Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.
Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more
Labour people are starting to come back from their holidays, and they are in a mood little short of despair. Ed Miliband’s “summer of silence” and the criticism it has attracted from some of the party’s biggest beasts have made for a rather gloomy return for many of their MPs and advisers.
Miliband is relying on two events to reset that narrative and re-energise his party: the conference speech and a reshuffle either soon before or soon after conference. Both timings might seem unfair: just before the conference and new shadow ministers don’t have enough time to prepare for interviews and speeches; just after and all the hard pre-conference work is wasted. But such is politics. Read more
This morning Labour is trying to relaunch its summer after a fairly lethargic first couple of weeks in which the party was knocked sideways by outspoken comments by the previously little known MP George Mudie.
Chris Leslie, the shadow chief secretary, is holding a press event on falling living standards under the coalition, pointing to polling showing 70 per cent of voters believe recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle- and lower-income families.
But the event is unlikely to quell concerns in Labour about the party’s apparent lack of direction. My colleague Jim Pickard reports in this morning’s FT some very revealing comments from a former senior Miliband supporter. Read more
Len McCluskey’s speech today to members of his Unite union was something of a barnstormer. The union boss was forthright on his views of the Labour party and its investigation into what happened in Falkirk, where Unite is accused of manipulating Labour candidate selection to boost its favoured candidates.
McCluskey tore into Ed Miliband and those around him, calling their decision to refer the Falkirk matter to police an “utter, utter disgrace”. He added:
Assertion was passed off as fact, allegation became reality.
Chuka Umunna is ambitious: that much is well known. George Parker, the FT’s political editor, has a feature-length profile in this weekend’s FT Magazine, looking at the man, his goals, his standing in the party, and whether he really likes being compared to Barack Obama.
More of that later, but it is worth mentioning an interesting tale of the shadow business secretary’s self-confidence and grand ambitious that has reached us this week.
Several months ago, Umunna sat his shadow cabinet colleagues down and told them he had a great new idea for how to run government procurement. Instead of allowing the MoD to buy weapons, for example, or the Department for Transport to buy trains, why not have the business department do it all? Read more
Mark Carney has been given a pretty weighty task as he starts his tenure as governor of the Bank of England. In recent weeks, almost every time the chancellor or one of his aides has been asked about the prospects for growth, he has mentioned Carney and his track record of boosting the economy through unusual monetary policy tools.
Already we may have started to see signs of this, with Carney’s highly unusual first statement in which he said expectations of interest rates in 2015 were “unwarranted” – in effect a guarantee of long-term low rates.
But Lord Mandelson, Labour’s former business secretary, and a prominent pro-European, wants Carney to pay attention to what is happening on the other side of the channel too. Read more
Another strange twist in the Labour/Falkirk story. After days of insisting this was an internal party matter, the party has now handed its investigation into the matter to police.
The allegations are that the Unite union bulk-bought membership of the party for its officers in an attempt to unfairly influence the outcome of the ballot to select a new candidate in the Scottish constituency.
The affair yesterday claimed the scalp of Tom Watson (left), Ed Miliband’s elections coordinator, who is close to Unite – he is a former flatmate of its secretary general, Len McCluskey. The party also suspended officials up in Falkirk and suspended the candidate selection process, hoping that might put an end to the matter. Read more
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
The 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
George 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
Nick Clegg this morning insisted he would stay in government until 2015, and would not need to create any “breathing space” for his party by pulling his ministers out before the general election. This is what he said in a speech in London:
The public will see me [campaigning] as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Constitutionally the government still ticks over. Ministers are slightly more “absentee landlords” in Whitehall offices during that six week period.
Of course, Clegg is right that the public is used to ministers leaving their day jobs and hitting the campaign trail during the weeks leading up to a general election. And he may also be right that voters would think it very odd if the Lib Dems pulled out of the coalition just before an election in order to assert their own identity more clearly. Read more
I revealed a few weeks ago that half the 2015 candidates picked so far by Labour are from the trade unions, a trend that will raise questions over Ed Miliband’s attempts to rebrand his party. Now some of his own MPs are openly admitting that the unions are dominating the selection process even more than in 2010.
Labour remains dependent on union funding, including from Unite, Unison and the GMB. Since he became leader of the party it has received 81 per cent of its donations from the unions.
Key to the debate is that the rules were recently changed, making it harder for non-union candidates without deep pockets to become a general election candidate. (Unite itself claims on its website that it was responsible for this change, saying its interventions had ‘changed the Labour party rule book’.) Candidates now need to run campaigns for 11 weeks instead of four and send out more mailshots than previously. Read more