23 April 2012 12:09 PM

Wedding bells on Whitehall

ESP hears congratulations are in order for Gabby Bertin, David Cameron's hugely popular spinner, who got engaged over Easter.

And it turns out there's a lovely story behind how such a busy lass found time to meet a bloke - and one from outside the Westminster bubble at that.

She put her London house up for sale and the buyer, a finance director in the City, discovered he was even more keen on the seller.  Romance blossomed and the pair plan to wed next year.  

Gabby is not alone in having to juggle a Government job and wedding planning. I understand Iain Duncan Smith's spinner Susie Squire also recently got engaged to a lawyer, and is due to marry in May. Laura Trott, Francis Maude's former special adviser now working in Downing Street, is also preparing for her big day.

It is a turnaround from the early months of the Coalition, when the pressures of Government put several relationships under sadly unsurvivable strain.

Craig Woodhouse and Joe Murphy

16 April 2012 1:37 PM

Why the Boris V George contest is hotting up


Set aside the scrap between Boris and Ken.  Because if our poll is right, MPs will soon be buzzing about Boris v George.

The big stories over recent weeks have been a gaffe-free (so far) campaign by a maverick but distinctly Tory candidate for London Mayor, and the shipwreck of George Osborne’s third Budget, which seemed almost anti-Conservative to some MPs, with its attack on wealthy philanthropists, grannies and Cornish pasties.

Unluckily, for the Chancellor, his most damaging decisions have all coincided with Boris’s rising stock.  If there is a Johnson victory on May 3, nothing will stop Tory MPs gossiping about a topic that usually kept back for the silly season: Who will take over as Conservative leader when David Cameron stands down in, say, 2017?

Our latest YouGov poll contains plenty of ammunition for the pro-Boris camp. He is seen by over a third as the candidate for the rich, yet stands a clear six points ahead of Ken Livingstone. Clearly, siding with wealth creators is not a bad electoral tactic. Note too the irony that Labour has been attacking Boris's £250k part-time earnings as a columnist in the belief that voters would be outraged. Far from it: Londoners at least seem relaxed about people who are filthy rich and stick up for other rich people.

Boris is 10 points more popular than the Conservatives are in London, even though Labour is gaining on the assembly, which suggests his brand has broader appeal than the more cautious Cameron/Osborne.  He's also miles ahead among women.

It would be hard for Johnson to stop speculation even if he wanted to - and there is little sign that he wants to. In the past year he has denounced the 50p rate, defended the City, attacked Ken Clarke’s sentencing plans, called for a referendum on Europe and attacked housing benefit cuts as “ethnic cleansing”. Some of these positions were clearly designed for his City Hall battle - but others looked like markers with the Tory Right.

Ask Tory ministers who will succeed Cameron and most will instantly name Osborne. But take a straw poll of backbenchers, a more right wing group, and you find few certainties and a lot of anxiety about Conservative values and policies, plus real anger about the Budget.

If Boris Johnson wins he will be the most successful Conservative in Britain today, with a mandate from the biggest British electorate outside a general election. Cameron and Osborne have yet to win a general election outright. The case for Boris is that he looks like a winner.

Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter       @JoeMurphyLondon



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



02 February 2012 2:05 PM

Top Totty banned from Commons - new details


Labour's Kate Green won the fastest campaign ever today by getting a beer called Top Totty banned from the Commons.

She stood up at 12 to protest at finding the sexist ale on sale in Parliament’s Strangers Bar. By 2pm it was withdrawn from sale.

Amusingly, I gather there was a rush to buy it in the intervening hours - mainly, one should add, from members of the Press Gallery.

I gather that at least half a barrel is left over, which begs the question who will sup it.

A picture of a bunny girl in a bikini featured on the pump alongside the name, which even readers over 80 will guess is slang for an attractive young woman.

Demanding a debate, Green said: “I was disturbed last night to learn that the guest beer in the Stranger’s Bar is called Top Totty and there is a picture of a nearly naked woman on the tap.”

Embarrassingly, I can reveal that the woman who modelled the provocative picture visited the bar yesterday with the brewery’s boss to savour their success in being chosen as a guest beer.

A Commons spokesman said later this afternoon: “We have withdrawn it from sale today. I do not think there is very much left.”

Strangers Bar - aka The Kremlin - has a different guest beer each week.  Top Totty is brewed by Slaters in Stafford and was nominated to be a guest beer by the town’s Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy.

Astonishingly, nobody seemed to realise that it might be controversial.

UPDATE -- #TopTotty is now trending on Twitter.  Slater's Brewery must be be delighted with the plug.

 UPDATE#2  The model is a brunette, I have been told. The blonde hair was added later

Joe Murphy


Follow me at Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



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



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



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




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



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

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



18 October 2011 3:39 PM

Ministerial Code to be tightened

The Ministerial Code will be rewritten after the Fox affair, I hear. Sir Gus O'Donnell has concluded that there was a loophole between the spirit of the rules and the letter.

Essentially, he has concluded that the "close and visible association" between Dr Fox and Adam Werritty, at home and abroad, especially combined with the latter's buisiness cards describing himself as an "adviser to the SofS", were all likely to have misled people.

This fuelled an impression that Adam Werritty spoke on behalf of the UK Government.

That key conclusion may sound mild to people who have been reading amazing tales in the papers about Mr Werritty plotting regime change in Iran (and I've no idea if these claims are true or not) but in Whitehall terms this is toxic.  The business of politics depends on everyone saying the same thing: That goes for Cabinet members talking to the UK media, for example, but also for British ministers, diplomats and officials speaking to foreign countries. Any gaps in the rhetoric weaken the overall impact and make other countries speculate that a stance is not solid.

Werritty, who appeared to outsiders to be a member of Fox's staff but talked a completely different language to the Foreign Office representatives, was in Whitehall terms a rogue elephant.  It seems that Dr Fox's arrangements raised alarm bells but he felt that using Mr Werritty as a mate and sounding board did not breach any rules in the Ministerial Code and there was an impasse.

Therefore, the Code must change so that in future it is a firm duty on ministers to keep a distinct line between mates and mandarins.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



Sorry, Ed, Cameron won't oblige

Ed Miliband's hope of dragging the PM to the chamber probably won't be fulfilled. Even if John Bercow agrees to an urgent question on the Fox affair, Downing Street would rather send another minister to face the inevitable Labour cries of "Where's the Prime Minister?"

And the identity of the minister whose afternoon is at risk of being ruined?  Step forward Sir George Young, the sturdy baronet and Leader of the House who is even now at the ready for the call, ESP sources reveal.  A thoroughly nice and dependable bloke, Sir George, in the spirit of Downton's Lord Grantham.

 Stop Press:  Bercow has just indicated in the House he will accept an Urgent Question once the report has been published, which could mean just after Prime Minister's Questions tomorrow.  Stand by, Sir George


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




11 October 2011 12:20 PM

Werritty and the money question

How much did Adam Werritty spend on all those trips abroad where he bumped into Liam Fox?

The answer may be a staggeringly high amount. After all, the Guardian reported that at least one of the 18 trips involved First Class travel.

I've done an analysis based on British Airways fares to the various destinations, which included Dubai five times, plus Hong Kong Washington and Singapore twice each.  Exact costs are impossible to determine because fares vary according to demand so I'm basing this on return flights taken this week.

Flying in BA’s cheapest economy seats, the 18 trips would cost £25,000 in tickets.  However, if Mr Werritty went business class, his ticket expenses alone would have gone up to £77,146. 

Now let's add in two nights stay each trip in a typical £200 a night business hotel, costing another £7,200. 

That would take the total travel cost to £85,000. But then there are all those dinners at the sort of costly restaurants where one might just bump into a millionaire private equity boss.  With such high subsistence costs, he could easily have spent over £100,000.

I think these are conservative estimates.  If, as suggested by the Guardian, he flew First Class then the tickets would have been a third more expensive.

It does beg a pretty big question. Who the hell was paying for all of this and what did they think they were getting out of it?

There may be a perfectly dull and innocent explanation. But I've left two messages on Adam Werritty's mobile and I'm still waiting to for him to phone back and give it.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon




10 October 2011 4:53 PM

"Serious mistakes" yet Fox is still running

What an amazing afternoon of drama.  Liam Fox gave a bravura performance in the Commons.  Labour did not land a heavy blow, while senior Tories rallied behind him strongly.

A few moments later Downing Street released its reaction to the interim report by Ursula Brennan ... the statement talks of "serious mistakes" and implies that  the Ministerial Code was not properly adhered to  (a full copy is below). 

Gosh. Ordinarily, such a hefty criticism from No 10 would kill a minister instantly. However the choreography of Fox making an apology first in the Commons means that the sting was pulled.  Cameron can now say he was suitably severe, while Fox can say he has apologised already.

But the chase is still on. Fox's admission that he met Werritty abroad 18 times and 22 times in London raised eyebrows, and we still don't know exactly who was paying Werritty and why.

(Post script:  Defence Sources have given briefings just now where answers to these basic questions were scanty and not very convincing.  The general verdict of hacks present was that the smell is not going away.)

Here's No 10's statement in full:

A Downing Street spokesperson said:  "The Prime Minister has now seen the interim findings of the Ministry of Defence's Permanent Secretary review into Liam Fox's relationship with Mr Adam Werrity, and discussed them with the Cabinet Secretary.
"It is clear, as Liam Fox himself said yesterday, that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred - and this has clearly raised concerns about impropriety and potential conflicts of interest.  While the Permanent Secretary's initial conclusion is that no classified or other defence related official information was discussed with or given to Mr Werrity by the Secretary of State or the department, it is clear that much tighter procedures are needed within the department to ensure that the Ministerial Code is properly adhered to in future.
"Following these interim findings the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to work with the Permanent Secretary to complete the report, addressing all the remaining questions that have been raised by this issue."


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



Osborne acts for Fox's sake

Two interesting things emerging as Foxie fights for his life.

First, there is an operation going on to help him involving George Osborne's supporters. This morning we had Greg Hands, the Chelsea and Fulham MP, going on radio and TV. Hands is Osbrone's PPS.

Then, in the Commons Fox was backed by both Hands and Matt Hancock, another trusted Osborne-ite. 

To be backed by one mate of the Chancellor is lucky. To get two in one day smacks of intrigue. Does Osborne hope for Fox's endorsement in a leadership contest in future (a valuable endorsement, especially if George is up against Boris Johnson).

Second, it emerges that Labour's defence team was treated to a freebie trip to Washington by the company run by Harvey Boulter, the same businessman that engineered a meeting with Fox via Adam Werritty. 

To be fair to the Labour trio who enjoyed the all-expenses paid trip (shadow ministers Jim Murphy and Michael Dugher plus an aide) they declared it openly in the register of interests and are not under the obligations of ministerial duty.

But it is striking that Boulter seems to have been spending big bucks to seek influence across the political spectrum.  This revelation does not get Liam Fox off the hook, but it muddies the water considerably and makes lectures about the need for long spoons a tad more difficult to press home.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon




30 September 2011 10:50 AM

Revealed: The Tory conference slogan (and more)

We can reveal that David Cameron's confernce will open under the slogan .... drum roll ....

"Leadership For A Better Future."

It's a phrase that acknowledges tough times but contains that classic Cameron optimism, pointing to a rturn of the good times if people stick with a tough leader.

In today's Standard there's a lively interview with the charming Tory chairman Sayeeda Warsi, who reveals the slogan and explains why leadership is the prime focus of the conference - and why families will "instinctively" swallow the tough medicine prescribed by Dr Cameron.

 "It would be so easy for us to get the [government’s] chequebook out and not make the tough calls. But ask people if they would prefer to have it easy now or, by taking tough decisions, create a better future for their children, most will instinctively choose to put their children first.”

Warsi is on her usual bubbly form. Shge reveals that she, Cameron and other ministers will be recroding audiobooks for blind chuildren during the conference (it's their latest social action project and us Press boys are invited to do the same).

The first considered Tory attack on Ed Miliband's speech is also there. She says Labour created the something-for-nothing society and asks how Ed's speech squares with Labour's opposition to removing legal aid from cheeky squatters.

There's lots more ... a return to old fashioned conference debates, some amazing techie innovations etc.

But my favourite line is a cracking joke about when Chris Huhne compared to the evil Dr Geobbels. “When I was young my mum wanted me to be a doctor and I never lived up to her expectations [Warsi became a lawyer]. What I always say is, the Conservatives might have made me a Lady - but it took the Liberal Democrats to make me a doctor.”



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon



29 September 2011 12:28 PM

Ups & Downs in the Mersey hit parade

After the Labour conference, who is up and who's down in the people's party?


Ed Miliband
Labour's leader went down ok in the hall but his speech was far from a big success.  The strong verdict of media observers (not always reflected in the actual coverage) was that it was a limp speech that had little to say beyond navel gazing and Tory-bashing.  Businesses saw it as signalling an age of greater regulation and interference.  Ed's week started badly with the cock-up over tuition fees and the failure to carry the leadership ballot reforms in full.  His brave, hit performance at the public Q&A (given a graveyard slot, presumably in case it went wrong) did not get the coverage it deserved. And finally he forgot the name of a Scottish candidate in the middle of an interview extolling the virtues of said candidate (It was Ken Macintosh, Ed). As the polls already suggest, his week really should have been better.


Yvette Cooper
The shadow home secretary emerged as the conference darling with a string of impressive performances and is now being seriously talked about as a future Labour leader - not least by her husband Ed Balls, who said he would stand aside if she wanted to run. Such mischief-making from hubby is unlikely to have earned him brownie points at home, and it could place Yvette under pressure to make a tilt for the crown if Ed Miliband's personal poll ratings don't pick up.

Ed Balls
The shadow chancellor made the most important speech of the week, putting Labour into a slightly better position to campaign for trust on the economy. As part of that he acknowledged past mistakes by Labour. More strikingly, he dealt with his own reputation for trickery when he declared that George Osborne's OBR will police Labour's next set of fiscal rules.  Balls also passed the poisoned chalice of being the media's leader-in-waiting to wife Yvette Cooper.  Is he really ruling himself out? We shall see.

Lord Falconer
Tony Blair's former flatmate emerged out of the ether as a contender to be parachuted into the shadow Cabinet. Brownite delegates nursing hangovers at the annual rally in Liverpool may feel their headache has just got worse as he was an ardent defender of the Blairite agenda. If he returned to his old stomping ground as shadow justice secretary, it would be a battle of heavyweights with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.


Tony Blair
Booooo!  Ed Miliband never planned or wanted to spark such a reaction, and it was clearly only down to a minority, but the damage to Labour's most successful leader ever was done.  New revelations about his wheeler dealings with despots and PLO grumblings are more serious problems, as is the looming Iraq inquiry verdict.

Ivan Lewis
Ed's crowd had to quickly distance themselves from his proposal in the hall for a register of licenced journalists who could be struck off for bad behaviour.  He tried to explain he only meant a violuntary scheme by the industry but too late to stop awful headlines and open speculation about his future in shadow cabinet.

Meg Hillier
Universally tipped for the sack in the next reshuffle, which could come very soon. "Utterly useless," snorts a Labour colleague.

Shaun Woodward
Enough knives were out for the former Tory to keep his butler polishing them all night long.

Peter Hain
He negotiated the Refounding Labour blueprint which was partly torn up by the NEC on day one. Not a great start for conference.

Joe Murphy, Nicholas Cecil, Craig Woodhouse

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




14 September 2011 4:08 PM

Miliband close to deal with unions

Hot news.  I'm told that Ed Miliband has all but struck the vital deal with the unions on his internal reform package.

Official party sources are refusing to brief on the subject, which they want to emerge as an eve-of-conference success.

But an insider says that things moved decisively since Monday evening. "There have been some developments in the ;last 36 hours  whcih I think suggest that it's going to be resolved," said the insider. "I'm very clear there will be a way forward at the NEC on Tuesday."

This is big news for backers of Ed M.  He wants to cut the union vote from 50 per cent to around 40 to cure the democratic deficit in conference votes.  In a balanced package he will beef up the status of party conference, hopefully ending the dreary years when Tony Blair turned it from a place where decisions were made to a US-style rally.

In addition, Miliband aims to make local parties more outward-looking.  If the package goes through, Labour will be a different animal. The leadership will have to listen to members, and members will have to listen to the ordinary public rather than sit navel-gazing.

Incidentally ....

I've just heard a fuming denunciation of today's Times splash from a senior Labour insider.  While the party's official spokesman says "we don't comment on polls", this well-connected source let rip.

"The Times poll shows Labour clearly ahead but the Times chooses to editorialise on its front page about Ed Miliband.  It's hard to tell if this is reporting or campaigning. It seems crass. I can't remember them doing this about Cameron at the same point."

Ouch. That seems rather harsh to me, since the poll revealed some pretty dismal ratings for Miliband.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon


09 September 2011 11:24 AM

Cameron reassures the shires

After a week that began with Nick Clegg seizing the education agenda, David Cameron has grabbed it back on behalf of Tory voters in the leafy shires and suburbs.

Cleggie stressed on Monday that he had ensured the next wave of free schools will go to deprived areas, along with his pupil; premium to help poorer pupils.

Now Cameron has spoken up in his Norwich speech for the middle class parents who fume that their own schools are OK but just not good enough.

He calls them "coasting schools" and said too many were mediocre. He contrasted  schools in his own Oxfordshire and in Michael Gove's Surrey with the success of two inner London schools - Walworth Academy, south-east London,  and Burlington Danes Academy, in Hammersmith.

The London schools have high numbers on free school meals but manage 70 and 75 per cent getting five or more good GCSEs.

“Only 16  state secondary schools in these two relatively affluent counties did better than those two inner city schools,” he said.

“Put another way, more than 4 out of 5 state schools in Surrey and Oxfordshire are doing worse than 2 state schools in relatively deprived parts of inner London.”

Mr Cameron went on: “That must be a wake-up call. Why is there this difference?  Why are these schools coasting along?”

This looks like a response to MPs like Nadine Dorries who complain that the Lib Dems seem to be dominating policy. Stand by for more like it in the conference season.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon

19 August 2011 11:35 AM

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Click here to vote in the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

04 August 2011 3:29 PM

Curtains for Clegg?

When a Lib Dem as fearless and well connected as Lord Oakeshott warns it will be "Curtains for the Coalition" if the big banks are let off the hook again (see our fascinating interview here) then you can be sure that the PM and Chancellor will be reading every word closely.

But is the curtain falling for Nick Clegg?  Just read his utterly riveting reply to my question whether Nick Clegg will still be leader at the next election and beyond.

"What matters for Liberal Democrats and our future as an independent party is that we fight the next election as a completely independent party, at least equidistant between the Conservatives and Labour."

He then pointed out that 38 of 57 seats were won against the Tories, with Labour tactical votes. "The only way we can retain those seats is by persuading those voters it is still worth supporting us. That is the real strategic imperative and we have not long to do it.

"How do we get from here to a credibly independent Liberal Democrat Party in 2015? I think it will be difficult to persuade people we are a completely independent force if, on the eve of the poll, Liberal Democrat ministers are still having to defend what many would see as Tory policies."

Interpret this as you will but several points are obvious.  He did not say, "Of course Nick will be leader!".  He did say that the party needs to dramatically change people's perceptions in a short space of time. He suggested the Coalition will end before the election, leaving Britain with a short period of minority Conservative rule with the Lib Dems crossing the floor to the Opposition benches. In such a situation, appointing a new leader might be logical.

And just who might that be? Lord O is not saying, but read his mischievous response when I asked if he thinks his old pal Vince Cable will retire at the 2015 election. "I've never seen him more full of beans. I'm sure Vince's best years are yet to come."



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon





29 July 2011 1:38 PM

Blair & the Massage parlour

I had to smile seeing this in the window of a Chinese massage and acupuncture clinic in Chinatown last night.


I admire their cheek.  And who knows -  maybe when the Chicot report into Iraq comes out this autumn, he will need to pay a visit.



Joe Murphy

Follow me on Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



28 July 2011 12:04 PM

PM will give evidence under oath

It was not clear from Lord Justice Leveson's statement, but ESP can reveal that David Cameron and every other witness will give evidence under oath.

Sources close to the inquiry stress that the PM is not being singled out but that all witnesses are being treated the same.

Downing Street says Mr Cameron has nothing to hide and will give evidence in whatever form the judge asks.

It is possible that ministers from the Labour government, and perhaps Gordon Brown, will also be called to give evidence. They too would be under oath.



Joe Murphy




15 July 2011 12:09 PM

Burying bad news

4pm Update!!  It turns out that Andy Coulson was at Chequers in March as the PM's guest.  That's two months AFTER he resigned.  That's a nugget well worth burying.

5.45pm:    My old ally Paul Waugh has just blogged on the Coulson sleepover and on the Crackerjack timing of this disclosure.


STOP PRESS::::   Are they burying bad news already?  I learn that No 10 are thinking of rushing out this afternoon a list of all David Cameron's meetings, business and social, that he has had since he became Prime Minister last May. An official No 10 spokesman says: "I cannot say either way at this stage." 

It seems that within hours of Brooks sensationally quitting, they are rushing out a document that may reveal meetings with her, Murdoch and Murdoch jnr. Nothing on the Order Paper, no WMS, no mention of it at Lobby and on a non-sitting day.  Last time one of these came out it was by a WMS.

Here's the original blog post:


It looks like they are already planning to bury bad news on "Super Tuesday" - the amazing day next week when Met chief Sir Paul Stephenson, elusive tycoon Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch are all due to be questioned by MPs about phone hacking?

It seems that the Government is holding back piles of potentially embarrassing reports for publication just as the select committee get under way.

Among Whitehall documents that are due out before MPs start their summer holidays on Tuesday night are a list of meetings held by David Cameron with outsiders, which would show any official (though not necessarily social) contacts with News International chiefs or Mr Murdoch himself.

A list of the VIPs invited to dine at Chequers is also due, along with a record of gifts given to the Prime Minister and cabinet members over the past year.  Details of ministerial travel and the bills run up for flights and hotels are also due.

All these documents, which are compiled by the Cabinet Office and No 10, are usually published by written ministerial statements, which means they must come out on Monday or Tuesday because the Commons won't sit again until September.

However, ESP has learned that they are not on the draft Order Paper for Monday indicating that all are currently scheduled to pour out in an avalanche of paperwork on Tuesday afternoon when MPs and journalists are looking the other way.

There's nothing new in this. There are nearly always some serious policy announcements concealed among dozens of written ministerial statements that splurge out on the last day of term.

But we all remember how outraged the Tories and Lib Dems were when former Labour spin doctor wrote on 9/11: "This is now a good day to bury bad news."  Perhaps they could ease our suspicions by finding a way of to spread publication over several days during the recess.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter: @JoeMurphyLondon



13 July 2011 2:54 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon
Miliband finally lost the ball this week after nine days of top play. He started well enough, with a victory lap for his good calls of the past week. Wasn’t it “an insult to the [Dowler] family that Rebekah Brooks is still in her post”, he demanded. He called for the judge-led inquiry to be widened, knowing Cam would concede. But then the Labour leader lost his way by sifting the detail of what officials in Cameron’s office were told that Andy Coulson once hired a convicted criminal. It gave Cameron the opportunity to turn one of Red Ed’s favourite lines against him: “What the public wants us to do is address this firestorm,” declared the PM, posing as Man of the People to Miliband’s Man of the Guardian.
Throughout, Tory MPs cheered the PM too loudly. And when the Speaker called them to order an amazing display of disobedience took place.
The more he called for quiet the louder they became. “Order, order, order,” bellowed Mr Bercow getting more irate. Finally he turned on Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, saying: Try to calm down and behave like an adult - or if it’s beyond you leave the chamber, get out.”
But the Tories started laughing. “No, it is not funny,” warned the Speaker. “It’s disgraceful.”
It was a day when MPs united against a man they felt had bullied and dominated them for too long. And later they united against Rupert Murdoch, too.
Score: Cameron 3, Miliband 2

12 July 2011 3:31 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

Hacking scandal 'has damaged Met'
Just 173 phone hacking victims out of a possible 4,000 have been contacted so far by Scotland Yard, the officer in charge of the investigation admitted this afternoon.

We were left in tears by exposé of our son's illness, says Brown
Gordon Brown today told how he was left "in tears" when his baby son's secret illness was exposed to the world by Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Murdoch is in danger of Sky failling in on his empire, warns Huhne
Rupert Murdoch's media empire could be broken up with the tycoon being forced to sell its stake in BSkyB, a Cabinet minister said today.

Official: Londoners pay highest prices in Britain
London is officially the most expensive place to live in Britain, with prices for goods and services an average 6.7 per cent higher than the rest of the UK.

Bills 'must rise to protect power supply'
Electricity bills will rise as a result of government plans to maintain Britain's power supply, Chris Huhne warned today.

High-speed rail work 'would hit Euston for up to 8 years'
Rush-hour services at Euston will be slashed and the station closed for days at a time if plans for high-speed rail go ahead, campaigners warned today.

Keith Vaz v Andy Hayman
Ground: Home Affairs Committee
Kickoff: 1.30pm
“It all sounds more like Clouseau than Columbo,” Hayman was told by Vaz, chairman of the committee that grilled Britain’s top policemen over the hacking scandal. Hayman was not so much grilled as minced and fried. The man who led original hacking probe, then left to work for News Int, tried to blarney his way through the awkward questions, but failed. “Why are you laughing?” he asked as MPs tittered at his gor-blimey performance. Vaz replied: “We are astonished, Mr Hayman, at the way you are answering our questions.” A car crash.
Score: Vaz 2, Hayman 0

Laws rehab goes off the rails

Oh dear. The Coalition whips' attempts sneak through the rebahibilitation of David Laws hit a big snag last night.

For a second time, the Order Paper contained a resolution appointing him to the Draft Financial Services Bill (Joint Committee) alongside heavyweights like Peter Lilley and Nick Brown.

The first time, you may recall, their plan was shelved after this blog revealed what was going on. Then last night they tried again.

"Object!" cried a couple of well-prepared Labour voices from the darker corners of the chamber.

That scuppered the attempt to slip it through on the nod.  Now the Coalition may have to agree to a 90-minute debate on the cvommittee's membership followed by a formal vote.

Which with all the current preoccupation about "fit and proper" people leaves an open door for Opposition mischief over Mr Laws' expenses.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon



11 July 2011 2:21 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

Hacking exclusice: Queen's police sold her details to NoW
Personal details about the Queen and her closest aides were sold to the News of the World by corrupt royal protection officers, the Standard reveals today.
Drop BSkyB bid, Clegg tells Murdoch as shares plunge
Yard chief: I only heard Milly's phone had been hacked from the media
Miliband: PM must face Commons over Coulson

'Anxiety for thousands' as care homes group closes
Tens of thousands of care home residents face an uncertain long-term future after stricken operator Southern Cross today announced that it would shut.

Unions to fight 'charter for privatisation'
David Cameron was today warned he faces the "fight of his life" over plans to give charities, community groups and companies a greater say in running public services.

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Hacking
Kickoff: 11am
Miliband had another good day on phone hacking - his seventh day on the front foot. Behind the scenes, he urged the Speaker to have Cameron dragged to the Commons to explain why warnings went unheeded about the Coulson affair. Downing Street neatly saved the goal by volunteering a statement from Jeremy Hunt instead. Thwarted, Red Ed decided to reply to Hunt in person (unusual for a party leader) to spotlight his view that Cam was “running scared” and said Cameron’s reputation would be “permanently tarnished” until he told all.
Score: Cameron 0, Miliband 1

08 July 2011 2:39 PM

Coulson swore "on oath" that he was innocent

Intriguing news about the assurances that Andy Coulson gave to David Cameron.

Couson actually swore on oath that he was not mixed up in phone hacking. And I've learned that Cameron commissioned a private security company to investigate whether AC had a criminal past.

That's what the PM was talking about this morning when he referred to commissioning background checks.  Here's the sequence:

In 2007, before Coulson was hired, Cameron asked him directly about hacking. Coulson said he did not know it was going on and did not approve or condone it. Cameron did not ask him about bribery - for the simple reason that nobody had alleged that in those days.

At the same time, Tory HQ hired private investigators to check AC's background.  (As an aside, I wonder how they can do such checks without accessing police records that are supposed to be secret? If they did, isn't that sort of thing illegal?)

In 2009, before AC appeared in front of the Culture select committee, my source says "he gave the assurances on oath".  I don't know if Coulson whipped out his own personal Bible to convince Cam he was telling the truth or if that is a standard ritual at Conservative HQ ...

Cameron's view is that Coulson, having given his word, is innocent until proven guilty.  It is extraordinarily loyal, since the safer thing to do would be to dump on him as fast as possible.  "We would be hurt and annoyed if it turned out he had not told the truth," says a senior Tory. To which you could add  " . . . and also badly damaged."

I hope Ed Miliband did not waste money on private investigators to delve into Tom Baldwin's past. Lord Ashcroft had already done that!


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon



07 July 2011 4:20 PM

Laws rehab goes on hold . . .

This looked for a few hours like the day of David Laws' rehabilitation, just days after his suspension from the Commons finished.

On the Order Paper is a resolution appointing him to the Draft Financial Services Bill (Joint Committee) alongside heavyweights like Peter Lilley and Nick Brown.

But after it appeared in our "Match of Today" diary and on Paul Waugh's terrific blog, guess what? The resolution was mysteriously not moved.

My nark in the dungeons gloats: "They thought they could slip it through unnoticed but they got caught."  Another day.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon



"Shut up, you homophobic cow"

Some cracking lines from our interview with Chris Bryant on today's Standard.

He says Rebekah Brooks once told him: "Oh, Mr Bryant, it's after dark - shouldn't you be on Clapham Common?"

Bryant goes on: "At which point Ross Kemp said, 'Shut up, you homophobic cow'." 

I'm sure they were just joking and didn't mean their remarks to sound as harsh as they do in his retelling.

There's hard news in the interview too:  He and others are planning to buy shares to gatecrash Murdoch's annual general meetings. He proposes a "truth and reconciliation" process to move on from the scandals once the inquiries and police probes are over.

But don't miss his description of lunch with Rupert M in the Judy Garland Room.  Or his hilarious conversation with a "submissive" stalker. And you'll be shocked to discover how low he fell after that Gaydar story.

Anybody who add's "monkey's fart" to the national language cannot be all bad.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon



06 July 2011 2:24 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband

Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions

Kickoff: 12 noon

Miliband was on red hot form. He scored a rapid hat trick by calling for an inquiry, demanding that Rebekah Brooks quit, and urging a “breathing space” in the BSkyB takeover.

Cameron partially recovered with some heavyweight rhetoric about the “absolutely disgusting” allegations and by promising some inquiries should be in public.

But the man in the red shirt scored a fourth time by lambasting the “catastrophic error of judgement” of Andy Coulson and snarling: “He hasn’t shown leadership today.”

Score: Cameron, 2. Miliband 4


05 July 2011 3:08 PM

The Missing US Ambassador at the feast for Ronald Reagan

Last night's Guildhall dinner in honour of Ronald Reagan's centenary was a truly glittering and warm occasion.

The British roasted lamb and the sunny Californian chardonnay evoked the close Anglo-US relationship of Reagan and Thatcher as much as the fine speeches by Condi Rice and William Hague.

But guests were left asking, where on earth was the American ambassador to London, Louis B Susman?

"Our ambassador should be here," said Lynn de Rothschild, the American entrepreneur who is married to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and was one of Hillary Clinton's key fundraisers in 2008 as well as a supporter of several Republican presidential candidates. "This was an historic dinner to mark Reagan's centenary and to celebrate him as the man who ended the Cold War. What could not be more important?

"Why is our ambassador not here on Independence Day? No excuse. How is it that America is not represented in this room by our ambassador? It is appalling that no representative of our government is in this room. This has the feel of petty partisanship."

Ambassador Susman is, of course, a long-standing Democrat fundraiser, nicknamed the vaccuum cleaner for his skill at sucking donations out of the wealthy.  And his efforts to fill Obama's campaign pockets was said by many to be his main qualification to come to London.

According to the US embassy spokesman: "Ambassador Susman was pleased to be invited to the dinner but was unable to attend."

He had however been at the unveiling of a statue of Reagan in Grosvenor Square earlier in the day, and hosted a generous breakfast for the entire VIP visiting party and the military band. So he cannot be accused of snubbing the Reagan centenary.

But he missed some cracking speeches and anecdotes. For more details see the Standard story here.

And where was he?  The embassy won't say.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon



04 July 2011 3:21 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories on one place.

Taliban 'kidnap' British soldier
A massive air and ground search was under way this afternoon in Afghanistan to find a British soldier feared captured by Taliban fighters.

Plan to make pensioners pay new tax for care
A new tax on pensioners could be used to pay for reforms of social care.

Housing benefit cuts could leave schools with 'ghost classrooms'
Schools in central London could be left with "ghost classrooms" with no pupils because of a crackdown on housing benefit.

Cameron to be an Autocutie in bid to look less shifty on TV
David Cameron has started to use a prompter so he can maintain eye-contact with viewers during critical speeches where trust is a key issue.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

Oona King v the Bailiff
Ground: Ministry of Sound
Kickoff: July 18
How much is a “nice meal” in London?  Baroness King reckons on £150 for two. She reveals her expensive tastes in a letter selling tickets for a £100-a-head fundraiser being held to clear a £20,000 debt from her failed mayoral bid. A table of ten at the Ministry of Sound thrash costs a mere £75 per person which, she trills, is “more or less what you pay for any nice meal in London”. Oona’s former constituents in Bethnal Green & Bow may be surprised how jellied eels have gone up!
King 1, Bailiff 20,000

Oona's typical "nice meal" costs £75 a head!

Fresh nuggets from Oona King's embarrassing attempt to pay for her flopped mayoral campaign with a £100 a head thrash at the Ministry of Sound nightclub.

In a new letter to supporters, she offers a discount for chums who book a table of ten for £750. That works out at a mere £75 a ticket which, Onna helpfully tells us, is "more or less what you pay for any nice meal in London".

Er, it must be something in the waters at the House of Lords but that is considerable more than the Evening Standard pays for lunch.  And rather more than Baroness King's former constituents in Bethnall Green & Bow would spend on a typical night out.

For anyone who missed yesterday's Sunday Times, Oona owes £20,000 for her failed bid to succeed Ken Livingstone as Labour's mayoral hopeful in 2012. 

A new fundraising letter discloses more details.

There will be a £150-a-head "VIP area" for guests who don't want to mux with the rifff-raff. There they will brush shoulders with "our star guest" who will be Ed Miliband.

"Ed Miliband will show us some great dance moves, or maybe he'll stick to giving a great speech," promises King - showing just the sort of policy vagueness that undermined her mayoral bid.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon


01 July 2011 3:30 PM

Queen has Andy by the purse strings

Here's a new twist to the historic reform of the Royal finances.

The Queen will in future pay directly from her Privy Purse the annual incomes of Royals like Prince Andrew.  It may be argued that it gives her even greater authority.

At present they get their money from Parliament in a cheque drawn on the Consolidated Fund.  In an odd arrangement, the Queen refunds some £1.3 million to the taxpayer from her own income.

From 2013, the statutary annuities will be abolished and the Queen will pay the family direct from the Privy Purse.  Crucially, although the Queen "intends to continue to make equivalent provision", there is nothing to stop her varying the arrangement if she wishes. (Source: Letter from the Keeper of the Privy Purse, here)

This is potentially important news.  Imagine what it means to the internal politics of the Royal Family . . .  If Prince Andrew did anything to upset his mum, she could cut him off. Of course, that won't happen but since Royals get married, get divorced and have children, just like the rest of us, there will be a need to vary their incomes occasionally. And when that happens, the sensible and dutiful woman who holds the purse strings will be in charge.

The sums involved are huge. The Duke of York currently receives £249,000, the Earl of Wessex £141,000, The Princess Royal £228,000, while the Duke of Gloucester, The Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra share £636,000.

The exception to the changes is the Duke of Edinburgh, whose £359,000 per year will continue to be paid by Parliament.  Perhaps they felt it would be undignified for him to be paid by his wife.  And, of course, Prince Charles, as Heir to the Throne has the independent wealth of the Duchy of Cornwall estates to support him.

The Queen is a superb leader of "The Firm". Anything that ties its junior members closer to her example is a good thing.


Joe Murphy



Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard stories in one place

Banned terror suspects 'back in London for the Olympics'
Several terror suspects banned from their London homes on security grounds could return just months before the Olympics, the Standard has learned.

Queen to get control over family's money
The Queen will have "real power" over the huge sums of money given to junior royals each year under the shake-up of Palace finances.

Foreigners have better work ethic say bosses
Business leaders today rejected a Cabinet minister's demand that they give jobs to Britons rather than immigrants, saying they wanted candidates with a "strong work ethic".

Lib-Dems lose deposit in Scottish by-election
Nick Clegg came under fire today after the Liberal Democrats suffered a "humiliating" by-election blow.

Match of Today is away

30 June 2011 2:48 PM

Osborne paves the way for a girl to be Heir to the Throne

George Osborne just made a historic announcement about the Royal finances.

His reforms, signalled first in his Budget a year ago, pave the way for a first-born daughter of Kate and William to be Heir to the Throne.

The heir is supported by £16 million a year revenues from the Duchy of Cornwall estate. At present the Duke is Prince Charles.  But a girl cannot become a duke, so Osborne is changing the rules.

“We propose to correct this anomaly by making clear that in future the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall will go to the heir whether or not they are the Duke of Cornwall,” said the Chancellor.

On its own this does not abolish the rule of primogeniture, which means a first-born daughter of Kate and Wills would be superseded in the succession by a younger brother. But it shows that ministers are putting the finances in place for the day when the law of succession is brought into the modern age.

Other reforms include propoer scrutiny of the Royal finances for the first time and a real-terms cut in the Queen’s income over the next few years, reflecting the austere times.

Full audits of Royal spending will be undertaken by the National Audit Office.

Best of all, lifelong republican Margaret Hodge and her Public Accounts Committee will be empowered to summon the Keeper of the Privy Purse for questioning.

“This is a big historic extension of parliamentary scrutiny,” said the Chancellor whose reputation as a moderniser will be enhanced.

Joe Murphy






29 June 2011 2:45 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

London strike riots alert
London is braced for the biggest day of industrial action in years as hundreds of thousands of public sector workers go on strike tomorrow.

Tory whips 'shame' MP to sabotage vote
Tory whips were today accused of "leaning on" a woman MP in an attempt to sabotage a Commons vote on tax breaks for married couples.

Riots hit Athens again as Greek MPs vote on £24 billion austerity deal
Protesters clashed with riot police in Athens for the second day running today as politicians got set to vote on vital austerity measures to determine Greece's future.

Bid to curb EU budget rises
A battle to stop EU bureaucrats increasing spending by three times faster than inflation was launched by David Cameron and George Osborne today.

MPs pile pressure on Duncan Smith to ease his benefits crackdown
Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith will today face calls to water down a benefits clampdown to lessen its impact on London.

MP champions bid to give full benefits to adoptive parents
A move to give adoptive parents the same rights as biological ones was launched in the Commons today.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Speaker Bercow
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon

Ouch! If looks could kill, Bercow would be dead. It happened when he slapped down Cameron the middle of a glorious tease about Ed Miliband. “We’re very grateful,” dismissed the Speaker, oozing irony. Tories gasped, Labour MPs whooped, and the Prime Minister muttered under his breath, his face a portrait of suppressed rage.

Minutes later, the Speaker rebuked him for giving a long answer to Labour MP Clive Efford on policing: “Order! Prime Minister’s Questions is principally for backbenchers.” Asked about Bercow’s chairmanship, a No 10 aide said: “I think I will just leave you with ‘the look’.”

Score: Cameron , 0. Speaker 2.


Whips behaving badly

Last night a Tory whip marched into the Tea Room and bellowed:“Well, guys, we would be going home earlier if it was not for the following people . . . ”

The whip then spat out the names of Conservative MPs backing last night's amendment to the Finance Bill in favour of married couples being allowed to share their tax free allowances.

A week after Mark Pritchard revealed how the whips tried bribery and threats to make him drop his motion for a circus animal ban, they were out in force again.

Fiona Bruce, the Congleton MP who tabled the amendment for a married couples tax break came under "a lot of pressure" from the heavies to withdraw it.

In the end she stepped aside ex-minister Edward Leigh, a rock hard Cornerstone Group founder, to take her place as proposer.

Moving the amendment, Leigh referred to the bullying whips in coded terms, telling the House:

“Whatever else has been going on in the background this afternoon -- I need not go into that - it was my duty to move it.”

He said many Christians and other supporters would have been baffled if the vote had not happened. “I was not prepared to let that happen.”

Such passion may seem odd for an amendment that stood no chance and was duly lost by 473 votes to 23 - a majority for the Government of 450.  But the rebels made a point and the issue remains a live one that will have to be dealt with during this parliament.

Meanwhile, the whips are said to be falling out with each other over the tactics of recent days, possibly spooked by finding their traditional cloak of anonymity slip from their shoulders in recent days.


UPDATE: Paul Waugh spotted a great new eurphemism in Edward Leigh's speech:  "Shufflings offstage".  Leigh said: "This was a solemn commitment. So when this new clause was promoted this afternoon there were all sorts of shufflings offstage [Waugh's italics] to try to prevent its debate."



Joe Murphy

28 June 2011 9:00 AM

Guess which "patriotic" UK defence firm got our flag wrong

UPDATE:  BAE Systems has admitted the blunder (quote below)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

There are few companies that trade so strongly on patriotism or its close relationship with our Armed Forces than weapons firm BAE Systems.

But eagle eyed Colchester MP Bob Russell noticed that a huge poster in the Tube station at Westminster contained a monumental clanger - an upside down Union Flag. He took this snap.

Before flag

An upside down Union Jack is, as naval readers will know, a distress signal.

Ex boy scout Bob instantly noticed that thin red stripe in the left side diagonal was wrongly placed.  (See below for his detailed explanation of the rules).

Since the illuminated poster is clearly designed to be seen by MPs entering the Underground, it was a fairly amazing mistake.  And just look at the slogans the blundering buffoons boasted - "Real Pride" and "Made in Britain".

Close up flag

Yesterday Bob spotted that the poster had been quietly changed for a new version with our national flag the right way up, as below.


Ah, that's better. Bob, the Liberal Democrat MP for the garrison town of Colchester, says BAE ought to know better.

"Everyone in HM Armed Forces knows which way up the Union Flag should fly, so it is very worrying that a company which specialises in providing sophisticated weaponry to our Forces made such a basic mistake. I trust they have greater attention to detail with what they design for the Military."

The BAE slogans on the illuminated advertisement say "Made in Britain" and "Proud to support our Armed Forces".

With the expertise of 14 years Bob as Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Scout Group, here's Bob's DIY guide to spotting if a flag is upside down or not. "The rule is very simple. Where the flag is against the flag pole, or to the left when in a static position like this advertisement, at the base of the flag the diagonal stripes should from the bottom upwards be thin white, red and then thick white. The Union Flag in the advertisement wrongly had the thick white stripe at the bottom."


 BAE Systems have now given me a very contrite statement accepting responsibility for the mistake. It reflects well on them that they don't attempt to blame their agencies or anyone else. Their spokesman told ESP: 

"It was a mistake on our part - and we put our hands up to it. I wouldn't want to blame other people. The poster was changed last Friday."

Joe Murphy



27 June 2011 2:20 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place.

Freedom is good for trade, PM tells China
David Cameron today urged the Chinese premier to embrace better human rights on the grounds they are good for economic growth.

Parents breaking school strike 'may harm children'
The head of a teaching union today called on parents not to help keep schools open during the planned teachers' strike, saying they could put children "in danger".

Senior ranks face axe in most radical MoD reform for 50 years
Military top brass today faced the axe in the biggest shake-up of the Ministry of Defence for more than half a century.

Police 'selling crash details to claims lawyers'
Police are selling road crash victims' details to personal injury lawyers, former justice secretary Jack Straw claimed today.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

Liam Fox v George Osborne
Ground: Libya
Kickoff: 8.10am
Let’s be clear: The Defence Secretary is not at war with the Chancellor. So it was definitely not a dig at a potential future leadership rival when Foxy, asked about the £250million costs of the Libya mission, replied: “It was never going to be easy, it was never going to be cheap.” MPs recalled that the Chancellor predicted in March that the cost would be “in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions”. But Foxy was not drawing attention to that. Perish the thought.
Score: Fox 1, Osborne 0

Brian Haw is still making monkeys of the authorities

Brian Haw has had the last laugh.  A week after his death from cancer, there are more tents than ever in Parliament Square, as these pictures show.

His legacy is not just the continuing anti-war protest. It is also that protesters are still making a mockery of the authorities who tried so very hard to ban Haw's tent vigil.


Stretching from the corner of Whitehall (above) ...

... past Haw's original camp site, directly opposite the entrance to the Commons (below)

 ... to the corner with Millbank (above) ...

... all the way to the Mandela Statue oppposite Westminster Abbey (below)


Meanwhile, behind those high fences, council gardeners are planting perfect flowerbeds and manicuring the lawn, presumably to be unveiled when (or should that be if) the protesters are finally evicted by the courts.

I wouldn't bet on the authorities succeeding. After all, it's over five years since Parliament passed a law specifically to get rid of Haw and his followers - only for it to be declared an unlawful law (not a great advert for the skills of MPs and Govt. lawyers!).

Haw must be laughing his socks off.

Joe Murphy



24 June 2011 3:03 PM

Lady Thatcher to honour Reagan

Margaret Thatcher may not have been able to make it to the Royal Wedding.

But I understand she is "determined" to attend the grand unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan in London on July 4.

It should be a memorable event with at least 2,000 people expected to turn up in Grosvenor Square to celebrate the centenary of the former US president's birth.

The organisers very much hope that Baroness Thatcher, who once called President Reagan "the second most important man in my life" when they forged a powerful alliance during the Cold War, will be able to make it as a guest of honour.

"I know she certainly wants to attend and we have her down as part of the programme, but it is really down to her health," says John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

A friend of Lady Thatcher adds: "She is pretty determined to be there. They were a remarkable partnership who literally changed the world." 

The 10-foot bronze statue is due to be unveiled by Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, and Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Befittingly, its plinth will be inscribed with a quotation from the former Prime Minister: "Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot."

Joe Murphy



Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard stories in one place.

Cameron's anger at new £280m EU 'beer-belly' HQ
David Cameron today despatched a tough Treasury hawk to challenge European spending as he reacted angrily to EU boasting about a lavish £280 million headquarters.

Britain stops Brussels bid to halt deportations
Britain today successfully blocked plans by Brussels to halt the deportation of failed asylum seekers to other European countries.

New hope in bid to save Brompton child heart unit
Campaigners fighting to save a child heart surgery unit in London were today given a glimmer of hope.

Miliband 'picks fight with party' by trying to scrap shadow cabinet elections
Ed Miliband faced a backlash today after announcing plans to scrap elections to his top team.

Reagan's centenary to be marked with London statue
Margaret Thatcher is "determined" to attend the grand unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan in London on July 4 despite having been too unwell to make the royal wedding.

700 pubs closed by smoke ban, supermarket beer and tax rises
More than 700 pubs in Greater London have closed since the start of the smoking ban, research reveals today.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

Match of Today is away

23 June 2011 2:47 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard stories in one place

Cameron vows to speed up exit from Helmand
David Cameron today hinted at speeding up the homecoming of British troops from Afghanistan in the wake of President Barack Obama's vow to withdraw 30,000 US personnel by the end of next year.

Gove tells heads to draw up strike-busting plans
Education Secretary Michael Gove today told headteachers they have a "moral duty" to keep schools open on strike days.

Cameron faces ambush over Greek bailout
David Cameron today insisted Britain will not pay for a Greek bailout amid signs that he is walking into an ambush by other leaders at a European summit.

Cabbies' fury as minister claims they go slowly to boost fares
A transport minister sparked a storm among black cab drivers today by suggesting some trundle along slowly to rack up fares.

Temporary classrooms built for pupil exodus
Temporary classrooms may have to be built in outer London schools to cope with thousands of children forced to leave the city centre because of housing benefit cuts.

Clegg's plan to give us bank shares falls flat in the City
A proposal to give the public most of the state's shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds group received a lukewarm response today.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

Eric Pickles v Caroline Spelman
Ground: Refuse ground
Kickoff: Dawn
A glorious spat between Pickles and Spelman has left them refusing to take each other’s phone calls. Whitehall insiders call it as the biggest sulk since the worst days of Gordon Brown versus Peter Mandelson, which was over a leadership election. The Pickles-Spelman saga is more humdrum: He promised people would have their bins emptied weekly; but she ruled that councils could keep fortnightly collections. “Why don't you spend less time speaking to your officials and more time listening to the electorate,” Pickles reportedly fumed.
Score: Pickles 0Spelman 0