One of Ed Balls’ big announcements during his speech on Monday was his call for the government to use £4bn of the money from the auction of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build 100,000 affordable homes.
Even before he spoke, the Guido Fawkes blog was speculating that the shadow chancellor may have been tipped off that the government was going to do exactly this, and wanted to get out ahead of them and look like he was setting the agenda. According to Guido:
It’s well known that Balls still has ‘people’ inside the Treasury and there is plenty of speculation doing the rounds that he had got wind of the 4G auction goodies fund and has pulled a fast one on the chancellor.
Ed Miliband cannot have enjoyed the revelation last Friday that two out of three Labour voters want to ditch him and install his brother as party leader instead. But a new poll released today is potentially far more damaging.
According to a Times/ Populus survey, a third of Labour’s own voters prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband as prime minister. It also showed that over the last four months, there has been a 5 percentage point increase in the number of people who are dissatisfied with Cameron but would still prefer him to be in Downing St than the Labour leader.
Speaking at Labour’s conference fringe, Rick Nye, director of Populus, made clear that Mr Miliband has a difficult task – because even if his party is increasing its lead against the Tories, the statistics do not look so good when the leaders are pitched head to head. As a result, the likeliest outcome of next election is a hung parliament, with Labour the largest party but no overall majority, Nye said. Read more
Ed Balls’ speech to Labour conference was sweeping in its scope, taking in equalities, police, the NHS and education, and ending with a passage parading through Labour’s greatest hits. His passage on the post-war Labour government was stirring stuff:
Conference, our predecessors were elected that year to rebuild a country ravaged by conflict.
They faced even greater challenges than we face today: an economy enfeebled by war; a national debt double the size of ours today. And they made tough and unpopular decisions: to continue with rationing; to cut defence spending; and to introduce prescription charges.
But that Labour Cabinet also remained focussed on the long-term task ahead. And they learned from history and rejected the failed austerity of the 1930s.
And that meant they could put in place long-term reforms, enduring achievements, vital to our country’s future: the Beveridge report; new homes for heroes; the school leaving age raised; and, for the first time ever, a National Health Service free to all, based on need not ability to pay – over 60 years later, celebrated in our Olympics opening ceremony for all the world to see, still today the greatest health service in the world.
The FT, the Guardian, the Mail and the Independent all agreed this morning; the reshuffle was David Cameron’s turn to the right. In came Chris Grayling, out went Ken Clarke. In came Owen Paterson to Defra, in came Michael Fallon to the business department. One Number 10 official remarked yesterday described Grayling as “a good rightwing appointment”. I don’t think I have ever heard someone so close to Cameron saying anything like that before.
Our analysis on how important a moment this could be can be found here.
The problem is, Labour doesn’t seem to get it (to coin a phrase). Ed Miliband decided instead to attack the prime minister for carrying out a “no change” reshuffle: Read more
Danny Boyle's opening ceremony tribute to the NHS
The Times and the Independent both broke an interesting story this morning about government plans to set up a body to promote NHS expertise across the world as a way of making money for the domestic health service.
The Independent reports:
Some of Britain’s best-known hospitals are being lined up by the Government to export the “NHS brand” around the world and set up profit-making branches overseas to boost their incomes.
Under a radical plan to be launched this autumn, officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment will come together to act as a “dating agency” between hospitals that wish to expand overseas and foreign governments with a demand for British health services.
As Jim wrote earlier on this blog, the Tories and Labour are trading accusations of hypocrisy over their response to the news that Barclays has been hit with a record fine for trying to manipulate key interest rates.
The Tories are accusing Labour of under-regulating the banks; Labour reply they were under pressure from the Tories to regulate even less. Both are right, and here are a couple of quotes both will use to score points off each other.
The first is from Lord Tunnicliffe, Labour’s deputy chief whip in the Lords, who admitted today that his party did not legislate to make such manipulation a criminal offence: Read more
Reading this morning’s papers, you would have known that Michael Gove’s proposals to scrap GCSEs and bring back two levels of qualification for 16-year-olds have sparked a row. But to a greater extent than any recent government, this row is not between the government and the opposition, it is within the government. The papers reported:
Michael Gove has ignited a furious coalition row with the Liberal Democrats… (FT)
Nick Clegg vows to block Michael Gove’s plan to ditch GCSEs (Guardian)
Nick Clegg erupted with fury and vowed to block Michael Gove’s proposals… (Daily Mail)
To an extent, this suits both coalition partners: Gove gets to posture in front of the Tory faithful, while the Lib Dems get to show their muscle when the eventual compromise is reached. Read more
It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.
But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.
Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.
During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in Read more
As Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, reminded his Twitter followers during today’s PMQs:
Blair was right about Hague: good jokes, poor judgement. They are good jokes though.
And there were some excellent jokes from the foreign secretary, who was standing in for the prime minister and DPM today.
First he began by mocking Ed Balls, the man whose carping from the sidelines often winds up David Cameron into a red-faced fury. Hague said to Harriet Harman, who was leading the charge for Labour:
I congratulate her on not having the shadow chancellor sitting next to her, it makes her questions easier to hear. The chancellor is at the G20, I presume the shadow chancellor is off conducting another survey into what people think of him. We could have told him that for free – always better value under the Conservatives.
Speculation on Labour’s position on an EU referendum has been building for a while. It all started with the arch pro-European, Peter Mandelson, who unexpectedly said on May 3:
I believe a fresh referendum will be necessary because the political parties cannot reconcile their own differences and come to a final conclusion on their own, and nor should they.
He was soon given further credence by the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who said:
That might be an issue whose time comes.
Although he added: “I don’t think that time is now.”
Two weeks later, Ed Miliband shuffled his top team and placed Jon Cruddas, who has previously called for an in/out vote, in the role of policy chief. That appointment triggered further speculation, which was distilled in an Observer piece on May 19 headlined Ed Miliband set for decision on Europe referendum:
The Observer has been told that, after discussions with shadow cabinet members, Miliband is leaving the door open to a referendum.
Is the government in danger of handing over its reputation for being pro-business to Labour?
William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.
At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.
Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:
- The govt is implementing the cuts programme many business groups have supported, and is sticking to it.
- Corporation tax is low and getting lower – on its way down to 20 per cent.
- Embassies around the world are pushing UK trade as their top priority, and the prime minister has taken huge business delegations on state visits with him on several occasions.
Ed Miliband took us all by surprise this morning when he went on the Andrew Marr show with a genuinely new proposal to reform party funding. The individual cap on donations should be set at £5,000, he said, way below Cameron’s preferred level of £50,000, and half of Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposal of £10,000.
Significantly, the Labour leader said this cap would include union donations. But, as always with this debate, the stumbling block is what happens with the levy – the automatic £3 that members of some unions pay to Labour as part of their subscription fees. At the moment, members may opt out of making such payments, but the Tories want them to back Sir Christopher’s proposal of having to opt in instead, something likely to have a significant impact on Labour’s coffers.
The row now turns on how much Labour actually makes from one-off union donations, which would be included under Miliband’s proposed cap, against how much it makes from the levy, which wouldn’t. Read more