Friday 4 December 2009

A right old stitch up?

There has been a right old spat going on in Sherwood constituency where Labour wannabe MPs are vying to become the party’s candidate.

Whoever wins will take over from Paddy Tipping MP who is standing down after suffering a heart attack earlier this year.

The local Labour group got in a tizzy when the ruling National Executive Committee decided the candidate should be chosen from an all woman shortlist.

That was despite local party members making it clear they didn’t want one. As if that wasn’t enough it seems the national party is favouring one female candidate in particular.

“I can smell a stitch up a mile away, and this stinks,” one local party member told me.

The favoured candidate is Emilie Oldknow who also happens to be the party’s East Midlands director – so could theoretically have a certain amount of influence over the selection process anyway.

Another candidate, Helen Holt, has now quit the race claiming the way applications were given out favoured Oldknow.

Just to put the cherry on the stitch-up cake, it turns out Oldknow is also going out with Jonathan Ashworth a Downing Street Advisor.

She may as well just wear a parachute to the selection contest.

Thursday 3 December 2009

U-turn pending

Lobbydog has learnt that Number 10 is on the brink of officially announcing a U-turn on childcare vouchers.

At present, working parents can make savings on the cost of childcare by opting to receive £243 of their monthly pay in vouchers before income tax and National Insurance are deducted.

However Gordon Brown had said no new entrants would be accepted to the scheme after 2011, while the tax relief would end for all people still receiving the vouchers from 2015.

At conference the PM said the money saved would instead be used to provide 40% of two-year-olds with ten hours of free childcare a week on a means-tested basis.

But a revolt by Labour women who reckoned the change would push middle class voters away has forced the plan to be shelved.

I understand that they may simply take people on the top rate income tax off the vouchers scheme but retain the rest – time will tell.

News of the U-turn had yet to be confirmed by Downing Street officials, who until now claimed that no decisions had been made.

David Cameron Mark 2

If Cameron wins the election, this guy who has been hired as his lookalike could make a killing...

Nuclear betrayal

Lobbydog was last night chatting with Archie Ross – an RAF veteran who was on Christmas Island when the Government carried out H-bomb tests in the 50s.

Today the 74-year-old needs surgery every three months to remove skin growing in front of his eyes that he fears will eventually leave him blind.

Meanwhile his daughter Julie, now grown up, was born with a series of deformities including a finger that was 18 inches long, an arm twice the size of an average one and a host of chest problems.

He’s one of a thousand vets experiencing health problems who are fighting for compensation.

In June a judge gave them the green light to sue the MoD, and ordered the ministry to attempt to negotiate a deal with the vets.

But so far they have refused to settle on grounds acceptable to the victims and their families.

As an MoD official put it bluntly last night “we are therefore proceeding to the court of appeal”. Despicable.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Finally, a fight to watch

Something must have happened at Number 10 this week.

It was as though somebody opened a door in the side of Gordon Brown’s head, climbed in, found the light switch and turned it on.

He dumped his ‘morals’ about not making personal attacks, and launched a withering assault on Cameron the man.

The day started off looking like every other PMQs for months – “your policies have left us in recession, when everyone else is out” Vs “you have no policies; this is what we’ve done that you opposed”.

But then Brown came out with something that took everyone, and Cameron, by surprise.

“The voice maybe that of a modern public relations man, the mindset is that of the 1930s,” said the PM.

It was not a killer blow and it smelt like Brown had only just remembered the pre-prepared line and slipped it in, but it didn’t matter.

An attack on Cameron the slick salesman has been cried out for from the Labour benches. Here it was, and the House came to life.

Cameron defended dismissively, “I think that one must have sounded great in the bunker.”

He then hit back launching a counter attack on Ed Balls that raised the stakes – “you would have thought he would spend more time in his ultra marginal constituency. Perhaps he agrees with us, that the more he meets people the more likely we are to win it.”

Cameron then got back to the old lines. If the PM had responded alike DC might have taken the day.

But the Labour leader, and it feels like a long time since he’s really been that at PMQs, kept his guns firmly on Cameron.

“The more he talks, the less he actually says.”

By this time there was a flood of background noise swirling around the Commons floor, as the pair began to spar over inheritance tax.

Cameron accused Brown of raising the threshold, Brown had the final word.

His attack was essentially an old one – Tories want tax breaks for the few, Labour wants public services for the many. But with the House in the mood it was it scored the point.

“With him and Mr Goldsmith, their inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton,” he said.

I can’t help but feel that Cameron expected today to be like every other PMQs recently and was caught with his pants down. He has some serious thinking to do if he wants to keep on top of things.

Meanwhile Brown has to prove that this was not a momentary spark and that he can keep the pressure up in this way.

Given that many of the PM’s attacks came from the same ideological ground he’s always fought on, he proved today that often on the Commons floor it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it, that counts.

Holding on to the crown jewels

A Labour MP told Lobbydog earlier that the Government was making a huge mistake with its European Financial Services Proposals.

The crux of his gripe was that the credit crunch was leading us to erroneously allow the EU to micro-regulate our biggest industry.

The MP, South Derbyshire’s Mark Todd, is not anti-EU and does not does not disagree with EU regulation ideologically.

But he argues that the EU doesn’t have the know-how to come up with rules for things like hedge funds, which they have little experience of.

“The difficulty is that we have the largest financial sector in Europe, is so far as we compete with the Americans, whereas many EU countries have smaller or non existent financial service sectors.

“Some of the models we follow are not common in those countries – in fact a lot of the most technical financial products are only sold through London.

“I just don’t see the benefits of letting the rulebook be written by a group of people that know little about the subject, but have an innate suspicion of the Anglo-Saxon model of financial services.”

I can already hear some people shouting that the problems we felt in this country through the recession were not so keenly felt in the EU, so why shouldn’t we let them regulate.

But don’t forget that the credit crunch erupted from the banking sector and in-part from insurance – regulations obviously need tightening there.

That doesn’t mean we should accept regulations of other parts of the sector where the model has not been discredited.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Sir Pat coins a phrase

On announcing he would stand down as an MP Sir Patrick Cormack said: "I am not retiring - I am merely changing direction."

It reminded me of several other phrases including:

“I am not fat, I am merely big boned.”

“I am not lazy, I am being serene.” (One I confess to using many years ago as a lazy teen.)


“I am not an expenses cheat, I acted within the rules.” (A more recent addition to the phrase book.)

Feel free to make any suggestions.

Hung Parliament?

When a poll is favourable a politician hails it as a reflection of the public’s will. If it’s not, they say – “there’s only one poll that matters, and that’s the one on election day.”

For months it’s been Labour lips urging commentators to wait for the poll that matters, but for the first time a Tory MP spouted the same line to me this morning.

We were chatting about the ComRes poll for the Indy which suggests the next election will result in a hung Parliament, the second to do so.

It’s not a massive blow to Cameron considering another poll by YouGov recently said they had a lead in key marginal seats in the North.

But it will plant an itchy seed of doubt that should spur Cameron to shift up a gear.

Moreover, it should bolster Labour MPs who have been looking for evidence that the Tory leader has really “not sealed the deal”, the line they’ve been hopefully gushing while their party has wondered electoral wastelands.