One of the biggest measures the chancellor is expected to set out is a freeze in a tax on fossil fuels called the “carbon price floor”. Read more
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One of the biggest measures the chancellor is expected to set out is a freeze in a tax on fossil fuels called the “carbon price floor”. Read more
This interview with Tony Benn was never published by Weekend FT:
Tony Benn has not been chatting for long when my right hand begins to ache and I regret leaving my dictaphone at home.
The 83-year old has led the conversation through the Iraq War, training as a pilot in Rhodesia, Alan Greenspan, John Bolton and Herbert Asquith.
We have only been going for ten minutes or so. A cup of tea, balanced on a wooden stand in the corner of Benn’s living room, remains untouched as I scribble away.
Mr Benn has agreed to meet for a “Lunch with the FT” interview but asked do it at his house over tea rather than a restaurant.
The note pad on my lap is filling with reams of scrawled shorthand as my pen struggles to keep pace with Benn’s fruity vowels.
The voice, reminiscent of 1940s broadcasters, is one trademark of this most reknown of British politicians. Another is his pipe, from which he emits streams of tobacco smoke in my direction.
Some would say that Benn, former flag-bearer for the left-wing, has never stopped fighting a series of lost causes – from unilateral nuclear disarmament to the nationalisation of British industry.
Even now he is at it again, writing to all MPs urging them to vote for a referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. It probably won’t happen, but that’s not the point. Benn opposed the UK’s Common Market membership in the 1975 referendum and will not give up the fight.
The man’s energy is impressive. On the day we meet he is due to attend a meeting of the Stop the War Coalition, of which he is president, ahead of a demonstration at the weekend. He is meanwhile putting together a guest speech to the Scottish Parliament.
He is a natural orator. The opinions come spilling out, sometimes in an ordered fashion, at other times in a jumble of inter-connected thoughts.
Carbon trading? Dreadful idea. The troops in Afghanistan? They should all be called back, like Prince Harry. Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama? Definitely Obama.
Not that Benn is entirely self-centred. Most interviewees, especially politicians, show little more than a cursory interest in the person they are talking to. Why bother, if you might never see the journalist again?
By contrast, he has done his homework on Google: “I see you worked at the Western Daily Press in the 90s,” he beams as I arrive at the door of his house on Holland Park Avenue, in one of London’s most expensive areas.
Later, he comments: “I saw that you won a prize last year?” I know I shouldn’t succumb to this flattery but the effect is disarming.
He offers tea or coffee, shows me into a living room filled with old furniture and paraphernalia – ranging from a Toby jug in his image to old miners’ lamps – and swiftly appears with a tray of hot drinks. His hands tremble as he pours my tea.
There are busts of Keir Hardie and Karl Marx, a mug (”Labour and Proud of It”) and a piano which he cannot play. “It’s a bit of a museum,” he says, faux-apologetically.
I lean back in my chair to avoid the fug of smoke and ponder Benn’s status as a political hero to the most unlikely of people.
Previously I had sieved through Benn’s press cuts. Recent profiles had all been glowing, Read more
The massive industrial dispute at Grangemouth refinery in Scotland last autumn prompted David Cameron to launch an inquiry into trade union tactics.
The prime minister said he had appointed Bruce Carr, an eminent QC – and industrial relations expert – to look into whether the law needed to be tightened up to prevent “harassment” and “intimidation” by union officials.
That move came after claims that a “mob” of Unite staff had gone to the house of a manager at the Ineos-owned Grangemouth refinery during the height of the dispute.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, insisted the inquiry was not politically motivated, arguing that such tactics had no place in industrial relations.
Protest should not be allowed to develop “into intimidation and clearly inappropriate activity,” with managers cast as “the enemy“, Mr Maude said.
Yet Vince Cable strikingly argued at the time that the inquiry should look at malpractice by unions – but also by employers, for example in the blacklisting scandal.
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem deputy prime minister, also insisted that the inquiry should examine “irresponsible business practices” as well as union misdemeanors.
Fast-forward four months and little appears to have happened with the inquiry, despite Read more
It was not long ago that a senior figure in the Miliband camp was claiming that the Labour leader had never described his funding reforms as a Clause 4 moment.
“Why would he? Clause 4 was about Labour’s aims and values,” that person told the FT. “This is about how we organise, how we relate to people outside the political elite and how we finance ourselves. Clause 4 did not cost us a penny. This will.”
That was two weeks ago.
Now, by contrast, Miliband is saying that the changes will be “bigger than Clause Four in its impact on the way it will change politics.”
The jury is still out on what the long-term impact of the reforms will be. No one could possibly argue that the system is not a move towards greater democracy in the way that some decisions (but not all*) are taken inside Labour.
Yet, as I’ve previously explained, there is one scenario where the union barons have greater power than before in their ability to dispense cash to Labour – or withhold it: eventually.
One thing which people have not quite twigged yet, meanwhile, is the impact of the changes in the short-term. Read more
There is a fascinating piece in the Times today looking at how many of the seats hit by flooding are marginal constituencies. It concludes that a disproportionate number of marginals have been affected, in particular Lib/Tory two-ways in the southwest.
Of the 40 most marginal seats held by the Tories, 15 have been hit by flooding, writes deputy political editor Sam Coates. Of the 20 most marginal LibDem seats, 12 have been flooded. By contrast hardly any vulnerable Labour areas have been hurt by the recent weather. Read more
Sir Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, has concluded that the government may have given a misleading impression of how much it has invested in various infrastructure schemes – including flood defences.
The latest survey still points towards a “no” vote in September when the Scots get their historic chance to vote for independence from the United Kingdom. Support for the status quo has remained steady at 42 per cent, according to the survey by TNS BMRB of 1,000 people. Read more
By Andrew Bounds
The Yorkshire Post, which opened the curtains on goings-on at Thirsk and Malton Conservative association, quotes one source who dubbed it “our very own Falkirk”, a reference to Labour’s attempts to influence candidate selection in the Scottish town.
The charge that unions unknowingly signed up members of a selection committee wounded Labour leader Ed Miliband. In James Herriot country the allegation is that the local association “co-opted” people to pack the executive committee and deselect Anne Read more
David Cameron has today thrown his weight behind the small but growing trend of “reshoring” – or returning production from overseas to theUK.
Speaking in Davos, the prime minister said he was setting up a government advisory service to help companies that want to reshore. The service, “Reshore UK”, will offer advice on questions such as locations. Read more
Last October, at the height of the political row over energy bills, we reported on the growing concerns of senior business people (including the CBI) about the impact on Britain’s future infrastructure.
The coalition was engaged in an attempt to rein back bills in a direct reaction to Ed Miliband’s promise of a 20-month price freeze.
The most interesting was Sir John Armitt, former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, who told me that Britain needed long-term investment and policy to get energy projects off Read more
Workers with savings who lose their jobs after fewer than four years in employment could lose their automatic entitlement to out-of-work benefits as a result of Labour’s proposals to strengthen the contributory element of the welfare system.
Rachel Reeves, shadow welfare secretary, has floated plans to give more money to jobseekers who have been working for longer in an attempt to restore the Beveridge principles of the welfare state. Read more
I’ve looked through Labour’s manifesto from 1979 and it looked more than vaguely familiar:
There are frequent mentions of “living standards”.
Labour will promise to take great care to “protect working people and their families through the hardships of change.”
Government DOES have a role in creating employment, limiting price rises, and helping industry – contrary to what the right wing believes.
Foremost in the party’s aim is to “keep a curb on inflation and prices” and help “men and women struggling with low pay”.
Labour believes that “fair earnings for working people” should be put ahead of the “demands of private profit.”
And then I looked at the specific policies and noticed rather a few which have been adopted by Ed Miliband’s Labour in opposition.
Strengthening and extending consumer protection.
Setting up “job creation programmes”.
Bank reform: “The banking sector would benefit from increased competition.” Read more
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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