UK politics

Kiran Stacey

For many years, and most noticeably during the tenure of Tony Blair, the UK used to pride itself on acting as a bridge between its partners in the EU and the US.

In the run up to today’s European summit in Brussels, it looked like David Cameron was trying to play the same role. The prime minister struck a powerful note this morning as he entered the Justus Lipsius building, telling journalists he would be there in Ukraine’s “hour of need”, adding:

This matters to people in Britain because we benefit from a world in which countries obey the rules and we also benefit when we enable people like those in Ukraine being able to choose their own future.

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Kiran Stacey

Pro-Russian troops in Crimea

Pro-Russian troops in Crimea

As MPs return to Westminster after a tumultuous weekend in Ukraine, recriminations are flying around parliament over who is to blame for allowing Putin to deploy his military forces in Crimea.

For some Tory MPs, the person most at fault is Ed Miliband. By leading his MPs in voting against action in Syria (which would also have meant taking on Russia), he made any western military threat we could issue impotent, they argue. Here, for example, is Sajid Javid, the Treasury minister: Read more

Jim Pickard

It was not long ago that a senior figure in the Miliband camp was claiming that the Labour leader had never described his funding reforms as a Clause 4 moment.

“Why would he? Clause 4 was about Labour’s aims and values,” that person told the FT. “This is about how we organise, how we relate to people outside the political elite and how we finance ourselves. Clause 4 did not cost us a penny. This will.”

That was two weeks ago.

Now, by contrast, Miliband is saying that the changes will be “bigger than Clause Four in its impact on the way it will change politics.”

The jury is still out on what the long-term impact of the reforms will be. No one could possibly argue that the system is not a move towards greater democracy in the way that some decisions (but not all*) are taken inside Labour.

Yet, as I’ve previously explained, there is one scenario where the union barons have greater power than before in their ability to dispense cash to Labour – or withhold it: eventually.

One thing which people have not quite twigged yet, meanwhile, is the impact of the changes in the short-term. Read more

Jim Pickard

There is a fascinating piece in the Times today looking at how many of the seats hit by flooding are marginal constituencies. It concludes that a disproportionate number of marginals have been affected, in particular Lib/Tory two-ways in the southwest.

Of the 40 most marginal seats held by the Tories, 15 have been hit by flooding, writes deputy political editor Sam Coates. Of the 20 most marginal LibDem seats, 12 have been flooded. By contrast hardly any vulnerable Labour areas have been hurt by the recent weather. Read more

George Osborne in EdinburghWe’ve known for two days that George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were about to rule out sharing the pound with an independent Scotland. What we didn’t know until this morning is that they would be joined by Sir Nick Macpherson, the Treasury’s top civil servant, who has written a letter the likes of which are almost never seen in Whitehall.

Belying the reputation of civil servants as cautious, apolitical, and perhaps occasionally slightly verbose types, Sir Nick has written a short, punchy and withering assessment of Scotland’s chances of forming a currency union with the rest of the UK.

In it he says: Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron visit flood-hit SomersetThe prime minister surprised the Westminster press corps yesterday when he held a press conference to spell out his action to tackle flooding. It wasn’t just the press conference that surprised – it has been 238 days since his last at Downing Street – but what he said. He told reporters:

Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.

He repeated that pledge at today’s PMQs, promising a string of spending measures to help relieve the burden on families and businesses. They include: Read more

Jim Pickard

Sir Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, has concluded that the government may have given a misleading impression of how much it has invested in various infrastructure schemes – including flood defences.

I wrote at the back end of last year about the government’s “National Infrastructure Plan” and how it seemed to use statistics in a questionable wayRead more

By Emily Cadman and Henry Foy

Commuters in London are facing chaos on the way to work as RMT and TSSA unions strike against plans to close ticket offices and cut jobs, which Transport for London claim are essential to modernise.

FT reporter Bryce Elder found his local station, Ladbroke Grove, was closed when he had been expecting it to be open (photo left).

The last major strike was in 2007 and cost London an estimated £48m a day in lost productivity, according to the London Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

FT reporter Caroline Binham bumped into London Mayor Boris Johnson participating in the propaganda war at London Bridge station.

But aside from the politics about who is to blame, the challenge for most is simply to get to work.

And that is something which takes on a familiar pattern in the internet age: venting on Twitter. #tubestrike was choice more many this morning.

1. For most people it is likely to be as bad as you think it is going to be

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Kiran Stacey

Eric PicklesOne of the government’s main tax-cutting drives has been to encourage councils to keep tax rises to a minimum. Ministers have done this in two ways: firstly, by giving councils a cash incentive to freeze council tax; and secondly, by forcing any council that wants to raise tax by 2 per cent or more to put it to a local referendum.

Since that policy began, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has been irritated (but perhaps not surprised) to see dozens of councils raising tax by 1.99 per cent – just below the threshold. So recently, as revealed last week in the FT, he began pushing for a lower limit of 1.5 per cent. Read more

Jim Pickard

There has been an interesting shift in the polls north of the border with a rise in the support for independence from 26% to 29% in recent days.

The latest survey still points towards a “no” vote in September when the Scots get their historic chance to vote for independence from the United Kingdom. Support for the status quo has remained steady at 42 per cent, according to the survey by TNS BMRB of 1,000 people. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage, Ukip leader

It might still be four months away, but attention is beginning to turn to May’s European elections, and especially the role that Ukip is going to play in them. What seems now fairly certain is that the party will come either first or second, pushing the Tories into third, and possibly prompting another bout of soul-searching among the governing party.

Whether it manages to top the ballot or not, Ukip’s likely success will see a host of previously unknown politicians catapulted into positions of power in Brussels. As next year’s general election approaches, these will be the figures we will see appear increasingly on our television screens – but who are they, and what do they tell us about the party?

An extensive study by the FT shows that the party is an interesting mix of people, some young, some old; most from the right, but a few from the left. Some have libertarian instincts, but most are social conservatives. All, of course, are united by a visceral dislike of Europe, and perhaps counter-intuitively, given this is nominally a libertarian party, of immigration too.

This is what we found: Read more

Jim Pickard

By Andrew Bounds

More trouble in the shires for Conservative high command as one of its dwindling band of female MPs faces a “campaign to unseat her mounted by local gentry”, according to her allies.

The Yorkshire Post, which opened the curtains on goings-on at Thirsk and Malton Conservative association, quotes one source who dubbed it “our very own Falkirk”, a reference to Labour’s attempts to influence candidate selection in the Scottish town.

The charge that unions unknowingly signed up members of a selection committee wounded Labour leader Ed Miliband. In James Herriot country the allegation is that the local association “co-opted” people to pack the executive committee and deselect Anne Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has today thrown his weight behind the small but growing trend of “reshoring” – or returning production from overseas to theUK.

Speaking in Davos, the prime minister said he was setting up a government advisory service to help companies that want to reshore. The service, “Reshore UK”, will offer advice on questions such as locations. Read more

Jim Pickard

Last October, at the height of the political row over energy bills, we reported on the growing concerns of senior business people (including the CBI) about the impact on Britain’s future infrastructure.

The coalition was engaged in an attempt to rein back bills in a direct reaction to Ed Miliband’s promise of a 20-month price freeze.

The most interesting was Sir John Armitt, former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, who told me that Britain needed long-term investment and policy to get energy projects off Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

It is impossible to describe how enormously distressed I am by this situation and I am certainly too ill to attend the House of Lords today.

In the interests of my party and all concerned, I will now release a statement that I have prepared:

In 2009, I was the subject of a smear campaign in relation to House of Lords allowances. The timing of this campaign was clearly chosen as it was in the middle of major election campaigns, for which I was then responsible. I warned Nick Clegg how I considered that the party might be damaged in those elections as a result of those allegations. I said that I would bring forward my planned resignation as the Liberal Democrats Chief Executive on health grounds. I had not intended resigning until after helping Nick and the party through the 2010 General Election campaign. Read more

Jim Pickard

Workers with savings who lose their jobs after fewer than four years in employment could lose their automatic entitlement to out-of-work benefits as a result of Labour’s proposals to strengthen the contributory element of the welfare system.

Rachel Reeves, shadow welfare secretary, has floated plans to give more money to jobseekers who have been working for longer in an attempt to restore the Beveridge principles of the welfare state. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ve looked through Labour’s manifesto from 1979 and it looked more than vaguely familiar:

There are frequent mentions of “living standards”.

Labour will promise to take great care to “protect working people and their families through the hardships of change.”

Government DOES have a role in creating employment, limiting price rises, and helping industry – contrary to what the right wing believes.

Foremost in the party’s aim is to “keep a curb on inflation and prices” and help “men and women struggling with low pay”.

Labour believes that “fair earnings for working people” should be put ahead of the “demands of private profit.”

And then I looked at the specific policies and noticed rather a few which have been adopted by Ed Miliband’s Labour in opposition.

Strengthening and extending consumer protection.

Setting up “job creation programmes”.

Bank reform: “The banking sector would benefit from increased competition.” Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.

If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.

This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Alex SalmondWe revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.

In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.

In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Today’s PMQs was striking, but not particularly interesting.Ed Miliband decided to split his questions (always a recipe for taking some of the heat out). His first set were focused on the response to flooding over Christmas and New Year.

The Labour leader could have attacked the government for not doing more to get emergency services out in time, or not putting enough pressure on energy companies to restore power quickly. But he didn’t. Apparently seeking to start PMQs off on a calm and consensual note, Miliband began by asking:

Could the prime minister update the house on the number of people affected and what action is being taken now to ensure that areas affected by further flooding are getting the support they need?

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