Monthly Archives: September 2013

Elizabeth Rigby

Tim Loughton on Saturday made an astonishing attack on Sarah Teather, accusing the former families minister of not “really believing in family” as he remarked that she “certainly didn’t produce one of her own”.

Mr Loughton, who worked with Ms Teather in the education department before they both lost their jobs in last year’s reshuffle, made the remarks in a debate on promoting the family at the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor.

He told the audience that Ms Teather, who has announced she is stepping down as a MP in the next election, was a “huge disappointment” in office.

“The person who was actually in charge of family policy amongst the ministerial team at the DfE was Sarah Teather. Which was a bit difficult because she doesn’t really believe in family. She certainly didn’t produce one of her own. So it became a bit of a family-free zone. I think that is a huge disappointment,” he said.

One Lib Dem minister on Monday described his remarks as “shocking”.

Mr Loughton made the remark as he was discussing the problems he had promoting marriage and family within coalition government, clearly annoyed at the Lib Dems opposition to marriage tax breaks — a policy that his party has finally got the government to back in return for getting the gay marriage bill through parliament.

His remarks in a session on “marriage and the family –how do we hold onto the family, in Read more

Jim Pickard

Britain has spent more than £33bn on military campaigns overseas over the last 20 years according to the government’s own data – with the vast majority of that money spent on the Afghan intervention.

The debate over what to do in Syria in recent weeks has focused mainly on the human and political costs: both of intervening and not intervening. More than 600 British troops have died during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advocates of action have argued that it would have saved countless Syrian lives.

But with Britain in the grip of fiscal “austerity” – and more spending cuts seen as inevitable in the coming years – the cost of further military actions would be relevant.

The public have been consistently opposed to Syrian intervention, with fewer than one in five voters believing Britain should join the US in strikes according to ICM.

David Cameron, in the August 29 Syria debate, said he was aware of the “deep public scepticism” about war, saying it was “linked to the difficult economic times people have had to deal with.”

Ministers have never put any figure on how much an intervention in Syria might have cost. Past guidance by governments on military action have often been an under-estimate.

Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis, says there is usually a “conspiracy of optimism” Read more

Kiran Stacey

“Given his tendency to treat rebellion like a reluctant bather inching his way into the sea at Skegness, it made sense to push him right in at the outset, on the grounds that he’d run straight back to his towel, and not try again for at least six months.”

These words were written by Damien McBride, the Gordon Brown spinner, about David Miliband. (I would link to his blog but he’s taken it down – almost as if he has a book coming out.)

But they could easily have been written by anyone from team Clegg about Vince Cable, who this morning backed down from his overnight threat to rebel against the leadership on the economic motion that has just been debated at Lib Dem conference. Read more

Kiran Stacey

As we head towards next week’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, the party’s big beasts are making themselves visible, lining up to point out the great Lib Dems successes of the last three years, and more importantly, to attack their opponents.

One thing that is worth watching is who is attacking which opponent. Over the last two days, two prominent Lib Dems have given very different interviews to the New Statesman which help crystallise a battle that might yet determine which government we have in 2015.

In the left corner (as it were), there is Tim Farron, who told George Eaton thisRead more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron

This brief stint when parliament returns from its summer break only to depart again two weeks later for party conferences is a slightly strange innovation. Its main purpose is to help the government get through its agenda (the lobbying bill is being pushed through parliament at the moment, for example), but it also helps set the mood of all three parties as they head towards their annual get-togethers.

For a leader who has enjoyed a relatively good summer, it is a chance to use that as a rallying point and gain extra momentum before conference. For one who has had a difficult one, the emphasis must be on scoring a couple of quick hits to give the troops some hope at least.

Ed Miliband has had a difficult summer, as a complete lack of direction from Labour HQ saw the government dominate the news agenda. But he was given a reprieve in the form of the prime minister’s botched Syria vote, which made it appear briefly that Miliband was more influential in forming foreign policy than the prime minister. Read more

Jim Pickard

Labour and the Tories are both already taking some credit for the fast-evolving situation at the United Nations, where Russia is seeking an initiative to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.

The rapid diplomacy in New York has seen the US put on hold plans to take military action in response to the chemical weapons attack last month that Washington claims killed more than 1,400 people.

So, presuming that Syria does go ahead and hand in its chemical weapons – which is a big if – whose position is vindicated: David Cameron or Ed Miliband?

(The negotiations are still on a tripwire with Moscow and Washington disagreeing over whether to maintain the threat of military action against Damascus.)

Don’t be surprised if the counter-arguments come into sharp focus at prime minister’s questions today.

David Cameron will claim that only the threat of military strikes against the Assad regime Read more

Jim Pickard

Unions are likely to keep their substantial voting powers in internal Labour decisions indefinitely after Ed Miliband’s spokesman played down the idea that these reforms were ever likely to take place.

Mr Miliband is currently pushing through reforms which will end the automatic affiliation of 3m union members to Labour, instead inviting them to sign up to the party individually.

That reform is likely to see a plunge in the number of union members paying small subscription fees to Labour every year.

As a result some party insiders had raised the prospect of a reduction in the 33 per cent Read more

Jim Pickard

The unions seem very angry at Ed Miliband’s proposed funding reforms. Why would Labour want to alienate its comrades?

Ed Miliband won the leadership as a direct result of the votes of union members, heavily encouraged by their general secretaries. Proving that he is not “Red Ed” is seen by some aides as a tactical necessity. Read more

Emily Cadman

(c) PA Mr Thompson giving evidence

Senior BBC figures are appearing before MPs on the Public Accounts Select Committee facing questions about pay offs given to departing executives. Former director general Mark Thompson has accused the trust which oversees the BBC of “fundamentally misleading” Parliament over severance payments at an earlier hearing.

Also set to appear are Marcus Agius, former chairman of the BBC Executive Board Remuneration Committee, Lord Patten, chairman, BBC Trust, Anthony Fry, BBC Trustee, Sir Michael Lyons, former trust chairman, Lucy Adams, BBC HR director, and Nicholas Kroll, a director of the BBC Trust

By Lina Saigol and Emily Cadman 

Kiran Stacey

Ed MilibandThis weekend, a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed Labour with a 10-point lead over the Tories. After a bruising summer for Ed Miliband, during which he has been accused of floundering and letting the coalition dictate the news agenda, this was welcome news in the Labour camp.

The polls have been steady for a long time now, giving Labour a lead of somewhere between 3 and 10 points (largely depending on where Ukip are – more of which later). Given the party probably only needs a two-point lead to win an overall majority, the party looks fair set. At least, that’s the argument of long-time Ed supporter Mehdi Hasan, who argued last weekRead more

Jim Pickard

Ten out of the 12 towns picked for a “Portas Pilot” high street makeover have seen a fall in occupied retail units in the last year in a stark sign of the worsening state of Britain’s town centres.

Mary Portas, the retail “guru” who carried out a review of high streets for the coalition, admitted the statistics as she was quizzed by MPs on Monday.

“That is happening across the country, that is the tsunami we saw coming,” she told the communities select committee. “The big chains are not going to be on the high street in the way they were before.”

Major retailers would still want to have outlets in major shopping centres and prime high streets: but they had deserted “secondary” and “tertiary” high streets and were never coming back, she said.

The first wave of 12 Portas Pilot towns were awarded government support and a share of a £1.2m fund called the High Street Innovation Fund. They included Bedford, Croydon, Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed MilibandWhen Ed Miliband was deliberating last week on the approach to take for Thursday’s vote on military strikes against Syria, he kept his team very tight. Miliband, Stewart Wood, Douglas Alexander, Tim Livesey (his chief of staff) and Hilary Benn (the former development secretary) were the inner circle. Others were not necessarily deliberately excluded, but simply not present when the key decisions were being made.

Over the weekend, many of those others – especially the Blairites – began to express disquiet at the result. Ben Bradshaw, the former minister, said the result was “not what any of the main parties or their leaders wanted”. Jim Murphy, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said: “There is some unease about the outcome off the vote and I share it. It’s not what I wanted.” Read more