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?
A rather strange and fractious PMQs today. Amid much gnashing of teeth about the allegations surrounding Paul Flowers, the former chair of the Co-Op bank, and his links to Labour, Ed Miliband set off in an unexpected direction at the beginning of his questions. He asked the prime minister about “his campaign against the closure of children’s centres in Chipping Norton”.
It was an intriguing opening and Cameron floundered for a bit talking about “difficult decisions” on children’s centres. Miliband followed up by saying:
He has even signed a petition to save the children’s centre in his own area. Is he taking it right to the top?
Back in October, the FT revealed that Philip Hammond’s bold plan to part-privatise the MoD’s weapons-buying arm were in trouble, with one of the two potential bidders worried about various aspects of the bid.
At the time, the consortium, led by CH2M Hill, was worried about whether the terms on offer were commercially attractive. It was also worried about the status of one of its component companies, Serco, which is under threat of not being able to bid for government contracts in the future after allegations emerged it had overcharged taxpayers for tagging offenders.
Today, the CH2M Hill consortium dropped out altogether, leaving only one bid, led by Bechtel, the US engineering group. The company says the commercial terms on offer were simply not good enough to continue with the bid. Read more
By Roger Beale
When news broke that Serco was one of the companies under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the taxpayer for tagging criminals, the government began its own investigation into the company, during which it is banned from winning new Whitehall contracts.
Depending on the result of the government probe, the company faces the threat of not being able to win any contracts in the future at all: something, incidentally that would cripple government plans to outsource defence procurement.
But figures revealed by the FT this morning show that whatever happens, the company will remain an integral part of the defence machinery until well into the 2020s, doing everything from training RAF pilots to building nuclear weapons. Read more
The Govan shipyard
This morning, BAE confirmed what had been trailed heavily last night: the company is to shut down the shipbuilding yard at Portsmouth and focus instead on Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde. The company is consulting on cutting 1,775 jobs across the UK as it adjusts to future life without the massive contract to build the UK’s two aircraft carriers.
This could have been a difficult moment for the coalition. Large-scale job losses can cause devastation for local communities and economies, and the political consequences are even greater when the government is responsible for those jobs in the first place.
Ministers on the other hand, argue the job losses were inevitable – and they are right. Read more
In the wake of the Labour party conference, hacks returned from Brighton with one question for Tory advisers: how will you counter Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze?
We won’t, came the reply. We don’t want to get into a micro-battle about who has the best giveaways for the public on cost-of-living. We will keep the focus on the big picture, on the nascent economic recovery – how that is the only thing that can sustain rising living standards and only we can be trusted to safeguard it.
That policy made sense, and was stuck to for a few weeks at least. During his conference speech, the prime minister resisted the temptation to promise a big giveaway, or really, any significant policy whatsoever. His critics said it was lacklustre, his supporters said it perfectly matched the tone of “steady as she goes”. Read more
Yesterday’s pledge by David Cameron to “roll back green levies”, made in the heat of PMQs, apparently caught his coalition partners by surprise. While the government had been discussing reducing certain levies, the Lib Dems had not agreed to anything specific and did not expect it to be made public.
This morning, Clegg decided to seize the initiative. Clearly irritated by the prime minister’s decision to float policies without checking them, he decided to float his own idea, as anathema to the Tories as reducing green measures is to the Lib Dems – raising taxes.
He told the Today programme: Read more
Yesterday the Treasury announced ten rural towns that it is putting forward for consideration to receive five pence off fuel duty. Given the fact that these towns could come from anywhere in the UK, you might expect the majority to come from England, with a few in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But no. Of the ten places chosen, seven are in the Scottish Highlands, where Alexander himself is from. What’s more, eight are in seats held by Liberal Democrats – two towns are in his own constituency and four in those of Charles Kennedy, the party’s former leader.
Here is the full list: Read more
Back in 2011, the FT broke the news that the MoD was looking to do something no other country in the world has done: privatise its procurement arm.
You can understand why the government felt this was necessary: buying weapons and equipment for British troops has often gone terribly wrong in the past – just look at the saga of the aircraft carriers with no planes to land on them.
The idea is being pushed by Bernard Gray, a senior civil servant (and former FT reporter) in the MoD. Gray wants a particular model of privatisation, whereby the public would own the company that buys weapons on behalf of British forces, but private companies staff and run it. This model, known as a Goco, would run in the same way the British Olympics Authority did.
But the plan is starting to unravel. Two years after it was first floated, detailed negotiations between the government and two consortia competing to run the new company are starting to break down. Read more
At his 2011 conference speech, Ed Miliband argued there were two kinds of business: “predators” and “producers”. The speech was not well received, not least because the bluntness of the message was not even backed up by any concrete examples of companies that fell into either category. Miliband’s attacked was drastically weakened by the fact that he was not willing to name any specific targets it was aimed at.
Well now he has. Last week, the Labour leader told the FT that SEE, the energy company that is raising bills by 8.2 per cent, was engaging in “predatory behaviour”. Today at PMQs, he went even further – but even more interestingly, he argued against one of the central tenets of free-market capitalism.
Arguing against SSE’s action, Miliband said: Read more