Friday News Review

Johnson calls for VAT rise rethink

The shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, urges an 11th hour rethink of Tuesday’s planned VAT rise in a letter to the government today, as theConfederation of British Industry (CBI) warned public spending cuts could lead to a dramatic slowdown in the pace of economic recovery. Outgoing director general of the employer’s body, Richard Lambert, predicts “bumpy times ahead” for businesses which are “extremely uncertain” about what the new year will bring. “That’s understandable because the economic and political outlook both seem volatile over the short term,” said Lambert, who is knighted in the New Year honours list. “For a start the pace of economic recovery could slow quite markedly in the first few months of 2011. The VAT increase will be taking effect, and the construction sector will start to feel the pain of public spending cuts,” he said. While the influential body is not predicting a double-dip recession and expects the rate of growth to pick up later in the year, Lambert expresses concern about the early months of 2011. – The Guardian

Rebel rebel

Government MPs are rebelling against their parties’ policies on a scale not seen since 1945, new research for The Independent has revealed. During the Coalition’s first seven months, dozens of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs – including many elected for the first time in May – have repeatedly defied House of Commons whips to vote against the Government. The findings suggest the Coalition – which has a Commons majority of 84 – could be vulnerable to defeat as the Government becomes more unpopular and the austerity measures hit home. Earlier this month the rise in tuition fees scraped by with a majority of 21. The research, conducted by Professor Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of Nottingham University, found Government MPs rebelled in 84 of the 160 Commons votes between May and 20 December when Parliament rose for the three-week Christmas break. They say the 53 per cent rebellion rate is “without parallel in the post-war era”. – Independent

Lansley U-turn on flu after Healey pressure

THE ConDems were forced into making a humiliating U-turn as the flu death toll rose to 39 last night. It launched a desperate publicity drive to curb the spread of the virus – just months after scrapping an advertising campaign as too costly and unnecessary. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has now resurrected the £1.5million “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” programme. Geoff Martin, chairman of pressure group Health ­Emergency, said: “They scrapped the publicity to save a few pounds but placed people’s lives at risk.” The Health Protection Agency said the number of flu victims in intensive care has almost doubled in a week to 738. Twelve more people have died since last week, on top of the 27 victims killed by the virus since October. – The Mirror

The Health Secretary has been accused of performing a U-turn and changing his mind over the launch of a flu awareness campaign.  Shadow health secretary John Healey had accused Andrew Lansley of “a serious misjudgment” in axing the autumn advertising campaign urging people to have flu jabs. But after Mr Lansley announced that the ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’ campaign is to be re-launched on Saturday, he said: “It’s better late than never but I welcome Andrew Lansley’s U-turn.” – Sky

Gaffe of the year

Researchers found the political furore surrounding the former Prime Minister’s comments about Gillian Duffy was the most popular political scandal term for British web users. Mrs Duffy had confronted Mr Brown in the final days of the election campaign as he went walkabout in her home town of Rochdale, where she took issue with him about the deficit and mass immigration. The Prime Minister was then caught by a TV microphone describing the 66-year-old grandmother, a lifelong Labour voter, as a “bigoted woman”. It sparked a political storm and lead to an embarrassing apology from Mr Brown. The next most popular “political fallout” search term was about William Hague and his friendship with Christopher Myers, a former aide, who he admitted sharing a room with during the election campaign. The research, from Microsoft, found the other popular political controversies searches were Ed Miliband beating his brother David to the Labour leadership, rising university tuition fees and the formation of the Coalition. – The Telegraph

Lembit has sites set on Boris

After Tony Blair had to endure Ken Livingstone when he served as Mayor of London, and David Cameron has occasionally found his relationship with the present incumbent, Boris Johnson, somewhat strained, Nick Clegg would appear to be looking ahead with some trepidation to the idea of Lembit Öpik presiding over the capital. The Liberal Democrats have, I hear, postponed the selection of a mayoral candidate for the 2012 election until the summer. Ominously, the ludicrous Lembit was the only candidate to qualify for a preliminary shortlist drawn up by the Lib Dems. Hardly surprising Clegg wants to put it all off for as long as he can. – The Telegraph

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