Wednesday, 3 October 2012

West coast disaster for Transport dept..

BREAKING NEWS: The Government has cancelled FirstGroup’s contract to run the West Coast Mainline due to “significant technical flaws” in the bidding process. The details are still emerging, but we know this much:

  • FirstGroup’s contract award is cancelled.
  • All franchising processes paused.
  • Costs of £40m to be reimbursed by DfT to the four West Coast bidders.
  • Patrick McLoughlin blames “deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes made by my department in the way it managed the process", particularly with regards to assessing the risks in each bid.
  • There will be two independent reviews into the way rail franchises are handled - one into the West Coast line specifically, one into the wider rail franchise programme. The
  • Staff of the DfT held responsible for the fiasco will be suspended.
  • While the investigations are ongoing, commuters will continue to be served, although it has not been confirmed whether this will be provided by Virgin or by the Government.

Patrick McLoughlin has just been on the Today programme. He has confirmed that the DfT will pay the costs of the four bidders, and said that the investigation into the West Coast franchise will be concluded by October, with the report into general franchising by the end of the year. He added:

“The original model did not take into account inflation or an increase in passenger numbers over the years. The blame for this lies squarely with the Department for Transport. Neither FirstGroup or Virgin have done anything wrong.

“This is a fault within the department and within the model.”

Talk about a test for new boy Mr McLoughlin: the rail franchising system is fiendishly complex and he will have to get his head round it fast. As Ed Miliband reminded us yesterday, passengers are fed up with relentless fare rises and will be tempted to ask if Whitehall ineptitude is part of the problem. And that's before we get the £40m bill to the taxpayer for this fiasco. The announcement is a terrible blow for the civil service because it appears to justify the criticisms made by Francis Maude in his Institute for Government speech just yesterday.  


Good morning from the Radisson in Manchester, which sits on the site of the Free Trade Hall where Disraeli did not actually use the phrase 'One Nation'. Ed Miliband did though, again and again, and has the headlines to show it. The reviews of his performance are positive, almost ecstatic, in particular on the left. Polly Toynbee is beside herself. But elsewhere Mr Miliband gets lesser marks for content. I argued in my blog that the consensualist feel of the One Nation motif disguised a radical, left-wing message. "Er, that's how we win votes," one of his advisers told me last night. His aides were up front about One Nation being a Trojan horse disguising a world-view that is far from centrist. They want to stick the bill for economic failure on the Tories and parade Mr Miliband as the change (that old trick). Yesterday was a cleverly calculated way of doing that. The question this morning must be: what does Dave do now when he addresses the Tories in Birmingham next week? For a start he needs to get off that hook of failure by reminding us who broke the Britain Mr Miliband claims needs rebuilding. He also needs to account for six months of omnishambles. He needs to rediscover the narrative of a Coalition setting aside political tribalism in the national interest that worked so well for him in 2010. And if you ask the hard men around Labour, they will tell you he needs to overhaul his Downing Street operation, and fast.      

As we report this morning, Mr Miliband’s speech used ‘One Nation’ 41 times, more than his mentions of David Cameron, Labour, Gordon, Tony, and his mother combined. He told the conference that he wanted to adopt Disraeli’s idea because:

“It was a vision of Britain. A vision of a Britain where patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out. It was a vision of Britain coming together to overcome the challenges we faced. Disraeli called it ‘One Nation’. We heard the phrase again as the country came together to defeat fascism. And we heard it again as Clement Attlee’s Labour government rebuilt Britain after the war.”

The Left-leaning commentators are as surprised as they are delighted by Ed’s sudden transformation into a charismatic statesman. In theIndependent, Steve Richards praised Mr Miliband for delivering “one of the cleverest and most significant party conference speeches in recent years.” The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire hailed “the geek done good”, while in the same paper Brian Reade says Mr Miliband “oozed confidence and character”. Writing in today’s Telegraph, Mary Riddell is more cautious, but still optimistic:

“Hard times require great men. Mr Miliband is not yet vaguely comparable to Disraeli, and he may never be. Even so, he has shown a glimmer of the qualities required in every towering leader. Yesterday he gainsaid all those who believed that his speech could alter nothing. If Ed Miliband can change himself so totally, perhaps he really can change Britain.”

In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee praises Mr Miliband’s “breathtaking bravura”, which was such that, “even the enemy press emerged speaking superlatives”. I wonder if she remembers Tony Blair being the first leader to embrace the One Nation idea for Labour? 

In any case, Ms Toynbee need not worry, the enemy press was largely appreciative. The Telegraph’s leader is headlined “so much for the Tories’ ‘secret weapon’”, while in the Mail, even Quentin Letts finds some kind words for Mr Miliband, although he is more appreciative of his comic prowess than his political skills. Perhaps the man most displeased with the Disraeli reference is the great man himself, as re-imagined byConservativeHome.

On the blogs, it was Ed’s new found role as a man of the people which struck a chord. At the Spectator, Alex Massie thought the speech contained “a whiff of Teddy Roosevelt populism”, a sentiment also expressed by Henry Manson who felt that “Ed’s speech owes as much to Danny Boyle as it does to Disraeli.” I wrote that, while the speech had a number of structural flaws, it would pose problematic questions for the Conservatives:

“Superficially, this was a triumph. Once again Mr Miliband has demonstrated his knack for making headlines and defining the debate. Last year it was predatory capitalism, this year it's One Nation Labour. The party had to endure hearing a leader praise Disraeli; Downing Street must now contemplate whether to reply in Birmingham next week, and thereby allow the enemy to set the terms of the debate, or ignore it altogether and so appear to desert the battlefield.”

The dissenting voice was John Rentoul at Independent Blogs who deemed it a triumph of style over substance:

“Though the whole of Twitter seemed to think it was totes amazeballs that a politician could memorise large chunks of a long speech, just as they thought when David Cameron did it, it was even worse than I thought it would be... He did not say anything. Except platitudes, familiar second-tier policies such as apprenticeships and a technical baccalaureate, and more platitudes.”

Other areas of improvement? Perhaps Mr Leader should take some fashion tips from his wife Justine who has emerged as an unlikely style icon over the course of the conference. Staid choice of wardrobe aside, however, it was a good day for the Labour leader.


While his conference speech will be unpicked for the remainder of the week, its historical roots are already under the microscope. Benjamin Disraeli did not actually use the term “one nation” in Manchester, as theGuardian’s Michael White points out:

“Though he called Gladstone's team "a range of exhausted volcanoes" Disraeli didn't actually say ‘one nation’ in Manchester, nor in his second speech at the Crystal Palace, in June. He didn't have to: it was his brand”


Ed’s day wasn’t all sunshine. The Sun reports that the leader rebuked Liam Byrne after the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary told the Today programme that the party would review universal entitlements for the elderly such as free bus passes and TV licences. Mr Byrne was apparently “slapped down” after making the remarks which fall uncomfortably close to an endorsement of Lib Dem policy following Nick Clegg’s speech in Brighton.


Yvette Cooper’s conference speech is marked out in today’s papers. TheGuardian reports that she will set out plans to make interest rate manipulation a crime, while the Times (£) reports that Ms Cooper will also demand earlier police intervention in ‘grooming’ cases. With reports that Ed Balls is keen to displace Mr Miliband and place his wife on the Labour throne now more muted, following Ed M’s conference speech, Ms Cooper’s speech will have lost some of its significance to the wider conference narrative, but should still be the day’s headline act.


The Telegraph splash this morning is news that Maria Miller, the new womens’ minister, has backed a move to lower the abortion term limit from 24 to 20 weeks. Mrs Miller told Cathy Newman in an interview for the Telegraph’s new women’s chanel:

"You have got to look at these matters in a very common sense way. I looked at it from the really important stance of the impact on women and children. 

"What we are trying to do here is not to put obstacles in people's way but to reflect the way medical science has moved on.”


The ambitious nuclear programme backed by the Coalition has been dealt a blow after only two firms made a bid for involvement in the Government’s Horizon programme. The FT (£) reports that an anticipated bid from a Franco-Chinese consortium led by Aviva failed to materialise, leading to worries about how the programme will be financed without Chinese capital.


The Mail reports that Jeremy Hunt pocketed £366,000 from outside business interests last year from his publishing firm Hotcourses. Although Mr Hunt set up the business before entering Parliament, the presentational problem inherant in NHS workers having wages frozen by a minister earning half a million pounds a year will not be lost on the Conservatives, or Labour for that matter.


John Woodcock had more pressing matters to attend to than his leader’s speech:

@JWoodcockMP: “V strange not to be hall, instead translated for a three-year-old on sofa until hungry hippos became more of a draw (for her not me) #Lab12


In The Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Not yet a Disraeli, but Miliband has taken a step closer to No 10

Philip Johnston - Is the Coalition really giving us a freer society? 

Tim Stanley - Only a spark of magic can save Mitt Romney now

Alastair Heath - There's plenty that Labour could do, given some fresh thinking 

Best of the rest

Danny Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Buy one political promise...get one free!

Patrick O’Flynn in the Daily Express - Ed Miliband gave a polished speech with no substance

Seamus Milne in The Guardian - Ed Miliband must move further and faster from New Labour 

Steve Richards in The Independent - Ed's display of style and substance will worry the Tories


Today: Labour conference continues in Manchester. First US presidential debate. 

09:30 am: Conference speech by Paul Kenny, GMB union.

11:00 am: Speech by Sadiq Khan and Yvette Cooper.

12:00 pm: Speech by Andy Burnham.

02:15 pm: Q&A session with Ed Miliband.