Nick Clegg

Kiran Stacey

In the run-up to last year’s reshuffle, a rumour circulated that Jo Swinson was going to be elevated from being Nick Clegg‘s PPS, not only to ministerial level, but straight into the cabinet – specifically as Scotland secretary.

This didn’t happen – Swinson was instead made a junior minister at Bis. But with half a eye on a reshuffle later this year (which seems to have now been pushed back from a provisional June date to autumn at the earliest), the rumours have started once more.

There are plenty of reasons some in the party are pushing the idea: Read more

Kiran Stacey

House of LordsTory backbenchers probably thought that when they ganged together to thwart attempts to make the Lords mostly elected last year, they had got rid of what they saw as a “constitutional threat” for the foreseeable future.

But conversations I have had in recent days with senior Liberal Democrats suggest there is a scenario under which the plans could be resurrected.

Officials close to Nick Clegg have told me that if there was a hung parliament at the next election and a deal with the Conservatives was the most likely outcome, this would give them an opening to insist that the plans were put back on the table. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Protests against Cameron, Clegg and ThatcherAs today’s parliamentary session in memory of Margaret Thatcher began, several journalists repositioned themselves in the Tory side of the chamber, looking at Ed Miliband. The Labour leader, it was though, would have the most difficult job, caught between being respectful and saying what he really thought about the Tory leader whom so many of his colleagues spent decades opposing and trying to oust.

In the end, he played a difficult hand very well. The key passage was one where he listed her successes and mistakes. I will quote the entire passage below, but it’s worth noticing three things:

1) He quotes the successes first, and is generous about them, even her economic legacy;
2) He mentions some of what her critics see as her most egregious mistakes, such as section 28 and her lack of concern for society as a whole;
3) When mentioning her mistakes, he nullified Tory moans by praising the Tories for turning their backs on them. 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

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


Jeremy Forrest, the teacher extradited from France last year

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher extradited from France last year

We revealed this morning that the first battle that Nick Clegg intends to pick in the coalition after his party’s victory in Eastleigh is over the European arrest warrant.

The EAW is one of a number of measures involved in the European crime and justice framework, which the Tories want to leave altogether. The prime minister has won plaudits among his own party for saying he would pull out of the 130 measures agreed among EU countries, but he needs the support of his coalition partners to do so, as it must go to a vote in the Commons.

Negotiations between the two parties are being led by Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin, and according to sources close to the talks, have pretty much broken down altogether. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Boris Johnson and Maria Hutchings doorknocking in Eastleigh

Boris Johnson and Maria Hutchings campaigning in Eastleigh

We are now just a week from the Eastleigh byelection and the likely result is starting to take shape.

The Lib Dems have emerged as the decisive favourites. They have run an impeccable campaign, from choosing a man who was the antithesis of Chris Huhne, to limiting the campaign to three weeks, preventing their rivals from getting their machinery properly off the ground.

For a full explanation of why the Lib Dem ground operation has been better than the Tory one, James Forsyth’s piece for the Spectator gives an excellent summary. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband’s announcement that Labour backs a mansion tax on properties over £2m, with the money used to fund a new 10p rate of income tax, has left the two coalition parties scrambling to trump the opposition with their own progressive tax plans.

For the Lib Dems, this meant leaking a tax document* being prepared in advance of the party’s spring conference. The paper proposed extending the mansion tax from people’s first properties to apply also to additional properties and any other land they may own. It also suggested the more radical idea of taxing assets such as paintings, jewellery and even record and book collections – although this was quickly dismissed by Vince Cable.

The Tories offered their own response on Sunday evening, when Tory chairman Grant Shapps appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics. Shapps told the programme the Tories were considering pushing the income tax allowance beyond the £10,000 level currently planned – something that could go into the party’s 2015 manifesto.  Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg in Eastleigh

Nick Clegg in Eastleigh

Nick Clegg yesterday won the race to become the first party leader to get to Eastleigh, where the Lib Dems are about to test their theory that they can hold onto their seats against Tory challenges in 2015.

Bravely, Clegg chose to tour a college where car mechanics were being trained, which given the circumstances in which Chris Huhne, the previous MP, had to resign his seat, helped the picture caption writers no end.

The Lib Dem leader gave off an air of unruffled determination, telling reporters he was “very confident” that his party would hold on to the seat. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Chris HuhneJane Croft, our law courts correspondent, brings us an interesting side note from yesterday’s (fairly harrowing) evidence session with Vicky Pryce at Southwark crown court.

According to Pryce, when David Laws resigned as Treasury chief secretary just 17 days into the job, Nick Clegg originally approached Huhne to offer him the job.

Huhne, who used to work for ratings agency Fitch, would have been a perfect fit for the role, which he used to cover in opposition. He was also one of the driving forces behind the Lib Dems’ pre-election economic programme, which was finely poised between those of the Tories and Labour. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Chris HuhneAfter pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice, Chris Huhne made this statement outside the court:

Having taken responsibility for something that happened 10 years ago, the only proper course of action is for me to resign my Eastleigh seat in parliament.

Contrast that with the letters he sent to David Cameron and Nick Clegg at the time. To Clegg, his party leader and rival, he wrote:

I am writing to resign, with great regret, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I will defend myself robustly in the courts against the charges that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to press. I have concluded that it would be distracting both to my trial defence and to my official duties if I were to continue in office as a minister….

This is what Clegg sent in return: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg. Getty Images

The Tories are having great fun mocking Nick Clegg’s opposition to an EU referendum, pointing out that the Lib Dems went into the last election promising a referendum of their own. The Lib Dems in turn, point out that the wording of their manifesto actually mirrors what the coalition has put into law, namely that there should be:

an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU

But the Lib Dems made a huge issue of it, even walking out of the Commons in 2008 when speaker Michael Martin refused to let the party bring an amendment calling for a referendum. As the guardian’s Nick Watt points out, Nick Clegg said at the time: Read more

Tom Burgis

George Osborne

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.

George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.

We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.

15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of

15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.

15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.

15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.

15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.

15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.

15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.

14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.

She says:

The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.

John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:

“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”

But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”

14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.

The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.

14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?

[blackbirdpie url=""]

Others are more chipper:

[blackbirdpie url=""]

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

George Osborne and Nick CleggBack in September, Nick Clegg said he would block any attempt by George Osborne to freeze benefits in this week’s autumn statement. This put the chancellor in something of a quandary. He had been hoping to save several billions with the move, as well as winning the support of a public that is increasingly hostile to people who are claimants.

Another option remains on the table, however, is to allow benefits to rise, but not by as much as they would normally do if the link with inflation is kept. New analysis from the Institute of Public Policy Research suggests there could still be a fair amount of savings to be gained, for example, by increasing them by just 1 per cent.

The IPPR has produced a table of savings from possible options open to the chancellor: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Michael Moore began his speech in storm-battered Brighton this morning with a joke:

In an ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Brighton conference remains the same. Fabulous weather, delegates compliant with the leadership line…

Except it didn’t work, because this year the delegates actually have been compliant with the leadership line, even voting en masse in favour of the coalition’s economic policy. As one observer remarked to me: “It’s like they are in a trance-like state.” Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Lib Dem conference, which starts on Saturday, could be an awkward affair for the party leadership. It is the first conference when Nick Clegg has been faced with members of his own parliamentary party calling for his resignation, and the second successive one where the party has been languishing in the polls.

The agenda for the conference shows the party leadership willing to give the faithful some red meat in the form of Tory-bashing motions. There is a motion insisting on national pay bargaining, one recommitting the party to Lords reform and one resisting any attempts to expand Heathrow.

But the biggest problem could come during the debate on the economy, when an amendment will be discussed calling for the government to rip up its fiscal mandate and take immediate measures to stimulate the economy. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick CleggNick Clegg took many by surprise this morning by appearing in the Guardian calling for an emergency, temporary tax on wealth to help pay down the deficit. Why make the call publicly, when he’s a senior member of the government that decides whether this happens or not? And why now, so far away from Budget time?

The obvious answer is that this is not a thought-through policy proposal, but merely a bit of positioning to cheer the troops ahead of next month’s party conference. It will not happen, say many (including the BBC’s Nick Robinson), so there is no need to worry about what Clegg actually means.

But, that analysis ignores a couple of things. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg on the campaign trailLib Dem strategists are fond of telling reporters their assumptions about a Lib Dem collapse at the 2015 election are wrong. The theory goes that there are many more LD-Tory marginals than there are LD-Labour ones, and in those seats, Tory voters will be happy to back a Lib Dem to keep out Labour.

Lib Dem HQ hopes that by going into coalition and signing up to the stringent departmental spending cuts they will combine their traditional strength in local campaigning with a new level of trust to be a party of national government.

The argument is questionable: will Tory voters really back then Lib Dems, especially as the two parties go into the election playing up their differences to appeal to their core voters? And won’t lots of left-wing voters cross over to Labour, even if they know it means letting in the Tories, since many view the Lib Dem as just as bad as their Tory counterparts? Read more

Kiran Stacey

George Osborne

George Osborne

This morning’s papers are not going to make comfortable reading for George Osborne (not the first time we’ve said that recently…).

The Guardian has splashed on a story in the New Statesman that several of the 20 economists who signed a letter in 2010 backing the Osborne deficit reduction strategy had now changed their minds. The story was picked up in other papers too.

But of greater political significance is the piece I wrote in this morning’s FT about how the first fissures are starting to show in the joint coalition commitment to Plan A. Three Lib Dem MPs went on the record to say they wanted the chancellor to be more flexible with his   spending plans, and allow the deficit reduction targets to slide in order to pay for a short-term stimulus. Read more

Kiran Stacey


Sir John Vickers

Sir John Vickers

I revealed in this morning’s FT that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable want to reopen talks on how to put the Vickers recommendations on banking reform into law.

When the commission led by Sir John Vickers first set out its proposals, the government accepted most of them – most significantly that banks’ retail operations should be ringfenced from their investment banking side.

But the banks won two crucial victories in their attempts to water down these proposals. The first was that the government scrapped the Vickers recommendation that ringfenced banks should have stricter standards on how much equity they had to issue compared with their assets. The second was that ministers allowed for interest-rate and currency swaps to be sold from within the ringfenced arms of banks, putting them in the same category as ordinary loans and making them cheaper and easier to sell. Read more