Archive for December, 2010

Neck deep in News Corp: damning letter to Sir Gus O’Donnell

23/12/2010, 02:17:31 PM

Sir Gus O’Donnell

Cabinet Secretary

Cabinet Office

70 Whitehall



23 December 2010

Dear Gus,

I have written to you several times in the past few weeks about matters of propriety and the ethics of government. I am now writing to ask about such matters again, this time in relation to the behaviour and statements of Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt regarding News Corp.

1. Vince Cable

Vince Cable was revealed, in a tape recording which the nation has heard, to have been explicitly intending to abuse his position in the most extraordinary way. He was planning, while pretending quasi-judicial impartiality, to make an entirely political ruling without regard to the facts or to Ofcom advice.

How does removing him from this particular decision alter his unsuitability for office? How can he be considered a fit and proper person to take decisions about the rest of the nation’s business, industry and higher education?

I would be grateful to know whether and what advice you gave the Prime Minister about Vince Cable’s suitability to remain in office in light of his intention to pervert the proper processes of government.

2. Jeremy Hunt

It has been revealed today that a DCMS official confirmed Jeremy Hunt met James Murdoch on 28 June – shortly after News Corp made its takeover bid to buy the remaining 61 per cent of BSkyB. The spokesperson said: “I can confirm that this was an informal first meeting between Jeremy Hunt as secretary of state and James Murdoch, and there was no written agenda or briefing. Officials did not sit in on the meeting”.

The official also stated that a second meeting took place between Mr Hunt and Jeremy Darroch, BSkyB’s chief executive, on 21 July where no minutes were taken either; and that an unnamed civil servant had warned Mr Hunt that Mr Darroch was likely to ask about changes to media regulation.

And yet, in a written Parliamentary answer on this matter, I was told that no formal meetings had taken place with either James Murdoch or other representatives of News International (17852). (more…)

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Sorry, you have the wrong genitals: young Labour’s new election policy.

23/12/2010, 12:00:25 PM

by Ian Silvera

Recently, I received a letter from young Labour, Labour’s youth wing. Nothing new, I thought, probably trying to promote another public affairs event with the persuasive allure of free tea and biscuits. However, my inclinations were wrong. I had been asked, with thousands of other members, to consider taking part in the party’s youth elections. The particular election that stood out to me was the regional representative election. I was elated that I had been given an opportunity to represent my home region, the West Midlands, on young Labour’s national committee.

Alas, in the rest of the letter I was presented with some bad news. Although I had a gender – “there are rules relating to gender” – my gender was the wrong one. I have a penis. Apparently, the letter explained, Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has agreed that half the regions will be required to elect women and the other half will be open to men and women. Skilfully, the NEC has alienated roughly half of their young members (the ones with penises) in the following regions: East Midlands, Eastern, London, South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

23/12/2010, 07:48:21 AM

Telegraph strikes again

David Heath, the deputy Leader of the House, said the Chancellor had the “capacity to get up one’s nose” and did not appreciate what it was like to lose £1,000 a year – the value of the cut in child benefit for higher earners. Paul Burstow, the care minister, told reporters from The Daily Telegraph: “I don’t want you to trust David Cameron.” And Andrew Stunell, the local government minister, said he did not know where the Prime Minister stood on the “sincerity monitor”. Norman Baker, the transport minister, even privately compared the Conservatives within government to the South African apartheid regime, claiming that it was his job to campaign from the “inside”. The disclosures come on the third day of this newspaper’s investigation into the true feelings of senior Liberal Democrats towards the Coalition. – Telegraph

Mr Baker is a minister in the transport department, working closely with the Conservative Secretary of State, Philip Hammond, and a junior minister, Theresa Villiers. “But what you end up doing in the Coalition, as much as we can is we play them off against each other. You try to get the Tories [to] do things. For example, telling you more than I should be telling you, in the Department for Transport, the rail minister, Theresa Villiers, is actually pretty sound on railways, the Secretary of State is more sceptical, so you know I’ll get Theresa Villiers to argue with him about that, because she can persuade him from the side of the Tory party, because she wants to deliver effectively what is Lib Dem policy.” – Telegraph

David Heath, the Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, said that “the awful thing” about the General Election result was that it left his party with “no alternative” but to join forces with its Conservative rivals. He said his party would have been “wiped out” at the next election if they had refused to enter the Coalition, because voters would have asked, “What’s the point of the Liberal Democrats?” The former optician also said that some of his Tory colleagues “have no experience of how ordinary people live”. – Telegraph

Ed on the attack

Talk about a Christmas miracle: Ed Miliband has set about the task of Opposition with ruthless efficiency today. As both Guido and Nicholas Watt have noted, the Labour leader is all across the broadcast news this afternoon, after upping the heat on Vince Cable and the coalition. His party’s attack comes in the form of a letter sent by the shadow business secretary, John Denham, to the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell. It asks, mischieveously, whether Vince Cable has broken the ministerial code by promising to wage war against Rupert Murdoch, and whether Jeremy Hunt is impartial enough to step into the breach. And while nothing is likely to come of these exhortations, they have already done their work in terms of grabbing Labour, and Miliband, some rare attention. – The Spectator

Ed Miliband’s new media advisers appear to be making their mark. Tom Baldwin and Bob Roberts have only been in their jobs for a few days but already the Labour party appears to have sharpened up its act. Miliband, who had struggled recently to develop a clear message, is dominating the headlines after outlining a sharp two-pronged attack on the government after the downgrading of Vince Cable’s position in cabinet. So far the signs indicate that Miliband is winning the media battle today but making no progress on substance. But Miliband has made a decisive mark in perhaps the most significant part of his intervention today – sharpening a broader strategic attack on the coalition. Miliband now wants to ram home a very simple message: Britain has a Conservative government, enacting Conservative policies that will alarm progressives by, for example, increasing child poverty. – Guardian (more…)

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Tom Watson: Michael Moore has broken the ministerial code

23/12/2010, 07:00:04 AM

If you can’t see the letter in the document viewer below, the plain text version is here.


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Tom Watson: Michael Moore has broken the ministerial code

23/12/2010, 06:59:23 AM

Mr David Cameron MP

Prime Minister

10 Downing Street



22 December 2010

Dear Mr Cameron,


I enclose a copy of a press statement circulated today by Matthew Harvey of the Scotland Office, and the Scotland Office’s Press Office, in which Secretary of State Michael Moore MP gives his reaction to the Daily Telegraph story “Liberal Democrat ministers condemn scrapping of child benefit”. (more…)

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Ed needs to answer the question Cameron can’t: why does he want to be PM

22/12/2010, 03:00:01 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The front page of the Spectator Christmas special depicts Nick Clegg crushed between David Cameron’s foot and ice. This captures the conventional wisdom. Cameron is doing well out of the deal that created his government. Clegg isn’t; and Ed Miliband isn’t in sight. The Tories hover around 40 per cent. The Lib Dems have shrunk beneath 10 per cent. Labour leads these polls, but we are told that Miliband is insufficiently visible.

While Cameron may glide over the ice on The Spectator’s cover – just as he glided away from the bullets that Clegg took on tuition fees – this ice masks ideological differences in all three parties. The strategic questions are obvious. How should Cameron consolidate his dominance, Clegg recover and Miliband become more prominent? The answers, however, reveal deeper ideological fissures.

John Kampfner urges a bolder articulation of Clegg’s liberal beliefs in the face of the existential threat to his career and party:

“He has to produce a radical narrative that differs from the Tories’ ideological opposition to the notion of government as an economic actor, while maintaining his distance from the overtly statist instincts of Labour traditionalists”.

Clegg will campaign for AV, while his Tory ministerial colleagues defend the status quo. Kampfner demands, additionally, a full and distinctive articulation of liberal principles from Lib Dems in government.

The more principled Lib Dems have been thought those who stayed out of government, voted against tuition fees and who have been wooed by Miliband. Tim Farron leads this cadre from the backbenches, as Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, leads what Tim Montgomerie calls mainstream Conservatives. Kampfner wants Clegg to prove that Lib Dem principles aren’t the exclusive preserve of the backbenches.

For Clegg to do this he needs more policy wins to justify his cohabitation with Cameron. However, these wins would threaten liberal conservatism, the counter point to mainstream conservatism. As a Cameronian minister put it to Daniel Finkelstein:

“The narrative might easily develop that anything progressive comes from the Lib Dems, and that is very dangerous to us”.

Liberal Conservatives, like Nike Boles, want Tory/Lib-Dem government to last into the next parliament. Maybe they see more to like in Clegg than Brady. However, the Conservative brand may retoxify (assuming it ever fully detoxifies) if they allow liberal conservatism to seem only capable of delivering progressive outcomes in combination with Cleggite liberalism. The Lib Dem ideological renewal that Kampfner wants is not, therefore, without risk for Cameroons. Particularly if this renewal combines with louder and more organised complaints from mainstream Conservatives about dilution of Conservative principles on tax, crime, immigration and Europe, the need for liberal Conservatives to flesh out a principled argument for continued Tory alignment with the Lib Dems may become more pressing.

Two-party government is unusual in this country. Two parties clearly setting out ideological differences in government is more unusual still. The likes of Farron and Brady may sit on the same side of the House but they are sure to make ideological arguments of quite different flavours over the next year. Kampfner illustrates the pressure Clegg is already under to demonstrate the ideological consistency of decisions taken in government. Cameronian ministers may come to face similar pressure. How will they react?

In last year’s Spectator Christmas special James Forsyth wrote:

“The most important thing Cameron should think about over Christmas is why he wants to be prime minister. As the Times — normally favourable to Mr Cameron — opined last week, he has not yet conveyed a clear sense of this to the public”.

The failure of the Conservatives to win an outright majority shows that Cameron never managed this. Abandonment of Conservative principles is unconvincingly blamed for this by mainstream Conservatives. Cameron displayed agility in forming a government having failed to secure a Conservative majority. But it remains bizarrely unclear why he wants to be prime minister. It may be out of belief in the same things as Brady. It may be out of belief in the same things as Clegg. Or does Cameron stand for a liberal Conservatism that is distinct from both Brady’s mainstream Conservatism and Clegg’s liberalism?

He seems likely to believe whatever is necessary for him to remain PM for as long as possible. Undoubtedly, there is scope for Miliband – leader of the most ideologically united of the three parties – to make mischief. He should build bridges with disenfranchised Lib Dems. And encourage the disgruntlement of mainstream Conservatives.

But, first, this Christmas, Miliband should answer the question that Cameron didn’t answer last Christmas: Why does he want to be prime minister? He doesn’t want to be prime minister to make unhappy Lib Dems feel better. He doesn’t want to be prime minister to resurrect policies rejected by voters in May.

He wants to be prime minister to prove that Labour’s best instincts are in tune with the best instincts of the British people. That when the native genius of these people combines with the liberating force of Labour government, great things happen. Finding a way of successfully communicating this, and embedding Labour’s authenticity, is a more important strategic challenge than the tactical games of pulling at the ties that bind the Tories and Lib Dems together. This is, fundamentally, about ideology.

Jonathan Todd is Uncut’s economic columnist.

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Ignorant, hypocritical buffoon. And worse. Cable must go.

22/12/2010, 10:44:15 AM

by Tom Watson

I like the guy. I held out hope he might end up being the axle of progressive politics in Britain. Yet it’s hard to resist the urge to slap Vince Cable around the chops.

Six months into the Conservative-led government, he’s left himself looking like, and let’s not mince words, he looks like a cock. What a total ignoramus. What a self-indulgent buffoon. What a hypocrite. For the protection of his own dignity, he should resign.

There are two winners out of this episode: David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch.

Here’s what Jeremy Hunt recently said in Broadcast magazine about Rupert Murdoch:

“Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day.

We would be the poorer and wouldn’t be saying that British TV is the envy of the world if it hadn’t been for him being prepared to take that commercial risk. We need to encourage that kind of investment”.

Here’s what independent media analyst, Clair Enders recently said:

“Somewhere between 2015 and 2020, News International, Sky will control 50% of the newspaper and television markets respectively…..They will have a force de frappe which none of their competitors can match, while the BBC’s income will be negotiated downwards, and ITV simply lives with the ebb and flow of the advertising market”.

So, the company that hacked the phones of the royal princes will own half the newspaper and television market in Britain. If this was Zimbabwe, we’d be sending resolutions to the United Nations about it. It’s not though, and Jeremy Hunt, easily the most ambitious member of the cabinet, will make the decision.

That’s why Cable has to go. He can’t do his job. We trusted that he would do the right thing. Faced with the indisputable truth about media plurality in Britain we were counting on him to face down all opposition and for the first time in decades, stand up to Rupert Murdoch. And now he can’t.

Do you think that Jeremy Hunt, having said what he said about Rupert Murdoch, is going to go against his instincts and turn down News Corp’s bid for complete control of Sky? No. Neither do I.

Like Clare Short in Tony Blair’s administration after the resignation of Robin Cook, Cable’s days are numbered. I can’t understand how he can allow the public humiliation to last longer than today. But ministerial office does that to some people. They can’t let it go.

In choosing a slow lingering death, Cable has further weakened Clegg and the coaltion partners, though they appear too frightened and stupid to know this.

It’s inevitable. He’s broken one of the rules of being a minister. It’s probably the third rule concerning standards in public life. The one that says:?

“In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.”

We’ll no doubt be arguing about this for days to come, but we already know that Cable has broken the even bigger rule of ministerial life: don’t believe the hype. His own ego has destroyed him.

The Cable incident is another unforced error from a ragged government. Paradoxically, it helps Cameron as he strengthens his grip on a coalition government that has been shown to be paralysed by disagreement and personal loathing between ministers.

My God, what a mess though. And we’re only six months in.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East

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Sally Bercow prefers electoral reform to adult videos

22/12/2010, 08:07:07 AM

by Sally Bercow

It is hard to get excited about electoral reform. Indeed, mention AV to the proverbial bloke on the bus and he will look completely blank. And then perhaps he will think “audio visual” and start fantasising about the latest 52” Sony Bravia with Bose surround sound. Or maybe he will blush because “adult video” has popped into his head (though he only watched one, many moons ago, purely for research purposes – honest). Or, if he is a retired cardiologist, he might claim to be reminiscing fondly about aortic valves (believe this if you will).

Only if you have chanced upon a Liberal Democrat (increasingly improbable, statistically speaking) or your telltale cagoule-clad political geek, will he say, “aah – the alternative vote, the electoral system in which voters rank constituency candidates in order of preference”. Which, of course, is the right answer in the context. Please note if you have landed here after googling “AV”, this is Labour Uncut. No adult videos here. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

22/12/2010, 07:29:05 AM

Liberal ‘Discontent’ Spreads

More Liberal Democrat ministers have been exposed as harbouring serious doubts about the fairness of important aspects of coalition policies, especially the trebling of tuition fees and the withdrawal of child benefit from higher-rate tax payers. The revelations will be seen as a sign that some Lib Dem ministers express loyalty to coalition policies in public, but then distance themselves when speaking in what they regard as private conversations with constituents. Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, said cutting child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was “blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do”, while the business minister Ed Davey said he was “gobsmacked” by the decision. Steve Webb, the pensions minister, revealed he had written to George Osborne seeking changes to the policy because “the details aren’t right”. – Guardian

The ministers also revealed behind-the-scenes attempts to slow or even stop Tory policies. It is the first time that Liberal Democrat concern over child benefit cutbacks has surfaced, with opposition to the proposal previously coming from back-bench Conservative MPs. The fresh disclosures were made in conversations between the ministers and reporters from The Daily Telegraph posing as Liberal Democrat voters in their constituencies. Further concerns among senior Lib Dems about Coalition policy and leading Conservative figures will be exposed in the coming days. – Telegraph

Cable now a ‘lame duck’

Humiliated Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of major powers last night after an attack on The Sun’s owner Rupert Murdoch. No10 acted after he bragged he had “declared war” on the media boss. Dr Cable – who will appear in Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Day special – was clinging to his job by his fingertips last night after the extraordinary attack. Dr Cable’s wild remarks – caught on tape – left PM David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg “apoplectic with rage”, aides said. They let humiliated Dr Cable keep his Cabinet post but stripped him of major powers – leading Labour to brand him a “lame duck”. – The Sun

In an emergency statement issued last night, Downing Street said that a large part of Mr Cable’s responsibilities would now be transferred to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.  In a statement, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Following comments made by Vince Cable to The Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister has decided that he will play no further part in the decision over News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. In addition, all responsibility for competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors will be transferred immediately to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.” More than 70 Whitehall officials who work on media and telecom policy for the Business Department will be moved to work for Mr Hunt from today. – Telegraph

Full steam ahead for takeover

The EU yesterday cleared News Corp’s £8bn bid to buy the 61% of pay-TV company BSkyB it does not already own, thus making a good day for the company even better. The media conglomerate, run by Rupert Murdoch, seized on the ruling, claiming it would increase the pressure on the British government to do the same. A few hours later, Vince Cable, who had the power to decide whether to block the deal on public interest grounds publicly, if unwittingly, declared his opposition to the deal. His boast to two undercover reporters that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch” fatally undermined the business secretary’s independence and made it impossible for him to rule on the Sky bid. That task will now fall to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a man who has previously expressed admiration for BSkyB. – Guardian

Flu cases rise after autumn advertising axe

Swine flu has surged in the past five days with the number of cases requiring intensive care 70 per cent above last year’s peak, the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday. John Healey, the shadow Health Secretary, accused the Government of doing “too little too late”. “The Health Secretary is playing catch-up. The only attention he’s paid to the preparations for this winter’s flu outbreak is to axe the autumn advertising campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and make them aware of the risks. He made the wrong judgement and it’s left too many people without the flu protection they should have,” said Mr Healey. – Independent

Don’t forget the by-election

The prime minister has confirmed he will be visiting Oldham East and Saddleworth during the by-election to campaign for the Tory candidate. At a joint press conference with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg today, he also described how the next general election will be “slightly different” from usual. “We will fight as separate parties and I hope the campaign will be more polite,” David Cameron said. Cameron said despite the fact “prime ministers don’t often go” to by-elections, he will visit Oldham in the new year. Clegg revealed he will be in the constituency tomorrow. –

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright is heading up a by-election campaign to regain a controversial seat. Mr Wright says he was asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband to be campaign manager in the by-election for the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in the House of Commons. Now Mr Wright is hoping to use his experience of winning a by-election himself in Hartlepool in 2004 to help Labour candidate for the Greater Manchester seat, Debbie Abrahams. Mr Wright won the 2004 by-election to take the Hartlepool seat with a 2,033 magority after the sitting Labour MP for the town, Peter Mandelson, stepped down to become a European Commissioner.” – Peterlee Mail

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Information commissioner’s office investigation into News of the World data loss

21/12/2010, 03:09:53 PM

The Independent on Sunday revealed that the privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has launched an investigation into claims that vital emails between senior executives and journalists on the News of the World have been “lost” while being transported to India.

The IoS reported:

Experts fear the missing emails – on computer hard disk drives that have reportedly vanished – could have major implications for the multiple investigations into claims the newspaper was involved in widespread hacking into the phone messages of targets from the worlds of politics, royalty and entertainment.

The investigation will add to mounting pressure on Andy Coulson, press secretary to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and a former editor of the News of the World. Coulson, who denies any knowledge of the hacking, resigned from his post after Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal correspondent, was convicted of hacking the phones of Prince William’s aides.

This followed Tom Watson’s letter to the ICO asking if the loss of data was in breach of the Data Protection Act. The response from the ICO is in full below:


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