Politics live blog

• ONS says double dip recession deeper than first thought
• Lunchtime summary

1.40pm: Here’s a lunchtime summary.

• Fred Michel, the News Corporation lobbyist, has told the Leveson inquiry that he thought Jeremy Hunt sometimes knew what his adviser, Adam Smith, was telling Michel. “There was two or three events where I had the impression some of the feedback I was given was discussed with the secretary of state before it was given to me,” Michel said. The issue is important because Hunt has accepted that Smith gave New Corp too much inside information, but claims that Smith did so without Hunt’s permission. Michel has been giving evidence for two hours and generally he has been supportive of Hunt. When he was asked, “Is it your evidence that Mr Hunt was keeping an open mind, he was impartial, and would decide the bid on its merits at the appropriate time?” Michel replied: “Yes.” But the inquiry has heard new evidence about the full extend of News Corp’s contacts with Hunt’s office. Michel made 191 telephone calls and sent 158 emails and 799 texts to Hunt’s team between June 2010 and July 2011. Most of those contacts were directed at Smith. Smith sent 257 text messages to Michel between November 2010 and July 2011. There are more details on our Leveson live blog.

• Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, has said there could be a full Whitehall investigation into Jeremy Hunt after he gives evidence to Leveson. Speaking to the Commons public adminstration committee, where he was asked why there had not be a Whitehall inquiry yet, Heywood said: “We just took the view it was better to leave it to the Leveson Inquiry. In the light of that if something comes up on this day of evidence that warrants further investigation or bears on his adherence to the ministerial code then we may have to take some further action at the point.” Bernard Jenkin, the Tory chairman of the committee, said he felt the “greatest sympathy” for Adam Smith, who had to resign as Hunt’s adviser because his contacts the News Corpt went too far. “I rather suspect he thought he was doing what was expected of him,” Jenkin said.

• Nick Clegg has said that “no rational person” could support Greece leaving the euro. In a speech in Berlin, he also condemned the EU response to the euro crisis as woefully fragmented and damaging to public confidence. He is in Germany for a round of vital meetings with German ministers designed to persuade Berlin to adopt a less cautious approach. Martin Callan, the leader of Conservative MEPs, said Clegg was wrong about Greece.

I think the reality is increasingly across Europe…an increasing number of people are accepting Greece is going to leave the euro. They can’t put up with another eight more years of grinding austerity, and even then they’d only end up with a debt pile the same as Italy.

The Office for National Statistics has said that Britain’s economy shrank by 0.3% in the first three months of 2012 – not 0.2% as originally thought. A further revision will be published in due course. Chloe Smith, a Treasury minister, said the figures would not make the government change its deficit-reduction strategy. “We need to stick to our path. It would not be acceptable to fail to deal with our debts,” she said.

Carina Trimingham, Chris Huhne’s partner, has lost her high court claim for damages for alleged breach of privacy and harrassment against the Daily Mail.

The ONS has said that annual net migration to Britain remains at over 250,000 a year despite the declared ambition of the home secretary, Theresa May, to reduce it below 100,000 by the time of the next election.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has announced a £2bn school building programme.

• Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has accused Iain Duncan Smith of being “asleep at the wheel” following the revelation that a whistleblower claims that a firm paid to find work for the unemployed is engaged in a “multi-billion pound scandal”. Byrne was responding to claims in today’s Daily Telegraph. (See 9.38am.)

There is something very off going on because the Department for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith’s department, is refusing to publish any of the information about which contractor is getting paid what and how they’re doing actually getting people back to work. We then had the extraordinary news this week that this whistleblower was forced by Conservative members of the committee to give his evidence in secret. So we have secrecy around performance of these contracts, we have Conservative MPs demanding that evidence is given in secret, I’m afraid something is not right and Iain Duncan Smith has got to move very very quickly now to get a grip of this multi-billion pound programme.

• Lord Brooke, the Conservative former cabinet minister, has suggested that Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, might leave government soon. Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Brooke said: “I had dinner with him (Mr Clarke) quite recently, and he did say he was finding red boxes at night slightly more trying than he had done in his youth. So how long he will be willing to be in a frontline position, I don’t know.” Clarke is 71.

The Ministry of Justice has said that the proportion of serious offenders with a criminal record is at an all-time high.

• The MoJ has said the company tasked with providing translators to courts and tribunals will be monitored daily after failing to meet targets. As the Press Association reports, Applied Language Solutions (ALS) was 8% off target from January to April this year after recently landing the contract. ALS was set a 98% success rate – measured on an interpreter turning up to the job and completing it. MoJ figures released today showed the firm had increased its success rate from 65% in February to 90% in April.

• The Department for Education has said the number of young people not in school, work or training (NEETs) has edged closer to a million.
As the Press Association reports, over 950,000 people aged between 16 to 24 in England are now considered “NEET”. Today’s statistics showed that 954,000 young people were classed as NEET in the first three months of the year, compared to 925,000 in the same quarter a year ago.

David Cameron will allow Conservative MPs a free vote on gay marriage, it has emerged.

Two of the government’s flagship academy schools are facing legal challenges over their refusal to admit children with statements of special needs.

12.17pm: The Cabinet Office has posted on its website the text of the speech that Nick Clegg (pictured) is giving in Berlin today. Here are the key points.

• Clegg said “no rational person” could support Greece leaving the euro.

Let me challenge the fashionable assumption being whispered behind cupped hands – that for some countries, leaving the Euro wouldn’t be that bad. That actually, a Greek exit now would be in everyone’s best interests.

My own view is that that wildly underestimates the unpredictable, irrevocable damage that could be done to a monetary union when it is shown not to be permanent.

No rational person interested in the wealth and wellbeing of Europe’s citizens could advocate taking such a risk: not with Greece’s future, or our own.

• He said EU leaders were “undermining public confidence” by failing to come up with a comprehensive response to the eurozone crisis.

The way we take decisions is undermining public confidence. Every few weeks European leaders sit down to yet another crisis summit, where another temporary solution is agreed. The tree is falling, and we are pruning one leaf at a time. It is piecemeal politics; endless tactics with no strategy.

So we must gather these overlapping problems together and solve them as one. This is a European crisis. It must be solved at the European level.


• He said a solution had to involve four ingredients.
They were: greater eurozone integration (“Europe must either share common debt, or change the way money is transferred”); more intervention from the European Central Bank, which should “intervene aggressively to suport demand”; a stronger firewall and bank recapitalisation; and structural reform.

• He said a eurozone crisis could encourage xenophobia and extremism.

There is a bigger danger here. The combination of economic uncertainty and political disillusionment is a perfect recipe for an increase in xenophobia, populism, and extremism.

11.52am: Back at Leveson, Fred Michel is running into some difficulty. Earlier he said that he did not know what Jeremy Hunt thought about the News Corporation bid for BSkyB. But Robert Jay, counsel for the inquiry, has just asked him how that squares with the email he sent earlier, on 15 June 2010, saying that he had had a chat with Hunt’s adviser and that he “believed the UK government would be supportive throughout the process”. Michel claimed there was a difference between knowing the views of the government generally and knowing the views of individual ministers.

11.46am: Turning away from the Leveson inquiry for a moment, Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, has accused the government of making “a prize mess” of the forthcoming justice and security bill.

Khan was responding to a story in today’s Times (paywall) saying that the bill has been delayed. Here’s an extract.

Ministers are split over whether to include powers for secret inquests in measures to go before Parliament next week. Publication of the Justice and Security Bill, which was due today, has been delayed because of wrangling over how far the proposals for closed trials should go.

A key issue is whether inquests as well as trials should be included. The Bill would allow for closed hearings where material involving national security had to be disclosed.

Khan says this is shambolic.

If there were a book on how not to run a government, the shenanigans over
the Justice and Security Bill would make a great chapter. Last Sunday, the
justice secretary spent the day on TV and radio trailing publication of
the bill, telling us it would appear this week. But now, mysteriously, it
looks like it’s not materialising after all. The way this Tory-led government has dealt with this sensitive issue shows what a prize mess it is making.

11.17am: Fred Michel has told the inqury that when he attributed something to “JH” in his emails, “for me it meant the office of the secretary of state”.

Robert Jay, counsel for the inquiry, pressed him on this. “In one sense there’s no difference between them,” he replied. “They are all within the envelope of the secretary of state, and the label JH covers the secretary of state himself, covers his officials and covers his special advisers.” Michel said he agreed.

Jeremy Hunt’s defence relies upon his claim that his special adviser, Adam Smith, was effectively “freelancing” – going beyond what was allowed – when he gave inside information to Michel.

But Michel is arguing that there was no real distinction between Hunt and his adviser.

11.15am: Here is Fred Michel’s first witness statemnt to the Leveson inquiry (pdf).

And here is an annex to his witness statement, containing an analysis of his contacs with Adam Smith (pdf).

11.02am: The News Corporation lobbyist Fred Michel is giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry now.

You can follow the proceedings in detail on our Leveson live blog. But I’ll be monitoring the hearing too, and any reaction to what he says.

My colleague Nicholas Watt has a lengthy profile of Michel in today’s paper.

10.58am: And here’s some Press Association copy on the Carina Trimingham ruling.

MP Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham has lost her privacy and harassment claim against Associated Newspapers.
Her affair with the former secretary of state for energy and climate change became public in June 2010, with Mr Huhne leaving his wife of 26 years.
The 44-year-old PR adviser sued for compensation and an injunction over 65 “highly unpleasant and hurtful” articles which have appeared since then.
Last month, her lawyers told Mr Justice Tugendhat, at London’s High Court, that they constituted a “cataclysmic interference” with her private life.
Associated contested the case on the basis that there was an important public interest.
Trimingham’s counsel, Matthew Ryder QC, said the Daily Mail had a right to freedom of expression but not to abuse her repeatedly under the guise of exercising that freedom.
The articles referred to the “life and very different loves of the PR girl in Doc Martens” and described her as a “comedy lesbian from central casting”.
Trimingham was in court today but showed no emotion as her claim was dismissed by the judge.
He said: “Ms Trimingham was not the purely private figure she claims to be. Her reasonable expectation of privacy has become limited.”
Outside court, Trimingham said: “I am extremely disappointed by this judgment. There is a ray of light, however.
“Thankfully, the court has accepted today that repeated mocking of a person by a national newspaper by reference to their sexual orientation would almost inevitably be so oppressive as to amount to harassment.
“However, the court did not appreciate that when newspapers make repeated irrelevant references to sexuality – particularly in the context of pejorative and stereotypical references to appearance – it amounts to the same type of mocking which the court has confirmed is unacceptable.
“This is confused, and I think wrong. I am very concerned that this judgment may become a blueprint for bullies and bigots. I intend to appeal.”
Trimingham, who is insured, was ordered to pay £250,000 on account of Associated’s estimated £410,000 costs within 14 days.

10.55am: Here’s a link to the Carina Trimingham judgment.

10.50am: The BBC’s Robin Brant has been tweeting from Sir Jeremy Heywood’s session with the public administration committee. As you can see from reading his Twitter feed, there are various interesting lines coming out, but these are particularly relevant to Jeremy Hunt and today’s Leveson hearing.

10.41am: Ed Balls (pictured), the shadow chancellor, has issued a statement about the revised growth figures. Here’s an extract.

Our complacent and out of touch prime minister and chancellor have spent the last week claiming their plan is on track, but these figures show that Britain’s double-dip recession is even deeper than first thought.

What more evidence can David Cameron and George Osborne need that their policies have failed and that they now need a change of course and a plan B for growth and jobs?

Not only has our economy now shrunk in the last six months by 0.6 per cent, it has actually shrunk by 0.4 per cent in the year and a half since the spending review. And it is families and businesses that are paying the price with incomes being squeezed, companies going bust and long-term unemployment at a 16 year high.

It’s now clear that this is a recession made in Downing Street by this government’s failed policies. Despite all the problems in the euro area, France, Germany and the eurozone as a whole have so far avoided recession and only exports to other countries stopped us going into recession a year ago. The result is that Britain is now in a weaker position if things get worse in the eurozone in the coming months.

10.35am: 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 that are particularly interesting.

• Oliver Wright in the Independent says Adam Smith has been given access to government legal aides to help him prepare for his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry today.

The Department of Culture said it had offered Mr Smith legal advice on what to expect at the hearing as well as access to departmental documents relating to his time in office. However, it insisted the advice would not extend to “prepping” Mr Smith for his appearance, using trained lawyers to play the role of Lord Leveson and the council for the inquiry, Robert Jay, QC.

Observers who watched the evidence given by Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson this month said it seemed clear they had used “role play” to prepare. The Conservative Party is understood to have lined up a team of lawyers to advise David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and other Tory ministers on their appearances before the Leveson inquiry.

The lawyers, who will be paid from party funds, are on stand-by to provide help as ministers spend hours preparing to answer questions about their links with newspaper groups.

• Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph says Vince Cable is the moral centre of this coalition.

The four members of the so-called “Quad” who run the Coalition and get on so well – Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Alexander – are all in their early to mid 40s. Mr Cable was president of the Cambridge Union in 1965, before any of them was born …

There was a time when age was an advantage in British public life. It was recognised that the old possessed qualities that were unattainable for the young. This respect for human longevity helps explain why William Ewart Gladstone, the greatest prime minister of the 19th century, did not enter No 10 until he was 58, and enjoyed three terms of office thereafter. That time may yet come again. Mr Cable is now in that very interesting place: he is the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life. If Nick Clegg, as widely expected, steps down as Lib Dem leader before the general election, Mr Cable – should he decide to run – is highly likely to replace him. His best years may lie ahead.


• Sam Coates and Jill Sherman in the Times (paywall) say David Cameron faces a summer of discontent from the Tory grass roots.

David Cameron is facing increasing pressure from grass roots Conservatives who believe that Downing Street is becoming out of touch with the issues they are hearing about on the doorstep.

Mike Whitby, the former leader of Birmingham Council which the party lost to Labour at this month’s local elections, said the petrol crisis, Europe, the abolition of the 50p tax rate and spending cuts were causing voters to desert the party …

There is panic among some [Conservative donors] at what they view as the disarray in No 10, the compromises being made with the Lib Dems and poor poll ratings which put the Tories on course for defeat.”The frustration is that this Government keeps making mistakes, making a Conservative government less likely after 2015,” said one.

The donor added that the mood at recent fundraisers had changed. It was clear there was now a “fear that shows in people’s eyes at the alternative on offer from Labour”.

Another was critical of how Whitehall departments which hand out big private sector contracts, such as the Home Office, are still in chaos two years after the coalition came to power.

A party source said: “There is no doubt that corporate donors feel extremely let down. Many are spitting with anger. They thought this Government would come in and open up government but it hasn’t happened.”

10.25am: Here’s what the Press Association has filed about the Ministry of Justice court statistics out this morning.

The number of hardened criminals reoffending is at a record high while the number of first-time offenders has dropped in England and Wales.
The latest criminal justice statistics show nearly a third (31.2%) of defendants convicted of serious offences (crown court offences) last year had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions.
The number is the highest since 2001 when it was 17.9% and has risen steadily.
The Ministry of Justice’s quarterly update also said 10.1% of offenders convicted of indictable offences in 2011 had no previous criminal offences.
The figures added that the 31.2% figure with 15 or more previous offences was an increase of 13.3% since 2001.

10.18am: Fred Michel will be giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry from about 11am. Adam Smith will follow. The inquiry is now hearing from Lord Brooke, the former national heritage secretary.

You can follow the proceedings on our Leveson live blog.

10.12am: The Press Association has just snapped this.

MP Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham has lost her High Court privacy and harassment action against Associated Newspapers.

9.38am: There’s a cracking story in the Daily Telegraph today. Louisa Peacock and Rowena Mason have got hold of the written evidence submitted to the Commons public accounts committee by Eddie Hutchinson, former head of audit at A4e, the firm paid by the government to get unemployed people into work. He says an “unethical culture” led to “systemic fraud” at the company.

An auditor with 30 years’ experience, Mr Hutchinson’s statement discloses that despite his discovery of an “ever-increasing volume of frauds”, with two or three new allegations arising on some days, the company failed to act. It cultivated a culture that discouraged employees from revealing improper practices, the document states.

“I encountered unethical behaviour or wrongdoing that fell way below standards that should be expected of organisations funded by significant sums from the public purse,” he wrote.

The repeated incidents of malpractice in the sector have led to a “multi-billion pound scandal”, he claimed in his statement. In his evidence, Mr Hutchinson, who worked at A4e from October 2010 until May last year, alleges:

• A bonus scheme for employers “drove inappropriate behaviour” by staff willing to commit fraud.

• Staff acted in the belief that if their irregularity was discovered, they could resign in the knowledge no further action would be taken.

• Two years on from a 2009 audit report warning fraud was not confined to one part of the country, fraud was still “systemic”.

A4e told the paper Hutchinson’s allegations don’t stand up. And the Department for Work and Pensions said these were “unproven allegations” about schemes operatiing in the past and that current controls were strong.

9.30am: The ONS is saying the economy shrunk by 0.3% in the first quarter of 2012, not 0.2% as previously thought.

That means that the double dip recession is even deeper (but only marginally) than we thought.

Here’s the Office for National Statistics news release and here’s the ONS statistical bulletin with the full details (pdf).

9.22am: For the record, here are the latest YouGov GB polling figures.

Labour: 42% (down 1 from Tuesday night)
Conservatives: 32% (no change)
Lib Dems: 9% (up 1)
Ukip: 9% (no change)

Labour lead: 10 points

Government approval: -36

9.00am: It’s crunch day for Jeremy Hunt. The culture secretary has been floating in a version of ministerial limbo for the last few weeks, ever since his special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned after it was revealed at the Leveson inquiry that Smith had given the News Corporation lobbyist, Fred Michel, inside information about Hunt’s handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB. Hunt was supposed to be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity – ie, impartially – but it is hard to read the Smith/Michel emails and texts without concluding that News Corp were getting special treatment. Labour have been calling for Hunt’s resignation, while David Cameron has been defending Hunt, yet also insisting that Hunt needs to be allowed to tell his side of the story to Leveson. We’re expecting to hear from Hunt next week. But today we will hear from Michel and, crucially, Smith, who will be asked if Hunt fully authorised his extensive communications with News Corp, including his decision to provide News Corp with commercially sensitive information before it was announced to parliament.

In his resignation statement Smith said: “The content and extent of my contact [with News Corp] was done without authorisation from the secretary of state.” This is the phrase that is providing Hunt with the political cover that he needs, and explains why he hasn’t resigned. Today we’ll find out how robust this defence actually is.

I won’t be covering the hearing minute by minute – you’ll find all that, as usual, on our Leveson live blog – but I will be keeping a close eye on it, and providing analysis and reaction.

Otherwise, it’s a relatively quiet day. Here’s the agenda.

8.45am:
The Ministry of Justice releases statistics about trends in sentencing.

9.30am:
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, gives evidence to the Commons public administration committee on the work of the cabinet secretary.

9.30am: The Office for National Statistics publishes its revised growth figures for the first three months of 2012. The initial figures showed that the economy shrank by 0.2%, meaning the UK was technically in recession.

10am: Adam Smith, Jeremy Hunt’s former special adviser, and Fred Michel, the News Corporation lobbyists, give evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Lord Brooke, national heritage secretary in John Major’s government, is also giving evidence.

At some point there’s also a speech from Nick Clegg, who is on a visit to Berlin with Vince Cable. Clegg is going to say that “no rational person” should support a Greek exit from the euro.

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.

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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