David Cameron

The Freedom of Information Act has a clause which allows public authorities to ignore a request for information “if the request is vexatious”. It says little about what members of the public can do if they encounter vexatious government departments.

The Cabinet Office – which includes the prime minister’s office – seems now to be openly refusing to comply with the transparency law, especially when it comes to the person of the prime minister. His courtiers seem to regard FoIA requests as lèse-majesté, and to regard their job as being to fight transparency. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Traditional roles were reversed at today’s PMQs. Cameron pulled the ingenious trick of almost entirely ignoring what Ed Miliband asked (it was about school places). He attacked instead on the news that Unite have apparently tried to unfairly influence the outcome of a Labour candidate selection process in Falkirk.

The attacks were clumsily crowbarred in, but that will not matter when it comes to replaying the clips on television tonight. Here was one example: Read more

Kiran Stacey

HS2 protest signThe planned high speed rail project from London to the midlands and the north is starting to look very uncertain indeed.

After the news last week that the estimated costs have spiked by £10bn since the beginning of the year, we then revealed in the FT that the government’s cost/benefit analysis assumed that no one would work on a train, increasing the apparent benefit of getting to your destination more quickly. Another chunk was taken out of the expected returns.

Now it seems that, having proposed the scheme in the first place, Labour is also getting cold feet. Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary who does not usually have much truck for nimbyism, launched a bitter attack on the project in this morning’s FT. He writes: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Job CentreThe government has set great store by its £5bn plan to get people who have been unemployed for a long time back into work. David Cameron has called it “the biggest and boldest programme since the great depression”.

Expensive though the scheme sounds, it is actually much cheaper than its predecessor, Labour’s Future Jobs Fund. The problem is, it isn’t working.

Figures out today show the programme has improved since last year, when providers were way off hitting their minimum performance targets – but not enough. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Trident missileGeorge Osborne has been touring the TV and radio studios this morning talking about the deals he has managed to strike with some of the smaller government departments for how they are going to cut their budgets in 2015/16. Talking about the settlements made with departments including Justice, Energy and Communities, the chancellor told the BBC:

We are now about 20 per cent of the way there with a month to go. I don’t think any chancellor in history has made this much progress with a month to go.

Osborne still has a huge amount to achieve in the next month, particularly in the face of intransigence from big departments such as the MoD and the Home Office. But in the middle of the spending round process, another decision on a massive item of government spending will also come a step closer. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Campaigners for equal marriageAt around 8pm last night, someone in Sir George Young’s office phoned someone in Ed Miliband’s office. Not enough Tories are going to vote against the amendment from Tim Loughton intended to wreck the gay marriage bill, the person explained. Labour would have to vote against or risk the bill being derailed.

Ed Miliband agreed, and encouraged his MPs to do the same. In the end, the amendment was defeated, but only thanks to Labour’s action. So it was no surprise to see headlines such as that in the Guardian this morning, which readRead more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has defied calls for Downing Street to publish a list of Lynton Crosby’s clients amid concerns about the Tory election supremo and his private lobbying business.

The prime minister has in the past called for more transparency with regard to the lobbying industry, saying that sunlight was “the best disinfectant”.

But Mr Cameron has dismissed suggestions that there could be any conflict of interest in having Mr Crosby, an Australian pollster and lobbyist, from working part-time for the Tory party while still advising his private  Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Tories have just published their draft EU referendum bill. Most of it is fairly meaningless technicalities. But the proposed wording is interesting. The party plans to ask voters:

Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?

Referendum questions are usually a source of tense, if technical political debate. The two things do watch out for are: Read more

Jim Pickard

It was yesterday afternoon while we were about to board a flight from Andrews Air Base in Washington that the pack of journalists following the prime minister were suddenly told to gather for a briefing.

“You’re going to want to hear this,” said a senior Tory source.

He was not wrong. The breaking news – under embargo for 10pm UK time – was that David Cameron had decided after all to publish draft legislation that would enshrine the 2017 EU referendum in law.

The idea must have seemed a political masterstroke: to nip in the bud the latest uprising of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers and PPSs (those barely-noticed ministerial bag carriers who occasionally make news by resigning.)

The Cameron team were aware, however, that the story would eclipse the Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was an interesting tactic from Stephen Williams to use his “humble address” before the Queen’s Speech to make a remark about lobbyists in helping form the government’s programme. Talking about dropped plans to introduce a register of lobbyists and plain cigarette packaging, Williams said:

Some will conclude that the tobacco lobbyists will celebrate this as a double victory.

One lobbyist the Lib Dem MP may have been referring to is Lynton Crosby, Cameron’s election strategist, whose lobbying firm, as we reported this morning, has worked for British American Tobacco. Read more

Kiran Stacey

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ukip successes today is watching how the Tories respond. We are getting signs that David Cameron is going for a placatory tone, backing away from previous characterisations of the party as “loonies and fruitcakes”.

But one of the more telling interventions came this morning from John Baron, who has led a campaign of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers trying to force the prime minister to legislate in this parliament for an EU referendum in the next.

Baron told the Today programme: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Steve HiltonThe guru is back. Steve Hilton, fresh from his sojourn in the US, is to return to Number 10 to advise the new political policy unit, headed up by Jo Johnson, we have been told.

Except that’s not quite the case. Hilton, whose wife works for Google on the west coast, will stay in his beloved California. Number 10 advisers tell us he is expected to fly to London “a few times a year” to discuss policy ideas with the new policy board.

When Hilton left to take up a new role at Stanford University last year, some insisted the PM’s most unconventional of thinkers would be back in time for the next election. But those in the know insisted he would never return, saying he had become disillusioned with politics in government, and had lost a long-running battle with the more moderate factions within the Cameron operation. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Over lunch recently, a Labour strategist spelled out the terms of the next election in the starkest terms. “They want to fight it on welfare,” he explained. “We want to fight on the NHS.”

So despite the threat of the statistics authorities confirming that Britain has entered a triple-dip recession tomorrow, Ed Miliband chose to focus this PMQs on the NHS.

The problem was, his material is a little thin. He began by mentioning rising waiting times in A&E wards, as well as the example in Norwich of an inflatable tent being used as a makeshift ward. His first question was: Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were this morning falling over themselves to claim the credit for helping “hard working families” with news of a new voucher scheme that could be worth up to £1,200 per child.

After weeks of wrangling, the coalition was finally ready to press the button on a tax-free childcare scheme to replace the current “employer supported childcare” system. The new scheme will eventually reach up to 2.5m families – compared with the 450,000 who access the current voucher system – and include the self-employed. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron is currently leading a debate in the Commons over the deal struck late last night to regulate the press with a Royal Charter. That debate has so far been characterised by a great deal of backslapping by all three party leaders, to the extent that Nick Clegg joked:

If all three parties behave like this after the general election, they’ll have problems fitting us all into Downing Street.

He had a slightly tougher time however when trying to explain the measures to the parliamentary Tory party, which met before the debate started. Read more

Kiran Stacey

British newspapersSince Thursday, the manoeuvrings over press regulation have taken increasingly more surreal turns.

First we had the prime minister abruptly calling off the talks, citing irreconcilable differences with Labour and the Lib Dems. Clegg and Miliband were only given a couple of hours’ notice about the announcement, journalists were given 30 minutes.

After that, it looked like the prime minister was heading for inevitable defeat in a vote today on the Lib-Lab proposals for a Royal Charter backed by statute. His aides seemed to recognise such, saying that the prime minister would promise to repeal such a law if there was a Tory majority in 2015. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Sometimes when a leader of the opposition has a lot of different attacks to make on a prime minister at PMQs, they try to spread themselves too thinly and end up not hitting home with any of their pre-prepared lines.

Not so today. Ed Miliband was faced with a choice selection of easy pickings with which to attack the prime minister, and blended them together perfectly to leave David Cameron looking red-faced and ineffectual.

The Labour leader began with an uncharacteristically well-delivered joke about the apparent u-turn on minimum alcohol pricing: Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Theresa MayTwitter was awash with “TM4PM” frenzy over the weekend after Theresa May delivered a speech to the ConservativeHome 2015 Victory conference that carried the undertones of a leadership bid.

The home secretary used the gathering of Conservative activists to sketch out her vision of Conservatism, just in case David Cameron’s one doesn’t wash with voters in 2015. She went far beyond her remit as she floated the idea of profit-making schools and a comprehensive industrial strategy.

Tim Montgomerie, ConHome’s founder and editor who has just been appointed the Times’s comment editor, was quick to calm the hype. He pointed out that May had agreed to speak at the event last November, quashing any talk of a post-Eastleigh leadership push. He also said May was loyal to Cameron and that her loyalty was one of her best qualities. Read more

Hannah Kuchler

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has arrived. His invitation to dinner with Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday was almost as much of a sign of his growing political influence as the eurosceptic party’s strong showing in the Eastleigh by-election last week.

Farage has confirmed he did indeed dine with the media mogul at Murdoch’s London flat but has refused to give any clues about what was said. However, the Daily Telegraph writes he suggested he would form an electoral pact with the Conservatives if Cameron stepped down. Read more

Kiran Stacey

I’ve updated this post at the bottom in light of this afternoon’s parliamentary debate on the issue.

As the Tories contemplate the fallout from coming third in the Eastleigh byelection, different ministers have been floating different ideas for recapturing the votes lost to Ukip. One such idea is banning newly-arrived migrants from accessing certain benefits and NHS services.

Polls suggest immigration is a major reason for voters choosing Ukip, and Conservatives worry that trend will only accelerate when limits on movement from Bulgaria and Romania to elsewhere in the EU are removed.

A cabinet sub-committee has been convened to look into the policy options, but in the face of EU rules forbidding discrimination between citizens of different European countries, is there anything they can do, or is this empty populist rhetoric? Read more