Archive for May, 2011

Don’t let contempt for Clegg blind you to the Lib Dem threat

31/05/2011, 01:00:54 PM

by John Woodcock

My twitter feed may not be quite as representative as an IPSOS-MORI poll, but it was still striking to witness the outpouring of abuse when Nick Clegg briefly honed into view at the champions league final on Saturday night.

The excellent John Park MSP summed it up: “Nick Clegg was on our telly and the whole pub burst into laughter: #nowayback”.

It is important to guard against seeing the world purely through the Labour rose-tinted spectacles of your friends and supporters, but John may well be right.

The X-Factor-style rise and fall of the Liberal Democrat leader has been much remarked already. But the hapless man has managed to intensify people’s annoyance at his broken promises still further by maintaining a peculiarly grating tone of injured sanctimony (hat tip, Adrian McMenamin’s twitter) through his transition from chief critic of the “broken politics of Westminster” to epitome of said broken politics.

It is possible that he will spring back again, but it seems increasingly unlikely.


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Progressive McCarthyism and the fear of ACL Soze

31/05/2011, 08:59:21 AM

by Dan Hodges

The terror. The stomach-churning, sheet-drenching, palpitation-inducing fear that gnaws at the heart of the people’s party.

At night it infiltrates our dreams. During the day it invades our subconscious.

He could come back. They could come back. We could lose our party once again.

Tony Blair. New Labour. Once they were a leader and political program; successful ones at that.

Now they are bogeyman. Tales to scare the children. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair – our very own  Keyser Soze.

The Labour party has been seized by a form of progressive McCarthyism. Beneath every bed lieTory traitors. Within every closet lurk Blairite counter-revolutionaries. In every basement there are secret cabals yearning for a return for the lost leader, David Miliband.

The local elections were a great result, say the true believers. We have a mountain to climb,  but we have at least reached base camp. Ed has only been in post eight months. Give it a rest, and him time.

Then the terror finds a voice. The Blairites are agitating. They are plotting. Keyser Soze is coming for us again.


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Tuesday NewsReview

31/05/2011, 04:44:42 AM

Brotherly love

David Miliband says the Tories and Lib Dems are more representative of the country than the Labour party led by his younger brother, Ed. In an extraordinary intervention, the former foreign secretary said the coalition party had more MPs who reflected Britain. Mr Miliband, who was elbowed out of the way for the top Labour job by ‘Red Ed’, also warned of the danger of the party ‘lapsing into long-term opposition’. Since being defeated in the leadership contest last year, David Miliband has made few public comments about Labour. But last night he said Labour should back David Cameron’s idea of a Big Society. Mr Miliband told the Hay  Festival: ‘If you look at the  Parliamentary Tory party and the Lib Dems, they have got some strengths over us. ‘They have got more doctors in Parliament than we have. ‘They have more military  officers. The Tories are trying to open up.’ Suggesting Labour should follow suit, he added: ‘We have to make sure we look like the  country we represent, not just our supporters.’ – Daily Mail

Mr Miliband’s remarks may be seen as a rebuke for his brother, Ed Miliband, who has described the Prime Minister’s call for a more responsible Britain as a “failure”. David Miliband also suggested that Conservatives and Lib Dem MPs are more representative of modern Britain than Labour members, and warned of the danger of the party “lapsing into long term opposition.” Since being defeated in a leadership contest last year, David Miliband has made few public comments about Labour under his brother. But speaking at the Hay-on-Wye festival, David Miliband appeared to raise questions about the direction and make-up of today’s Labour Party. The Prime Minister has called for a Big Society, which he says would see people taking more responsibility for their own public services and communities, and a stronger role for voluntary groups. Ed Miliband has sent mixed messages on the concept, endorsing some aspects of it but also saying earlier this year that it was simply a “cloak” for cuts in public services. – Daily Telegraph

Labour told you so

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) cut its growth forecasts for this and next year on Monday, pointing to the impact of the government’s tough fiscal policy and high inflation on consumers’ ability to spend. The BCC reduced its forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2011 to 1.3 percent from a previous prediction in March of 1.4 percent. It reduced its forecast for 2012 to 2.2 percent from 2.3 percent. That would argue for the Bank of England continuing to keep interest rates very low to support growth, but the BCC also raised its forecasts for inflation and said that would lead the Bank to raise rates for the first time in August. The business lobby said the government’s tough austerity measures to cut a record budget deficit, combined with higher than expected inflation, would squeeze disposable incomes, meaning economic recovery would be slow over the next 18-24 months. – Interactive Investor

A show of strength

First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones. Although no agenda has been released, it is expected the lower corporation tax proposed for Northern Ireland in Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget will be high on the agenda. Last week MPs on Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee admitted other parts of the UK could be disadvantaged by the move. But they insisted the situation was unique because of the border with Ireland where the rate is less than half that in the UK. – Daily Herald

The meeting, to be held in Edinburgh at Mr Salmond’s official residence, is the first time the heads of devolved government of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have gathered since receiving renewed mandates following the recent elections. Mr Salmond will host the meeting with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and it will be attended by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones. The three devolved governments will discuss their shared agenda. It is likely corporation tax will be discussed, with Mr Salmond currently pursuing the control of the levy as part of the Scotland Bill. A House of Commons report has already signalled support for the devolution of the tax in Northern Ireland. – Belfast Telegraph

Clegg’s constitutional dilemma

The scale of the fight facing Nick Clegg as he tries to reform the House of Lords has been made clear by a newspaper survey revealing an overwhelming majority of peers believe the change would be unconstitutional. The deputy prime minister published a plan last month to replace the Lords with a wholly – or 80% – elected chamber of about 300 peers. They would be elected by thirds every five years and serve single 15-year terms. Clegg, faced with hostility to the plan and bruised after the failure of the alternative vote referendum campaign, is attempting a more sensitive approach this time, bringing in a package of measures that would appeal to ordinarily sceptical MPs and peers. Because of the intrinsic unpalatability of the proposals, it had been suggested that the government use the Parliament Act to force its will on the upper house should it transpire that peers do not back the change. While all three main parties committed to the policy in their manifestos, there are large pockets of sceptics beneath the surface. – the Guardian

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Small man, big world

30/05/2011, 12:00:52 PM

Jonathan Todd

The financial crisis was unprecedented and complex. But the left’s interpretation of it tended to be straight-forward. Banks and bankers were bad. Government and politicians were good. Government saved the banks from themselves and would stimulate economies. This enlarged role for government made a “progressive moment” inevitable. Yet government is now being scaled back and the left is out of power across Europe.

The left must move beyond its misconceptions to recover. While Labour’s plans to close the deficit concede limits to government’s size, George Osborne was much quicker than Gordon Brown to acknowledge such limits. The lesson of the debate on the deficit during and after the general election is that the left cannot be abashed by fiscal reality. It must confront it squarely. This is a lesson that Barack Obama might now reflect upon as debate in the US on the size of government moves to a similar place to that in the UK in the six months or so prior to the general election.


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Shoesmith outrage: a pox on all their houses

30/05/2011, 09:21:39 AM

by Dennis Kavanagh

Sharon Shoesmith addressed the assembled media last week, fresh from her court of appeal success and promptly rammed her foot so far down her throat it’s a wonder she  didn’t knock her teeth out.

“I don’t do blame”, she revealed, seconds before blaming the police and health departments for the Baby P scandal. “You cannot stop the death of children”, she told the BBC later, an extraordinary statement from someone whose department was supposed to do exactly that. My personal favourite was “I haven’t thought about compensation”; maybe she was asleep while her barrister and the court of appeal discussed damages and remedies before remitting the case back to the administrative division of the high court to settle exactly that question.

If she was never “in it for the money”, as she assured the Guardian later, presumably we’ll see a whacking donation to childline or NSPCC. That at least would put a fitting stop to the merry go round of public money behind two lots of high court hearings, representation of three public bodies and enormous sums in court time.


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Monday News Review

30/05/2011, 06:48:15 AM

There’s life in the old dog yet

David Cameron was forced to issue a vote of confidence in his Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, yesterday as ministers search for an NHS reform blueprint acceptable to both parts of the Coalition. There has been growing speculation over Mr Lansley’s future since his plans to overhaul the NHS were dramatically halted by Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg in the face of a rebellion from health professionals. The Health Secretary, who has spent years drawing up proposals to restructure the service, has made it clear he would quit the Cabinet rather than move to another post. There were also reports yesterday that the Prime Minister would be prepared to accept his resignation on the grounds that a new face would be needed to make the case for the heavily modified plans. – the Independent

Downing Street has moved to quash growing speculation that health secretary Andrew Lansley will quit if the government’s review of proposed health reforms ends in wholesale changes. It has been reported that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been discussing how to handle Lansley’s cabinet future when the review by Professor Steve Field concludes in mid-June. Downing Street issued a statement of support for Lansley, saying: “The speculation in the papers is nonsense. Andrew Lansley is doing an excellent job.” In a sign Lansley has become fed up with horsetrading over his plans, he has said: “I’ve stopped being a politician – I just want to get the NHS to a place where it will deliver results. I don’t want to do any other cabinet job. I’m someone who cares about the NHS who happens to be a politician, not the other way around.” – the Guardian

Fox hits out at MOD leaks

Liam Fox has said the leaks which have hit his department in recent months are “unethical and unprofessional”. The defence secretary’s comments come after reports earlier this month that he believes a Cabinet colleague may have been responsible for the most recent leak. A letter from Dr Fox to David Cameron, seen by members of the Cabinet on the national security council, in which he questioned Britain’s overseas aid spending raised eyebrows in Whitehall. It followed a similar leaked letter last year in which Dr Fox warned against drastic cuts to the armed forces in the comprehensive spending review. “You never know and that’s the whole thing with leaks,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr programme. –

Earlier this month, another of Dr Fox’s private letters to the PM was leaked. It questioned whether the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas development aid by 2013 should be enshrined in law at a time of severe defence and other cuts. He made it clear he could not support the proposal “in its current form”. Putting the 0.7% commitment on the statute books “could limit HM Government’s ability to change its mind about the pace at which it reaches the target”, he said. It has been suggested Dr Fox – regarded as one of the most right-wing Tories in Cabinet – believes another member of the National Security Council is responsible for the leaks, although he has ruled out Conservative colleague William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, as the culprit. Yesterday, asked if a Cabinet colleague had leaked his letters, he replied: “You never know. That’s the whole things with leaks,” which he labelled “unprofessional, unethical and cowardly”. – Daily Herald

Cash incentives for weekly collections

The Government is to announce a deal under which councils will be offered financial incentives to collect household rubbish every week. A similar plan using government grants was successfully introduced to encourage local authorities to freeze council tax this year. The policy is expected to be announced as the centrepiece of a review of waste policy being conducted by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra). A source close to the review said the funding plans for councils to restore weekly bin collections – estimated to be about £100 million a year – had been agreed and the scheme will be unveiled within the next fortnight. More than half of councils are thought to have abandoned weekly bin collections over the past few years, depriving more than 18 million people of the service. – the Telegraph

Cameron symbolically cuts ties with Jewish charity

David Cameron has resigned as a patron of a top Jewish charity in a move hailed by pro-Palestinian campaigners. The Prime Minister has cut ties with the Jewish National Fund, which describes itself as Britain’s leading Jewish charity. Downing Street insisted the decision was taken as part of a wider review of the Prime Minister’s involvement with charities. But the move is a break with convention, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both stayed on  as patrons while at Number 10. Mr Cameron has already experienced controversy when it comes to affairs in the Middle East – on a trip to Turkey last July he caused huge offence by calling Gaza a ‘prison camp’. – Daily Mail

Forget D:Ream, Adele is a Labour girl

Adele has branded David Cameron a “wally” – ­dashing hopes she might back his Big Society idea. A Government insider said: “We are looking for big names to back the Big Society, but there aren’t many takers right now.” The ­singer said: “Wally… I’m a Labour girl through and through.” She also slammed his policies on taxes, trains and schools. – Daily Mirror

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Is it time to stop bashing the big society?

29/05/2011, 11:00:54 AM

by Dave Hodges

The “big society” sounds like one of those ill-defined phrases some policy wonk latches on to after some “blue sky thinking”. David Cameron may like to wax lyrical that his destiny in government is to create the big society, but to the casual observer it appears as nothing more than a well-intentioned sideshow that reveals the caring nature of our dear leader. It’s as if it was created to be attacked.

We know the rhetoric. Cameron argues that his aim is to shift power from central government to communities and to volunteers. Labour argues that the Tories’ devastating cuts undermine this very ideal and render it a mere smokescreen to hide Cameron’s real, more sinister intentions. Tessa Jowell rightly pointed out last week, in relation to the big society, that “under the indiscriminate impact of accelerated cuts, the essential elements of community life are slowly being starved of sustenance”.

It’s the right message, but the wrong target. There are some devastating cuts affecting the voluntary sector and providers of outsourced government programs. For instance, thousands marched on the “hardest hit” campaign, organised jointly by the disability benefits consortium and the UK disabled people’s council on the 11 May.

Many disabled people, those with long-term conditions and their families are seeing disgraceful cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives. We should be strongly arguing that this is wrong. But it’s not the big society to blame, it’s this government’s ill-considered bulldozer approach to cutting the deficit.

Aiming fire at the big society is not the answer. It is a positive, idealistic message that we sour with harsh home truths. We are the grumpy person in the corner who perks up adversely to criticise every time the opportunity arises.

We need a positive answer to the big society. How can the state enable voluntary organisations to flourish? How can it positively interact without the assumption of a top-down relationship? The state has a positive role to play in this, but importantly, not necessarily as the funder. Tom Gash has written an interesting article entitled government is not the only solution, which raises some valid points and gives an excellent example through “parent gyms”. These are organisations Labour needs to engage and learn from. In Lambeth, the cooperative council model is something the party should seek to explore further. Campaigning for more mutuals such as Chuka Umunna’s call for the re-mutualisation of Northern Rock is another avenue that should be studied in detail.

The big society seems like an easy target. Sometimes things are too easy. Focus our fire on destructive, unnecessary cuts where we find them. Focus our energy on providing a positive vision for what a big society, or whatever inimitable name we choose to give it, would look like.

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Sunday News Review

29/05/2011, 06:00:07 AM

Is Lansley on his last legs?

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the package of changes to the Health and Social Care Bill is likely to be finalised in around three weeks’ time after a bruising internal battle between Mr Cameron, Mr Lansley and Nick Clegg. Senior figures at 10 Downing Street have begun to “war game” Mr Lansley’s departure on the ground that his Bill will be so radically different from its original state that he no longer has the credibility to drive it through. Mr Cameron wants an urgent resolution to the crisis over health which he sees as politically toxic for the Conservatives and the single issue most likely to tear the coalition apart. – Sunday Telegraph

David Cameron is ready to lose Andrew Lansley from the Cabinet as the PM plans to axe key parts of the Health Secretary’s NHS reforms. The PM is on the brink of caving in to Lib Dem demands to ­drastically change Mr Lansley’s bid to hand GPs most of the £92billion budget and use private firms more. A senior ministerial source said the concessions will be “much ­bigger than expected” and leave Mr Lansley “isolated” as the PM axes reforms he spent years drawing up. Allies of the PM fear Mr Lansley may quit over the humiliation after ruling out a move sideways, insisting: “I don’t want any other Cabinet job.” Mr Cameron will give in to one of Lib Dem leader and ­Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s main ­demands by watering down moves to get more firms battling to ­provide ­services. – Sunday Mirror

Their first show of strength

Lawyers who want to pursue human rights challenges should have their cases heard in Scotland and Strasbourg, not London, SNP ministers will argue this week. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland are to discuss plans to stop Scottish criminal cases involving human rights being sent to the UK Supreme Court after claims by Alex Salmond that the court was “second-guessing” Scotland’s independent judiciary.  The move follows Nat Fraser’s successful Supreme Court appeal against his 2003 conviction for murdering his wife Arlene. The First Minister has gained support from legal figures, including former lord advocate Lord Fraser, who argue that there is no need for criminal cases to be appealed outside the High Court in Edinburgh. – the Scotsman

SNP ministers said the independence of Scotland’s legal system must be defended in the wake of several high-profile rulings. Scotland has its own, distinct court of criminal appeal. But the Supreme Court can currently rule on cases where Scots law conflicts with human rights legislation. The Scottish cabinet will discuss “possible remedies” at its regular weekly meeting on Tuesday, following a ruling in the Nat Fraser case. Fraser was jailed for life in 2003 after after being convicted of murdering his wife, Arlene, in Elgin. Having exhausted the appeal process at home, the 52-year-old won an appeal to have his conviction quashed when Supreme Court judges remitted the case to the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal. – BBC Scotland

SamCam’s Ibiza getaway

Now Samatha Cameron has shown how a very modern Downing Street wife likes to relax – by partying with DJ Pete Tong in an Ibiza nightclub. While David Cameron was preparing to fly out and join her for a family break on Saturday, his wife Samantha took the chance to catch up with friends at the bar as a succession of DJs played techno and dance music. Mrs Cameron, who turned 40 last month, stayed at the open air nightclub till around midnight, surrounded by more than 2,000 clubbers enjoying the last night of a week-long festival in Ibiza Town. – Sunday Telegraph

For those of you not there in person

Labour leader Ed Miliband married his long-term partner Justine Thornton today in a low-key civil ceremony in Notts. Mr Miliband, who said he was “the luckiest guy in the world”, braved strong winds to pose for pictures with his new bride after the ceremony at a hotel in Langar. He wore a slate blue suit while she opted for a traditional floor-length ivory dress, without a train, as they tied the knot. Among around 50 family members and old friends on the guest list was his brother David, whom he beat to the Labour leadership last year. – Nottingham Post

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The week Uncut

28/05/2011, 10:30:59 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Kevin Meagher thinks the Brown blockers are pathetic

Dan Hodges with the lessons from Ken week

Dennis Kavanagh on the twitterati and super injunctions

Jessica Asato with the positive alternative to denouncing the cuts

Michael Dugher looks at the government’s armed forces policy

Rob Marchant with the case for spending limits

… and the shadow cabinet work rate league table

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Saturday News Review

28/05/2011, 09:00:23 AM

Cameron calls on G8 to fulfil aid commitments

David Cameron has made a scathing attack on his fellow leaders overaid to Africa at the end of their G8 summit, saying they were seen by the public as a bunch of men in suits, more interested in a good lunch than keeping their promises to the world’s poorest. He also issued a broadside against readers of the Daily Mail, reminding them that Britain’s aid budget was intended to save the lives of women in childbirth and to spare people in Africa from malaria. In a polemic issued midway through his G8 press conference at Deauville in France, he even argued it would have been better for Afghanistan if a fraction of the money now spent there by the UK military had earlier instead been spent on aid. His emotional defence of his spending priorities was made in response to a Daily Mail article which had claimed that a report showing Britain spends more on aid than its G8 partners, was damning. The prime minister has been under growing pressure from Conservative backbenchers, as well as the defence secretary, Liam Fox, to reduce the growing aid budget in the face of the recession, but clearly believes he will not shift on his promise to raise it to reach the target of 0.7% of British GDP by 2015. – the Guardian

David Cameron took on his right-wing critics yesterday as he mounted a passionate defence of his determination to increase foreign aid despite the extent of the austerity measures facing Britain. The Prime Minister spoke of the inspiration he had drawn from watching Live Aid as a teenager in 1985 – and insisted the country had a “moral imperative” to help save lives and tackle poverty in the developing world. He also argued that it was in Britain’s self-interest to invest in nations such as Afghanistan and Somalia as a way of tackling terrorism, international crime and environmental damage. His comments will put him on a collision course with Tory-supporting newspapers – as well as many Conservative MPs and activists – all of whom have been urging ministers to scale back their commitment to foreign aid because of the financial pressures at home. The Government has ring-fenced the international development budget and promised to increase aid spending from the current 0.56 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to 0.7 per cent in 2013 and to put that commitment into law. – the Independent

Ed ties the not

Labour leader Ed Miliband married long-term partner Justine Thornton today in a low-key civil ceremony. Mr Miliband, who said he was “the luckiest guy in the world”, braved strong winds to pose for pictures with his new bride after the ceremony at a hotel near Nottingham. He wore a slate blue suit while she opted for a traditional floor-length ivory dress, without a train, as they tied the knot. Among around 50 family members and old friends on the guest list was his brother David, whom he beat to the Labour leadership last year. Conducted by a local registrar, the wedding took place at the Langar Hall Hotel near Nottingham, not far from where Cambridge-educated environmental barrister Ms Thornton grew up. The groom took time out from his preparations earlier to send a message on Twitter to followers who had wished him well for the day. “Thanks for all the good wishes,” wrote Mr Miliband. “Really looking forward to the day. Feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be marrying Justine.” – the Independent

£680,000 bill for Cam’s pad

David Cameron has spent more than £680,000 of public money renovating Downing Street in the year that his government inflicted the biggest ever spending cuts across the public sector. Records of all government spending reveal nine bills for the refurbishment of Downing Street including £30,000 for work he and his wife, Samantha, carried out on the No 11 flat last summer. The centrepiece of their revamp was the kitchen. No 10 has confirmed that the full £30,000 grant for upkeep of the living accommodation, which is available to prime ministers annually, was used for the refit of 11 Downing Street, after the Guardian discovered the payment in the official spending records. A spokeswoman said the money was spent on rewiring, plumbing and decorating but insisted the Camerons paid for the extras. “No public money was spent on furniture, fittings or accessories,” she said. – the Guardian

Lords “rowdy” and “inflated”

The House of Lords is “rowdy” and “grossly inflated” because David Cameron cannot stop appointing new peers, according to Lord Harries. The former Bishop of Oxford was made a cross-bench life peer by the Labour government in 2006. However, he told an audience at the Telegraph Hay Festival that the House is now full to bursting. “There is no doubt about it, the House of Lords does need reform. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it works very well indeed but it is now grossly inflated in terms of numbers,” he said. “David Cameron is shovelling them in every week. I’m serious. There is nowhere to sit, the place has got rowdy, people can’t get in to speak. It was not like that when I first went in. We do need a smaller House.” Around 120 peers have been created under the Tory government, including Julian Fellowes, the writer and creator of Downton Abbey, and Nat Wei, the “Big Society” tsar. Lord Wei, 34, a former management consultant, announced this week that he was leaving the role after less than a year but will retain his seat in the Lords for life. – the Telegraph

Fox goes into bat over para cuts

Dr Liam Fox is understood to have told Ministry of Defence officials to rethink plans that would lead to a pay cut of as much as 10 per cent for Parachute Regiment soldiers who have just returned from Afghanistan. More than 4,700 members of the Armed Forces are trained to parachute into action, including soldiers, engineers, artillery experts and medics. All receive an extra £180 a month regardless of rank, in recognition of the risks involved. The Daily Telegraph disclosed this week that, as part of a cost-cutting exercise, defence officials plan to reduce the number of personnel given “para pay” to three companies of 160 men each. Among those who would lose up to £2,000 a year are privates in the Parachute Regiment, whose take-home pay is as little as £1,000 a month. The prospect of cuts to pay has led to warnings that morale in 16 Air Assault Brigade would be badly damaged. Scores of soldiers have threatened to walk out. – the Telegraph

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