19 April 2012 12:10 PM

Is DCMS set for the chop?

Here's a curious one. In an article for today's Standard (link later), Harriet Harman raises fears that Jeremy Hunt's Department for Culture, Media and Sport is set to be axed after the Olympics.

Citing “well-sourced rumours in Westminster and the arts world”, the shadow culture secretary says David Cameron is poised to shut it down once the Games are over.

The suggestion is apparently that arts functions will be hived off to the Arts Council, media put in Vince Cable's Business Department and sport split between local councils and the Department of Health - making it more like the department of public health the Tories used to trumpet. That certainly fits with the Hunt-to-replace-Lansley rumours which flew around Westminster when the Health Secretary was at his lowest ebb over the NHS reforms.

The Standard understands that the idea has been floated in some Government circles but is not likely to happen. For one thing, it won't save as much money as might seem possible on paper. Secondly - and most critically - it would remove a seat around the Cabinet table when David Cameron carries out his first major reshuffle.

A Number 10 source described Harman's suggestions as "nonsense" and insisted there were "no such plans".

Other insiders had great fun rebutting the claims. "If Harriet Harman believes every rumour she hears in Westminster and the arts world - two of the most rumour-filled places around - then she really is in trouble," said one.

"Not exactly authoritative for an opposition spokesperson" said another, in a thinly-veiled reference to the former equality minister's "Harperson" tag.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

12 March 2012 2:46 PM

Budget talks - by video link from the US?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joe Murphy

Follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



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



19 January 2012 2:14 PM

Prezza v Shapps - round three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to the noble Lord's response.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

17 January 2012 1:54 PM

Miliband's union dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse 

11 January 2012 4:06 PM

The Ministry of Defence zoo

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

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

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

449 ceremonial horses

13 falcons used by the Navy to clear runways

In addition, the following animals are offical mascots:

Two drum horses

Three dogs

Three mountain goats

One swaledale ram

Two Shetland ponies

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

10 January 2012 2:19 PM

Balls hits back over Tourette's jibe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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



21 December 2011 12:00 PM

Lib Dems reject Balls coalition olive branch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So, thanks but no thanks."

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

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

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

Nicholas Cecil



20 December 2011 11:30 AM

A sad day for democracy

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

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

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

13 December 2011 12:17 PM

Burnham's plain speaking on fag packets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

30 November 2011 3:13 PM

Sports Personality row reaches Parliament

The anger over the all-male shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been widespread, and MPs are not immune.

Labour's Geraint Davies has tabled an EDM on the issue, signed by 14 colleagues so far, which reads:

That this House is disappointed that there are no women in this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist; notes the lack of women in previous year's shortlists; further notes that high profile women in sport play an important role in encouraging women and girls to participate in sports; and calls on the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to do more to involve and promote women in sport.

Shadow culture secretary (and long time equality campaigner) Harriet Harman has also weighed in, declaring it "wrong" that no women are on the shortlist and demanding immediate action from the BBC. After the news that representatives from men's magazines were on the judging panel, she also asks whether the selectors were all-male. And she adds: “This shortlist highlights the failure over many years to give women’s sport the media coverage it deserves. There must be action to change that.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

29 November 2011 11:35 AM

Ukip moves in on Labour in London

Activity is hotting up in Feltham and Heston, where the by-election sparked by the death of Alan Keen is due to take place on December 15.

Both Labour and the Tories have selected their candidate to fight the seat, while the Lib Dems pick their contender tonight. Business consultant and Fabian Women's Network director Seema Malhotra will be in the red corner, while Hounslow Council Tory leader Mark Bowen (who has fought and lost the seat twice already) will be in the blue corner.

Also hoping for a strong showing are Ukip, who are aiming to beat the Lib Dems into third place. And in a nice bit of colour, candidate Andrew Charalambos found the office he has moved into was previously occupied by ex-Labour MEP Robert Evans.

"In the same way that Labour have left the ordinary working man and woman behind, they are now leaving the offices empty. We are happy to pick up in both places," he said.

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

14 November 2011 2:40 PM

The "out of touch" Labour mantra

There has been a dramatic escalation in recent weeks of Labour spokesmen attacking the Government as "out of touch".

This reached tautological levels today as Ed Miliband declared: "The problem is they just seem out of touch and don’t seem to be in touch with the real needs of businesses and people up and down this country."

An advanced Google search of Labour's news pages for the term "out of touch" throws up 727 results.

They include the Government being "out of touch" on defence, families and pensioners, students, women, businesses, reappointing Lord Young, SureStart, fuel and energy prices, crime and criminal justice, the Thameslink contract, equality, and "the real world".

The same accusation was levelled at Theresa May's border control and Vince Cable and Oliver Letwin's letter dumping; Dan Jarvis said David Cameron's conference speech showed he was "out of touch"; and Tessa Jowell used it against Westminster Council's plan to impose weekend and evening parking charges.

It was even levelled by Tom Watson in connection with Patrick Mercer's unflattering comments about the PM.

Do you think Labour are trying to tell us something?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

18 October 2011 12:40 PM

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



07 October 2011 1:31 PM

Flying in to the shadow cabinet

Ed Miliband has unveiled his new top team, promoting members of the 2010 intake and giving Brownite bruisers a huge say over attack lines and campaigning.

Aides are happy that the shad cab took shape quickly - despite several of the figures involved being airborne this morning.

New shadow chief Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves and new shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran were both on planes, I'm told, as was the outgoing John Denham.

A couple of other MPs who might have been expecting a call - and might yet get one as the junior ranks shake out - were also in the sky, raising fears they might miss their message from Miliband.

One joked: "I've changed my voicemail to make clear what jobs would be acceptable, Ed can just leave me a message."

There are no major surprises in the new shad cab, although eyebrows are being raised at the decision to put Michael Dugher in charge of toughening up Labour's message across departments, while Tom Watson will work out how to sell that message to the country.

With Gordon Brown's former PPS Jon Trickett stepping up to shadow cabinet office minister and Ed Balls as shadow chancellor (not to mention Ed M himself in the top job), there's a perfect opportunity for the Tories to paint it as a victory for the Brownite "forces of hell" Alistair Darling spoke of.

Incidentally, the decision to put Ivan Lewis in the international development brief unites three key David Miliband supporters in foreign affairs. But I'm sure Lewis, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy won't let the issue of Ed's leadership drift onto their meeting agendas...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

03 October 2011 3:01 PM

Goodies return in the age of austerity

One of the highlights of conference season is when the Tory press officers hand out goodie bags in the press room (after three weeks on the road, tired hacks are easy to please).

This year's contains a yello t-shirt advertising the mocked-up "Ed's knee-jerk chicken shack" and a set of "Labour policy dice" - three dice which on my first go delivered Ed Miliband asked "how would you solve the debt crisis" and the answer "how the #@£% am I supposed to know". Perhaps they are loaded.


But amid the excitement came some disappointment - inside the goodie bag was a red book titled "Ed Miliband's policies for Britain", which has only blank pages in homage to Ed's infamous blank sheet of paper. All well and good, except journalists have been given this book before. Memories are short but it is thought to have made an appearance last year.

At least it gives Labour a chance to hit back. On the day George Osborne gave his keynote speech, might I suggest they accuse him of peddling his own red book of blank pages in reference to the Budget tome?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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

28 September 2011 11:43 AM

An end to something-for-nothing volunteering

Ed Miliband was emphatic yesterday in wanting to end the "something-for-nothing" culture in Britain and replace it with a "something-for-something" society.

It seems Labour is planning to take this logic to its ultimate end - rewarding people for volunteering.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell has set out how this might work in her speech to conference. She wants people to contribute more to society, particularly if they use public services, for example by asking former in-patients to help people recovering at home after hospital treatment.

In return, people who help out will be incentivised. Tessa hailed a Lambeth "community dividend" scheme which gives volunteers credits for council tax, discounted council services and time in the gym - suggesting it could be rolled out across the country under Labour.

It is all part of Labour's response to the Big Society, which also came under attack from Tessa today.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 September 2011 1:40 PM

Eagle's flying rhetoric

As Ed Miliband puts the finishing touches to his conference speech, he could do worse than to read the address given earlier by Angela Eagle.

The shadow Treasury chief secretary had a couple of great Government-bashing phrases in her speech.

She compared David Cameron to a "medieval physician bleeding an already weak patient - his only prescription is more austerity".

And she had her own take on comparisons of the Coalition to a marriage, saying: "Some say it’s a marriage of convenience. To me it is more of a sleazy affair. Exciting while it lasts, but destructive and likely to end in total embarrassment."

Sign up that speechwriter.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Labour melting before our eyes

Not, not today's ComRes poll but the ice sculpture in the breakfast room at the conference hotel this morning.


You could actually see the substance dripping away - though it is worth noting that it's the old Labour red rose logo, so the parallels might cheer Ed Miliband after all.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

26 September 2011 4:37 PM

Ed stitched up

Ed cardi 

Among the conference stands here in Liverpool is a 1950s-style haberdashery that is home to the RNIB. Their slogan is "a stitch in time saves nine", making the case for investment in small-scale eye surgery such as cataracts or face much higher costs for the likes of hip replacements caused by vision-related accidents. But it is their marketing material that deserves a prize, as this mock-up of Ed Miliband in a trendy cardigan shows.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Murphy's bold move

Last week I wrote about Labour's bid to decontaminate their defence brand with plans for a radical overhaul of procurement rules.

Today shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy has gone a lot further - making a bold move to paint Labour as the party of the armed forces.

In his conference set-piece, Mr Murphy announced that service personnel past and present will be able to join the party for £1 and that he had established a "Labour Friends of the Forces" group under former defence secretary and Nato chief George Robertson and para-turned-MP Dan Jarvis.

Murphy attacked the Government for cutting troops' pensions and equivocating over signing the Military Covenant into law, telling delegates: "I wanted to challenge the ill-informed orthodoxy of the past which says that Labour is the party of the NHS and the Tories are the party of the Forces. At a time when the Tories are proving that they are neither, a Labour opposition needs to be both if we are to be a Labour government."

He went on to vow Labour would be a "political home fit for our heroes".

It might be a laudable aim, but it leaves Murphy open to accusations of playing politics with the forces. Let's see if it sparks a storm.


Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

22 September 2011 11:57 AM

Decontaminating Labour's defence brand

It looks as though next week's Labour conference will see a huge emphasis on moving the party forward, if the evidence so far is anything to go by.

Ed Miliband has given two interviews, to Progress and the New Statesman, with a similar message. He wants to "rip up the rule book" and argue how the country's true potential is being "held back".

Ed is warning that he won't return to New Labour but will target the centre ground - something Jim Murphy is stressing today as well.

The shadow defence secretary has unveiled a review into the debacle that was defence procurement, acknowledging Labour's mistakes and coming up with some interesting ideas that could become party policy.

It is being hailed as the first major contribution to filling Ed's famous "blank sheet of paper" (a phrase he admits was a mistake today), and includes ideas such as axing major projects that go 20 per cent over budget or time, and building in an emphasis on supporting British industry.

There is also a suggestion that defence spending should be set on a 10-year timescale to stop it being a political football - something Labour accepted but failed to implement in government.

Murphy is keen to end the "conspiracy of optimism" where defence firms and the MoD underestimate costs and timetables to get them past the Treasury, only to see them balloon afterwards. A bit late for that, you might argue, but it shows that shadow ministers are willing to confront the mistakes made in office.

Given the Government has hammered on about the £38 billion black hole in the MoD budget, it could even be seen as an attempt to decontaminate the Labour brand on defence.

Murphy argues the Government has "already lost its way" on defence procurement. And pushing a line I expect we will hear a lot over the next week or so, he added: "This process shows that even in opposition Labour can be the party of the centre with the fresh ideas and real energy - all of which are essential for us to be the party of government again."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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


13 September 2011 12:20 PM

Vince leads fightback against new seats

Vince Cable is not happy about the proposed carve-up of London seats by the Boundary Commission.

He is not too bothered about the prospect of a high profile election showdown with Tory Zac Goldsmith in the new seat of Richmond and Twickenham.

He believes it is "eminently" winnable for the Liberal Democrats.

But his ire is at the commission for not placing more importance on borough boundaries and the identity of specific communities in the capital.

He told The Standard: “In order to get the right size of constituency, no account has been taken not just of borough boundaries but any sense of identity. That will cause a lot of concern.

“They are re-introducing 19th Century boundaries. A lot has happened since then.”

In 38 out of the proposed 68 constituencies for London, borough boundaries will be crossed. Two will span rivers.

Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, is opposing the Square Mile being stripped from his constituency.

While Labour former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, whose Dulwich and West Norwood seat is being carved up, said: “These changes are needlessly disruptive for the people we represent.”

A high profile Labour clash was mooted in some quarters between former Transport minister Sadiq Khan and Chuka Umunna in the new Streatham and Tooting seat.

But Mr Umunna could seek to contest the new Brixton seat.

Nicholas Cecil

UPDATE: Full Vince Cable quotes on new constituencies: "In order to get the right size of constituency, no account has been taken not just of borough boundaries but any sense of identity. That will cause a lot of concern.

"They are re-introducing 19th Century boundaries. A lot has happened since then.

"It's fair to say there will be quite a lot of unhappiness in the local community."

On his Twickenham constituency: "There will be a lot of concern locally because half the constituency is being taken out of the borough."





12 September 2011 2:22 PM

With brothers like these...

It will be interesting to see what kind of a reception Ed Miliband gets when he addresses the TUC tomorrow.

The brothers have been sabre-rattling hard about possible strike action over pensions reform this autumn, and a quick look at the agenda reveals they aren't impressed with a lack of support from Labour.

Motion 29, which will be debated on Wednesday and has been tabled by Mark Serwotka's PCS union (which has already called another strike for November), reads: "Congress expresses its concern at the pathetic response (my emphasis) of the Labour leadership and instructs the TUC General Council to press for support for future action in defence of the agreement signed with the last Labour government."

Interestingly, it comes at the same time as Ed is facing fresh pressure to overhaul his party's links with the unions.

In an article timed for maximum effect, senior academics from the University of Bristol argue that union intervention in Ed's leadership victory was so decisive that it calls into question the "legitimacy of the electoral process".

Richard Jobson and Mark Wickham-Jones also say it "undermines Ed Miliband's authority as leader of the party", and was effectively a return to the era of the block vote.

The case for reform is now "unanswerable", they argue - just as Ed is putting the finishing touches to any ideas he wants to set out at his own conference later this month.

I'm not sure the brothers will like that.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

08 September 2011 12:15 PM

Balls: Lead the world, George

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls was making an interesting argument about the economy on the radio this morning.

Essentially he was saying that George Osborne should water down austerity measures to show global leadership because only Britain has the right political climate for such a move.

He told Today: "You can't have credibility without growth. The problem is in the eurozone, politically they are completely stuck, they can't reach a political agreement about what needs to be done. In America, tragically with the election coming up, the Congress and President Obama are at loggerheads, they can't politically resolve this. The irony is the one country which has got the political strength to change course is Britain and to make that argument in the world, the problem is, it's almost the opposite problem.

"Our Coalition has decided the cornerstone is sticking to a deficit reduction plan which isn't working, has flatlined our economy. Our problem is, we can't argue for sanity in the eurozone, in America, if we are sticking to a failing policy in Britain."

I find it hard to believe that Labour would hail Osborne as a strong Chancellor if he tore up his deficit-busting plans and tried to paint it as a way of "saving the world" - as Gordon Brown might put it.

There was another eye-catching line from Balls on the same topic, which might have had Angela Merkel choking on her breakfast.

He said: "In Europe austerity isn't working but the German people are not going to face up to that unless they are led to do so...Here in Britain we should be leading those debates."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

01 September 2011 3:43 PM

Oh Darling! The backlash begins

Extracts from Alistair's Darling's forthcoming memoirs - a great scoop for Labour Uncut - have been causing quite a stir over the past couple of days.

The former chancellor's reflections on the likes of Gordon Brown ("brutal and volcanic") and Sir Mervyn King ("amazingly stubborn and exasperating") are the stuff Westminster hacks dream of. But they are less impressive to those named in the book, and Mr Darling's colleagues are starting to make their feelings known.

While Ed Miliband was diplomatic when asked about them, saying Darling had an "absolute right" to pen the book and admitting peopl would find them "interesting", shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been less complimentary.

Balls accused Darling of giving George Osborne a gift in raking over old ground, in almost the same breath as he confirmed there was a plan to replace the Chancellor with, er, Ed Balls. Not that he wanted the job, obviously.

Another former Labour frontbencher look exasperated when I asked about the memoir, offically due to be serialised at the weekend and released next week.

"He should never have been given the job," was the scathing assessment. Expect more of the same in coming days.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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





02 August 2011 12:07 PM

Trouble down the tracks

As MPs head off on their holidays, one issue in particular will be burning away in the back of their minds - the forthcoming boundary review.

Labour's Jonathan Reynolds has set out his concerns over on Labour List - particularly that the inevitable infighting over seats will stop his party from being an effective opposition.

He's not the only one. MPs from all parties have variously described the coming fallout from plans to cut the Commons by 50 to me as "an impending bloodbath", a "bunfight" and "a situation that's going to get very nasty".

There are stories of rival MPs - sometimes from opposing parties, sometimes from the same party - trying to come up with backroom deals to nobble their neighbours when initial proposals are put forward in the autumn.

Party officials are taking the issue very seriously. Detailed tactics are being kept under wraps, but I've heard of Tories being called in to HQ to run through potential scenarios on a regional basis.

One unintended consequence of all this is that the 2015 intake is likely to feature very few new MPs. As sitting members are dislodged when seats are re-drawn, they will doubtless put themselves up for other constituencies that become free.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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 2:00 PM

Edward vs Goliath

Peers are discussing the phone hackng scandal today, and there are some great lines coming out of the Upper House.

"Blue Labour" cheerleader Lord Glasman has been out hailing his boss's bravery in taking on News International, with some great biblical rhetoric.

"It was with great courage the leader of the Labour Party stood like King David stood before the bully and with the single stone he laid him down. He began this change," said the peer.

"The Sun was beginning to denigrate Ed Miliband to start running six-minute loops of his repeated mistakes and putting panda eyes - beginning to systematically attack him.

"But the leader of the Labour Party stood up. It reminded me of the biblical story of King David because King David was sitting in his farm, looking after his sheep, his brothers were generals and lieutenants in King Saul's army and Goliath was standing, the great bully going to attack them."

Would the comparisons have been the same if David Miliband had been leading Labour right now?

Also worth a mention is this, from Lord Howarth of Newport.

"There is, I think, a resentment among politicians that many journalists are better than they are at their job - they're cleverer, they're quicker," he said.

"There is a jealousy that journalists rather than politicians - in the public perception and often in reality - lead the national debate, and the campaigning journalists are often more effective than campaigning politicians.

"And there is a fear on the part of politicians that the media have displaced Parliament.

"Where is the true debating chamber of the nation? Is it the House of Commons or is it the studio of the Today programme or the editorial column of the Sun or Daily Mail?"

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse    

12 July 2011 3:54 PM

A helping hand for Ed

Ed Miliband has been doing an impressive job leading from the front on the phone hacking scandal, and has silenced many of the doubters on his own benches (for a while at least).

But the job of filling in his infamous "blank sheet of paper" continues apace, and two groups have sprung up to give him a hand.

Last night saw the launch of the Labour Faith Network, offering "faith inspired politics" and described as "a new grouping of Labour party members from the major faiths, who want to see the party reconnect with faith communities across the UK". They will no doubt be there to help Ed if he decides to "do God".

Tonight sees the launch of a pamphlet called Pragmatic Radicalism. Sub-headed "Ideas from Labour's New Generation", its editor John Slinger insists it "is not a call to arms, a policy platform or the manifesto of a particular bloc". But it is intended to stimulate debate about where the party is going.

It is interesting to note some of the people involved here. Blue Labour guru Lord Glasman was the key speaker at the Faith Network, while Luciana Berger and Ed's strategic adviser Lord Wood are due to join the Pragmatic Radicals. All three would feature in a list of one to watch.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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

06 July 2011 10:42 AM

Sugar hired to help Labour MPs

Labour MPs are tapping in to Lord Sugar's business expertise today.

The Apprentice overlord (and Labour peer) has been invited to share his wisdom with the party's backbench Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

He is set to be asked about how MPs can boost economic regeneration in their constituencies - with the focus on skills, infrastructure and workforce.

The session is the brainchild of rising star Dan Jarvis, the newly-elected MP for Barnsley Central who chairs the group.

Jarvis said: "Lord Sugar is one of the truly great British success stories. He has decades of first class business experience and expertise which I hope to harness."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

05 July 2011 6:06 PM

Do the numbers tell the story?

So Ed Miliband has passed his leadership test, with the MPs backing moves to scrap shadow cabinet elections.

There were 196 in favour and 41 against - which points to a significant rebellion.

But do the numbers tell the real story? One Labour MP told me earlier today that they'd been asked to consider voting against (in the secret ballot) to make it look like Ed had secured a hard-won victory, showing his authority.

Unless the 41 objectors go public, we'll never know if it happened.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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 2:30 PM

Ed's axeman dilemma

One of the most fascinating monthly reads in the political blogosphere is Labour Uncut's shadow cabinet league table.

It rates each of Ed Miliband's frontbenchers according to their "work rate" - questions and speeches made in Parliament and media coverage generated outside.

It's an imperfect judge of performance, of course, but no less interesting for it. This month the grassroots site has used it to assess who may face the axe if Miliband's plan to scrap shadow cabinet elections goes through.

There is a thorough analysis of the whos and whys, settling on the following four frontbenchers as the most vulnerable: Shaun Woodward (Shadow Northern Ireland secretary), Tessa Jowell (Cabinet Office), Anne McKechin (Scotland) and Meg Hillier (Energy and Climate Change).

Interestingly it is a totally different list to that put forward by Ann Treneman in today's Times - with the exception of Meg Hillier, who makes both. John Healey (Health), Maria Eagle (Transport), Ivan Lewis (Culture, Media and Sport) and Sadiq Khan (Justice) are the others described as "over-promoted" by the Thunderer's sketch writer.

All this speculation is Ed's own making. As Labour Uncut points out: "Having fought for a change to the rules, to not wield the knife fully would be like reaching for the prize and then not knowing what to do with it."

But it could also be an opportunity, giving Ed the chance to show firm leadership and conviction. If not, the site argues, "the result of hesitancy would be yet another crisis about Ed Miliban’ds leadership style".

There are interesting times ahead.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Football, the Oscar winner and Parliamentary privilege

Here's a strange one.

Glenda Jackson, the Oscar-winning actress turned Labour MP, has come out fighting against the Football Association because female MPs are banned from the House of Commons football team.

Not that 75-year-old Glenda wants to play, mind you. She is upset that colleagues (Tory MP Tracey Crouch being the most high-profile example) can't play because of their gender, claiming it is a "gross intrusion into the privileges" of the Commons.

Her argument, in this Early Day Motion, is that the privileges guarantee all MPs are equal regardless of gender. What she brilliantly describes as "lady Members" should therefore be allowed to play.

And Glenda has been pushing her point on the radio.

“For me, it’s another indication of what century those in charge of the FA seem to be living in. It could be 1811 instead of 2011,” she said.

Pushed on whether the FA ban, which stops mixed teams once girls reach 13, should be scrapped altogether, the Hampstead and Kilburn MP was a little nonplussed. Her "main concern" was the situation at Westminster.

She said: "You're taking me into an area about which I know very little. I must be entirely honest, I’m not a football fan, it’s not a game I watch. But when you have women, for example, on the front line in our armed services – when you have women in situations across the whole of our society where they are there because they are capable of proving that capability, it seems to me to be utterly absurd that this kind of embargo should still run."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

30 June 2011 3:38 PM

Whips accused of another stitch-up

Are the whips at it again? Following claims of bribery and threatsagainst Mark Pritchard and his bid to ban circus animals, and strongarm tacticsover marriage tax breaks, Labour's Stella Creasy has come forward with accusations of dark dealing.

This time it is to do with tackling legal loan sharks. Walthamstow MP Creasy has an amendment to the Finance Bill (backed by the Labour front bench) to do just that, as part of her long-running battle to cap the cost of short-term credit (payday loans which charge interest rates which look like phone numbers).

She claims Government whips have ordered their MPs to oppose it - not because they don't like it, but so the Liberal Democrats can announce something similar at their autumn conference.

Creasy even raised the matter at business questions this morning, asking Leader of the House Sir George Young to "investigate a meeting I understand took place on Wednesday which agreed that the Government will vote against our amendment on Monday and so will delay action to relieve the misery caused by high cost credit purely so an announcement can be made at Lib Dem conference".

She went on: "We need to know when MPs vote on Monday they are not putting choreographing coalition dividing lines ahead of the interests of vulnerable consumers."

Sir George said he was "sure nothing underhand has taken place at all". I'm trying to get to the bottom of it.

Creasy is calling on MPs to "stick to their guns" and vote for the amendment regardless. After recent shows of defiance, it will be worth checking out the division list.

==== UPDATE ====
Creasy is being accused of spreading a "wild conspiracy theory" and "nonsense" by senior Lib Dems.  I've had this missive from their Cowley St HQ:

Hi Craig,
 I've just seen your blog on Stella Creasy's wild conspiracy theory. I can assure you it's utter nonsense. No such meeting took place and there are no plans to make any announcement on these lines at Lib Dem conference.



Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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.


28 June 2011 2:17 PM

Whistle while you work

MPs are braced for a rather late night as they debate the Budget-enacting Finance Bill.

The talk in Westminster is that a 3am finish is likely. While Commons debates are normally called to a finish at around 10pm (followed by votes), the guillotine doesn't apply to tax-and-spend measures (so-called "money bills") because they can't be amended in the Lords.

Labour have are using tonight's report stage to repeat calls for a temporary VAT cut, which Ed Balls argues will kick-start the economy. Meanwhile Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy is keeping up her campaign to end "legal loan sharking" by capping the costs of short-term credit.

Tory backbenchers are in on the action too, putting pressure on the PM to fulfil his pledge of recognising marriage in the tax system and calling for pensioner tax breaks on medical insurance to be brought back. (Labour's David Hanson, by the way, has attacked both as "unfair tax cuts for the few".)

As the Press Association's Emily Ashton (@elashton) pointed out on Twitter, MPs sat until 4.34 the last time the Finance Bill was debated. And Ed Miliband's top Parliamentary aide Michael Dugher suggests it might be the same again.

He tweeted: "Finance Bill again today. Tory and Lib Dem MPs looking forward to a good dinner and an early night tonight will be whistling for it."

Expect sore heads and tired eyes tomorrow.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse 

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

24 June 2011 2:31 PM

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