There seems to be a growing appetite to cut the cost of public sector pensions. A year ago, it was basically off the cards — no party would have dared take the political risk. But the coalition are now slowly making the case. There is a strong chance of a levy being imposed, if the government holds its nerve.

The stats in the OBR report today, which for the first time breaks out the annual cost of public sector pensions until 2015, are genuinely concerning. Read more

Jim Pickard

Today’s meeting of Labour’s NEC (national executive committee) should set some kind of timeframe for the leadership contest. Some MPs have been claiming that the whole thing could be wrapped up within five weeks of today. “Short and sharp,” says one. But I’m told that it’s more likely to run through until August with the result announced at autumn conference. This would give the party time to regroup and give potential leaders full consideration. (They each need a list of 29 MP supporters to stand). This all still needs to be thrashed out, however. Read more

Jim Pickard

The problem with any plot involving Mandelson installing David Miliband into the Labour leadership is very familiar. It’s the sticking point which held back Brown’s enemies during the last three or four attempted coups against him.

It is this: the rules around Labour leadership elections are very complicated, especially if the incumbent refuses to step down. Even if Brown was to walk voluntarily there would still have to be a democratic election within Labour for his replacement.

You may remember that the Parliamentary Labour Party only has a third of the vote. Another third goes to the grassroots. The final third is the unions: and the barons are already unhappy at the idea of the Blairite wing of the party fixing the contest in advance. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s just that I tried the site second ago.

And it had this response: Read more

Jim Pickard

Is it bad form to promote your own stories? I’ve no idea. But I revealed in this morning’s FT that Labour managed 18 months ago to agree an interest holiday with the seven remaining millionaires which lent it a small fortune in 2005 – but that it will have to resume interest payments in July.

At an interest rate of 6.5 per cent that means a total of £3m to be paid in the next five-year Parliament – followed by the repayment of £9m capital in September 2015. Here’s the full storyRead more

Jim Pickard

Unite’s membership is supposedly about 2m, according to The Economist, the BBC, the Sunday Times etc. I’m sure the union is happy to encourage this.

In fact Unite revised down its membership last summer from 1.95m to 1.64m members, as I revealed back then. In the UK the figure is just 1.54m. The revision came about after officials checked their membership lists and discovered a quarter of a million “ghosts” who were either dead or no longer members. Read more

Jim Pickard

Charlie Whelan has given an interview to Will Straw’s pro-Labour Left Foot Forward blog. Worth a read.

He claims the Tories are carrying out an anti-union “witch hunt”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Mea culpa. I missed the most interesting angle on the Stalybridge and Hyde selection yesterday; the exclusion of James Purnell’s anointed successor, Johnny Reynolds. He is now back on the shortlist after an intervention by both Purnell and Lord Mandelson.

Mandelson’s action re-opened the shortlist. Or so Tom Watson (who is heavily involved in the selection procedure) has said in a statement to The Times, adding, curtly: “I know of no rule that allows for an appeal once the panel has decided the shortlist.” Another rejected candidate, Glyn Ford – ironically from Unite – is now also seeking an appeal. Read more

Jim Pickard

Before lunch I attended an amusing Tory event designed to reinforce the impression that Labour has reverted to Old Labour. Theresa Villiers, Eric Pickles and Michael Gove were our hosts – ironically at Transport House, former home of the T&G.

Some of the language was delightfully ripe, with Gove suggesting that Charlie Whelan had “unleashed the forces of hell” on families wanting to fly abroad over Easter. “I would never go as far as calling Charlie Whelan an ‘aggressive hooligan’, ‘serial killer*‘ or ‘killing machine’ – but then, civil servants and senior Labour figures have already said that,” said the shadow education spokesman. He also described a “second Mesozoic era, with a succession of dinosaurs trooping through Downing Street.”

But does Gove’s main premise stack up? Read more

Jim Pickard

First things first. I don’t want to underestimate the importance of Unite to Labour, and the extent to which it holds sway financially. (And again I’d recommend this column in the Times.)

Unite has given an enormous £11m to Labour since it was formed in 2007 – of which £3.5m was given last year. It has also stood in between the party and financial disaster by agreeing to keep backing it in the future. The party leadership has to listen to the barons – although their influence over policy is still not always clearcut. Read more

Jim Pickard

I reported this morning that the unions are up in arms about an imminent pay freeze announced today. The three unions representing about 1.5m council workers want a 2.5 per cent rise – the employers have offered zero.

But how hard are Unison, the GMB and Unite going to fight this one? Read more

Jim Pickard

Britain’s biggest union will get its first solo leader next autum and the result could be significant for British politics – because Unite the Union is by far Labour’s most generous donor.

The curious rumour reaches me that Jack Dromey (husband of Harriet Harman) could soon emerge as a surprise candidate. Currently a deputy general secretary of Unite, Dromey is an ardently loyal Labour figure who would ensure a seamless transition. He would not rock the boat. Read more