For many years, and most noticeably during the tenure of Tony Blair, the UK used to pride itself on acting as a bridge between its partners in the EU and the US.
In the run up to today’s European summit in Brussels, it looked like David Cameron was trying to play the same role. The prime minister struck a powerful note this morning as he entered the Justus Lipsius building, telling journalists he would be there in Ukraine’s “hour of need”, adding:
This matters to people in Britain because we benefit from a world in which countries obey the rules and we also benefit when we enable people like those in Ukraine being able to choose their own future.
Pro-Russian troops in Crimea
As MPs return to Westminster after a tumultuous weekend in Ukraine, recriminations are flying around parliament over who is to blame for allowing Putin to deploy his military forces in Crimea.
For some Tory MPs, the person most at fault is Ed Miliband. By leading his MPs in voting against action in Syria (which would also have meant taking on Russia), he made any western military threat we could issue impotent, they argue. Here, for example, is Sajid Javid, the Treasury minister: Read more
The prime minister surprised the Westminster press corps yesterday when he held a press conference to spell out his action to tackle flooding. It wasn’t just the press conference that surprised – it has been 238 days since his last at Downing Street – but what he said. He told reporters:
Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.
He repeated that pledge at today’s PMQs, promising a string of spending measures to help relieve the burden on families and businesses. They include: Read more
One of the government’s main tax-cutting drives has been to encourage councils to keep tax rises to a minimum. Ministers have done this in two ways: firstly, by giving councils a cash incentive to freeze council tax; and secondly, by forcing any council that wants to raise tax by 2 per cent or more to put it to a local referendum.
Since that policy began, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has been irritated (but perhaps not surprised) to see dozens of councils raising tax by 1.99 per cent – just below the threshold. So recently, as revealed last week in the FT, he began pushing for a lower limit of 1.5 per cent. Read more
Nigel Farage, Ukip leader
It might still be four months away, but attention is beginning to turn to May’s European elections, and especially the role that Ukip is going to play in them. What seems now fairly certain is that the party will come either first or second, pushing the Tories into third, and possibly prompting another bout of soul-searching among the governing party.
Whether it manages to top the ballot or not, Ukip’s likely success will see a host of previously unknown politicians catapulted into positions of power in Brussels. As next year’s general election approaches, these will be the figures we will see appear increasingly on our television screens – but who are they, and what do they tell us about the party?
An extensive study by the FT shows that the party is an interesting mix of people, some young, some old; most from the right, but a few from the left. Some have libertarian instincts, but most are social conservatives. All, of course, are united by a visceral dislike of Europe, and perhaps counter-intuitively, given this is nominally a libertarian party, of immigration too.
This is what we found: Read more
Many furrowed brows today at Lib Dem HQ at the continuing prominence of Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem peer accused of harassing women.
An internal party inquiry, the results of which emerged last night, found there was not enough evidence to take disciplinary action against Rennard, but that there was “credible evidence” he had violated the personal space of the women involved and should be forced to apologise.
This was enough, believe many at the top of the party, to make sure Rennard did not return to the team helping draw up the next Lib Dem manifesto, and possibly even enough to withdraw the whip altogether. Read more
Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.
If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.
This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. Read more
We revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.
In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.
In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more
Today’s PMQs was striking, but not particularly interesting.Ed Miliband decided to split his questions (always a recipe for taking some of the heat out). His first set were focused on the response to flooding over Christmas and New Year.
The Labour leader could have attacked the government for not doing more to get emergency services out in time, or not putting enough pressure on energy companies to restore power quickly. But he didn’t. Apparently seeking to start PMQs off on a calm and consensual note, Miliband began by asking:
Could the prime minister update the house on the number of people affected and what action is being taken now to ensure that areas affected by further flooding are getting the support they need?
During much of 1984, Britain was hit by some of the worst industrial action the country has ever seen, as the National Union of Mineworkers downed tools and upped pickets to resist planned cuts to the coal industry.
Today, we are able to tell the full story of what happened during that tumultuous year with the aid of top-level government papers that have just been released under the so-called “30-year rule”. The main revelation is that, at the depths of the conflict, with the dockworkers also out on strike, Thatcher considered declaring a state of emergency and getting troops to help transport coal across the country to keep power stations running.
But the documents also contain a trove of other fascinating information, which helps us answer more fully than ever before the key questions of the events of one of the most significant years in British history. So here are five questions about the miners’ strike that the new papers help answer: Read more
The last PMQs before a recess is always important for doing what the session is really designed for: crystallising the mood of each side of the House.
Tomorrow MPs will head off to their constituencies for several weeks, where they will be unencumbered by daily Commons business and free of the whips’ influence. It is during these breaks that leaders can become unstable and plots can begin to form, and so it is even more important for the leaders of the two main parties to give their troops something to cheer at this time.
Under these terms, today’s PMQs was a clear victory for Cameron. Read more
Last week, Ed Miliband was beaten by the prime minister after failing to build a clear narrative from his rather scattergun questions. This week he was more disciplined, and had a clear and coherent attack. For some reason however, it didn’t generate the response from Labour MPs you might expect.
The Labour leader decided to lead on the government’s decision to set a cap on the amount of interest payday lenders can charge. It might not have been an obvious attack, given Labour also supports the policy, but Miliband worked it cleverly to his advantage, asking why this sort of market intervention is a good thing, when capping energy energy prices constitutes “Marxism”:
How did he go from believing that intervening in the markets is living in a Marxist universe to believing it is the solemn duty of government?