Elizabeth Rigby

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson was given short shrift from the prime minister today when she asked David Cameron whether the following statement was true:

The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either

The prime minister told the MP for Washington and Sunderland West to celebrate the fact Nissan is building a new car in Britain rather that focusing on “whatever nonsense” she had read out.

That “nonsense” actually came from his own benches in the form of the rebellious and outspoken Nadine Dorries – she made the comments to my colleague Kiran Stacey this week when asked to discuss child benefit. Hers is not a lone voice: Mark Pritchard, MP for the Wrekin, also made similar remarks to the FT about the prime minister a few days ago. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

At the start of the week, there seemed to be a general consensus among politicians that Stephen Hester was right to turn down his £1m RBS bonus but the treatment of Sir Fred Goodwin has sparked unease even among the political class, unsettled that due process has been cast aside to make a populist point.

If that is how the politicians are feeling, imagine how his de-robing has gone down within business circles. The hounding of Hester and demonisation of the former RBS chief has unnerved other chief executives of big FTSE companies, frustrated about the anti-business vernacular emerging from government as well as the opposition benches.

One FTSE chief executive said government’s handling of Goodwin had been akin to a “political drive-by shooting” and played to the gallery. Another said that this sort of “personalised, totemic targeting” was vindictive and would serve only to make business leaders withdraw from public life. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Nick Clegg yesterday made a very public display of engagement with business over Europe as the deputy prime minister convened a business breakfast with Business For New Europe, a pro-single market group. Mr Clegg, flanked by Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne David Laws, wanted to get the message across that he had dusted himself down and was ready to begin work on rebuilding relations on the continent after a bruising week for Britain.

But beyond the photo shoot and crafted media message lines, was a second, more exclusive meeting between Mr Clegg and the director-generals of key lobby groups. This meeting wasn’t briefed out but was apparently a quite detailed debate about tactics going forward.

“We pooled intelligence and talked about how big inward investors want

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Elizabeth Rigby

Mark Field, the Tory MP for the City and Westminster, and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, make an unlikely pairing. But both men yesterday came out and attacked the government’s sale of Northern Rock to Virgin Money, asking whether it was the right time to strike such a deal against the backdrop of choppy markets.

Both wondered whether George Osborne might have extracted more than the £747m on completion of the sale — total proceeds could rise to just over £1bn over five years — had he waited a little longer. Both men also asked whether the government had fully explored the idea of the bank being turned into a mutual.

(Meanwhile Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott has put down some parliamentary questions asking if the Treasury have made it a condition of the deal that full British tax must be paid on all profits of Northern Rock and all dividends and capital gains received by the consortium.)

Others were more realistic on Thursday, with Lord Myners, the former Labour City minister, telling the Financial Times that his was a “very good price” to have achieved in Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Parliament’s long summer recess should be consigned to history and a November half-term break introduced permanently, as MPs on the procedure committee try to make life as an MP a little more family-friendly.

After months on consultation, the backbench committee which counts Jacob Rees-Mogg as a member has recommended that MPs cut short summer recess and instead add a half-term break to their calenders in  November or go for a more radical shake-up where Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

After painful months of matchmaking UKTI have officially announced which ministers will be paired with whom as the trade promotion body looks to inject a litle more commerical prowess into Whitehall.

The scheme pairs top exporters and inward investors with key ministers to make sure that special companies are well looked after. So far six ministers – spread between business, energy and media departments – have been appointed abassadorial roles with 38 companies between them. Jeremy Hunt is getting Microsoft, Google and Facebook, while Vince Cable with look after manufacturer Tata and the oil giants.

The scheme is designed to give key companies a “seamless ‘one-stop’ service in their dealings with Whitehall. It would well be worth an audit in a few months time to see if Lord Green’s scheme lives up to the billing. Expect more ministers and companies to get involved in the coming months as Lord Green extends the scheme.

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Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron really is trying to push this female friendly line.

On the eve of his ‘Women in Business’ event at Downing Street, and less than 48 hours after his announcement that he is going to make forced marriages illegal, the prime minister is now pushing plans to change rules on royal succession. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

I wrote a piece today on Labour’s attempts to exploit the Tories’ failure to connect with women voters. The piece highlights the coalition’s failure to help low-paid women cope with childcare as a major issue for the working mother. But during my research, another issue was brought up by Tory women: David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance.

It may be the Tory leader’s totemic ‘family’ policy but it is exactly the sort of scheme that chimes well with his old-style grassroots but does little to endear the party to the plight of the working couples.

Under the scheme as it was outlined before the election, a married couple only benefits if one person stays at home since the policy is based on one member of the couple being able to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner to reduce the ‘family tax bill’. Eligible couples where the main earner has an annual income of between £7,300 and £42,000 will be £150 better off. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Nestled amongst the yellow revellers at CentreForum’s Lib Dem bash late last night was none other than Greg Clark, the Tory localism and cities minister.

Mr Clark, enjoying a glass of red wine and chatting to adoring Lib Dems, had come up to conference to fly the flag of coalition – and take part in a CentreForum debate with Ed Davey, Lib Dem employment minister on ‘Next steps for localism’.

It was not entirely alien territory for the cities minister: Greg Clark used to be a member of the SDP – he went to the last SDP party conference 23 years ago. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

MPs are currently debating whether charities who carry out abortions should also be allowed to offer patients counseling over whether to proceed with a termination.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries, together with Labour backbencher Frank Field, have tabled an amendment to the health bill saying that the likes of Marie Stopes should not be allowed to give advice on the basis that, as providers of abortions, they cannot be neutral.

It is a charge that has infuriated the pro-choice lobby, which is furious that womens’ health charities such as Marie Stopes have been tarnished as abortion peddlars – particularly since a significant proportion of women who do go for counselling in their clinics do not in the end have an abortion. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg in July 2011

Conference season is nearly upon us and Nick Clegg is flexing his liberal muscles as he limbers up to engage with party activists. Writing in the Guardian, the Liberal Democrat leader issues a strident defence of human rights laws in the face of growing clamour from David Cameron’s lot to water down legislation that emanates from Europe. Incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law is a “hugely positive step”. Many Tory backbenchers would be inclined to disagree.

It is all part of Clegg’s attempt to carve out more of a Lib Dem voice within the heart of government following his painful drubbing at the polls in May. And the evidence suggests that such broadsides are beginning to pay off: this month he enjoyed an uptick in approval ratings among the party, after hitting all-time lows at the beginning of the year. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

It may be the dead of August, but the worst riots London has seen in over two decades has awoken MPs from their summer lethargy as they prepare to descend on Westminister tomorrow for an emergency debate. Taking a lead from David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, some are even cutting short their holidays to come back.

And one airline is taking its civic duty in this respect very seriously: step forward EasyJet. It may not be known for its customer service — my recent trip to Barcelona via Luton airport was pretty dreadful — but the airline has taken on this particular task with gusto, setting up a helpline dedicated to flying MPs home. The airline tells my colleague Mark Odell that it decided to set up the service after three MPs contacted the company on Tuesday within an hour of Cameron’s historic parliamentary recall — his second in two months. It says so far 60-70 MPs have got in touch.