30 November 2011 3:13 PM

Sports Personality row reaches Parliament

The anger over the all-male shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been widespread, and MPs are not immune.

Labour's Geraint Davies has tabled an EDM on the issue, signed by 14 colleagues so far, which reads:

That this House is disappointed that there are no women in this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist; notes the lack of women in previous year's shortlists; further notes that high profile women in sport play an important role in encouraging women and girls to participate in sports; and calls on the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to do more to involve and promote women in sport.

Shadow culture secretary (and long time equality campaigner) Harriet Harman has also weighed in, declaring it "wrong" that no women are on the shortlist and demanding immediate action from the BBC. After the news that representatives from men's magazines were on the judging panel, she also asks whether the selectors were all-male. And she adds: “This shortlist highlights the failure over many years to give women’s sport the media coverage it deserves. There must be action to change that.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

29 November 2011 3:09 PM

Creating dragons in the public sector?


A thrusting Tory turk told me over lunch in 1997 that the Conservatives lost power because "they slayed all the dragons and there were none left to frighten the public".

This individual is nowadays one of George Osborne's best friends and on close terms to No 10 advisers, so it's worth pondering what he meant - and whether George Osborne is trying to invent new dragons with his triple-whammy to the public sector unions.

Here's what my old friend meant by dragons.   Back in the 1980s, the Tories kept winning elections partly because they were defined by their opposition to militant trade unions, crackpot left-wing councils and PC teachers. Labour was defined by its close relations with the same people.

By the mid-90s, however, Norman Tebbit had tamed the unions, Maggie had scrapped the GLC, and New Labour got rid of the old Lefties and the PC brigade.  Suddenly, nobody had any reason to fear voting Labour. "If only they had left a few of the dragons alive to breathe fire and smoke ... " mused my old chum over his Notting Hill tagliatelle.

Fast forward to today's Autumn Statement. The Chancellor seems hell bent on provoking war with the public sector unions.  A one per cent pay cap is imposed on top of the current freeze.  National pay bargaining is being ended.  Some 700,000 job losses, up by 310,000, are forecast by the OBR. 

The reaction from union leaders, on the eve of tomorrow's pension strike, is apoplexy. No wonder there are steel barricades around Parliament in readiness for the strikers' march.

Why would Osborne be so provocative?  Perhaps he has been listening to the "dragon argument" of our mutual friend. If the public sector unions become more militant, the big loser is Ed Miliband, trapped by his inability to condemn them.

And the big winner might well be a Tory Party, posing once again as the defender of the people against militancy.



Joe Murphy

Follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon



Ukip moves in on Labour in London

Activity is hotting up in Feltham and Heston, where the by-election sparked by the death of Alan Keen is due to take place on December 15.

Both Labour and the Tories have selected their candidate to fight the seat, while the Lib Dems pick their contender tonight. Business consultant and Fabian Women's Network director Seema Malhotra will be in the red corner, while Hounslow Council Tory leader Mark Bowen (who has fought and lost the seat twice already) will be in the blue corner.

Also hoping for a strong showing are Ukip, who are aiming to beat the Lib Dems into third place. And in a nice bit of colour, candidate Andrew Charalambos found the office he has moved into was previously occupied by ex-Labour MEP Robert Evans.

"In the same way that Labour have left the ordinary working man and woman behind, they are now leaving the offices empty. We are happy to pick up in both places," he said.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

24 November 2011 3:53 PM

Making light of the economy

As George Osborne prepares to deliver his autumn statement on Tuesday, the accepted wisdom is he'll have to downgrade growth forecasts and paint a bleak picture of the economy.

If he's looking for some light relief along the way, he could check out comedian Rufus Jones' representation of him as part of a campaign calling on the Chancellor to tackle food speculation on the markets.

Jones, who recently played Terry Jones in the BBC Monty Python film Flying Circus, hardly paints a flattering picture of Osborne - an interesting campaign tactic if ever I've seen one.

But running through the short videos on The Real George Osborne is an amusing fictional rivalry with Boris Johnson over the future Tory leadership. Incredulous that the Mayor is a serious contender, at one point Osborne declares: "Boris looks like a polar bear on wheels".

Whether it will succeed in getting the Chancellor to act on food speculation when the economy is flatlining is another matter.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Lansley suffers fresh blow in NHS secrecy battle

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is currently refusing to hand over to The Standard a secret report on the risks of his landmark NHS reforms despite being told to do so by the Information Commissioner.

The Cabinet minister has until early December to decide whether to appeal against the Commissioner's ruling that the public and Parliament should be able to see his department's risk register for the controversial changes that he is proposing.

One of the arguments for non-discloure that his officials have used is that publication of risk registers could interfer in Whitehall policy making.

The Commissioner felt that the public interest in publication still outweigh this concern.

Now, it has also emerged that NHS London publishes a risk register for health services in the capital on its website quarterly including how they could be affected by the Government's reforms.

It takes some finding but this openness still appears to contrast markedly with the apparent culture of secrecy at the Department of Health and other ministries.

NHS London's frankness can only add to the case for publication. The public, MPs and peers have a right to know.

Nicholas Cecil


Now Justine wades into parking row

Justine Greening talks about the growth strategy, Cab fares, Olympic "zil" lanes and why she prefers the Tube to a ministerial limo in her first big interview, given (bless her!) to the Standard.

The Transport Secretary also had tough comments about Westminster's plan to hit the West End with evening parking charges.

"I’m sure when Westminster thought about what they were going to do with those parking charges they had a sense they might be able to put some extra money in their coffers that they could probably use on public services, without a significant impact on their night time economy,” Justine Greening told us.

The significance is that, as council leader Colin Barrow says, it would be unlawful for Westminster to use parking as a general revenue raiser.

Greening goes on to say the furious reaction of businesses should give Mr Barrow "a huge amount of food for thought".

Mr Barrow denies that the council to making money from the charhges, which will raise about £7 million, and assures us he will cahnge the policy if there is evidence of harm to the local economy.

But he is probably aware that Tory high command is simply aghast at what looks like a war against vistors to the West End (see Lord Young's remarks on Mr Barrow's re-election chances).


Joe Murphy




22 November 2011 2:32 PM

Lord Young blasts Westminster parking nonsense


Lord Young of Graffham, the PM's business adviser, has launched a blistering attack on Westminster council's barmy parking charges (*details below), saying they will "destroy" firms in the West End.

This mighty Thatcherite accuses the Tory borough of "biting the hand" of struggling business ratepayers and says of leader Colin Barrow: "If this chap wants to get re-elected he had better start thinking again."

Full quotes in tonight's Evening Standard, here.

As Mr Barrow ponders what to do, he might well compare the CVs of the two men advising him.

On the one hand .... Lord Young is a Titan of both politics and business. A former Institute of Directors president, he headed a string of companies including Cable & Wireless. He headed the Thatcherite think tank, CPS, in the 70s, became Trade and Industry in the 80s (Maggie called him her favourite minister because "other people bring me problems, David brings me solutions") and now is back at 10 Downign Street, aged 79, as an aide to David Cameron.

On the other hand ... there is Lee Rowley, a 31-year-old management consultant and Westminster councillor in charge of parking and traffic, and a would-be MP; a man whose sense of propertion is such that he declared being given "a glass of water" as a gift.

Which would you choose?

* For non-Londoners, here's what's causing the fuss. Rowley is driving plans to charge up to £4.80 an hour for parking in the West End up to midnight on weekdays and on Sundays from January, abolishing our right to park free on single yellow lines and parking bays after 6.30pm in the week and between 1pm and 6pm on Sundays. It will raise around £7 million but might cost far more to the restaurants, clubs and theatres that make the West End what it is.


Joe Murphy




Cameron promises "Dyno-rod" for economy

The PM resorted to some robust imagery to describe his economic plans at this morning's two-hour cabinet.

He said the housing measures would act like "Dyno-rod" on the clogged up property market. Yuk.

More seriously, he sounded pretty grim, according to Evening Standard sources, telling the Coalition team: “We are in a very difficult situation.”

The Quad met for 90 minutes last night and made "good progress" but has yet to agree key measures for next week's Autumn Statement. Another meeting is being called tomorrow. Sticking points are widely believed to be benefits uprating and the Beecroft proposals on employment reform.

There's not much cheer even at the news that October’s borrowing figures came in lower than expected.

Mr Cameron dropped another hint that next week's OBR report will be bad news on growth/borrowing. He went out of his way to praise the independence of the OBR and said other countries may copy its model of impartiality.

My hunch is he is preparing to say next week: Ok, these figures are bad, but at least now you can trust them.



Joe Murphy





21 November 2011 12:17 PM

Huhne's curse strikes again

Yet another calamity at Chris Huhne's Energy and Climate change department, where staff have been sent home for the day because of a water shortage.

At about 11am civil servants at the Whitehall Place HQ found there was no water to drink or flush toilets, and were directed to the adjacent building on 55 Whitehall.

But when the water also went off there, both buildings were shut and staff were ordered to work from home while Thames Water investigates the problem.

As I've reported several times, DECC's HQ has been beset by glitches.

A routine fire drill saw the alarm bells get stuck on while an engineer was caught in traffic, a flood wiped out staff belongings in the basement, the central heating and air conditioning seem to work in reverse, and in March a power cut struck when Mr Huhne was in the lift. Staff wonder if it is cursed.

UPDATE: Thames Water says they've checked out the issue and found nothing wrong with the mains - pinning the blame on "a problem with pumps inside the building." It really is cursed.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

18 November 2011 4:45 PM

Cameron's contradictions

David Cameron’s EU positions are confusing.

He wants the 17 eurozone countries to have more fiscal union, but is against a two-tier Europe. He wants to repatriate powers next time there is a big EU treaty, but a treaty that gives the eurozone its own summits and president won't count as big enough. He refused to pay into a eurozone bailout, but will help countries through the IMF.

If his intention is to please everybody, he's failing.  The Tory right don't trust him an inch and the headlines in the German press show how little Britain is liked just now.

On Monday he used his banquet speech to attack the continental vision of Europe, but today he appeared to give his blessing to closer union among the 17.

Cam can't hide his red lines for much longer as critical decisions are fast coming to a head. By the next big EU summit on December 9, the 27 leaders need to agree how to run the eurozone in a more stable way.

Previous prime ministers have found this out the hard way that it is a mistake to raise expectations in advance. Some try to be “good Europeans” only to discover that, in the end, the Eurosceptics in Parliament and the Media make terrifying enemies. Some vow to be tough and come home with nothing, and get a kicking.

It seems that Mr Cameron may agree a narrow treaty to give the 17 closer union, while arguing it does not merit a referendum. Of course, he will argue (and rightly) that saving the euro is a vital interest.  But will it wash in the Smoking Room?

Expectations are high. So any sense of disappointment will be all the more bitter.



Joe Murphy



16 November 2011 1:54 PM

Revealed: How Maggie thought she might stay on as PM

It's not often you hear an astonishing new story about Margaret Thatcher. But delivering the Speaker's Lecture on Great Parliamentarians last night, her former political secretary John Whittingdale made my jaw drop.

He revealed that she “briefly” considered staying as Prime Minister even after losing the Conservative Party leadership.

“She always said she had never been defeated by the people,” Whittingdale told an enthralled audience at Speaker's House that included lots of the Iron Lady's old friends.

"She had only been defeated by her colleagues in the House of Commons and she felt very strongly that it was an act of great disloyalty and betrayal.

“She even briefly thought about whether or not she could continue as Prime Minister without being leader of the Conservative Party.

"This was not an entirely practical idea but she did feel very strongly that it was improper that she had been forced to leave office on that basis.”

I asked Whittingdale in the Q&A to expand. He stressed it was only a brief thought but also pointed out that Lady T was at that time playing a kew role in the build up to Gulf War I and fighting for the hard-won freedom of eastern Europeans. For that reason, she felt her departure would let down literally millions of people who were relying on her, and all because a handful of Tory MPs switched horses.

“I think it entered her head very briefly and those of us who were present soon persuaded her this was not a sensible idea,” he said.

“But what you have to understand is that . . . she was very angry. I don’t think it was a serious possibility.”

He described the “extraordinary night” her leadership collapsed. “I left Downing Street at 2am after working on what we all knew would be her final speech. The next day she gave a vintage performance, an absolute defence of everything she had achieved as Prime Minister.  I have to admit I sat with tears rolling down my cheeks.”

One of Whittingdale's tasks at No 10 was to help write her speeches. The big ones were epic events and she personally invested 80 hours work in each of her barnstorming conference addresses.

He recalled how her speechwriters struggled to make her understand the jokes written for big setpiece speeches. “She knew jokes were not her strong point but knew they were important.”

Once he had to bring in a video of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch to convince her that a proposed passage mocking the new Liberal Democrat bird of freedom logo was actually funny.

“We were all rolling around with laughter - except Margaret who was impassive." They finally persuaded her that, despite her inability to see the joke, it really was the funniest sketch in British comedy and she kept it. (You can watch her perfomance, complete with John Cleese nuances on YouTube - and, yes, it brought the house down).

But at the last minute she turned to Whitto.

"John," she asked urgently. "Monty Python, are you sure he is one of us?"

Whittingdale gave the only possible reply: "Absolutely, Prime Minister! He's a very good supporter."



(P.S.  The next Speaker's Lecture will be on Tony Benn by Tristram Hunt MP.)



Joe Murphy




Employment goes up - but only among hard-working migrants

Here's a really striking figure buried in the ONS stats on unemployment today.

Look up the tables on employment by birth and nationality.  It summarises: “The number off non-UK-born people in employment was 4.08 million, up 181,000 from a year earlier.”  In other words, at the same time that fewer British-educated people are in work, more people from overseas are getting jobs.

This is the Pret a Manger phenomenon in action. Why, as Boris Johnson pondered aloud last month, are High Street coffee shops invariably staffed by people from overseas?

No blame should be attached to migrant workers themselves, whose skills, enthusiasm, hard work and attractive personalities make them hugely attractive to employers.

There are several possible explanations.  One is that firms choose migrants because of their stronger work ethic and wilingness to work long hours for low wages.  Talk to any employer and you will hear stories about young Brits who regularly fail to turn up to work. Or it may be that our X-Factor generation youngsters turn their noses up at menial jobs.

Whatever the cause, it is a crazy and costly situation and makes a nonsense of "British jobs for British workers".  And it surely makes it harder for Iain Duncan Smith reform the welfare system if his Home Office colleagues keep allowing low-cost labour from abroad to fill the available vacancies?



Joe Murphy








15 November 2011 3:21 PM

Out of touch crosses party lines

The over-use of "out of touch" shows no sign of relenting despite my blog yesterday.

Firstly it crossed party lines from Labour to the Government, as David Cameron levelled Westminster's three favourite words at the EU.

Then Yvette Cooper said the Government was "so out of touch that Ministers don't know what is happening on our borders" as the Home Office was also accused of putting out misleading statistics.

But today's prize use goes to Michael Dugher, for this on Oliver Letwin's bin troubles, with a H/T to @DavidHughesPA.

He said: "This Government is desperately out of touch, but when people tried to tell Oliver Letwin what was happening, he dumped their letters in a park bin. That's not just out of touch. It's out to lunch."

I have a feeling we are a long way from a ban.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

14 November 2011 2:40 PM

The "out of touch" Labour mantra

There has been a dramatic escalation in recent weeks of Labour spokesmen attacking the Government as "out of touch".

This reached tautological levels today as Ed Miliband declared: "The problem is they just seem out of touch and don’t seem to be in touch with the real needs of businesses and people up and down this country."

An advanced Google search of Labour's news pages for the term "out of touch" throws up 727 results.

They include the Government being "out of touch" on defence, families and pensioners, students, women, businesses, reappointing Lord Young, SureStart, fuel and energy prices, crime and criminal justice, the Thameslink contract, equality, and "the real world".

The same accusation was levelled at Theresa May's border control and Vince Cable and Oliver Letwin's letter dumping; Dan Jarvis said David Cameron's conference speech showed he was "out of touch"; and Tessa Jowell used it against Westminster Council's plan to impose weekend and evening parking charges.

It was even levelled by Tom Watson in connection with Patrick Mercer's unflattering comments about the PM.

Do you think Labour are trying to tell us something?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Westminster "war on motorists"

The heat is rising in the row sparked by Westminster City Council over its "tax on nightlife" new parking charges.

Transport minister Norman Baker has waded into the dispute with some tough words.

He told the Standard: "These charges appear to be less about controlling parking and more about raising money for the council."

"They look close to vindictive in nature. You might even say that they constitute a war on the motorist."

The council is planning to abolish free parking on single yellow lines and parking bays between 6.30pm and midnight Monday to Saturday, and between 1pm and 6pm on Sundays. Parking will cost up to £4.80 per hour in bays.

The proposal is deeply unpopular and is being opposed by the Government, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, theatres, restaurants and other businesses.

Critics of the new parking regime say that the charges will hit trade as the economic crisis deepens, put women at risk as they may no longer drive into central London and discriminate against poor people by making it harder for them to enjoy West End nightlife.

But Council leader Colin Barrow says that some roads in the West End are now busier at 10pm than at 10am.

He adds: "We also know that a wide range of business organisations including the CBI have noted the negative impacts of congestion and therefore, taken together, we believe that now is the right time to act. We think that less traffic on the streets will be better for business and healthier for workers, visitors and local people."

The town hall is also highlighting that Mr Baker previously stressed that parking charges are a matter for local authorities and not something for the Government to intervene in.

 Nicholas Cecil

Osborne: A bullet aimed at London's heart

Here's the full text of a really punchy article in tonight's Evening Standard by George Osborne

Brilliant lines on the Financial Transaction Tax being "a bullet to the heart of London" and "economic suicide" for Europe if they go it alone.  He attacks the “some progress but not enough” mentality of the eurozone's crisis management.

He also confirms that the Autmn Statement will use private cash to fund billions of pounds worth of spending on infrastructure (a top scoop by Isobel in Sunday Times).  And there's lots more - so read on.

by George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Europe begins this week with more grounds for optimism than last week. New governments are forming in Greece and Italy committed to dealing with their debts and reforming their economies.

However, this remains the most dangerous moment for the world economy since Lehman Brothers went down in the autumn of 2008. Then Britain was one of the epicentres of the crisis, with the biggest bank bailout in the world - Royal Bank of Scotland. Today the epicentre may be across the Channel in the eurozone but the risks to Britain are no less real. Jobs and growth in our country have already been damaged by the euro crisis. In such uncertain times, this Coalition Government's priority is to help Britain ride out this storm instead of being consumed by it.

Eighteen months ago, when I pointed to what was happening in Athens and warned of what would happen here if we didn't deal with our debts, some said, "Don't be ridiculous, Britain and other European countries aren't anything like Greece. We can go on spending." Well, Greece was followed by Portugal and Ireland. Then Spain was in the firing line and now it's Italy under the spotlight. Their cost of borrowing was the same as ours just 18 months ago; today it is almost three times higher.

The markets are even asking questions about France. That's why the French have now had two emergency budgets in four months to try to get ahead of the curve, as we did last year. As a result of their delay they are now being forced to cut faster than Britain over the next two years despite a smaller budget deficit.

When you see what is happening today on the Continent, who any longer seriously thinks the British Government, with a budget deficit forecast to be the biggest in the G20, could have avoided difficult cuts and kept spending? What is happening in Europe is a stark reminder of what a disaster it would have been for us to have taken any other path.

The benefits Britain has won by getting a grip early were spelt out by the front-page headline of the Financial Times last Friday: "Gilt yields fall as UK becomes safe haven". Low gilt yields - the interest rates we pay on our national debt - mean billions saved for taxpayers and lower mortgage bills for families and businesses. Can you imagine what would happen to millions of families' finances if mortgage rates tripled? Can you imagine the damage to businesses and jobs?

Low interest rates and stability are the foundation of recovery but our reductions in business taxes, investment in science and apprenticeships and changes to education and welfare are an acknowledgement that more needs to be done. In my Autumn Statement later this month we will be announcing further reforms to housing and small business lending. A particular focus will be encouraging billions of pounds of private sector investment into vital infrastructure projects. But the biggest single boost the British economy could get would be a resolution of the eurozone crisis.

Since the start of the year we have been urging leaders in the eurozone to stand behind their currency and deal with their problems. Together with President Obama, the Chinese and other countries around the world we called on them to act at the G20 summit in Cannes 10 days ago. We'll play our part, we said, if you play yours. They made some progress but not enough - the recurring pattern of this crisis.

So what must they do? The new governments in Greece and Italy need to show they can implement the tough measures required to deal with their debts and make their economies more competitive. Then the firepower of the eurozone's bailout fund needs to be dramatically increased to see off those betting against the future of the currency.

Whether this is done by the European Central Bank or by eurozone governments themselves is not the central issue; the financial risks of standing behind their currency will ultimately be borne by eurozone citizens. The eurozone has the financial capacity to restore stability. They now need to deploy it without delay.

This is the immediate challenge. If this can be overcome, then over time eurozone countries will have to pool more resources and share more control over each other's tax and spending decisions. Frankly this is a big loss of national sovereignty for those countries. It is one of the reasons I have always opposed Britain joining the euro. But it is the only way to make a currency union work for the long term. Britain will not be part of this fiscal integration, and this Government will ensure that our national interests and our voice in the EU are protected.

As Europe does this, there are responsibilities for the rest of the world as well. In particular the International Monetary Fund must continue to play its systemic role supporting individual countries to the benefit of its whole membership. That is why Britain helped to create the IMF in 1944 and has long been one of its most active supporters. We have to make sure it has enough resources to deal with problems around the world.

Finally, both in Britain and in the whole of the European Union, we must remove the obstacles that stand in the way of jobs and growth. The EU should be promoting open markets and greater free trade. We need to strengthen the single market, particularly in services where many thousands of jobs in Britain could be created by expanding the opportunities in our largest export market.

Europe certainly shouldn't be creating new burdens. Proposals for a Europe-only financial transactions tax are a bullet aimed at the heart of London. Even the European Commission admit that it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. This Government is all for making the financial sector pay more in tax. In my first Budget I introduced Britain's first permanent levy on our banks, and we are taking long overdue action against tax avoidance and evasion by the very rich. That is helping us protect NHS spending at home and meet our aid promises to the world's poorest. But the ideas of a tax on mobile financial transactions that did not include America or China would be economic suicide for Britain and for Europe. The EU should be coming forward with new ideas to promote growth, not undermine it. That is exactly what we will be doing in two weeks' time.


11 November 2011 1:09 PM

Lansley told: publish secret NHS dangers report

The ferocious debate about Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms is about to get a lot hotter.

The Standard has won a freedom of information battle forcing the Health Secretary to hand over a secret report on the risks he is taking with the NHS with his landmark reshaping of the health service.

It is expected to lay out the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS as GPs are giving huge new power over the £60 billion budget to commission services.

The Department of Health has fought for nearly a year to keep the strategic risk register on the NHS reforms concealed. One can only wonder why....

But the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has ruled in The Standard's favour and told Mr Lansley to publish the report.

Labour's former health spokesman John Healey, who put in a similar FOI request for the risk documents which was also upheld by the Information Commissioner's Office, says: "The year-long cover-up is a disgrace, especially when doctors, nurses, patients groups and the public are all so worried about the Tories' NHS plans."

The Department of Health is considering the ruling. It is also understood there is a policy across Whitehall not to release these strategic risk registers.

Nicholas Cecil





09 November 2011 2:38 PM

Clegg tells Europe to forget Robin Hood tax

Yesterday George Osborne delivered a robust message to European finance ministers on a proposed new tax on the City. Bluntly put, his view was "forget it".

Now Nick Clegg, the most high-profile pro-European in the Cabinet, has popped over to Brussels to hammer it home.

As part of a speech warning that Europe must "reform or wither" he also said a continent-wide financial transaction tax (FTT) would unfairly hit Britain and be passed on to those who can least afford it.

Here's the relevant passage: "We cannot support the European Financial Transaction Tax that has been proposed.

"It would have a massively disproportionate impact on the City of London, responsible for more than half of the revenues that would be taxed. And, according to the Commission’s own analysis, it would also reduce EU GDP as a whole.

"But even for people who don’t care about the City of London or Europe’s economic performance, the FTT doesn’t make sense because it completely misses its target.

"This isn’t – as it’s often presented – a painless tax on banks and City speculators, the authors of the financial crisis. In reality bankers will be left sitting happily unaffected in their offices, passing on the charge to the people they are acting for.

"It’s pensioners who will pay this tax, and businesses. Companies that are vital to our economies, that are big engines of manufacturing or retail, that employ thousands of people across Europe, but just happen to do financial services business too.

"That is in no ones’ interests."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

07 November 2011 2:18 PM

Silvio's 21st century denial

Things aren't looking good for Silvio Berlusconi. The colourful Italian PM has been forced to deny rumours of his impending resignation - but he has done so in a very modern manner.

Not for our Silvio, media magnate and political operator extraordinaire, is the TV clip or the official press release. Oh no. Why bother when you can use Facebook?


SlivioIt translates (roughly) as "Rumours of my resignation are baseless" - though I'd love to know what the Italian translation of the famous Mark Twain retort "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" is.

Note that more people have commented than "like" the post...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Flagship Tory council told not to "milk" Londoners

Westminster City Council can rarely do much wrong in the eyes of ministers and Tory MPs.

But the flagship Conservative-controlled town hall has managed to mass an extraordinary army of opposition to its plans to introduce night-time parking charges which is feared will harm the West End.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is opposing the plan and now the Government has joined the fray.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles' parliamentary private secretary, Stephen Hammond, has issued some tough words for Westminster.

“It is unacceptable for councils to treat residents as cash cows to boost their bank balances,” says the MP for Wimbledon who is seen as the "minister for London".

“We have been quite clear that if local authorities cut out excessive chief executive pay, share back offices, join forces to procure, and root out wild overspends they can avoid raising charges."

Westminster is defending the plans to abolish free parking on single yellow lines and parking bays between 6.30pm and midnight Monday to Saturday, and between 1pm and 6pm on Sundays.

It insists the charges are to cut congestion, says the feared impact on businesses is exaggerated and rejects claims that many women workers in restaurants, bars and clubs may be put at risk if they are no longer able to park in the West End.

But Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are unconvinced.

“This is a kick in the teeth for central London businesses at the very worst time," says Nick de Bois, Tory MP for Enfield North.

“I’m disappointed at the short-sightedness of this move. It’s crazy.”

Nicholas Cecil




04 November 2011 3:48 PM

Death of the nation state

Europe is finally experiencing a moment of truth about what a single currency means for nation states.
At Cannes, the Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi appears to be under a form of political house arrest as members of the 17-strong eurozone frogmarch him into financial reform.
There has also been the astonishing - and some would say wholly improper - story that Germany's Angela Merkel has been in contact with the Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaras to push him towards forming a coalition government.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, put it plainly this morning when he said that Greece is now expected for form "a government of national unity".
It is a Expected by whom?  By the other members of the euro group, who want hapless George Papandreou replaced with someone more in line with their thinking.
None of this surprises British Eurosceptics, who have argued for 30 years that monetary union and sovereign nations cannot co-exist. 
But they have identified  an apparent contradiction between the idea that Greece and Italy are now regions of the eurozone and the fact that both are likely to receive a vastly increased amount of help from the International Monetary Fund, some of it underwritten by the British taxpayer.
The IMF, they argue, has never just bailed out failing economies in the past.  It always insists on radical internal measures like devaluation or debt default as part of a comprehensive repair.  The euro countries can offer austerity measures but nothing else because their interest rates and currency value is decided for the whole zone.  Bailing out Greece is therefore like giving money to a council that has overspent: A sticking plaster rather than a solution.
This tension will be at the heart of the debate when British MPs vote on an increase in the IMF contribution. A big Tory rebellion is inevitable. 

Joe Murphy

03 November 2011 3:49 PM

When Bill Gates came to Parliament

Bill Gates was in town last night, making two speeches to Tory groups. First up was the backbench 1922 Committee (where ironically his laptop wouldn't work, apparently), and then came an address to the newly-launched Conservative Friends of International Development.

As one of these pics by Andrew Parsons show, the event was packed out. Sources say it was five times oversubscribed.

It was part of a wider evening of aid events last night. At the Royal Geographical Society, a Spectator motion to cut the foreign aid budget was defeated by 117 votes to 77. On the winning side were International Development Minister Alan Duncan, Professor Paul Collier and Action Aid CEO Richard Miller, defeating Ian Birrell, Stephen Glover and the Royal Africa Society's Richard Dowen.

Meanwhile Government sources are hailing fresh polling, partly covered in the Independent today, on foreign aid. It has found the amount people think the UK is spending (17.9% of government spending) on aid is far higher than we actually are (1.1%), while the level they think it should be (7.9%) is seven times higher than the true amount.

It is being held up as evidence ministers, led by International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, are right to ringfence aid and stick to commitments - despite opposition from some rightwingers.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Comic Relief asked for gang-busting cash

As Theresa May launched the Government's anti-gang strategy earlier this week, she hailed Waltham Forest's pioneering Enough is Enough project as an example of best practice.

But local MPs immediately criticised a lack of funding, and now the council leader has joined in with a call for extra cash.

Cllr Chris Robbins told ESP: "On top of the £1 million we put into our gangs programme this year, we paid £500 000 to the Mayor for additional police offices whilst losing core community safety grants. Local Authorities cannot be left to pick up the bill or the sole responsibility for sorting this issue.

"If we are to really address the causes of the problems, government departments need to follow our example and invest some money in dealing with this issue."

His comments came as it emerged Comic Relief has been asked to help fund part of Waltham Forest's gang-busting drive. A grant of £66,000 has been sought for a boxing programme in the project.

It could prove embarrassing for Mrs May and Iain Duncan Smith, whose constituency includes parts of Waltham Forest.

Walthamstow MP and shadow Home Office minister Stella Creasy has seized on the revelation, saying: "Theresa May hails Waltham Forest as an example of best practice in tackling gangs, but the truth is they're having to go cap in hand to charities to fund this work because the Government isn't actually giving the backing they need to do it."

Speaking to the Commons, Mrs May said sources of funding were available for gang-related projects is councils bid for them - though she didn't mention Comic Relief.

She also made the point that money was not the only answer - thousands have been spent on gangs and problem families with little success.

The Home Secretary added: "The work that has been done in Waltham Forest, however, shows that if we bring together agencies such as the police, the local authority and others to tackle gang violence, yes, we spend money on those individuals, but we end up saving money by turning their lives around. Often, the effective intervention is not the expensive intervention."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Clegg's warm welcome to returning Libya heroes

With David Cameron part of frantic efforts to save the Euro in France, Nick Clegg had a rather more enjoyable engagement this morning.

The Deputy Prime Minister was at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire to welcome home returning heroes from the Libya conflict.

He took the opportunity to thank troops on behalf of Britain and Libya with some moving words - and said they had made the key differnce in ridding the world of Gaddafi.

Here is some of his address: “This was an allied effort. But I am here to pay tribute to you, the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces. You may have had the benefit of world-class aircraft. You may have had the benefit of precision weaponry. You may have had the support of the world’s greatest military alliance. But it has been your skill, your commitment, your bravery that has made the difference... 

“Thanks to the protection you have provided the Libyan people in their darkest hour, they have thrown off the yoke of Gaddafi and his regime. And, because of you, the guardians of freedom, they now have hope for their future.

“The road ahead will not be easy. But the people of Libya will have the support of the British Government as they build a new society. And Libya will no longer be a pariah state on the Mediterranean. Which means you have done a great service for Britain's national security too.

“You have saved countless lives. You have performed magnificently in testing times. Now, as you return to your families, my thanks, the nation’s thanks, the thanks of the Libyan people go to you.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

02 November 2011 11:35 AM

MPs seize on football racism claims

With John Terry and Luis Suarez embroiled in racism rows, MPs have seized on the opportunity to promote anti-discrimination drives.

Home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz has tabled an early day motion (weirdly not yet online), which has attracted the backing of a handful of MPs.

It reads: "That this House condemns any incidents of racism in sport; notes that there are currently two ongoing investigations into alleged incidents of racism by high-profile football players; commends the work of the Kick It Out campaign, Show Racism the Red Card and other charities which provide an inspiring service campaigning to ensure football is free from discrimination; and urges the Government to support these organisations in their excellent work."

The question is, will any MP be brave enough to speak out against the England captain as he faces a police probe?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

01 November 2011 1:36 PM

Foreign sniper discovered in Parliament

This is one of the best "small world" stories I've ever come across.

Bob Stewart, the former army commander who is now a Conservative MP, has struck up a friendship with a Commons chef who served as a sniper with Bosnian Muslim forces.


Sam Kaltak approached "Bosnia Bob" after recognising him in one of the MPs' tea rooms. It turned out Sam was a sniper around the same central Bosnian towns where the Colonel was leading women and children to safety in the early 1990s.

Originally from Slovenia, Mr Kaltak now wants to cook for British forces and is willing to go to Afghanistan to do so - with support from Colonel Stewart.

The MP doubts Mr Kaltak ever opened fire on British forces (they were, broadly speaking, on the same side) and is keen to stress he is no security threat. They have formed a bond over their shared experiences of the bitter conflict where temperatures dropped well below freezing.

It is a great example of something good coming from Europe's worst conflict since the Second World War.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Clarke: Squatters as bad as car thieves

Ken Clarke is seen by some Tory MPs as "soft" on crime but he clearly has little time for squatters.

They are no better than car thieves, the Justice Secretary told MPs debating the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which will make squatting a criminal offence.

More than 150 demonstrators sought to stage sit-down protests outside Parliament last night to protest against the criminalisation of squatting.

Around a dozen were arrested during clashes with the police in front of the Commons.

Inside, Justice Secretary Mr Clarke shot down claims that squatters have a right to take over empty properties.

“I have always found it difficult to see the difference between taking somebody’s car and taking somebody’s home,” he said.

“There is a need for a criminal offence.”

Nicholas Cecil