17 April 2012 11:56 AM

UK military chief slams early Aussie Afghan pull-out

Australia was today strongly criticised for plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned.
A senior British military source said the move was “unhelpful” and that an orderly pull-out of Allied forces could “unravel” if NATO nations go it alone and decide different timetable to exit from the wartorn country.
“If people do start cutting and running 12 to 18 months earlier, you just risk the whole end piece getting ragged and messy,” he told The Standard.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard cited security improvements and the death of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders among reasons for speeding up a withdrawal, which will likely see most Australia troops home by the end of 2013.
“This is a war with a purpose. This is a war with an end,” she said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
“We have a strategy, a mission and a timeframe for achieving it.”
But British military insiders were surprised by the announcement.
One senior source told The Standard: “We had an agreed plan. It did make sense. It was just about feasible and viable to get out in the timeline we were talking about and hand over to Afghan forces that were just ready.
“The whole thing is going to unravel if everybody starts doing their own thing.
“Instead of it being orderly and co-ordinated, you do run the risk that you hand over to an Afghan force that is not quite ready for the task.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces losing the French presidency within weeks, and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta have hinted at accelerating the hand-over for Afghan forces to take the security lead across the country, with Allied forces stepping back from a combat role next year and no longer taking part in routine day-to-day patrols.
But Ms Gillard’s statement was seen as more dramatic and fuelled speculation that the faster timetable is being driven by Barack Obama to have withdrawal plans finalised before the November US presidential election.
She denied this and the pull-out will be discussed at the NATO summit in Chicago next month.
America and Britain have agreed to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.
If the US changed its plans, the UK is widely expected to follow them.
But a major assault by the Taliban in Kabul this week raised questions about whether Afghan forces will be able to control security after foreign troops withdraw.
US forces number about 90,000 of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force. France has 3,600 troops in Afghanistan and Britain 9,500. Australia has about 1,550.
With 32 Australian soldiers killed and hundreds wounded, the Australian government is under mounting pressure to withdraw troops, and faces an expected election next year which Ms Gillard is forecast to lose.
The Australian soldiers’ primary objective has been training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Uruzgan province.

Nicholas Cecil

27 March 2012 2:33 PM

Pensioner killed by national strike?

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

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

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

Ambulance chiefs have apologised for the delay.

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

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

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

Full story:

Nicholas Cecil



12 March 2012 12:41 PM

Obama to call Cameron first in a crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relations with Gordon Brown were at time strained.

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

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

Nicholas Cecil

27 February 2012 11:54 AM

Clegg won't block Lib-Dem MPs' health revolt

Amid the widespread anger in his party over Andrew Lansley's health reforms, The Standard understands that Nick Clegg will not force his MPs to overturn Lib-Dem backed amendments made in the Lords to the Health and Social Care Bill.

Baroness Williams predicts that it is "highly unlikely" that Lib-Dem MPs will be whipped to force through key parts of the health shake-up, which are blocked by peers, and says it is "quite a dramatic advance."

Separately, Lib-Dem parliamentarians are drawing up rival plans to Mr Lansley’s health bill in case the Government is forced to ditch it completely.

The moves will infuriate Tory MPs.

Mr Clegg’s aides strongly believe that a deal can be reached between Lib-Dem peers and Mr Lansley which would avoid a Commons showdown over key issues including competition, conflicts of interest and regulation which are being debated in the Lords this week.

But they did not rule out Lib-Dem MPs being given a free vote on changes to the bill made by the Upper Chamber if no compromise can be agreed.

Nicholas Cecil



31 January 2012 4:15 PM

Boris to French bankers: Bienvenue a Londres

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

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

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

"This is the global capital of finance.

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Cecil



13 January 2012 2:08 PM

Olympics to spark baby boom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Cecil

09 January 2012 12:56 PM

Hunt's Olympic appeal: Be Victors not Meldrews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, the Government needs to deliver these goals.

Nicholas Cecil


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



14 December 2011 1:40 PM

Royal Marines "Mighty O" to protect the Olympics

HMS Ocean, the largest ship in the Royal Navy is set to be deployed in the Thames to protect the Olympics.

The 22,000-tonne amphibious assault ship, nicknamed "Mighty O", has recently returned from a seven-month deployment during which it was diverted to launch attacks on Colonel Gaddafi's brutal regime.

The huge ship is expected to anchor off Greenwich next summer and be ready to send in teams of Royal Marines by helicopter or boat to counter any terror attack.

The planned deployment was revealed today by The Standard as David Cameron chaired his first Olympics meeting as the Government gears up to devote its full energies to making the Games a success.

Nearly 24,000 security guards, including around 7,000 military personnel, will protect Olympic venues.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was giving an update on the Olympic park venues, security and Olympic legacy to the meeting today.

Nicholas Cecil

05 December 2011 2:48 PM

Scotland Yard's fears over terror suspects in London

Home Secretary Theresa May can't say that she has not been warned over the possible increase in risk from the Government's watering down of anti-terror laws.

Scotland Yard chiefs have now put their concerns on the public record so no-one can be in doubt about their views on ditching powers to relocate suspected terrorists out of London.

In a letter obtained by The Standard, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick makes clear that new surveillance teams will not be fully trained by the New Year when the changes are due to take place.

Control orders, with the relocation powers, are being replaced by terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

But the Met chief highlighted that the force has warned that it would take at least until next summer to recruit and fully train more surveillance officers to track terror suspects allowed back into the capital in Olympic year.

Assistant Commissioner Dick also makes the point that the Met will work to try to ensure that there is no "substantial" increase in the overall risk to the UK from the changes to the anti-terror controls.

The force has repeatedly stopped short of saying that there would be no increased risk from the reforms.

At least five suspected terrorists have been ordered out of London using the relocation powers including one who the security services believed was plotting a Mumbai-style attack in the UK.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire say: "Both the Met and the security service have made clear that there should be no substantial increase in risk and that appropriate arrangements will be in place to manage the effective transition from control orders to TPIMS.”

 Nicholas Cecil


24 November 2011 2:32 PM

Lansley suffers fresh blow in NHS secrecy battle

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is currently refusing to hand over to The Standard a secret report on the risks of his landmark NHS reforms despite being told to do so by the Information Commissioner.

The Cabinet minister has until early December to decide whether to appeal against the Commissioner's ruling that the public and Parliament should be able to see his department's risk register for the controversial changes that he is proposing.

One of the arguments for non-discloure that his officials have used is that publication of risk registers could interfer in Whitehall policy making.

The Commissioner felt that the public interest in publication still outweigh this concern.

Now, it has also emerged that NHS London publishes a risk register for health services in the capital on its website quarterly including how they could be affected by the Government's reforms.

It takes some finding but this openness still appears to contrast markedly with the apparent culture of secrecy at the Department of Health and other ministries.

NHS London's frankness can only add to the case for publication. The public, MPs and peers have a right to know.

Nicholas Cecil


11 November 2011 1:09 PM

Lansley told: publish secret NHS dangers report

The ferocious debate about Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms is about to get a lot hotter.

The Standard has won a freedom of information battle forcing the Health Secretary to hand over a secret report on the risks he is taking with the NHS with his landmark reshaping of the health service.

It is expected to lay out the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS as GPs are giving huge new power over the £60 billion budget to commission services.

The Department of Health has fought for nearly a year to keep the strategic risk register on the NHS reforms concealed. One can only wonder why....

But the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has ruled in The Standard's favour and told Mr Lansley to publish the report.

Labour's former health spokesman John Healey, who put in a similar FOI request for the risk documents which was also upheld by the Information Commissioner's Office, says: "The year-long cover-up is a disgrace, especially when doctors, nurses, patients groups and the public are all so worried about the Tories' NHS plans."

The Department of Health is considering the ruling. It is also understood there is a policy across Whitehall not to release these strategic risk registers.

Nicholas Cecil





01 November 2011 12:43 PM

Clarke: Squatters as bad as car thieves

Ken Clarke is seen by some Tory MPs as "soft" on crime but he clearly has little time for squatters.

They are no better than car thieves, the Justice Secretary told MPs debating the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which will make squatting a criminal offence.

More than 150 demonstrators sought to stage sit-down protests outside Parliament last night to protest against the criminalisation of squatting.

Around a dozen were arrested during clashes with the police in front of the Commons.

Inside, Justice Secretary Mr Clarke shot down claims that squatters have a right to take over empty properties.

“I have always found it difficult to see the difference between taking somebody’s car and taking somebody’s home,” he said.

“There is a need for a criminal offence.”

Nicholas Cecil


20 October 2011 2:45 PM

Ken and Theresa in Knife Row

After "catgate", Theresa May and Ken Clarke are back at loggerheads, The Standard has been told. This time it is over knife crime.

The Home Secretary is said to be backing automatic custodial sentences for under-18s who threaten people with a knife.

But Justice Secretary Mr Clarke is opposing this mandatory detention of younger teenagers, believing these decision should be down to judges.

The showdown could come to a head next week if Conservative MP Nick de Bois succeeds in tabling an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which would impose automatic sentences on 15, 16 and 17-year-olds for using a knife to threaten or endanger life- as well as adults.

Today London Mayor Boris Johnson intervened in the row by backing lowering the age for these automatic sentences.

"In principal, I support extending these sentences to include under 18s, but there are additional considerations we need to factor in to make sure this is implemented successfully," he told The Standard.

"In short, the message needs to be clear that carrying knives results in a long prison term regardless of age."

With Theresa and Boris demanding tougher sentences, David Cameron may have to think again. But he will no doubt be keen to avoid another catfight between Ken and Theresa.

Nicholas Cecil

19 October 2011 2:33 PM

Laws to be deputy to Michael Gove?

David Laws delivers a scathing critique of England's education system today, accusing it of failing thousands of pupils by accepting low standards.

In a well-argued piece in The Standard, the fallen Cabinet star says that nine out of ten pupils should be expected, certainly by 2020, to be getting five good GCSEs including maths and English, not 53 per cent.

Hundreds more schools should be classed as "failing" if they are only producing satisfactory rather than good results, he adds. On this, he highlights schools in leafy, middle class areas could do far better.

His views will chime with those of many parents, as well as Education Secretary Michael Gove who is determined to raise standards in schools.

Mr Laws was forced to resign as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over his expenses but no-one doubts his talent.

His decision to speak out in such a forthright manner on schools will fuel speculation that he could be brought back in this field which he knows well having been Liberal Democrat education spokesman.

Nicholas Cecil

17 October 2011 2:12 PM

War On Obesity: Turf Kids Out Of Buggies

Strapping your three-year-old into his buggy before heading down the shops? Well think again.....

Official advice from town hall chiefs is now to make him walk, at least sometimes, to save him from a life of obesity.

"We have to acknowledge childhood obesity is a growing problem," Nickie Aiken, Westminster council's cabinet member for children, tells The Standard.

"While local authorities have a part to play it is ultimately the responsibility of parents and carers. By taking steps such as encouraging children to walk to school, to eat healthily, or stop using buggies on short trips at the age of three, they can help ensure their children lead an active life."

Public health minister Anne Milton backs the idea, saying, "Encouraging children to walk is one way of getting the whole family to take more exercise."

They are not suggesting an outright ban on buggies, especially for parents in a hurry.

But they want adults to do more for their young children's weight including ditching the buggy if possible.

Nicholas Cecil



12 October 2011 3:26 PM

Get Off The Tube!

Londoners should get off The Tube and walk to work to shed pounds - so says public health minister Anne Milton.

The fitness fan MP wants commuters to get to work more on their own feet to fight the flab.

"The idea is to get off the bus or the Tube a couple of stops early and walk," she tells the Standard.

"You can build up slowly, 10 minutes at a time, until you are getting your 150 active minutes a week rather than taking the Tube or the bus."

The former nurse also dislikes the term obesity epidemic because it can lead people to believe that they are just the innocent victim of a nationwide phenomenon.

"Londoners need to take responsibility," she says.

"This is not something that happens to people, it's something they are involved in. They have the solution at their feet."

Nicholas Cecil


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

20 September 2011 2:28 PM

Cut your hours to help the poor

Liberal Democrat conference would not be Liberal Democrat conference without some wacky cutting-edge, blue skies thinking proposals.

And just as the Lib-Dems are getting all managerial, along comes Simon Hughes with an idea to raise eyebrows.

He is suggesting that Britain's economic and social ills could be tackled by a "redistribution of work".

Under his plans, the over-worked would stop being tied to their desks for 70, 80 hours a week and would reduce their workload to spend more time with their families and on leisure activities - hence improving their work/life balance.

The under-employed or the unemployed would then find it easier to find work because it is not all being hogged by the over-worked. So their living standards would rise as they earn more.

"A fairer and more sane distribution of work is needed if we are to have an improved quality of life for all citizens," he says.

While not advocating a 35 hour French-style week, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader adds: "In the capital there are huge numbers of people, particularly lawyers and bankers, who work extremely long hours accumulating huge amounts of money they barely have time to spend.

"We also have many thousands of people who want work but cannot find any at all, or who are working part-time and would like to work more."

"Overwork has hugely damaging consequences for families, relationships and the quality of personal and community life.

"Lack of work is one of the biggest causes of poverty and poor physical and mental health. It is clear that we need a redistribution of work if we are to achieve the redistribution of wealth."

Interesting ideas from an MP whose workload makes 70 hours a week look part-time.

Nicholas Cecil


19 September 2011 2:08 PM

Clegg demands £3 billion rich tax

Good news for the wealthy is that the 50p top rate of tax could go under a deal between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

Bad news for the wealthy is that the Lib-Dems are demanding another levy on the rich if the Tories want to get rid of the 50p rate before raising the starting threshold for paying income tax to £10,000 to help the less-well-off.

Even worse news for the wealthy is that the Lib-Dems want the new levy, possibly a mansion tax or land tax, to raise as much as the 50p rate was intended to bring in not what it has actually added to Treasury coffers.

The 50p rate was expected to raise £3 billion a year.

But a review by Revenue & Customs is expected to find that many rich people have managed to avoid the top rate of tax and it has raked in far less than predicted.

So, if the Lib-Dems get their way, any rejoicing by the wealthy at getting ridding of 50p may be short-lived once they realise that many of them may be paying more under a new rich tax.

Nicholas Cecil 

16 September 2011 2:14 PM

Lib Dem Chiefs Rally Behind Land Tax

Vince Cable's plans for a mansion tax sparked a revolt at the Liberal Democrats' annual rally two years ago.

But this time the Business Secretary may win more support from party chiefs for a land tax on the wealthy.

Several senior Lib-Dems are making positive sounds about it.

The party's deputy leader Simon Hughes tells The Standard: "The current system of council tax is outdated and unfair - many people on average incomes find paying their council tax a struggle whilst millionaires do not pay a fair share. Liberals and Liberal Democrats have long argued for a fairer system of land and property taxation.

"I welcome any proposals which move the burden of taxation towards developers and large land owners who have made huge profits out of rising land values in the capital and away from many hard working people on lower and middle incomes."

And it is not only Lib-Dem Lefties and the rank-and-file who are warming to a land tax.

Moderate MP Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg's chief-of-staff. said: "I'm attracted by the proposition of a land tax.

"It makes it much harder for the very wealthy to avoid taxation by squirrelling away their assets overseas."

Treasury minister Danny Alexander has also voiced support for a new levy on the wealthy.

Chancellor George Osborne can be expected to lead Tory opposition to a land tax.

But wealthy owners of homes with large gardens, especially in London and the South East, should not doubt the resolve among some Lib-Dems to push this controversial levy.

Nicholas Cecil


15 September 2011 2:47 PM

Tory Cabinet minister opposes Commons seat carve-up

David Cameron may be able to dismiss Vince Cable's objections to the carving up of parliamentary seats as Vince is Vince...or perhaps somewhat less complimentary words.

But the Business Secretary is not the only Cabinet minister to be angry at the Boundary Commission's proposals.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is not happy, The Standard understands, over the plans to tear up his constituency and create a new Chingford and Edmonton seat.

Mr Duncan Smith is likely to win the new seat, according to political experts.

But he is irritated, to say the least, over the shape of the new constituency which will span the River Lee, cross borough boundaries and be split by a series of reservoirs dividing communities.

While not seeking to rock the boat, he is set to ask the Boundary Commission to review its proposals for this corner of London.

Such a move would no doubt encourage other MPs to contest the redrawing of constituencies which they regard as damaging to their communities and their parliamentary prospects. After all if a Cabinet minister can, why should they not?

So could there be a large scale revolt? One MP predicts the chances of the Boundary Commission's blueprint being adopted is just 50/50.

Nicholas Cecil 




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."





09 September 2011 1:46 PM

Tory Left Fight Back

MPs on the Tory Left may be outnumbered by Right Wingers but they are flexing their muscles ahead of the party's annual conference.

Former Cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell has joined immigration minister Damian Green in warning against drifting to the Right.

Tension on the backbenches is rising over the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, vividly highlighted recently by Nadine Dorries' intervention at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Dorrell suggests that the new intake of Tory MPs, many of whom are strident on Europe and law and order, may become less ideological after they have been in Parliament for a while.

He warns against moving away from "One Nation" Conservatism, echoing Mr Green's concerns over a "seductive chorus" calling for more hardline policies.

Nicholas Cecil 



01 September 2011 2:40 PM

Britain opposes death penalty for Gaddafi

Should Colonel Gaddafi face the death penalty for the atrocities committed by his brutal regime?

Ministers have insisted that it is up to the Libyan people to decide where he faces justice, be it in Libya or at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

A trial in Libya could see him given the death penalty.

In an interview in The Standard, Overseas Aid Secretary Andrew Mitchell has made clear that Britain would oppose the death penalty for the tyrant but believes it is up to the Libyan people to decide his fate.

"People will have different views on the issue of the death penalty but it's a matter for the Libyan people and their new government, the National Transitional Council," he says.

"Britain's position is that we have signed up to conventions which are opposed to the using of the death penalty, so that is the position of the Government."


Nicholas Cecil

19 August 2011 11:35 AM

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18 August 2011 1:11 PM

Eviction for "travellers from hell"

DEFYING a Liberal Democrat backlash against some of the toughest measures against rioters, housing minister Grant Shapps is pressing ahead with plans for new powers to evict "travellers from hell".

Currently, town halls and other social landlords can turf out "neighbours from hell" who repeatedly plague their local community with anti-social behaviour.

But they are hamstrung by the law to evict violent thugs who commit offences in another borough or district.

Mr Shapps is determined to change this with new legislation.

"Neighbours from hell who become visitors from hell should not be able to escape through some loophole in the law," he told The Standard.

"If you committed a crime in south London but happen to live in north London, you should still be exposed to losing your home."

Mr Shapps also wants a "fundamental review" of the relationship between benefits that individuals receive and wider society.

"This is, if you are honest, a big test for this coalition Government," he said. "There is an unwritten contract between society and individuals which says we will help you.

"The part of that contract that has gone missing is there are responsibilities in return for receiving assistance and one of them is you agree you are not going to go out and deliberately destroy other people's lives.

"If you break that social contract, there should be a price to be paid and this could be your tenancy or your family's tenancy could be put at risk."

Senior Liberal Democrats, though, have warned that evictions could cause more social problems and end up costing society more.

Nicholas Cecil


19 July 2011 6:22 PM

Boris fines Obama for not paying congestion charge

Barack Obama's presidential motorcade has been fined for not paying the congestion charge in London.

And you can't say that the US president was not warned.

London Mayor Boris Johnson button-holed him at a State banquet in May to raise the issue of US diplomats in London not paying the congestion-busting levy. They have run up a bill of more than £5 million since 2003.

At the time, the Mayor of London also publicly made clear that he wanted the £10 congestion charge paid for Mr Obama's security vehicle "The Beast" and other cars in the president's motorcade.

But the US authorities defied the request and have now been hit with a £120 fine.

"The Beast" escaped a congestion charge ticket as it was travelling so slowly and closely to other vehicles in the presidential motorcade that its details could not be recorded by the street cameras.

Only one vehicle is understood to have been issued with a congestion charge notice.

A Transport for London spokesman said: “TfL pursues penalties from foreign registered vehicles that have not paid the charge.

“No Congestion Charge payments were made for the vehicles in the Presidential motorcade. TfL has issued Penalty Charge Notices to the registered keepers where it was able to do so.”

But the American Embassy defended the refusal by US diplomats to pay the C-charge insisting it was "wholly in accordance" with the 1960 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which a spokesman said "prohibits the imposition of this sort of tax on diplomatic missions".

Nicholas Cecil 


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

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

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

01 July 2011 2:02 PM

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

Olympics terror alert

We already knew that a terror suspect known as CD - banned from London and believed to have been plotting a Mumbai-style atrocity in Britain - could return to the capital due to the Government watering down its anti-terror laws.

Now, The Standard has revealed that there could be several more suspected terrorists, including some understood to be from East London, who could be allowed back before the Olympics next year  - if the Government does not amend its plans to replace control orders with terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

Currently, these reforms would remove the power to relocate terror suspects. This condition has been used in nine out of 12 current cases.

The Home Office is refusing to say how many could return to London.

But the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne has suggested it could be several, possibly at least five. Other sources also believe it could be five or six.

Mr Osborne, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers' senior national coordinator for terrorism investigations, has told MPs: "The Olympics will be in a very challenging area in east London.

"A lot of people on control orders have come from the area initially, so moving them back will create additional challenges for us.

"It is difficult to say if they provide a greater threat than cells or groups yet to come to our notice or on which we have yet to receive intelligence."

Extra risk from the reforms - which include ditching relocation and relaxing curfews - could be "mitigated" by more surveillance and measures including bans on entering specific areas, he added.

But he would not say that MI5 and police forces can definitely eliminate any extra dangers.

Former Tory Home Secretary Lord Howard picked up on this point highlighting that the police were saying that extra surveillance and other security measures could mitigate but not eliminate any additional risk.

He also stressed that Home Secretary Theresa May is a member of a coalition - with the Liberal Democrats - and that the controversial policy had been developed following discussions in Government.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is opposing ditching the relocation powers which have been backed by MI5, the High Court and even Ms May earlier this year.

So far Ms May is sticking with her new plans with the Home Office saying: "National security is the primary duty of government and we will not put the public at risk."

But inevitably the Government risks opening itself up to claims of putting the interest of the coalition ahead of national security.

Nicholas Cecil

30 June 2011 9:01 AM

Expenses watchdog in "phone tapping" row

A "telephone tapping" row has erupted at Westminster over the new expenses watchdog keeping recordings of conversations with MPs for at least six years.

MPs have clashed repeatedly with IPSA officials over their expenses and now it appears that many of these conversations will be lying in an electronic archive for years to come.

I suspect some MPs would be left quite shamefaced if they ever made their way into the public arena.

Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington North - who is not believed to be one of those MPs who has used colourful language with IPSA workers - has been probing the watchdog over its recording policy.

Scott Woolveridge, the acting chief executive of IPSA told her: "Telephone voice recordings are subject to IPSA's Information Management records retention and disposition schedules which specify the period for which they are held.

"The current policy states that electronic files, which cover telephone recordings, will be retained for a period of six years. When the agreed retention period expires, electronic files will be reviewed and either retained for a further period, if still required for business purposes, or destroyed."

IPSA's deputy director of operations, two team leaders of the information team and the head of assurance and review are authorised to listen to telephone voice recordings to "monitor quality standards and to identify training needs".

Mr Woolveridge adds: "Additionally, members of IPSA's senior management can request access to specific voice recordings if there is a business requirement for them to do so."

Ms Jones accepts phone calls should be retained but challenged the need to keep them for six years.

"Without an explanation, it does seem an extraordinary length of time," she says.

"It seems to me very odd to keep them for six years. It's another example of the vast bureaucracy that IPSA is creating."

IPSA states on its website that phone conversations may be recorded but its information management policy is under review - and the retention period may change, Mr Woolveridge adds.

Nicholas Cecil








29 June 2011 3:20 PM

Lib Dems seek to water down benefit crackdown

Liberal Democrats are flexing their muscles over the coalition's plans for an annual benefits cap of £26,000-a-year for families.

They are pushing the idea that child benefit, worth some £2,500-a-year for a family with three children, should be excluded from the overall cap.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes was meeting Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith today to discuss how to lessen the impact of the crackdown on benefits on families in London.

Mr Hughes is understood to be "sympathetic" to the proposal to exclude child benefit. He is concerned about how the overall benefit cap could hit London families given high rents in the capital.

He told The Standard: “There is certainly continuing concern across London about the link between the benefits cap and the high costs of housing.

“Ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions have been willing to listen and have already made some positive changes.

“Today will be an opportunity for elected representatives in London to put their case directly to ministers who I hope will take on board their concerns.”

Mr Duncan Smith is currently not minded to back the exemption of child benefit from the cap. But the campaigner on social justice is also keen to limit the disruption to families in the capital from the reforms. 

Nicholas Cecil





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

Lib Dem slams "nasty" housing benefit cuts

No one doubts Iain Duncan Smith's personal mission to help the poorest in society.

But the Work and Pensions Secretary is facing a new Liberal Democrat revolt over his proposed crackdown on housing benefit.

Many Lib-Dems are not opposing the principle of his reforms based on the fact that people on benefit should not be getting a huge cheque from the taxpayer, sometimes more than £100,000-a-year, to live in homes out of the reach of many hard-working families.

They are concerned, though, about the practical impact of some of the current proposals, particularly on London.

"It's really, really pernicious, nasty stuff from this government and they're clearly Conservative-led policy changes," says Stephen Knight, the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Richmond-upon-Thames council.

"But in my view Liberal Democrat MPs and ministers have not done nearly enough to prevent these from coming through either."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is to meet Mr Duncan Smith today to push for the reforms to be tweaked so as London Mayor Boris Johnson says, they are introduced "humanely". Remember, he warned against "Kosovo-style social cleansing" in the capital by the welfare reforms.

Mr Hughes is particularly concerned about the overall £26,000-a-year benefit cap for families which can be reached for large households in the capital very quickly given high housing benefit bills.

Housing charity Shelter fuelled the rebellion today with a poll showing that two thirds of Conservative councillors and four out of five Lib Dems object to plans to limit rises in local housing allowance rates to CPI inflation from 2013 - rather than setting them in relation to local rent costs.

It also found nearly half of Lib Dems are concerned that housing benefit cuts may increase local homelessness.

Mr Duncan Smith has attacked "scare stories" that thousands of families will be forced from their homes by the benefit changes. He says such reports are causing unnecessary distress.

Blaming the current housing benefit situation on Labour, he adds: "A small number of people may have to move and we are providing local authorities an additional £190 million over the next four years to smooth the transition.

"Instead of complaining, responsible councils should be working to effectively implement these policies, and recognise that we are trying to get people off benefits and into work, and drive the cost of the benefits bill to taxpayers down."

MPs in London will hope that Mr Duncan Smith is right. His criticism of some of the reports of tens of thousands of people being forced to move because of the welfare shake-up may be valid.

Harder to dismiss, though, is an internal report by Tory-led Westminster council which showed that up to 43 per cent of primary school children in Maida Vale may have to move. Even if this is a worst case scenario, it is still alarming. 

Nicholas Cecil



28 June 2011 3:57 PM

Lawyers fight to keep "rotten suing culture"

Lawyers have been banging on to justice minister Jonathan Djanogly how the current no-win no-fee system promotes their bank accounts access to justice.

But the quietly spoken justice minister, who has attacked Britain's "rotten suing culture", is giving this argument short shrift.

"My answer has been that what it promotes is access to justice for claimants. But justice is for defendants as well," he says.

He is now delighted that a storm has erupted over our civil litigation system including referral payments to insurance firms to pass on details of crash victims to claim management companies accused of plaguing people with text messages and phone calls as they seek business.

As David Cameron says, "sunlight is the best disinfectant," so shining the spotlight on what appears to be a legal money-go-round - primed by rising premiums paid by millions of law-abiding motorists - may well lead to the brakes being slammed on some of what may be regarded as the more unscrupulous practices.

Mr Djanogly will also be pushing legal changes to stop the compensation culture which has bred in Britain on the back of no-win no-fee.

Nicholas Cecil

27 June 2011 2:40 PM

Fox: Loose talk costs lives

Defence Secretary Liam Fox today publicly warned his military chiefs that loose talk could cost lives.

He is understood to share the anger of David Cameron at the comments made by the head of the Navy, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, questioning the sustainability of the operation to oust Colonel Gaddafi.

The Prime Minister dragged the First Sea Lord into No10 for a dressing down earlier this month and both he and Mr Fox want a simple and united message to go out to the dictator.

In a question and answer session after a speech on military reforms today, Mr Fox said: “We must be very careful, those of us who have authority in defence, in discussing the sustainability of our mission. People’s lives are at stake. There can be only one message that goes out to Libya  - that is we have the military capability, political resolve and legal authority to see through what we started.”

Nicholas Cecil

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

Clarke probes "dirty secret"

If your car insurance is on the rise, one reason could be the "outrageous racket" of insurance firms, police, local garages and even hospitals selling details of crash victims to ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw exposed this "dirty secret" of the insurance industry today.

Insurance firms are said to get referral payments of £200 to £1,000 a case to pass on details to claims-management companies who encourage people to make claims.

The cost of personal injury claims, including many for whiplash which is difficult to prove or disprove, has soared from £7 billion to £14 billion in a decade. This comes as the number of accidents has fallen and cars have got safer - make your own judgement whether these claims will all have been genuine or some scams.

Insurance chiefs admit that they do take referral payments and justify this by saying if they don't, other people will, and that they are not making a profit from the practice while having to meet some of the costs of the claims.

This argument does not wash with Mr Straw who says he would have banned the referral payments when he was Justice Secretary if he had known about them.

Now his successor Ken Clarke is considering doing just that.

"We are considering the matter of referral fees alongside our proposals for radical reform of the whole "no win no fee" system announced earlier this year," said a Ministry of Justice spokesman.
"Those proposals are aimed at tackling the high costs of success fees and insurance premiums in no win no fee cases. We want to strike a better balance between the interests of claimants and defendants to maintain access to civil justice while ensuring costs are proportionate, sustainable and affordable."

Nicholas Cecil 




Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is considering banning referral payments

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

Leona Lewis hails MPs on circus animals

Singer Leona Lewis has been praising MPs, including Hackney's Diane Abbott, for standing up to the Government to demand a ban on wild animals in circuses.

"Such incredible news today! thanks @hackneyabbott for supporting the circus animal ban! U have made the difference!" she tweeted.

‘We did it! We did it! I'm just so happy thank u all for supporting the ban our voices were heard."

Ms Abbott was among the MPs who lined up to defy the Government which preferred a licensing system rather than a ban.

But most plaudits were going to plucky Tory MP Mark Pritchard who refused to withdraw his motion calling for a ban despite intense pressure from the powers that be at Westminster.

"I had a call from the Prime Minister's office directly and I was told that unless I withdraw this motion, that the Prime Minister himself said he would look upon it very dimly indeed," he defiantly told MPs.

Nicholas Cecil



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

Gove: heads' "duty" to keep strike-hit schools open

Many parents will back the letter sent by Michael Gove to headteachers today telling them they have a "moral duty" to keep schools open on strike days.

The Education Secretary wants heads to draw up emergency plans to stop school closures causing havoc for millions of families when teachers walk out on June 30 as expected.

Appealing over the heads of union bosses, he said: "My view is that we all have a strong moral duty to pupils and parents to keep schools open."

He branded the threatened industrial action as "not justified" as talks are ongoing between the Government and unions in the dispute over public sector pensions.

Mr Gove has the interest of pupils at heart but the Government also wants the public on its side as it heads into a potential wave of strikes this summer.

 Nicholas Cecil



Poll: Olympics great for London but not so good for Londoners

Concerns of Londoners over travel disruption during the 2012 Olympics, and possibly disappointement at not getting tickets, have emerged in a new poll.

The YouGov study shows that 57 per cent of Londoners believe the 2012 Games will be good for London. Just 29 per cent disagree.

But 50 per cent do not back the statement: "Taking everything into account, the Olympic Games will be good for people like me." Just 28 per cent agree.

People are also becoming more sceptical over whether the Games will leave lasting good sporting facilities for years beyond 2012, improve the public transport system and encourage more British people to take up sport so as to improve the health of the nation.

No doubt, once the Olympics finally arrive, spirits, enjoyment and optimism over their legacy will be lifted by the sheer excitement of the Games.

Nicholas Cecil



22 June 2011 3:28 PM

Child "exodus" from central London

Few people argue against the aims of the Government's cap on housing benefit which is to save millions and stop people claiming up to thousands of pounds a week for properties which most working families cannot even dream of living in.

But the impact of the new limits on housing benefit has been laid bare in a report by Westminster City Council.

The stark scenario revealed shows that one in six primary school age children in the borough may have to move home and in many cases go to a new school.

In Maida Vale it is an astonishing 43 per cent who could be affected in this way.

Across central London, thousands of school children may have to move.

The caps of £400-a-week for a four-bedroom home, £340 for a three-bedroom home, £290 for a two-bedroom home and £250 for a one-bedroom home are due to come into force for existing claimants next January.

But Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is due to meet with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith next week to demand changes to the policy.

It is only certain parts of London which are particularly hard hit by the caps and Mr Hughes, who backs the policy in principle, wants ministers to lessen the blow for many of the households affected.

“It is crucial that the Government uses this time to think of a solution now that more and more evidence is emerging of the severe consequences the benefits caps will have on London and Londoners,” he told The Standard.

The Work and Pensions Department stresses that the bill for housing benefit has spiralled out of control and that central London is getting a large share of a special fund to help those most affected by the changes.

But London Mayor Boris Johnson has warned that he will not allow the welfare reforms to lead to "Kosovo-style social cleansing" in the capital. He is said to be in continuing talks with the Government to ensure the housing cap policy is introduced "humanely". One to watch.

Nicholas Cecil




Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

Benefit shake-up could force thousands of pupils to move home
Thousands of schoolchildren in parts of central London could be forced to move because of housing benefit cuts, the Standard has learned.

Don't rush Afghanistan pullout, Obama and Cameron warned
Military chiefs and MPs today warned Barack Obama and David Cameron against too hasty a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Strike-breaking laws are not backed by public, says Tebbit
The man who led Margaret Thatcher's battle against the unions today warned David Cameron not to seek to impose new strike-breaking laws without public support.

MP's bid to ban smoking in cars carrying children
A move to outlaw smoking in cars carrying children was launched in the Commons today.

MPs lose document courier perk
MPs have been stopped from having documents hand-delivered to their homes after the little-known perk was exposed by the Evening Standard.

Greece 'may need four bailouts' after PM wins vote of confidence
Greece may need four huge bailouts to rescue its sickly economy, which threatens to sink the euro, former chancellor Alistair Darling warned today.

No 10 rejects allies' call for Libya ceasefire
Downing Street today dismissed a call from key allies Italy and the Arab League for a ceasefire in Libya.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

21 June 2011 4:52 PM

Lunchtime List

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

All knife thugs to get 6 months
Thugs who brandish knives will go to prison for at least six months, David Cameron announced today.

Tweets are all mine, claims MP accused of being a ghost writer
A London MP today denied claims that his Twitter output was "blatantly ghost written" by a researcher.

Ed Miliband v Nick Clegg
Ground: Opinion polls
Kickoff: 9am
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most unpopular of them all?” Poor Cleggie has been runaway winner in the no-mates stakes since the university fees debacle. But, gosh, now his magic mirror has changed its answer! According to pollsters ICM, Clegg has slid to a rock bottom “satisfaction rating” of minus-20. But somehow Labour Leader Red Ed has crashed even lower, to a humiliating minus-21. David Cameron, meanwhile, is smugly nursing a score of, er, minus-five. In this beauty parade, there are no winners.
Score: Miliband 0, Clegg 0

Boris "to win" on charisma

Boris Johnson is steaming towards a second term as Mayor of London mainly due to his charisma, according to a fascinating new poll.

The YouGov study shows Labour's candidate Ken Livingstone ahead on a whole range of factors, including being a better natural leader, strong, decisive, good in a crisis, in touch with the concerns of ordinary people and sticking to what he believes in.

But when it comes to being charismatic, Boris trounces Ken by 50 to 18 of voters saying they possess this quality. Boris is also ahead on honesty.

In the showbiz world of London Mayors, charisma seems to be the decisive factor as Boris has built up a sizeable lead over Ken after the two were neck-and-neck just months ago.

In February, Ken had a narrow lead, 45 to 42, when voters were asked how they would vote if there was an election for the Mayor of London tomorrow.

While when the question was devised to take second preferences into account, by asking voters to choose between the two men, Boris nudged ahead by 45 to 42.

Fast-forward to June and Boris has a lead of at least seven points in both poll questions.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they can only muster two per cent support as they desperately seek an ABL (Anyone But Lembit) candidate.

Nicholas Cecil