We’ll be hearing a lot from David Cameron today. He’s got PMQs, and then he’s giving a statement in the Commons about the recent G8 and Nato summits in the US. The G8 summit seems to have been one of the least productive in recent years, but, with the eurozone on the brink of collapse, MPs will have plenty to ask Cameron about. And there are at least three stories in the news today that are likely to come up in some form.
• Nick Clegg has told the Financial Times (subscription) that the government is planning a “massive” increase in state-backed investment in housing and infrastructure. It sounds suspiciously like Plan B. Here’s an extract.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the deputy prime minister sounded a new tone on economic policy, when he said the government’s “absolute priority” was to use the government’s strong balance sheet to inject credit into the economy.
Mr Clegg said the coalition was looking at “massively amplifying the principle of what we did on credit easing” – a reference to the Treasury’s £20bn scheme to support lending to small businesses.
[Beecroft] claims the Business Secretary’s objections to the proposals are “ideological not economic”. “I think he is a socialist who found a home in the Lib Dems, so he’s one of the Left,” Mr Beecroft says. “I think people find it very odd that he’s in charge of business and yet appears to do very little to support business.”
I have learnt that UK ministers are discussing not just the possibility of a military confrontation but what role, if any, Britain might play and whether any involvement would be legal.
Last week in London, the National Security Council discussed what would happen if the latest set of negotiations with Iran failed and if Israel carried out its threat to launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Ministers were told that this could trigger a wider war in the Middle East in which Iran might respond not just by attacking Israel, but also by closing the vital trade route – the Strait of Hormuz – through which more than a fifth of the world’s oil shipments are carried.
I understand that the government’s law officers are now examining the legality of any British involvement if this happen.
I expect we’ll hear more on all three of these stories later today.
Here’s the full agenda.
11am: BBC presenters Andrew Marr and Jeremy Paxman, the Tory MP Stephen Dorrell and the Labour peer John Reid give evidence to the Leveson inquiry.
12pm: David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash at PMQs.
12.30pm: Cameron makes to Commons statement on the G8 and Nato summits.
2.05pm: The Commons transport committee takes evidence on transport and the Olympics.
2.30pm: Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, gives evidence to the Commons justice committee on the Ministry of Justice.
As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another in the afternoon.
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Is Ed Balls (pictured) ever off the TV? He seems a constant presence on the screens in my office, and he was on ITV’s Daybreak this morning, with some robust arguments to make. Here are the main points.
• Balls said that Labour would support the government if it opposed the European court of human rights on prisoner voting. In fact, Balls sounded even more gung-ho on this than some Tory ministers.
This is one of those times in politics where there is cross-party consensus. The court first said this in 2004, that prisoners should be able to vote, and Labour then said we disagree and we did not implement it. I am all in favour of prisoners having the right kind of support and being rehabilitated but voting is one of the things I think you give up if you go to prison. So we all agree that this is the wrong thing … If David Cameron’s going to go out and fight this one we’ll be supporting him on that.
Yesterday Sadiq Khan’s, the shadow justice secretary, also said Labour was opposed to prisoners having the right to vote, but Balls’s language is more confrontational.
• He rejected suggestions that the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde was criticising Labour yesterday when she talked about Britain’s economic position in 2010. Lagarde said: “When I think back to May 2010, when the UK deficit was at 11%, and I try to imagine what the situation would be like today if no such fiscal consolidation programme had been decided, I shiver.” Asked about this, Balls said Labour did have a plan to get the deficit down.
If there was no plan to get the deficit down, I would be shivering too, of course. But there was a plan back then, our economy was recovering and George Osborne in this Parliament is going to have a bigger deficit than the plans Labour had.
• He said he disagreed with the IMF’s call for interest rates to be cut further.
There are lots of people in their 50s or 60s saving for their retirement worried about interest rates being low. Actually, it’s been important to have them low, but making them even lower, I’m not sure that will make the difference.
I’ve taken some of the quotes from PoliticsHome.
9.00am), but it’s worth looking at in detail because it seems to signal a significant shift in government economic thinking. Here’s the main story (subscription) and here’s the write-up inside (subscritiption). If Clegg’s proposal isn’t quite Plan B, it’s certainly Plan A version 2. Here are the key points.I’ve mentioned the Nick Clegg interview in the FT already (see
• Clegg says there will be a “massive” increase in state-backed investment in housing and infrastructure. The coalition is “massively amplifying the principle of what we did on credit easing”, he says. David Cameron referred to this briefly in his economy speech last week, but Clegg describes this much more explicitly as a fresh government commitment.
From the top of government, a few weeks ago we decided this was the route we’re going to take. That’s the instruction we’ve issued to the Treasury.
Clegg is talking about the government using its balance sheet to inject credit into the economy by issuing lending guarantees. As I understand it, this does not increase public sector net borrowing directly. But it does create a contingent liability, and could leave ministers vulnerable to the charge of “off-the-books” borrowing.
• He suggests that some Treasury officials are opposed to the plan. “I think there are people about who will be nervous – even neurotic – about any kind of innovation in this area for fear that it somehow would be criticised by people in the markets,” he says.
• He denies that this amounts to a Plan B.
• But he accepts that the government needs to cut its austerity rhetoric. At the beginning the coalition had to set out the challenge facing the UK “in very lurid terms”, he says. But “that kind of language over a prolonged period of time can have a dampening effect on mood, which is very important in an economy.”
• He welcomes the election of François Hollande as French president. “I personally massively welcome the arrival of Hollande on to the scene,” he says.
• He says the Lib Dems are “not in a great place”. But he says that eventually voters may be “much more receptive to that mix of credibility on the economy and social fairness that I think is unique to us”.
Labour: 43% (down 1 point from Monday night)
Conservatives: 32% (no change)
Ukip: 9% (up 1)
Lib Dems: 8% (up 1)
Labour lead: 11 points
Government approval: -35
The Daily Telegraph’s full interview with Adrian Beecroft (pictured) is also worth reading. The paper has splashed on his comments about Vince Cable being a “socialist”, but he’s also quite critical of David Cameron and George Osborne.
I’m constantly struck by how un-robust the prime minister and the chancellor are when it comes to pushing back. Nick Clegg [is] always threatening to go nuclear and dissolve the whole thing if he doesn’t get his way with this, that and the other. Which you’d think actually must be a hollow threat. Therefore, why can’t the government be more robust? I don’t know what the answer is. But it is disappointing.
Incidentally, Beecroft’s comment about Cable being a socialist has been deemed as a gross insult – to socialists. Here’s the author and commentator Owen Jones on Twitter.
Tory class warrior Adrian Beecroft calls Vince Cable a ‘socialist’. An outrageous smear on the good name of socialism
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) May 23, 2012
As for the rest of the papers, I’ve already covered Nick Clegg’s interview in the Financial Times and Adrian Beecroft’s interview in the Daily Telegraph. Here are two other articles that are interesting.
• Jill Sherman in the Times (paywall) says that Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, is announcing a clampdown on civil servants being paid through private companies.
Up to 3,000 civil servants are employed via private firms to keep their tax bills down, with some on contracts for ten years, Danny Alexander will disclose today.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will announce a series of measures to clamp down on tax avoidance in Whitehall which could be costing the country millions of pounds.
Under these contracts thousands of officials avoid paying national insurance contributions and can minimise tax overall by staying off the Whitehall payroll. In future anyone who has been employed on a civil service contract for more than six months will have to prove they are paying full income tax and national insurance.
For the Lib Dems, not just the route but the destination for 2015 is unclear. Two of Nick Clegg’s biggest assets from last time – his image as an outsider and honest broker – have gone up in smoke. It is very difficult to see how the Lib Dems can credibly maintain a position of “wait and see” in relation to their response to another hung parliament.
There’s a meeting of the joint ministerial committee, the body bringing together ministers from the UK government and the devolved governments, in Westminster today. Carwyn Jones (pictured), the Welsh first minister, is attending and, before he arrived, he issued a statement saying he would be complaining that Wales will be hit disproportionately by the coalition’s welfare cuts.
We have consistently made the Welsh government’s position clear – we feel Wales will be hit disproportionately compared to the rest of the UK by the welfare reforms currently on the table.
The principle of welfare reform is fine as long as it provides genuine support to individuals to help them find and keep work. But the current proposals will really hit parts of Wales and the JMC is an opportunity for us to raise our real concerns.
Prospect’s James Macintyre has written up the highlights in a lengthy post on his blog. Watson says the hacking scandal is far from over and that revelations about computer hacking which may come out in future may turn out to be far more serious than the allegations that have been made about phone hacking.Prospect has got an interesting interview with the Labour MP Tom Watson (pictured), and
We are not through this scandal yet. Computer hacking is next and it may dwarf what we have seen so far … I have seen evidence that strongly suggests computer hacking was more widespread across a number of industries. By this I mean the use of “Trojan” devices used to illicitly disclose the content on hard drives. The police inquiry has quite a long way to go before the full scandal is revealed.
There’s quite a lot more in the interview. I particularly liked Watson’s description of News International titles “the ultimate floating voters—with menace”. And I was intrigued to see Watson admit that he likes the Daily Mail.
See, I like the Mail. I would disagree with half the things it stands for but it’s a well-written paper and you know where you stand with it. They kind of pretty much treat all MPs with an equal amount of contempt.
Here’s a comment from Cathy Jamieson, a shadow Treasury minister.
These are very disappointing figures which show just how much last year’s VAT rise has backfired. Retail sales are not only down in the last month, but down compared to a year ago. And even stripping out petrol sales, which were pushed up at the end of March when the government needlessly created panic at the pumps, retail sales are still down.
In my Telegraph column yesterday, I quoted a senior adviser to the Prime Minister saying that he ‘spends a crazy, scary amount of time playing Fruit Ninja’ on his iPad. It seems No.10 has been denying it — telling The Times (£) that ‘the real culprit’ is ‘his six-year-old son’. Now, all fathers will immediately recognise this transparent defence … but it doesn’t wash.
Karen Bradley, a Conservative, asks David Cameron if he “shivers” at the thought of Labour’s economic plans.
Cameron says it is worth listening to Christine Lagarde on this. (See 9.13am.)
Ed Miliband says Adrian Beecroft wants the law changed to allow people to be fired at will. Vince Cable says it’s a bad idea. Who does Cameron agree with?
Cameron says the government wants to make it easier for firms to expand. The Beecroft report had some excellent ideas. The government is consulting on no fault dismissal for micro-businesses.
Miliband says Lib Dem MPs think it’s a bonkers idea, while Tory MPs think it’s a great idea. Who does Cameron support?
Cameron says the government has a “call for evidence” on this for micro-businesses. It is not taking it forward for other businesses. No wonder Miliband is worried about being fired at will. He’s useless.
Miliband asks Cameron if he agrees with Beecroft that this would be a price worth paying.
Cameron lists some of the pro-business measures the government is taking. Miliband cannot support these measures because “he is in the pocket of the trade unions”.
Miliband says Cameron believes in sacking workers, but giving second chances to people like Andy Coulson. And Cameron is giving people like Beecroft a tax cut.
Cameron says the government commissions reports, and accepts the idea that it agrees with. Miliband takes orders from the unions.
Miliband says this is not about the unions. It is about millions of people afraid for their jobs. Cameron sounds “out of touch” when he says things are moving in the right direction.
Cameron says this is about the unions. Miliband is getting £900,000 from Unite, and they are threatening a bus drivers’ strike during the Olympics. The coalition is acting in the national interest, Labour is acting in the union interest.
Miliband says Cameron cut taxes for millionaires, and then donations to the Conservative party rolled in.
The nasty party is back.
Cameron says the government has cut taxes for 24m working people. Only Labour think the solution is more debt.
Snap PMQs Verdict: Lively stuff, but probably a score draw.
Labour’s John Mann says the number of young people unemployed or underemployed in his constituency has greatly increased. A taskforce is being set up in his constituency. Will the government support it?
Yes, says Cameron. The work experience progamme is particularly helpful.
Gary Streeter, a Conservartive, says NHS waiting times are falling.
Cameron says the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks has reached a record low.
Labour’s Gisela Stuart says only five firms have benefited from an export guarantee scheme launched by the government.
Cameron says that scheme was rolled into a larger one.
Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative, asks about giving support to parents bonding with their new children.
Cameron praises Leadsom for the work she has done on this.
Nigel Dodds, a DUP MP, asks about prisoner voting.
Cameron says he has always believed that when you are sent to prison, you lose the right to vote. And he believes this is a matter for parliament. Parliament has made its decision. He completely agrees with it.
Labour’s Jack Dromey says Cameron promised to give English cities a seat at the heat of government. Labour took control of Birmingham. Will Cameron meet a delegation from the city?
Yes, says Cameron. He says he hopes the new council will match the record of the previous Conservative/Lib Dem council.
Paul Maynard, a Conservative, says the law on child neglect dates from 1933. Isn’t it time to get the Law Commission to look at this again?
Cameron says he will consider this point. The recent child neglect case in Blackpool was “unfathomable”. Just passing a law will not address the problem, he says.
Labour’s Stella Creasy asks when the government will impose caps on payday lending interest rates.
Cameron says the new financial regulators have to address this problem.
Labour’s Ian Wright asks if the government is responsible for unemployment going up in his constituency.
Cameron says people on temporary employment schemes were excluded from Labour’s unemployment figures. Under this government, they are included. If you look at like-for-like youth unemployment, it is down since the general election, he says.
Cameron says police budgets would be cut whoever was in power. The key to getting officers on the streets is to cut the paperwork and reform police pensions.
Cameron welcomes the fact that the government has made squatting a criminal offence. Squatting is theft, he says.
Labour’s Keith Vaz asks Cameron to condemn the £3.5m bonuses paid to Border Force staff.
Cameron says he agrees that bonuses should not be paid routinely. More staff have been hired to deal with passport checks at Heathrow. But Cameron suggests he still thinks more needs to be done.
Cameron says Labour have not wanted to talk about the IMF report. The IMF compared Britain to other countries that did not address their deficits. If the coalition had not done this, Britain would be in jeopardy.
Cameron says there is a difference between donations to the Conservative party from individuals and donations to Labour from the unions. The unions decide Labour’s policies, sponsor their MPs and choose their leader. They own Labour “lock, stock and block vote”.
Cameron refers to the “muttering idiot sitting opposite me”. I think that’s a reference to Ed Balls.
John Bercow asks him to withdraw the word idiot.
Cameron says he will replace it with “the man who left us this enormous deficit”.
(So, Cameron was talking about Balls.)
Labour’s Sheila Gilmore asks why the rate of jobs growth has fallen so much since the election.
Cameron says she should welcome the fact that more jobs are being created.
Labour’s Frank Field asks about the work of Food Bank. By the next election, they think they wil be fooding 500,000 people. Will Cameron consider why more people need their support?
Cameron pays tribute to the work done by Food Bank. He has visited one, he says. He says the government has increased tax credits for the poorest.
Philip Davies, a Conservative, says he and Cameron agree on one thing: Davies should never be promoted. He also says judges contribute just 2% to their pensions, while the taxpayer contributes 33%. Will Cameron change that?
Cameron says judicial pensions have always been treated separately. But public sector pensions are being cut generally.
On Davies’s first point, Cameron says he has plans for Davies.
John Bercow, the Speaker, is making a short statement.
He says Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, has agreed to address both Houses of Parliament on 21 June at 3pm.
David Cameron is making his statement about the G8 and Nato summits. They reached important agreements about economic stability and national security.
On the economy, G8 leaders all agreed on the need to cut deficits and promote growth. France will cut its deficit more quickly than the UK.
He says he will be going to an informal EU summit tonight where he will discuss measures to promote growth in Europe.
Greece is a risk to the world economy, he says. It is for the Greeks to decide what is best for them.
The Greek election should be a choice between staying in the eurozone or “taking a different path”. The EU needs to prepare for both eventualities.
Cameron says he also wanted to encourage the good work of the G8 on development, and to encourage the Arab Spring.
On development, the G8 pushed forward an inititive on food security. Cameron says he will be building on this with an event on food hunger during the Olympics.
Britain is honouring its aid commitments. Others are not. They should. Next year, when Britain chairs the G8, a report will be published showing which countries are and are not meeting their commitments.
On Nato, Cameron says some people write it off as a relic of the past. But Cameron does not see it like that. He sees it as essential.
The Nato coalition has to complete the final build up of Afghan forces.
The summit marked “a turning point”, he says. Almost $1bn was pledged to support Afghan forces.
Three years ago three quarters of serious terrorist threats to the UK originated from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Now that is down to half.
He pays tribute to the contribution made by British troops.
Ed Miliband is speaking now.
He says he wants to see British troops come home.
He asks Cameron to confirm the timetable for the withdrawal of British troops. And he asks Cameron how many will be left in the country.
What new steps are being taken to secure a political settlement?
On the G8, he says the world desperately needed a plan for growth. Cameron entertained Labour by describing Francoise Hollande as “his new best buddy”. But Cameron endorsed Nicolas Sarkozy. Miliband quotes a Foreign Office source quoted in the papers as saying that Cameron was advised not to do this.
Cameron is on the wrong side of the economic argument, he says.
And Cameron did not quote what the IMF said about growth being too low and unemployment being too high.
We have the irony of a prime minister who has delivered a double dip recession lecturing other people on growth.
Last year Cameron signed a communique saying countries would take action to stimulate demand if conditions worsened. But conditions have worsened. Cameron is not stimulating demand because he does not believe in it.
Last week George Osborne said speculating about the eurozone breaking up would be harmful. But then a few days later Cameron did just that.
Miliband says Cameron cannot be part of the solution on the economy because he is part of the problem.
Cameron says Miliband did not offer any plan in his speech.
He acknowledges that Miliband had some fun at his expense about Sarkozy. But he says he would rather have a reputation for being loyal to his friends than for kniving his brother.
On Afghanistan, he says some troops will remain after 2014. But they won’t be involved in combat operations, he says.
On President Hollande, he says Hollande said something Miliband should accept. Hollande said the national debt was “the enemy of the left” and “the enemy of France”. Hollande also said more borrowing could not be the answer.
Nobody in Europe supports Miliband’s call for an extra £200bn of borrowing. That would wreck the economy, he says.
Sir Peter Tapsell, a Conservative, asks if anyone at the G8 recognised that the single currency, not the Greek debt, was at the heart of the crisis.
Cameron says a single currency requires an activist central bank behind it.
Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, asks if the German position has changed. There is no sign it will change before the Greek election.
Cameron says there are some signs that the German position is changing.
Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman asks Cameron to deplore President Obama’s “offensive discourtesy” to the president of Pakistan.
Cameron says he would not put it like this. He urges partners to show “patience and understanding” towards Parkistan. Pakistan needs to know that its friends, like Britain, will not abandon it when the Afghan war is over.
Labour’s Dennis Skinner asks Cameron to accept that he needs a plan for growth.
Cameron says that he was too abrupt in his last exchange with Skinner (the one when he told Skinner to retire). Skinner is an ornament to the Commons, Cameron says.
Here’s a lunchtime summary.
• David Cameron has told MPs that Greek voters should treat next month’s election as a referendum on their membership of the euro. He made the declaration in a statement to the Commons on the outcome of the G8 and Nato summits at the weekend.
The future of Greece is for the Greek people to determine. It is for them to decide what is best for their country. But we can’t afford to allow this issue to be endlessly fudged and put off.
The Greek election should in effect be a straightforward choice between staying in the Eurozone – with the responsibilities that entails or taking a different path. The eurozone – and Europe as a whole – needs to have contingency plans in place for both eventualities.
In response, Ed Miliband said the G8 summit showed that the the West was “divided between those who believe we must have a decisive shift towards growth and those who believe the answer lies in more of the same”. And he said Cameron was on the wrong side of the argument.
For two years you have been the high priest of austerity, you have been telling the world that austerity alone is the answer. But now the recognition has dawned that it isn’t working and you find yourself on the wrong side of the argument.
• Cameron has indicated that he will resist calls from the European court of human rights to allow prisoners in the UK to vote. Speaking at PMQs, he suggested that the government would ignore yesterday’s ruling from the ECHR.
I have always believed when you are sent to prison you lose certain rights and one of those rights is the right to vote. Crucially, I believe this should be a matter for parliament to decide, not a foreign court. Parliament has made its decision and I completely agree with it.
Earlier Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said Labour was also opposed to Britain allowing prisoners to vote. “If David Cameron is going to go out there and fight this one, we will be supporting him on that,” Balls told ITV.
• Cameron has been rebuked by John Bercow, the Speaker, for calling Balls a “muttering idiot” during PMQs. Later, on Twitter, Balls said: “For the record, I was simpy [sic] asking the Prime Minister, as he boasted the economy was on track: ‘Tell us about the recession’…” But later, during the statement, Cameron apologised to Dennis Skinner for being rude to him in a recent exchange when he said Skinner should retire. “My last response to him was a bit more sharp than it should have been and I hope he will accept my apologies,” Cameron said.
• Miliband has accused the Conservatives of reverting to their “nasty party” image. During his PMQs exchanges with Cameron, he focused on the Beecroft report, and challenged Cameon to say whether he agreed with Tory MPs who were in favour of its no fault dismissal plan, or Lib Dem MPs who thought it was wrong.
When it comes to ordinary workers he wants to make it easier for employers to sack them. When it comes to Andy Coulson and the culture secretary [Jeremy Hunt] it’s all about second chances … Tax cuts for millionaires, making it easier to sack people, the nasty party is back.
Cameron said the government had rejected no fault dismissal for large firms, and was still consulting on it for micro-firms. He said the Conservatives’ relationship with donors was better than Labour’s relationship with the unions.
We commission a report, we accept the bits we agree with, we reject the bits we don’t agree with. What he [Miliband[ does is take instructions from his trade union paymasters.
• Cameron has suggested that the threat to the UK from Afghanistan has reduced as a result of the British operation there.
Britain has played a leading role in this alliance for reasons of our own national security. Three years ago some three quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain had links to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’m now advised that figure has fallen to around a half.
• Cameron has welcomed the news that BAE Systems, the arms firm, has signed a £1.9bn deal to supply Hawk trainer jets to Saudi Arabia. This was “more good news for British jobs, for British investment and British Aerospace”, Cameron said.
• Cameron has said the government needs to do more to address the problem of delays at Heathrow.
We have got a new control room opening at Heathrow this month, there are an extra 80 staff for peak times at Heathrow, an extra 480 people will come on stream during the Olympic period. But I am still not satisfied. We need to do more, including more this week and next week to really get on top of this problem.
• Nick Clegg has said that the coalition has plans for a “massive” increase in state-backed infrastructure investment. But, in an interview with the Financial Times, he denied that the fresh emphasis on growth represented a “plan B”. The prime minister’s spokesman said Clegg’s comments echoed comments made by David Cameron in a speech he gave on the economy last week.
• Downing Street has declined to discuss the UK’s contingency plans in the event of a military confrontation between Israel and Iran amid reports that ministers have asked lawyers to examine whether any British involvement would be legal.
• Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has told MPs that new rules will be introduced to stop civil servants being paid through private companies. In a statement to MPs, he said that more than 2,400 public sector appointees had been paid in this way.
• Leading addiction charities have expressed deep concerns over government plans to cut the benefits of people suspected of suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction who refuse treatment for their condition.
• Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative national heritage secretary, has told the Leveson inquiry that the last Conservative government did not try to impose statutory regulation on the press partly because it thought it would be impossible to get the legislation through the Commons. There are more details on our Leveson live blog.
• Downing Street has said that collective cabinet responsibility will apply to the legislation introducing gay marriage. But the prime minister’s spokesman refused to say whether MPs would be allowed a free vote. Yesterday it emerged that Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, has said he cannot support the measure. Stewart Jackson, a Tory MP and Paterson’s former PPS, told PoliticsHome that applying a three-line whip on gay marriage would be “a catastrophic error of judgement and would generate serious divisions”.
• Alastair Campbell has taken a job with Portland, the PR company set up by his former Labour and Number 10 deputy, Tim Allan.
• The Commons adminstration committee has said in a report that tourists should be able to buy tickets to visit parliament on Sundays.
• Vince Cable, the business secretary, has launched GrowthAccelerator, a programme designed to provide entrepreneurs with expert advice on issues like securing finance.
Jeremy Paxman (pictured) has been giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry – and it sounds as if Piers Morgan may have some explaining to do. Here’s a quote from Paxman’s evidence.
I was really struck by something Piers Morgan said, I was sat between him on my left and editor of Sunday Mirror on my right. Ulrika Jonsson was sat opposite.
Morgan said, teasing Ulrika, that he knew what had happened in conversations between her and Sven Goran Eriksson and he went into this mock Swedish accent.
Now I don’t know whether he was repeating a conversation that he had heard, or he was imagining this conversation … It was a rather bad parody.
I was struck by it because I am wet behind the ears, I didn’t know this sort of thing went on.
He turned to me and said have you got a mobile phone I said yes. He said, have you got a security setting on the message bit of it …. I didn’t know what he was talking about.
He then explained that the way to get access to people’s messages was to go to the factory default setting and press 0000 and 1234 and if you didn’t put your own code in, his words were, ‘you are a fool’.
Here’s the Guardian audio of PMQs.
It lasts for the full half hour.
It is not widely appreciated that Labour starts with a huge inbuilt advantage, and I don’t mean because of the boundary advantage that will be partially corrected later in this parliament. No, I mean that shortly after Clegg joined the coalition, Labour took delivery of another six or seven per cent of the vote, with lefty Lib Dems who had abandoned Blair after Iraq etc going back home. The party was under the 30 per cent mark at the last election. But it has rebuilt its core vote. It starts any general election fight at somewhere around 36 per cent, and that’s before it reaches out to disillusioned floating voters.
To stand a chance of countering this and getting north of 40 per cent Cameron would have to offer bold and dramatic leadership, beginning with working out what his vision of a revived Britain looks like. He needs to stake out a position on Europe and a referendum that stands a serious chance of winning over the Tories heading for UKIP. That party got over 900,000 voters last time, and the polls suggest it could be higher next time without urgent action by the Conservative leadership. Equally, he should be trying to tap into millions of potential voters who are so scunnered with politics that they aren’t voting. He cannot win by making tiny little tactical moves on the chess board; he stands a chance if he tries to rewrite the rules of the game.
Senior CCHQ sources tell me that plans for fighting the next election are already being mapped out. These have less to do with policies or even delivery (which are presumably covered elsewhere) than with “values” – presumably on the ground that if uncommitted voters don’t like or at least respect you, they won’t vote for you.
If you’re a Tory, we understand. You get into power to do Tory things. I’m cross with Labour. There is a sense that they are like cousins and they’ve dishonoured the family. They not only screwed up their reform package, they left people worse off. I expect it of the Tories, I’m just crushingly disappointed by Labour.
Farron also says the Lib Dems will miss not being in power when they eventually returned to opposition.
If and when we find ourselves out of power, and it will be when – I’m not predicting exactly when – but we will be in opposition one day, we will miss this. We might not think we will, but we will.
Here’s an afternoon summary.
• The Leveson inquiry has revealed that Jonathan Stephens, permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, will give evidence on Friday about Jeremy Hunt’s handling of the News Corporation bid for BSkyB.
• Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has told the Spectator in an interview that he would consider running joint candidates with Eurosceptic Conservative associations at the general election.
What I do know is there are Conservative associations up and down the country who think this could be a way forward. All I would say to you is that in terms of co-operation or deals or anything in the future, firstly it’s some way off. But secondly, I can see that there are associations thinking along these lines. If they approach us, would I entertain and contemplate such ideas? Of course I would.
• Jeremy Paxman has told the Leveson inquiry that Piers Morgan once told him how to hack a mobile phone. There are more details on our Leveson live blog.
• Labour have complained that the election registration and adminstration bill, which is getting its second reading this afternoon, will benefit the Conservatives. This is from Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary.
The government know full well that the moment at which the electoral register risks being the most vulnerable to a sharp fall in size is precisely when this data will be used to shape new parliamentary constituency boundaries. As those most likely to fall off the register are weighted towards urban areas, any redrawing would lead to major upheaval and a skewing of political representation in Westminster.
• Vince Cable has published the entreprise and regulatory reform bill. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulation and employment policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “Today’s enterprise and regulatory reform bill offers little to satisfy those in search of worthwhile deregulation. The changes to employment tribunals are the closest that the government gets to the red meat of the issue. Disappointingly, the bill signals another missed opportunity for the government.”
• Ed Miliband has said that being Jewish is a key part of his identity. He discussed it in an article for the New Statesman in which he said: “For me, my Jewishness and my Britishness are intertwined.”
Like many others from Holocaust families, I have a paradoxical relationship with this history. On one level I feel intimately connected with it – this happened to my parents and grandparents. On another, it feels like a totally different world.
When I was in my late twenties, I went back to Poland with my mother to visit the town of Czestochowa, where she had spent so much of her childhood. As we left a house in which she once sheltered, a man pointed at us, shouting: “The Jews are coming to take back their property.” That was another glimpse of the world she had come from and an echo of the ancient hatreds that propelled my family to Britain 70 years ago.
• The Public and Commercial Services union has voted to hold another public sector strike at the end of June over cuts to pensions, pay and jobs.
That’s it for today. Thanks for the comments.