Posts tagged "Number 10"

Number 10 to hand out Twitter exclusives to favoured journalists

Downing Street aim to secure goodwill from journalists by revealing news before its official announcement by ministers

Asked in 2009 why he didn’t use Twitter, David Cameron famously responded “too many twits might make a twat” . Four years later, Number 10 is attempting to move more rapidly into the digital future with a Twitter strategy than includes handing out “Twitter exclusives” to favoured journalists for release before they are officially announced by ministers.

In a tactic reminiscent of the BBC satire The Thick of It, Twitter is also being used to try to quash negative stories before they gain currency in a news cycle where every second counts.

“Every minute that passes the poison is spreading into the system to all sorts of roots and you need to find a way to cauterize that very, very quickly,” said a senior No 10 source.

The Twitter exclusives aim to secure goodwill from journalists who are often under pressure to break news online before rivals, but will irritate those who believe announcements should be made in parliament.

Many of Downing Street’s new media strategies were introduced by Craig Oliver, the prime minister’s communications director, who insisted on moving a Twitter monitor into the No 10 newsroom when he assumed his role in January 2011.

According to colleagues, Oliver likes to describe the social network as similar to fire: a useful tool in the right hands, but massively destructive if it is misused.

The analogy might leave some scratching their heads, but Cameron’s inner circle wants all his MPs to take Twitter seriously – even if the 2015 general election is, in internet time, light years away.

One example of using Twitter to “seal” a negative story came after the Evening Standard mistakenly broke George Osborne’s budget embargo on the social network last month. A mortified journalist promised to tweet a swift apology but Oliver ordered a pre-emptive tweet from the Tory press office account, to ensure the reporter’s promise was met.

Conservative party headquarters brief MPs on good talking points for Twitter, using them to “tweet as a muscular force” about a single topic or news item to hammer home the message. Some 418 MPs have joined the tweeting fray, according to the news wire Tweetminster, up from 176 in 2009.

“Twitter used to be seen as tool for the egocentric and verbally incontinent,” said a senior No 10 source. “But the reality is that it’s an extraordinarily useful way of getting talking points out there.”

Downing Street has not always been so fleet of foot – it took hours to respond to the online mockery prompted by Osborne’s first-class train ticket debacle last October – but Cameron’s inner circle now recognises that the case for a clear Twitter strategy is “unanswerable”.

“We’re getting to where people are these days,” said Anthony Simon, the head of digital communications in the prime minister’s office.

“Increasing numbers of people are on Twitter – journalists, stakeholders and professional groups – and to be part of that conversation is vital for any government department. It’s democratic because it’s open to anyone and we don’t go on it for the sake of it or over-rely on it – it’s a means to an end.”

The most popular tweet sent by the government was Cameron’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher, prompting 3,500 retweets. The most divisive was when No 10 tweeted every single reshuffle appointment last September, which led to a mass unfollowing from less devoted users but praise from politicos.

But the jury is out on whether the rest of Britain is as Twitter-addicted as the Westminster Village. “I think the majority of activity comes from a fairly small group and most MPs have fairly small audiences,” said Alberto Nardelli, the founder of the app Tweetdeck, pointing out that 1.2m people follow MPs on the site – about the same size audience combined as Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

“I think we’ve gone beyond a ‘should politicians use Twitter?’ phase. It’s now how will it be used,” he added.

Josh Halliday


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Posted by admin - April 28, 2013 at 21:07

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Cameron announces ‘dementia friends’ scheme

Measures to boost early diagnosis, make care homes better suited to needs of sufferers, and increase public awareness

The prime minister will today announce plans to recruit 1 million volunteer “Dementia Friends” capable of supporting people with the condition in their communities, wards and care homes.

The scheme is part of a package of measures to boost early diagnosis, to make wards and care homes more comfortable for people with dementia, and to help the public better understand the condition.

There are currently 670,000 people with dementia in England, a number that is set to double in the next 30 years.

Cameron has pledged to make a war on dementia a central health drive matching the previous battle against Aids.

Cameron will say: “Through the Dementia Friends project, we will for the first time make sure a million people know how to spot those telltale signs and provide support. There is still a long way to go in fighting the disease, but together we can improve the lives of millions.”

Members of the public will be educated in local sessions, church halls and work places to become “Dementia Friends”, Number 10 said. They may be a friend, a family member, or someone the sufferer has met through work.

The scheme will provide free coaching sessions on how to spot the signs of dementia and provide support to people with the condition.

Each Friend will be awarded a special “Forget-me-Not” badge once they have completed their training, so that they can be easily identified as being able to assist people with dementia.

The scheme is part of a package of measures to be announced today as part of the next phase of the prime minister’s “challenge on dementia”.

The health department is also increasing the size of the UK Biobank, which holds biological data from 500,000 individuals aged from 40-69. This expansion will include 8,000 brain scans to help scientists investigate why some people develop dementia and others do not.

The rate of successful diagnosis is expected to double from 42% at present to 80% – a target set by Cameron earlier this year when he launched his challenge.

Healthcare professionals will also be required to ask all patients aged between 65 and 74 about their memory as part of their standard health check. Simple diagnostic tests will be expected to be done on site, cutting waits that at present can be as long as 18 months.

A £1m prize fund is also being set up to rewards NHS organisations that find ways to reduce the number of sufferers left undiagnosed.

A £50m fund has already been announced to adapt wards and care home spaces to improve the experience of people with dementia – using simple changes to improve treatment and living conditions.

A total of 1,800 care homes and sites – with more than 200,000 people – across the country have signed up to a “dementia care compact” committing them to standards of care and treatment for people with dementia.


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Posted by admin - November 8, 2012 at 08:19

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Cameron to get tough on crime

Prime minister will attempt to regain initiative with speech calling for middle ground between tough sentences and rehabilitation

David Cameron will call for a new “tough but intelligent” approach to law and order on Monday in a speech to get him back on the front foot after a string of controversies.

In an attempt to change the terms of the debate about the punishment of offenders, the prime minister will say that a combination of tough prison sentences and lighter rehabilitation methods is necessary.

Aides said he was not seeking to take a harder line on law and order issues to appease critics of his “hug a hoodie” philosophy from the Tory right.

Instead he will try to find a middle ground between those who call for tougher sentencing and others who want to see more rehabilitation of offenders. He will say that the commonsense approach is to do both.

The speech comes after he used last month’s reshuffle to replace Ken Clarke, who attracted accusations of being soft on sentencing, with the more hardline Chris Grayling as justice secretary.

Grayling is expected to increase the use of payment by results for private companies who help rehabilitate offenders, but he also wants to make community sentences tougher, with a “punitive element” to every order.

Another initiative is a “two strikes and you’re out” policy for serious violent and sexual offenders, with an automatic life sentence after a second offence.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the home secretary, Theresa May, was set to unveil moves to tackle gun-runners who bring firearms into the UK for criminal gangs. There will be a new offence of possession of an illegal firearm with intent to supply, carrying a maximum life sentence – up from 10 years for black market smugglers at present.

May told BBC1’s Sunday Politics: “We are looking across the board to make sure that at every bit of the criminal justice system we are doing what is necessary to fight crime, prevent crime and then deal with criminals appropriately. That’s what we have been doing but what we are announcing this week are some changes.”

She said it was time there was an offence of possessing firearms with intent to supply, arguing: “Those people who are supplying the firearms are as guilty as the people using them when it comes to the impact.”

There was embarrassment for the government, however, on another of its most high-profile crime initiatives. Elections are due to take place next month for police and crime commissioners, who will take direct responsibility for deciding how their force budgets are spent, setting priorities and hiring or firing chief constables. But Lord Blair, the former chief constable of the Metropolitan police in London, said people should consider not voting on 15 November in an effort to force ministers to reverse the policy. Polls have already suggested that fewer than 20% of voters will turn out.

Blair told Sky’s Murnaghan programme that he usually insisted people vote in any election because “people died going up beaches so you could vote”, but in this case, he said, “I actually hope people don’t vote.”

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government had been “weak and foolish” in its attitude to policing.

“David Cameron is undermining the police in their work against crime and antisocial behaviour,” she said. “A new slogan is a fat lot of use when he is cutting 15,000 police officers, reducing police powers to deal with criminals including on DNA, CCTV and asbos, undermining police morale, arrests are down and the number of serious crimes reaching court is falling.

“People will see these new promises on sentencing and immediately ask if the detectives and officers will be there to catch the criminals in the first place. Far from being tough and intelligent, the government has proved weak and foolish in its attitude to the police – be it at the gates of Downing Street or inside Number 10.”


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Posted by admin - October 21, 2012 at 15:10

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Fuel price row: Cameron tries to firm up energy tariff plan

Energy bill will ensure lowest price, says PM admitting he only raised plan as option for inclusion amid claims it is unworkable

David Cameron launched a belated attempt to firm up his widely criticised commitment to oblige all energy companies to provide customers with the lowest tariff.

But amid claims from opposition MPs and consumer groups that his plan was unworkable, the prime minister was forced to admit he had only raised an option for inclusion in the energy bill. He said he was considering requiring energy companies to put some direct debit customers on low tariffs with a customer’s right to opt out.

Attending the EU summit in Brussels, Cameron tried to counter claims his policy had unravelled, saying: “I want to be on the side of hard-pressed, hard-working families who often struggle to pay energy bills. That’s what I said in the House of Commons yesterday. We’re going to use the forthcoming legislation, the energy bill, coming up this year so that we make sure, we ensure that customers get the lowest tariffs. That’s what we’re going to do.”

A Downing Street source said: “This is very big. Energy prices is one of the biggest issues on the doorstep and we are determined to do something.” The source insisted the discussions had been going on for weeks, and was not something the prime minister said on the spur of the moment. Details would be set out in the forthcoming energy bill.

One of the options being examined is that people who are on a variable tariff and pay by direct debit could be informed by their provider that they were going to be automatically switched to the lowest variable direct debit tariff from the same provider. People would be able to opt out of automatic switching if they wanted to. Number 10 said this would make the system more transparent and promote competition between the companies to offer the cheapest tariffs.

It emerged that neither energy companies, the energy secretary, Ed Davey, or Cameron’s advisers had been forewarned he was going to make his pledge on Wednesday at prime minister’s questions.

He told MPs: “We will be legislating so energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers.”

Asked on Thursday whether the prime minister’s pledge meant energy companies would only be able to offer one tariff – the cheapest – Davey said: “[Ensuring] consumers face the lowest bills possible is a priority for me. We have been in discussions across government. Ofgem has been talking about fewer tariffs and simpler bills and that is the direction of travel.”

Neil Bentley, deputy director general of the CBI, which is urging the government to end its feud over energy policy and back the green economy, said: “We are seeking policy clarity like everybody else. If competition is to work, consumers have to have a choice of tariffs. I’m not quite sure where the prime minister was coming from.” Labour said the proposal was unworkable given the complexity of current tariff structures.

The prime minister’s announcement was the first example since the Tory conference of Cameron making good on his commitment to be on the side of the “strivers”. He had promised to back strivers against vested interests such as energy companies, territory that Ed Miliband has sought to colonise. The episode has left energy companies, with billions of investment at stake, scrambling to discover Cameron’s true intentions.

The energy minister, John Hayes, revealed the level of ministerial ingnorance in an emergency statement to MPs in which he would only commit to getting people lower tariffs through “different options to be considered”. He added: “While the number of companies has shrunk, the number of tariffs has simultaneously grown by something like 400-fold. That is not sensible.” Much of his studiously vague statement was greeted with laughter by MPs.

Hayes suggested the government was looking to see if the voluntary agreement announced in April with energy firms should be made binding in legislation. That agreement required firms to tell customers of lower tariffs, but not to put them on the tariff automatically.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said the government would “oblige companies to offer the lowest price to many consumers”. This stopped short of the blanket guarantee that energy companies would be forced to give all consumers the lowest prices – the measure apparently proposed by Cameron. She said ministers were looking at a variety of options. At its most minimal Cameron will now have to put a statutory obligation on energy companies to send a letter to customers setting out the lowest tariffs available to specific customers.

Caroline Flint, the shadow energy secretary, said: “We all mis-speak from time to time, and the prime minister was under a lot of pressure yesterday, but for the government to spend a day pretending to have a policy that they have no intention of implementing is no way to run a country. It is like something out of The Thick of It.”

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth executive director, said: “Cash-strapped households will continue to struggle with rising fuel bills while our energy system remains hooked on increasingly costly gas. Government must protect people from rising gas prices by helping people to insulate heat leaking homes.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said: “This is yet another major embarrassment for a government so bereft of ideas that it has fallen to making up nonsensical, evidence-free policy on the hoof.”

Simon Jenkins, page 47 ? Leader comment, page 48 ?


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Posted by admin - October 19, 2012 at 08:13

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David Cameron tries to firm up energy tariff plan

Energy bill will ensure lowest price, says PM admitting he only raised plan as option for inclusion amid claims it is unworkable

David Cameron launched a belated attempt to firm up his widely criticised commitment to oblige all energy companies to provide customers with the lowest tariff.

But amid claims from opposition MPs and consumer groups that his plan was unworkable, the prime minister was forced to admit he had only raised an option for inclusion in the energy bill. He said he was considering requiring energy companies to put some direct debit customers on low tariffs with a customer’s right to opt out.

Attending the EU summit in Brussels, Cameron tried to counter claims his policy had unravelled, saying: “I want to be on the side of hard-pressed, hard-working families who often struggle to pay energy bills. That’s what I said in the House of Commons yesterday. We’re going to use the forthcoming legislation, the energy bill, coming up this year so that we make sure, we ensure that customers get the lowest tariffs. That’s what we’re going to do.”

A Downing Street source said: “This is very big. Energy prices is one of the biggest issues on the doorstep and we are determined to do something.” The source insisted the discussions had been going on for weeks, and was not something the prime minister said on the spur of the moment. Details would be set out in the forthcoming energy bill.

One of the options being examined is that people who are on a variable tariff and pay by direct debit could be informed by their provider that they were going to be automatically switched to the lowest variable direct debit tariff from the same provider. People would be able to opt out of automatic switching if they wanted to. Number 10 said this would make the system more transparent and promote competition between the companies to offer the cheapest tariffs.

It emerged that neither energy companies, the energy secretary, Ed Davey, or Cameron’s advisers had been forewarned he was going to make his pledge on Wednesday at prime minister’s questions.

He told MPs: “We will be legislating so energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers.”

Asked on Thursday whether the prime minister’s pledge meant energy companies would only be able to offer one tariff – the cheapest – Davey said: “[Ensuring] consumers face the lowest bills possible is a priority for me. We have been in discussions across government. Ofgem has been talking about fewer tariffs and simpler bills and that is the direction of travel.”

Neil Bentley, deputy director general of the CBI, which is urging the government to end its feud over energy policy and back the green economy, said: “We are seeking policy clarity like everybody else. If competition is to work, consumers have to have a choice of tariffs. I’m not quite sure where the prime minister was coming from.” Labour said the proposal was unworkable given the complexity of current tariff structures.

The prime minister’s announcement was the first example since the Tory conference of Cameron making good on his commitment to be on the side of the “strivers”. He had promised to back strivers against vested interests such as energy companies, territory that Ed Miliband has sought to colonise. The episode has left energy companies, with billions of investment at stake, scrambling to discover Cameron’s true intentions.

The energy minister, John Hayes, revealed the level of ministerial ingnorance in an emergency statement to MPs in which he would only commit to getting people lower tariffs through “different options to be considered”. He added: “While the number of companies has shrunk, the number of tariffs has simultaneously grown by something like 400-fold. That is not sensible.” Much of his studiously vague statement was greeted with laughter by MPs.

Hayes suggested the government was looking to see if the voluntary agreement announced in April with energy firms should be made binding in legislation. That agreement required firms to tell customers of lower tariffs, but not to put them on the tariff automatically.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said the government would “oblige companies to offer the lowest price to many consumers”. This stopped short of the blanket guarantee that energy companies would be forced to give all consumers the lowest prices – the measure apparently proposed by Cameron. She said ministers were looking at a variety of options. At its most minimal Cameron will now have to put a statutory obligation on energy companies to send a letter to customers setting out the lowest tariffs available to specific customers.

Caroline Flint, the shadow energy secretary, said: “We all mis-speak from time to time, and the prime minister was under a lot of pressure yesterday, but for the government to spend a day pretending to have a policy that they have no intention of implementing is no way to run a country. It is like something out of The Thick of It.”

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth executive director, said: “Cash-strapped households will continue to struggle with rising fuel bills while our energy system remains hooked on increasingly costly gas. Government must protect people from rising gas prices by helping people to insulate heat leaking homes.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said: “This is yet another major embarrassment for a government so bereft of ideas that it has fallen to making up nonsensical, evidence-free policy on the hoof.”

Simon Jenkins, page 47 ? Leader comment, page 48 ?


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Posted by admin -  at 07:53

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Boris Johnson reminds Tories of what David Cameron has lost | Andrew Rawnsley

Number 10 says it is relaxed about the mayor’s speech at conference. It is as relaxed as a cat on a hot tin roof

It seems to be the fate of Conservative prime ministers to be stalked by flamboyantly ambitious blonds with connections to Henley, wild hair and untamed rhetoric. In the case of Margaret Thatcher, it was Michael Heseltine, her nemesis but not her successor. For David Cameron, the predator is Boris Johnson, who pulsates with the urge to be both.

At this week’s Conservative conference in Birmingham, the official target will be Ed Miliband and the audacious land grab that he launched in Manchester for the title of “One Nation” party. The real enemy, the person whose name most makes the prime minister’s people twitch, will be Boris Johnson. As our poll today underscores, he leads overwhelmingly on what was once considered to be David Cameron’s greatest gift: being able to attract voters who might not normally support the Conservative party.

The prime minister’s aides insist that relations between the two old Etonians are fine, though if they were really that tickety-boo they would not have needed to stage a “reconciliation” meeting before the conference. Mr Cameron’s friends also say that he and they are entirely relaxed about Boris basking in the conference sun. Sure they are: as relaxed as they were about the mayor comprehensively upstaging the prime minister during the Olympics, as relaxed as a cat on a hot tin roof.

Those of them who do admit that Boris is a problem say that at least: “There are worse rivals you could have.” There’s some truth in that. The mayor is not a member of the cabinet. Being detached from the government, and all the unpopular and misconceived decisions that it has made, is part of the explanation for why he is much the most popular Tory politician. To be prime minister, however, it is usually thought essential to be a member of cabinet. He is not even a member of the Commons, though if he decided to seek a seat through a byelection, with the Heathrow issue as a ready-made cause/excuse, there is more than one Conservative MP ready to step down for him. But for Mr Cameron’s allies to find consolation from the mayor being in no current position to strike is to miss an essential point. The threat is not of a leadership challenge any time soon. The mayor casts a shadow over the prime minister because he allows the Conservative party to imagine how things could be different with someone else in charge. The dream might well be a delusion, but it is nevertheless a seductive fantasy for a growing number of Tories. Boris is a walking, wisecracking reminder to them and to David Cameron of what the Tory leader has lost since he moved into Number 10.

One is an ability to excite the Tory party. It is important to note that this has only a little bit to do with any policy differences between them. Boris has used Europe as a dividing line with the man he would replace. While the prime minister havers about whether to promise a referendum on Europe and feels obliged to advocate the salvation of the euro, the mayor, unburdened by any responsibility to think too deeply about the consequences, demands a plebiscite and wishes death to the euro, a position naturally more popular with Europhobic Tories. Other than Europe, you really have to look very hard to locate meaningful differences between two Tories of similar age whose formative political years were dominated by Margaret Thatcher. The budget cut in the top rate of tax, the biggest strategic error in terms of how the public views the Tories and one that Labour returned to over and again at their conference, had been demanded in advance by the mayor. Indeed, he had argued for going even further and abolishing the top rate altogether.

Boris is as much, if not more so, a liberal on social issues as his rival in Number 10. He has spoken up for being generous about immigration and wore a pink stetson at a gay pride march, which makes his popularity among some of the unreconstructed right of the Tory party rather bewildering. But, then, it is a mistake to think of the Boris phenomenon in rational terms. His appeal is not founded on policy, but on his ability to stimulate the erogenous zones of Tories. One of the easiest predictions that we can make about this conference is that Boris will attract larger crowds and receive from them a more fervent reception than any member of the cabinet. We will see the evidence of that at a rally for him on Monday night staged by ConservativeHome and entitled “Boris’s 2012: Re-elected and Olympotastic”. Says one of his friends: “That will be where you see Boris unleashed.” Since he is never exactly leashed at any time that should be interesting.

The following morning, he will address the conference itself, a glorious opportunity for Borisovian grandstanding and an event that the prime minister will feel painfully obliged to attend. The compliment will not be returned: the mayor will have left Birmingham before Mr Cameron addresses the party. Cabinet ministers have to clear their conference speeches through Number 10. The prime minister’s people would very much like to see what Mr Johnson has in store for the conference. One Number 10 aide says: “He’s talked to us about where his speech is going.” In other words, they don’t really have a clue. If it is comedy Boris, he will make the rest of the cabinet look even more cardboard and grey. If it is serious Boris, the would-be prime minister in waiting, that will be really alarming for Number 10.

The most important thing that Boris has which the prime minister lacks is popularity. No Tory needs reminding that David Cameron failed to achieve a clean victory at the supposedly unlosable election of 2010 and growing numbers of the nervous and fractious blue clan are expressing fears that their party will do no better, and could well do much worse, in 2015. By contrast, Boris is the only Tory to have won a major election since 1992, and he has done so twice in London, a naturally non-Tory city.

Put simply, Dave looks like a loser, Boris looks like a winner. The Tory tribe is drawn to risk-takers, characters and winners, especially winners – and Boris is all three. He is the only politician in the land known by his first name; during the Olympics, he had a crowd of 60,000 chanting it. “Boris! Boris! Boris!” they cried. Can anyone recall any other Tory – or indeed any politician of any party – who can draw that response from a non-partisan audience?

He has a talent for cheering up people, a very useful quality in the middle of a double-dip recession. Owning optimism is always a hugely valuable asset for politicians and even more so when times are tough. Nick Clegg tried for it in Brighton when he sought to persuade his party that things would come right for them in the end. Ed Miliband strove for it in Manchester with his projection of himself as the man who could bring Britain back together. David Cameron used to own optimism when he was leader of the opposition and will try to recapture it in his conference speech. Boris already has it.

Allied with that is the feeling that he is “authentic” in a way other politicians are not. To adapt Oscar Wilde, authenticity is everything in politics – once you can fake that, you are made. It is also important to note that being regarded as authentic should not be confused with being truthful. Boris has had a very on-off relationship with the truth over the years. It is striking that those who know him best often trust him least and his career is littered with incident, political and personal, which would have felled most other politicians long ago. His ability to be unscathed by scandal is another thing that he has and which his rival at Number 10 used to possess, but has now lost: a Teflon quality that means nothing ever really sticks.

All this may change. For Cameron loyalists, Boris is a firework that will soon splutter out as Olympic euphoria fades and people start to ask serious questions about his fitness for the highest office. They have a point. There is a vast difference between being mayor of London, a glorified transport and police commissioner, and having your finger hovering over the nuclear button. Borismania may prove to be a passing spasm, which evaporates just as Cleggmania did.

He is currently hailed by rightwingers as being a truer Tory than David Cameron while also being more popular among non-Tories, a contradiction that will be hard to sustain forever. Between City Hall and Number 10, there are a huge number of high hurdles to leap. Being the front runner for a leadership succession has historically proved to be a long-term disadvantage. In a contest for the Tory crown, the darker sides of Boris would come under a lot more scrutiny than they do now, not least because his rivals will be sure to get them out there.

Will Boris make an overt move to supplant David Cameron? That I doubt at the moment. He does not have to be actively plotting to undermine the prime minister. To hurt David Cameron, Boris just has to be Boris. And at that, as we know, he is terribly good.


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Posted by admin - October 7, 2012 at 09:27

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Conflict in the east, crisis in the eurozone. But all’s well at WH Smith

On the agenda this week: global problems shake society, but at least stationery sales are holding up well

Five years ago, nobody was accusing the International Monetary Fund of being even remotely relevant, but it’s amazing how a good old-fashioned crisis can justify one’s existence.

The fund (it’s a bank really) is coining it in now countries are again paying for emergency loans. Meanwhile, the group’s annual bash, taking place in Tokyo this week, is no longer associated with dry communiqués obediently delivered by the world’s financial leaders. Instead, delegates will concentrate on the more amusing diversion of appearing polite about rivals in public, while viciously kicking their shins when an opening presents.

That’s because the real issue is another old theme back in vogue – protectionism – and the list of likely spats is lengthy. They include a German-American attack on China for dumping solar panels on their domestic markets, plus a potential US bill allowing higher tariffs on imports from countries gaining an edge through currency manipulation (that’s China, again).

Meanwhile, Beijing will argue that quantitative easing in the west distorts the financial system, while also continuing its tiff with Japan, which accuses China of effectively allowing Japanese factories to be trashed in recent riots.

And then there’s the eurozone. IMF boss Christine Lagarde will need all her charm just to keep the boys in line.

Goodwill ambassador Merkel heads to Greece

The last time German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens, Europe was still in awe of all the Greek mythical figures that made up the country’s finances. The financial system was then at the apex of the credit boom and Gordon Brown was a popular chap, having just wrested the keys to Number 10. So the world provides a far more cynical backdrop for her visit on Tuesday.

Merkel will arrive just after Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras has warned that his country will run out of cash next month without €31bn of aid. Some wags, by the way, reckon the trip could boost the Greek economy, with retailers doing a brisk trade in lighter fuel for burning German flags and black marker pens for defacing Merkel’s image.

Still, the visit represents a considerable turnaround for Samaras’s reputation: he was once the butt of rampant disapproval in the eurozone’s corridors of power. Merkel will be in Athens not to perform her usual trick of slamming the Greeks, but to soothe them, claiming that “we’re all in it together”. This could still be an incendiary line – especially if she then fails to resist adding: “But you’re in it more than us.”

Swann still paddling profitably at WH Smith

Nine years ago, when Kate Swann took over as boss of WH Smith, anybody foreseeing the retail backdrop she was to inherit would surely have sold their shares. Amazon had just started transforming the way we buy books, Apple was in the process of making the CD seem rather quaint, and supermarkets were competing on non-food items.

We all know what that did to HMV and Waterstones (not to mention dear old Woolies), yet this seemingly unattractive retailer has produced steady growth in both profits and share price.

And it goes on. This week Swann is expected to unveil pre-tax profits of £100m – the first time under her reign that they have broken that barrier – and a 20% bump in the dividend to around 27p a share.

That news will coincide with next week’s “Super Thursday” marketing fest – the day the book industry releases titles expected to be the most popular Christmas gifts. This should provide a positive narrative alongside inevitable questions about how long Swann’s good luck can last.

Her secret thus far has been diligent cost-cutting, though this has often resulted in grubby stores and long queues. Her decision to cut her stake by £3m in the past year should be a sell sign – except the shares have since gained another 18%.

Burberry feels the chill

Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole wearing Burberry. Sir John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown piloted the first non-stop transatlantic flight modelling its clobber. Actress-cum-model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley sported one of the label’s frocks at the Transformers: Dark Of The Moon premiere last year. You can debate which was the most courageous exploit, but the point is that Burberry has been churning out more than the odd trench coat for some time.

Still, after years of being considered a City success story, the company must face investors this week with news of its recent trading – the first time it’s gone public since last month’s profits warning. Despite clues that the rich aren’t buying expensive threads, the shares slumped by 19%, suggesting the news shocked investors. Perhaps not as much as it stunned Burberry staff, who’ve been told to curtail travel and publicity shindigs. Poor darlings.


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Posted by admin -  at 09:20

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Blue is the colour: when did fashion turn Tory?

How can fashion, an industry built on a desire for newness and for constant forward movement, have jumped into bed with the status quo?

Fashion has a new black, and it is blue. But not navy, or Klein blue, or cobalt, or lapis, or turquoise, or cerulean. This season’s shade is Tory Blue, and everyone who is anyone is wearing it.

This has been a very British coup. While the front row has been preoccupied with the Kate Moss vs Middleton debate, the price of Céline trousers and the practical problems raised by capes, a much bigger shift has been happening in front of our eyes. The British fashion industry, which for a long time naturally sided with the alternative over the establishment – with bare nipples, club culture, men in skirts and the thrill of making old dears at bus stops tut in disapproval – has switched sides. The change has been so slow, and so subtle, that it has gone almost unnoticed. Rather than storming the catwalk, the Conservative party has quietly taken over what was once traditionally liberal territory, moving the picket fence inch by inch until the party is happening in their back garden.

The relationship between fashion and Downing Street has never been closer. Nearly 30 years after Katharine Hamnett wore a 58% Don’t Want Pershing T-Shirt to meet Margaret Thatcher, Samantha Cameron has become a regular fixture in the London Fashion Week front row. This seems to defy the logic of David McCandless’s famous “left versus right” infographic, a visual representation of what falls in the left and right wing. The “society and culture” section shows those on the left wing bonded around an ideal of evolution (“The world can be improved. Bring in the new”) and those on the right bonded around an ideal of status quo (“Protect the good things about the world.”) How can fashion, an industry built on a desire for newness and for constant forward movement, have jumped into bed with the status quo?

Every recent government has been at pains to get the creative industries onside as visibly as possible. But it is striking, now, to look at how male-dominated the Cool Britannia era of New Labour was. The Gallaghers and Young British Artists who were the high-profile guests at No 10 are a stark contrast to Cameron’s appointment of Anya Hindmarch and Tamara Mellon among a list of business ambassadors. Public alliances with dynamic female businesswomen have been utilised by Cameron as part of the Tory decontamination strategy. “I suppose, looking back, New Labour was quite boysy in terms of networking with creative industries,” says Jane Shepherdson, who rose through the Arcadia ranks to become brand director at Topshop before leaving to become CEO of Whistles. “Cherie Blair was out of her comfort zone with fashion, and that probably had an impact on the culture of Number 10.”

But some believe it is fashion itself that has had a change of heart. Brenda Polan, fashion editor of the Guardian in the 1980s, says, “Things have changed so much. Fashion now is so dominated by the luxury brands that the subversive, questioning aspect has faded from view. The young people who are coming into the industry now see themselves as part of a marketplace. These days, everyone wants the big job at Louis Vuitton.”

Shepherdson agrees that “the mood in fashion now seems to reflect the fact that people are less engaged. In my early days at Topshop, fashion was all about shocking people, all about what was happening on the street. It really wasn’t about money – or at least the influence of big money wasn’t as obvious as it is now. These days, even the small fashion magazines are in thrall to the big labels.” Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, has been frustrated by a lack of enthusiasm for political engagement in the industry, on both sides. “At the last election, when Vogue ran a story about how ‘fashion’ was voting, we found it nearly impossible to get any quotes,” she remembers. (Henry Holland, who was quoted in the piece as saying, “I’m voting Labour”, was the exception who proved the rule.) “It seems that the current British designers do not have particularly strongly held political beliefs or, if they do, show no inclination to make them public. I don’t know why there is such apathy, particularly at this time, when we need politicians to do a better job.”

However, Polan argues that fashion’s anti-establishment period, from the 1960s to the 1980s, was just a blip. “I grew up with the 60s concept that art and fashion were linked to the expression of rebellion, and that this subversive quality was part of fashion. But, in hindsight, that period was an aberration, a product of the baby boom and the investment in education and in art colleges in particular. When you take the long view, fashion has usually been a hobby for the rich. It is about exclusivity, not about rebellion.”

The fractious relationship between fashion and feminism is another factor. Fashion is an industry that employs a high percentage of women, and one of the few in which women hold a high proportion of the most powerful positions – as retailers, designers and editors. “Fashion has a great number of strong women running their own businesses,” Shepherdson says. “This is an industry in which women do well and where their voices are heard. And yet it is often seen as being in opposition to feminism.” Professor Angela McRobbie, who has written extensively about fashion and feminism, says, “The idea that feminism meant being anti-fashion is a widely circulated and damaging myth. Feminists raised issues about the sexual politics of fashion, but that didn’t mean they gave up on it or dressed in hideous items. It is in the nature of feminism to be angry and engaged, and in fashion’s PR-led worlds this is unacceptable.” Polan, who moved to become women’s editor after her stint as fashion editor, says, “There have always been feminists who loved fashion. But it is still difficult and complex to champion fashion per se, because there are aspects of fashion that are very problematic for women.”

The issues of fashion, politics and feminism have been foxing and frustrating glossy magazine editors for years. When Hillary Clinton cancelled an appearance in American Vogue for fear it would send the wrong message, Anna Wintour bemoaned the move in her editor’s letter, saying that “the notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously… is frankly dismaying… We have moved on from the power-suit mentality which provided a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms.” And Shulman recently cited Yvette Cooper as her ideal subject for Vogue, while acknowledging that, “it’ll never happen… I think she would feel it would damage her”. There is, as Polan notes, “a puritanical streak in the British psyche that says that if you are interested in fashion, you can’t have a brain. Women are wise to be wary of that. But actually, fashion is much more complex and interesting than football, isn’t it? It can inform much more about politics and psychology than sport.”

Shulman is droll when I raise the subject. “I would love female politicians to be more interested in fashion. But, of course, one has to accept that many perfectly interesting people aren’t.” However, to some politicians who are scared of what showing an interest in fashion will do to their brand image, what the current government has done is find a way to frame fashion in an acceptable way. By emphasising fashion as an industry and an employer, rather than as either art-college craziness or witless showing off, it has found a way to stand shoulder to shoulder with the industry.

“I am not convinced that this has been simply a case of the current government harnessing fashion,” Shulman says. “Sarah Brown worked with the BFC [British Fashion Council] also. But it wasn’t her world in the way that retail and fashion is Samantha’s world. The fact that Samantha Cameron was in the industry previous to being prime minister’s wife has brought in links to people like Anya Hindmarch, who is a committed Conservative.” Shepherdson agrees, pointing out that, “Samantha Cameron looks incredible in catwalk fashion, so those photos make the newspapers, but that’s not the whole story. It was Sarah Brown who began to make those connections with fashion, to host the industry regularly at Number 10. And the BFC has worked hard to make the industry attractive to government. There has been work on both sides of this relationship. The BFC has made fashion more establishment, in a sense, which is perhaps the cost of bringing in government support.”

British fashion has become more businesslike, both in structure and in mood. The gravitational pull of financial support has perhaps steered the aesthetic of the catwalk away from one-legged trousers and towards dresses that can be worn by Samantha Cameron. “Fashion has converged in this rather cosy space, where it has settled comfortably for playing an ambassadorial role,” McRobbie says. “Photo opportunities to fly the flag are worth so much to the designers that other issues, and different kinds of questions about politics and fashion, get pushed to the side.”

The power of the luxury brands may appear to have moved fashion into the domain of the elite, but, Shepherdson says, “Today’s consumer looks at catwalk shows and she knows that those looks will soon be available at her price point. So it’s naive to think that expensive fashion isn’t relevant to ordinary people. And I’m not comfortable with lamenting a notion that British fashion used to be avant-garde, or that being businesslike and commercial doesn’t matter. If no one wears it, it’s not fashion, is it?” And fashion is a chameleon. Wintour once wrote, “Fashion reflects the times just as much as a headline in a newspaper does.” And, right now, the London Fashion Week headlines are being written in blue..

London Fashion Week (londonfashionweek.co.uk) begins on 14 September.


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Posted by admin - September 8, 2012 at 08:28

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Rail and air transport policy left in chaos

Virgin blocks rail franchise award going to FirstGroup as backbenchers rebel over Heathrow third runway

Government transport policy has been thrown into chaos after Sir Richard Branson blocked ministers from stripping Virgin Trains of the west coast rail franchise and a row over Heathrow expansion saw Nick Clegg and David Cameron under attack from senior backbenchers asking for a U-turn on a third runway.

The Virgin tycoon prevented FirstGroup from taking over the London-Glasgow route with a last-ditch application for a judicial review, forcing the Department for Transport (DfT) to postpone a contract signing due on Wednesday morning. Justine Greening, the transport secretary, said the government would defend the bidding process and accused Virgin of double standards. “Had they won this bid they would have thought the process was working just fine,” she said.

The DfT said the legal row would not affect the day-to-day operation of the west coast route. The high court is expected to decide if there are grounds for a review within two weeks and a formal review could take up to three months, right up to 9 December when FirstGroup is due to operate its first west coast service.

Branson’s intervention crowned a day that saw one of the Conservative party’s flagship election pledges put under further pressure by its own side, when the former minister and current chair of the energy select committee, Tim Yeo, warned that David Cameron would consign Britain to insignificance if he did not reverse a ban on a third runway at Heathrow. Demanding a U-turn, Yeo asked the prime minister: “Are you a man or a mouse?”

Yeo was slapped down by Greening, Number 10 and then the deputy prime minister, who also ruled out abandoning a policy enshrined in the coalition agreement. He did, however, suggest an alternative overhaul of London airports.

Instead of changing tack on Heathrow, Clegg said, hundreds of flights should be moved to London’s three other airports as a way of preserving Heathrow’s hub status and avoiding the need for a new runway.

In a Guardian interview, he insisted that the coalition would stand by its commitment not to build a third runway at Heathrow. He also denied ministers were “sticking our heads in the sand” to calls from business groups warning that Britain is losing business as new routes open up to China from continental European airports.

Clegg said: “We are not going to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow. But of course I accept, everybody accepts, that the issue of the hub status of Britain’s airport capacity is a really important one for our economy.”

Citing London mayor Boris Johnson’s calls for a new airport in the Thames estuary, he added: “We are kind of lurching from one instant solution to another. One moment it is Boris Island, now it is a third runway. What we need to do as a government is sensibly say we are going to stick to our coalition agreement, but we are not sticking our heads in the sand.”

The deputy prime minister said he personally favoured freeing up capacity from Heathrow by moving hundreds of flights to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted airports.

“There are a lot of flights going into Heathrow that aren’t necessary for its hub status. If you are being logical about this you would shift a lot of the current flights out of Heathrow to the other three airports, freeing up that hub capacity for Heathrow.”

Greening had earlier admitted that it would be difficult to stay in her job if the Heathrow policy was scrapped, having led a constituency campaign in her Putney constituency against expansion. The transport secretary has been mooted to be facing demotion in the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle, in order for the government to stage a U-turn on a third runway. But No 10’s restating of Cameron’s insistence that he will not bow to pressure over Heathrow appears to bolster her chances of survival.

After a summer of growing backbench dismay at the coalition’s flagging fortunes, ministers were startled by the tone of Tuesday’s “man or mouse” challenge. Yeo said he had changed his own mind thanks to quieter and more fuel efficient jets.

The South Suffolk MP chose the Daily Telegraph, one of many conservative City and big business interests dismayed by the joint 2010 position adopted in the coalition agreement, in which to set down his less-than-coded challenge. Greening insisted that a third runway would not even provide a brief respite from the south-east’s long-term airport capacity problems and said her forthcoming consultation would forge a new consensus for action. Labour, which reversed its own support for the third runway, also backs the consultation.

Johnson, who had been a siren voice within the Conservative party over airport capacity until the Heathrow reversal campaign gathered momentum, urged Cameron to come up with a definitive answer to the capacity issue. “It is plain that the argument over aviation capacity is not going to vanish and he can’t long grass this. It is necessary to come up with an answer.”


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Posted by admin - August 29, 2012 at 08:03

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The promises and the perils of Ed Miliband’s French connection | Andrew Rawnsley

President Hollande is an inspiration to the Labour leader. But he may also turn out to be a cautionary tale

There was a nightmare moment for Ed Miliband during his news conference in London with Mitt Romney when the Republican nominee for the White House appeared utterly clueless about the identity of the British politician by his side. The American referred to him as “Mr Leader“. It would have been less embarrassing had the visitor called him “David”, because at least that would have suggested that Mr Romney knew his surname.

One thing Mr Miliband has been battling against over the past two years, a struggle that has faced and often defeated predecessors as leader of the opposition, is to be taken seriously as a candidate for prime minister. A crucial dimension of that battle is to demonstrate to your domestic media and voters that you are a respected figure on the international stage – or, at the very least, that foreign leaders vaguely know who you are. Deeply embedded in Labour’s collective memory is the humiliation inflicted on Neil Kinnock when he went on a pre-election pilgrimage to the United States and was made to kick his heels in a White House waiting room before being given an insultingly brief time with Ronald Reagan.

Mr Miliband thinks he has been making some progress in filling himself out as a plausible next occupant of Number 10. Yet here was a man who will be the most powerful politician on Earth if he defeats Barack Obama in November and he couldn’t put a name to the Labour leader’s face. The look of alarm I saw in Mr Miliband’s eyes told me that he feared this had the potential to be a mini version of the Kinnock calamity. So there were sighs of relief in the leader’s entourage that the moment went largely unnoticed by a media almost totally consumed by the Olympics.

In so much as it has been clocked, the unfortunate encounter has been taken as an example of the “Romneyshambles” that the American made of a visit to London during which he stumbled from blunder to gaffe, which included talking about what was supposed to be a confidential briefing with the intelligence services and badmouthing his host’s preparations for the Games. The British reserve the right to gripe about the Olympics themselves, but we don’t want to hear criticism from a know-all Yank.

There was a much more satisfying international liaison for Mr Miliband earlier in the week when he crossed the Channel to visit the Elysée Palace. François Hollande is a real president rather than just a wannabe. He knew Mr Miliband’s name. The French socialist is much more of an ideological soulmate for the Labour leader than Mitt Romney could ever be. And he granted the Labour leader his entrée to the Elysée Palace ahead of David Cameron. These things may be of little interest to most of us, but they matter a lot to leaders. It would be usual for the prime minister to get an invitation to call on a new French president before the leader of the opposition. Mr Miliband’s aides were keen for it to be known that the French president had also broken protocol by posing for a grin-and-grip on the steps of the Elysée, an honour normally granted only to heads of government.

Though it may be denied on the French side and is shruggingly dismissed by Number 10, there was an element of Gallic payback on Mr Cameron. The prime minister very vocally supported Nicolas Sarkozy during the presidential election and snubbed Monsieur Hollande by refusing to have a meeting with him when he came to Britain to campaign for the votes of French expats.

Since then, Mr Cameron has caused further irritation by saying he will “roll out the red carpet” to any of the wealthy French who want to flee across the Channel to escape increased tax rates. Monsieur Hollande has waspishly dismissed that comment as an example of “British humour”. I’m told the president and prime minister will meet at the Olympic Park tomorrow for a date arranged around a handball match. That may be fun: the handball, that is.

Beyond the petty aspects of diplomatic point-scoring, it makes sense for Monsieur Hollande and Mr Miliband to reach out to each other. From the Frenchman’s perspective, Mr Miliband is a potential future British prime minister. After all, Labour currently enjoys a double-digit opinion poll lead over the Conservatives and the coalition is increasingly fractious. From Mr Miliband’s point of view, Monsieur Hollande is something of an inspiration, both personally and ideologically. He is the first socialist president in a generation in a country that traditionally prefers to put conservatives in the Elysée Palace. Mr Miliband is likewise hoping to disrupt the usual pattern of history by becoming the first Labour leader since 1974 to take his party back into government after just one term in opposition.

During his run for the presidency, Monsieur Hollande was widely scorned as unauthoritative, uncharismatic and undynamic – a candidate with all the steel of a creme caramel. Even when he was ahead in the opinion polls, there were many forecasts, a lot of them emanating from sceptics on his own side, that the French would decline to put him in the Elysée. The triumph of a geeky social democrat over a showboating conservative is another encouragement to Mr Miliband, the self-confessed Wallace lookalike.

More significantly than that, Monsieur Hollande is the most important voice on the continent contending that Europe needs to make a decisive shift in its approach to the economic crisis by putting much more emphasis on stimulating growth and creating jobs. This fits with Mr Miliband’s convictions and the way he wants to wage his domestic struggle with the Tories. Advocacy of a new approach by leaders abroad helps him to paint David Cameron as discredited and increasingly isolated in the prime minister’s insistence that there is no alternative to austerity. The Labour leader has called it “Camerkozy economics”, a phrase that nicely evokes the thought “kamikaze”.

The Labour leader privately tells people that “the next election will be a change election”, meaning by that to express something more profound than just the hope that people will be so sick of having David Cameron at Number 10 that they will want to swap him for Ed Miliband. It is his belief that we are in the death throes of an entire ideological age, an epoch spanning the three decades since Margaret Thatcher took power in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America, in which markets were generally revered and the state was generally despised. He recently told Labour MPs that the next election will be of similar significance to the elections of 1945 and 1979, an election that doesn’t just change the government, but also resets the country’s long-term ideological direction.

For many in his party’s ranks, it is exciting to be told that the centre of gravity of British politics is shifting left. For others, including some very senior Labour figures, it is a gamble that makes them very nervous about their prospects if Mr Miliband turns out to be wrong. To Tories, it will be his greatest ultimate weakness. Says one Conservative strategist: “The Hollande visit, like everything else he does, paints Miliband into a red corner.”

It is fine being in the “red corner” so long as enough voters are ready to join you there. The evidence for Mr Miliband’s belief is mixed. He is obviously on fruitful territory when he attacks the abuses of the bankers and his contention that there has to be a better way to do capitalism sounds more resonant with every scandal that erupts from the City. But saying that people have lost trust in the markets is not the same as saying that they have rediscovered faith in the state.

It is very important to Labour that it has now edged ahead of the Conservatives on the crucial question: “Who do you most trust to run the economy?” But thoughtful Labour people, including people close to Mr Miliband, acknowledge that this is a “soft” advantage that has more to do with declining public confidence in the coalition’s economic strategy than a settled conviction among the voters that Labour has the right answers. Labour is currently very quiet on how it would address the deficit beyond saying that it wouldn’t be cutting the way the government is cutting. By the time of the next election, it will have to look fiscally credible and have robust answers on tax and spend, terrain that has been a minefield for Labour in the past.

Here the example of Monsieur Hollande is not so much inspirational as cautionary for the Labour leader. The French president’s poll ratings are already beginning to droop now that he has to square his more extravagant campaign promises with the reality of governing during austerity. If the French and other continental social democrats can demonstrate a way out of the economic cul-de-sac in which Europe is stuck, then this ought to be good news for Labour. But if it all goes horribly wrong for Monsieur Hollande, it will not be Ed Miliband but David Cameron who will be giving French lessons to the British electorate.


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Posted by admin - July 29, 2012 at 17:49

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