David Cameron has defied calls for Downing Street to publish a list of Lynton Crosby’s clients amid concerns about the Tory election supremo and his private lobbying business.
The prime minister has in the past called for more transparency with regard to the lobbying industry, saying that sunlight was “the best disinfectant”.
But Mr Cameron has dismissed suggestions that there could be any conflict of interest in having Mr Crosby, an Australian pollster and lobbyist, from working part-time for the Tory party while still advising his private Read more
It was yesterday afternoon while we were about to board a flight from Andrews Air Base in Washington that the pack of journalists following the prime minister were suddenly told to gather for a briefing.
“You’re going to want to hear this,” said a senior Tory source.
He was not wrong. The breaking news – under embargo for 10pm UK time – was that David Cameron had decided after all to publish draft legislation that would enshrine the 2017 EU referendum in law.
The idea must have seemed a political masterstroke: to nip in the bud the latest uprising of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers and PPSs (those barely-noticed ministerial bag carriers who occasionally make news by resigning.)
The Cameron team were aware, however, that the story would eclipse the Read more
I revealed a few weeks ago that half the 2015 candidates picked so far by Labour are from the trade unions, a trend that will raise questions over Ed Miliband’s attempts to rebrand his party. Now some of his own MPs are openly admitting that the unions are dominating the selection process even more than in 2010.
Labour remains dependent on union funding, including from Unite, Unison and the GMB. Since he became leader of the party it has received 81 per cent of its donations from the unions.
Key to the debate is that the rules were recently changed, making it harder for non-union candidates without deep pockets to become a general election candidate. (Unite itself claims on its website that it was responsible for this change, saying its interventions had ‘changed the Labour party rule book’.) Candidates now need to run campaigns for 11 weeks instead of four and send out more mailshots than previously. Read more
The Tories’ recent shift to the right has been attributed to the influence of Lynton Crosby, their new elections adviser, in response to the rise of Ukip. The anti-Brussels party won more than a fifth of the votes in last Friday’s local elections.
There is a certain irony here. I can reveal that Ukip wanted to hire Mr Crosby about a year ago to become their elections supremo. But the asking price, supposedly £350,000 a year – or the equivalent – would have been outside the reach of Mr Farage’s chequebook. (UPDATE: My mole now says it was £750,000, suggesting that one of us can’t read our own notes.) Read more
We brought the news this morning that communities which accept fracking projects could get lower energy bills in an attempt by the government to stop likely resistance to such schemes.
Several options to cajole rural England to accept the contentious drilling schemes are being discussed as ministers prepare to announce that shale gas reserves are much larger than previously estimated.
Fracking has transformed the US energy market, triggering a production boom that pushed gas prices to 10-year lows last year. Read more
There is one statistic that stands out ahead of next week’s local elections: the number of candidates being fielded by the UK Independence Party.
In the wake of Ukip’s big surge in the Eastleigh by-election – where it picked up 28 per cent of the votes – several respected psephologists believe the fringe party is in line for further gains among some of the 2,409 seats being contested across the country.
What is striking is that Nigel Farage has found something like 1,700 candidates for the contest on May 2.
Last time these seats were fielded, in 2009, Ukip put up people in 24 per cent of seats. Now the figure is 72 per cent.
By contrast the Lib Dems have gone from contesting 90 per cent of the seats to 73 per cent.
It’s not hard to see why Ukip might perform well: mid-term blues; the Lib Dems no longer being a “protest vote” party; the popularity of their immigration-EU policies with much of the public.
As others have written repeatedly, many naturally Tory-leaning voters are prepared to use their local or European vote to back Ukip – before returning to the Conservatives Read more
Ukip is winning thousands of votes from the Tories because of the coalition’s controversial plan for a new high-speed rail route: so says Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-Brussels party.
In a recent debate with Tory former cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan – who has fought HS2, which cuts through her constituency – Farage said: “We’re against HS2, which your party’s not, and that’s why we’re getting so many votes in your constituency.”
But this belies the fact that the Ukip manifesto for 2010 called not only for more high-speed rail but no fewer than “three new 200mph-plus high-seed rail lines”.
Where would they be? “This would include a new line between London and Newcastle with a spur to Manchester, a London-Bristol-Exeter line and a linking route via Birmingham”.
In addition, a Ukip government would produce a Hong Kong-style Thames Estuary airport with another “high-speed rail service to London, the UK and the Continent”.
But by 2012 the party appeared to have a change of heart. Its local government manifesto Read more
Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, is urging other unions to join forces to stage a 24-hour general strike in what it privately admits would be an “explicitly political” attack against the government.
Leaders from across the movement will discuss the idea of a general strike later this month at a meeting of the Trades Union Congress’s general council, with members divided over how to respond to the government’s attempts to curb public spending.
Insider say that the preparatory discussions are “incredibly sensitive”. But Unite, which has 1.5m members, has put forward a paper urging the TUC to “prepare for such mass industrial action”.
The document, seen by the Financial Times, suggests that more public sector cuts could “bring public opinion to the boil” and open up a chance for the unions to “give decisive leadership”.
I wouldn’t be surprised if our story from this morning will have wider pick-up in Read more
Countryside campaigners on Wednesday have warned about the “truly irreversible damage” taking place because of an overhaul of the planning system which took effect at midnight last night, urging the coalition to reverse its “charter for builders”.
But senior ministers agreed at yesterday’s weekly cabinet meeting to press ahead with the plans, under which all “sustainable development” must be waved through by any council that has not drawn up new local plans.
A third of local authorities have still not had their plans approved, leaving them open to unwanted building.
Eric Pickles, communities secretary, wants to go further and allow more liberalisation of the planning system as part of the coalition’s attempt to generate economic growth.
Last week’s Budget opened the way for a new “permitted development right” for people to convert retail properties into homes without planning permission – following a similar move to allow office-to-flats conversions.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England warns on Wednesday that the system, called the Read more
With Andrew Marr off sick, his stand-in this morning was Eddie Mair, who proceeded to put Boris Johnson through the most relentless interview the London mayor has ever faced.
Questions from Mair included:
“Aren’t you in fact, making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted? You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”
“But even Conrad Black, your friend. Convicted fraudster, even he says he doesn’t trust you completely.”
Plenty has been said about this skewering on the Twittersphere this morning. Fans of Johnson suggest he came out of it in one piece, given the lack of new accusations. The vast majority of the public will not have seen the programme, although they may see clips elsewhere. Others believe this may mark the point where the wheels start to come off the Boris band-waggon.
Either way, here is a transcript of the key passages for those who missed the event:
EDDIE MAIR: Let me ask you about some of the things that came up in the documentary.
BORIS JOHNSON: Right. I haven’t seen it, so you know …
Mervyn (now Sir Mervyn) King did not cover himself with glory during the credit crunch, preferring to lecture on moral hazard while others were scrambling to prevent financial catastrophe.
Even so, the governor of the Bank of England’s words of warning about government mortgage guarantees, made in August 2008, are fascinating – in the context of Osborne now setting up a new entity to do just that. (Bear in mind that the chancellor and the governor are close allies.)
At the time Gordon Brown was pushing a UK-style Freddie/Fannie through the Crosby mortgage review. (Fannie and Freddie collapsed into US nationalisation only a month later): hat-tip Hannah Kuchler
“On the question of guarantees all I can say is the Federal Reserve, for the last 30 years have been pointing to the great dangers of offering government guarantees to mortgages.
They pointed out that if you offer a government guarantee to a mortgage, remember they spent a very long time trying to press the argument that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not guaranteed by the Federal Government, they could see the risk that if people believed it then they would be able to attract funds more cheaply than any other source, mortgage funding would go through that