Posts Tagged ‘Chris Huhne’

Beastly Eastleigh

05/02/2013, 07:00:39 AM

by John Braggins

The voters of Eastleigh – an old railway town just outside Southampton – lost their MP, Stephen Milligan in unfortunate circumstances on February 7th 1994. A Tory with promise ahead of him came to a tragic end, and was found wrapped in a bin bag after accidentally suffocating himself in an apparently solitary sexual episode.

Fast forward 20 years and an another MP, Chris Huhne, this time a LibDem, was on a fast-track to high political office only to find he was travelling too fast, eventually ending his career in an equally bizarre manner, only far less tragic this time.

So the voters of Eastleigh will yet again face battalions of LibDem Focus leafleters, legions of Tory In Touch deliverers and car loads of Labour Rose activists spreading out across the wastelands of Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh Town and Hedge End.

In 1994, along with my colleague Alan Barnard, I was asked by Labour’s elections supremo, Jack Cunningham, to take charge of Labour’s campaign for the forthcoming by-election. Our remit was to avoid the traditional by-election squeeze on our vote and avoid losing our deposit. We were tasked with finding a way to take the fight to the Lib Dems and to encourage Labour voters to stay with us.

The Eastleigh by-election of 1994 was a turning point for Labour, coming as it did after two by-elections in ‘the south’ – Christchurch and Newbury where Labour’s vote was squeezed almost out of existence. Labour was unlikely to win Eastleigh but increasing its share of the vote and coming ahead of the Tory was seen by Labour’s shadow cabinet as one of the most important by-election objectives in the run-up to the 1997 general election, showing, as it did, Labour could increase its vote in the vital southern key seats.

Straight after the by-election result, when Labour had come second in what at the time was one of only six by-elections since the Second World War to have a swing from Tory to Labour, the recently elected leader Tony Blair was able to say “There are no no-go areas for new Labour.”

In his analysis column for the Daily Telegraph on the Saturday after polling day, Professor Anthony King wrote under the headline “The real winners came second at Eastleigh”. He said “The big news from the by-election …… is that Labour is now back, constituting a real electoral threat to the Tories for the first time since 1979″ and “Such an outcome in a general election would sweep Labour to power.”


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Chris Huhne’s political demise is a tragedy all round

04/02/2013, 04:55:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

No-one should take any pleasure in witnessing Chris Huhne’s public defenestration. A sequence of events that clearly spun out of control has cost a cabinet minister and plausible contender to succeed Nick Clegg his career, his seat and just possibly his liberty.

His resignation from parliament as he awaits sentencing for perverting the course of justice is not just a humiliating end to his political life but a personal tragedy. All the more so for his children and family, doubly victims given the disputatious end of his marriage to Vicky Pryce. But British politics has two abiding characteristics which are up in neon lighting for all to see today: there is little sympathy for the fallen and attention immediately focuses on who benefits from another’s misfortune.

So talk turns to the pending Eastleigh by-election, the prospects of UKIP’s Nigel Farage if he chooses to stand and the implications for the coalition if the Conservatives mount a full throttle campaign to snatch the seat. But there are other consequences our rubber-necking politicians and hacks should pause and reflect on.

The career path of a growing number of our parliamentarians now ends in the most brutal ignominy; a public shaming in court and a custodial sentence. On a human level, this is awful for anyone. Collectively, it scuttles public trust in our governing class.


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What Chris Huhne’s departure tells us about British politics

06/02/2012, 01:00:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

So, Chris Huhne has left the cabinet. Entire forests have already been destroyed over the interceding months, since the story broke about the speeding points allegedly taken for him by his wife. He will now be charged and is innocent until proven guilty: that is the fair play to which he is entitled.

We will never know – or at least, not for a while – whether Huhne genuinely went willingly, or was pressured to resign to avoid being sacked. But we’re also in new territory entirely: this is the first time a cabinet minister has been charged with a criminal offence in as long as anyone can remember, no-one quite knows what the rules are. And here’s a thing, which some have questioned: would it be right for a cabinet minister to have been made to go under such circumstances, given that he has not, as yet, been convicted of anything at all?

Yes, it is. Because this is not a parking fine. It’s a criminal charge, and criminal charges have to be taken seriously. Here’s what can happen when you don’t.

Mariano Rajoy, now Spanish prime minister, was last year in a similar position to Cameron and Clegg. But his judgement was another: that he was happy to let one of his party’s main figures, Francisco Camps, stay in post after being charged with a criminal offence. Although Camps later changed his mind and resigned anyway, the point was that, not being able to tell whether he was innocent or guilty, Rajoy had bet his party’s reputation on Camps. He lost.


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This Fox has been ripped to pieces, but his colleagues elude the hounds

21/10/2011, 02:47:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The blood lust of our “feral” media, combined with the unmistakeable whiff of a politician in distress, always ends the same way. But despite Liam Fox’s exit this remains quite simply, the luckiest government in living memory.

There have been no shortage of political scandals and pratfalls over the past 17 months that could have seen any number of Dr. Fox’s colleagues beat him to the ignominious honour of being the first cabinet minister kicked to Whitehall’s curb.

But Tory and Lib Dem ministers seem to be blessed with nine lives. Perhaps rabbits’ feet are handed out to ministers with their red boxes?

Take Andrew Lansley. Surely it is only a matter of time before a piano drops on his head? He has made a complete hash of the health bill, finding himself in the curious position of pleasing absolutely no-one with his proposals, yet he remains in situ.

And then there’s Michael Gove. Although he is a true Cameroon, of which great things were not unreasonably expected, his career has never quite been the same since he was pranged early on by Ed Balls, colliding into him over the scrapping of the building schools for the future programme. He wobbled, but has recovered, of sorts, only to now find himself caught up in revelations that he and his advisers operated a secretive email network, by-passing his department’s official channels. If compelled to publish the messages under freedom of information obligations, he may find he has strayed down a Fox-hole in terms of ministerial propriety.

Before Liam Fox, the previous holder of the dubious title “cabinet-minister-most-likely–to-resign” had long been held by energy secretary Chris Huhne. He has spent the past few months on the precipice of a resignation, as the excruciating half-life of his messy divorce sees both him and his ex-wife embroiled in an unseemly “he said, she said” squabble over one or the other’s penalty points for speeding. Although a fairly mediocre crime, in the grand scheme of things, it has acquired epic proportions given the energy secretary’s career is essentially being strafed by friendly fire.

Yet he clings on. Your average rhino resembles an Oil of Olay model in the skin suppleness stakes when measured alongside Huhne. His leader, however, is forced to develop a thick hide on the job. Nick Clegg has spent most of his 17 month tenure as deputy prime minister as a pariah. He is the unhappiest looking bloke in British politics, and with good reason; he is the most hated. He has scuppered the very essence of the Lib Dems’ brand by doing the coalition’s dirty work, and now his own constituency is set to be eviscerated in a pointless parliamentary boundary review he only signed up to in order the secure the doomed referendum on AV; yet he hangs on too.

But these are just the top-drawer near-death experiences of the coalition. There are another set of ministers who have had a close shave through good old-fashioned political bumbling. Take Ken Clarke’s howler of a radio interview about rape sentencing, coming on top of his faltering handling of his brief, which has seen Tory backbenchers turn puce at what they see is the forfeiting of their credibility on law and order due to Clarke’s leniency on sending criminals to jail.

Or Vince Cable’s silly self-aggrandising, bragging that he could bring down the government if he chose to by deploying his “nuclear option” as he sought to impress a couple of fetching young female undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph. Dufferish, old bloke failings, but indicative of senior politicians who have difficulty keeping their political antennae erect.

The last category is the weird and wonderful. Think of William Hague’s hotel arrangements. Or Oliver Letwin’s curious al fresco filing system. Or Caroline Spelman not being able to see the wood for the trees in relation to the flogging-off of national forestry management.

Any one or all of these ministers could have plausibly walked the plank during the course of the last year for either political or personal difficulties. Paradoxically, Liam Fox looked likely to become a cabinet mainstay. Meanwhile, the scalp to end all scalps, remains tantalisingly out of reach. For now.

The jet-black pelt of the chancellor is worth a dozen Fox skins. Osborne’s eventual embrace of a plan B for the economy warrants his resignation. The change of direction that will eventually come – and which Osborne puts off for the narrowest political considerations – should make his position utterly untenable.

Liam Fox will doubtless feel rather lonely as the first occupier of the cabinet’s sin bin. But he should content himself. He won’t be the last.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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Politics – at least it keeps the weirdos off the streets

18/10/2011, 07:30:13 AM

by Tom Harris

As with many previous political scandals, it was my wife who offered a sane perspective.

“When you were a minister, you went on foreign trips, didn’t you”?

“A couple, yes”.

“Well, if you’d told me that you were taking our best man with you on one of them, I would have thought that was nice. But if you’d taken him on 14 of them, I would have asked if I could come instead on at least one of them”.

Which pretty much sums up how odd “Foxgate” (do we really have to call it that)? actually is. And how odd its main protagonist is.

Not that Liam Fox is any weirder than your average high-flying minister, because there’s something of the oddball in anyone who reckons that a career in politics is an acceptable way for a grown up to earn a living. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

28/07/2011, 06:22:29 AM

Hague’s Libyan gamble

Mr Hague, the foreign secretary, who on Wednesday expelled the remaining staff of the Libyan embassy as Britain granted political recognition to the country’s opposition, said that the democratic gains made during the six-month series of revolutions risk being for naught thanks to sectarian violence and struggling economies. “We mustn’t expect each country to be neatly done in six months. It’s not a computer game that comes to an end when you get bored,” he said in an interview with The Times. He said the future of Egypt would decide the extent to which democracy would flow across the region, calling it “the single most important piece of the jigsaw in the whole Arab Spring”. Mr Hague spoke amid increasingly frantic diplomatic moves five months into a bombing campaign against the Libyan dictatorship. The foreign secretary said Britain could free up frozen funds for the Libyan opposition. – Daily Telegraph

The foreign secretary’s decision is a significant boost for the rebels’ Benghazi-based national transitional council, which is viewed by Britain, as of today, as the “sole governmental authority” in Libya. By taking this action, Britain has come into line with the US, France, Italy and other Nato allies, which had already declared the NTC to be the de facto government of Libya. As a matter of longstanding policy, Britain recognises states, not governments. But in effect London has now “de-recognised” the Gaddafi regime and its representatives in the UK. In doing so, it has further delegitimised the remaining authority of Gaddafi and those around him and has invited the NTC to send a representative – in essence an ambassador – to London. He claimed the move had support from Arab League and African Union countries – many of which, however, continue to deal with Gaddafi’s government. – the Guardian

Huhne file is handed to the prosecutors

Police probing allegations Cabinet minister Chris Huhne made his wife take his speeding points have passed their findings to prosecutors. Lib Dem Energy Secretary Mr Huhne would be forced to quit if the Crown Prosecution Service decides to put him on trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer will take the final ­decision on the case, after it has been considered by lawyers. Essex police launched the inquiry in May after the allegations surfaced following a newspaper interview with his estranged wife Mrs Pryce. He and Mrs Pryce could both be jailed if they are convicted of perverting the course of justice. – Daily Mirror

Chris Huhne’s future as a Cabinet minister could be determined within weeks after police passed a file to prosecutors yesterday about an alleged speeding offence. Pressure is mounting on the Energy Secretary amid suggestions the Prime Minister may already be considering a possible successor. Mr Huhne faces political oblivion if he is formally accused of perverting the course of justice by allowing his wife to take speeding penalty points for him. Yesterday Downing Street was forced to deny David Cameron and Nick Clegg had already held talks on a mini-reshuffle that will take place if Mr Huhne is forced to resign. However, there is growing speculation the well-regarded LibDem business minister Ed Davey, who is close to Mr Clegg, would be parachuted into the Cabinet to replace the Energy Secretary. – Daily Mail

Ed nose day

Good news for Justine, wife of Ed Miliband. Quieter nights are in prospect in the Miliband family home after the Labour leader underwent a successful operation on his nose to correct a breathing problem. As symptoms of sleep apnoea – aggravated in his case by a deviated septum – include heavy snoring and restlessness, the person most likely to notice the difference is Mr Miliband’s new wife, Justine. The hour-long NHS procedure took place at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in central London. A Labour source denied suggestions that part of the intention of the operation was to make him sound less “bunged-up”. He said: “I’ve spoken to him since the operation and his voice sounds exactly the same.” – the Independent

An expectant cluster of doctors, of both the medical and spinning variety, gathered around a bedside in Grays Inn Road, London, to await an event that could determine the outcome of the next general election. It was Ed nose day at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital. The Labour leader’s spin doctors continued to blather on about how obstructive sleep apnoea is a respiratory condition, leading the throat to repeatedly narrow or close during sleep. But everyone knew that all this medical detail was spin doctor obfuscation. In reality, the hour-long operation was a giant gamble. No one knew whether when he awoke the sound of Miliband’s voice would be transformed. Would the new Bold Ed of recent weeks, willing to tear down the Murdoch empire, be given a voice to match – a lustrous blend of Laurence Olivier, Barry White and Kathleen Turner? Those who have spoken to Miliband (no audio is yet available) say he sounds the same. – the Guardian

The madness of the Steve Hilton

Mr Hilton also suggested to Mr Cameron that he simply ignore European labour regulations on temporary workers, to the alarm of the most senior civil servant in Downing Street. “Steve asked why the PM had to obey the law,” said one Whitehall insider. “Jeremy [Heywood, Mr Cameron’s permanent secretary] had to explain that if David Cameron breaks the law he could be put in prison.” Mr Hilton, who often walks around the Prime Minister’s office without shoes, is an increasingly influential figure who often suggests seemingly crazy ideas in an attempt to spark creative debate. According to a report in the Financial Times, Mr Hilton also recommended sacking hundreds of Government press offices and replacing them with a blog for each Whitehall department. The newspaper quoted a source close to Mr Hilton suggesting that he thought that maternity leave rights were “the biggest obstacle to woman finding work. Steve also wanted to suspend all consumer rights legislation for nine months to see what would happen,” the source added. “Some of his ideas are great but a lot of time is spent at an official level trying to deconstruct his maddest thoughts.” – Daily Telegraph

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As Huhne divides, Labour must conquer

06/07/2011, 10:06:50 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Stewart Lee describes David Cameron with his arm around Nick Clegg as being akin to “a bloke who has bred a prize pig”. The Liberal Democrats have been slaughtered to ten per cent in opinion polls and Cameron boasts of being “in a position in four years time where we win the general election and govern on our own”.

While Tories love this bullish talk, the plan for the “pigs” fight back is more obvious than that which will deliver Cameron this outcome. The NHS bill has shown what can be expected from the Liberal Democrats. Pick fights with their governing partners – even if this necessitates reneging on past commitments. Extract concessions. And present the outcomes as injecting Lib Dem sanity into the Tory madness.

In 2003, the Tories complained about the Liberal Democrats producing a “disreputable” campaign guide. It advised candidates to “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly”. The Tories might suspect that Lib Dem ministers have dusted it down. Chris Huhne seems eager to manoeuvre. He has attacked his Conservative colleagues as “rightwing ideologues”. He is, obviously, looking for a “win” on the environment.

Huhne’s constituency was Tory target seat number 12 last year. It is reported that Cameron will “not lift a finger to help” Huhne if he is found to have lied to the police. This disinclination may reflect bad feeling over the AV referendum. Huhne’s spoiling for a policy fight is unlikely to rebuild burning bridges. (more…)

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Monday News Review

04/07/2011, 06:04:55 AM

A care revolution

The Dilnot Report will suggest an overhaul to the system which is intended to benefit Britain’s ageing population. Under the current system elderly people only start to receive state support when they are down to the last £23,250 of their assets. People would instead pay up to a capped amount – expected to be around £35,000 – before state-funding kicks in. It’s possible that a tax rise or further cuts in public spending would be necessary to pay for this. Estimates suggest the proposals would cost the Treasury £2bn at the start before rising further. Experts estimate that a maximum liability of £50,000 could be insured for a one-off premium of around £17,000 on retirement. The report has partly sought to make clearer the burden of cost facing the elderly so people can prepare and save for it during their working life. Charities working with elderly and vulnerable people have cautiously welcomed the report and suggest changes are long overdue. The Labour leader Ed Miliband has publicly offered to hold talks with the Prime Minister to achieve cross-party agreement on the proposals. The government is not expected to make any changes immediately, instead weighing up the best course of action and deciding who will pay and how. The current system of support for the elderly is widely regarded as a lottery, as one quarter of 65-year-olds will not need to spend significant sums on care, while another quarter will face bills of more than £50,000 and one in 10 – often those who spend long periods in residential homes suffering from dementia – will have extensive needs costing more than £100,000. Some 20,000 people a year are thought to sell their homes to pay for care. – Sky News

A long-awaited shake-up of the way elderly people contribute to their care home bills will be announced today. The report is expected to ­recommend OAPs should pay no more than £50,000 towards their stay. The Treasury would pick up the rest of the bill – meaning fewer people will be forced to sell their homes. Care would remain free for those with very few savings or assets. But millions of people will be urged to take out insurance costing up to £17,000 to cover care fees. The measures drawn up by Andrew Dilnot are seen by many as the last best hope to pay for our growing elderly population. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday signalled the measures could come into force by the end of Parliament in 2015. But there are fears the £2billion-a-year cost of the plans could see Chancellor George Osborne strangle the proposals at birth. Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “The last thing Britain needs is for Andrew Dilnot’s proposals to be put into the long grass. We three party leaders are of similar age and the same ­generation. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity which our generation must address.” – Daily Mirror

Local councils are poised to take on a major financial services role under proposed reforms to be unveiled on Monday of the funding system for the care of elderly and disabled people. Under the scheme, local authorities will be empowered to make a loan at a preferential rate against the value of a property owned by someone entering a care home. The loan would be redeemed on the sale of the property after the person dies. The plan is part of a series of ideas drawn up by a government commission led by the economist Andrew Dilnot. The proposals seek to inject more funding into the care system by tapping into people’s assets. The typical 55- to 64-year-old in the UK has a total wealth of £200,000. Although the centrepiece of Dilnot’s report will be a recommended cap of about £35,000 on individual liability for care costs, which would require underwriting by the government, other proposals will seek to make it easier for people to draw on their assets without having to sell their home during their lifetime. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, about a million elderly homeowners have properties worth more than £100,000 yet qualify for means-tested benefits. Charities and welfare groups are calling on the government and Labour to seize the opportunity presented by Dilnot to begin a shakeup of the care funding system. An open letter from 26 leading charities declared on Sunday: “We expect all parties to deliver on this.” Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has reiterated his offer to engage in cross-party talks on the Dilnot proposals with an “open mind”, setting aside his party’s previous policy of a national care service. – the Guardian

Goldsmith gloats

Ed Miliband’s faltering leadership suffered a fresh blow yesterday as a close ally of Tony Blair warned it was ‘not clear what he stands for’. Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith launched a withering attack on the Labour leader, warning that nine months after his election he still has to ‘prove himself’. He said the party’s Blairites were ‘standing back’ to give Mr Miliband a chance. But asked whether the Labour leader was connecting with the public said: ‘He doesn’t at the moment. It is not clear what he stands for.’ Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper – seen by many at Westminster as a future Labour leader – yesterday insisted that Mr Miliband’s leadership was not ‘faltering’. She said he was doing a ‘good job’ but urged critics to give him more time to impose himself and connect with the public in the wake of last year’s election defeat. Lord Goldsmith’s intervention came amid reports that the Blairite, ex-Cabinet minister James Purnell was being urged to return to Parliament to help rescue Labour from the leftwards drift seen under Mr Miliband. – Daily Mail

Lord Goldsmith suggested Mr Miliband was harming Labour by excluding major figures from the Blairite wing of the party. He named former minister James Purnell, who quit as an MP last year, as a “loss” and “potentially a very important figure in the party”. It came amid reports that Mr Purnell – who quit the Cabinet in 2009 in a failed bid to oust Gordon Brown and now heads a think tank – is being urged by figures close to Mr Blair to return to Westminster to stave off another election defeat. Lord Goldsmith, who was Attorney General under Tony Blair, said he did not believe the rifts had been healed between Left wingers seen as loyal to Mr Brown – such as Mr Miliband – and those from Mr Blair’s camp. “I think people are standing back, letting Ed Miliband have an opportunity to prove that he can do it – and that, at the end of the day, is what matters,” he told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme. Asked if the Labour leader was connecting with voters, he replied: “He doesn’t at the moment. It is not clear what he stands for.” The question, he said, was whether Ed Miliband had healed the Blair-Brown split and “whether there are enough Blair heavy hitters in his shadow cabinet”. He went on: “I think many of us would like to see more of them back. There are very powerful figures still able to help Ed Miliband and they are being excluded and that is a problem.’’ – Daily Express

Huhne under increased pressure as son’s phone becomes evidence

Chris Huhne’s former marital home has been raided as part of a police investigation into allegations he persuaded his wife to take responsibility for a speeding offence that he had committed so he could avoid a driving ban. Officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate visited the home in Clapham, south London, where the Energy Secretary’s former wife, economist Vicky Pryce, lives. They confiscated the mobile phone of the pair’s son, Peter, 18. The phone is alleged to contain an exchange of text messages between Mr Huhne and his son in which the pair discuss the investigation into the March 2003 speeding offence. – the Independent

Pressure was mounting on Chris Huhne last night after it emerged that police raided his ex-wife’s home and seized his son’s mobile phone. The Cabinet minister is fighting for his political career over claims he persuaded Vicky Pryce to accept a speeding conviction on his behalf. Detectives with a search warrant raided Ms Pryce’s £2million home at 7am, woke 18-year-old Peter and asked him to hand over the mobile, which reportedly contained a text message exchange in which the pair discuss details of the case. Energy Secretary Mr Huhne currently has the backing of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg but insiders say patience is running out due to the constant trickle of stories about him. Ms Pryce, 57, told friends of her shock when the three Essex Police officers turned up unannounced at her South London home. Mr Huhne, 56, denies persuading her to take three points for him but a photograph of her licence shows an endorsement for speeding on March 12, 2003 – the date his car was allegedly caught on camera. Relations between the couple broke down when he left her for media consultant Carina Trimingham last year. – Daily Mirror

It’s that lady again

Voters rate Margaret Thatcher the most capable Prime Minister of recent decades, but Tony Blair was the most likeable, according to a poll. Only ten per cent regarded David Cameron the most capable and 17 per cent the most likeable. Current Conservative voters overwhelmingly preferred Lady Thatcher, with two-thirds saying she was the most capable compared with one-fifth for Cameron. Overall, 36 per cent of those questioned said Thatcher – Tory Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 – was the most capable leader of the past 30 years. She was followed by Mr Blair on 27 per cent, Gordon Brown on 11 per cent, Mr Cameron, ten per cent and Sir John Major, seven per cent. When asked about likeability as a person, some 26 per cent put Mr Blair first, followed by 22 per cent for Lady Thatcher, 17 per cent for Mr Cameron, 13 per cent for Mr Brown and ten per cent for Major. – Daily Mail

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Monday News Review

20/06/2011, 06:25:26 AM

Hutton urges Labour to back his pension reforms

The former Labour business secretary charged by the coalition with overseeing its contentious pensions reforms has called on his party leader to back his plans and ask union leaders to stop threatening strikes. Lord Hutton said people had to face the “reality” that public sector pension reform was necessary and that strikes would not “make this problem go away”. When asked if Ed Miliband should oppose the threat of industrial action by the unions that backed him to become party leader, Hutton said “of course”. He also said he would like to see Miliband endorse his report. The government and unions have been at loggerheads since the end of last week when ministers went public with plans to extend the retirement age and increase pension contributions for millions of public sector workers. Union leaders felt that ministers had pre-empted negotiations with the announcement. The head of Unison, Dave Prentis, and other union leaders threatened the biggest wave of industrial action since the general strike of 1926 after the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, made the announcement on Friday. The Treasury later said that Alexander was articulating proposals for reform, not settled government policy, but Prentis said that Alexander’s speech had effectively rendered the talks meaningless. – the Guardian

Lord Hutton, the Labour peer who drew up proposals for slashing the cost of state-sector pensions for the Government, yesterday pressed the Labour leader to use his influence to call off the disastrous strike. His intervention came after increasing criticism of the Labour leadership for failing to condemn the one-day national strike planned by teaching and civil service unions on June 30. Lord Hutton, a Cabinet colleague of Mr Miliband in the last Labour government, said: “Strikes won’t make this problem go away, we have to act now. If we don’t, it’s our kids who are going to pick up the tab and it’s not right.” Asked whether he would like to see Mr Miliband back his recommendations, Lord Hutton replied: “I’d like him to endorse the report I produced, yes, because I think it does strike the only fair balance.” Pressed on whether Mr Miliband should “call off” industrial action over pensions, he said: “Of course.” Unions yesterday intensified their rhetoric against the Government in the increasingly bitter dispute. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, insisted the unions would “win” by using “smart” tactics of frequent short strikes rather than the mass confrontations of the 1980s. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union representing civil servants, said: “I think if the Government isn’t prepared to change course in the negotiations that we are having after that strike, we will see unions representing millions more move to ballot members for strikes in the autumn.” – Daily Express

Cameron’s bad dad rant rebuked

DavidCameron hit out at fathers who run out on their children yesterday and said absent dads deserve to be shamed in the same way as drink drivers. The Prime Minister described family life as the “cornerstone of our society” and said fathers had a ­financial and emotional duty to support their kids. But experts called his comments an extraordinary “contradiction” because new Government rules will actually make it harder for single parents to chase up errant fathers. Not only will they have to pay £100 simply to apply to the Child Support Agency, they then face losing between 7% to 10% of the money they receive in charges. Sadly, Mr Cameron and his ­Government are making life harder for single parents at the moment. They propose making single parents pay a fee and ongoing charges for the Child Support Agency to collect money from runaway dads. It would consist of an upfront ­application fee of £100 plus an extra ongoing charge of between 7% and 12% of the money paid. The proposals will act as a ­disincentive to using the CSA. The people who use it at the moment are the people who need it. They can’t make private arrangements, either as they don’t know where the dad lives or because he is deliberately avoiding and refusing to pay. Sometimes there is a lot of conflict and the mother doesn’t feel able to negotiate an agreement. In those situations, you need help from a statutory agency but £100 is a big chunk of money to pay just to start using the CSA. The people more likely to use the agency are those in more difficult circumstances. They tend to be poorer and to have more difficult ­relationships with the other parent. They are disadvantaged single parents. We need the CSA to be there for exactly those type of parents. The proposals make Mr Cameron’s comments yesterday all the more extraordinary. – Daily Mirror

David Cameron was accused of double standards after calling for fathers who abandon their families to be “stigmatised”, while backing policies which could make it more costly for mothers to pursue them for financial support. In an article yesterday, the Prime Minister said “runaway dads” should feel the “full force of shame” in a similar way to drink drivers. Labour said government reforms would make it easier for fathers to escape their financial responsibilities, by charging mothers to use the Child Support Agency. Earlier this year, the Government announced a consultation on proposals to encourage parents to reach their own arrangements for child maintenance – rather than relying on the state – by introducing a fee. The shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said Mr Cameron’s approach was deeply flawed.”Fathers should take their responsibilities seriously, but he is charging mums when the father leaves now to go into the CSA [Child Support Agency],” Mr Balls told the BBCs’ The Andrew Marr Show. “He is going to make it harder with his marriage tax cut [which] will disadvantage the woman left behind and give the tax break to the father who goes off.” – the Independent

Huhne attacks Coalition partners over green laws

The energy secretary, Chris Huhne, has attacked his Conservative colleagues in government as “rightwing ideologues” and “deregulation zealots” for placing environmental regulations on a list of red tape to be considered for scrapping. In comments made at the weekend to a conference of social democrats in his party, Huhne made it clear he is opposed to environmental protection laws such as the Climate Change Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the National Parks Act being included in the government’s review of regulations in force in the UK. His views are thought to reflect a range of opinion within Liberal Democrats in government. A source close to Huhne said he was supported by the business secretary, Vince Cable, and Lib Dem ministers were braced to do battle over hundreds of regulations they believe their Tory colleagues will be inclined to discard. The move is part of a Lib Dem strategy to fight their corner more aggressively that has been evident in the party leadership’s successful opposition to the NHS changes. Huhne said: “Between the obsession with micro-management and target-setting displayed by the Labour party, and the fixation with deregulation and scrapping rules just because they are rules on offer from some rightwing ideologues, we Liberal Democrats have a real chance to define an evidence-based, intelligent and distinctive approach.” – the Guardian

Ed’s Maggie fixation

Ed Miliband was denounced for ‘naked and cynical positioning’ last night after his aides said he ‘admires’ Margaret Thatcher and is using her as his inspiration to become Prime Minister. The Labour leader is reportedly studying the methods she used to remove Labour from power in 1979, and based his recent pledge to crack down on welfare scroungers on similar moves by Lady Thatcher. However, his claims to be a ‘fan of Maggie’ were dismissed as a stunt by Tory MPs. And they are undermined by a new book which reveals his ‘glee’ when she was forced out of Downing Street in 1990. A new book, Ed: The Milibands And The Making Of A Labour Leader, by Left-wing journalists Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre, reveals that the future Labour leader spent 24 hours celebrating her downfall and wrote of his ‘elation’. At the time, Mr Miliband was a 20-year-old at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he earned a reputation as a Left-wing firebrand student leader in his role as president of the Junior Common Room (JCR). The book describes his reaction to Mrs Thatcher’s downfall: ‘Like so many Labour students, Ed couldn’t contain his glee, referring in the JCR president’s newsletter to the “elation among many Corpus undergraduates.”’ ‘He was ecstatic,’ said a friend. ‘All of us were. We didn’t leave the college TV room for 24 hours. It was the biggest event of our lives.’ – Daily Mail

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Wednesday News Review

01/06/2011, 06:28:39 AM

Another inquiry for Huhne

Chris Huhne is facing a second potentially damaging inquiry after the elections watchdog announced it was reviewing all his expenses from the general election in response to allegations he broke the rules. The electoral commission has launched a case review into the energy secretary’s election expenses after receiving detailed claims that he failed to declare all his spending. The matter, which could be referred to the police, comes as Essex police prepares to conclude its inquiry into allegations that Huhne broke the law by asking his wife to take points he incurred for speeding. Last week, the electoral commission rejected a complaint due to insufficient evidence from two Liberal Democrat councillors in Huhne’s Eastleigh constituency that he made false declarations in his election expenses. But on Tuesday an official case review was launched after more detailed allegations were made by the Sunlight Centre for Open Democracy, which is run by Paul Staines and Harry Cole, who also writes for the rightwing Guido Fawkes blog. – the Guardian

Beleaguered Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was under fresh pressure last night after an investigation was launched into allegations that he broke strict spending rules in last year’s general election. The Electoral Commission said it was beginning an inquiry into claims that the Lib Dem Cabinet minister failed to declare spending on leaflets that would have taken him over the limit allowed for candidates in a general election. The complaint is also likely to be referred to the police. The Sunlight Centre for Open Politics, which lodged the complaint, said it had found evidence of a potential overspend. The Electoral Commission said an initial examination of the complaint suggested the ‘possibility of an offence under Representation of the People Act 1983’.  It will now hold a full case review. – Daily Mail

The allegation, which refers to hundreds of pounds in printing and staffing costs and the development of a website, will be reviewed before the commission decides whether to undertake a full inquiry. It is separate from a complaint made about the Energy Secretary’s election expenses by two Liberal Democrat councillors, which was rejected on Friday. A spokesman for the commission said: “The commission received an allegation regarding Chris Huhne MP’s 2010 general election expenses on 25 May. “Following an initial assessment of the information, we have now started a case review into the matter. The review will look to establish the facts of the case, firstly for the purposes of transparency and also for possible future guidance.” Last night, Mr Huhne said: “I have full confidence that my agent has declared my election expenses correctly and I look forward to this complaint being rejected as roundly as the last one.” – Daily Telegraph

What happened to defending the NHS Dave?

Hundreds of hospital beds are being axed, despite David Cameron’s vow to defend the National Health Service. A leaked memo from a health trust boss revealed some of England’s biggest hospitals are cutting up to 10% of beds as they make £20billion of savings. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is to shed about 200, while Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust loses 80. In London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust expects to cut up to 160 – or 10% – of beds as it saves £70million. The dramatic scale of the cuts was revealed in a memo from Trust boss Claire Perry. Christina McAnea, of Unison, said: “The myth that the NHS is protected from cuts needs to be exposed.” Two weeks ago the PM said there were no cuts. – Daily Mirror

Peers prepare for the long haul

Four-fifths of peers are opposed to a wholly or mainly elected upper House, a poll has suggested. Deep-seated opposition to the reforms, seen as a key objective for the Liberal Democrats, will worry senior figures in the coalition government as they assess the difficulties of pushing change through parliament. The research was carried out by the Times newspaper. Only 310 of the Lords’ 789 members responded but the newspaper said the proportions were roughly accurate with the political make-up of the second chamber. Eighty-one per cent of peers are happy with the Lords as it is at present. Lib Dem peers are divided on the issue. Nearly two-thirds believe the Lords functions effectively in its current form, but a majority support a large elected element. The government could use the Parliament Act to override a rejection of the reforms in the Lords – but nearly three-quarters of peers believe taking this step would be unconstitutional. –

Labour loses it’s lead for the first time in seven months

Labour has lost its lead over the Tories for the first time in seven months as Ed Miliband struggles to make an impact with the public, according to ComRes’s poll for The Independent. It shows the parties running neck and neck following a turbulent political month in which Labour was trounced in elections to the Scottish Parliament and recorded a mixed performance in contests for English councils. The poll finds that Labour support has dropped two points since the last ComRes survey to 37 per cent, putting the party level with the Tories, whose support has fallen by one point. Liberal Democrats will be relieved that their recent dramatic collapse in popularity appears to have ended, with their party’s backing recovering by one point to 12 per cent. Support for other parties, including the SNP, Ukip and the Greens, is up by two points to 14 per cent. Labour’s lead rose to a high of nine points after the Chancellor, George Osborne, set out plans for spending cuts in the autumn, but has dropped away since then. Its continuing failure to break through will dismay party strategists and could raise questions about Mr Miliband’s leadership. – the Independent

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