Thursday News Review

Hague out, Mitchell in?

David Cameron today publicly backed William Hague over his handling of the Libya crisis after Labour leader Ed Miliband branded the Foreign Secretary incompetent. The Prime Minister told MPs during Question Time that Mr Hague, who was not present in the Commons as he was briefing the Queen, was doing an ‘excellent’ job. Mr Cameron’s endorsement comes after claims that a replacement Foreign Secretary had been lined up. Allies insisted last night that Mr Hague – who has been roundly criticised for his slow response to the conflict in North Africa – is determined to stay until the next election. But the Mail has learned the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary met privately on Monday evening in Downing Street for a heart-to-heart. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has reportedly been lined up to step in if Mr Hague quits. Downing Street stressed that Mr Hague ‘absolutely’ has David Cameron’s support. But No 10 yesterday referred statements on his state of mind to the Foreign Office. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said there were no plans for a Cabinet reshuffle ‘any time soon’.  Yet senior officials were openly speculating about Mr Hague’s future yesterday. Sources said that Mr Cameron was poised to promote Mr Mitchell when Mr Hague appeared about to renounce frontline politics last year after revelations he shared a room with a male aide. A well-placed source said: ‘Andrew Mitchell is very well thought of and familiar with all the issues. He sits on the National Security Council. He would have been sent over last year if William had gone and he’s still the man. ‘William has lost his mojo. He seems tired and often unengaged. ‘He just doesn’t seem that interested.’ – Daily Mail

A political reputation totters precariously in the Libyan storm. Last May William Hague arrived at the Foreign Office as one of the most popular and authoritative figures in the Conservative Party, a key player in the Coalition. Now, in the latest twist of his curiously oscillating political journey, there is speculation about whether he will be in his post for much longer. Politics is turned on its head. Hague, a master of ridicule, is ridiculed. Seemingly calm and solid, he has become part of a damaging narrative for the Government as a whole that poses potentially lethal questions about its competence. Although Hague is trapped in a media narrative from which there is no easy escape, his troubles have wider implications. Very early on in its life questions are being raised about the Government’s competence, and not just Hague’s – the theme of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Various ministers have been in the spotlight, including Nick Clegg, Michael Gove, Caroline Spelman and Andrew Lansley. Now it is Hague’s turn. In relation to Libya, control of policy has not always been clear. Is No 10 or the Foreign Office in charge? Is the policy one of cautious conservatism or Blair-like interventionism? As Hague totters the Government totters too, a coalition of two parties led by a trio of youthful politicians – Cameron, Osborne, Clegg – who have never been in government before, facing economic and international crises. In such circumstances there will be more cock-ups. If they occur in Hague’s brief, the pressure on him will grow. Yesterday even his absence at Prime Minister’s Questions caused a fleeting stir. Where was he? – the Independent

David Cameron had said he takes “full responsibility” for the botched SAS mission in eastern Libya and has given his full backing to his “excellent” foreign secretary, William Hague. The prime minister fought off the charge of government “incompetence” over both Libya and policing amid reports of a 12,000 cut in the number of frontline officers, as he locked horns with Ed Miliband at prime minister’s questions. In a heated exchange that resulted in both sides levelling personal attacks, the Labour leader seized on the secret mission to Benghazi – which left Britain severely embarrassed when an eight-strong team including special forces personnel was detained by local rebels – to claim that this was the latest event to fuel “increasing concern about the government’s competence on the issue of Libya”. Miliband told Cameron there was a “deafening silence” about the performance of the foreign secretary, who was not present in the Commons for question time because he was briefing the Queen, according to the Foreign Office. – the Guardian

Ireland swears in new Taoiseach

The Irish Republic on Wednesday swore in its new prime minister, Enda Kenny, after an election that wiped out the longtime ruling party, Fianna Fail. Ms. Kenny’s center-right Fine Gael party will now govern in a coalition with the center-left Labour Party. Ireland has been traumatized by the collapse of its economy and recently accepted a $93 billion loan from the European Union and theInternational Monetary Fund. Ms. Kenny pledged to enter into a “covenant with the Irish people” in which “honesty is not just the best policy; it’s our only policy.” – New York Times

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach by an unprecedented 90-vote majority with the support of five Independents in a 117 to 27 division in the Dáil. Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and a number of other Independents including Shane Ross (Dublin South), Maureen O’Sullivan (Dublin Central), Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central), Catherine Murphy (Kildare North), Thomas Pringle (Donegal South West), Luke “Ming” Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim) John Halligan (Waterford) and Mick Wallace (Wexford) voted against. Fianna Fáil did not oppose Mr Kenny’s nomination and abstained from the vote, as did a number of other Independents. Party leader Micheál Martin said his party respected his mandate. However, he hit out at the programme for government, describing it as “one of the least specific” ever published and said the two parties had “kicked to touch on most of the major issues to be addressed by this Dáil”. Simon Harris (FG, Wicklow), at 24 the youngest TD in the Dáil, nominated Mr Kenny as Taoiseach. He said he would bring “integrity, honesty and a work rate which simply cannot be surpassed”, to the job. He said “today the period of mourning is over for Ireland. Today we hang out our brightest colours.” Ciara Conway (Lab, Waterford) who seconded the nomination said it was a “historic moment”. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his party could not support Mr Kenny’s nomination because he proposed to put Fianna Fáil’s four-year plan into effect and was “prepared to sell important State assets and introduce water charges and property taxes for ordinary households”. – Irish Times

Coordinated strikes in the air as pension reform takes centre stage

The generous pensions enjoyed by public sector workers are “not tenable” for taxpayers in the long term, a government-ordered inquiry will report today. Lord Hutton, the Labour peer and former Work and Pensions Secretary, will propose that the pensions of millions of state employees should no longer be based on their final salary. Instead, they would be linked to their average earnings during their career. Lord Hutton’s nine-month inquiry will also propose raising the age at which most public sector employees can draw their full pension from 60 to 65. It has already been increased for new recruits. In future, the “normal pension age” in most public service pension schemes would be linked to the age at which people qualify for the basic state pension. This is due to go up from 65 for both men and women in December 2018 to 66 by April 2020. The review increases the prospect of coordinated industrial action by millions of workers including NHS staff, fireman, prison officers and teachers. Ministers have drawn up contingency plans to deal with mass industrial action but union leaders urged them to enter into dialogue rather than “rushing” to make cuts. Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: “The pension schemes are already sustainable and their cost as a proportion of GDP is set to fall over time. The Government must listen to the concerns of public sector employees, and avoid imposing changes that will leave workers with poorer pensions, and lead to people dropping out of schemes, leaving them with no provision in their old age.” – the Independent

Trade unions representing a million state employees are drawing up plans for strikes that could bring Britain’s schools, universities, courts and Whitehall to a standstill as early as June in protest over government plans to end so-called “gold-plated” public sector pensions, the Guardian has learned. Lord Hutton, the Labour former work and pensions secretary charged by the coalition with reviewing public sector pensions, will publish his final report on Thursday, and it now looks likely to act as a starting gun for extended industrial action against the government’s austerity programme. The report will recommend that 6 million nurses, teachers, local government and other public sector workers should pay more into their pension pots, retire later and receive less when they do. All state employees will be affected, and it will create the first legal basis for simultaneous strikes across the public service unions. – the Guardian

Clegg in kidnap threat

A £2million ‘ring of steel’ is being thrown around Nick Clegg amid claims that the Deputy Prime Minister is at risk of kidnap by critics in his own constituency. Police are putting up a 6ft fence around Sheffield City Hall to protect the Liberal Democrat leader at his party’s spring conference. Aides to Mr Clegg yesterday informed the police that students are plotting to kidnap him in protest at his U-turn over university tuition fees. More than 10,000 student and union activists opposed to the Government’s cuts will take to the streets tomorrow and on Saturday to denounce Mr Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam. Police leave has been cancelled to shield the 2,000 delegates in an operation that is expected to leave the city with a £2million bill. Officials in Whitehall have told the Mail that internet ‘chatter’ was picked up last week that militant students were plotting to infiltrate the cordon and seize Mr Clegg. – Daily Mail

Lib Dems set to leave Cowley Street as cash dries up

The party said that it had decided to move out of its historic head office in Westminster and was looking for smaller, cheaper and more modern accommodation in central London. It will raise further questions about the future of the party, which some fear is at risk of losing its identity in the Coalition Government. Last week the Lib Dems came a distant sixth in last week’s Barnsley Central by-election. A spokesman said the party was now running a deficit for the first time in its history after negotiating a £1million “credit facility” with its bank. The cash crisis has been caused in part by the loss of £1.7million in public cash or “Short money” which went to the Lib Dems every year under party funding rules. Leaving the headquarters in Cowley Street, which the party has leased since the early 1980s when the SDP first moved in, will be a big wrench. The Lib Dems lease the offices, close to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, from the Church Commissioners for an annual fee of £225,000, according to the party’s annual accounts. A spokesman said the party was now looking for smaller and more modern office space, at a cheaper rent – after shedding 20 workers since the election to cut costs. The move was also necessary for security reasons. During the student loans demonstrations last Autumn, police sealed off Cowley Street amid fears that the offices would be targeted by protesters. – Daily Telegraph

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “Thursday News Review”

  1. Mike Killingworth says:

    Oh dear. Enda Kenny is a man – it seems to be the Irish for “Hilary” as there are women called Enda, too…

Leave a Reply