Politics live blog: Tuesday 1 May 2012

Rolling coverage of all the day’s political developments as they happen

1.08pm: Here’s a short politics reading list.

• Jackie South at all that’s left thinks the polls could be wrong about Boris Johnson’s chances in London.

One thing I think few commentators are doubting is that turnout will be down this time on 2008. The temperature of the contest is a lot cooler this time around: none of the candidates has shined and although the Evening Standard came out today in support of Johnson, there has been no where near the level of anti-Ken vitriol on its front pages that disfigured the 2008 contest.

That lower turnout would look to harm Johnson more. Polls of course measure the intentions of voters, not whether they actually get to vote – the turnout work of parties will be critical, and the Conservatives are not in a good place to do that in the current climate.

This is not just guesswork: we have heard reports from well-informed sources that the early postal votes opened in one inner-London borough looked surprisingly good for Livingstone and certainly at odds with what the polls are showing.

• Jonathan Rutherford at Shifting Grounds says Labour politicians are increasingly interested in the concept of the common good.

There is a growing recognition that its emphasis on relationships, democracy, community and locality can address the problems of social fragmentation and popular estrangement from mainstream politics. But it requires some definition of meaning, and about what its key policy might be.

Cameron’s Big Society was governed by voluntarism; Labour’s common good is governed by reciprocity …

The 2012 Welfare Reform Act tidied up a complicated system and ignored its flaws and economic realities. In the coming decade a democratic politics of the common good and a new Labour covenant involve fundamental changes in Britain’s welfare state and economy. The times require ambition – and something more than tinkering around the edges.

• Mark D’Arcy on his BBC blog names the MPs and peers who have been the heroes of this session of parlament.

• Lord Tebbit on his Telegraph blog says he is glad he was in government in charge of media competition policy in the 1980s, when there were no emails and few PR men, and not now.

If a business wished to make some representation, a senior executive would write, ask to call on me in my office, or telephone. Phone calls would come through the switchboard and were normally monitored by my private secretary. Officials would normally be present at meetings. Written records would be kept. I would either draft letters or ask my officials to do so and take time to consider the draft before authorising a reply.

At the end of difficult meetings with the representatives of outside interests, I would usually suggest we had a cup of tea or a drink whilst my private secretary wrote a draft minute of the meeting which I asked my visitors to agree and sign before they left. That sometimes re-opened the discussion, but by the time they left my visitors and I had identical written records of the meeting.

It was a procedure which helped to resolve many tricky issues, even the application of the late Bob Maxwell to buy the Daily Mirror.

12.14pm: In the comments bilbocroft asked about the debate on Lords reform which stated in the Lords yesterday and which wound up this morning. As far as I can tell, not a word of it has been reported in the papers. That’s not particulary surprising. There have been endless Lords reform debates in the Lords over recent years, and it is well known that many peers are strongly opposed to change. But it’s still worth knowing what was said. Here are some of the highlights, which I’ve taken from the reports filed by the Press Association.

Lady Royall, Labour’s leader in the Lords, said it was “risible” to suggest Lords reform was the most pressing issue facing the country.

People across the country are deeply worried – worried about their jobs, about prices, about whether they can afford to put meals on the table …. and this government’s response is House of Lords reform. No wonder the polls are day by day a disaster for this government. Reform of the Lords is an important issue and one we need to get right. But the idea that it’s the most pressing issue facing the country is frankly risible.

She also said there should be a referendum on Lords reform.

Lord Strathclyde,
the leader of the Lords, said there was “only one way to test whether a consensus for the second phase of reform exists or can emerge and that is to introduce a bill and then allow parliament to take a view”.

Lord Ashdown
, the former Lib Dem leader, said he was in favour of a referendum on Lords reform.

This place is an anachronism and an undemocratic anachronism as well. I am in favour of a fully elected second chamber, but if the proposition put forward by [the joint committee on the draft Lords reform bill] as a compromise is the best one we can get through, then I will happily vote for that and I believe it should be supported by a referendum as well …

We are placemen, we are the creatures of patronage. There are only two ways to get into this place. One is that you are a friend of the prime minister, or at least he doesn’t object to you, and the other is that your great-grandmother slept with the king …

We are graciously permitted to follow along with a gilded poop scoop to clear up the mess behind the elephant at the other end of the corridor [the Commons]. But when it comes to stopping the elephant doing things, when it comes to turning them round, when it comes to delaying on really big things that matter, we do not succeed. How can we challenge the executive on big things when we are a creature of the executive.

Labour’s Lord Grenfell said: “The government has had its chance and blown it with this deeply flawed draft bill.”

Lady Miller of Hendon, a Conservative, said: “Is it likely that members of the Commons will meekly vote for losing their acknowledged primacy? We are still where we were a century ago.”

Lord Crickhowell, a Conservative, said it would be “political madness and deeply unsound constitutional practice were the Government, after only the briefest consideration, to commit itself in the Queen’s Speech to the introduction of the [draft bill] or one that is closely similar.”

Lord Steel, the former Liberal leader, said it would be “very dangerous” to hold a referendum on the Lords reform. “We could end up with nothing at all,” he said.

Viscount Astor, a Conservative and David Cameron’s father-in-law, said electing peers by STV could lead to the BNP getting a seat in parliament.

In fact UKIP could have more peers than the Lib Dems. UKIP stand to gain most and, the rather frightening thought, the BNP might for the first time be represented in Westminster. One would have thought that was the very last thing the coalition would want.

He also said that the form of Lords reform proposed was “heading for an almighty train crash”.

Lord Marlesford, a Conservative, described the reform proposals as “a rather sordid” deal between the coalition partners.

In the history of doomed enterprises, it brings to mind the advance of Napoleon and Hitler on Moscow and the recent repeated attempts to subdue Afghanistan.

Lord Forsyth
, a Conservative, said the Commons should reject the government’s plans.

The House of Commons should look out for this bill. It will be decided in the House of Commons, not here, and it’s right that it should be decided in the House of Commons because the House of Commons is sovereign. But as it sees its powers being taken by Europe, by assemblies, by parliaments, by external courts and others, it should look at this bill and realise what it is: a Trojan horse at the centre of our democracy and it should be rejected, and rejected comprehensively, by every MP who cares about that great institution the House of Commons.

Lord Tyler
, a Lib Dem peer, said the Lords should be reformed.

More people are in favour of the abolition of this House – maybe three times more – than are in favour of retaining a fully-appointed House and I hope members will recognise that is the real danger ahead of us. That is why I think here will come a time, if this House resists clear public pressure for reform, for the public to have their say. The longer we seek to obstruct the public then I believe the will of the public will have to be given an opportunity.

12.00pm: And here’s what Harriet Harman (pictured), Labour’s deputy leader and the shadow culture secretary, has said about the culture committee report.

The findings of today’s Select Committee report add new urgency and importance to Ofcom’s current review of whether News Corporation is “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence.

When you hold a broadcasting licence you are in a position of power and with that must come responsibility. I have no doubt that Ofcom will examine today’s findings with the utmost seriousness.

Harman, of course, has already said that in her view Rupert Murdoch is not a “fit and proper” person to hold a broadcast licence.

11.57am: Ofcom have put out a statement about the culture committee report. Here it is.

Ofcom has a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. Ofcom is continuing to assess the evidence – including the new and emerging evidence – that may assist it in discharging these duties.

11.47am: And here’s some instant Twitter reaction to the culture committee report.

From the Economist’s Janan Ganesh

From Sky’s Sophy Ridge

From the BBC’s Nick Robinson

From Sky’s Joey Jones

From ITV’s Lucy Manning

From the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour

From Labour MP Chris Bryant

11.42am: And this is what the committee is saying about the need of a Commons vote on what to do about the way News International misled parliament.

The integrity and effectiveness of the Select Committee system relies on the truthfulness and completeness of the oral and written evidence submitted. The behaviour of News International and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for that system in the most blatant fashion. Important lessons need to be learned accordingly and we draw our Report to the attention of the Liaison Committee which is considering possible reforms to Select Committees.

We note that it is for the House to decide whether a contempt has been committed and, if so, what punishment should be imposed. We note that it makes no difference— in terms of misleading this Committee—that evidence was not taken on oath. Witnesses are required to tell the truth to committees whether on oath or not. We will table a motion inviting the House to endorse our conclusions about misleading evidence.

11.39am: Here’s the key paragraph about Rupert Murdoch. It’s paragraph 229.

On the basis of the facts and evidence before the Committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.

11.37am: Here’s the committee’s phone hacking report (pdf).

11.34am: Here’s more on the findings in the culture committee’s report, which I’ve taken from our live blog about committee and its press conference.

Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to exercise stewardship of a major international company, a committee of MPs concluded this morning in a report highly critical of the mogul’s and his son’s role in the News of the World phone-hacking affair.

The culture, media and sport select committee also concluded that James
Murdoch showed wilful ignorance of the extent of phone hacking during 2009 and 2010 – in a highly charged document that saw MPs split on party lines in regards to the two Murdochs.

Labour MPs and the sole Liberal Democrat, Adrian Sanders, voted together in a bloc of six against the five Conservatives to insert the criticisms of Rupert Murdoch and toughen up the remarks about his son James. But the MPs were united in their criticism of other former News International employees.

The cross-party group of MPs said that Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International, was complicit in a cover-up at the newspaper group, and that Colin Myler, former editor of the News of the World, and ex-legal boss Tom Crone deliberately withheld crucial information and answered questions falsely. All three were accused of misleading Parliament.

Rupert Murdoch, the document said, did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking and that he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications.

The committee concluded that the culture of the newspapers permeated from the top and spoke volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International.

That prompted the MPs report to say: “We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of major international company.”

11.32am: Here’s the key conclusion from the report.

11.29am: We’re covering the publication of the Commons culture committee report into phone hacking on a media live blog. Here it is.

11.11am: You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in today’s paper, are here.

As for the rest of the papers, here are some articles and stories that are particuarly interesting.

• Rachel Sylvester in the Times (paywall) says there is a sense of chaos at the heart of government.

Even David Cameron, normally so calm and glossy-cheeked, is looking rattled, his hair uncharacteristically dishevelled in the House of Commons. “We’ve lost our reputation for both competence and fairness,” says a Cabinet minister. “That’s a toxic double hit” …

The Notting Hill Tories are a group of friends who find themselves in power, more than they are a collection of political allies with a shared ideological project. They are godparents to each others’ children, sharing holidays, power playdates and iPod playlists — communicating via text message, on personal rather than government BlackBerries, which is less formal than minuted meetings. I recently counted 10 Old Etonians and 14 people who were at Oxford with Mr Cameron or Mr Osborne at the higher levels of the Tory Party, with several more who worked with the Prime Minister in the Conservative Research Department. When the coalition was formed, it felt natural to No 10 to portray the relationship between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders as a rose-garden romance, rather than a hard-headed political alliance. There is a toe-curlingly patronising attitude to “outsiders” such as Eric Pickles and Sayeeda Warsi. Iain Duncan Smith jokes that he is part of the “Chingford set”. “We don’t borrow police horses, we borrow policemen,” he says pointedly.

• Steve Richards in the Independent says John Bercow was right to make David Cameron answer questions about Jeremy Hunt in the Commons yesterday.

The Speaker, John Bercow, was not biased against the Conservatives in calling Cameron to put his case in the Commons yesterday. He was biased in favour of the Commons and that means he is biased in favour of the electorate which votes for MPs of any party. Bercow was brave and right to make the elected chamber the forum for scrutiny over an unresolved issue. Ultimately, Prime Ministers are accountable to the Commons and not the BBC or newspapers, especially in a hung parliament when Cameron does not necessarily command majority support in relation to Hunt. Some senior Liberal Democrats wonder aloud whether Hunt has broken the ministerial code and should be investigated by the relevant civil servant.

• Daniel Martin in the Daily Mail says a report published by MPs argues that Britain has the worst social mobility in the Western world.

Social mobility in Britain is the worst in the Western world and the gap between rich and poor has become ingrained in children as young as three, MPs conclude today.

They quote a study showing that the prospects of half of all children born in the UK can be almost entirely linked to the circumstances of their parents – compared to only 15 per cent of those in Denmark.

Differences are also noticeable at a very young age, with toddlers doing far better in vocabulary tests if they grow up in a more affluent household.

• Gerri Peev in the Daily Mail says Frank Field has accused David Cameron of ignoring a report Field wrote for the government on how to tackle poverty.

The Prime Minister’s anti-poverty tsar has accused David Cameron of wasting the first half of his term in government by ignoring a study into how to smash the cycle of deprivation.

Frank Field said Mr Cameron had squandered two years by failing to implement any of his suggestions.

The former welfare minister said the Prime Minister ‘has yet to show he has even read’ the study he commissioned into bridging the class divide for youngsters.

• Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, has told the Times (paywall) in an interview that Scottish indepedence is inevitable.

In an interview with The Times, Mr McGuinness said that “the end of the Union as we know it” was signalled by the 1998 Good Friday agreement in Belfast. Faced with a subsequent rise in Scottish and Welsh nationalism, the British status quo was crumbling, he insisted. “Whatever happens during the course of the vote, whether people vote for it or if they don’t, they will take another major step towards independence,” he said. “There is an air of inevitability in that regard. That in itself will change the whole nature of the Union, and further encourage people.”

• The Financial Times (subscription) says the government is considering raising landing fee charges for airlines using Heathrow to fund more border staff.

Airlines using London’s Heathrow airport would pay higher landing fees to help sort out Britain’s border chaos under a plan backed by David Cameron.

BAA, Heathrow’s owner, is studying the proposal, which foresees airlines funding extra Border Force staff through the charges they pay the airport operator …

BAA levies annual landing charges worth more than £1bn on airlines at Heathrow to pay for infrastructure investment, including some equipment at the border, such as e-passport gates, but the company is now interested in the possibility of also using the fees to pay for additional Border Force staff.

The Border Force’s headcount is due to be cut 18 per cent by 2015 compared with 2010 levels, and the reductions are contributing to the long queues at passport control at Heathrow.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, British Airways parent, said on Tuesday morning that he had offered in the past to pay for more staff but Home Office officials had rejected the plan.

• Terri Judd in the Independent says new Jordanian torture allegations have cast doubt over efforts to deport Abu Qatada.

The Government’s attempts to deport Abu Qatada appeared increasingly fragile last night as it was revealed that the Jordanian regime is facing fresh allegations of torture.

A group of anti-regime protesters claim they were subjected to barbaric beatings in custody, which took place just days before Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament she had received assurances from Jordan that a constitutional change in the country meant torture evidence would no longer be used.

Yesterday an already embattled Ms May, who was forced to deny accusations the matter had descended into farce over whether the radical cleric had submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in time, was accused of overseeing a flawed strategy, relying on assurances from Jordan that lacked credibility.

Four anti-regime demonstrators, who insist they were stripped naked, severely beaten and sexually humiliated while in custody in Amman are submitting a formal complaint of torture via their lawyers on Thursday.

• The Times (paywall) says a Populus poll gives Boris Johnson a 12-point lead over Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral contest.

A surge of support for Mr Johnson in outer London, where his lead extends to 20 points, looks set to hand him the keys to City Hall for another four years on Thursday.

In the first round of voting, Mr Johnson pulls comfortably ahead on 46 per cent of the vote against Mr Livingstone’s 34 per cent.

Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, comes third with 6 per cent, pushing Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat, into joint fourth place with Siobhan Benita, the independent, on 5 per cent. UKIP’s Lawrence Webb is polling 3 per cent, while the BNP’s Carlos Coriglia has 1 per cent.

Mr Johnson keeps the 12-point lead in the second round of voting. With all the other candidates apart from Mr Livingstone eliminated, the Tory incumbent wins 56 per cent against 44 per cent for Mr Livingstone.

• And Kaya Burgess in the Times (paywall) says Johnson offended at an event organised by the Times, which has been campaining for better facilities for cyclists.

Unlike other candidates, Mr Johnson cycled to the hustings on his own bike, but he was drowned out by howls of protest as he told the audience: “I can humbly say to you, I may not conform to your idea of a stereotypical cyclist. I do not have whippet-thin brown legs or dreadlocks, I do not charge around in Lycra, I do not jump lights … and nor are you, but … I ask you to recognise that I have cycling in my heart. I love cycling. I think it is wonderful and I will continue to invest in cycling.”

One invited guest heckled: “When in holes, stop digging.”

The atmosphere hardly improved when Mr Johnson said: “We have got to move away from the idea that — and I am sorry to say this, you can lynch me now — that cyclists are somehow morally superior to other road users.”

10.40am: Most headteachers are not convinced that the pupil premium will make a difference to the achievement of poorer pupils, according to a union survey out today. Here’s what the Press Association have filed.

Schools are being forced to use the Government’s flagship pupil premium to plug cuts to their budgets, headteachers are warning.
More than four-fifths of heads say the money has either equalled or not made up for financial losses elsewhere, according to a survey carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) for the Press Association.
Many also remain unconvinced that the premium will be beneficial to their poorest pupils, with just over a third saying they do not think it will make a difference to a student’s achievement …
The NAHT’s survey, which questioned more than 2,000 heads, found that a third (32.4%) said the premium had equalled losses elsewhere in their budget, while more than half (53.3%) said it had not made up for losses elsewhere.
Just 14.3% of those questioned said the premium had exceeded losses elsewhere in their budget.
As the funding follows a pupil through their schooling, schools with large numbers of FSM youngsters will receive more money, while others get less.
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “The pupil premium seems to us to be the right thing to do as a concept, it’s the right idea. But in today’s climate it is simply redistributing funds in the system, not adding more.”
He said it could be argued that it is extra money for the poorest pupils, but added “some children will get less as a result”.
“You could argue that’s fine and they need it less,” Hobby said.
The survey findings, which come as the NAHT prepares to meet for its annual conference in Harrogate this weekend, show that nearly half of those questioned (48.9%) did not think the pupil premium was enough money, a third (33.6%) were not sure, and 17.6% said it was enough.
And just over a quarter (26.8%) said it would make a difference to a pupil’s achievement.
More than a third (35.4%) said it would make no difference, while a similar proportion (37.9%) were unsure.

10.12am: The Commons culture committee is holding what’s called a “lock-in” for reporters who want to read the phone hacking report before it’s published. That means they can go to a room in the Commons to read the report, but that they are not allowed to file or broadcast anything until the embargo is lifted at 11.30. The “lock-in” has just started, and some of my colleagues are in there now.

Unusually, one member of the committee has published what is effectively his own minority report. That’s the Labour MP Tom Watson, who published a book on the phone hacking affair, Dial M for Murdoch, that he wrote jointly with the Independent journalist Martin Hickman last week. It was well reviewed (in both senses) for the Guardian by Peter Wilby. Here’s how it concludes.

In the end, this story is about corruption by power. Some of Murdoch’s enforcers departed from the company line (it’s all about business) and pursued personal agendas and vendettas, even against minor politicians … They listened to phone messages, of course, but they also blagged, bribed, spied and bullied, and imposed their will through blackmail, corruption and intimidation. The names of their agents spoke of the darkness: Silent Shadow, Shadowmenuk. Rupert Murdoch was not running a normal business, but a shadow state. Now exposed by the daylight, it has been publicly humbled, its apparatus partially dismantled and its executives in retreat, at least for the moment. It stands shaken and ostensibly apologetic, but it is still there, and Rupert Murdoch is still in charge.

9.39am: Damian Green (pictured), the immigration minister, was on the Today programme this morning talking about the delays at Heathrow. He accepted that passengers were waiting too long.

Official Border Force figures show that [the time some passengers have had to wait] is about an hour and a half. I agree that that is too long. I can see why people are annoyed by that. We are taking significant steps to make sure that Border Force is more flexible so that we have the right people in the right place at the right time.

9.20am: Nick Clegg was on Radio 5 Live this morning. He said that he expected the Lib Dems to do better in this year’s local elections than they did in last year’s because the mood was different.

I have actually been round the country talking to many, many people and I actually find that there a different mood compared to last year. Yes, there is a lot of anxiety about the economy. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds, but I actually think we are getting a hearing. People are listening to us this year in a way that wasn’t always the case last year.

9.04am: For the record, here are the YouGov GB polling figures from last night.

Labour: 42% (up 2 points from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 35% (up 6)
Lib Dems: 8% (down 3)

Labour lead: 7 points

Government approval: -36

At UK Polling Report, Anthony Wells says that Sunday’s poll, which had the Tories on 29%, and this poll, which has the Labour lead narrower than it has been in other recent YouGov polls, may both be outliers.

8.40am: It’s almost three years since the Guardian reporter Nick Davies reignited the phone hacking controversy with the publication of a story containing evidence of a cover-up at the News of the World and the Commons culture committee has been looking at the issue ever since that story first appeared. (Here’s what happened when Davies gave evidence to them in July 2009.) The committee published a report in February 2010. But today we’re getting another report with its final verdict on the matter – or at least as much of its final verdict as it feels it can publish without prejudicing any possible forthcoming prosecutions. My Guardian Media colleagues will be leading our coverage of this, but I’ll be following it too.

Otherwise, it’s quiet. Here’s the agenda for the day.

10am: Peers will conclude a debate on Lords reform.

11.30am: The Commons culture committee publishes its long-awaited report on phone hacking. As Dan Sabbagh and Patrick Wintour report in the Guardian today, James Murdoch will be formally criticised. Members of the committee are holding a press conference.

1.30pm: Parliament will prorogue. A short ceremony will mark the end of the current session of parliament, which has lasted almost two years. A new session will start with the Queen’s Spech next week.

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. But I’ll be wrapping up early because I’ve got a local election article to write this afternoon.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog.

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