Thursday News Review

01/09/2011, 05:59:16 AM

Kick in the teeth for our best and bravest

Almost 500 RAF personnel will be told on Thursday that they are to be forced out of their jobs when the Ministry of Defence sets out the first details of its controversial redundancy programme aimed at reshaping Britain’s armed forces. The Gurkhas have also been hit hard, with infantrymen from the historic Nepalese brigade making up most of those in the army who will be told that they have been selected for compulsory redundancy. The announcement is likely to reopen bitter arguments about cuts to the defence budget that are being pushed through even though the UK is committed to fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan and has been asked to play a lead role in Libya. It will also spur on those who have demanded the government reconsiders the main conclusions of last year’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR) – calls that the defence secretary, Liam Fox, has dismissed outright. – the Guardian

Gurkhas will be among the first members of the British army to be made redundant as part of cuts to the defence budget. There will be 260 complusory redundancies in the army and among them will be 140 members of the 3,500 strong Brigade of Gurkhas. About 920 soldiers and 930 RAF personnel will be told they are being made redundant, 750 of them against their will. The cuts are being implemented to the Gurkha regiment after a change to their terms of service which put them on the same footing as the rest of the army. The Ministry of Defence, however, says he expects some of the Gurkhas facing redundancy to transfer to other regiments who are below strength. Those serving with the RAF on the front line in Libya and Afghanistan will be exempt from the cuts, however ground support and operational staff are at risk. – Sky News

Ed calls for quivker G20 action

The G20 group of leading world economies are due to meet in France in early November but Mr Miliband says it is clear the economic recovery has “stalled” and more prompt action is needed. Writing in the FT, Mr Miliband said the prime minister should press French President Nicolas Sarkozy for an earlier meeting when they hold talks at a Anglo-Frech summit on Libya on Thursday. As it currently holds the G20 presidency, France determines when meetings take place. In recent weeks, there have been a succession of warnings from key figures that the world economy is fragile and much more co-ordinated action is required to prevent a repeat of the 2009 global slowdown triggered by the banking crisis. But although IMF head Christine Lagarde said immediate action was required to boost economic growth, US central bank head Ben Bernanke signalled no immediate steps to stimulate demand. – BBC News

David Cameron is “standing on the sidelines” instead of tackling the latest wave of global economic turmoil, Ed Miliband has said. The Labour leader called on the Prime Minister to press for an early meeting of the G20 group of wealthy nations to address the crisis. He challenged the assertion made by Chancellor George Osborne that the UK was a “safe haven”, claiming it was “naive” to believe the UK was immune from the problems.” Mr Miliband said he was concerned by reports that splits within the Government and pressure from the banks could delay reform of the financial sector. “Neither should be used as an excuse for failing to deliver the change we need,” he said. In a bleak assessment of the global economy, Mr Miliband said the recovery which appeared to be taking hold a year ago “has now stalled”. – Press Association

Common sense at last

The Prime Minister and Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, will vote against the proposals put forward by pro-life groups and campaigning MPs, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Their opposition follows claims that ministers were preparing to change long-established rules on advice given to pregnant women. The matter will still be debated in the Commons, but No?10 made it clear for the first time that Mr Cameron would vote against the amendments to the Health Bill tabled by Nadine Dorries, a backbench Tory MP. Downing Street sources said that the proposed amendments would “exclude proper choice”. It is understood that senior Liberal Democrats including Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, were angry at suggestions that the Department of Health was prepared to back the changes which would introduce a mandatory obligation on abortion clinics to offer women access to independent counselling, to be run on separate premises by a group which does not itself carry out abortions. – Daily Telegraph

Cameron’s ‘real’ U-turn

David Cameron was forced to make yet another hasty retreat yesterday – fortunately for the country, he was only reversing a Mini. The Prime Minister was behind the wheel of the 2,000,000th new-look Mini off the production line at a plant in Cowley, Oxford. He was meant to steer the silver motor on to the assembly area floor. But true to form, the MP for nearby Witney overshot his mark and was forced to back-track and try again. Mr Cameron told workers: “Minis have been a fantastic success story, not just for Oxford but for the UK. For me personally, it’s a bit of a thrill because I don’t get to drive any more, even though it was only 20 yards.” – Daily Mirror

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Wednesday News Review

31/08/2011, 06:59:01 AM

Ed to force a vote

Police cuts could lead to weaker law and order on the streets, Ed Miliband has warned as he called on the Government to “learn from the riots”. Mr Miliband has linked the riots to the need to have more officers on the streets. He wants to put pressure on the Government to reverse cuts to the amount of money given to police forces. He also opposes plans for directly elected commissioners which could cost £100m to implement. Mr Miliband hopes to be able to force a vote in Parliament on the issue – either through Labour’s opposition day debates or if enough members of the public sign a petition. But in the weeks since the riots, the Home Secretary defended the budget cuts and said they were not going to be as dramatic as some feared. While Labour have cited the figure showing the cuts amount to 20% in real terms, Theresa May argues they are smaller in cash terms. – Sky News

Labour leader Ed Miliband plans to force a Commons vote on police cuts to flush out Tory rebels and reveal Government splits. The move comes after Mr Miliband, 41, launched a new attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to slash 20% from forces’ budgets. The Labour chief said it was “reckless” not to rethink the cuts in the wake of the riots that swept England earlier this month. The cost reductions will mean a 16,000 drop in officer numbers and a drastic fall in civilian police staffing. Labour may use an ­e-petition to trigger a Commons debate on cuts. Strategists believe many Tory MPs will not vote for the cuts, causing embarrassment for PM David Cameron. Those who do are likely to face a backlash from angry voters. – Daily Mirror

Mitchell is caught with his papers down

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was pictured holding the document as he left Downing Street. He had been at a meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by PM David Cameron. The papers welcomed Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s announcement that he will stand down in 2014, stating: “This is very important. It improves Afghanistan’s political prospects very significantly. We should welcome Karzai’s announcement in private and in public.” Mr Mitchell is not the first prominent figure to accidentally show secret information. In 2009, Bob Quick was forced to stand down as Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer after he revealed details of an operation to foil an al-Qaeda plot. The year before, then housing minister Caroline Flint was pictured entering Number 10 with a briefing paper predicting property prices were set to plunge. – the Sun

The warning from the World Bank was disclosed in a private Cabinet briefing paper which also showed the British Government welcoming the decision of Hamid Karzai to step down as Afghan president. The paper was prepared for yesterday’s meeting of the National Security Council by officials working for Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary. The document was photographed as Mr Mitchell carried them out of the meeting uncovered. Much of the document refers to an ongoing dispute between the Afghan government and the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is reviewing its support for the Kabul government over allegations of widespread corruption. In April, Britain stopped its payments to the main Afghan reconstruction fund. Mr Mitchell’s note showed that the World Bank has said that unless the dispute is resolved soon, the “transition” process, where the Afghan government takes responsibility for security and Western troops gradually withdraw, will be jeopardised. “The World Bank have told us that the suspension of UK and other [donor] funds to the Afghan government will soon begin to destabilise [activities] essential for successful transition,” the note said. – the Telegraph

The Coalition is split over banking reform

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are at loggerheads over plans for sweeping reforms to Britain’s banks aimed at avoiding another taxpayers’ bailout in a future financial crisis. The Business Secretary Vince Cable is demanding the immediate introduction of proposals to force the banks to ring-fence their high street and riskier investment arms that are due to be published by the Independent Commission on Banking on 12 September. But David Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor, are sympathetic to the banks’ demand for them to be given several years to build the “Chinese walls” to be proposed by the commission chaired by Sir John Vickers – which could see the reforms delayed until after the next general election. Nick Clegg is backing Mr Cable and the timing of the reforms threatens to provoke a power struggle at the top of the Government. – the Independent

Tories and Coulson avoid an inquiry

The Conservative party will not face an official inquiry into allegations that it broke electoral law by failing to declare News International‘s payments to its former head of communications, Andy Coulson, after the elections watchdog concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a breach. The Electoral Commission had been asked to investigate a series of payments amounting to a six-figure sum made to Coulson by News International in the months after he arrived at Conservative campaign headquarters in 2007, as well as a company car and health insurance he received for three years. Tom Watson, the Labour MP and member of the Commons culture select committee, had raised concerns that the money could have amounted to an undeclared donation to the party. The revelation that Coulson received the severance payments from News International while working for the Conservatives put renewed pressure on the party, which had previously denied that he was paid by anyone else while employed by them. – the Guardian

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Tuesday News Review

30/08/2011, 06:56:01 AM

Housing crisis

The National Housing Federation said the number of property owners will drop to just 63.8% as house prices soar, compared to 72.5% in 2001. The study says rising prices, the need for huge deposits and a tightening of lending criteria will force ownership numbers down. It also predicts prices in the rental market will increase sharply as people struggle to own their own home. The group, which represents housing associations in England, says a shortage of homes in the UK is also to blame. Housing minister Grant Shapps said the government is aiming to deliver on its promise of 170,000 new homes in the next four years, coupled with encouragement of lenders to help first time buyers. However the NHF chief executive David Orr says the market is “dysfunctional” and warned: “Home ownership is increasingly becoming the preserve of the wealthy and, in parts of the country like London, the very wealthy.” – Sky News

The housing market is in crisis as house prices soar and ownership levels tumble, a forecast warned yesterday. Ownership in England will fall to 63% in the next decade from a 2001 peak of 72.5%, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said. It blames an under-supply of homes, big deposits and stricter lending rules. Oxford Economics, which was commissioned to produce the forecasts, expects a 20% rise in house prices, to £260,304, and private rents, to £582 a month, by 2016. About 4.5 million people are on waiting lists for social housing and only those in desperate need have a chance of being allocated a house. Federation chief executive David Orr demanded more Government investment to build affordable housing. – Daily Mirror

In England, 67.8 per cent of people currently own their home. London will see the biggest drop over the next ten years, from about 50 per cent to 44 per cent in 2021, while the North-East will be the only region to see an increase, rising from 66.2 per cent to 67.4 per cent. Today, the typical first-time buyer has to save £26,346 to get a mortgage – the equivalent of 20 per cent of the value of their home – according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Four years ago, they needed only a deposit of 10 per cent. However, Mr Orr blamed builders, not banks, for the housing crisis. ‘Despite the overwhelming need to increase supply, house building has slumped to a 90-year low, plunging the country even deeper into the mire,’ he said. House prices and rent are both predicted to rise by about 20 per cent over the next five years.  This would mean the average tenant paying £1,152 more per year. – Daily Mail

Crossrail delay to stop another Bombardier

Britain’s next train manufacturing contract could be awarded to a UK-based business after the £16bn Crossrail project delayed a competition to build new carriages. The move reduces the chances of a repeat of the Bombardier row, where the company’s Derby factory missed out to a German rival for a £1.4bn government contract. As a consequence of the delay, the Crossrail tender will include recommendations from a government review of public procurement that was announced in the wake of the Bombardier decision. Crossrail said the primary reason for pushing the award of the carriage contract from late 2013 to 2014 was to save costs, but said it would also allow “the conclusions of the government’s review of public procurement to be taken into account”. In a carefully worded statement, Crossrail indicated that a UK-based business will be in a stronger position for the new contract than it was in the Thameslink contest. – the Guardian

Cash for access returns

David Cameron has been accused of holding “cash for access” meetings with the head of a public affairs firm. As Tory leader he pledged to end the “far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”. But since becoming Prime Minister he has twice held private talks with Conservative Intelligence boss Tim Montgomerie without any officials present, previously secret records show. The company charges clients up to £2,500 a year for advice that includes briefings on government policy and the “dos and don’ts” of tapping-up ministers. The talks came to light when Mr Cameron was forced to publish details of all his meetings at the height of the phone-hacking row. Labour MP John Mann said: “This revelation totally shatters his promise to clean up Westminster. It is old fashioned cash-for-access and lobbying dressed up in a new guise.” – Daily Mirror

Funding cap would ruin Labour

Labour could face financial ruin under plans being developed to cap the biggest donations to political parties, a Guardian analysis shows. The independent standards watchdog is said to have agreed to recommend a new limit on donations, introducing an annual cap with figures ranging from £50,000 to £10,000 being considered. Such a move, in an attempt to clean up political funding, would end the six- and seven-figure donations to the Labour party from its union sponsors, as well as the Tories’ reliance on the richest city financiers. An analysis of five and a half years’ worth of donations to the parties reveals the move would most dramatically affect Labour’s funding base. If the £50,000 limit had been in place over the period, Labour’s donations would have been reduced by 72%, the Conservatives‘ by 37% and theLiberal Democrats‘ by 25%. – the Guardian

Japan’s new PM

Japan’s parliament elected Yoshihiko Noda as the country’s new prime minister Tuesday, making him the country’s sixth new leader in five years. Noda won 308 out of 476 possible votes. The prime minister-elect will officially take over his new post after a ceremonial endorsement by Japan’s emperor, which is expected to happen Wednesday. Ahead of the vote, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan officially submitted his resignation, as did his Cabinet, clearing the way for Noda’s election. The Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s ruling party, picked Noda as its new leader on Monday. He served as finance minister in Kan’s cabinet. In his first speech as party leader, Noda called for party unity to tackle Japan’s massive problems. – CNN

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Monday News Review

29/08/2011, 06:59:45 AM

Ed’s new strategy

Labour is plotting a strategy to portray David Cameron as an old-style traditional Tory – despite warnings it will leave the party at odds with the public on crime, immigration and welfare. A leaked copy of a report ordered by Ed Miliband says Labour should launch a campaign to brand the Prime Minister as being ‘recognisably right-wing’. It accuses the Conservatives of taking ‘major strides back to their ideological roots’ since the election and points to the ‘increasingly shrill language the Tories are using as they vacate the centre ground’. In an analysis that will dismay senior Blairites in the party, the report suggests the Conservatives are too right-wing on crime, immigration and welfare – all areas where polling suggests the public would like to see even tougher policies. – Daily Mail

Labour is developing a new strategy to paint David Cameron as an old-style, traditional Tory, according to confidential documents obtained by the Observer, as the parties prepare to do battle during the coming conference season. The opposition believes the prime minister has abandoned the centre ground in recent months to adopt a more orthodox conservative stance on issues such as law and order, immigration and welfare. They are now set to launch a concerted campaign to brand Cameron as a “recognisably rightwing” leader in a move that will inevitably inflame political debate. The creation of the strategy follows reports last month that Cameron had polled negatively for the first time, with more people saying that the prime minister was doing a bad job than those backing him. The two-and-half-page paper written by the MP Shaun Woodward, a former Tory frontbencher and now head of Labour’s anti-Tory attack unit, and circulated among senior Labour officials, lays bare the areas where the opposition now believes Cameron is vulnerable. – the Guardian

David Cameron is to be depicted as an old-fashioned Tory in a new advertising campaign that is currently being developed by the Labour party, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. The campaign is being prepared into the crucial conference season, and the left are beginning to believe that Cameron has left the safe middle ground on issues such as law and order. Recent polls show that the approval rates of the incumbent Prime Minister in the Coalition government have plummeted. More people now disapprove of Cameron in the role than those who continue to support his leadership. There are also criticisms in a two-and-a-half-page document by anti-Tory campaigners that Cameron has abandoned the ‘compassionate conservatism’ stance that secured his party votes in May 2010. Leading policies, such as environmental affairs and preserving the National Health Service, have been ‘sidelined’ in favour of more traditional Conservative priorities. –

Free schools steam ahead

Twenty-four “free schools” are to open next month, the government has announced. The schools – state-funded and set up by teachers, charities, education experts and parents – are spread throughout the country but mainly concentrated in deprived areas with poor records of academic achievement. They have the same legal status as academies and do not have to follow the national curriculum, giving them more freedom than local authority schools. The Department for Education has confirmed that funding for all 24 schools has been signed and agreed. Under the coalition’s plans, the schools will also be able to prioritise the most disadvantaged children in their school admissions arrangements. – the Guardian

Some of the ‘free schools’ are existing schools that are taking up ‘free’ status. These include the Maharishi School, in Lancashire, which stresses the importance of yoga. A particularly vocal enthusiast of the ‘free school’ system is the journalist, Toby Young, who will be setting up his own school in West London. Young’s will have an academically rigorous curriculum, with an emphasis on Latin. Five different faith groups will be getting the chance to run their own state-financed schools. These include the first state-financed Sikh school, two Jewish primary schools, a Hindu school, a Hare Krishna School, and a Church of England school. The capital cost of setting up the 24 schools will range from £110m to £130m. They are a flagship policy from Conservative education policy. However, so far, only 32 of the 323 applications have been approved. – Huffington Post

You didn’t need an enquiry to tell you that

He went from hero to villain as the “Cleggmania” which swept Britain before last year’s election gave way to protests against his role in the Coalition Government. And now the Liberal Democrats have owned up to an uncomfortable truth: that targeted attacks on their leader, Nick Clegg, by political opponents are damaging the party’s electoral fortunes. An official internal inquiry into why the Lib Dems did so badly in this year’s local elections has pointed the finger at advertising campaigns such as one which portrayed the politician as “Cleggzilla”, trampling over public services. The Cleggzilla posters were funded by trade unions opposed to the Coalition’s cuts. Whilst some might argue that it is the job of political campaigners to criticise their opponents, the Lib Dems have cried foul, branding the attacks as “personal and vicious”. The complaint, in a report which will be presented to delegates at the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham next month, risks reopening a public debate into Mr Clegg’s state of mind. Since he became Deputy Prime Minister last year he has brushed aside suggestions that he is “fragile” and suffering from stress. – the Telegraph

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Wednesday News Review

24/08/2011, 07:05:12 AM

Rebels hunt for Gaddafi

The massive green gates were blasted open after seven hours of ferocious fighting and exultant rebels poured into Bab al-Aziziya, Muammar Gaddafi’s fortress and the symbol of the regime’s bloody resistance in Tripoli. The fighters scoured through the complex shouting to each other that they had trapped the dictator in his lair. Frantic early searches failed to find the quarry and the revolutionaries were last night trying to locate a network of tunnels supposedly hidden inside the complex. Meanwhile, they tore down the regime’s green flag from the top of his home, which had been bombed in 1986 by US warplanes, and replaced it with the banner of the revolution. For the revolutionaries, frustrated and angry that their entry into the capital had not resulted in the immediate vanquishing of their hated foe, the fall of the bastion gave cathartic relief. They hugged each other amid repeated cries of “Allahu Akbar”. One of the fighters climbed on to the statue of a clenched fist, a symbol of defiance against the West, and raised his hand in a victory salute. Another statue, that of Colonel Gaddafi, was dragged out of a building by rope, the head torn off and tossed from hand to hand. – the Independent

Clegg in charge of Libya as Cameron goes on holiday… again

Nick Clegg has defended David Cameron’s decision to resume his summer holiday even though the Libyan crisis remains unresolved. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke after taking the Prime Minister’s place as chairman of the National Security Committee dealing with Libya. Mr Cameron is now on holiday in Cornwall – his third week of holiday this summer – with his family. He returned to London on Monday morning, before resuming his holiday again yesterday morning. Earlier this month, he also cut short an Italian holiday to return to work to respond to rioting in London and other English cities. The Deputy Prime Minister insisted that there was nothing wrong with Mr Cameron’s decision to return to Cornwall, saying that the Government could deal with the Libyan situation without him. “We as a Government work collectively very effectively. I regularly chair meetings of the National Security Council and have done so today,” Mr Clegg said. Mr Cameron is “in constant contact with other world leaders and leaders of the National Transitional Council in Libya, and that is exactly the way that we will continue to operate,” Mr Clegg said. – the Telegraph

Cameron red faced as details of NI payments to Coulson revealed

The Conservative party is struggling to defend itself against the disclosure that Andy Coulson, its former head of communications, received six-figure payments from News International while working for the party, despite having previously stated categorically that he had no other income. The party has been asked repeatedly about Coulson’s income, insisting that he was not paid by anyone else during his time at Conservative party HQ and in Downing Street. It offered comprehensive assurances that he had no other income as recently as last month, and apparently after seeking assurances directly from Coulson…. But in a sign of the continued loyalty to Coulson at the top of the government, senior sources in the Conservative party stressed that the severance payments were different from receiving a salary or co-payment from News International. The party refused to answer detailed questions about what assurances Coulson gave about his earnings, whom he had given assurances to, and when. – the Guardian

The Prime Minister is once again facing embarrassment over his decision to hire the former News of the World editor after the BBC reported Mr Coulson received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the newspaper group after he was hired by the Conservative Party. It is alleged that News International continued paying him in instalments until the end of 2007. If confirmed, it would Mr Coulson was receiving money from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire for at least five months while working as the Conservative’s Director of Communications, a role for which he was apparently paid £275,000 a year. The payments were said to be part of a “compromise agreement” following his resignation from the NoW after royal editor Clive Goodman was convicted of phone hacking. This morning, two of News International’s former editors said they did not receive any payment when they left the company. – the Telegraph

So now we hear that Andy Coulson was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by News International for several months when he was working for David Cameron’s Conservative party. This despite the fact that he let the Commons culture committee believe that he’d had no secondary income. It seems everyone in the Tory party is now running for cover. Nobody knew of anything untoward. Everyone is categorical in their denial. But what they surely cannot deny is that they never really did due diligence. This was a man who had resigned from the News of the Worldunder a cloud. One of his employees had gone to prison for hacking phones, along with a commissioned freelancer. Did anybody ask whether Coulson was still being paid by News International when he arrived at Conservative Central Office? If not, that would be culpable negligence on the side of the accounting officers at the Conservative party in my book. – Chris Bryant, the Guardian

MPs try to save cheques

MPs are battling banks’ plans to abolish cheques. A Treasury Select Committee has warned banks not to attempt to abandon cheques by stealth or deter customers from using cheques. It has also recommended that the Payments Council be brought under regulatory control to stop its “unfettered power to decide the future of cheques”. Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the committee, said: “The Payments Council is an industry-dominated body with no effective public accountability. It should not have unfettered power to take decisions on matters such as the future of cheques, that are of vital importance to millions of people. Banks have given customers the impression that the abolition of cheques was a foregone conclusion. This type of behaviour is unacceptable.” – the Independent

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Tuesday News Review

23/08/2011, 07:00:20 AM

Coulson continued to be paid by NI

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World who has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and bribing the police, received several hundred thousand pounds from News International after starting work as the Conservative Party’s Director of Communications in July 2007. These payments were part of his severance package, under what is known as a “compromise agreement”. According to sources, Mr Coulson’s contractual leaving pay was given to him in instalments until the end of 2007 – which means he continued to be financially linked to News International for several months of his tenure as David Cameron’s main media adviser. The disclosure that Mr Coulson maintained a financial relationship with News International after moving into a sensitive role in the Tory Party will be controversial. According to a senior member of the government, Tory Party managers at the time say they were not aware Mr Coulson was receiving these payments from News International while employed by the Conservative Party. – the BBC

The Electoral Commission is to be urged to hold an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire was covertly funding the Conservative Party while David Cameron was leader of the opposition. The call from the Labour MP Tom Watson, who has played the lead role in uncovering the telephone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s former newspaper the News of the World, follows a BBC revelation about large payments to David Cameron’s former spin doctor, Andy Coulson. Mr Coulson resigned from the editorship of the News of the World early in 2007, after the newspaper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman and the private detective Glen Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking. – the Independent

David Cameron is facing fresh questions about his decision to hire Andy Coulson in 2007 after it was reported that his former communications director received several hundred thousand pounds from his former employer News International after he was hired by the Conservative party. The BBC’s Robert Peston said that Coulson received cash payments from the company until the end of 2007 after his resignation as editor of the News of the World in January of that year. Coulson resigned after Clive Goodman, the former royal editor at the paper, which was closed last month, was jailed for illegally intercepting voicemail messages. The title’s owner News International allegedly agreed to honour the remainder of Coulson’s two-year contract, and the money was paid in instalments. Coulson also continued to receive other benefits, including private health insurance and a company car, for several years. – the Guardian

Cameron returns from holiday as Libyan rebels take Tripoli

David Cameron will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Libya (NSC-L) today after cutting short his holiday, Downing Street said. The Prime Minister returned to London from Cornwall last night as euphoric Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli. Scenes of jubilation broke out in the capital’s Green Square today as Colonel’s Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year rule appeared to be crumbling. Gaddafi last night issued a fresh appeal on state television for Libyans to save the capital. In a series of audio messages, he called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and “purify it” from “the rats”. He was not shown in the messages. The near-collapse of the regime will come has a huge relief to Mr Cameron, who combined with French president Nicolas Sarkozy to launch international airstrikes to protect the rebels last March. – the Telegraph

This time David Cameron didn’t mind interrupting his holiday. Two weeks after cutting short his main summer break in Tuscany because of the riots, the Prime Minister broke another family holiday in Cornwall to handle Britain’s response to the dramatic endgame in Libya. After taking a high-stakes gamble by calling for international intervention six months ago, Mr Cameron could hardly be blamed for wanting a share of the limelight when Muammar Gaddafi’s regime finally crumbled. Yesterday Mr Cameron addressed TV crews outside Downing Street and was quick to speak by telephone to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). But other leaders were also determined to grab the credit in what became a rather unseemly race. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, invited Mr Jalil for talks in Paris tomorrow. France plans to host next week a meeting of the “contact group” of nations trying to stabilise Libya since the anti-Gaddafi uprising began. – Independent

Cabinet at war over gang plans

The all-out war that David Cameron promised to wage on gangs after the August riots is threatening to turn into one between government departments. The Prime Minister appointed the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith as joint heads of the so-called “gangs committee”, which held its first meeting last week. But already it has run into problems because Mr Duncan Smith, who spent months in opposition working on problems of social exclusion, has long-term plans to set gang members back on the straight and narrow. He wants to introduce an anti-gangs strategy modelled on those tried out in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Strathclyde, both of which were highly praised by David Cameron. But his ambitious proposals are not popular with the police, who face drastic cuts to their budgets and object to the potential cost. – Independent

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Monday News Review

22/08/2011, 07:42:07 AM

Rebels reach Tripoli

Rebel fighters celebrated victory in Tripoli’s Green Square last night as heavy fighting continued in the capital. Hours after Colonel Gaddafi congratulated his forces for standing firm, his son Saif al Islam was arrested by the opposition, the International Criminal Court confirmed. The rebel troops landed by sea to re-inforce an uprising inside the capital, signalling that the bloody endgame to the civil war was fast approaching, with revolutionary forces surrounding the city. The regime sent tanks into residential areas and opened fire on protesters in an attempt to claw back control. Gaddafi turned thousands of troops on opposition members inside the capital, with claims from fleeing residents of homes destroyed and roadside executions. But some of the rebel fighters entering Tripoli from the western side of the city were greeted by cheering crowds late last night, with some people tearing up portraits of Gaddafi. Mohammed Ilyash, an engineer, one of those celebrating, declared: “This is the birth of new Libya. We are seeing our country coming out of a dark and frightening time. We welcome our young men who are bringing us freedom.” His friend, Omar Ali Baidi, added: “We now want to see justice catch up with Gaddafi and his family.” However, ferocious fighting continued at other parts of the city late into the evening as Col Gaddafi, in an audio broadcast, called on the people of Tripoli, including women, to resist the “collaborators with the imperialists”. – the Independent

Hundreds of rebel fighters pushed into the centre of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, late on Sunday as their battle to overthrow the 42-year rule ofMuammar Gaddafi moved closer to ending in victory. Rebels waved opposition flags and fired guns into the air in jubilation after reaching Tripoli’s central Green Square, the symbolic heart of the city, in the early hours of Monday morning. Delighted residents were seen pouring into the streets to celebrate and greet the rebel fighters as they advanced through the suburbs towards the centre. The prosecutor of the international criminal court said one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, who has been indicted along with his father on crimes against humanity charges had been detained. The head of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abd el-Jalil said that his fighters who had detained Saif al-Islam had been given instructions to “treat him well”. There were also reports that Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, and the presidential guard had surrendered but Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound was still under the control of the regime. – the Guardian

Little real action to reduce gangs

“Gang-busting” measures championed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith are in doubt because of budget cuts.  Waltham Forest Council yesterday attacked the Government for failing to support a best-practice gang-tackling project. The East London council claims the project, which has been running since January, has been an “uphill struggle” because of funding shortages. In Birmingham today a man will appear in court accused of the murder of three men hit by a car during the 10 August riots. The three men were protecting the Winson Green area from looters when they were struck. – PoliticsHome

Prince Charles’ charities push government for support

Prince Charles’s charities have lobbied government ministers and senior officials to change policies on politically sensitive topics including VAT rates and regional development spending, according to letters and emails obtained by the Guardian. In a series of interventions that will re-ignite debate about the Prince of Wales’s alleged “meddling” in politics, charities set up by the prince in line with his social and environmental goals have called on the government to change policies. Business in the Community, a charity of which Charles has been president for 25 years, urged the business secretary, Vince Cable, to rethink a decision to scrap the Northwest Regional Development Agency, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. In another case, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment urged the local government minister, Grant Shapps, to incorporate greater community engagement in planning and promoted its own planning work around the country as something for him to consider in the national planning policy framework. – the Guardian

Gimmick: take your minister to work day

The government has been accused of using “gimmicky” policies over a scheme to get families into work. The project, revealed yesterday, will involve ministers volunteering to mentor a family in which two or three generations have not worked. The politicans involved include Tim Loughton, the Children and Families Minister, and the Employment Minister Chris Grayling, The Sunday Times reported. The Department for Education confirmed Mr Loughton’s involvement, but Mr Grayling told Sky News that his participation was “news to me”. Vernon Coaker, the Shadow home office minister, dismissed the idea as “gimmicky”. He said: “It smacks of something that gets a headline, but what is going on underneath?” – the Independent

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Wednesday News Review

17/08/2011, 08:00:31 AM

New evidence points towards Coulson

Rupert MurdochJames Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman. In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named. The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”. – the Guardian

The allegations that Andy Coulson ordered his executives at the News of the World to stop openly discussing phone hacking and that he promised Clive Goodman his job back as long as he did not drop any other staff in it when he pleaded guilty to hacking is yet another problem for David Cameron. Until yesterday, the only written evidence linking Mr Coulson directly to any criminality had been emails suggesting that he authorised payments to police officers for information. Those documents – while hugely damaging – could still allow Mr Coulson to claim that he did not know about hacking and Mr Cameron to claim that Mr Coulson had not lied to him. But now it is alleged by Mr Goodman that Mr Coulson not only knew about phone hacking but ordered its cover-up as well. This raises fresh questions about the assurances Mr Coulson gave to Mr Cameron when he was hired and increases the chance that the Prime Minister may eventually have to admit that he was wholly deceived by a man he chose to take into the heart of the Downing Street machine. – the Independent

Lib Dems say Tory riot rhetoric “bonkers”

Liberal Democrat politicians indicated on Tuesday that they have deep concerns over David Cameron‘s uncompromising post-riots law-and-order agenda, with the party’s home affairs spokeswoman in the Lords telling the Guardian there should be “zero tolerance with zero tolerance”. Lady Hamwee, who led the Lords revolt against Tory plans for electedpolice commissioners earlier this year, said the pledge by the prime minister of zero tolerance on criminality was taking matters too far. Her comment suggests Cameron will meet stiff resistance when parliament returns in September. Lib Dem backbenchers went further when contacted by the Guardian and accused their coalition partners of short-termism and kneejerk reactions. David Ward, MP for Bradford East, described plans to withdraw offenders’ benefits as “nuts”, and Tessa Munt, the MP for Wells, said the plans were “bonkers, bonkers, bonkers”. She said: “Frankly, this all smacks of headline grabbing by Conservatives, not calm, rational policy-making.” The vice-chair of the party’s federal policy committee, Evan Harris, said he would table an amendment at the party conference asking members to vote to block Cameron’s contemplation of barring individuals suspected of causing social unrest from Twitter and Facebook. – the Guardian

More uncertainty as Germany and France defend the Euro

Germany and France looked to have failed again to calm feverish financial markets despite unveiling a raft of economic agreements at a summit in Paris. Traders reacted with exasperation as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy repeated their “absolute will to defend the euro” and “shore up investor confidence” yet refused to back the shattered currency with eurobonds or a bigger bail-out fund. The failure to address the two measures left many traders ruing what they see as a lack of political leadership. Edward Meir from MF Global in New York said: “It doesn’t look like the two biggest items were seriously discussed — the potential for a eurobond and the size of the stabilization/bailout fund. At €450bn [the European Financial Stability Facility] could easily be wiped out if one of the larger countries gets into trouble.” Phil Flyn from PFG Best in Chicago said: “The market was holding out hope that we would be closer to a eurobond… What we’re moving towards is more uncertainty.” – the Telegraph

David loves Center Parcs

To some, Center Parcs offers a nightmare image of forced jollity at a water-themed prison camp. Now David Miliband has urged holidaymakers to cast off their snobbery, following a life-changing experience at the holiday village. While David Cameron enjoyed luxury in Tuscany and Mr Miliband’s brother Ed took a family trip to Devon, the former foreign secretary has hailed the delights of the Pont Royal Center Parcs resort in Provence. Writing a post entitled Holiday Harmony, Mr Miliband castigates sophisticates who scoffed at their destination. “The week in Provence got all the usual approval,” he wrote. “But when we said we were having a week at Center Parcs, we got a few raised eyebrows. One person said they had heard it described as an open prison.” – the Independent

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Tuesday News Review

16/08/2011, 06:25:56 AM

May on collision course with senior cops

Police in England and Wales are to be given new guidance on dealing with outbreaks of disorder on the streets, in the wake of last week’s rioting. Home Secretary Theresa May has asked for new advice on use of officers and tactics after several cities were hit. She has said police initially deployed too few officers and that some appeared “reluctant” to use robust tactics. In a speech later, she is also due to say last week’s riots make the case for police reform more urgent than ever. Mrs May’s speech in London is expected to provoke further conflict with senior officers over the government’s planned 20% police funding cuts and plans for directly elected officials to oversee police forces. – BBC News

Cameron’s families

As part of the “social fightback”, Cameron had a tough-love message for 120,000 of the UK’s most “troubled families”. He set himself the rigid target of the next election to put all of them through some kind of family-intervention programme. In a speech setting out his analysis of what led to the riots, Cameron highlighted those families across the UK who were dealing with multiple complex social health and economic problems. Lifting them out of extreme worklessness would be regarded as a measure of his success in his wider agenda of fixing Britain’s broken society, he said. Cameron said he would put “rocket boosters” on attempts to rehabilitate those 120,000. He said would ask the chief executive of an organisation called Action for Employment (A4e), Emma Harrison, who he appointed his “families champion” in December, to use her experience in dealing with troubled families in three pilot areas to overcome the bureaucratic problems that have prevented the rapid expansion of Labour’s similar families intervention programme, running since 2006. – the Guardian

Bratton hired, not fired

David Cameron might have to re-think the appointment of US supercop Bill Bratton. The Prime Minister has turned to the tough-talking American to help tackle London gang crime. But Bratton cleaned up the crime-ridden streets of New York and LA by HIRING thousands of cops not FIRING them. Cameron is planning to axe 16,000 frontline police officers from forces across Britain. And some believe Bratton’s record in crime-fighting is solely down to him increasing numbers on the force. According to a book written by leading economist Steven Levitt, the NYPD was boosted by around 45% under Bratton’s leadership. Bratton hired 7,000 more police in New York – a policy that President Bill Clinton successfully expanded nationwide by funding 100,000 extra cops. When Bratton arrived in LA as police chief in 2002 he announced his first priority was to hire officers. – Daily Mirror

I’d bet my house on him

Stephen House, the chief constable of Strathclyde Police, has been confirmed as the favourite to be the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, according to reports. Mr House, the former Met assistant commissioner, applied for the job after Home Office officials contacted him. Sir Paul Stephenson resigned from his post at the height of the phone-hacking scandal, and applications for the coveted post close tomorrow. Acting Met deputy commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is also seen as a front-runner. Mr House, 54, was born in Glasgow and moved to London in the 1960s. He became a police officer in 1981, serving in uniform before taking on operational roles with the Sussex, Northamptonshire and West Yorkshire forces. He joined the Met in 2001, and led the specialist crime directorate, before taking over as head of Scotland’s largest police force in 2007. Whoever does take over will be appointed on the recommendation of the Home Secretary. – the Scotsman

Downing Street finally agree to an inquiry

No 10 has conceded to Labour demands for a formal commission to investigate the causes of last week’s riots after behind-the-scenes cross-party talks coordinated by the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is said to be close to “brokering” a deal between theConservatives and Labour into a commission that would go into every neighbourhood affected by the disturbances to ask community members why the outbursts of violence occurred. David Cameron had previously ruled out a full public inquiry in the short term claiming that the parliamentary select committee inquiries were adequate but the government has now signalled its intention for a “public engagement exercise”, with an independent chair, to establish the causes of the riots and looting. A No 10 source said: “We are coming to the view that there is a case for community engagement about what happened and why. It would involve getting someone to go into the communities and find out why this all happened. It would be likely that it would be chaired by someone outside government. We’re coming to the view that some sort of engagement exercise would be useful.” – the Guardian

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Monday News Review

15/08/2011, 06:49:41 AM

Real politics returns

Ed Miliband will today accuse the ­Government of resorting to “gimmicks” as David Cameron pledges a “social fightback” against the rioters. The PM will promise to reverse the “slow motion moral collapse” that has taken place in parts of Britain. In a speech, Mr Cameron will also accuse some parts of Government of being de-moralised and will blame the breakdown on a ­bureaucratic society that twists human rights laws. Meanwhile, Work and Pensions ­Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has vowed to make “life hell” for those responsible for the violence. He wants a war on gangs and says that their leaders must be “harassed” by tough policing. As part of the zero-­tolerance policy, boot camp-style academies could be introduced for young offenders. Other plans would see police work with the Driving Standards Agency and TV Licensing to check gang members have paid taxes and motoring fines. But in a sign the political truce on the riots is over, Labour leader Mr Miliband will warn against knee-jerk reactions. – Daily Mirror

The prime minister will go head to head with the leader of the opposition as the two make speeches setting out their competing analyses of the riots and looting. The pair make similarly emphatic condemnations of the rioters, but in a speech at his old school in Camden, Ed Miliband, theLabour leader, will denounce Cameron’s ideas to deal with rioters, put forward over the weekend, as “gimmicks”. Miliband will also link the behaviour of the looters and bankers, phone hacking and MPs’ expenses scandals, saying: “It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of me-first, take-what-you-can attitude. The bankers who took millions while destroying people’s savings: greedy, selfish, immoral. The MPs who fiddled their expenses: greedy, selfish, immoral. The people who hacked phones to get stories and make money for themselves: greedy, selfish and immoral. Let’s talk about what this does to our culture.” Today, Cameron will push his long-held opinion that parts of Britain are broken, despite opinion polls that show the public believes he has not handled events well. He will say today that government ministers from both parties will audit their portfolios for policies aimed at mending the “broken society”. – the Guardian

Named and shamed

The Crown Prosecution Service is to order prosecutors to apply for anonymity to be lifted in any youth case they think it is in the public interest. The law currently protects the identity of any suspect under the age of 18, even if they are convicted, but it also allows for an application to have such restrictions lifted, if deemed appropriate. Theresa May has revealed that she wants as many of the young criminals identifying as possible. She said: “When I was in Manchester last week, the issue was raised to me about the anonymity of juveniles who are found guilty of crimes of this sort. What I’ve asked is that CPS guidance should go to prosecutors to say that where possible, they should be asking for the anonymity of juveniles who are found guilty of criminal activity to be lifted.” – Daily Telegraph

Theresa May said guidance should be given to prosecutors that juveniles found guilty of criminal activity may lose their legal anonymity. She was firing the starting gun for the “zero tolerance” approach advocated by David Cameron to make life impossible for gang members. The Home Secretary also backed up actions by some councils who have threatened to evict the families of those found guilty of being involved in rioting. Wandsworth council became the first to serve an eviction notice after an 18-year-old man appeared in court following rioting near Clapham Junction, south London. – Daily Express

Bratton widens the rift

In a new low for relations between the police and politicians, senior officers ridiculed the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint American ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton to advise the Government on gang warfare. And in a new broadside about plans for 20 per cent budget cuts to the police, the Mayor of London insisted that crime will come down only if there are more police on the streets. Senior policemen angrily denounced Home Secretary Theresa May for suggesting that it was politicians who turned around the initially sluggish police response to last week’s riots. Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, complained that commanders had their hands tied by human rights laws. The increasingly acrimonious relationship between politicians and police gained new impetus yesterday when Mr Cameron signalled his support for Mr Bratton’s zero tolerance approach to cleaning up crime when he ran the police departments in New York and Los Angeles. Mr Bratton was initially mooted as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner – a positions in which he said he was ‘seriously interested – but the idea was blocked by Mrs May. Instead, Mr Bratton will join a taskforce on gangs. – Daily Mail

Osbourne shows his true blue colours

George Osborne has confirmed he wants to scrap the 50p top rate of tax because it is not raising significant amounts of money for the Treasury. The Chancellor branded the 50p rate “uncompetitive” and said there was “not much point” in having taxes that brought in little revenue. “I have said with the 50p rate I don’t see that as a lasting tax rate for Britain because it’s very uncompetitive internationally, and people frankly can move. What is it actually raising? It’s only been in operation for a year this tax.” The Chancellor’s intervention will cheer Conservative backbenchers but puts him on a collision course with senior Liberal Democrats, who have said cutting taxes for the poor should be a priority. – the Independent

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