22 December 2011 11:51 AM

Ken's secret plan to "Tory-ise" Boris


ESP has seen secret Labour's plans for a New Year campaign offensive against Boris Johnson, aiming to paint the Mayor as a "true blue rather than pastel" Tory.

It will say he is "more Tory" than David Cameron's coalition government, calling him “a Conservative mayor who meets bankers more than police; describes his £250,000-a-year second salary as ‘chicken feed’ but does not hesitate to raise fares”.

I was an unwitting inspiration for this attack, having reported last week that David Cameron told a private meeting of Conservative MPs that "keeping Boris in London was absolute priority” for the Conservatives in 2012 and “essential”.

Earlier this year, Ben Brogan reported a fascinating private Cameron quote, in which he told Boris:  “Just in case it needs saying, you know that not only do I want you to win next year because we are friends, but I recognise that there is no way you losing would be seen as anything but a disaster for me.”

Labour's analysis is that Boris and Dave have stage fights in public but are best buddies in private. Boris's re-election on May 3 would be a triumph for the Tories. 

Where Labour is going further is to deduce that a significant number of voters will desert Boris and switch to Ken once the above is pointed out.

The leaked document states: “We have not always been alert to these possibilities in the past and we must use the New Year focus on London elections to drive home the importance of Cameron’s comments and emphasise other areas where Johnson is beginning to emerge in true blue rather than pastel colours.
“Our campaign team need to use every opportunity to point out how being tied to the Tories is highly toxic for Boris Johnson with many voters – and it is Cameron himself who is binding Johnson to his mast.”

Marked “Confidential”, the briefing paper has been circulated to Labour leader Ed Miliband, general secretary Iain McNicol and London Labour organisers. Written by Simon Fletcher, Mr Livingstone’s chief of staff and campaign manager, it argues that the Prime Minister’s comments undermined a “conscious political strategy” by Mr Johnson to look different to the Conservative-led Government and its leader who was in the Bullingdon Club with him.

January’s six per cent fare rises will be the first big Labour campaign of the New Year. Later "scripts" will accuse Mr Johnson of backing “tax cuts for the rich” and chumming up with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

“Cameron’s comments must now be at the top of our charge sheet of how Boris Johnson is a Tory carrying out Conservative policies,” wrote Mr Fletcher. 

Will this work?  Our polling for the Evening Standard confirms that fare rises are a dangerous issue for the Mayor. And there are probably some voters out there who have missed the blindlingly obvious fact that Boris Johnson is a card-carrying Tory right winger.

But will an association with "Dave" make them jump ship to Ken? And might Ken's public appearances with Ed (at Feltham & Heston for example) send a few the other way?

I don't know. But it will fascinating to find out after May 3rd.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon




21 December 2011 12:00 PM

Lib Dems reject Balls coalition olive branch

Liberal Democrat MPs have rebuffed an offer from Ed Balls to form a coalition with Labour, suggesting he may have been on the "mulled wine" early.

They also questioned why Lib-Dems would want to join a "boat which has no captain".

Mr Balls made his brazen offer this morning, appealing to Lib-Dems to desert the Tories and form a new coalition in the New Year.

“I think it would be much better now and for the future of the country if they did,” he said.

“I don’t think they should wait until 2015. I could serve in a Cabinet with Chris Huhne or Vince Cable tomorrow.”

His olive branch drew a swift response from Lib-Dems.

Senior backbencher Tom Brake said: "It is the season of goodwill, but I fear Ed Balls may have been at the mulled wine when he said this.

"This Coalition exists to clean up the mess Labour left behind. Not only are Ed Balls and Ed Miliband in denial about the economy, over 13 years they trampled on our civil liberties, launched an illegal war in Iraq, pandered to big business and the City, and left a huge gap between the richest and the poorest.

"So, thanks but no thanks."

Lorely Burt, chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, added: “I can’t think of a single reason why Liberal Democrats would want to jump ship into a Labour boat which has no captain and no credible plans to get us out of the economic difficulties that we have."

While the party's deputy leader Simon Hughes said: "Ed Balls is free to say what he likes but the Labour Party is not a credible party of government and has no credible plan for our country."

So that's clearcut, then. Or is it? Or does Mr Balls have some intelligence on a Lib-Dem defection as he seeks to woo Lib-Dem voters?

Nicholas Cecil



20 December 2011 2:04 PM

A softer Labour line on free schools?


Stephen Twigg, whose name will always make Labour people grin in memory of Enfliend Southgate, seems to be very carefull softening the party's line on free schools.

Andy Burnham, his precdecessor as education spokesman, was accused of attacking free schools but making an exception for the one run by Labour's own Peter Hyman.

Twigg is another comprehensive school kid but in an interview with tonight's Evenign Standard was markedly less hostile.

"This is not the way we would have brought about improvements but some of these schools will do good things." he said.

Twigg recently went to Woodpecker Hall free school in Edmonton, run by a terrific head called Patsy Souter. He said: "The idea that I would close such a school is crazy."

Years ago, Twigg was a governor at a school she ran. He argues that top heads like her would be a success in any school structure. He thinks Michael Gove is being led by dogma and is giving unfair dollops of funding to free schools but also thinks that if good schools are created as a result they should not be clobbered.

Here's the rub.  When asked if he might change their status, Twigg said: "I would tread with care."  In other words, he is not ruling out putting them under council control, which backers of free schools will say is tantamount to abolishing them.

And here's another sentence that will alarm free school fans.  "Also, we must be guided by a set of principles, which are about fairness of funding, fairness of admissions and encouraging schools to collaborate."

That implies less funding for free schools, less control over admissions and new rules to integrate them with regular schools, which presumably would mean a role for local authorities.

A softer line on free schools?  Not necessarily, though it is certainly less hostile in tone.

A more flexible, pragmatic line? You betcha. As you'd expect of someone who learned the trade from Tony Blair.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon



A sad day for democracy

Last Friday saw Labour's Seema Malhotra take victory in the Feltham and Heston by-election.

I reported at the time how elections experts were shocked at the low turnout of just 28.7 per cent - even for a pre-Christmas by-election.

A deeper look at the results by constitutional expert and Oxford professor Vernon Bogdanor has revealed that of the 23,224 votes cast, almost half were postal votes.

This is his verdict: "It seems to me that when people are fed up with politics and politicians they won't vote. They do not feel that any politicians can really resolve their problems. They see no Margaret Thatcher in the wings - nor - thank goodness - any Mosley - which explains why UKIP and the BNP did not do better - though if Cameron had not vetoed the treaty, I suspect that UKIP would have overtaken the LibDems.
"The unemployed in the 1930s and 1980s, far from being radicalised, became apathetic and stayed at home.
"There were around 11,000 postal votes! So one does not even have to turn up. A sad day for democracy."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

14 December 2011 2:13 PM

"Tin ear" Bercow sparks fresh Tory row

It's been a while since we had some decent Tory anger against Speaker John Bercow, but with Christmas looming large today's PMQs delivered a gift.

Towards the end of the Cameron-Miliband exchanges, Bercow leapt to his feet to correct the PM for the use of "you". As noise raged, he turned to his right - towards the naughty corner - and said "I'm glad the Minister of State has returned from his travels and we wish him a Merry Christmas but in his case it should be a quiet one". (It's at 10m33s here).

Mr Speaker appeared to be aiming his comments at Health Minister Simon Burns - who famously branded Bercow a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf" - whose colleagues leapt to his defence. Foreign Office Minister Keith Simpson gestured at Bercow to sit down, and could be seen mouthing "stupid man", while others patted Burns on the shoulder.

After the session, Simpson insisted Burns - a "serial offender" - wasn't to blame this time as he launched an attack on the Speaker.

"I do not have any time for the man. He has got a tin ear. He doesn't know when to intervene or not," he said.

"He comes out with these appalling cliches (about the noise), all this business about 'the public don't like it, I don't like it', but I'm pretty sure my 88-year-old mother is sitting in front of the TV screaming that she does like it.

"(Burns) would happily take the rap but for once it wasn't him."

With a neat jibe at Chris Huhne, he went on: "He picked on old Burnsy, who tends to be a serial offender, but in fact it wasn't Burns - it was one of the younger lads standing to Burns's left. I said to him, it's like a man who is always speeding up and down the M11 and then gets caught when he is not driving. That's life. It's much easier to pick on a man who is a serial offender."

It will be interesting to see whether Simpson's frank words get him in trouble with Bercow. He did admit: "Every time the Speaker interferes and leaps up and down he tends to bring out the worst in me."

Simpson joins a growing list of Tory MPs (former colleagues, let's not forget) who have spoken out against the Speaker. Mark Pritchard accused him of acting like "f***ing royalty", Claire Perry asked whether she had to grant him oral sex to get called in debates, and both Nadine Dorries and Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin have clashed with him.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

How the bailout works

Wisdom from a viral email - I don't claim any originality

It is a slow day in a little Greek Village. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the village, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night. The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel. The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the taverna. The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him "services" on credit. The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note. The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything. At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town. No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole village is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the bailout package works.



Joe Murphy





Royal Marines "Mighty O" to protect the Olympics

HMS Ocean, the largest ship in the Royal Navy is set to be deployed in the Thames to protect the Olympics.

The 22,000-tonne amphibious assault ship, nicknamed "Mighty O", has recently returned from a seven-month deployment during which it was diverted to launch attacks on Colonel Gaddafi's brutal regime.

The huge ship is expected to anchor off Greenwich next summer and be ready to send in teams of Royal Marines by helicopter or boat to counter any terror attack.

The planned deployment was revealed today by The Standard as David Cameron chaired his first Olympics meeting as the Government gears up to devote its full energies to making the Games a success.

Nearly 24,000 security guards, including around 7,000 military personnel, will protect Olympic venues.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was giving an update on the Olympic park venues, security and Olympic legacy to the meeting today.

Nicholas Cecil

13 December 2011 2:07 PM

Exclusive: First review of the Thatcher Movie

This blog is pleased to present the first review of the new Thatcher movie, starring Meryl Streep.  Our guest reviewer is none other than Nigel [now Lord] Lawson, who was the Iron Lady's Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“It is a good film," decalres Lawson in an ES interview after watching a special preview for MPs and peers. "Meryl Streep is a very fine actress and has got Margaret’s personality right and her mannerisms very well. I’ve no doubt she will win an Oscar and good luck to her.”

However he was less enamoured with the way the movie treats the momentous events of the Thatcher years. “It is a huge kind of romantic drama, with a lot about her relationship with Denis, her character and how she outfaced all these men. It is kind of a soap.

“It’s not within a million miles of an accurate account of what the Thatcher government did and what it was about. That’s not what the film is interested in.”

 Lord Lawson, Chancellor from 1983 to 1989, said there were several errors in the film, including the casting of a blonde to play the younger Margaret. “It’s a stupid mistake because everyone knows she wasn’t a blonde - she was a dark brunette and decided later on to become a blonde.”

Aged 79 and an active peer and campaigner, he also disliked the film’s suggestion that dementia was the “great toll that political pressure brings”, adding: “Medically speaking that’s rubbish. And when historians write about the Thatcher government, they are not going to be interested in whether in later life she suffered from dementia. It’s not as though it affected her while she was in office.”

Lord Lawson does not appear in the film, which he said glossed over some key events like how she seized the leadership of the Tory Party. “It’s difficult for me to be dispassionate because I was so much a part of that era and knew her so well.

“For anybody who wants to know about her political life - forget it. Anybody who wants a good drama with a political feel - it’s not bad at all. I would advise them to see it because it is a powerful film.”

Elsewhere in our interview he said he and Lady Thatcher repaired their friendship “in the sense that we would meet each other from time to time and be very friendly and very civil.”

He predicted that Europe will return to growth more quickly if the single currency is broken up and praised David Cameron’s use of the veto last week for “giving notice in the most dramatic way” to other EU leaders that he will stand up for the City’s interests.”


Joe Murphy




Burnham's plain speaking on fag packets

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham gave a speech to the Britain Against Cancer conference today, which contained a very interesting line.

While praising the Government for pressing ahead with a ban on tobacco vending machines, Burnham signalled that Andrew Lansley would have Labour's backing if he decides to follow the Australian lead and introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

Burnham said: "For every step we take, the tobacco industry takes a new approach.  After we banned advertising, tobacco manufacturers developed increasingly sophisticated marketing devices for their packaging.

"As Health Secretary, I proposed that the next front in this fight should be packaging and again I have been encouraged by the current Secretary of State’s statements on plain packaging. I want to assure him today that he will have my support if he want to make early progress on this front."

I'm told the offer is the "next step" in committing Labour to supporting plain packaging, and that Burnham is increasingly convinced it is necessary.

But if it is going to happen in the UK, political parties will need to steel themselves for an almighty fight with the tobacco firms - as the Australian experience has shown.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

12 December 2011 5:09 PM

Extraordinary Lady Thatcher anecdote

Lovely story recounted by Charles Moore in a v good article for Vanity Fair on Lady Thatcher: 

She and the German chancellor Helmut Kohl reacted allergically to each other. On one occasion in Salzburg, Kohl, desperate to escape a meeting in which he thought she was lecturing him, falsely pleaded an emergency and cut out early. Finding herself at a loose end, Mrs. Thatcher toured the city’s shops. To her surprise she spotted Kohl sitting in a café eating buns.

Lady T had an idle moment for shopping? Hard to believe.


Joe Murphy




09 December 2011 2:19 PM

Now that's a Boris bike

I don't know what the chances of these hitting the streets en-masse are, but it's an impressive piece of Boris Johnson fanaticism.


It's the brainchild of London Conservative Future deputy chairman Einy Shah, brought to life by Cole Coachworks in Barnet.

I'm not sure what the Ken Livingstone/Brian Paddick equivalents are, but I'd like to see them...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Miliband attacks "isolated" Cameron


Labour leader Ed Miliband has launched a stinging attack on David Cameron's European policy. In an interview in The Standard, he said:

"This is the most important European summit for a generation and its outcome is looking increasingly worrying for the UK. We have warned consistently that an isolated David Cameron has been on the sidelines of Europe for months, out of touch abroad in the same way as he is out of touch at home. He has been hamstrung by the divisions in his own party, imprisoned by the Eurosceptics and his failure to confront his party over the last five years. There are simple lessons to learn from the Prime Minister's failure last night. If you get out of the deal-making room as he has done over the last year, you end up losing influence. Having no allies is a sign of weakness, not of strength There are serious questions to answer. We need an assurance that Mr Cameron has not allowed a deal to emerge that means 25 of the 27 will rewrite the rules of the European economy without the UK in the room. Will the signatories to the new treaty be able to impose economic barriers to those in the EU but outside the new treaty? Will this new treaty be run by the EU institutions, and be enforceable in EU courts? Will the UK have a seat at the table when vital economic decisions are taken? Have we now got the two speed Europe Britain has always opposed, but without any of the safeguards the Prime Minister promised to deliver? And for all the talk of treaty change, where is the plan for growth and jobs that should have been the other focus of this EU summit? The list of questions are long and the answers will affect the jobs and lives of all British people. We should have ensured an agreement that reflected a simple principle: decisions affecting all 27 members of the European Union must be made by the 27. There is clearly a case for deeper cooperation by the Eurozone countries, but at the heart of British foreign policy, at the heart of our commitment to the EU, must be a basic principle that the future of the single market and future European cooperation is shaped by all the countries who are part of it, not just those who share the single currency. The lesson for the Prime Minister is that to treat Europe as merely an excuse for the failure of your economic policy, or a problem to be negotiated with your backbenchers, serves us ill. It makes us marginal to the big decisions on Europe. It is no way to run a foreign policy. And it lets down our country."



08 December 2011 3:40 PM

Clegg's olive branch to strikers

While Andrew Lansley was offering a new deal on health sector pension reform but sparking fresh anger from the unions, Nick Clegg has been out been out trying to smooth tensions with the public sector.

His comments are significant because they come in the aftermath of last week's pension strike - branded a "damp squib" by David Cameron - and George Osborne's fresh round of austerity which will hit public servants hard.

The Lib-Dem Deputy PM acknowledged public sector workers "bristle" at talk of paring back the public sector, and insisted rebalancing the economy was not "code for cutting them adrift".

Warning against re-opening old divisions, he said: "Many of our public sector workers are making sacrifices, and I am hugely grateful for it. And I am grateful to the people making sacrifices in the private sector too.

"And what will hurt both groups is if we now allow this debate to become polarised - as if our dilemma is helping the public sector versus the private sector; the North versus the South. Picking industry or picking banking.

"Because if we play into these bygone caricatures of the left and the right, if we allow our society to fracture into these camps, that is the surest way to drag the UK back to the 1980s."

I suspect there is a dual message here: one for the public sector, to say the LibDems feel their pain. And one for Tory Coalition colleagues, to say lay off the tough talk.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

05 December 2011 2:48 PM

Scotland Yard's fears over terror suspects in London

Home Secretary Theresa May can't say that she has not been warned over the possible increase in risk from the Government's watering down of anti-terror laws.

Scotland Yard chiefs have now put their concerns on the public record so no-one can be in doubt about their views on ditching powers to relocate suspected terrorists out of London.

In a letter obtained by The Standard, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick makes clear that new surveillance teams will not be fully trained by the New Year when the changes are due to take place.

Control orders, with the relocation powers, are being replaced by terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

But the Met chief highlighted that the force has warned that it would take at least until next summer to recruit and fully train more surveillance officers to track terror suspects allowed back into the capital in Olympic year.

Assistant Commissioner Dick also makes the point that the Met will work to try to ensure that there is no "substantial" increase in the overall risk to the UK from the changes to the anti-terror controls.

The force has repeatedly stopped short of saying that there would be no increased risk from the reforms.

At least five suspected terrorists have been ordered out of London using the relocation powers including one who the security services believed was plotting a Mumbai-style attack in the UK.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire say: "Both the Met and the security service have made clear that there should be no substantial increase in risk and that appropriate arrangements will be in place to manage the effective transition from control orders to TPIMS.”

 Nicholas Cecil