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