A summary of today’s events
Polling day. Follow our live coverage of the results from 9pm here.
Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.
Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more
Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.
George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.
We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.
15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com
15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.
15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.
15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.
15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.
15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.
15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.
14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.
The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.
John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:
“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”
But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”
14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.
The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.
14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?
Others are more chipper:
During the prime minster’s speech today he castigated the unfair system whereby families were punished if their child got a job:
“If a family living on benefits wants their adult child to stay living at home they are actually penalised – as soon as that child does the right thing and goes out to work”.
It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.
But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.
Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.
During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in Read more
This was our live coverage of the Leveson inquiry into press standards on the day Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International and ex-editor of The Sun and the News of the World, took the stand to face questions from Robert Jay, QC.
16.30 That’s it for our live coverage of Leveson today. See FT.com for news and reaction. Ben Fenton’s news story on the BSkyB bid elements to Brooks’ evidence is here. And we’ll leave you with Ben’s take on the day:
So, that was five hours in the witness box for Rebekah Brooks and at the end of it I don’t feel a whole lot wiser. We know that the government was lobbied by NI and News Corp over the Sky bid and now we know that this included taking a line on phone hacking – assuming that the email from NC’s lobbyist Fred Michel wasn’t a complete fantasy. We know that George Osborne discussed the Sky bid at a dinner with Mrs Brooks not long before his boss the prime minister did the same with James Murdoch and Mrs B at her Oxfordshire home.
Beyond that, we have been told how important the holy virtues of journalism are to Mrs Brooks, especially the importance of not allowing one’s personal relationships with politicians or anyone else to compromise one’s independence and journalistic objectivity. No journalist would agree that the story was ever more important than the truth, she said.
It is tempting to say that if that last remark of Mrs Brooks was entirely true, there would be no need for a Press Complaints Commission, let alone a Leveson inquiry.
Mrs Brooks retained her cool almost all the time, but there were moments when Robert Jay’s questioning of her integrity seemed to get her hot under the dainty white collar. Similarly, both he and Sir Brian Leveson seemed exasperated at times by her refusal to be distracted from her message.
My personal favourite moment of the day was Mrs Brooks complaining that these highly paid lawyers had been troubling her with questions that verged on trivial gossip – the loan of a retired police horse, what Rupert Murdoch gave her for her 40th birthday.
This was the FT’s live blog on the Leveson Inquiry on May 10th, 2012. Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and head of communications at Number 10, was testifying. Written by Kiran Stacey (KS) and Jim Pickard (JP).
4.34pm KS: The Andy Coulson session has now wrapped up. Ben Fenton has written this story for the FT. He writes:
Andy Coulson, the former tabloid editor who became David Cameron’s spokesman, rejected on Thursday the idea that politicians in Downing Street had become too close to the press.
These are the other interesting details to emerge from today’s session:
This is Ben Fenton’s conclusion:
Andy Coulson was never going to be asked the toughest questions about his time at Number 10 because they would have conflicted with his status as a man on police bail.
But while he played a dead bat to everything, with a litany of “I don’t believes…I don’t recalls…” there were still some difficult moments in his verbal and written evidence.
We know he saw top secret material without supervision, which he shouldn’t have done, that he held News Corp shares but didn’t imagine there was any possible conflict of interest and that David Cameron did not ask him for further assurances that he knew nothing about the phone hacking offences at his paper even after The Guardian, in July
2009, produced evidence that it was widespread.
Welcome to our live blog on the local elections
Through the day, we’ll be providing results from the local elections held yesterday in England, Scotland and Wales, with additional comment from the FT’s political reporting and commentary team as well as pulling in analysis and illumination from wherever we find it on the web.
The results are still coming in, but with the national pattern now becoming clear we’re going to put this blog on pause, at least until we get some sense of what is going to happen in the contest for London mayor. Here are the 11am headlines:
Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.
NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.
16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Here is what Liam Fox wrote to David Cameron:
As you know, I have always placed a great deal of importance on accountability and responsibility. As I said in the House of Commons on Monday, I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my Government activities to become blurred. The consequences of this have become clearer in recent days. I am very sorry for this.
This morning we reported the perplexion in Downing Street around some of Steve Hilton’s more extreme ideas. Five of the following suggestions were made by Hilton, the PM’s head of strategy; five were not. Can you guess which are which? For the answer here’s our original story.
1] Abolish all maternity leave Read more
During the ongoing Commons debate on phone hacking David Cameron refused three times – pressed by Labour MP Dennis Skinner – to say whether he had had conversations with News International executives about the BSkyB while prime minister. He said only that he had had “no inappropriate conversations” with the company.
Separately he insisted that any meetings with NI during the period were not relevant because he had “asked to be excluded from the decision”. Read more
David Cameron has just used his LGA conference speech to defend reforms to public sector pensions, arguing that his proposals are fair. He has suggested that people are being told “scare stories” about the government plans. (Here is the full transcript on the Downing St website and this is our news story).
Does he have a point?
The prime minister has claimed that there are rumours that the government is “closing defined benefit schemes and replacing them with defined contribution schemes”. He also claimed that people are being told that “we are stripping workers of the benefits they have already accumulated.”
This is not true, he points out. Not only will workers still have defined benefit schemes. They will also maintain the “final salary link” for benefits already accrued. “Any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue“.
But who is actually saying this? Anyone? Or has the PM created a paper tiger?
The scare stories are the fault of the unions, Cameron appears to suggest, without actually naming them: “they are giving really bad advice to teachers, nurses and the police officers who are wondering whether to continue with their pension.”
UPDATE: Apparently the PM is not blaming the unions per se, his aides claim. Instead this emanated from the fact that Cabinet Office has spoken to public sector staff, who say they are worried about losing such benefits. “We’re very keen to get the message across out there about what we’re really doing,” says one Downing St aide.
In fact the unions are angry about the following changes, which are not yet set in stone but are proposed by the government – as my colleague Brian Groom recently explained:
* Higher contributions to pensions that will have to be made, typically rising by 3.2 per Read more
But it has emerged that the coalition’s “Big Society not Big Government” slogan was originally devised by the heirs to Chairman Mao over a decade ago.
The initiative by the Communist Party of China in 1997 even echoed Mr Cameron’s Big Society flagship theme in its promise to encourage civil society and cut back the role of the state.
Chinese officials said their desire for “small government and big society” should mean less bureaucracy, with civic organisations taking a bigger role in society as the “bridges and belts linking the party and government with the mass”.
Steve Hilton, the Downing Street blue-sky thinker credited with coining the Big Society concept, is treated with suspicion by many on the right of the Tory party given his small-l liberal tendencies.
It is even thought that Mr Hilton voted for the Green Party in 2001, before going on to help Mr Cameron rebrand the Tories in a more modern and cuddly image.
News that the coalition’s main concept was first coined in Beijing could prompt bemused Read more
It is always dangerous for a senior churchman to stray into political matters, just as it is risky for politicians to stray into religion. (Thus the firm advice from Alastair Campbell to Tony Blair that he shouldn’t ‘do God’.)
And the criticism of the coalition by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has already prompted a backlash from senior cabinet ministers. Dr Williams has signalled his displeasure with the cuts programme before but this intervention (most notably November) in the New Statesman, is the most passionate and extensive – arguing that “nobody voted for” the coalition’s policies. He also dismissed the Big Society idea as “painfully stale“. It is the most outspoken attack on the government by the church since Robert Runcie criticised Margaret Thatcher in the mid-1980s. Read more
Liam Fox’s concerns about setting legal targets for increasing overseas aid spending – which were aired in a leaked letter yesterday – are widely shared on the Conservative benches. Many MPs believe the plan is unaffordable at a time of public spending cuts. And plenty are happy to speak out about their concerns.
Philip Davies, an executive member of the backbench 1922 committee, challenged David Cameron on the issue last week. Davies told us: Read more
This could have been better for David Laws. The punishment imposed by the standards committee is at the worse end of expectations, at least among Lib Dems. One government figure told me he will not be returning as a minister “anytime soon”.
But, particularly in this case, it is important to define terms. If you start from the premise that the didn’t do anything seriously wrong and should be reappointed immediately, this is a terrible conclusion to the investigation. Read more
It is hard not to conclude that Ed Miliband won the major clash of the day at PMQs* over the direction of NHS reform.
The Office for National Statistics has told the BBC that the net EU migration figures the Prime Minister used in his speech on immigration are wrong – and that EU immigration was estimated at 57,000 not 27,000 in the year to June 2010.
The reason this matters is that Cameron used the figure to claim that Europe accounted for only a “small proportion of overall net migration to the UK.” Read more
When Nick Clegg called for paid internships last week there was an ironic twist as it emerged that the coalition had just cut funding for that purpose.
Now, as Cameron makes his most rightwing speech on immigration to date, it is worth pointing out the flaw in his vow to make incomers speak the Queen’s English.
As the Guardian points out today, the coalition is making deep cuts to the state programme for teaching immigrants the language.
From the autumn these lessons will only be free for immigrants on jobseeker’s allowance Read more
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