UK politics

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?

 Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne was poised to make an announcement about the minimum wage at Tory conference last autumn, I’m told by several Whitehall sources. The chancellor changed his mind at the last minute.

In theory, Mr Osborne decided to hold back in order to respect the sanctity of the Low Pay Commission, the independent body which has set the rate for over a decade.

But then again he had no plans to over-ride the commission, I’m told. (Instead his words would have been more about saying that he would welcome a higher rate – if the body recommended it.)

In practice it may just be that the chancellor was beaten to the announcement by Vince Read more

Jim Pickard

Yesterday’s big news was about Cameron promising to keep the pensions “triple lock” if the Tories win a majority government in 2015. (A big if.)

Today’s was about Osborne’s £25bn trap for Labour, dressed up as a promise of fiscal rectitude. (This is the figure of cuts needed in the next Parliament, according to the chancellor.)

More quietly, however, we’ve also had interesting new mood music about the other benefits granted to pensioners – such as free TV licenses – with aides to the prime minister saying he was “attracted” to keeping them after 2015.

This in itself is a big story, even if it is not yet a definitive promise to keep them.

In the past some Tory MPs, including planning minister Nick Boles, have suggested that there should be means-testing for pensioners’ benefits – given that the rest of the welfare system has seen cuts since 2010.

As my colleague John McDermott argues today: “The burden of austerity is being Read more

Jim Pickard

Later this month will see a ballot of 600 local Tories in South Suffolk as to whether Tim Yeo, the former minister, should go forth once more as their candidate in the 2015 general election.

Yeo, chairman of the energy select committee, is not going quietly despite having lost a re-selection vote at the end of November. Read more

Kiran Stacey

A demonstrator is arrested during protests in support of miners, 1984During much of 1984, Britain was hit by some of the worst industrial action the country has ever seen, as the National Union of Mineworkers downed tools and upped pickets to resist planned cuts to the coal industry.

Today, we are able to tell the full story of what happened during that tumultuous year with the aid of top-level government papers that have just been released under the so-called “30-year rule”. The main revelation is that, at the depths of the conflict, with the dockworkers also out on strike, Thatcher considered declaring a state of emergency and getting troops to help transport coal across the country to keep power stations running.

But the documents also contain a trove of other fascinating information, which helps us answer more fully than ever before the key questions of the events of one of the most significant years in British history. So here are five questions about the miners’ strike that the new papers help answer: Read more

Kiran Stacey

The last PMQs before a recess is always important for doing what the session is really designed for: crystallising the mood of each side of the House.

Tomorrow MPs will head off to their constituencies for several weeks, where they will be unencumbered by daily Commons business and free of the whips’ influence. It is during these breaks that leaders can become unstable and plots can begin to form, and so it is even more important for the leaders of the two main parties to give their troops something to cheer at this time.

Under these terms, today’s PMQs was a clear victory for Cameron. Read more

Jim Pickard

There was an exchange in the Commons this week between Danny Alexander and former Labour Treasury minister John Healey over the stats in last week’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Healey challenged the chief secretary to the Treasury over a chart in the report (page 5) which shows higher infrastructure investment by the coalition than in the last five years of the previous Labour government. The Labour MP asked Alexander whether he would let the chart be vetted by the UK Statistics Authority or the Office for Budget Responsibility. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband used to hate the Heathrow third runway project so much that he nearly quit as energy secretary towards the end of the Gordon Brown regime in protest.

Now, his aides say that he wants aviation expansion in the South-east and is open-minded about where that should be. One said his position on location is “neutral”. Another senior Labour MP said “all options are now on the table.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Vince Cable, the business secretary, yesterday warned of a danger of house prices “getting out of control” as Whitehall’s official forecasters predicted a near return to the bubble of 2007.

In real terms the market will by 2018 peak at just 3 per cent below the heights last seen six years ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated in new figures produced on Thursday.

The OBR has revised upwards its forecast by some 10 per cent since March, in part because of the projected impact of the coalition’s controversial Help to Buy mortgage scheme.

Annual house price inflation is not expected to return to the giddy pace of the last decade, with in-year rises set to peak at 7.2 per cent in 2015, the OBR suggested.

But the inflation-busting rises from 2013 to 2018 will together add more than 20 per cent to a market that Read more