27 March 2012 2:33 PM

Pensioner killed by national strike?

A shocking report out today reveals how an 83-year-old man died in pain after waiting more than three hours for an ambulance during the nationwide strike last year.

Five 999 calls were made in a desperate plea to get help for the pensioner who fell at his home at 9.30am in north east London, on November 30.

A relative called 999 at around 12.30pm but medics only arrived shortly before 4pm.

Ambulance chiefs have apologised for the delay.

They say that the man may, sadly, have died anyway but a separate report, by NHS London, found that the death had been “potentially linked” to the delayed response.

Many other patients in the capital also suffered pain as they waited for ambulances on the strike day, according to the second report.

It also list a series of union and management blunders which contributed to the long delays.

Full story:

Nicholas Cecil



23 March 2012 1:16 PM

Osborne's West Country wipeout

With both the granny tax and the pie tax looking like massive own goals, there surely had to be a sensible political motive behind George Osborne's Budget. After two days of head-scratching, and following the announcement of minimum prices for alcohol, I think I've worked it out: it's all a clever bid to rid the Lib-Dems from the West Country.

While much of the focus on charging VAT on hot food has focused on the fact it wiped millions off Greggs' share price, down in the South West it is being painted as pasty tax - an assault on the Cornish icon.

Lib-Dem MPs Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) and Andrew George (St Ives) are far from happy about it, vowing Cornishmen would fight on the beaches to oppose the pasty tax.

It's a Coalition policy that is likely to hit them - and fellow Cornish Lib-Dem Dan Rogerson - at the ballot box. With the South West also a favoured hang-out of Britain's increasingly ageing population, so is the move to squeeze pensioner allowances - potentially allowing Tory MPs to sweep them away west of the Tamar.

Now the minimum pricing for booze has been unveiled, and that's got cider producers (predominantly based in the South West) up in arms too. It'll go down particularly badly in the Lib-Dem cluster of seats around Somerset, where cider is virtually worshipped.

My Friday afternoon theory is Osborne hopes these measures will make the Lib-Dems even more unpopular than they already are in some key heartlands, and is relying on Tory voters in the South West to stay loyal. If that happens, it brings an outright Conservative majority ever closer.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

22 March 2012 1:25 PM

George doesn't but Boris does ...


... pay the 50p rate, that is.  The Chancellor denied benefiting from his own Budget today, surprising many who point to his £2m home being rented out and a £4m share of Osborne & Little.

However, we can be certain that Boris Johnson does pay it. London's mayor declares writing a lucrative column for the Daily Telegraph, which with his City Hall salary makes earnings of £393,911. He has also listed income from a book review, writing in the Spectator and a book contract with Harper Collins.

Labour today reckoned the Mayor will save £12,195.55 in tax under the new 45p tax rate - and perhaps more depending on his other little earners.



Joe Murphy




20 March 2012 3:07 PM

All In This Together? No we're not, say voters.


Our fascinating Pre-Budget poll by Ipsos MORI makes gripping reading. As we report in the Standard, it shows that the public do not believe the Coalition's claims that the Budget will benefit the poor most.  Half think the rich will get most from Chancellor Osborne.  Just 16 per cent think the poor will get more.

Other key findings:  Economic pessimism is huge and growing - but voters don't think Ed Balls would do better than George Osborne  (Oz is actually ahead by 36pc to 35pc),

Ed Miliband's ratings are terrible - including with Labour supporters. Only 46 pc of Lab supporters are satisfied with him.  Among Tories 81 pc are satisfied with Cameron and half the Lib Dem backers are satisfied with Clegg.

Here's a brilliant info-graphic by Ipsos MORI that sets out the key findings in a rather pretty format.  Enjoy!    JOE MURPHY



Joe Murphy


16 March 2012 4:01 PM

Petrol Deal just a lot of "Gas"


A lot of column inches were given to the idea that Britain will join America and release millions of barrels of oil to reduce fuel prices at the pumps.

Hmm.  Britain has 70 days worth of oil supplies in reserve but they are usually only dipped into when events disrupt international supplies. The last time was during the Libya crisis last year.

America has the world’s biggest reserve, 700 million barrels, but this would only last gas-guzzling Americans around one month, according to Nick McGregor, an oil analyst at stockbrokers Redmayne Bentley. “I don’t think it does stack up in the long run,” he told the BBC today.  “Worldwide there are about four billion barrels of oil in reserves, which is about 50 days supply for the entire planet.”

In other words, the effect would not be very great nor long-lived.

Actually, Cameron was more equivical than some of today's reports made clear. And for good reason. In his mind is the real possibiity that the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil route, will become a war zone if Israel attacks Iranian nuclear plants. 


Joe Murphy

follow me     @JoeMurphyLondon

Clegg, not Osborne, is feeling the Budget heat


George Osborne is so relaxed about his Budget that he spent three days in America. It's Nick Clegg who is feeling under pressure this afternoon.

I've been calling some Lib Dems and found anger that Cleggie appears poised to allow the 50p rate to be abolished in next week's Budget without them getting what they feel  are enough concessions in return.  ES story here

The word on Cowley Street is that David Cameron personally vetoed Vince Cable's Mansion Tax to hit the rich.  "We seem to be letting the 50p rate go without getting very much in return,” said one party source.

A senior source confirmed that the Mansion Tax was unlikely, saying: “In a Coalition we cannot always do what we want.”

The Lib Dems have been brilliant at painting George Osborne as over-keen to help out the super-rich. 

But they've talked so much about whacking wealth that their real successes - another cut in tax for the low paid and a crackdown on stamp duty dogers - are in danger of going unnoticed.

As the Quad talks by phone this afternoon, the 50p rate is the key discussion.

Mr Osborne might reduce it to 45p or announce an abolition date closer to the 2015 election.  If he goes for it, he would be the toast of the Tea Room.

I gather he "hit the roof” when he heard that today’s Guardian was running big with the story.Not because he doesn’t want to — the Chancellor has been clear for months that such a high marginal rate is uncompetitive - but such a prominent “leak” could upset thing.


Joe Murphy
Follow me on Twitter        @JoeMurphyLondon

Ed's speech is a dud


I love political speeches.  I get carried away by them. I'm the guy who left the Sheffield arena thinking Neil Kinnock had delivered a belter.

But Ed Miliband's speech to Labour's youth conference is a dud. It is full of schmaltz that doesn't prove his case.

Take the key section on his dad, the late Marxist academic Ralph Miliband. Very movingly Ed described how Miliband Snr arrived as a penniless refugee with no English and no money and scraped a living "doing odd jobs" while learning English. He got into Acton Technical College and then won a place at the LSE.

"He succeeded because he was given a chance," declared Ed.  Rubbish. Ralph Miliband succeeded because he worked his tail end off and happened to possess one of the most brilliant minds of his generation. But Ed ignores the evidence in his own anecdote for the sake of his core argument, which is that young people need to be "given a chance" to get on in life.

Ed then cites a young woman desperate to work. "She had sent off 137 CVs, and hadn’t got a single reply ... Friends, she is a not a layabout. She has ambition. She has hopes and dreams for the future. Her problem is she hasn’t been given a chance."

It begs a lot of questions, like, did Ed look over her CV to see if there was another reason why not one employer in 137 had bothered to reply?  Did he find out if those employers took on some different young people?

All this rhetoric builds up to Labour's Real Jobs Guarantee, which is actually a good idea considering the damage inflicted when young people are left unemployed for a year or more without a break.

Harriet Harman was badly caught out later when she was asked how much the bonus tax, which is supposed to be financing the policy, would raise. "Um, I haven't got quite the … I know that we have worked out that figure… I'll have to get back to you on that," she garbled.

Then she was asked for the cost of the Real Jobs Guarantee and said:  "Umm, I haven't got that actual figure to hand but I can assure you that Ed Balls has, as our Shadow Chancellor, so has Ed Miliband."

Memo to Labour leader and deputy leader: More facts, please, and less waffle.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



13 March 2012 5:14 PM

Labour whips hit by rebellion over Lib Dem health vote


Labour's plot to get Liberal Democrat backbenchers voting with them against the NHS bill is backfiring spectacularly, I hear.

Instead of triggering a giant rebellion in Nick Clegg's ranks, it has caused an outbreak of anger aimed at the Opposition whips.

The problem is the Lib Dem amendment which says that the Government should call for an urgent summit with the Royal Colleges [so far, so good] and then [wait for it] "plan health reforms based on the Coalition Agreement". 

Not unreasonably, many Labour MPs have no intention of endorsing the Coalition Agreement, particularly not its chapter on the NHS, which backs GP commissioning,  giving a role to Monitor overseeing competition, on-line league tables and more choice.

The collision was spotted too late - and senior party officials have already been going around crowing about Lib Dems breaking away from the Coalition to vote with Labour tonight.  Now the whips are leaning on furious Labour MPs to abandon their principles and vote for the Coalition Agreement.

Ironically, what should have been a bad day for Nick Clegg has become a turnout nightmare for Rosie Winterton.

Funnier still, one of the five Lib Dems who signed the amendment is probably not going to be around to vote for it.  David Ward has a local by-election to fight and was given the night off by his whips.  Nobody at that time expected this amendment to be chosen for debate.

It's a bit of a shame for Andy Burnham whose campaign against the NHS and Social Care Bill has been getting rave reviews from colleagues, particularly his success at persuading the Royal Colleges to consult their members.   Alas, trying to get Labour MPs into bed with the Lib Dems was a step too far.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon



Lib-Dem: Tories won't be trusted on NHS

Another day, another bid to de-rail the Government's NHS reforms. But this one is gathering some significance, and could see Lib-Dems joining forces with Labour to vote against the Health and Social Care Bill.

Five Lib-Dem backbenchers have tabled an amendment to a Labour backbench opposition day motion, which "declines to support the Bill in its current form".

Labour sources understand that in a rare move, it will be selected for debate by Speaker John Bercow and that Ed Miliband's troops are happy to back it.

The full amendment calls for an "urgent summit" between ministers and Royal Colleges, professional and patient groups to plan health reforms "based on the Coalition agreement" - which pledges to stop top-down reorganisations.

One of the rebels, Bradford East MP David Ward, said the move was needed because a string of concessions secured by Lib-Dem peers in the Lords had failed to quell opposition because they had been accepted by the Tories.

“The situation we find ourselves in - and I’m not sure there is an awful lot we can do about it  - is we are in coalition with a party that people will never, ever trust on the NHS and that is a huge problem,” he told the Standard.

“The view from the public is that if the colleges are against it then there must be something wrong.”

John Pugh, chair of the Lib-Dem backbench health committee, said the move and a letter from Royal College of GPs chair Clare Gerada offered a chance for a U-turn.

“Overshadowing this is the Prime Minister’s desire not to look weak and you can read the Gerada letter as an attempt to give the PM room to manoeuvre,” he said.

“There are few enthusiasts for this legislation and thought needs to be given to showing the Government a way out of what must be an agonising dilemma.”

One senior Lib-Dem source dismissed this as posturing by the "awkward squad", while another hailed more than 1,000 amendments secured by the party's peers on the Bill.

For their part, Downing Street rejected talk of a U-turn. “We are fully committed to the Health and Social Care Bill which is about improving the NHS while protecting its founding principles,” a spokesman said.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

12 March 2012 2:46 PM

Budget talks - by video link from the US?


The Quad is about to meet at No 10 for crunch talks on the Budget. But I hear that David Cameron is willing to hold further discussions by phone or video link from the United States if necessary this week.

That indicates that the negotiations between the PM, DPM, Chancellor and Treasury Secretary are far from settled.  And all the sticking points are said to be about tax.

“I doubt if everything will be nailed down today,” said a senior source. “But they would like to make significant progress this afternoon.”

A clampdown on stamp duty dodgers and a squeeze on pension tax relief for high earners are both set to be agreed, I hear.

But the Liberal Democrats’ Mansion Tax plan that would hit Londoners in big houses will probably be shelved for at least a year, pending a broad negotiation over taxes hitting the very wealthy, including the 50p income tax rate.

The suggestion is that the price for Mr Osborne announcing his intention to scrap the 50p rate on £150k+ earners, is a major review of all taxes on the very wealthy, including the Mansion Tax and Nick Clegg's new Tycoon Tax idea. In other words, yet another even longer negotiation.

Some Lib Dems have a brutally simple way of making it add up: If the 50p rate is found by the HMRC review to bring in £2.5 billion, then the new taxes on the wealthy should bring in the same amount, whether they are the Mansion Tax, the Tycoon Tax or a further pension squeeze.

This afternoon's talks are not the end of the discussion.


Joe Murphy

Follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



Obama to call Cameron first in a crisis

BARACK Obama’s first call in a crisis to a world leader is to David Cameron, the US ambassador to London has told the Standard.

Ahead of the Prime Minister's visit to America, Louis Susman buried talk that the “special relationship” between Britain and the USA is on the wane as he heaped praise on Mr Cameron’s strong, “aggressive” leadership.

The ambassador also told how:
* American intelligence agencies are working with MI6, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police to safeguard the London Olympics.
* America, and Britain, will not “cut and run” from Afghanistan despite the mounting military death toll and recent setbacks including outrage over US troops burning Korans and an American soldier running amok killing 16 civilians including nine children.
* The US, the UK, Germany and France are warning Israel not to launch a military strike now on Iran.
* Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron enjoy a “very, very warm” relationship and will spend many hours together over coming days.

Speaking from New York, Mr Susman, 74, stressed the growing bond between the Obamas and Camerons, despite the two leaders representing different political traditions.

“He has a very special relationship, as he calls it an essential relationship, with the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Cameron,” he said.

“One of the particular attractions is generational. President has just turned 50, the Prime Minister, I think is 45, they have young children. So I would tell you that as the president says ‘We have a problem, our first call is to the United Kingdom and to the Prime Minister’.

“From this ambassadorship, we see a strong leader, that’s aggressive for all of its causes, and obviously has a strong popularity right now in the United Kingdom.”

His warm words contrast with how Mr Obama started his presidency, when he sent back to the British embassy a loaned bronze bust of Winston Churchill that George W Bush kept in the Oval Office.

Relations with Gordon Brown were at time strained.

There were also suggestions that Mr Obama was lukewarm about the “special relationship”, partly as he had been told by Kenyan relatives how his grandfather was allegedly tortured by British forces in colonial years.

Tomorrow, though, Mr Cameron will become the first foreign leader to join the president on Air Force One as the two fly to Ohio to chill out at a basketball game.

Nicholas Cecil

08 March 2012 11:14 AM

Tories give Warsi both barrels

By all accounts, last night's 1922 Committee meeting was a bruising experience for Baroness Warsi.

The Standard has been told that MP after MP lined up to attack her handling of MEP Roger Helmer's recent defection to Ukip - with one onlooker describing it as a "roasting".

The noble lady has never been popular among certain sections of the party, but this appeared to come from much wider than just the "usual suspects".

So savage was the mauling, and so badly-received was her response, that colleagues' mobile phones buzzed all night with reports from those present.

It sparked instant calls for her to be sacked as soon as possible and replaced with an MP - with Housing Minister Grant Shapps' name in the frame.

The Standard has been told among those who spoke out against Warsi's handling of the Helmer affair were Chris Heaton-Harris, Brian Binley, Sir Peter Tapsell, Nicky Morgan and Philip Hollobone.

Here's a flavour from some people inside the room.

One onlooker said: “She had a very very tough time. She got it with both barrels from MPs across the party.

“For the party chairman to get treated like that shows what people think of the party chairman.”

Another said: “She got a roasting, even from loyalists. I thought she was appalling. She has got no idea.

“I just thought she was out of her depth. I have never seen anything like it - other than the last time she was before the 1922. I genuinely think she is the worst chairman we have ever had."

And a third added: “It was from her perspective a car crash. There was a barrage of criticism.

“If had been an experienced Member of Parliament it would never have happened. This young lady thinks she knows everything and is the best thing to emerge in Parliament but she is not.”

To put it mildly: ouch.

Not everyone feels the same though. One MP said it did "nothing for morale" when colleagues attacked the party chairman, while a Conservative spokesman said Baroness Warsi had acted “entirely correctly and properly” over the Helmer situation.

They added: “The rules are perfectly clear. At the time Roger had not resigned, therefore there was no vacancy. Before there was a vacancy we could not select a candidate.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

06 March 2012 12:49 PM

REVEALED: When Steve Hilton met Boris

Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s closest adviser, has met Boris Johnson to discuss a new role working with the Mayor, I've learned.

And I gather that Steve himself is interested in becoming a Mayor one day.  Gazing into my crystal ball, I wonder if a Hilton versus David Lammy contest might happen in 2016 or 2020.

They had lunch at City Hall several weeks ago and a dinner at Boris's home sometime ago. Then a fortnight ago Mr Hilton was spotted in a glass fronted meeting room at City Hall in talks with the Mayor’s chief of staff, Eddie Lister.

They are believed to have talked about a heavyweight role being created with an economic or business brief.

One source said Mr Hilton could have joined Team Boris after the May local elections. “They went into the canteen for lunch, obviously getting on very well. The word on the ground is that Steve Hilton wanted to move into a role where he could really effect change because he was disenchanted with how little actually gets done in Whitehall. “He had seen Boris making things happen, from the cable car to the Routemaster, and he was attracted by that.” Mr Hilton and Mr Johnson are said to have first “clicked” when he went in for a briefing on the Mayor’s plan for a Thames Estuary airport and followed up the talks with dinner. They are both colourful political personalities with a strong dislike of European directives, business red tape and wasteful spending.

In the end Mr Hilton, who is famous for padding around No 10 in tee shirt and bare feet, decided to take an unpaid academic sabbatical at Stanford University in the United States instead. He plans to return to his desk in No 10 next year.

Friends of Mr Hilton say he did not discuss a formal job at City Hall but said he has long-term mayoral ambitions of his own and is keen to learn what he can from Mr Johnson about running a major city. One said they talked about helping the Mayor’s re-election campaign and supporting the Mayor after he is re-elected. “They talked about development and regeneration, but nothing as formal as a job. He had a discussion with Boris and his team about how he could support them after the election, working with the Mayor rather than for the mayor. “Steve would like to be a mayor himself one day and such a role would help him learn how a mayoralty works.”

This disclosure will fuel claims that the maverick adviser was frustrated with the slow pace of reform in Whitehall and keen to swap his backroom role for a practical job helping business.

Joe Murphy

01 March 2012 12:30 PM

Bad news for Tories on Whitehall bonuses

Civil service bonuses have attracted a lot of anger in recent years, mostly from Tory MPs angry at their explosion during the Labour years.

But they might be less than happy to learn the whole idea was actually brought in on Margaret Thatcher's watch.

As this PQ from Cabinet Office spokesman Baroness Verma sets out, performance-related pay was introduced in 1987 and then extended in 1989 before being passed to individual departments and quangos in 1996.

Latest figures put the cost at more than £100m a year. Wonder what the Iron Lady makes of that?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

What Eric says ...

Labour MP Eric Joyce has kept a low profile since last week's headbutting claims.  But today he called me to deny a story running in the Daily Record that had "a secret affair" with Meg Lauder, now 19, who was just 17 when she volunteered as an election helper at his HQ.

“The story is not true and I will be taking legal advice this morning,” Joyce said. “I do know Meg and she did work for me during the election.” Asked if they had a sexual relationship, he replied: “No.” He also denied seeing her since the election, contradicting a claim that they had a two-year relationship.

There is nothing in the Record's report to suggest they have spoken to the girl and there are no exlicit allegations of misconduct. However, she might well be speaking to others and we may hear more about this.

Intriguingly, Ms Lauder’s father works at the advertising department of the Record. Make of that what you will.


Joe Murphy

Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon