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



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



14 February 2012 2:34 PM

A broken-hearted Coalition?

Kudos to Unison, seizing on Valentine's Day to keep up pressure on the Government over Andrew Lansley's controversial NHS changes.

The union put on a picture stunt earlier on, with 'David Cameron' and 'Nick Clegg' holding a broken heart.

Unison's "heartfelt" plea was "not to break our hearts by breaking our NHS".

But with the Commons in recess, senior Coalition figures may be wondering if the love has dropped out of their relationship.

Not only was Lib-Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes calling for Lansley's head on Sunday, but the welfare reforms are back in the Lords and expected to suffer fresh defeats (ping pong has started). Also in the mix are Budget discussions, with the Chancellor preparing his set piece for next month.

On that note, James Forsyth had a great titbit in the Mail on Sunday - the Quad of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Cameron were due to have a meeting tonight after unexpectedly finding their diaries clear. But there was an obvious reason, and once wives found out some quick rescheduling took place.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

24 January 2012 11:48 AM

Nick Clegg's McBreakfast

Nick Clegg was at the McDonald's training centre in East Finchley this morning, to hail an announcement that the burger giant is creating 2,500 new jobs this year.

Given that it was an early morning call (a return to his "alarm clock Britain" campaign?), the Deputy PM enjoyed a spot of breakfast while he was there.

He tucked into a sausage and egg McMuffin and washed it down with a cup of tea, I'm told.

Looking at the details of the jobs announcement, it's no surprise Clegg chose to visit. While McJobs have attracted criticism in the past, more than half of the 2,500 announced today are expected to go to under-25s, with almost a third to first-time workers. Clegg has said tackling record youth unemployment - running at over 1 million - is his top priority for 2012.

(UPDATE: Labour's Kevin Brennan has just brilliantly coined it the Clegg McMuffin on Twitter)

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

08 December 2011 3:40 PM

Clegg's olive branch to strikers

While Andrew Lansley was offering a new deal on health sector pension reform but sparking fresh anger from the unions, Nick Clegg has been out been out trying to smooth tensions with the public sector.

His comments are significant because they come in the aftermath of last week's pension strike - branded a "damp squib" by David Cameron - and George Osborne's fresh round of austerity which will hit public servants hard.

The Lib-Dem Deputy PM acknowledged public sector workers "bristle" at talk of paring back the public sector, and insisted rebalancing the economy was not "code for cutting them adrift".

Warning against re-opening old divisions, he said: "Many of our public sector workers are making sacrifices, and I am hugely grateful for it. And I am grateful to the people making sacrifices in the private sector too.

"And what will hurt both groups is if we now allow this debate to become polarised - as if our dilemma is helping the public sector versus the private sector; the North versus the South. Picking industry or picking banking.

"Because if we play into these bygone caricatures of the left and the right, if we allow our society to fracture into these camps, that is the surest way to drag the UK back to the 1980s."

I suspect there is a dual message here: one for the public sector, to say the LibDems feel their pain. And one for Tory Coalition colleagues, to say lay off the tough talk.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

09 November 2011 2:38 PM

Clegg tells Europe to forget Robin Hood tax

Yesterday George Osborne delivered a robust message to European finance ministers on a proposed new tax on the City. Bluntly put, his view was "forget it".

Now Nick Clegg, the most high-profile pro-European in the Cabinet, has popped over to Brussels to hammer it home.

As part of a speech warning that Europe must "reform or wither" he also said a continent-wide financial transaction tax (FTT) would unfairly hit Britain and be passed on to those who can least afford it.

Here's the relevant passage: "We cannot support the European Financial Transaction Tax that has been proposed.

"It would have a massively disproportionate impact on the City of London, responsible for more than half of the revenues that would be taxed. And, according to the Commission’s own analysis, it would also reduce EU GDP as a whole.

"But even for people who don’t care about the City of London or Europe’s economic performance, the FTT doesn’t make sense because it completely misses its target.

"This isn’t – as it’s often presented – a painless tax on banks and City speculators, the authors of the financial crisis. In reality bankers will be left sitting happily unaffected in their offices, passing on the charge to the people they are acting for.

"It’s pensioners who will pay this tax, and businesses. Companies that are vital to our economies, that are big engines of manufacturing or retail, that employ thousands of people across Europe, but just happen to do financial services business too.

"That is in no ones’ interests."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

03 November 2011 11:59 AM

Clegg's warm welcome to returning Libya heroes

With David Cameron part of frantic efforts to save the Euro in France, Nick Clegg had a rather more enjoyable engagement this morning.

The Deputy Prime Minister was at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire to welcome home returning heroes from the Libya conflict.

He took the opportunity to thank troops on behalf of Britain and Libya with some moving words - and said they had made the key differnce in ridding the world of Gaddafi.

Here is some of his address: “This was an allied effort. But I am here to pay tribute to you, the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces. You may have had the benefit of world-class aircraft. You may have had the benefit of precision weaponry. You may have had the support of the world’s greatest military alliance. But it has been your skill, your commitment, your bravery that has made the difference... 

“Thanks to the protection you have provided the Libyan people in their darkest hour, they have thrown off the yoke of Gaddafi and his regime. And, because of you, the guardians of freedom, they now have hope for their future.

“The road ahead will not be easy. But the people of Libya will have the support of the British Government as they build a new society. And Libya will no longer be a pariah state on the Mediterranean. Which means you have done a great service for Britain's national security too.

“You have saved countless lives. You have performed magnificently in testing times. Now, as you return to your families, my thanks, the nation’s thanks, the thanks of the Libyan people go to you.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 October 2011 2:45 PM

The Lib-Dems' perfect jibe at Tory rebels

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

20 September 2011 2:04 PM

The Lib-Dems' blank cheque

Time and again during the Lib-Dem conference, Nick Clegg and others have said there isn't a magic button in Whitehall that ministers can press to find more money that can be poured into the economy.

But are they missing a trick? Going round the exhbition hall at the ICC I spotted this - a Lib-Dem blank cheque.


Of course with all the banker-bashing going on, they might not be able to find a bank that will cash it. Perhaps this would be better - a Lib-Dem fundraising box, yours for just 95p.


Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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 3:27 PM

Danny admits we are better off outside the euro

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joe Murphy

follow me  on Twitter  .... @JoeMurphyLondon




09 September 2011 11:24 AM

Cameron reassures the shires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon

17 August 2011 2:01 PM

A U-turn on community payback?

Yesterday I wrote about Nick Clegg's call for convicted rioters to be draped in orange clothing and made to clean up affected neighbourhoods.

But this enthusiasm for so-called community payback schemes appears to be something of a radical conversion. No sooner had I posted than Labour's David Hanson, a former Home Office and Justice minister who is now part of the shadow Treasury team, got in touch to say the Lib-Dems had previously attacked the schemes as gimmicks.

Indeed, he dug out a press release from the party, dating back to 2009.

It reads:

Commenting on today’s court ruling that a teenage convict had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for refusing to wear a Community Payback fluorescent jacket, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary, David Howarth said: "The real question about these fluorescent bibs is whether they help to reduce future crime."

"Since the Government has no evidence that this is the case, it should not have introduced them simply as a headline-chasing gimmick."

In Mr Hanson's words: "How times change."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

16 August 2011 4:48 PM

Clegg's very Lib-Dem riot payback

On another busy day in Westminster, one thing stood out to me from Nick Clegg's post-riot plan.

Not the "communities and victims panel" to hear tales of suffering and find solutions, nor the plan to meet convicted looters "at the prison gates" and force them into work - however that will happen - but the "riot payback scheme".

"In every single one of the communities affected there will be community payback schemes, riot payback schemes, where you will see people in visible orange clothing making up the damage done, repairing and improving the neighbourhoods affected," he said.

Hang on a minute, visible orange clothing? Did Mr Clegg pick the colour on purpose? After all, it is the hue of Lib-Dems "winning here" up and down the country, as the day-glo placards have it.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

05 August 2011 2:10 PM

Drugs and hacking at Lib-Dem conference

As was widely reported this morning, this year's Lib-Dem conference is likely to back moves towards legalising all drugs for personal use.

It's certainly a headline-grabbing topic and will create tension with Tory partners in Government if it becomes official party policy.

ESP can reveal that delegates in Birmingham will also debate phone hacking in a move that could lead to tighter regulation of the press.

A high-profile spot has been reserved for an emergency discussion of the scandal, though the exact wording of the motion for debate will not be settled until activists meet.

Senior backbencher Adrian Sanders, a member of the culture media and sport committee, said it could centre around press curbs.

“We are not talking about regulating the press in a way that inhibits press freedom but sets certain standards that we expect everyone to follow with punishments available if they do not,” he told ESP.

There will no doubt be a lot of crowing from Lib-Dems that they never got into bed with the Murdoch empire. Lib-Dem sources said senior figures such as party president Simon Hughes and media spokesman Don Foster are likely to want to speak in the debate, which will take place on the same day as a question-and-answer session with Mr Clegg.

A couple of other conference tit-bits: The theme is "in Government, on your side". Expect more stress on hard-working "alarm clock Britain" that Nick Clegg (himself an early-rising working dad) has pushed before.

It comes as the party is looking at how to portray itself in coming elections following the poll savaging it got in May. Flesh is being put on the bones that the party is "more credible on the economy than Labour but fairer than the Tories," I'm told.

There will be differences up and down the land, however. In Scotland there will be more of an emphasis on the Lib-Dems as a moderating influence curbing the excesses of their Tory partners.

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





28 July 2011 12:04 PM

PM will give evidence under oath

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

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

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

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



Joe Murphy




15 July 2011 12:09 PM

Burying bad news

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

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


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

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

Here's the original blog post:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter: @JoeMurphyLondon



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

23 June 2011 2:21 PM

Brazil nuts

Oh dear. Cracks are starting to show in Nick Clegg's proposals to hand out shares in state-owned banks.

Initially the plan for a "people's bank" got a lukewarm reception, with John Redwood and Lib-Dem Stephen Williams (who has pushed this before) in support and some predictable opposition from the City about only having one type of investor.

But opposition is now starting to mount as people get their heads round what sounds like a popular idea.

At the heart of the problem is how you decide who gets the shares. The original pamphlet admits there are "many options", including the entire population (which would mean literally everyone on the Census including foreigners and children getting shares); and taxpayers (which excludes the poorest households).

It says the "simplest option" is all British adults, using the electoral register as a "sound starting point". But this too seems deeply flawed: there are serious concerns about the register's accuracy, and it could mean a 17-year-old soldier missing out while a lifelong workshy benefit claimant would gain. And if prisoners are given the vote, they'd be eligible too.

Just think how that would go down with the hard-working Brits who suffered the effects of bailing out the banks on our economy.

Professor Philip Booth, of Cass Business School, sums it up nicely.

“It is taxpayers who paid money into the banks but not necessarily taxpayers who get these shares,” he said adding that it could cost £250 million (that's a quarter of a billion pounds) to run a scheme that would lead to fragmented bank ownership - another negative.

Tory MPs are also turning against the idea, floated by Clegg on a trip to Brazil.

Treasury select committe member David Ruffley said the DPM had "not thought it through", arguing the electoral roll would lead to "injustice" in who got shares. Far better to use the money to pay for a cut in the basic rate of income tax which will benefit "hard-working families", he argued.

Shipley MP Philip Davies said the idea was "hopelessly impractical" while Cities of London and Westminster MP Mark Field described it as a "non-starter". Priti Patel added: "The headlines sound great but the pratical side of who gets the shares needs looking at and has got to be questioned."

For his part, Ed Balls said disposing of the shareholdings must be in the best interests of the taxpayer, "not the short-term need to get headlines for Nick Clegg's overseas trip".

The Treasury have pledged to look at all ideas when the time is right but there does not appear to be huge enthusiasm for this particular suggestion. Don't be surprised if you end up having to buy the shares in RBS and Lloyds if you want to get your hands on them.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

16 June 2011 4:43 PM

Clegg's school choice

Nick Clegg gave an awfully big hint at the Press Gallery Lunch Cluib that he may send his kids to the London Oratory School, despite being an atheist.

Well, good for him.

There really is no reason for this to be controversial.  As he pointed out, his wife and children are Catholics and they have every right to choose any school they like. 

It's a fantastic place with a public school ethos (haircuts, homework, holidays - and definitely not bog-standard) but nevertheless is a state-funded comprehensive.

It's the school Tony Blair chose when he lived much further away. Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman picked a selective grammar that was CofE even though the party is against selection and she had cited her husband's faith to justify using a Cathlic school previously.  We all made a fuss at the time but neither Blair nor Harman were wrong - they wanted good schools, which makes them just like every other London parent.

Here's the real issue:  London parents are less likely to get into their first choice of school than people in any other region.

Joe Murphy

Clegg revenge on Huhne


Nick Clegg had a few choice words today on his arch-rival close Cabinet colleague Chris Huhne who is being investigated by police over claims he used his wife's name to avoid a driving ban.

"I really don't know any politician who is better at getting his points across," the Liberal Democrat leader joked at a lunch of journalists, before adding quietly: "That's got him back for Calamity Clegg".

He was referring to Mr Huhne's team seeking to tag him "Calamity" during the Lib-Dem leadership battle in 2007.

Mr Huhne denies the allegation that his now estranged wife took points on her licence to protect him.

The Deputy Prime Minister could also not resist a stinging attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband whose recent performances have left Labour MPs moaning into their beer. 

Contrasting Mr Miliband's woes to the claims about Manchester United star Ryan Giggs' alleged infidelity, he quipped: "One is a fading left winger who has had a bad time in the media . . . The other is Ryan Giggs."

 Nicholas Cecil

Update: Joe Murphy writes:  Cleggie's humour appeared to falter slightly when he saw that mayoral wannabe Lembit Opik was my guest.  I asked what qualities he would look for in a London mayoral candidate - and how the party could cut through againstr Boz and Ken ... On the first part, he mused dangerously "Welsh, Estonian ..?" before saying that it should be someone who knows London well and could campaign on those issues. He ignored the second part of the question. 

31 May 2011 11:39 AM

League 1 to Champions League

Nick Clegg's appearance in the Wembley Royal Box for the Champions League final completed a rise of Roy of the Rovers proportions.

The Deputy Prime Minister was alongside Prince Felipe of Spain and Uefa president Michel Platini to see Barcelona demolish Manchester United in Europe's showpiece final.

It was a far cry from last November, when Clegg stepped in to help save my beloved Sheffield Wednesday from being wound up by the taxman.

His powers of persuasion were successful and Wednesday were taken over by Milan Mandaric - only to slide perilously close to relegation from League 1 and into the fourth tier of English football.

At the time an aide of Clegg's joked that the DPM was beginning to regret helping out - it was the height of his public vilification and he didn't want to be painted as the man who helped send Wednesday down (particularly as his Sheffield Hallam constituency is a Wednesdayite enclave on United's side of the city).

Thankfully (for both Clegg and myself) Wednesday's form picked up and disaster was averted. We'll be in League 1 again next year.

A top ticket to the Champions League final seems like fair reward to me.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

26 May 2011 5:40 PM

Clegg gets muscular

Clegg has gone for it on the NHS Bill in his speech today (full text here).

I don't mean the blood-curdling passage about "dog-eat-dog competition". That sounds fierce but in fact he doesn't actually claim that the Bill would cause such a phenomenon.

The more significant bits are him slowing everything down. He criticises "arbitrary deadlines" and talks of phasing in the introduction of choice. "We're going to tread carefully," he says.

The most significant move of all is not actually in the speech but came out of the Q&A afterwards. He said the Bill would have to go back into the committee stage, which implies many weeks of delays, to get the detail right. 

My understanding is that Andrew Lansley signed off the speech beforehand but was not expecting this little hand grenade. 

Taken together, the Clegg words do not attack the principles of the Bill (he explicitly backs chouice where it will help patients) but are a flat rejection of the way Lansley has rushed everything out.  I suspect that David Cameron, who also approved the speech, would agree with a lot of it. Certainly, there are many around No 10 who think the NHS Bill is so fraught with political risk that they would be glad to see it long-grassed.

Over to you, Health Secretary

Joe Murphy


17 May 2011 4:57 PM

Clegg's ordeal

Nick Clegg has had a miserable hour trying to sell his Lords reforms to the Commons. Actually, "sell" is putting it too strongly as he set out the arguements without much passion.

For Labour, Sadiq Khan was savage about the "dog's dinner" proposals. "Let's be frank, Lords reform is not near the top of any of our constituents' priorities," he jeered - drawing loud "hear hears" from the Tory benches opposite.

Then it was the turn of the Tory right - Bernard Jenkin, John Redwood, Bill Cash, who clearly relished a chance to rag their Coalition partner.

The solidly impressive John Thurso was Clegg's best supporter, pointing his finger first at the Labour benches then towards the Other Place. "Those dinosaurs over there are just feathering the nests of the dinausaurs down there!"

Overall, the support for Clegg was muted. Cameron turned up, but what ought to worry the Coalition leadership was the unwillingness of middle ground Tories to help Clegg out.  Goodwill is ebbing away on both sides of the governing partnership.

Joe Murphy

10 May 2011 5:04 PM

Letwin's clipboard

Oliver Letwin gave a presentation to Cabinet this morning on the Coalition's record to date.

Apparently, it has completed 66 per cent of its target workload for its first year while 31 per cent are works in progress. Only three per cent are overdue.

For uber-geeks, that translates as 842 actions completed, 391 underway and 43 running late.

David Cameron told the Cabinet that the Government was proving to be strong and had momentum on its side. Voters would see it “getting on with the job".

Nick Clegg is telling his parliamentary party tonight that they must take the election disasters on the chin and "finish the job". There will be a "louder Lib Dem voice" in the Government from now on.

It sounds like Christmas dinner after a big family row. Polite (unlike last week's cross-table arguments) but an awful lot not being said out loud.

Joe Murphy

06 May 2011 1:18 PM

Instead of the rose garden

After today's Lib Dem traumas, another "love-in" by David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the Downing Street rose garden is being firmly ruled out.

However, I hear the two leaders will make a joint appearance towards the end of next week, to promote the Coalition's policies to promote employment.

"There's not going to by any renewing the vows," sighs an insider, clearly wearied by wedding analogies about the not-so-civil partnership.

This is the first sign of how they will handle their future relationship in public - unity but not chumminess. Helping the jobless is the sort of issue that aids the image problem that Clegg referred to when he spoke of northern and Scottish voters being afraid of "Thatcherism" coming back.

Lib Dem sources say Clegg is not so much trying to change the direction of the Coalition as change the perception that it is a Tory-led government with Thatchernomics at its core.

But that's not aggressive enough for some of his colleagues.

There is now a clear divide between Lib Dem ministers in the Cabinet. Some, like Chris Huhne, aim to revive activist support by distancing themselves from the Conservatives. Others, like Danny Alexander, appear to see long-term success in showing resolution and sharing the credit when the economy improves.

What do their Tory colleagues think?  Ministers say the Huhne faction is making a big mistake in distancing themselves from George Osborne's economic policies. (And I'm aware some of you may be reminded of the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies: "They would say that, wouldn't they.") One senior Tory says: "There is no point in taking all this pain without at least being seen as a successful partner in turning around the British economy."

Of course, now that polling day is over, the hostilities are diminishing. Paddy Ashdown very slightly ameliorated his eye-watering attack on Cameron by saying he had respected the PM before the AV campaign. Huhne, Cable and Farron have kept their swords sheathed.

I'm sceptical that the Lib Dems can benefit by publicly breaking ranks with Tories in Cabinet. It smacks of a core vote strategy and an abandonment of Clegg's attempts to reach out to new supporters now that he leads a party of government rather than one of protest. And voters hate disunity.

Anyway, there is already a perfectly good anti-Tory outlet for the votes of those who still seethe about 1980s Thatcherism: It's called the Labour Party.

Joe Murphy