George Osborne in EdinburghWe’ve known for two days that George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were about to rule out sharing the pound with an independent Scotland. What we didn’t know until this morning is that they would be joined by Sir Nick Macpherson, the Treasury’s top civil servant, who has written a letter the likes of which are almost never seen in Whitehall.

Belying the reputation of civil servants as cautious, apolitical, and perhaps occasionally slightly verbose types, Sir Nick has written a short, punchy and withering assessment of Scotland’s chances of forming a currency union with the rest of the UK.

In it he says: Read more

Nick Clegg has moved to strengthen his team in Whitehall with the appointment of Neil Sherlock, a KPMG partner in charge of public affairs, as his “director of government relations”.

Mr Sherlock is one of a new intake of Liberal Democrat special advisers – Spads in the jargon – who have been brought into government to ensure that Mr Clegg’s influence is felt across all areas of government policy.

The KPMG man is the ultimate Lib Dem insider. A former parliamentary candidate, he has written speeches and provided advice for a series of Lib Dem leaders (except Charles Kennedy, with whom he enjoyed frosty relations). His wife, Kate Parminter, is a Lib Dem peer in the Lords. Read more

Margaret Thatcher always had a soft spot for David Young, the businessman who brought some “can do” spirit to the old Department of Trade and Industry.

Baroness Thatcher said of Lord Young: “Other people brought me problems. David brought me solutions.” Read more

David Cameron has arrived in New York’s Penn Station to be given a traditional greeting from Mayor Mike Bloomberg – a hot dog from a street stand on W31st St.

Abdus Salam, the 41 year old vendor, tells the FT that Cameron had his beef frank without any condiments, avoiding the risk of a ketchup photo op disaster. Read more

David Cameron’s decision to take a commercial flight to Washington has brought giggles of surprise from US interviewers and much ribaldry from White House staff accustomed to travelling on Air Force One.

But that is nothing compared with the surprise expressed by his US hosts when they discover that he is making the trip from Washington to New York … on the train. In spite of the fact the cities are linked by an efficient Amtrak service, the idea of a world leader using it is seen by some as astonishing. Read more

UPDATE, early morning, July 22: Simon Fraser’s appointment as new permanent secretary at the Foreign Office was confirmed by David Cameron on the train from Washington to New York last night.

But still no news on the appointment of a high-profile trade minister and nobody on the horizon.

Original post:

Breaking news from Washington as David Cameron prepares to make a speech to Wall Street titans, flying the flag for the City of London and urging them to invest in Britain.

Cameron’s “messianic” approach to drumming up trade for Britain has been hindered by the fact that the government is not very well set up to deliver: notably the prime minister has tried and failed for two months to recruit a high profile trade minister.

I gather that Cameron may soon have an announcement on that front, possibly before he arrives in New York later today. But in the meantime, I gather that another key appointment is imminent.

The word is that Simon Fraser, the urbane permanent secretary at the Department of Business, is about to transfer to the Foreign Office, to beef up that department’s commercial focus. Read more

The heaviest snow to hit the Washington area for years has disrupted Gordon Brown’s hopes for a statesmanlike press conference with Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden, which is now better suited to building snowmen.

The Brown and Obama camp are trying to arrange a separate “press opportunity” in the Oval Office, which – as one British official put it – will leave the prime minister without “flags and podiums” when he appears on the television news. Read more

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William Hague, the Tory foreign affairs spokesman, is rightly concerned about the shipment of Chinese arms which is trying to find its way to Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe, but his grasp of African geography is less certain. Read more

These are dangerous times for the government. Alistair Darling, chancellor, is in serious political trouble and the sound of muttering about his performance can be heard swelling around Whitehall.

Gordon Brown’s spokesman on Tuesday repeated the view that it was "total garbage" that the prime minister had any doubts about the performance of his neighbour. Read more

I’ve been tipping Tony Blair to be the first "president of Europe" since 2002 – when the creation of the job was just a twinkle in his eye – so I’m delighted the former PM is taking soundings about whether the post will be worthy of his political talents. No doubting his self-confidence, is there?

Back in 2002 I remember being told that Mr Blair thought the creation of a full-time president of the European Council – the supreme body of the EU – was the most important thing to get written into the new EU constitution, now rebranded the Treaty of Lisbon. Read more

Five European leaders are meeting on Tuesday night in Downing St to discuss the world’s economic problems. That’s no bad thing, but how much are Mssrs Brown, Sarkozy, Prodi, Barroso and Ms Merkel really going to achieve in talks lasting no more than a few hours?

Kenneth Clarke, whom one might have expected to be sceptical about the whole thing, told Sky this morning that such events are useful, provided they can be kept informal. The former Chancellor says it is important, in an inter-connected world, to know how your counterparts in Europe are going to react to any given event. Read more

Oh dear. Just what Gordon Brown didn’t want to hear. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the new head of the IMF, suggesting that the world needs a big fiscal electric-shock to help it out of its looming economic downturn.

Mr Strauss-Kahn’s view that interest rate cuts alone won’t dig the global economy out of a hole marks a surprise shift in the IMF’s position – normally it is the biggest cheerleader for fiscal consolidation. Read more

Peter Hain’s resignation was inevitable once the police were called in to look into the shambolic financing of his doomed attempt to become Labour’s deputy leader. After coming fifth in the contest (who came sixth? Can’t remember), he must be wishing he hadn’t bothered.

But the big question at Westminster this afternoon is whether Gordon Brown will use this as a chance to beef up his cabinet, which many Labour MPs believe is lacking in heavyweights: people who can take the fight to the Tories. Read more

Watching Gordon Brown in action today at PM’s questions, I couldn’t help thinking he was actually enjoying himself for the first time. The body language was more relaxed, the smile a little less robotic.

He seems to think this clever Goldman’s wheeze on saving the Northern Rock with a government-backed bond issue offers the government an escape route from the whole fiasco and could even end up with the taxpayer making a profit. Read more

Nick Clegg got through probably the most nerve-wracking two minutes of his political career intact after a low-key but thoroughly telegenic debut at prime minister’s questions.

He avoided jokes – you end up looking desparate if nobody laughs. He didn’t try to be too clever. Instead he got away two questions on the government’s response to rising energy prices and fuel poverty. On the telly he looked serious and concerned. And he left the chamber unscathed. Read more

Steve Morgan, who ran Peter Hain’s deputy leadership campaign, spoke today on BBC Radio Wales of arriving half way through and discovering scenes of "absolute chaos".

This tallies. After all, Mr Hain is still trying to work out who gave money to his campaign – and how much – almost six months after he was legally obliged to do so. Read more

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have made an impressive start to 2008 – at least judged by the shambolic standards of the weeks running up to Christmas.

Mr Darling flew back to the Treasury from Edinburgh for a day to give an interview to the FT which set the tone for how he will deal with the fallout of the Northern Rock crisis. Rather than waiting for the Treasury select committee to tell him what to do, this gave the impression he was in control. Read more

Gordon Brown said something today which I have never heard him say before. Sorry.

Referring to the government’s loss of 25m pieces of personal data in the post – described by one security expert as a "starter kid for identity fraud" – the prime minister did not mess around.  Read more

Gordon Brown’s promise to outline his "vision" for Britain after scrapping plans for a 2007 election has raised expectations whenever he makes a new speech and provokes the inevitable question: "Is this it?"

Anyone hoping for a new foreign policy vision in Mr Brown’s speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet in the City on Monday night is likely to have been disappointed. Read more

Gordon Brown has a problem: he has talked about having "a vision for the future" and now he has to deliver. His ludicrous claim that he shelved the planned 2007 election to give him more time to explain his vision – nothing to do with the polls, of course – has put him under more pressure.

His aides are getting exasperated. "He’s setting out his vision all the time," said one. They point to his recent speeches on liberty and education – packed with philosophical musings – as evidence that his vision is there for people who want to see it. Read more