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.
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”.
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:
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:
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.
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:
Despite the protestations of those close to Ed Miliband, yesterday’s Labour reshuffle looked very much like a cull of the Blairites. Jim Murphy, Ivan Lewis, Stephen Twigg and Liam Byrne, figures associated closely with Tony Blair, were all demoted. For someone like Jim Murphy, who had been told what a good job he was doing by the leadership, that came as a surprise to say the least.
So it was no surprise when Dan Hodges, the Telegraph blogger, wrote this morning:
The biggest impact will be on Labour’s fragile, and mythical, unity. Until now the remaining Blairites in Labour’s ranks have been content to sit back and wait for Ed Miliband to lose the 2015 election, then pick up the pieces afterwards. They will see today as an act of war. Miliband has signalled there is no place for them in his party, and they will respond accordingly.
Ed Miliband made one of his earliest passages in today’s conference speech a paean to the green economy. Having reportedly forgotten to mention it in last year’s similar no-note speech, the Labour leader made sure he got it in early this time.
He told the conference:
You see some people say, including George Osborne that we can’t afford to have an environmental commitment at a time like this. He’s wrong, we can’t afford not to have an environmental commitment at a time like this.
One of the interesting things about the new fixed-term parliamentary system is that it gives leaders a time period of several years in which to frame a narrative. Before 2010, parties existed on a constant war-footing, ready to go to the polls at any time if the circumstances dictated it.
Now, those both in opposition and government know that the election is years away and they can wait before going into election mode. That, coupled with the fact that most of the coalition’s central policy platform is now under way, gave Nick Clegg a rare chance to be circumspect today.
We were told that the Lib Dem leader’s conference speech would be “his most personal ever” – usually words that make the stomach turn. But for once, this part of his speech was handled well, if a little too lengthily. He told the hall:
David Laws stood up this morning and reminded the Lib Dem conference about the first party conference he went to, in 1994. That gathering was quite a bit more turbulent than the last week has been, he reminded delegates:
Some of you may well remember it : a debate on legalising drugs, then another backing provision of state regulated brothels; followed shortly by a row over plans to abolish the monarchy, all culminating in Paddy Ashdown doing what the media called “storming off the stage.”.
This week has been characterised more by a series of set-piece showdowns between Nick Clegg and either his members or Vince Cable, almost all of which he has won. One interpretation of this is that the Lib Dem leader has moved his party decisively to the right, and that they are now a serious party of government willing to accept the compromises that the leadership says come with that.
“Given his tendency to treat rebellion like a reluctant bather inching his way into the sea at Skegness, it made sense to push him right in at the outset, on the grounds that he’d run straight back to his towel, and not try again for at least six months.”
These words were written by Damien McBride, the Gordon Brown spinner, about David Miliband. (I would link to his blog but he’s taken it down – almost as if he has a book coming out.)
But they could easily have been written by anyone from team Clegg about Vince Cable, who this morning backed down from his overnight threat to rebel against the leadership on the economic motion that has just been debated at Lib Dem conference.