Saturday 17 January 2009

Clarke: Tax cuts mean trouble

"Anybody who stands at the next election on a platform of tax cuts is asking for trouble."

That’s what The Guardian has Ken Clarke saying this morning.

It's an interesting one to come out with considering his leader, who is supposedly about to bring him back, recently pledged to abolish income tax on savings.

The plot thickens.

Bad bank

The 'bad bank' solution that Hank Paulson dumped in favour of the Prime Minister’s capitalisation plan last year is back.

While the last bail out was necessary to stop a total collapse, they say, a bad bank is now needed to suck up ‘toxic assets’ poisoning the financial system.

The Telegraph have done a good bit explaining what it all means. They write:

"As with this entire crisis, the main challenge is how to value the assets.

"In order to take control of the toxic investments, the Government would have to give the banks some money in return.

"If it sets the price too low, banks will either refuse to hand the assets over, thereby not solving the systemic problem of a lack of confidence, or will have to take new write-downs to recognise the lower value, further weakening their own books.

"If the price is too high, there will be an outcry that taxpayers’ money is being squandered to save bankers’ skins."

Friday 16 January 2009

Grade F for forethought

There was a proper botch over the GCSE result tables published earlier this week.

Normally the tables are released to the media a few days early so they can sort through the reams of stats.

It means hacks can work out what the figures mean and get stories prepared for publication on the tables' official release date.

But last year new statistics laws were passed which meant no figures could be released to the media more than 24 hours in advance of their official release date.

Ed Balls has now admitted that no-one in DCSF thought about what that might mean for exam tables until after New Year, when it was too late to do anything about it.

The tables were put out to media just one day early, so hardly any newspapers carried detailed breakdowns on the date of official release.

Here’s the best bit – to sort it out Labour is actually going to have to pass a new piece of legislation specifically to allow the early release of exam tables.

That will obviously cost extra time and money and all because it wasn’t thought through in the first place

Tory watching

The Mirror is reporting that the Tory reshuffle has been held up because Ken Clarke is not contactable while he is bird-watching in Paraguay.

The stories are going to get more and more bizarre until Cameron just puts us all out of our misery and gets on with it.

Expenses stink

Harman’s new expense proposals stink so badly it’s as though they’ve been smeared with a festy pigeon.

Why don’t they get that all the stories, all the finger pointing and pontificating, will stop if they just go ahead and publish all the detail of their expenses.

I honestly don’t think most MPs have anything to hide, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the proposals Harman sneaked out yesterday will get passed.

A lot of MPs I’ve spoken to have said they are in favour of total openness but when asked if they will be there on Thursday to defeat the plans start umming and erring.

Others who speak out against the intense media scrutiny of this issue seem to feel victimised as though they are getting an abnormally tough ride compared to, say, the private sector.

They probably are. But they are spending money that comes direct form the tax payer.

Perhaps if we start calling it “best value” they will get the picture.

Sex offender and the Police Minister

Gob-smacking story of the week goes to the American sex offender who ended up working with Vernon Coaker, now Police Minister, in 2005.

Tim Russo (above), who bears an eerie resemblance to celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (below), lived in Gedling for six weeks working with Big Vern.

The Post reported that the Labour Party paid him expenses as a volunteer.

But as he wasn't getting a wage they didn't need to get him a work permit – which would have flagged up his offence.

It was BBC East Midlands that got the scoop, showing Russo had discussed sharing porn with a boy he met online in 2001 and arranged to meet him - only to find out that it was actually an FBI agent.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Cabinet division?

Lobbydog asked Education Secretary Ed Balls what he thought of Labour MPs paying for extra tuition for their kids at lunch today.

Last week Notts MP and cabinet colleague Geoff Hoon was criticised for doing just that.

Balls seemed to question Hoon's judgement.

He said: “It’s a free society in which anybody should be able to make any choice they want based on their own view of their conscious and their beliefs – but it wouldn’t be a choice that Yvette and I would ever make.”

Read the Evening Post parliamentary correspondent's full column on it here.


"Well that didn't go too badly," Geoff Hoon probably thought after the Heathrow announcement.

This was the moment John McDonnell was chucked out of the House after his angry protest at the runway plan.

He stepped down from the benches and picked up the mace that sits in between the party leaders.

A mild protest anywhere else, but sacrilege in the Commons.

Never mind the b*ll*cks

So as not to confuse us hacks Defence Secretary John Hutton tried to avoid highly technical language in the MoD briefing that just finished.

Asked if the Government was going to disband the Ghurkhas he spat: "That's a complete load of old bollocks."

He's going to make a speech later where he'll tell NATO allies that they need to commit more troops to Afghanistan.

He won't name names. But they know who they are.

I'm getting bored of writing about Clarke rumours

While the party leaders argued about Ken Clarke in the Commons yesterday the big beast himself was noticeably absent.

In fact he hasn't been around Westminster at all since before Christmas.

Being the forward outspoken sort, could it be the Notts MP has been advised to keep a low profile while reshuffle fever consumes hacks?

Either way Cameron needs to get on and do it if he is going to.

All the speculation can't be encouraging his current shadow cabinet much.

Also, by letting rumours fly the leader risks cornering himself.

If he decides not to go ahead with Clarke it'll look like he backed down to complaints from the right.

Let's get readaaaay...

Now that it's all but certain that the Heathrow runway is going ahead Lobbydog wants to see a good old ding-dong between two Notts MP.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon is going to be buoyant after winning the cabinet battle over the runway.

Meanwhile Alan Simpson has been an outspoken opponent of the move – and is in rampant form having just threatened a rebellion over the Royal Mail sell-off.

Lobbydog thinks it would be healthy for political interest in Nottingham to see the two slug it out in the Commons.

There might be a chance today or at the next Transport questions on January 27. Bring it on.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Heathrow is on

Newsnight just reported that Hoon will give the green light for the third Heathrow runway tomorrow.

It'll apparently come with a high-speed rail link from St Pancras.

This and the Post Office row, which is just heating up, may form the bulk of stories in coming weeks as Labour rebels look to kick up a fuss.

Their political significance though will depend on how well the Tories can exploit the division.

But do the Conservatives have people who know how to twist the knife?

Royal bust up

Lobbydog hears tensions rose at a meeting between Labour MPs and Mandelson over Royal Mail today.

Views were put to the Business Secretary very "forcefully" that his part-privatisation plan wasn't welcome.

I've heard different things about how many attended, estimates range from 30 to 60, but 71 have signed the EDM rejecting the plan.

Alan Simpson has gone all out and threatened rebellion.

The thing is, Royal Mail is going down the toilet – it's do or die time and at the moment I haven't heard of a coherent alternative plan, only vague ideas.

If there is one, they need to get it on paper quick sharp.

Real questions please

The Prime Minister seemed to get stuck in a rut on his first answer of PMQs today.

Like an old, scratched piece of vinyl that refuses to move on he repeated the words “real help” no less than eight times in a matter of seconds.

The mantra was in response to a question – about today’s business aid package – from former-whip Liz Blackman that was so shamelessly set up even the Erewash MP herself looked embarrassed.

I’d hoped Blackman’s first PMQ since rejoining the backbenches might be meatier, but she obviously still has her eye on future opportunities.

Cameron stood up and said: “Planted question, copied policy.”

He must have been peeved because he said it even before giving thanks for the soldiers that had died in Afghanistan.

The first PMQs in 2009 also offered up further evidence of an imminent return to the shadow cabinet for Ken Clarke.

In the to and fro Cameron had attacked the Government’s 2.5% VAT cut, which Brown then responded by saying that the Rushcliffe MP had supported it.

The Conservative leader pulled out a piece of paper and performed a carefully planned answer which amounted to a defence of Clarke.

Such forethought must mean the Tory team has been anticipating the lines of attack the former Chancellor’s comeback will invoke.

Mercer gears up

The first meeting of Patrick Mercer's new Counter Terrorism Sub Committee has been set for Jan 22.

The committee of four MPs will look at how ready the UK is to deal with attacks.

They are lining up Security Minister Lord West and MI5 to give evidence – some of which will no doubt take place behind closed doors.

The Notts MP promised Lobbydog that it would be as open as possible. Should be interesting.

Simpson sees PM

Alan Simpson has an audience with Brown after PMQs today.

He'll discuss extra help for the fuel poor and is bound to start trying to sell his Tobin Tax idea.

I'll let you know later what was said.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Bad memories

Bells apparently started ringing in Patrick Mercer’s head the minute he heard about the Prince Harry’s racism story.

The Notts MP told Lobbydog he immediately steeled himself for a torrent of calls from hacks – his full comments to the Post are here.

Mercer himself was the centre of a racism scandal a couple of years ago when he said that slurs of the sort Harry made were part of army life.

Dominic Lawson laid into Mercer for criticising the Prince today, calling him a hypocrite.

But seeing as Harry directly used a racist term and Mercer was merely saying that such terms are used, I don't think he's justified.

Lobbydog thinks Harry should just make an apology in person to the people involved and put an end to the whole thing.

Brain boggling

This is a picture comparing the brains of two toddlers, one who was well looked after and one who was deprived.

Can it really be? Apparently so, Graham Allen attaches the image to all his e-mails in support of his cause, early intervention.

As I write the Nottingham North MP is hammering home the message in a Westminster Hall debate.

His patch has the worst teen pregnancy rates in Europe and some of the worst school scores in the country.

Hoon loses altitude?

The PM faced a light grilling at the Parliamentary Labour Party's meeting last night, Lobbydog hears.

Brown agreed to meet rebels over the Heathrow runway issue, suggesting the go-ahead might not come this week.

On another note I read Greenpeace had bought a field that airport authorities would need to build the runway.

They've divided it up into small plots and sold it off to a multitude of owners, making compulsory purchase very tricky – crafty blighters.

If Notts MP and Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon still manages to get it approved this week, it will be quite a feat considering the opposition.

Executive event

"Don't they have a country to run?" asked a Labour MP, surprised at the number of top Government politicians at a signing ceremony last night.

The MP was being sardonic, but he had a point.

The Prime Minister, Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw, Hazel Blears (pictured) and John Denham, not to mention Angela Eagle and Phil Hope had all turned up.

The event was the signing of three Multi Area Agreements (MMAs) – documents that set-up another mini-tier of governance in between councils and regional assemblies.

The press people had been trying to convince us that it was all critically important.

But even if the MMAs have a huge effect on the ground a year from now, it still felt odd having half of the executive in one room for the signing.

Maybe they guessed that if the MMAs – which to read are about as gripping as their name suggests – didn’t draw a crowd, then the recognisable faces would.

Monday 12 January 2009

Tory poster

This is the new Tory poster that's going up on Radcliffe Road. Hard hitting? Not especially. Effective? We'll see.

The campaign marks the next phase of Cameron's attack on Brown, he's now going full out to try and pin blame for the recession on the PM.

If he doesn't succeed the Tories will lose the next election.

Rhetorical questions

Brown's spokesman Michael Ellam gave an answer to Lobbydog's question this morning that characterises Lobby briefings of recent times.

He was asked if the PM recognised that Supplementary Business Rates might increase the tax burden on firms just when the recession was kicking in.

The answer was that the question should be directed to the Treasury for detail.

But he added that Crossrail, for which SBR was concocted, is supported by business.

Translated: I'm not going to answer your question, but I'll tell you how the Government is right.

More and more the briefings are held for comms people to work out new ways of not answering questions rather than providing info to hacks.

There should at least be a little give and take.

Hoon's Heathrow

Talk is that this will be the week that Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon will approve the third runway at Heathrow.

The Notts MP put off the decision before Christmas but will bite the bullet despite opposition within Labour and a united front against the plan from Tories and Lib Dems.

The issue is turning out to be a big test of Hoon's chutzpah in his current role.

He was playing the employment card last week claiming thousands could lose jobs if Heathrow lost its role as a key hub.

Clarke wars

John Denham sought to twist the knife today by claiming the Tories had descended into civil war over the return of Ken Clarke.

Lord Tebbit also spoke out against the Rushcliffe MP's comeback, which is about as unexpected as the rising sun.

Meanwhile Stuart Wheeler, who has given £5m to the party, has threatened to withdraw funding.

Sunday 11 January 2009

New cars are on me!

Cameron suggested today that a Tory government would guarantee loans for people to buy cars.

He was talking on the Marr show about his touted Loan Guarantee Scheme – where the Government certifies loans from banks to small businesses.

He then sidetracked on to how the vehicle market had plummeted because people couldn’t get loans to buy cars.

“What we need is the Loan Guarantee Scheme. We need it to be extended to car financing, so actually we can get people to buy cars again,” he said.

That’s a new one. The kind of comment which probably left his press officers looking at each other behind the camera.

If he was serious his scheme overall would be much more ambitious and potentially more costly than previously thought.

All in all he gave a solid performance including a defence to Labour attacks on his plan to abolish income tax for savers.

Notts MP Geoff Hoon was among those deployed this week demanding to know how the plan would be funded.

Cameron held his ground, refusing to commit detail but explaining his policy would be funded by a reduction in spending increase.

More detail is still needed there. But Cameron has the time which the Government, desperate for results from its policies, doesn’t.

The interview was set in the Tory leader’s home, with the surroundings typically managed.

An i-Pod and Ingrid Bergman poster positioned behind Marr claimed, “the man who lives here is modern, yet classy.”

And then there was the obligatory shot of Dave in his kitchen drinking from a mug.

The only shoddiness was provided by BBC technicians who kept losing the picture just when Cameron was about to say something significant.

That included whether he was bringing back Rushcliffe’s Ken Clarke.

His answer suggested there is indeed fire where there is smoke.

“As far as I’m concerned he’s back already,” he’s said.

“One of the things I’ve done is I’ve brought the Conservative Party together. I’ve got all the big beasts.”

Adding: “We'll just have to wait and see.”


Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Philips revealed herself as a class warrior this morning on the Andrew Marr Show.

After discussing how she had gone back to work two days after having a c-section Arlene started laying into the middle classes.

The discussion was about how Brown-hater Alan Milburn might be brought back by Labour to try and get moiré working class kids into top professions.

“I don’t think that the upper classes and the upper middle classes actually realise what most of the nation live like or the struggle they have,” gushed Arlene.

“I don’t think it even crosses their mind or that they can even believe the poverty, the striving to get somewhere or to be someone and how difficult it is.”

Just in case any righties out there were in doubt about the Beeb’s leftie sentiment, the next guest Richard Thompson appeared wearing a starred beret.