Over at the Guardian, Nick Watt has pulled together a terrific summary of the lifelong rivalry between Ken Clarke and Michael Howard. It began 50 years ago with a row over Oswald Mosley and it’s still going strong today over prisons policy.
Clarke and Howard are, of course, members of the so-called Cambridge Mafia that graduated from 1960s student politicking to rule the roost in Whitehall as cabinet ministers.
It is a famous tale. But there is a coalition twist to the Cambridge Mafia story that is less well known.
One of the Cambridge Union presidents around this time was a young liberal activist from York called Vince Cable.
Now that the coalition is formed, Cable has surely earned his place as a “made man”. He really deserves to join the list of Cambridge Mafioso, which includes Clarke, Howard, Norman Lamont, Norman Fowler, John Gummer and Leon Brittan. (Some of them are pictured here at Clarke’s wedding.)
That said, while they mixed in the same circles, Vince was never terribly keen on joining the gang. He remarked that Clarke was “not particularly exciting back then – not the real personality he later became”. And this is what he thought of the Tory “conveyor belt”. Read more
The prospect of all Lib Dem MPs — including Clegg and Cable — abstaining on the tuition fee rise never did seem likely.
Well, Vince Cable has consigned the idea to the dustbin, saying he’ll vote for a rise in fees. He broke the news to the Twickenham Times: Read more
If you asked a Lib Dem MP whether they would abstain on tuition fees given a free vote, the answer would almost certainly be no. Most of them have very strong views on the matter. Vince Cable just spelled out the obvious: his “personal instinct” is to vote for the policy he developed.
Yet when 57 Lib Dem MPs gather in one room, strange things begin to happen to their judgement.
Even Nick Clegg is now seriously considering the mass abstention option — bravely leading his party to sit on the fence.
To be fair, there are no good options. They will be punished for breaking their pledge to vote against a rise. But it seems that after countless hours of excruciating debate, they’ve decided the best way to minimise the pain is to not vote at all. Read more
Transparency on high-end pay is good for Whitehall but not yet for the City – that is the conclusion emerging from the Treasury.
But what about the Lib Dems? Weren’t they billing themselves as the slayers of City excess? Tackling “obscene” banker pay was one of Nick Clegg’s top four priorities in the election campaign.
Yet it seems the element of the four point plan where the Lib Dems have made least progress.
Just compare what has happened to the proposals Clegg unveiled during the election.
Cash bonuses? Uncle Vince says £2,500 is your limit. Board level bonuses? Banned outright. (Vince made a joke about how the bank directors can make do with free golf club membership.) Working at a loss making bank? No bonus at all.
There was more. The one measure that really stood out was transparency. Cable and Clegg wanted to require banks to publish the names of all staff on a pay and bonus package greater than the prime minister’s salary. This would not only have ensnared top traders — it probably would have included their PAs as well.
When we asked Clegg about this recently, he dismissed the question, saying the Walker review was being implemented. When we pointed out that the legislation had been delayed, he seemed a bit taken aback.
Now George Osborne wants to impose such transparency rules on high pay “internationally rather than unilaterally” — which is an all too transparent code for shelving the reforms. Sir David Walker, the City grandee who proposed the tighter disclosure rules, has given the chancellor some convenient cover.
What will Clegg do? This will be a fascinating test of Lib Dem resolve. Read more
Just imagine the decision had gone the other way. Just imagine that the coalition had waved through News Corp‘s proposed £8.2bn bid to take British Sky Broadcasting private.
The story now would be about David Cameron overruling his coalition partners as well as his officials, shunning the need for an independent assessment of a complex competition issue, all in order to intervene on behalf of the most powerful media dynasty in the English speaking world. Read more
When Francis Maude said a few weeks ago that he was culling 192 quangos he couldn’t put a number on how much money the coalition would save. And no wonder. The cost of any government reorganisation can quickly mount in terms of redundancy payments, closing down offices and so on – before you get any net benefits.
Regional Development Agencies will require a further £1.4bn-plus of state funding over the next four years despite their abolition in the spending review, officials have just confirmed.
The nine regional quangos, which are to be replaced with a patchwork of “local enterprise partnerships” – loose networks of councils and companies – cannot be axed immediately and instead will be wound down gradually with heavy redundancy costs for staff. Read more
It would be a volte-face to prompt an angry backlash from the right. But there are a few smoke signals emerging from above 10 Downing Street that a rethink of the immigration cap could be underway.
David Cameron’s spokesman insisted this morning that no decision had been made over the cap, which applies to the number of visitors from outside the EU. (The vast majority come from inside the free market and thus cannot be halted). Read more
The spending review did not end in the way most people expected. When Cameron’s top team gathered around the Chequers table on Sunday to tuck in to roast lamb and Yorkshire puddings, there was virtually no talk of squeezing out extra savings to balance the books. They had money to spare.
This was not the impression given to the rest of the cabinet, or indeed the BBC. But the truth was that the Treasury was sitting on a small cash-pile. After agreeing all the big budgets, there was £1bn or more left in the emergency fund for the quad — Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Alexander — to distribute.
“They went from the horsemen of the apocalypse to Father Christmas overnight,” said one official close to the final days of the spending negotiation.
This back of the sofa discovery is a feature of spending rounds. The Treasury always set cautious targets so there is some flexibility at the end. But how Cameron handled the mini windfall is revealing. It gives us an insight into both his priorities and the methods he used to bluff the BBC into paying for the World Service. Read more
One big test for any reform to higher education funding is whether students should be allowed to pay fees upfront. It exposes the political divide over how progressive the system should be. Here are the pros and cons:
Reasons for a ban: Allowing students to pay fees upfront is a rich kids charter. Those from wealthy families will be able to sidestep the burden of repayments placed on those from poor or middle income households. It will give the lucky a leg-up while giving the middle classes a sack of debt to carry. It will give a free pass to those without credit constraints while placing a tax on those who do. For all these reasons, it does not pass the political fairness test. Those who pay upfront will pay less in total than those who are forced to repay over 30 years. A duke will pay less than his university contemporary who turns to teaching in a primary school. Read more
Except, perhaps, in the City of London.
Vince remains the public’s favourite Lib Dem politicians, according to research conducted for PoliticsHome. Read more
Vince Cable has laid down the gauntlet against his own coalition government today as he stepped up his criticism of immigration policy.
Vince was talking during a Q&A after a setpiece speech. He said the cap was “doing great damage” and cited a British company that needed 500 specialists – half of which needed to come from outside the EU – but had geen given a quota of just 30. Read more
In opposition one of Vince Cable’s favourite pastimes was taunting Barclays and Bob Diamond, their investment banking chief. Read more
In the run-up to the general election George Osborne scored a big propaganda coup by enlisting the names of scores of business leaders in a letter criticising Gordon Brown’s planned rise in National Insurance.
(No matter that in Osborne’s subsequent Budget VAT went up by a similar amount to help plug the fiscal hole).
For Labour that stung; not least because some of the figures had sat at various times on its own advisory boards. David Miliband has since said, on several occasions, that he never wants Labour to enter a general election campaign with no business support. Read more
There have been two official accounts of the Clegg-Biden phone call on Tuesday and one notable difference of emphasis.
Nick Clegg’s account of the “videoconference” explained that it touched on “Pakistan flood relief, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process”. Read more
Alex has written several times in recent months about the huge cost of lending students interest-free loans to pay for their education. For example here. As he wrote back in July, the subsidy works out as 23p in the £1, according to IFS research.
It seems that Vince Cable is now moving towards a “graduate contribution” which could fall somewhat harder on high earners than low earners. It is likely to be combined with a loosening of the cap on fees, which the Russell Group of top universities – and others – want scrapped. (Lord Browne’s review of tuition fees is expected in October). Read more
Labour is in something of a dilemma about how to deal with the Lib Dems. On the one hand, it is an easy attack to claim they betrayed their voters by doing a deal with the Tories and to portray the party as patsies for the real party of government. After all, some of their own have said the same thing.
But Ed Balls, among others, has warned the party not to get sidetracked by attacking Lib Dems and moving the focus away from the Tories. And party leaders have realised that a Lib Dem collapse in the next election just makes a Tory majority more likely.
That dichotomy is summed up in Labour’s attitude to Vince Cable in particular. Adrian Bailey has told me he regards it as part of his role as chairman of the business select committee to “reinforce” Cable, especially in his attitude to manufacturing. He says he thinks Cable is being undermined by other departments and worries that the Tories are not showing him enough political support. Read more
I revealed this morning that the TUC has revoked an invitation to Vince Cable to address it’s autumn conference in Manchester after a decision last week by some of the big unions who are angry about public sector cuts. The general secretaries have also agreed to host a big rally next spring – comparable with the Stop the War demonstration – to protest about mass redundancies.
The Vince move has prompted concerns within the moderate end of the movement, however. Some more thoughtful characters are worried that Vince may be one of the ministers who would resist attempts by more rightwing colleagues to crack down on the movement. Antagonising Vince could be counter-productive, they fear. Read more
Government officials told the FT over the weekend that today’s bank lending paper would be “very green” – essentially laying out a set of problems rather than solutions. And so it has proved.
The first 12 out of 39 pages deal with “context”: basically facts we already knew. It is not until page 13 that we get any concrete policy suggestions. And even then, they are couched in very cautious terms. Read more
Rachel Sylvester has a characteristically fun and insightful column in today’s Times on how football loving Labour have been replaced by a coalition that plays a very different (and more individualistic) game.
She’s spot on apart from one slur against a football mad cabinet minister that should not go uncorrected. This is the offending passage:
It’s not only the top two players who are agnostic about footie. There are few fans, out of the closet, on the Liberal-Conservative front bench.
William Hague’s sport of choice is judo, Vince Cable likes ballroom dancing and George Osborne plays computer games. It’s hard to imagine any members of the current Cabinet having the chant of the Everton crowd as their ring tone, as Andy Burnham once did.
If Mrs Cable read the piece, I expect she would have spat out her corn flakes. Vince Cable is a York City FC zealot and general sports nut who thinks of little else when he’s not being grumpy about the economy. (Is it one more piece of evidence to show he would have been happier in a Lib-Lab Cabinet?) This is how he once described his lifelong affliction: Read more
An interesting chart from the Institute of Government. Note the Lib Dem cabinet positions control less than 10 per cent of departmental spending (excluding the all powerful David Laws, of course).
Not sure whether this is a blessing. Axing 25 per cent of spending from transport or the police is never a career enhancing move in politics. But Vince Cable and Danny Alexander face some particularly tough choices on Scotland and student fees, which have the potential to backfire horribly on the Lib Dems. Read more