Thursday News Review

Here we go again

At their first shouting match of 2011 Mr Cameron called Mr Miliband “the nothing man”, while Mr Miliband accused Mr Cameron of making “pathetic excuses”. How heartening to find two statesmen so dedicated to upholding the tradition of vulgar personal abuse. Mr Cameron is a great master of gibes and flouts and jeers, while the Leader of the Opposition has quickly learned how to reciprocate the Prime Minister’s expressions of genuine personal contempt. But even those of us who revel in Punch and Judy politics cannot help feeling that this kind of thing might become a bit wearing if it happens every time the two men set eyes on each other. We could find ourselves in the position of neighbours who can hear the next door couple screaming at each other at every hour of the day and night. The Prime Minister is in danger of surrendering the moral high ground. It would perhaps be a good idea sometimes to speak in sorrow of Mr Miliband’s limitations, and sometimes to perplex him with offers of bipartisan action. Many at Westminster are ready to see in Mr Cameron an objectionably rich and arrogant friend to the bankers. This is very much the impression Mr Miliband wishes to foment, and by treating the Leader of the Opposition in such a dismissive fashion, Mr Cameron could start contributing to it. – Telegraph

Voters are headed to the polls in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the first by-election test of the new parliament. Polls in the marginal have suggested Labour is on course to win comfortably in what would be a major electoral setback for the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. However, anecdotal evidence points to a closer race and much may come down to turnout after polling stations open. The by-election was called after an election court declared last year’s contest void after finding that Labour victor Phil Woolas had made false statements about the Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins. There were expectations of a local backlash against Labour because of the circumstances of the by-election, but the Lib Dems have also slumped dramatically in the polls since last May. Despite finishing just 103 votes behind Labour in last May’s general election, polls last weekend found Mr Watkins trailing by a massive 17 points. Prime Minister David Cameron has been repeatedly forced to deny that the Tories have run a half-hearted campaign in the by-election in a bid to bolster their Lib Dem coalition partners. Mr Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and other Lib Dem ministers have paid numerous visits to the constituency to try to shore up their vote. The Deputy Prime Minister insisted this week that the result would be “pretty close”. – Press Association

The Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election descended into acrimony last night as Labour accused the Liberal Democrats of launching personal attacks on their candidate in a last ditch attempt to win the seat. Labour condemned Liberal Democrat leaflets suggesting that Labour’s candidate, Debbie Abrahams, had misled voters at the last general election about where she lived. The Liberal Democrats responded that they were merely highlighting the fact that Ms Abrahams had given two “obviously contradictory” statements at different elections. There was also concern within the Labour camp that Jack Straw’s criticism of the Pakistani community at the weekend for not being “more open” about the sexual grooming of young white girls had become an electoral factor among Muslim voters. Labour canvassers said they had overheard a Liberal Democrat supporter highlighting Mr Straw’s remarks to voters. The issue was also raised at a hustings held at a community centre in the Glodwick area of the former mill town, which is home to many voters of Pakistani descent and was the scene of severe rioting in 2001. – Independent

Illsley on his way

Eric Illsley yesterday bowed to pressure and said he would quit as an MP. The ex-Labour politician tried to cling to his seat despite being convicted of fiddling £14,500 expenses. But he agreed to clear his desk after being told he faced a cross-party motion ordering his expulsion from the Commons. He said he “deeply regretted” his actions and would resign before his sentencing next month. This would spark a by-election in his Barnsley Central seat. – Daily Mirror

The disgraced MP Eric Illsley today bowed to pressure and confirmed that he would resign his Commons seat, triggering a second potentially troublesome byelection for the coalition. The ex-Labour MP for Barnsley Central, currently sitting as an independent, pleaded guilty to defrauding the expenses system of £14,500 yesterday and is likely to face a spell in prison when he is sentenced next month. There was intense pressure on him to resign after it emerged that, if he receives a sentence of less than 12 months, he could have kept his seat, collecting his salary from prison. David Cameron and Ed Miliband had both called on him to go, describing his position as “untenable”. There was also cross-party pressure from his colleagues who wanted to avoid the House of Commons having to resort to procedures to eject an MP that are untested in recent times. The speaker refused to answer questions in the Commons earlier today after the possibility of a motion to expel Illsley was raised, saying that the issue remained sub judice until sentencing. It would have been the first time in 35 years that an MP had been expelled from the house by his colleagues. Illsley issued a statement apologising to his constituents, family and friends, saying he “deeply, deeply” regrets his actions. “I have begun to wind down my parliamentary office,” he confirmed, saying he would formally resign ahead of his sentencing. “I would like to apologise to my constituents, family and friends, following my court appearance, for the distress and embarrassment caused by my actions that I deeply, deeply regret,” he said. – Guardian

David looks for a new challenge

Is Arsenal fan(and he is a genuine fan) David Miliband joining the board of Sunderland evidence the former Foreign Secretary – and defeated Labour leadership favourite – turning his back on politics or the South Shields MP making £50,000 a year while waiting to see what happens to little brother Ed? I understand clearly what the elder Milibrother gets out of the cushy number easier than recognising what my club gains, although he should know his way around a few cities if we qualify for Europe. There’s the money, of course, for him. And it makes D Mili look less of a geek. The teaching and footie have the sniff of a plan to broaden his appeal. So I wonder if he’s doing both to look a rounder potential leader second time around(or third, fourth, fifth or sixth depending on how many previous attempts you count) should Ed be relegated. David Miliband’s watched footie at the Stadium of Life before. I’m pretty sure he went to Sunderland v Arsenal in May 2003 – to support the Gunners who, it pains me to recall, won 0-4. – Daily Mirror

Tell me something I didn’t know

Judging by the first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) of 2011, neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband included a commitment to a new approach to their weekly joust among their new year’s resolutions. The leader of the opposition still favours righteous anger as his line of attack, berating the prime minister for ideologically motivated spending cuts and a failure to clamp down on bankers’ bonuses. It sometimes works but the public already regard the Labour Party as more socially just than the Conservatives. What they don’t trust Labour with are matters of basic competence: economic management, fiscal continence, and the like. Challenging the government’s claims to competence might be more fruitful than plunging the Labour flag ever deeper into the moral high-ground. – The Economist

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