Business vote

Ken Clarke, shadow business secretary, is an angry man and thinks British politics is being trivialised.

“We are in danger of treating this election as if it is just some TV celebrity talent contest.

The most urgent question in this campaign is, quite simply, which party is capable of tackling public spending and getting a grip on the deficit.”

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As part of the FT’s expert election panel, our three contributors will occasionally be giving their thoughts on the big election news story of the day. Today, we asked for their thoughts on efficiency savings and the war on cuts. Get to know our panelists in their video introductionRead more

Jim Pickard

Unless you read the financial pages you may not be aware of Corporate Britain’s latest eye-catching payout: a £92m remuneration package for Bert Becht (not to be confused with Bertold Brecht). He is the chief executive of Reckitt Beneckiser, which makes products such as Vanish and Dettol.

To be fair, Becht has set up a charitable foundation to which he has given more than £100m. Even so; isn’t there an issue with this kind of payout just months after the credit crunch?

Vince Cable told me last night this was “extraordinary” and “unbelievable” and showed the often painful differential between the highest and lowest-paid workers. Read more

Jim Pickard

It was all just a dream.

You may have thought that the Tories were the party of fiscal probity. You may have thought that they were the ones who were going to get a grip on Britain’s desperate public finances. They were the ones who would prevent the loss of the UK’s AAA credit rating and keep interest rates low. Etc, etc, etc. Read more

Jim Pickard

When David Cameron yesterday said there would be no “swingeing cuts” in the first year of a Tory government was it proof that he is in retreat over the issue? Read more

Jim Pickard

Nick Clegg attracted some mocking laughter from MPs – including Gordon Brown – during PMQs today for daring to question the Cadbury’s takeover. How come the government couldn’t stop RBS, which is state-owned, part-funding the Kraft takeover, he asked?

Last month, Lord Mandelson declared that the government would mount a huge opposition to the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s, so why does the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is owned by this government, now want to lend vast amounts of our money to Kraft to fund that takeover? Read more

Jim Pickard

A curious email was sent out this afternoon, purporting to be from Peter Slowe, chair of the Labour Finance and Industry Group. In it, Dr Slowe apparently called for Harriet Harman to quit. Yes, really.

UPDATE: Slowe has said it’s nothing to do with him – instead he says it was a mistaken publicity attempt by his PR advisers. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Infrastructure Planning Commission is much more important than it sounds. Read more

Jim Pickard

Expectations are for a Gordon Brown “recovery” speech on Tuesday when he faces the TUC Conference in Liverpool.

For all the (slightly) better economic/financial data out there, there is still an obvious dichotomy that Britain faces. Do you define the downturn by GDP figures (the formal definition of recession beging two quarters of contraction) or on unemployment figures? Read more

Jim Pickard

We revealed a year ago that the Reuben brothers – two property tycoons who made their money in Russian aluminium – had given £186,000 to the Tories, mostly through obscure corporate entities.

Now they have given £5,000 to Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, according to the register of MPs’ interests. Read more

Jim Pickard

A group called Tescopoly (set up to defy the grocery giant) points out:

“We are very interested in these comments seeing as previously Cameron has spoken of the need to make trade fairer between supermarkets and farmers* and publicly supported calls for a watchdog.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Lord Myners gives short thrift today to Tory plans to kneecap the Financial Services Authority and transfer many of its powers to the Bank of England. Read more

Jim Pickard

Expect several front page headlines on Tuesday morning about HMRC’s plunging tax receipts in 08/09 – laid bare thanks to an NAO report. Astute readers of this column will already know about the £20bn-plus fall in tax take – you read it here - because it was flagged up on Budget day in the red book small print. You’ll notice that the coming year is set to be even worse, according to the Treasury’s own predictions.

The real nasty today was another £10bn-plus of unpleasant news, including £3bn of uncollected tax and £7bn set aside for legal claims by taxpayers. The bulk of the latter – a staggering £4.8bn – stems from a single landmark case concluded early last year over VAT repayments. HMRC admitted today that they have already paid £1.5bn as a result of this “Fleming” test case. That’s an awful lot of helicopters or MRI machines.

Jim Pickard

Read here for the full story about Sir Alan Sugar’s visit to Downing Street.

Will he be Gordon Brown’s new political Apprentice? Appointing the hard-baked entrepreneur as a new minister would certainly be a radical move. Next stop: JK Rowling for culture secretary? Read more

Jim Pickard

You may not have noticed, but bank shares have more than doubled from their recent lows as sentiment warms – temporarily or otherwise – to the sector in the wake of government rescue plans on both sides of the Atlantic.

This has repercussions, not least for Lloyds; which is already 43 per cent owned by taxpayers. To participate in the British government’s insurance scheme that figure could rise to 63 per cent (or higher in economic terms). Read more

Jim Pickard

One advantage of a blog is you can flag up curiosities before they become mainstream news. Take the threat of industrial action over foreign workers, which I mentioned here three weeks ago.

I mention this before drawing your attention to a small and obscure clause in the Hooper report on the modernisation of the Royal Mail. Read more

Jim Pickard

Norman Lamont told me last night that he was flattered by the use of the “green shoots” phrase by business minister Shriti Vadera.

He argued that words had been “pretty accurate” given that Britain pulled out of recession in the summer of 1992. He had spotted only “shoots, not bushes”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Norman Lamont was ridiculed as Chancellor during the last recession not only because he sang in the bath as Britain exited the ERM but also because he spotted the “green shoots” of recovery far too early.

Shriti Vadera, Berr minister, has just made the same clanger. Baroness Vadera told ITV News today: Read more

Jim Pickard

John Ralfe, the pensions guru, drops me a line – in mock horror – to complain about the latest sneaky stealth tax.

“In completing my quarterly company VAT return today for the end of December
2008 I notice the following, Read more

Jim Pickard

I am starting to wish I’d spent yesterday afternoon in the Lords rather than following the navel-gazing Commons debate over the structure of the committee looking into the Damian Green affair. (Why do MPs always turn up en masse when talking about themselves?)

Some real gems in the Lords’ Hansard. Read more