31 January 2012 4:19 PM

Cabinet unease over the EU deal - IDS puts his oar in


Hit news from Cabinet this morning.  Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith asked for reassurances about whether British interests are properly protected under the new non-EU treaty.

My information is that he is still seeking further reassurance from lawyers - which means that he is not yet satisfied.

Owen Paterson also made comments at Cabinet, which will remind people there are two big eurosceptic beasts at the coffin shaped table. 

This is not good for David Cameron, who is, as I write, having a dreadful time in the Commons at the hands of Ed Miliband, on superb mocking form, and Tory sceptics who are as cynical and unconvinced as ever.

It's nos clear that Conservative misgivings reach the highest levels of the party.

Senior Tory backbencher David Davis was clearly very well informed (as ever) when he said on R4: “As we have seen in other issues, the advice the Prime Minister gets from Whitehall isn’t always that good, and what happened will highlight that. He may think again.”

To balance this, another sceptic who is now on the Government payroll tells me: "It's fuss about nothing - there is no way that this treaty empowers the other states more than if it did not exist."

One prediction from me: This Europe row will NOT lead the news bulletins tonight. It is a village issue - let's keep that perspective.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon




Boris to French bankers: Bienvenue a Londres

A winter chill swept through the Entente Cordiale today as the row between Britain and France over economic reforms escalated.

With French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowing to go it alone and bring in a financial transaction tax, Boris Johnson launched a cross-Channel raid to lure French bankers to Britain.

“Bienvenue a Londres," said the London Mayor, speaking to the Evening Standard

"This is the global capital of finance.

“It’s on your doorstep and if your own president does not want the jobs, the opportunities and the economic growth that you generate, we do.”

Mr Johnson issued his appeal hours after David Cameron condemned Mr Sarkozy’s plans for a new financial transaction levy.

The Prime Minister stressed that the European Union was warning that the tax could cost up to 500,000 jobs.

“If France goes for a financial transactions tax, then the door will be open and we will be able to welcome many French banks to the United Kingdom,” he added at the end of an EU summit in Brussels.

Mr Cameron has branded as “madness” the moves to introduce the “Robin Hood tax” in Europe, but not in America and other financial centres.

Nicholas Cecil



Riots put parenting under the spotlight

It seems David Lammy was ahead of the curve with his demands for smacking restrictions to be eased to prevent a repeat of the riots.

Those calls were followed by the Government's behaviour tsar, Charlie Taylor, criticising a lack of "basic" parenting such as preparing meals or putting children to bed. He used a horrifying example of a mother who said her eight-year-old son microwaves his own dinner and turns out his own lights once he is tired from playing on his X Box. The "depressingly familiar" cycle that follows sees bad behaviour, school exclusions and gang membership.

Tory MP Andrea Leadsom is using a Commons debate later to add her voice to the riots cause/cure debate. Making the case for early intervention, she argues parents should be taught how to love their children from a very young age to ensure their brains develop properly, equipping them with emotional resilience that can prevent a host of problems in later life.

"“We know from the shocking rioting and looting on our streets in August that there is a desperate need to address the broken elements within our society," she will say.

"Young people who cannot control their impulses, who are violent and who have no moral compass are like that for a reason."

Ms Leadsom will hail the work of Oxford Parent Infant Project which helps parents and children form loving bonds early, saying it has achieved "astonishing" results and should be rolled across the country.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

30 January 2012 3:10 PM

Transparency writ large

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is giving a speech in Washington (USA, rather than Wearside) today on open data and transparency.

Leave aside for a minute the fact that Government data dumps have an uncanny knack of arriving late in the day and spread across several websites, the speech contained a couple of lines that caught my eye.

In a list of examples of different government approaches around the world, Maude said: "In Liberia the struggle to publish government contracts with the forestry industry prompted mafia reprisals.

"In some parts of India where internet access is not available officials paint spreadsheets of welfare payments on village walls so local people can judge if the claimants are real or fraudulent.
"Brazil now requires officials to post expenses within 24 hours to reduce corruption and improving public confidence in government. And as a result President Dilma dismissed six ministers in 2011 linked to corruption scandals.
"Governments are finding transparency risky, difficult and uncomfortable. But transparency sticks – it’s irreversible once you start. And I believe transparency will become the defining characteristic of future public policy."

I love the idea of officials daubing roadsides with spreadsheets. Perhaps when the Budget comes round on March 23, Treasury civil servants should paint Red Book figures on the side of an iconic building.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

25 January 2012 3:34 PM

Ed's Class War dog-whistle


Ed Miliband won PMQTs today by playing the man as much as the ball.  Most intriguing was his heavy use of phrases like "arrogant" and "smug" towards Cameron.

"Total arrogance! ... How bad do things have to get in our economy to shake him out of his complacency."

"He and his Chancellor are the byword for self-satisfied, smug complacency."

" .. put aside [your] pride and arrogance ... "

At first glance, these are just adjectives that the focus groupies have found to be toxic for the Dave brand. But it's actually a bit more than that.

I'm told by a shadow cabinet source that the key purpose is to reinforce Ed's message that Cameron is "out of touch". But subliminally they go further, by planting the idea that the PM is an over-privileged toff.  Complacency implies he is insulated from the real world. Arrogance suggests he sees himself as belonging to an elite. Smugness, that it is an uncaring elite.  Pride suggests his sense of superiority outweighs his sense of justice.

It's reminiscent of, but much more subtle than, the controversial tactics that Gordon Brown's people tried in 2007 and 2008, when they hired kids in top hats to follow the PM around.  It all backfired, of course, and was (mostly) abandoned after a bit of a hoo-ha at the disastrous Crewe & Nantwich by-election in 2008.

My source insists the current campaign is legitimate because it is reflects Cameron's political choices, which Labour regard as favouring the few, arguing:  "We can't use class war, but we can remind people that he has not experienced in his life what they have to go through in theirs, which influences what he does."

Some may well disagree, viewing it as "playing the man" rather than the issue. But what's undeniable is that it worked this afternoon. Cameron had no ready retort.



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



24 January 2012 11:48 AM

Nick Clegg's McBreakfast

Nick Clegg was at the McDonald's training centre in East Finchley this morning, to hail an announcement that the burger giant is creating 2,500 new jobs this year.

Given that it was an early morning call (a return to his "alarm clock Britain" campaign?), the Deputy PM enjoyed a spot of breakfast while he was there.

He tucked into a sausage and egg McMuffin and washed it down with a cup of tea, I'm told.

Looking at the details of the jobs announcement, it's no surprise Clegg chose to visit. While McJobs have attracted criticism in the past, more than half of the 2,500 announced today are expected to go to under-25s, with almost a third to first-time workers. Clegg has said tackling record youth unemployment - running at over 1 million - is his top priority for 2012.

(UPDATE: Labour's Kevin Brennan has just brilliantly coined it the Clegg McMuffin on Twitter)

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

23 January 2012 12:02 PM

Ken 51, Boris 49


They thought it was all over ... but now it looks like a photo-finish.

The second poll in a week has Ken Livingstone ahead in the mayoral battle, albeit by a teeny two points.

Although Boris HQ says it's a useful wake-up call for complacent supporters (see below) the numbers must have given the Mayor a sickly knot in his stomach. For the first time in four years, there is a serious possibility of having to hand back his crown to its previous owner.

For Livingstone it is a pleasing moment - proof that there is life in the old pro’s left hook. But Ken is far too experienced to get over-excited about a two-point lead, a gap well within the margin of error.

Cool heads note that January has been Labour’s most intensive month of campaigning so far, with 1,000 activists shoving out leaflets against the New Year fares increases. If the fares issue fades, so might their lead.

The cold fact is that there is now a real battle on, and every vote counts. Turnout on May 3 will be absolutely critical with the polls this close - ultimately, the winner will be the man who gets his supporters off the sofa and into the voting booths.

“Thank goodness it was not another eight point lead,” joked one of Mr Johnson’s staff, meaning that some Boris backers have been lulled into a false sense of security. The danger is not imaginary - our poll finds that Londoners by more than two to one think that the Mayor will get a second term.

In terms of issues, Johnson is ahead on running the economy, representing London overseas and - by a big two-to-one margin - on squeezing the best deal out of his friends in central Government.

Fares are Livingstone’s key issue, but the 38 per cent who are more likely to vote for him because of the New Year rises may just reflect Labour’s core vote. He is ahead (35 - 24) as the candidate who knows most about the concerns of “ordinary Londoners”, which reinforces research by YouGov that found Ken was seen as more “in touch”.

More surprising, only 30 per cent dislike Johnson because of the Government’s spending cuts. Ken’s campaign to “Tory-ise” the Boris brand has yet to succeed.

Alas for Brian Paddick, he is not breaking through. The ex-policemen is even behind on fighting crime, and only two per cent trust him most on the economy.

But the fight is wide open between the frontrunners. May 3 looks set to be a cliffhanger.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon



20 January 2012 10:49 AM

Crow's anger on lobbyist list

Ministers are publishing their long-awaited plans for a register of lobbyists today - a bid to crackdown on what David Cameron described as "the next big scandal waiting to happen".

It looks set to cast the net fairly wide, possibly bringing trade unions and big charities within its remit.

While the TUC are broadly supportive, Tube union boss Bob Crow is rather less so.

In brilliantly colourful language, he said: "The idea that trade unions, representing millions of workers up and down the country, should be bracketed in with the chancers and shmoozers from the shadowy world of political lobbying is a gross insult to men and women fighting for a fair deal in the workplace.

"This is just another blatant ConDem attack on the trade union movement and shows complete and utter contempt for the role we play in protecting working people from the savagery of casino capitalism."

UPDATE: PRCA, the professional body for public affairs consultancies, have hit back at Bob Crow.
“Bob Crow’s plea for trade unions to receive special favours is self-interest at its most naked form," chief executive Francis Ingham said.

"Just as the CBI employs a whole floor of lobbyists, so too the TUC has a significant lobbying operation. When trade union employees meet ministers and civil servants and try to influence legislation, they are lobbyists. It is that simple, and for a mandatory register to work, it must cover charities, business groups, think tanks, lawyers and yes, trade unions too.”

Incidentally, Labour are far from impressed with the proposals which look to have a fair few shortcomings in them at the moment (not least the lack of a statutory code of conduct).

Jon Trickett had this to say of the document: "It is so full of loopholes it makes you wonder whether it's worth doing...

"It is a massively open barn door which people can drive several coach and horses through.

"It's extremely weak and very disappointing and unless it is tightened up then it leaves the scope for further scandals to emerge in future."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

19 January 2012 2:14 PM

Prezza v Shapps - round three

On the day Lord Prescott accepted £40,000 for having his phone hacked, his feud with the Government has sparked into life again.

Prezza is still fuming that ministers are blaming him for lavish spending on Government credit cards - including casino and restaurant bills during a 2004 fact-finding trip to Australia.

The former deputy prime minister was cleared of wrongdoing in December, and it has also emerged that the card was cloned. So he tabled a parliamentary question to ask what the Government had done about it.

Simple, came the reply - £2,000 was recovered but none of it related to the spending in Sydney. "It is clear to ministers, from examining government procurement card spending across the department, that there was unnecessary expenditure," Baroness Hanham said.

Fellow DCLG minister Grant Shapps has also waded in. "Prezza still hasn't given a full and frank explanation outlining how his Australian junket represents value for money for the taxpayer," he said.

"This kinds of cavalier expenditure represents the very worst excesses that he oversaw when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

"We have clamped down on the systematic abuse of the Government Procurement card, calling time on Labour's culture of waste and ensuring families and pensioners around the country get value for money."

I look forward to the noble Lord's response.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

17 January 2012 1:54 PM

Miliband's union dilemma

Ed Miliband has been unrepentant this morning in defending himself from union criticism.

He insists he is "right" to say Labour can't promise to reverse Government spending cuts - including going along with the public sector pay freeze.

The latter point has caused most anger among the brothers. First Unite's Len McCluskey warned the party was on the road to electoral disaster and even "destruction" with its reversion to "discredited Blairism", then GMB head Paul Kenny gave credence to the warning by threatening to sever his union's ties with the party in a letter seen by the Standard.

If GMB walked away, which could only happen if its members approved, the central Labour Party would lose more than £1 million of funding a year. If Unite followed suit, Miliband would goodbye to a further £4 million - plunging the party into financial ruin.

But here's the dilemma for Miliband - if he faces down the brothers who delivered him the leadership, it will allow him to shake off the "Red Ed" tag and really stamp his leadership on the party. It's a tactic which worked so well for Tony Blair, who gambled the farm on scrapping Clause IV and won.

Judging by the reaction of people around Miliband, they are happy for their man to stick publicly to his guns and are bullish about the chances of unions walking away.

"They will stand up for their members, we will stand up for the majority of people in this country," one source said.

A shadow cabinet minister privately acknowledged that unions withdrawing their funding would be a "disaster" - not just for Labour but for the unions too. "They'd never carry it with their members," the frontbencher predicted.

They're probably right, and it might not come to that in any case. But after a start to the year which has seen miserable poll ratings, a race row sparked by Diane Abbott and outspoken criticism from his former guru (among others), I'm sure Miliband could have done without this latest set of negative headlines.

For the record, here's the full text of the letter sent by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny to senior officers at the union yesterday.

Dear colleagues
The speech Ed Balls made on Saturday may have a profound impact on our relationship with the Labour Party.
I have turned down dozens of offers to comment on TV, Radio and in the Press.
Unite and Unison have adopted similar positions. I have spoken to Ed Milliband and Ed Balls to ensure they were aware of how wrong I think the policy they are now following is.
It is now time for careful consideration and thought before the wider discussion begin on the long term implications this new stance by the Party has on GMB affiliation.
It will be a fundamental requirement that the CEC and Congress determine our way forward after proper debate.
I will update everyone as events unfold but I have to say this is the most serious mistake they could have made and the Tories must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse 

16 January 2012 2:08 PM

Boris slips into the '22 while George is away


Pure coincidence, obviously. But as the Chancellor begins his tour of the Far East, ESP learns that Boris will be slipping into his manor while he is away.

The Mayor has been invited to address the mighty 1922 Committee that represents Conservative backbenchers on Wednesday. Any suggestion that Boris will be parading his qualities as a potential leader are wide of the mark, the Mayor's allies insist. Rather, he will be seeking their support for the May mayoral elections, both as door-knockers and artillery in Parliament.

However, it would do no harm to Johnson's profile with newer MPs if he delivers a joke-strewn tub-thumper. More so if he can be tempted to make a few digs at the Lib Dems and the French. The Chancellor's spies will be watching closely.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon




13 January 2012 2:08 PM

Olympics to spark baby boom

If history is anything to go by, Britain could be enjoying a baby boom in spring next year - sparked by the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and Euro 2012.

Births in England and Wales had been falling for at least a decade until the early 2000s.

But the year after the Golden Jubilee in 2002, England’s World Cup success and Tim Henman reaching the Wimbledon semi-final saw a huge increase in births.

They rose by 25,347 in 2003, according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, jumping from 596,122 to 621,469, an increase of 4.25 per cent.

The rise was the biggest spike in the birth rate between 1992 and 2010.

There were large increases in births in the period nine months after the summer of 2002 which saw hundreds of street parties to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, David Beckham mania sweeping the country as England reached the World Cup quarter finals and tennis fans cheering as Tim Henman clinched a semi-final showdown with Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon.

Births rose by 13,260 in March to July 2003, compared to the previous year.

“Olympics, Royal celebrations and World Cups seem to function as cultural aphrodisiacs,” Ellis Cashmore, Professor of Culture at Staffordshire University, told The Standard.

“It’s exactly the kind of situation where people will feel well disposed to each other in an affable if not amorous way.

“We should see a spike in the birth rate in the spring of 2013.”

Professor Jacky Boivin, an expert in health psychology at Cardiff University, believes there may be another rise in conceptions next year.

“If Britain wins lots of gold medal at the London Olympics, this could create a mood of euphoria in the country,” she said.

“This could make people more likely to have sex which could lead to an increase in conceptions.”

She also stressed that if people are inspired by the 2012 Games to take up sport or just become more active, this could also boost birth numbers.

“People could also be encouraged by the Olympics to get more physically fit. Being fit can make people feel more attractive and boost their libido leading to more sex,” she said.

“Being physically fit can also make it easier for couples to conceive by more favourable hormones and sperm quality.”

But she also warned that big sporting events and other celebrations could reduce the likelihood of women becoming pregnant if they or their partner drink to excess.

Dr Cath Mercer, a senior lecturer at University College London’s Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, said breaks, such as the Jubilee extended Public Holiday weekend and people taking time off work this summer for the Olympics, could fuel the birth rate.

"Anything which gives people the time to relax and have sex could lead to a baby boom," she says.

Nicholas Cecil

11 January 2012 4:06 PM

The Ministry of Defence zoo

A cracking parliamentary question from shadow defence minister Kevan Jones reveals the Ministry of Defence could set up a pretty decent petting zoo if world peace broke out.

The roll call of animals employed by the department, according to Defence Minister Andrew Robathan, looks like this:

992 working dogs (324 search dogs, 409 guard dogs and 259 super-dogs that can do both)

449 ceremonial horses

13 falcons used by the Navy to clear runways

In addition, the following animals are offical mascots:

Two drum horses

Three dogs

Three mountain goats

One swaledale ram

Two Shetland ponies

And a partridge in a pear tree (I'm joking about the partridge).

As a former defence minister, I'm sure Jones knew exactly how many animals were at the MoD, which is why he asked the question. Sadly, though, Robathan refuses to say how much it costs to keep the animals - arguing the data is not held centrally and would cost too much to uncover.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Britain stockpiles anthrax vaccine against Olympic attack

Britain's security preparations for the Olympics are being ratcheted up with the Government stockpiling anthrax vaccine against an attack on the London Games.

The Government is replenishing its anthrax vaccine levels, as revealed in The Standard today, in time for April to safeguard the 2012 Games.

The supply of jabs to combat anthrax poisoning was hit by delays between October 2009 and March 2011. The resulting shortfall in supply is set to be made up within the next four months.

More than 500 health workers have also been vaccinated against smallpox, enabling them to respond to a biological terror attack.

Terrorists have rarely used biological attacks.

But fear swept through America in 2001 when letters containing anthrax spores were sent to news media offices and two Democratic US senators. Five people were killed and 17 others infected.

Nicholas Cecil






A joint platform for the PM and Miliband?

Today's PMQs show of unity in opposing Scottish independence raises the question: could David Cameron and Ed Miliband appear on a platform together to keep the UK together?

Neither side is ruling it out. The PM's aides point out that he appeared alongside Labour big beast John Reid during the AV referendum campaign, and say the independence campaign will be fought on the same lines.

Labour sources say Miliband will do "whatever is necessary and effective" to make the case for keeping the union together - though they point out that appearing on a platform with Cameron could actually be counter-productive.

For what it's worth, I doubt it'll happen as it would bolster the SNP's case that Westminster politicians are trying to dictate to Scotland.

Not quite peace in our time, then.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

10 January 2012 2:22 PM

Jeremy Hunt: Let's thrash the Aussies at Olympics

As Britain's athletes limber up for the 2012 Games, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had a simple message for them today: please "thrash" the Australians.

He stressed he would be overjoyed by Team GB beating the Australians again in the medals table at this year's Games - as they did in Beijing four years ago.

“I love Australia to bits, but it would be give me no greater pleasure than to thrash them once again in the medals table,” he told The Standard.

“We want to beat France and Germany but most important of all we need to beat the Aussies.”

But Australia’s sports minister Mark Arbib hit back emphasising that his country “needed” to get a bigger gold medal tally than Britain, or at least pretty much match it, to achieve its aim of finishing in the top five.

He also appeared to suggest that the UK was trying to buy success with its “record” investment in preparations for the Olympics.

“As always, the Australian Olympic Committee has set an ambitious target for our athletes of a top five finish at the London Games,” he said.

“We know that to get to our target we will need to beat Great Britain or be right up there with them on the medal tally.”

Pointedly, he added: “We have seen record amounts of money and resources invested in Great Britain’s Olympic programmes as they seek to meet the high expectations to perform at their home Olympics.

“However, Australia continues to be focused on getting our athletes ready for the Games, making sure they are as prepared and competitive as they can be as we take on the world’s best.

“Australia and Britain have a long-term sporting rivalry and I’m sure that will continue in London and beyond."

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Britain’s sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe won a bet with his Australian counterpart Kate Ellis over which nation would win more gold medals. Team GB clinched 19 golds to Australia’s 14.

Australia finished in sixth position behind Germany on 16.

Nicholas Cecil




Balls hits back over Tourette's jibe

Ed Balls has just been on the radio, making some comments that are raising a few eyebrows in Westminster.

The shadow chancellor, David Cameron's irritator-in-chief, was hitting back at David Cameron over the accusation he behaves like "someone with Tourette's" during PMQs. (The Prime Minister apologised after making the comments, sparked by his annoyance at Balls' endless hand gestures and frontbench barracking).

Condemning it as "offensive" - though insisting it hadn't hurt him - Balls painted himself as whiter-than-white in the political arena.

Balls said: “I think people want an opposition which takes the argument to the Government, and sometimes David Cameron gives the impression that he deserves to be there and nobody deserves to criticise his views and his policies.

“And he obviously attempts, whether it’s women who he patronises, or me who makes offensive comments about - which don’t offend me but did offend many people up and down the country suffering from Tourette’s - I don’t think that’s the right way to do politics.

“I think you should debate not about smear but about policy.”

Vowing to continue criticising the Government’s “failing” policies, he went on: “I will do that in a direct, clear, honest and open way, but I’m not going to say offensive things about David Cameron or anyone else.”

This from a man who has a reputation as a street fighter, both inside Labour and when taking on the opposition. He even appeared in a video game after Alistair Darling said the "forces of hell" had been unleashed against him.

It's worth noting he dismissed the idea his robust style turns voters off during the World and One interview, so don't expect him to change. PMQs would be duller if he did...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

09 January 2012 12:56 PM

Hunt's Olympic appeal: Be Victors not Meldrews

With 200 days to go to the Olympics, Jeremy Hunt has appealed for an end to "grumbling" about the Games.

In an interview with The Standard, the Culture Secretary backed most Londoners to avoid “Victor Meldrew” style complaining about Tube, road and work disruption during the Games.

“This is a year to celebrate and not for grumbling,” he said.

“We have got the chance to show the world everything that is best about London. We would be crazy not to make the most of it.

“Of course there is going to be disruption. But it’s going to be worth it.

“It would not be Britain if we did not have a few Victor Meldrews. But I’m sure they are going to be in a minority when people realise what an incredible privilege it is to host the biggest sporting even on the planet.

“We will all be telling our children and grandchildren that we were in London in 2012.”

He also set out the Government’s aim of a “Triple Gold” this summer:

* To host the best ever Olympics – outdoing Beijing’s spectacular show.

* To drag the UK away from recession with an extra boost of at least £1 billion from a business summit linked to the Games.

* To deliver a lasting legacy with a new campaign to stop teenagers ditching sport when they leave school, opening up more pools, sports halls and pitches at schools to the wider public and the use of Olympic venues after the Games.

Now, the Government needs to deliver these goals.

Nicholas Cecil


06 January 2012 11:51 AM

"I had that Diane Abbott in the back of my cab, once"


Diane Abbott is in hot water again - this time for saying taxi drivers drive past black people.

Her comment, tweeted on Tuesday, went: "Dubious of black people claiming they've never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?"

Here's a neat twist, though. Steve McNamara, a driver for 25 years and spokesman for the Licenced Taxi Drivers Association, once picked her up himself. “She has no trouble being picked up - I picked her from a rather trendy muse development in Stoke Newington about 10 or 12 years ago.  She seemed to me to be a very nice lady but it is pretty ironic that she made this comment about taxi drivers a day before she made a racist comment herself.

McNamara insists: "The modern generation of taxi drivers is as diverse as London itself and most of the knowledge schools now have prayer rooms. Her comment . . . is as outdated and insulting as the stereotype that black people wear woolly hats all the time.”

Oh dear.  But the key question is will this finish off the shadow public health minister?

She clearly thinks not.  Ms Abbott's friends have let me know she is "very sorry for any offence caused" to taxi drivers. Moreover, I am told that "she gets on well with many taxi drivers" (yes, I know, this sounds close to parody -- ie: some of my best friends are cabbies). But, crucially, she is currently not planning to put out a statement of apology in her own words.

I am also told that the MP was speaking from "personal experience", which implies she has bee left standing with her arm out at some stage - which must be a truly gutting expeirence if you believe the driver acted out of racism.

Senior Labour sources are cautiously optimistic that it will blow over without the fuss caused by her tweet that "white people love playing 'divide and rule" (which, by the way, I did NOT find remotely offensive).

One party source points out that she did not tar all taxi drivers with the same brush but said her latest tweet would be "looked at". It sounds like she won't be getting another furious phone call from Ed Miliband today.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon



03 January 2012 1:09 PM

How London's fares compare with other big cities (you guessed it, they're higher)


Happy New Year

And an unhappy Fare Rise Day to London's four million commuters.

We're running a news story in the Standard tonight on London being top of the league table of 20 world cities for fares.  For those who like to see the raw figures, see below for a full table and explanatory notes.

These figures were compiled by the House of Commons library for the Labour Party, which asked for comparable figures.  Ed Miliband tells the ES that it shows London now has the most expensive public transport in the world.  I'll have another post later today on the very interesting politics that are opening up around fares and the mayoral battle.

If you were clobbered for up to eight per cent more on your travel bill this morning, you won't like these figures one bit.

In London a peak Zones 1-4 single journey costs £3.60 - twice as much as similar journeys in New York, where it cost £1.56, Paris (£1.46), Milan, £1.29, and Copenhagen, £2.77.

A Zone 1-4 travelcard costing £10.60 in London compared with just £5.84 in Berlin, £3.12 in Los Angeles,  and £3.44 in Rome. Barcelona was more expensive than London for this type of ticket, at £11.86, but the Spanish city offered fares of just £1.25 for single journeys anywhere, which would mean cheaper trips for some.

Nelow is the data as promised:

Joe Murphy

Table 1. 1 Day Travelcards1 in European and US cities, cash price, November 2011.  






Oyster price (£)

Number of zones covered by ticket2

Modes of transport





London (anytime)



Metro/Bus/Rail/Light Rail

London (anytime)



Metro/Bus/Rail/Light Rail/Tram

London (anytime)



Metro/Bus/Rail/Light Rail/Tram







































2 (AB)




2 (BC)




3 (ABC)













Bus/Tram/Underground/Tolleybus/Cogwheel railway/Suburban Rail

















Los Angeles




















































1 A travelcard has been defined as a ticket that can be used for either 24 hours upon purchase of for one day of transport operation. The majority of these tickets will cover more than one form of transport.

2 Unless otherwise stated all tickets shown cover the central zone. Therefore if 3 zones are covered zones 1,2 and 3 are covered, assuming that 1 is the central zone. Where this is not the case, for instance where zones 2,3 and 4 are covered this has been stated.






Currencies have been converted using the exchange rate at 4 November 2011









House of Commons Library Research







Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon