Saturday, 28 February 2015

Holes in the net..

Unsurprisingly the story dominating today's news agenda is the revelation of Jihadi John's real identity. The security  service and the police do not come out of it well. Our splash is "MI5 blunders that allowed Jihadi John to slip the net". 

Similarly, the Guardian has "Isis murderer is Londoner on MI5's radar since 2009" on its front page. The Times leads with "Isis butcher had been MI5 terror suspect for six years". The Daily Mirror focuses on the daughter of one of his victims, David Haines. "Please avenge my dad" is the headline. The Mail and the Sun both have a picture of a young Jihadi John on their front pages. "Jihadi Junior" is the Sun's take, while "Angelic schoolboy who turned into a reviled executioner" is the Mail's lead.     

It all raises serious questions for the security services. Both MI5 and the police came into contact with Jihadi John at least a dozen of times. A botched attempt was made to "turn" Mohammed Emwazi after he was first intercepted six years ago, when they feared he was trying to join a Somali terrorist group. Despite this, he was able to slip out of the country and join Isis in Syria. It is likely that MI5 will face an Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry into its dealings with Emwazi and whether more should have been done. Presumably someone other than Sir Malcolm Rifkind will chair it.

Politically, we may well see yet anohter revival of the debate about security laws.  Did weakened control orders help Emwazi leave the UK? Would the Snoopers' Charter (or something more far-reaching) prevent a repeat of this sorry tale?

Meanwhile, the campaign group Cage has tried to put the blame for Emwazi's radicalisation with MI5. Cage's warped logic is the British security service was trying to prevent Emwazi from becoming a fully-fledged jihadist. In frustration at his treatment, Emwazi became a jihadist fighter. Ergo, the security services are responsible for Jihadi John. The sheer chutzpah of this argument is bewildering. There is, however, an audience for this warped logic. It has long been a popular narrative in the West to blame Islamist terrorism on Western foreign policy. The logic is that if Blair and Bush hadn't invaded Iraq, then these nice boys from west London wouldn't be chopping-off heads now. It is intellectually lazy and dishonest. Bin Laden's al-Qaeda, for instance, emerged originally from reactionary wars in central and eastern Asia, such as the battle for a separate Muslim state in the Philippines, the fighting in Kashmir, as well as the Uighur territories in China, and Afghanistan. In Nigeria, moreover, al-Qaeda off-shoot Boko Haram is fomenting civil war without mentioning Blair and Bush as their guiding inspiration. In short, we mustn't humour the line of argument that the West is to blame for Emwazi. 

As our leader points out today, King's College London's International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation have stated: "Radicalisation… is not something driven by poverty or social deprivation. Ideology clearly plays a big role in motivating some men to participate in jihadist causes." The sooner we understand and appreciate the fact that many are simply attracted to jihadism because it gives them purpose, fulfilment and the promise of heavenly glory, the easier it will be to deal with the issue. 

There was much embarrassment yesterday for David Cameron after his pledge to reduce immigration was shown to be a complete failure, reports Matthew Holehouse. He promised "no ifs, no buts" to cut migration to under 100,000 in the Conservative manifesto. However, the net inflow of people last year was 298,000.  Nigel Farage may have been in Washington yesterday (odd choice, that) but he was still quick to seize the opportunity.  "Cameron had a contract with the British people. He said, 'if I fail on this you can judge me.' Well, judgement day has come," the Ukip leader said. With the Ukip conference this weekend in Margate, this "judgement day" couldn't have come at a better time for the kippers after a woeful week with declining poll ratings and an embarrassing TV documentary.

George Osborne's claim that he "halved" a surprise £1.7 billion EU budget surcharge presented to Britain by Brussels last year has been dismissed by senior MPs, reports George Parker in the FT. The chancellor has launched a damage limitation exercise and has travelled to Brussels for emergency talks with the European Commission. Both Labour and Ukip have mocked his claim, arguing that he just secured the usual British rebate that applies to all contributions to the EU budget.

Ed Miliband's plans to lower tuition fees will be done by using a tax raid on savers, report Christopher Hope and Steven Swinford. The Labour leader is finally unveiling the plans today at an event in Leeds. It is thought he will say that if elected he will cut fees from £9,000 to £6,000. This would be paid for by lowering the £40,000 ceiling on the amount savers can put aside each year tax-free or cutting the lifetime tax-free limit of £1.25million per pension. Taking from the old to give to the young: welcome to the first intergenerational election. 

Ed Balls refused to rule out a power-sharing agreement with the SNP yesterday, putting the notion of a Labour-SNP government deal back on the cards, Lindsay McIntosh reports in the Times. The shadow chancellor did, however, attack terms the Scottish first minister has set for such a deal including £180 billion more public spending and the scrapping of Trident. 

The Daily Express  and the Guardian say that Farage is on course to win South Thanet in May. The Ukip leader will welcome the news, especially after that misjudged trip to Washington.  Also, there is a great profile of Farage in the Telegraph today 

Britain will never have enough entrepreneurs if children do not know how money is made and "how to turn a profit", Cameron said during an interview with the Institute of Directors monthly magazine. Schools must do more to help create the future "Richard Branson's and Karren Brady's". The prime minister added he wanted CEOs to get involved with their local schools to teach kids these things. 



@steve_hawkes: Shadow Minister Rachel Reeves wrote a book 'Why vote Labour'.. David Dimbleby asks "Did you reach a conclusion?" #bbcqt 


From The Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph – We must assert our superior Western values 
Fraser Nelson- Putin has changed the rules of war and is building an empire 

From elsewhere
Maajid Nawaz - Like Mohammed Emwazi, I was radicalised. So I know how extremists exploit grievances 
Philip Collins - Labour's dumbest idea is cutting tuition fees 


1200: Cameron is to give a speech at the Welsh Conservative Party Spring Conference
Ed Miliband will deliver a speech where he is expected to restate his pledge to cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year
Ukip's Spring Conference opens in Margate
Lloyds Banking Group is to publish its preliminary full-year results. The government owns almost a quarter of the bank
The German Parliament is to vote on a four-month extension to bailout arrangements for Greece

Main Chamber - 0930: 
Legislation: Health Service Commissioner for England (Complaint Handling) Bill - Report stage - Mr David Davis
Legislation: House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill [HL] - Report stage - Sir George Young
Legislation: Office for Budget Responsibility (Political Party Policy Costings) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Jobs Guarantee Scheme (Research) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Terms and Conditions (Migrant Workers) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (Betting Shops) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: High Cost Credit Services (Retail Premises) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (Repeal) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Letting Agents (Fees) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Firearm and Shotgun Licensing (Domestic Violence) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (Statutory Requirement) Bill - Second reading - Caroline Lucas
Legislation: Tyres (Buses and Coaches) Bill - Second reading - Steve Rotheram
Legislation: Public Services (Ownership and User Involvement) Bill - Second reading - Caroline Lucas
Legislation: Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill - Second reading - Thomas Docherty
Legislation: National Defence Medal Bill - Second reading - Stephen Gilbert
Legislation: Electronic Cigarettes (Advertising and Legal Age of Purchase) Bill - Second reading - Geraint Davies
Legislation: Railways Bill - Second reading - Caroline Lucas
Legislation: Low Pay Commission (National Minimum Wage) Bill - Second reading - Dan Jarvis
Legislation: Housing (Affordability, Supply and Tenant Protection) Bill - Second reading - Caroline Lucas
Legislation: Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill - Second reading - Mr David Ward
Legislation: Working Time Directive (Limitation) Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Zero Hours Contracts Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Ian Mearns
Legislation: Funeral Services Bill - Second reading - Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck
Legislation: Bat Habitats Regulation Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Energy (Buildings and Reduction of Fuel Use) Bill - Second reading - Dr Alan Whitehead
Legislation: Houses in Multiple Occupation (Energy Performance Certificates and Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards) Bill - Second reading - Dr Alan Whitehead
Legislation: Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill - Second reading - Geraint Davies
Legislation: Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Convicted Prisoners Voting Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill - Second reading - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Iain Stewart
Legislation: Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill - Second reading (Day 2) - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill - Second reading - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill - Second reading - Mr Christopher Chope
Legislation: Wild Animals in Circuses Bill - Second reading - Jim Fitzpatrick MP
Adjournment: Investigation of deaths in mental health settings - Mr Charles Walker

Main Chamber - 1000 :
Legislation: International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill - Report stage - Lord Purvis of Tweed
Legislation: Control of Horses Bill - Second reading
Legislation: Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill - Second reading
Legislation: Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill - Second reading

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Coming and going..

Immigration is back on the agenda today. It is not great news for the Conservatives. 
Our splash "Britain's high achievers take flight" details how new research from UCL reveals there is a brain drain of thousands of talented workers leaving the UK for lucrative jobs abroad, while six times as many migrants with low numeracy skills are arriving. 
Talented people emigrating are not the issue for David Cameron. Coming and going is part of life, after all. To hold the government responsible for that is unfair. Other countries offer more lucrative lifestyles. Not much can be done about that. The issue, however, is that the PM has failed in his key "no ifs, no but" pledge in 2011 to reduce immigration. He promised to cut net migration to the "tens of thousands" by May 2015. Official immigration statistics announced today will show he will miss that by a mile. Which raises the question: why did he make such an unachievable promise? And will the Conservatives repeat it at this election?
People care about immigration.  They also care about politicians who make promises they don't deliver on. As recently as November the net migration figure was 260,000 – some 16,000 higher than when the Coalition Government was formed. Today is a much-needed gift for Ukip after the battering it has had recently, with falling poll ratings and that TV programme. Still, Nigel Farage is in America, so the Kippers may not fully capitalise on the opportunity. There's also another horrid Jimmy Savile report out today, the timing of which has some Kippers muttering darkly about burying bad immigration news. 

Military spending must be protected, William Hague tells the FT's George Parker and Kiran Stacey. "I'm totally in favour of maintaining Nato obligations, and I've been totally in favour of spending 2 per cent — at least 2 per cent — of our national income on defence in this parliament," the former Tory leader says. "The world is becoming systematically less stable. That is certainly one of the things I conclude from the experience of being foreign secretary."  This is a big deal.  There's a growing sense in Tory circles that Mr Cameron has to move towards some sort of promise to protect defence spending.  Keep watching this one. 

Growing up with a surname like Balls clearly creates a healthy sense of humour. Yesterday the shadow chancellor boasted he was a "long, slow burner" in bed on LBC radio after the presenter Iain Dale played out recordings from members of the public rating his sex appeal . The Times has the story

The BBC licence fee is becoming "anachronistic" and should be scrapped, a cross-party committee of MPs has said. Steven Swinford writes the MPs accuse the corporation's broadcasting of not being "brave enough" and that the BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation, has "failed to meet expectations" and should be abolished in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. 

Westminster is to devolve NHS spending power to Greater Manchester. Ten councils will gain control of £6bn a year of NHS spending. The aim of such decentralisation is to improve the link between NHS services and social care. It is part of the chancellor's plan to create a "northern powerhouse" that rivals London's economy. Most of the councils are Labour-dominated. Yet there is conflict in the Labour party about such devolution. In today's Daily Telegraph James Kirkup explains the policies and politicsbehind the Chancellor's plan to empower northern cities.  

Ed Miliband has seized control of the contest to choose a candidate to challenge George Galloway's seat after accusations of vote-rigging, Laura Pitel reports in the Times. An emergency meeting was held to discuss the Bradford West constituency after its chosen candidate stood down just 72 hours after selection, following claims of clan-based politics among local British-Pakistanis.   

George Galloway was left red-faced after inviting Twitter users to send him questions using the hashtag #AskGalloway. The Respect MP received a barrage of abuse and refused to answer any questions. "I must say there is nothing like Twitter to remind you of the sea of ignorance, filth, racism, hatred and utter banality that's out there," he wrote.

In what can only be described as a rant,  John Cleese yesterday likened journalists arguing for self-regulation to murderers wanting to police themselves during a press reform rally. He also accused newspaper editors of being cold-blooded liars who only wanted control to remain fully within the industry so they could be "free to do what they damn well like". His comments at a Hacked Off event in parliament angered campaigners who were following proceedings on Twitter. Confrontation resulted after Guido Fawkes reporter Alex Wickham was asked to stand up and was then subsequently berated by Hacked Off associate director Evan Harris.  


@jamiesont: Even Natalie Bennett and The Greens are sitting home thinking f*** me this is embarrassing #BRITAwards COMMENT

From The Telegraph
Con Coughlin – Ignoring defence is a mistake, Mr Cameron 

Tim Stanley - Publishing Mein Kampf is the best way to undermine Hitler's poison 

From elsewhere
Mick Hume - Hugh Grant: Hero of the fight for press freedom? 
David Aaronovitch – These Muslim delusions are a danger to us all  


0930 ONS to publish its second estimate of GDP growth in Q4 2014
Ed Miliband is to give a speech at the EEF National Manufacturing Conference
Nigel Farage is to deliver a speech at the US Conservative Political Action Conference
David Cameron and Theresa May are to meet Saudi Arabid's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef
Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham are to speak at Nuffield Health Policy Summit
The Royal Bank of Scotland is to publish its full-year results. 


Main Chamber
0930 Oral Questions: Culture, Media and Sport, including Topical Questions; Women and Equalities
Business Statement: Leader of the House
Statement: Select Committee Statement on the publication of the Fourth Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, session 2014-15: Future of the BBC (HC 315 2014-15)
Backbench Business: (i) Equitable life (ii) Epilepsy
Adjournment: Government support for victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham - Sarah Champion
Select Committee
1030: European Scrutiny: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Witness(es): Lord Livingston of Parkhead, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Room 15, Palace of Westminster

Main Chamber
1100 Oral Questions: 
Economic impact of the increase in Entrepreneurs' Relief
Syrian refugees becoming permanent residents
Local Government Association's report tackling obesity
The increase of court fees and the assessment of the impact of that policy on access to justice
Debate: 4th Report from the Select Committee (Access and the use of facilities by members on leave of absence and disqualified members) (HL Paper 104)
Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill - Committee of the whole House
Orders and Regulations: Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5 and Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2015
Short Debate: The effect of the EU regulation on British agriculture
Orders and Regulations: Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
Orders and Regulations: Representation of the People (Ballot Paper) Regulations 2015
Orders and Regulations: Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2015 Lord Wallace of Saltaire to move that the draft Order laid before the House on 15 January be approved.
Select Committee
1005: External Affairs (EU Sub-Committee C). Witness(es): (at 10.05am) evidence will be heard from Mr Edward Barker, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Committee Room 1, Palace of Westminster

Thanks for reading. I can be reached on Twitter @BLazarus1


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Never had it so good..

It's the economy, stupid, and the latest economic news is a pre-election gift for the Tories. Shares are up, inflation is down and former critics are being nice about Coalition economic policy

Our splash is "FTSE 100 hits an all-time high"  while The Daily Express splashes with "Shares rocket to record high", and the Times says "FTSE soars to new high as recovery gathers pace" on page one, too.  The Financial Times has the story on page one, but warns about getting too optimistic: "Footsie record return to tech bubble highs – but keep the champagne on ice" is their headline. 

Angel Gurria, head of the OECD has described the Chancellor's policies as a "text book" example for other countries. He said Britain deserved a "pat on the back" and now needs to "finish the job".

This is surely good news for the Tories. Pensioners are a key demographic. They save. They like rising shares and they dislike inflation.  And they vote. Tories are hoping that good economic news could even lure some older voters back from Ukip. And the economy remains the best Tory weapon against Labour.  Now, let's see if the economic good news can lift the Conservative poll number out of the 32 per cent quagmire where it's been stuck for quite some time.


Sir Malcolm Rifkind ended his 40-year parliamentary career yesterday after he was cut-off by No.10 and disowned by fellow MPs. It was a pitiful end. While insisting he had done nothing wrong, he admitted he may have made "errors of judgement", adding "we are all human beings in that sense." The FT report that he may be in line for a peerage following his swift exit. One Tory minister told the paper: "If he is exonerated, of course a position in the House of Lords is on the cards."


Local Conservative members in Kensington will be given three candidates to choose from by the Conservative Central Office. James Cracknell, the Olympic rowing gold medallist and Jeremy Paxman are just a few of the names being bandied about, reports Christopher Hope.  While the Sun says TV historian Dan Snow is being "pushed" by Downing Street to stand.  TV personality Kirstie Allsop ruled herself out despite Twitter speculation she would stand.  The Deputy Mayor of London, Victoria Borwick, is also said to be in the frame. It would certainly be a boost for the party's image to back a woman in such a safe seat. 


The Guardian splashes on "PM deploys troops to Ukraine" This story also makes our page one   and the Times.  David Cameron's decision to deploy British troops to Ukraine to support government-backed soldiers came as a surprise. He warned not standing up to Vladimir Putin would have "deeply damaging" consequences for Europe. It is very unlikely that this move will have a decisive impact on the conflict, but it is symbolic. The troubling question is what happens next if Putin escalates Russia's involvement to a Nato member on the Baltic? Does the rest of the alliance really have the willingness to invoke its Article Five promise of collective defence?


The Times  splashes on "Tories call for Boris to rescue their  campaign". It reports that some in the party are worried that they need a more positive message and senior Tories believe placing Boris Johnson centre-stage in the election campaign would help lift them out of that 32 per cent quagmire I mentioned. YouGov polling for the newspaper confirms Johnson's status as one of one of Britain's most popular politicians. 


The Guardian run Natalie Bennet's apology for her LBC car crash interview on page one. The interview - which was timed to coincide with the Green's 2015 campaign launch - makes for painful listening. She attributed her excruciating performance to a "mental brain fade". Arguably it is a delight for Labour. Stephen Bush, formerly of this parish, writes in the New Statesman that Labour strategists see the Green leader as their secret weapon. However, it remains to be seen how much harm it will do to the Greens come May. There may be some movement among voters alarmed at her grasp of policy. But for many Greens it may not be a problem. The interview demonstrated that their leader isn't a polished career politician, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in their eyes (and indeed the eyes of other voters). It is possible, therefore, that disillusioned Labour voters who were planning to vote Greens will not be that bothered by the interview. Whatever the case, Michael Deacon's sketch on Bennett and the Greens today is glorious.  


It has been a bad week for UKIP. First, the airing of the BBC documentary Meet the Ukippers in which former councillor Rozanne Duncan said she had "a problem with people with negroid features." Now, according to an exclusive YouGov poll conducted for the Huffington Post,  people think that the party is just a flash in the pan and won't be around in ten years. With polls suggesting Ukip support is dropping slowly, is the Farage bandwagon finally starting to slow?




@KirstieMAllsopp: Oh bugger it, I might as well say it - Malcolm Rifkind is my local MP & I doubt very much they'll manage to replace him with someone better.


From The Telegraph

Graeme Archer - Natalie Bennett car-crash LBC interview: She had it coming

Toby Young - Douglas Carswell is on manoeuvres. But will his pro-immigration rhetoric sink Ukip

From elsewhere

Daniel Finkelstein - 71 days to go and Ed has no campaign in sight 

Rafael Behr - British politics isn't so much rotten as past its use-by date



0930 BIS committee hears from Vince Cable

1200 PMQs ahead of an opposition day debate on MPs holding second jobs

1415 HSBC chairman Douglas Flint and chief exec Stuart Gulliver are to give evidence to the Treasury Committee on alleged tax evasion at HSBC's Swiss Private Bank

1415 Public accounts committee hears from BBC director-general Lord Hall

1630 Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to appear before the Public Administration Committee. He will be questioned on NHS complaints and clinical failure

1800 Nicola Sturgeon to give a speech about the future of Scotland at the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh




Main Chamber

1130 Oral Questions: Scotland

1200 Prime Minister's Question Time

Ten Minute Rule Motion: Employment of People with Disabilities (Reporting) - Debbie Abrahams

Debate: Opposition Day debate (18th allotted day) - Subject to be announced

Adjournment: Care for childhood cancers - Nicola Blackwood


Select Committee

0905 Science and Technology: Future of the Food and Environment Research Agency. Room 15, Palace of Westminster

0930 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Room 5, Palace of Westminster

0930 Business, Innovation and Skills: Work of the Department. Room 8, Palace of Westminster

0930 Health: Impact of physical activity and diet on health. The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House

0945 Human Rights: The UK's compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

1400 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Room 5, Palace of Westminster

1410 Environmental Audit: A 2010-15 progress report. Room 6, Palace of Westminster

1415 Public Accounts: BBC estate. Room 15, Palace of Westminster

1415 Treasury: HM Revenue and Customs and HSBC. Room 8, Palace of Westminster

1430 European Scrutiny: EU document scrutiny. Room 19, Palace of Westminster

1500 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Work of the Committee 2010-15. Room 16, Palace of Westminster

1630 Public Administration: NHS Complaints and Clinical Failure. The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House



Main Chamber

1500 Oral Questions

Access to finance for small businesses

Assessment of broadband services in rural areas and city technology hubs in the UK

Whether soils in England will sustain long-term food production

Leisure industry support for turban-wearing members of the Sikh community

Legislation: Modern Slavery Bill - Report stage (Day 2) - Lord Bates

Short Debate: Mental health services


Select Committee

1000 Extradition Law: Private meeting. Committee Room 4, Palace of Westminster

1030 Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy (EU Sub-Committee D): Private meeting. Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster

1600 Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection (EU Sub-Committee E): Private meeting. Committee Room 1, Palace of Westminster

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw..

Unsurprisingly Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Mr Straw continue to dominate the news agenda, following our scoop yesterday and the airing of Channel 4's undercover report last night. 

"Straw to take job with firm he lobbied for in Commons," is our splash  . The Times lead with "Party grandees' careers in tatters over lobbying sting" while the Daily Mirror splashes with "Top Tory: I am entitled to more than £67k salary".

The fallout from the two men discussing using their privileged positions as politicians to help out a fictitious Chinese company in return for money is likely to stay on the news agenda for a little while. The only time many of the public care about politics is when they feel aggrieved and hard-done-by. Negative politics has an audience. 

An Tory gent like Sir Malcolm stating "You'd be surprised how much free time I have" and describing himself as "self-employed" is likely to grind some gears for a while. In particular, his claim that he wanted "the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have" is not going down well with the public. If there is one thing the British like to be annoyed off about besides the lack of sunshine in this country, it is politicians who appear greedy and deny any wrong-doing.  It sticks in people's throats. It smells bad. People might not necessarily be able to pinpoint exactly what grates about it. It just does. In a sharp column in today's Times, Rachel Sylvester quotes a Downing Street strategist who describes it as the 'smell test'.  Sylvester writes: "Perception matters as well as reality in politics… they unfortunately look like grasping grandees willing to sell their contact books, if not their souls, for £5,000… the whole thing fails what one No 10 strategist calls the 'smell test'." Richard Littlejohn also echoes this his Mail column, writing: "It can't be right that any MP can double his money by acting as a glorified errand boy for a private company." 

So, besides the party suspensions and ongoing parliamentary investigation should anything be done to stop this happening again in the future? Or should we just accept that politicians having second jobs and outside interests is something that is part of our political landscape?

Dan Hodges says the answer is to whack up MPs pay to £150,000. But is this too simplistic a notion? Would this stop potential MPs from entering parliament? And, if so, would this stop our political lives being as enriched? Philip Johnston says we need MPs with experience of real life.   While The Sun's leader is slightly less generous with wages than Hodges but equally unequivocal about the negative impact of MPs having second jobs: "Ban MPs from any paid work beyond representing those who voted them in. Give them a generous, professional London wage…say £80,000. That ought to attract talent and reflect the responsibility and prestige of the job," the tabloid thunders. 

MPs pay is not an issue that is new, of course. It's been around for a while. Jim Pickard and Elizabeth Rigby write in the Financial Times  that Britain's political leaders have been "agonising" about MPs pay for over a century since 1911 when David Lloyd George first introduced pay for members of parliament. The Liberal Prime Minister said at the time that the money was "not a remuneration, not a recompense, it is not even a salary."

David Cameron echoed that sentiment yesterday, rejecting Labour's calls for new restrictions on second jobs in the wake of another undercover sting on MPs. Miliband wrote to him asking him "follow my lead" by banning MPs' paid directorships and consultancies. Mr Cameron said he opposed a complete ban on MPs' outside interests, saying that these often enriched the knowledge base of parliament. This was the only answer he could give. Backing Ed Miliband on this point would indubitably cause trouble in his party. Indeed, of the 180 MPs with second jobs that we revealed in The Daily Telegraph yesterday – 112 are Tories, whilst just 43 are Labour. And of the top ten highest earning MPs, six of these are Tories. 


Our front page story  about Jack Straw taking up a job when he leaves parliament with a company that won a government contract worth £75 million after he lobbied a minister on its behalf will raise fresh questions about the so-called 'revolving door'. The former foreign secretary boasted to undercover reporters that he helped the furniture firm "get on the ladder" and secure government contracts. Mr Straw privately lobbied Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister on behalf of the company, Senator International and now he is set to join the firm's board once he leaves parliament in May. Again, this will stick in people's throats. 


Steven Swinford and Christopher Hope report that Rifkind's colleagues are to call for him to quit his role as the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).  Last night on Newsnight, the former chair of the ISC, Kim Howells, said that he thought the position was a "full time job" and claimed he was "bewildered" by Sir Malcolm's comments.  As he fights for his political career, Rifkind is to be told today by some colleagues at a committee meeting that his position as chair has become "untenable" and he should stand down.  Francis Elliot and Sam Coates lead their Times coverage on Sir Malcolm being urged to stand down also as an MP, after Mr Cameron suspended him from the Conservative whip and ordered a disciplinary investigation. They report that, "one minister close to No 10 said: 'Malcolm should spare himself and the rest of us a lot of pain and just stand down now.'  But Sir Malcolm is showingsigns he will nor go out without a fight. Pull up a chair and put your feet up, it should start to get even more interesting. 



The Financial Times  splashes on "No country for young me – the UK's widening generation gap", which describes the "most dramatic generational change in decades" of young adults seeing their living standards slip whilst pensioners become increasingly better-off. The findings are based on official incomes data from more than £800,000 households stretching over 50 years.  And in the Telegraph, Andrew Hood of the IFS explains how pensioners are now better off than the rest.

The statistics come just as David Cameron intensified his appeal to older voters yesterday at a party event hosted by Saga, the service provider for the over 50s in Hastings. He pledged to protect pensioner benefits costing billions from any cuts if he wins in May. Our leader  described it as "questionable economics". Unsurprisingly, The Daily Express gleefully reports that Cameron "rejected criticism that his plans to protect benefits worth more than £7.5billion a year would place an 'unfair' tax burden on young workers."  In the Times,  Lucy Fisher writes that Cameron insisted young voters support propping up benefits for the elderly, such as free bus passes and television licences. "Ask anyone," the PM said. "Do you want your parent or grandparent to be looked after as they grow old? They will say yes." The question is emotive, sure, but also very disingenuous. Wanting the elderly to be treated with dignity and respect in care homes is perhaps not the same as gifting well-off pensioners with free perks. But the old vote. The young don't. "You reap what you sow" is probably the political message here. 

The Daily Mail  have carried out the first in their series of exclusive ComRes polls and found that the Tories have moved into a two-point lead over Labour, following an ebb in support for Ukip. James Chapman writes, "The poll confirms that with fewer than 75 days to go until the most unpredictable General Election for generations, Ed Miliband has become a significant drag on Labour's fortunes." The ComRes poll also found that more than half of Britons (55 per cent) don't want the SNP to makes decisions on laws that do not have an impact on Scotland, if they are in a coalition government after May. 

Buzzfeed's Emily Ashton has an interesting long-form piece on Danny Alexander's campaign trail in Inverness.  She finds him in a little bit of a tricky position – Ashcroft put  him 29 points behind the SNP and he admits he has a "big fight" on his hands. He goes on to tell Ashton that it "really p****es me off that the Tories try to claim credit for everything" the coalition government has achieved.  He takes further aim at his Tory colleagues: "I'm somebody who came from a very ordinary background. But I look round the Cabinet table and I see a whole bunch of people who come from much more privileged backgrounds. And I think there should be more people like me round the Cabinet table." During the interview he tells Ashton that he listens to Taylor Swift in repeat in his car (thanks to his young daughters). Perhaps her music will save him. 

The Guardian reports that David Cameron has distanced himself from comments made by one of his backbenchers who dismissed Rachel Reeves's plans to join the cabinet and take maternity leave immediately after the general election. Tory MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell told the Daily Mail   that a Cabinet role requires someone's full attention after she said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph  at the weekend that she would take a Cabinet position and before going on maternity leave. Reeves – whose child is due on June 15, five weeks after the election – said she wanted to abolish the bedroom tax before going on maternity leave. In the Daily Mail, columnist Belinda Brown  goes for Mrs Reeves. "Her desire to 'have it all' trumps the well-being of the country and her own children," she writes. 


@georgegalloway: Has Hugo Rifkind of The Murdoch Times had anything to say? He's normally loquacious...
‏@hugorifkind: @georgegalloway Thanks for asking, George. I suppose I'd just say I salute my dad's courage, strength and indefatigability. Hope this helps.

From The Telegraph
Philip Johnston - Parliament will be poorer if MPs have no experience outside Westminster  
Vidar Helgesen - Why Britain should not leave the EU to be like Norway - by a Norwegian minister 
From elsewhere
Rachel Sylvester - Straw and Rifkind both fail the 'smell test'  
Janan Ganesh - Cameron and Osborne all yin and no yang 

0700 LONDON: The Competition and Markets Authority are publishing the final report for its investigation into the market for payday lending in the UK
1000 LONDON: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is to give evidence to the Treasury Committee on the Bank's latest Inflation Report
1000 LONDON: The Green Party is launching its election campaign at the RSA 

1130: The OECD's Economic Survey of the UK is to be launched at a news conference by Chancellor George Osborne and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría
1600 LONDON: Cameron is giving evidence to the Liaison Committee on Ukraine, Islamic extremism and the Civil Service
1600 LONDON: APPG on the BBC meets with Trust chair Rona Fairhead
1615 LONDON: Communities committee hears from Eric Pickles
CARDIFF: First minister's questions


Main Chamber
1130 Oral Questions
Health, including Topical Questions

Westminster Hall
0930 - 1100: Yemen - Keith Vaz
1100 - 1130: Police numbers in Wales - Chris Evans
1430 - 1600: Public procurement of infrastructure in the South West - Mr Gary Streeter
1600 - 1630: Allegations of misconduct and human rights abuse by a British oil exploration firm in Democratic Republic of Congo - Tessa Munt
1630 - 1700: Effects of mining in Goa by UK-listed companies - John McDonnell


Select Committee 
0930: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Room 5, Palace of Westminster
1000: Welsh Affairs: Prisons in Wales and treatment of Welsh offenders: The Grimond Room, Portcullis House
1000: Treasury: Bank of England February 2015 Inflation Report. The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
1030: Culture, Media and Sport: Dealing With Complaints Against the Press. The Wilson Room, Portcullis House
1300: Backbench Business: Proposals for backbench debates. Room 15, Palace of Westminster
13.30: Home Affairs: Serious and organised crime. Room 16, Palace of Westminster
1400: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Room 5, Palace of Westminster
1430: Health: Children's oral health. Room 8, Palace of Westminster
1500: Environmental Audit: A 2010-15 progress report. Room 6, Palace of Westminster
1500: Home Affairs: International exchange of criminal records. Room 16, Palace of Westminster
1600: Liaison: Evidence from the Prime Minister: February 2015. The Grimond Room, Portcullis House
1615: Communities and Local Government: Performance of the Department for Communities and Local Government 2013-14. Room 15, Palace of Westminster

Main Chamber 1430 Oral Questions
Proposals to include animal welfare in the National Curriculum - Lord Hoyle
Plans to acknowledge the service of Gurkha battalions to the UK - Baroness Boothroyd
Dignity and privacy of women at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre - Baroness Bakewell
Assessment of the ability of the UK's armed forces to participate fully in any NATO-led Baltic defence operations - Lord Lee of Trafford
Legislation: Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Bill - Committee of the whole House - Baroness Berridge
Legislation: Consumer Rights Bill - Consideration of Commons amendments - Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Orders and Regulations: Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 - Fatal Amendment Motion - Earl Howe / Lord Deben
Debate: Concerns expressed by local authorities in England and Wales over the growth of high street betting machines - Lord Clement-Jones

Select Committees
1000: Economic and Financial Affairs (EU Sub-Committee A). Committee Room 3, Palace of Westminster
1030: Science and Technology: Private meeting. Committee Room 4A, Palace of Westminster
1515: Communications: Private meeting. Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster
1530: Economic Affairs: Private meeting: Committee Room 1, Palace of Westminster
1600: European Union: Private meeting: Committee Room 4, Palace of Westminster

Monday, 23 February 2015

The next big scandal..

There's only one story in town today.  The Telegraph, working with Channel Four, has revealed that Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw discussed using their position as politicians on behalf of a (fictitious) Chinese company, in exchange for money.  

It is surprising that two elder statesman of British politics have behaved like this. They should know better, you'd think. Indeed, in 2010, commenting on the exposure of Labour colleagues for saying very similar things,  Mr Straw commented: "There's anger… and incredulity about their stupidity…getting suckered by a sting like this."  You said it, Jack. 

As chairman of parliament's Intelligence and Security committee, Sir Malcolm has access to some of Britain's sensitive secrets, so it's remarkable that he was so frank with what he believed was a Chinese company. 

How will this play with the public?  "Just more snouts in the trough"  will be the public's reaction. It doesn't look particularly good just before an election. The extent to which this will aid the anti-Westminster politics of the Greens and UKIP is unclear. But it certainly can't do such anti-establishment parties any harm. 

Straw is not standing for parliament again. His statement is that he offered his influence for cash after his time as an MP is up – so it remains to be seen whether he has broken parliamentary rules. He and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have both referred themselves to Parliament's commissioner for standards. A full investigation may take months. 

Speaking to the undercover reporter, Straw speculated that he may later be in the House of Lords.  "The rules there are different," Straw said. "Plenty of people have commercial interests there… I'll be able to help you more." A new case for Lords reform?  Or just for denying him the peerage he clearly expects?

As for Sir Malcolm, he is standing again, but his redrawn seat is not as safe as it once was.  And his interview on the Today Programme just now, in which he suggested we cannot expect MPs to "simply accept a salary of £60,000" may well return to haunt him wherever he ends up.  

Our leader today concludes the whole affair thus: "David Cameron once said that lobbying was the next great Westminster scandal waiting to happen. But it already has and nothing much has been done to arrest it. In truth, however, the much-touted remedy of a register of lobbyists would probably make little difference, not least when the approach is directly from an interested company rather than through an intermediary.

"Surely what is far more important is for MPs to behave honourably and with total transparency so we can all judge the propriety of their actions for ourselves."




Our other big scoop today is that MPs have declared earnings of more than £7.4 million from outside work and second jobs in the past year, with some making more than £1,600 per hour.  The most notable name in our investigation is former PM, Gordon Brown, who declared an additional income of close to £1million. He was followed by Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP, who declared earnings of £820,000 – 12 times the annual MP wage. 



Pensioners will keep their benefits of a free TV licence and winter fuel allowance so that they can have "dignity and security in retirement", David Cameron will pledge in the Tory manifesto. In the Times, Sam Coates and Laura Pitel write that Cameron's move is the latest attempt to halt UKIP and win over the age category with the highest turnout at elections. "This will mean greater cuts from the welfare budget, in a move likely to penalise the working-age poor further." While Macer Hall in the Daily Express write, "He [Cameron] will insist that universal benefits are a just reward to 'those who have worked hard, saved, paid their taxes and done the right thing'."  The announcement sets the stage nicely for a Labour announcement later this week about cutting tuition fees, possibly at the expense of some pensioners.  Conservative vs Labour = Old vs Young?



Talking of which, there are signs of more tension brewing between Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, as the Labour leader considers taking tighter control of public spending in a move which would clip the wings of the Treasury under a Labour government, reports the Times. The shadow chancellor recently irritated Miliband with his handling of a series of broadcast interviews. Reportedly, there is also friction inside the party over how to fund Balls' tuition fee policy pledge, which Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, described as "tortuous". The Daily Mail described the conflict as escalating into "open warfare last night amid fears their relationship in government could be even worse than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's".   



The mainstream broadcasters' leaders' debates probably won't happen after all three main parties criticised the "cack-handed" negotiation of the broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News) handling of it, Peter Dominiczak reports  But the Telegraph/Guardian/YouTube Digital Debates are still on the table...




Britain will send a signal of weakness to Putin and lose global credibility if the next government fails to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence, The Times reports. Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP and chairman of the defence select committee, warns that "The world has never been so dangerous. There is a real need [for a 2 per cent commitment]. It is of really powerful symbolic importance. It is a very important deterrent to Russia in particular." 




Kiran Stacey reports in the FT on Clegg's campaign trail. In recent weeks, Labour activists have started believing that the 2015 election in May could be defined by the decapitation of Nick Clegg. The deputy prime minister has held his Sheffield Hallam seat for the past decade, but a recent Ashcroft poll suggests the race in Sheffield Hallam is tight, with Labour three points ahead of the Lib Dems – who are confident they can overcome the Labour challenge. "I think Labour have got carried away by their own hype," Clegg tells Stacey.   



MPs are likely to vote today against attempts to outlaw abortion on the basis of gender, after the Labour party warned it would have "troubling consequences," Steven Swinford reports. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has told Labour MPs that sex-selective abortions are already illegal under the Abortion Act so new legislation is not needed and the move could inadvertently outlaw abortion in cases where there are "gender specific abnormalities". In a letter to The Times - whose signatories include David Richmond, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Louise Silverton, the director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives - experts said the amendment "sets a dangerous precedent for altering the law surrounding access to abortion". Meanwhile the Daily Mail scathingly report that documents circulated by the Trades Union Congress argued that the bill would "divide communities". 



Ed Miliband's decision to bring back John Prescott as a special advisor on climate change has been dismissed as a "desperate attempt to burnish his working class credentials" by Labour MPs, Steven Swinford reports. While the Sun reports that Tory MP Nigel Mills was equally unimpressed. "This is another dud appointment from weak Ed Miliband. The truth is, Lord 'Two Jags' Prescott is just another natural disaster waiting to happen for Labour."  The Times reports that Prescott has been brought in the fold to "shore up support among voters tempted to abandon Labour for either the Green Party or UKIP".  Dan Hodges writes in our pages that this "is a moment to celebrate the return to the political spotlight of one of the great figures of contemporary British politics."While Daily Express columnist, Leo McKinstry writes that the return of Prescott betrays Miliband's utter desperation  



 During last night's BBC 2 documentary Meet The Ukippers, the expelled UKIP councillor Rozanne Duncan - who was the party secretary in Thanet South where Farage is running - was filmed saying if a friend invited her for dinner with a black person, she "wouldn't be there, simple as that." Insisting she was not racist, the 68-year-old said: "The only people I do have a problem with are negroes. And I don't know why." The programme is likely to have been highly embarrassing to Farage and his mood is unlikely to be lifted by the Sun's exclusive YouGov poll that shows more than half of Brits want Cameron and Miliband to rule out any post-election deal that would bring the anti-EU party into No.10. The Times have investigated Farage's expenses and found that he claimed nearly £9,000 in EU expenses over six months for utilities, insurance and business rates on a small constituency office, according to new documents.  






@PickardJE: Three certainties: Death, taxes, MPs caught in lobbying stings.




From the Telegraph

The Telegraph – MPs are still not being transparent on interests 

Dan Hodges - John Prescott: The bulldog who saved Labour 

From elsewhere

Melanie Phillips - A feeble West emboldens the forces of chaos 

Anne McElvoy - The clash of two Eds raises the ghost of Labour past 


MP's are returning to Westminster and assembly members are returning to Cardiff Bay after recess

LONDON: The Home Secretary and Justice Secretary are to meet with the EU justice commissioner, Viera Jourova

LONDON 1200: Mayoral question time



Sorry for late arrival and absence of cartoons this morning.  It's all James Kirkup's fault.  He promises to sort it out for tomorrow. 






Main Chamber 1430

Oral Questions on Defence

David Cameron statement on European Council

Serious Crime Bill [HL] - Report stage

Serious Crime Bill [HL] - Third reading

Oesophageal cancer - Mike Weatherley


Westminster Hall

1630 – 1930 Debate on an e-petition relating to ending non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare - Mr Philip Hollobone

General Committee 1630

First Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015, Committee Room 9, Palace of Westminster

Second Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Companies Act 2006 (Amendment of Part 17) Regulations 2015 and the Draft Companies Act 2006 (Amendment of Part 18) Regulations 2015, Committee Room 11, Palace of Westminster

Third Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Anti-social Behaviour (Authorised Persons) Order 2015, Committee Room 12, Palace of Westminster

Select Committee

1400 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, Room 5, Palace of Westminster

1515 Public Accounts: Comparing inspectorates, Room 15, Palace of Westminster

1605 Transport: Smaller airports, Room 16, Palace of Westminster

1615 Communities and Local Government: Jay Report into Child Sexual Abuse in Rotherham, The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House

1715 Political and Constitutional Reform: Government formation post-election, Room 8, Palace of Westminster

1900 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, Room 5, Palace of Westminster

LORDS: 1430


Oral Questions

Business rates reform, steps taken to support UK high streets

Effect of VAT on finances of sixth form colleges and non-maintained special schools

Crown Prosecution Service performance following recent budget cuts

Discussions with European Union member states regarding the handling of conflict in Ukraine


Modern Slavery Bill - Report stage - Lord Bates

Short Debate

Hotels and facilities for disabled people