Further reading

Jim Pickard

Today the FT has splashed on the deputy prime minister warning bankers to show restraint during bonus season for risk of a public backlash. The government would not stand idly by if this failed to occur, Nick Clegg warned.

As George Parker reports: Read more

Jim Pickard

It turns out today that cuts to local government “spending power” will only be 4.4 per cent on average next year across Britain’s councils. So says Eric Pickles and his DCLG department. This sounds great compared to the figure floating around recently about a 10 per cent cut for the same period.

Except this is looking at apples and pears.  Read more

Jim Pickard

It was a relief to Ed Miliband that his defeated elder brother took a step back from frontline politics after losing the Labour leadership race in September. But David Miliband has remained, like Banquo at the feast, a visible presence on the backbenches from where he could – at some theoretical later date – still return to wreak revenge.

A survey in yesterday’s Sunday Times makes troubling reading for Ed. It suggests that 12 per cent of the public think Ed would be the better Labour leader, far below the 37 per cent for David. That is a very similar finding to surveys published during the summer.

Meanwhile pollsters found that 40 per cent of the public do not rate Ed Miliband’s leadership skills, compared to 27 per cent who do.

Back then Ed’s allies shrugged off those polls. Within a few months, they argued, people would have seen Ed in action and would have warmed to him. (David’s position as foreign secretary had given him a higher profile).

That shift in public opinion does not seem to have happened, however, although Labour as a party is now consistently ahead in the polls. The unknown unknown is where Labour would be polling if it had a more charismatic and decisive leader.

David is keeping his powder dry in terms of any remaining Labour ambitions. This morning he was quoted in his local newspaper saying:

“I’ve got to admit I wish the leadership campaign had gone differently, but who knows what will happen in the future?…I think Ed’s done well. It’s a very difficult job being the leader of the

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The Liberal Democrat position on student fees has been bungled in countless ways. But there must be one error of judgement that is more important than the rest — call it the original sin. Here are my top three contenders:

1. Nick Clegg ducking the chance to reform the policy in 2009

Most senior Lib Dems knew they had a policy to scrap tuition fees that was unrealistic and unaffordable. Secret work was done to come up with an alternative that maintained a critical stance but cost a lot less. The result was a more progressive form of tuition fees — something like the proposals today. When this was put to the Lib Dem MPs and the federal policy group, it went down terribly. Some MPs thought it was futile to attempt to scrap a vote-winning policy when any change would be blocked by the Lib Dem conference. Apparently one of the most persuasive arguments  was that the Lib Dems were not going to win the election, so why do the responsible thing?  Clegg eventually ducked the confrontation with his party at the 2009 annual conference. How he must be regretting it now. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out in a BBC interview – attacking the IDS plans to make long-term unemployed work for their dole money:

I’ve got a lot of worries about that. I don’t immediately think it’s fair. Read more

Jim Pickard

I am trying to take my eyes off the Mail’s scoop on Tony Blair giving a £50,000 lecture to toilet roll and disinfectant manufacturers – and instead concentrate on the big issue of the day. That is, Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to make the workless do manual labour in return for their dole money.

It throws up plenty of questions. Namely: Read more

Jim Pickard

This morning Sir Gus O’Donnell told a committee of MPs that he published advice pre-election on how politicians should conduct coalition talks on the advice of the Queen.

As Chris Hope at the Telegraph writes:

Officials were desperate to ensure that the Queen would not be put in the position where she would have to choose between parties to in a bid to help set up a stable government.

The booklet still hasn’t been published and is awaiting ministerial approval before its release. (Sir Gus hopes this will be before Christmas). Interestingly, the manual covers much more than the section on coalition talks: it has around a dozen chapters covering ministers’ relations with Europe, devolved governments, the monarchy, the government, peers, civil servants and councils.

That, some suspect, sounds rather a lot like a draft written constitution. Read more

Jim Pickard

For some inexplicable reason there were titters at the morning lobby press briefing when the prime minister’s spokesman said that a new technology city near the Olympic Park would “rival Silicon Valley (pictured)”.

David Cameron will say later today that:

“Right now, Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation but there’s no reason why it has to be predominant.”

It is true that the government has done well by luring Google, Facebook, Intel and McKinsey to set up outposts at the new tech park by the River Lea. (Although BT politely declined, according to Guido). And there is nothing wrong with having ambitions, a la Field of Dreams (‘build it and they will come‘).

But Stratford (pictured) still has some way to go before it catches up with Silicon Valley, the Californian hub of American high-tech enterprise, which is home to the following 100-and-something companies (courtesy of Wikipedia).

 Read more

Jim Pickard

New Labour was very fond of appointing business figures to ceremonial jobs as a way to convince the world that they understood enterprise.

It was also a cunning device to create diversionary “good news” when events were not going to plan. The trend reached its surreal peak when Gordon Brown appointed Alan Sugar as Lord Sugar and made him enterprise tsar – on the day that the beleaguered Labour prime minister was almost toppled by an uprising of his own ministers.

In the post-CSR environment, David Cameron and his team are determined to foster a climate of upbeat events and news stories to shift the focus off the deepest cuts for a generation. This may explain why the prime minister was planning to unveil a new wave of “trade ambassadors” next week to co-incide with a trip to the Far East. This news management has alas been spoiled this evening by FT columnist Mark Kleinman (also business editor of Sky) who reveals on his blog* that Richard Lambert, the outgoing director-general of the CBI, is one of them. Read more

Jim Pickard

If you have not yet read Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, buy it now. The book – an account of the downfall of Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers – explains the credit crunch in a clear way and reads like a thriller. It’s the best business book since Liar’s Poker or Barbarians at the Gate.

I’m reading it at the moment and it is a stark account of how unfettered casino capitalism nearly brought the financial system to its knees. It’s also a reminder of why politicians are so keen to rebalance the UK economy away from the City of London and towards regional industries.

Vince Cable was the most outspoken when – in his conference speech – he decried City workers as “spivs and gamblers“. Other ministers have followed suit in more moderate language.

The only problems with this admirable desire is that a] The City still accounts for a huge proportion of UK GDP (and jobs and tax take), b] Labour spent a decade trying and failing to revive industry, with manufacturing declining faster than it did under the previous Tory administration and c] There is little or no money left to subsidise ailing or fledgling industries in the regions.

It is a circle which will be very difficult to square. Read more

Jim Pickard

Kevin Schofield at the Sun had a fine scoop this morning about the £27,000 in kind given by Tony Blair to David Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership.

The revelation will be a small but significant footnote when the history of the contest is written. That is because Tony Blair, while clearly a covert supporter of the older Miliband brother, refused again and again to back him in public. (Andrew Grice at the Independent reported that this was because Miliband thought his former mentor’s support could be a double-edged sword). Now we have physical proof that he was backing David.  Read more

Jim Pickard

In December 2009 David Cameron made a speech in which he promised to reduce the burden of health and safety. His most heart-rending example was that of a small boy who drowned while fishing for tadpoles. As Cameron told his audience:

What’s more, the fear of transgressing all these rules causes people to stand aside when others need help.

This was most tragically illustrated in Wigan two years ago, when a ten year old drowned in a pond, having rescued his young sister, because officers were told not to intervene as they hadn’t undertaken their ‘water rescue’ health and safety training.

But was it a true story? Read more