Jim Pickard

George Osborne was poised to make an announcement about the minimum wage at Tory conference last autumn, I’m told by several Whitehall sources. The chancellor changed his mind at the last minute.

In theory, Mr Osborne decided to hold back in order to respect the sanctity of the Low Pay Commission, the independent body which has set the rate for over a decade.

But then again he had no plans to over-ride the commission, I’m told. (Instead his words would have been more about saying that he would welcome a higher rate – if the body recommended it.)

In practice it may just be that the chancellor was beaten to the announcement by Vince Read more

Jim Pickard

Yesterday’s big news was about Cameron promising to keep the pensions “triple lock” if the Tories win a majority government in 2015. (A big if.)

Today’s was about Osborne’s £25bn trap for Labour, dressed up as a promise of fiscal rectitude. (This is the figure of cuts needed in the next Parliament, according to the chancellor.)

More quietly, however, we’ve also had interesting new mood music about the other benefits granted to pensioners – such as free TV licenses – with aides to the prime minister saying he was “attracted” to keeping them after 2015.

This in itself is a big story, even if it is not yet a definitive promise to keep them.

In the past some Tory MPs, including planning minister Nick Boles, have suggested that there should be means-testing for pensioners’ benefits – given that the rest of the welfare system has seen cuts since 2010.

As my colleague John McDermott argues today: “The burden of austerity is being Read more

Jim Pickard

Later this month will see a ballot of 600 local Tories in South Suffolk as to whether Tim Yeo, the former minister, should go forth once more as their candidate in the 2015 general election.

Yeo, chairman of the energy select committee, is not going quietly despite having lost a re-selection vote at the end of November. Read more

Jim Pickard

There was an exchange in the Commons this week between Danny Alexander and former Labour Treasury minister John Healey over the stats in last week’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Healey challenged the chief secretary to the Treasury over a chart in the report (page 5) which shows higher infrastructure investment by the coalition than in the last five years of the previous Labour government. The Labour MP asked Alexander whether he would let the chart be vetted by the UK Statistics Authority or the Office for Budget Responsibility. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband used to hate the Heathrow third runway project so much that he nearly quit as energy secretary towards the end of the Gordon Brown regime in protest.

Now, his aides say that he wants aviation expansion in the South-east and is open-minded about where that should be. One said his position on location is “neutral”. Another senior Labour MP said “all options are now on the table.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Vince Cable, the business secretary, yesterday warned of a danger of house prices “getting out of control” as Whitehall’s official forecasters predicted a near return to the bubble of 2007.

In real terms the market will by 2018 peak at just 3 per cent below the heights last seen six years ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated in new figures produced on Thursday.

The OBR has revised upwards its forecast by some 10 per cent since March, in part because of the projected impact of the coalition’s controversial Help to Buy mortgage scheme.

Annual house price inflation is not expected to return to the giddy pace of the last decade, with in-year rises set to peak at 7.2 per cent in 2015, the OBR suggested.

But the inflation-busting rises from 2013 to 2018 will together add more than 20 per cent to a market that Read more

Jim Pickard

An eagle-eyed reader brings my attention to a curious little amendment that appears to speak volumes about Number 10’s fear of errant backbenchers.

Rewind the clock to this summer when two Tory MPs – John Baron and Peter Bone – put forward an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which turned into a full-scale uprising.

In the end some 130 MPs, mostly Tories, backed the amendment which called for the coalition to legislate for a 2017 EU referendum this side of the general election.

The vote was not technically a “rebellion” because there was no whip by either side. But it was a very vivid expression of Euroscepticism by the Tory benches.

Bear in mind that these MPs still voted against David Cameron even after he had gone Read more

Jim Pickard

Downing Street has rejected claims that David Cameron described environmental levies as “green crap” as the coalition explores ways to minimise the impact of green subsidies on household energy bills.

The prime minister is said to have used the dismissive language to describe the state subsidies which pay for renewables and help the poor cut their fuel use.

The Sun newspaper quoted an unnamed source saying: “The prime minister is going round Number 10 saying: ‘We have got to get rid of all this green crap’.”

Officials said they did not “recognise” the phrase but emphasised that the prime minister had repeatedly promised to roll back to green taxes with an announcement expected in next month’s autumn statement.

The fact that Mr Cameron did not directly deny having used the “crap” phrase underlines Read more

Jim Pickard

We have written before, at great length, about how the lobbying bill is one of the worst piece of legislation put before the Houses of Parliament for many moons.

Even the recent concessions from ministers have failed to quell the dissent, with the FT recently opining: “The retreat is welcome. But it fails to resolve other flaws in a hastily drafted bill which, as it stands, should be rejected.” Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s no secret that economics is far from an exact science. Some would say it isn’t a science at all. Even the intelligentsia at the top of the Bank of England failed to see the financial crash coming, despite all their charts and graphs and post-graduate degrees.

Anyone who still maintains a religious attachment to economic charts should consider this one, published in the Bank of England’s inflation report yesterday. The yellow line you see is “newspaper citations of ‘economic uncertainty’”, based on mentions of the phrase in the FT, Independent and Times. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Conservatives have claimed they did not mean to delete David Cameron’s pre-election speeches from the internet in a move that prompted accusations of Orwellian interference.

At present the Tory website retains an archive of speeches only going back to January 2013. Meanwhile its own transcripts of historic orations by Mr Cameron cannot be found through engines such as Google – except on other websites such as newspapers.

There was speculation on Wednesday that Mr Cameron had authorised a deliberate drive to minimise the reminders of his pro-green, pro-localism speeches from the halcyon days of opposition.

The Tory leaders has struck a more hard-headed note since taking power against a backdrop of a bleak economy and a soaring national deficit.

Other speeches he might want to forget include the 2006 promise of no more top-down Read more

Jim Pickard

What has happened? The government has promised to pay tens of billions of pounds of subsidy to the Chinese and French governments to get a new nuclear reactor off the ground at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The £16bn plant will provide 7 per cent of Britain’s electricity for six decades or longer.

Really? I thought George Osborne was a fan of free markets? You could say it’s very “free market” to encourage investment into one of Britain’s most sensitive industries from almost anywhere – including Beijing. Maybe less so to pay them a guaranteed price through to the middle of the 21st century. Read more