29 February 2012 3:45 PM

The French battle for London

Socialist French presidential front-runner Francois Hollande is in town today, meeting with Ed Miliband and giving a talk at King's College.

He'll also be campaigning alongside Axelle Lemaire, his party's candidate in the race to be "French MP for London". A new-for-2012 innovation, France will have 11 MPs based outside of the country and chosen exclusively by ex-pats.

Ahead of Hollande's visit I spoke to all of Lemaire's London-based rivals (the time pressures of a visiting leader prevented it being a full house) and was struck by what an impressive bunch of budding politicians they are.

In Nicolas Sarkozy's corner is Emmanuelle Savarit, a 39-year-old divorced mother-of-two who has worked in LA and loves rugby. She also claims to be the only French member of the Carlton Club (following in Margaret Thatcher's footsteps - she was officially a male member back in the day). An impressive attack dog for the Sarkozy camp, she warned Brits should be "scared" if Hollande ousts her man from the top job.

Hoping to come through the middle is Yannick Naud, of the centrist Democratic Movement. A polished performer, the 44-year-old asset management firm boss is another with international experience, having worked in Japan where he met his wife. He is banging the drum for ex-pat rights, putting education at the top of his list and opposing plans to tax French people overseas.

Independent Will Mael Nyamat entered the race in protest at perceived gender bias in favour of Lemaire, quitting the Socialists to stand. A 27-year-old immigration adviser who was born in Gabon but now lives in Croydon. Very much the anti-establishment man, he argues voters don't want the contest "confiscated" by the two main parties.

Completing the list is the Green Party's Olivier Bertin, who runs a bilingual nursery school and has stood for the English greens as a council candidate in Lambeth. He believes the overseas MPs can bring a good perspective from their experiences abroad - even suggesting a Freedom of Information Act for notoriously privacy-aware France.

They are all bidding to woo as many as 100,000 registered French voters in the capital - the vast bulk of the constituency. It should make for a fascinating scrap.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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

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

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

27 October 2011 2:45 PM

The Lib-Dems' perfect jibe at Tory rebels

After Monday's huge Tory rebellion on Europe, it was only a matter of time before Coalition taunts about it emerged.

I've just been told one which must classify as almost the perfect Lib-Dem jibe, allowing MPs in the yellow corner to take aim at the Tories and Labour at the same time.

Told with relish to Tory rebels, it involves their Coalition partners crowing: "It was a shame to see you couldn't offer the Prime Minister the loyalty that we - or Ed Miliband for that matter - were able to on Monday."

Not that Lib-Dems are entirely delighted with the trouble caused by the rebels. They are worried David Cameron will try to "meet them half way" with a raft of measures that will be anathema to the Lib-Dems but won't go far enough to satisfy the eurosceptics.

"You should never placate implacable opposition," I'm told.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

25 October 2011 3:33 PM

Clegg's tough message to Eurosceptics

Nick Clegg has been out and about this morning, vowing to tear up red tape for small businesses. But the issue of Europe has inevitably raised its head after yesterday's huge Tory rebellion, and the Lib-Dem leader has been delivering a pretty tough message to people who are, after all, members of his own Government.

Talking to ESP, he said the Eurosceptics were playing "Russian roulette" with British jobs and warned them to be careful what they wish for. He was also clear on the issue of getting powers back from the Brussels, condemning it as a "smash and grab raid".

Here's a full transcript:

ESP: How did you feel yesterday seeing the Prime Minister having to go through that rigmarole with his backbenchers and then all the Tories marching through the lobbies? Because it's your Government at the end of the day as well, isn't it?

Nick Clegg: Yes absolutely, it's our Government. It's our Government but the Conservative Party has a long standing bee in its bonnet about arcane European institutional questions. I just happen to think it is a monumental distraction from the key task of repairing the damage to our economy and getting people jobs and economic security and I think these ideas knocking about as proposed by Conservative eurosceptics of either pitching the whole country into months or years of uncertainty through some in/out referendum or launching some smash and grab raid across the channel on powers from Brussels - they are neither justified nor in the interests of Britain. Because at the end of the day British jobs, British prosperity, the British economy, British families, British communities are massively dependent on a successful European economy and Britain being successful in that economy. And the way you create a more successful European economy is be leading the debate, not leaving.

ESP: It sounds like there is a sense of frustration in your voice?

NC: Look, it's one of the many reasons I'm not a Conservative. I'm pro-European but not in a starry-eyed way. In fact I'm probably more realistic than anybody about the flaws in the European Union because I have done it myself. I have significantly changed Europe. I for instance, when I was a Euro MP, passed ground-breaking legislation to scrap a whole raft of red tape that was stopping British consumers from benefiting from lower telephone costs, for instance. I have been talking just now about Ed Davey getting a patent law in place, getting all the other countries to agree to reducing red tape. We have just had the Commission come out finally for something I have been campaigning about for years, which is a more sensible, more devolved Common Fisheries Policy. Because I think the way the Common Fisheries Policy was over-bureaucratic...was wrong. So the way you change Europe is not by stamping your foot in Westminster but by getting out there, self-confidently saying this is the way Europe should go, we are going to lead the debate."

ESP: Do you think this has lanced the boil or stored up trouble?

NC: Look, if there is one thing I have learnt over the years it's that people who are obsessed by European treaties - article this, article that - remain obsessed. I think they are playing Russian roulette with people's jobs. Because it is people's jobs and livelihoods and the money in their pocket which is at stake if you push Britain to the exit door - and I'm not going to let that happen."

It's worth noting that his comments haven't gone down well on the Tory backbenches. Mark Pritchard, 1922 committee secretary, said the country can't be "held to ransom by Europhile Lib-Dem MPs".

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

21 October 2011 1:25 PM

Europe - chaos and rebellions

The Tory Party may be divided over Europe - but it is not as chaotic as the EU itself.

Aidan Burley, PPS to Philip Hammond, to Justine Greening is the latest ministerial aide to say he is thinking of voting for monday's rebel amendment. But he has not made up his mind and is weighing up carefully what local people want, bearing in mind that many people are more worried about their jobs at present.

“I have not decided what I am going to do,” he tells us. “I need to think about it and to reflect local opinion.  I am of the view that there should be a referendum at some point to resolve this question of Europe but I must also consider whether this is the best time, bearing in mind the importance of inward investment.”

If only Angerla Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy could ponder things with such grace. EU officials were shocked by the "tension" between them when they met this week and in London people are nervous that Sunday's summit and the special second summit next week will be failures.

It is still not clear if the extra summit will be for the 17 euro zone members or all 27 EU states, It will probably be on Wednesday but Tuesday or Thursday have not yet been ruled out. Unbelievably, in the midst of the worst crisis in the EU's history its leaders have not got a clue what they are doing.

Even the battling Tories are better than that.





Joe Murphy





19 October 2011 11:53 AM

A Foxy come-back -- don't rule it out

Contrary to some reports, a come-back by Liam Fox is not being ruled out in No 10.  “It’s possible in years to come,” says one source. “We have not said no, definitely not.”

Moreover, we have two Cabinet ministers fuelling the chat in today's paper. Here's Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in an interview with Craig Woodhouse (full interview due to run tomorrow): 

“I’ve known Liam for a long time, I’m very sad about what happened. I think he accepted that his sort of personal life drifted into his political, his ministerial life in an inappropriate way but I hope this isn’t the end of him in terms of a Government career.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, meanwhile, replied when asked on Five Live if it was the end of Dr Fox’s front bench career: “That’s a bit harsh!”

Overall, however, the sense I get is that it will not be considered until after the next general election. A wise bird says Lady Thatcher had a doctrine that a fallen minister had to be re-elected by his or her constituents before a come back was possible.  in addition, David Cameron is likely to claim there is a contrast between Fox's resignation and apoloigy with the forced resignations and hasty rehabilitations of Labour ministers such as Mandelson and Blunkett.

So, Foxy might be in the 2015 Tory Cabinet (or shadow cabinet) by which time his prospects will be entangled with spepulation about future leadership contetenders, such as his friend George Osborne.



Joe Murphy



17 October 2011 2:16 PM

What Liam will do next

I am told that Liam Fox will continue his Atlantic Bridge project from the backbenches after Gus O'Donnell reports tomorrow.

The former Defence Secretary believes his scheme to forge closer links between British and American right wing politicians is too important to drop.

Friends believe he will be cleared by an official Whitehall inquiry tomorrow of having any personal financial interest in Mr Werritty’s activities.

Meanwhile, Dr Fox is “appalled” by the way his friend Adam Werritty has been “traduced” in media reporting of the controvers, say his friends.

This does not sound like a man who will hide away from the spotlight in months to come. Instead, I am getting a picture of a politician who admits mucking up the handling of his political interests but is of the view that those interests were - and are - right to pursue.

What does that mean for David Cameron?  Unless Gus O'Donnell's report has found serious wrongdoing, Dr Fox may find some sympathetic ears among Tory backbenchers.

Dr Fox resigned from Cabinet on Friday when he again apologised for having “blurred” the line between his ministerial duties and his personal interests.

(Incidentially, he is entitled to pocket £17,206 as severance pay following his resignation.)

I've spoken to sources who think Fox will be criticised for what one called running an “independent foreign policy” after the key findings of Sir Gus's report are published. There were periods when the former minister went off-radar to his own civil servants while he focussed on his international political agenda with Mr Werritty.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon




05 October 2011 11:42 AM

Lib-Dem bashing finally breaks out

In stark contrast to the Liberal Democrat conference, where attacks on the Tories seemed to come at the rate of one an hour, the Conservative gathering has been notable for a lack of bile thrown at the yellow corner.

William Hague set the tone by heaping praise on Nick Clegg, and ministers have largely stuck to the script (apparently under instruction and causing great irritation to Peter Bone).

But the entente cordiale has finally broken thanks to MEP Martin Callanan, Tory leader in the European parliament.

I've seen a copy of his speech and there is a cracking passage about Chris Huhne's fondness for the euro.

Mr Callanan mentions the Lib-Dem Energy Secretary's book making the case for the single currency, which is apparently availble new on Amazon for £99 or second hand for 1p.

"I wouldn't recommend that you spend a penny on it," the speech says.

"Or on second thoughts, maybe spending a penny on it is exactly what it deserves."

After reading a couple of pro-euro passages from it, Mr Callanan goes on: "Now you will understand how relieved I am that in Europe we don’t have to be in coalition with the Liberal Democrats."

Mr Bone will be jealous.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 September 2011 3:27 PM

Danny admits we are better off outside the euro

Breaking news ... Danny Alexander, the former campaign chief for Britain in Europe, has admitted that it's a good thing he didn't win the Battle of Sterling.

He 'fessed up in an interview with the Evening Standard, when asked if it was lucky that the pro-euro campaign did not prevail.

"I think there is no doubt at all that the flexibilities we have, not being part of the euro, have been very helpful to the UK in dealing with the economic crisis we've had," he said.

Asked if that was politico-speak for admitting he was wrong, DA responded: "Who knows how it would have un-folded if things had worked out differently. I'm still a very firm believer that our national interest lies as a wholehearted member of the EU engaging positively to get the best for Britain. That's what always motivated me and that has not changed one iota."  He did not, however, say he still wants to join the euro.

There are lots of other good angles in the interview with this unassuming Lib Deb star.  He tells the unions that the Government is making contingency plans to defeat the strikes; urges his party to stand firm with the austerity policies and the Coalition; attacks Boris Johnson over the 50p rate and rebuffs the Tory Right on repatriation of powers.

But I like his description of why being brought up on a remote island (Colonsay, pop. 110) made him the man he is today.


Joe Murphy

follow me  on Twitter  .... @JoeMurphyLondon




17 June 2011 9:17 AM

Lamont not "singing in the bath" over Greece

Lord Lamont, famed for "singing in the bath" after Britain crashed out of the ERM some twenty years ago, strikes an ominous note over the Greek economic crisis.

The former Chancellor says: "Make no mistake about it, this is a threat to the whole world economy. This could send shockwaves not through just the neighbouring countries of Greece but the whole European monetary system. France, Germany, Italy - they could all be affected."

The warning of another "Lehman Brothers-style" economic shock came as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou ousted his finance minister George Papaconstantinou to try to restore confidence in his battered Government.

The situation is so serious that Tory peer Lord Lamont did not even afford himself a tad of "schadenfreude" over the plight in euroland.

He simply pointed out: "This is the problem, you have a currency without a Government that’s always been one of the arguments about the euro and it makes it difficult to get agreement and if you’re on the road of bailing out what is tended to happen is too little too late."

Nicholas Cecil

01 June 2011 1:52 PM

Clarke acts fast to avoid another Euro row

Ken Clarke must have choked on his cornflakes when he saw today's Daily Mail splash (assuming he reads the papers).

It said the Justice Secretary had approved a prisoner's demand for a test-tube baby with his partner - and worse, that it was all down to the Human Rights Act.

Not so, said Ken - quickly ordering an inquiry into how the application had been approved.

Just in the nick of time, too. Tory backbenchers hate the Human Rights Act and were champing at the bit to use this latest outrage as a stick to beat it with.

Elizabeth Truss, who sits on the justice committee, said MPs should repeat the trick they pulled over prisoner votes by debating the issue in the Commons.

"Parliament needs to send a signal to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue as we did on prisoner is blatantly unjust," she told me.

Dominic Raab joined in, saying: "This case highlights the perverse impact of, and the need to replace, the Human Rights Act."

And Mark Pritchard, secretary of the backbench 1922 committee, came up with a neat way of attacking the HRA while praising Ken - who has had a rough couple of weeks following his controversial rape comments.

“If there was ever a case for proving the Human Rights Act needed fundamental reform it is this case," he said.

“Ken Clarke is one of the smartest and wisest politicians in Whitehall. I am sure he will want to make the right decision over cases that are repugnant to victims and hard pressed taxpayers alike.”

Ordering the investigation, and insisting human rights had nothing to do with it, has taken the sting out of the issue. Exactly the kind of handling you'd expect from one of the "smartest and wisest politicians in Whitehall".

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

09 May 2011 2:36 PM

Lunchtime List

Welcome to the Lunchtime List, ESP's round-up of the political stories in today's Evening Standard first edition.

Boris in slanging match over Tube
Boris Johnson was today involved in a furious row with government ministers over his handling of the union that is threatening the longest series of Tube strikes ever.

Culture minister 'lined up for health job'
Jeremy Hunt could be made Health Secretary if Andrew Lansley refuses to make major concessions to his NHS reforms, the Standard has learned.

Now British taxpayers face call to bail out the Greek economy
European Commission officials are holding talks this week that could lead to British taxpayers helping to bail out the Greek economy.

Defiance of 'chattering classes' as London gave a resounding No to AV
Londoners defied predictions of a dismal turnout in the AV referendum to reject overwhelmingly changing the Westminster voting system, analysis showed today.

MPs demand debate on shake-up of their expenses
David Cameron is facing fresh demands to overhaul the new MPs' expenses system.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

John Redwood v Norman Lamb
Ground: Westminster
Kick off: 8am
Coalition tensions were growing today as the Liberal Democrats slug it out with the Tories over coalition policy. Thatcherite Redwood urged David Cameron not to hand goodies to the Lib Dems as a consolation prize for the election drubbing and losing the AV vote. with his forensic brain, he pointed out that the Libs had themselves proposed many of the NHS reforms being championed by Andrew Lansley. Mr Lamb, Nick Clegg’s righthand man, was less confrontational but made clear major concessions on the health reforms would be needed if it is not all to end in a car crash.
Score: Redwood 1 Lamb 1