Jo Johnson

Riots in Bromley? It’s hard to imagine. Yet, last night, a few young people threatened to bring havoc to a borough that traditionally has one of the lowest crime rates in the capital. You can see here an extraordinary video of the looting of the Nugent shopping centre.  Fortunately, the incidents yesterday were limited in scope and isolated. But there is no room for complacency.

I spent part of the afternoon with the Orpington local Safer Neighbourhood Team, which is bracing itself for a repeat performance tonight. Now that the mob has done the capital’s bigger high streets and now that the police are out in force in the city centre, the fear is that secondary targets, such as Bromley, Beckenham and Orpington, will become the next front line.  Read more

Jo Johnson

I am no expert in military logistics, but I was struck by the extraordinary recent deterioration in the performance of the surface route to the Afghan theatre.

Right now, British troops are acutely dependent on our ability to send supplies by sea to Karachi, where they are unloaded and then taken by road through Pakistan. Ahead of this week’s Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office provided me with a briefing based on its detailed report into the Ministry of Defence’s logistics supply chain. This noted that only 15 per cent of consignments shipped by land through Pakistan between 10 December 2009 and 8 December 2010 arrived within the targeted time of 77-87 days, a fair way off the 75 per cent target. Read more

Jo Johnson

The 50p rate – dubbed the “banker tax” – was always going to be a blunderbuss of a weapon with which to punish the guilty men of the UK’s financial services community. But who is it really going to affect? Read more

Jo Johnson

Cold turkey would hardly have been a sensible way for the UK to withdraw aid from India. There are too many DfID programmes on the ground that still need British support, reflecting the fact that the UK (the last time I checked) had a near 30 per cent share of all bilateral foreign aid to the country.  Read more

Jo Johnson

How does the world look from Westminster? Foreign policy is woefully under-scrutinised in the UK, where governments can wage war and sign treaties without reference to parliament, and the limited attention it does receive could arguably be better directed.  Read more

Jo Johnson

As it’s prediction season, here goes… My crystal ball, for what it is worth, foretells political and economic union between France and Germany, perhaps within the next 12-24 months. Europe needs a gamechanger, one that creates an insurmountable firebreak against the speculators. Crises have historically been the motor of European integration and a full union, much like the panicky one Britain offered France in June 1940, might look tempting. It would provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies, finally fulfilling the founding fathers’ dream of “ever closer union”. Read more

Jo Johnson

As it’s Guy Fawkes Day, at the end of a long run of bum-numbingly exhausting late night sittings, the idea of metaphorically blowing up parliament and all its antiquated working practices has a fleeting appeal.  Read more

Jo Johnson

The Commonwealth Games are in crisis and New Delhi wants to know where its friends are. If he wants to show real commitment to the “new special relationship” with India, David Cameron must make sure the English athletics squad turns up all present and correct, with big smiles on their faces. The Scottish team has already announced that it is delaying the departure of its 41 squad members, citing ongoing health and security fears over conditions in the athletes’ village. Now the Welsh have raised the stakes, giving the Delhi organising committee until five o’clock British time this afternoon to provide reassurances – saying that otherwise they might not travel. English officials have said the situation is “on a knife-edge”. Read more

Jo Johnson

Why do 9,000 people in the public sector earn more than the Prime Minister’s £142,500? It would be good to get the Public Accounts Committee, whose role is to scrutinize public spending for value for money across government, stuck into this question.  Read more

Jo Johnson

How much longer will the UK subject its citizens to an extradition regime that acts like a mindless and robotic catapult, flinging people across the Atlantic at the mere whim of US Homeland Security? Read more

Jo Johnson

Pankaj Mishra, writing in The Guardian, says David Cameron’s India delegation seemed to “want little more than safe landing for its Hawk jets and other military hardware”.

Nonsense.

Of the 60 or so delegates, by my count, only four were from the defence industry. Read more

Jo Johnson

There is no political capital to be won defending MPs on expenses. The media is not ready and nor is the public. The pendulum has not swung back. The coalition government does better by trumpeting its plans to do away with large numbers of MPs altogether, ostensibly to “lower the cost of politics”. In today’s prime minister’s questions, however, David Cameron unexpectedly took on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (the body set up in the wake of last summer’s expenses scandal to set policy and process MPs’ claims).

Cameron was responding to cross-party fury that IPSA has not only lumbered parliament with a dysfunctional new computerised system, but also adopted what many MPs regard as a vindictive, petty-fogging and demagogic approach to policy. In a hearing with IPSA chief Sir Ian Kennedy a few days ago, for example, Lib Dem MP Bob Russell reflected the frustration of many at the way a bug-ridden, clunky system is draining parliamentary resources that would otherwise be deployed in the service of constituents. Read more

Jo Johnson

An orgy of internal elections to select committees reached its climax this afternoon with a stunning outcome for members of the new intake. I haven’t yet had time to go through the Labour results but, on the Conservative side, the class of 2010 dominates the membership of even the most prestigious select committees, such as foreign affairs, treasury and public accounts. Whereas almost all candidates from the 2010 intake won a place for their first choice, many older MPs will be disappointed: several committees – including business, innovation and skills – had attracted over 25 candidates for 4 places. Read more

Jo Johnson

This is the hair shirt parliament and MPs will need to lead from the front. Ministers have started the process by axing the limos, one of the toughest cuts so far negotiated. Now, as trailed in the last parliament, it is time for rank-and-file backbenchers to do their bit to fill in the £156bn deficit. The House of Commons Commission, a body run by John Bercow, the speaker, has agreed to cut £12m from the budget for the House in the current year.

This marks the start of what the body claims will be a fundamental review of expenditure, which will deliver further savings over the next three years. The savings to be made this year are 5 per cent more than the Commission had originally planned, and will reduce estimated spending for 2010/11 to £219m.
This action follows the Commission’s decision in December 2009 to cut House expenditure by 9 per cent by the end of 2012/13. Read more

Jo Johnson

For nine Budgets out of 10, financial markets are not the most important constituency. This is the one in 10 that’s different. Facing the largest fiscal deficit of any European country, barring Ireland, it was hardly hyperbole for George Osborne and Tory spinmeisters to call this an “emergency” Budget (even if Treasury mandarins managed somehow to keep the word off the cover and out of the text of the Red Book itself).

This government’s macro-economic strategy hinges on the successful pursuit of tight fiscal and loose monetary policy: the idea is that a credible roadmap for the public finances will deliver long-term interest rates that are lower for longer, thereby underpinning a recovery. If the coalition government fails in this balancing act, a 1937-style return to recession is hardly fanciful, given the scale of public sector demand that is to be sucked out of the economy.

So far, so good. Since May 5, the day before the general election, yields on the benchmark 10 year gilt have fallen from 3.80 per cent to 3.51 per cent at breakfast time on Budget day. Shortly after George Osborne delivered a somewhat stiffer package of spending cuts and tax rises than markets expected, they dropped even further, at one point dipping below 3.40 per cent. Read more

Jo Johnson

There can’t be many words likelier to trigger a heart attack in a new MP than these: “You do realise you’re on the list to make your maiden speech tonight, don’t you?” It was Jeremy Wright, a government whip, breaking unwelcome news: the Speaker had me down to speak earlier than I’d requested in my email to his office. I could be called at any minute.

The House loves nothing more than spontaneous eloquence. But the off-the-cuff effect, of course, takes time. Many maidens are crafted for weeks, then rehearsed in empty committee rooms with 20 foot high and ornately-coffered ceilings that almost replicate the feel of the chamber. In search of the extempore, some prolong the gestation of their inaugural orations for months.

The maiden speech is not just a significant personal moment, but also the biggest set-piece performance of an MP’s parliamentary career. Mine was set for disaster. The speech was still just a half-formed text, far removed from the classics I’d been urged to study, among them Matthew Parris’ 1979 debut, described as “one of the best” by the kind lady who’d posted it to me. Read more

Jo Johnson

From today, I will be periodically providing FT Westminster readers with some jottings from the backbenches. David Cameron has promised to make transparency a watchword of the “new politics” and the purpose of the blog will be to try to help the FT’s political team, led by George Parker, to shed even more light into the murky Gothic interior of the Palace of Westminster.

The postings will be pretty random, in frequency and subject matter. It would be hard for me to compete with FT Westminster bloggers Alex Barker and Jim Pickard on the scoop front – and that, for obvious reasons, is not the idea. But I do hope to bring something of an insider’s perspective onto politics and policy-making in the new parliament. If I fail to do so, my blog will deservedly die a speedy death. Read more