living standards under the coalition, pointing to polling showing 70 per cent of voters believe recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle- and lower-income families.
But the event is unlikely to quell concerns in Labour about the party’s apparent lack of direction. My colleague Jim Pickard reports in this morning’s FT some very revealing comments from a former senior Miliband supporter. Read more
British ministers have been much more reluctant than their American counterparts to call out the Chinese for launching cyber attacks on UK government departments and companies. Barack Obama said in March:
We’ve made it very clear to China and some other state actors that, you know, we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules. And we’ll have some pretty tough talk with them. We already have.
British ministers have been much more reticent to blame China for widespread cyber attacks. But the latest files released from the cache provided by Edward Snowden, the US whistleblower shows that in private, the British security services don’t pull their punches. One document says: Read more
For George Mudie to criticise the Labour leadership may seem easy to dismiss out of hand. After all, who is he?
Labour insiders are brushing off today’s criticism as the kind of thing that bored journalists latch on to on a quiet afternoon during the Commons recess.
Mudie is not exactly a politician of historic distinction, having led Leeds council in the 1980s and having served as a minister in the education department for just one year in 1998/99.
Yet his remarks have caused a big ripple in Westminster because of what he said – not who said it.
He is the first MP for some time to go on the record with an articulate criticism of Ed Miliband, which is all the more striking for appearing to lack malice.
He himself admitted on his BBC interview that he is a “grumpy” and Read more