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Monday, March 31, 2008

A diplomatic incident - or not

Peter Oborne's thesis about the emergence of an insulated "political class" is looking more and more bang on every day... now a lost bag is a "diplomatic incident."

As Richard North has pointed out, it tells you a lot about media priorities that T5 has been way higher up the bulletins than the new wave of fighting in Iraq.

--

MINISTER'S PLEA AFTER T5 'DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT'

David Miliband issued an appeal for Heathrow authorities to "get their act together" today after revealing that the Terminal 5 debacle had caused a diplomatic incident.

The Foreign Secretary said he had been approached by a furious counterpart during an informal gathering of EU ministers over the weekend.

The unnamed politician apparently lost his luggage while changing planes at Heathrow, and has been warned it may take "weeks" to locate.

Writing on his blog, Mr Miliband said he had been asked to express the man's anger to British Airways and operator BAA.

"One foreign minister I met at the informal meeting in Slovenia over the weekend has fallen victim to the Terminal 5 saga," he wrote.

"He arrived merely to transit, but his bags are nowhere to be seen and it was whispered that it might take weeks.

"He asked me to pass on a message to BA/BAA: 'For goodness' sake, get your act together'."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Communique from the Franco-British love in is up.

Some of it is rather broad brush, but there are some interesting snippets.

Defence

They have signed off a whole bunch of joint funds and joint defence development projects. Apparently they will:

Cooperate to develop European military capabilities, available to both the EU and NATO, in particular in the fields of :

• Carrier Group operations: by facilitating the generation of a combined maritime strike capability when required for national, EU-led or NATO operations. This capability could be expanded to other European countries able and willing to make a contribution.

• A 400M: France and the UK will pursue a common approach to in service support for interoperability and through life cycle costs optimisation, including common configuration management with other A400M nations; our aim is to cover the requirements of both France and the UK in a single joint contract.

• Helicopters: by addressing critical shortfalls in capability which constrain the deployment of helicopters in operations. Support will be given to initiatives such as pilot operational and advanced training courses, upgrading aircraft and establishment of a trust fund that could improve the availability of helicopters to our European partners and NATO allies. Other nations are invited to contribute to this effort. We support both the EDA and NATO's role in addressing European helicopter capability shortfalls.

Climate Change

Despite the UK's opposition to "green" tariffs it has agreed to the principle of them in the absence of a Kyoto successor.

It calls on the Commission to "Urgently analyse and address the risk of carbon leakage in order for appropriate measures to be implemented in the event that other countries do not commit to taking adequate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the context of an international agreement. An international agreement remains the best way of addressing this issue."

They also agreed to "Collaborate in the development of a comprehensive EU energy security strategy for the EU" later this year.

Business

The communique calls for "an EU Small Business Act that delivers a package of measures aimed at cutting EU regulation for small businesses, including making more use of exemptions from regulations." We'll believe that when we see it working, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sarkozy: don't believe the hype




Listening to Sarkozy talking to Parliament. Lashings and lashings of Franco-British history.

But despite the warm words, as soon as you move from the general to the particular things are going to be rather more difficult. For example:

- Sarkozy talks about Britain and France leading on the environment. But is he going to let Britain out of the EU's biofuels target, which the UK now seems to have turned decisively against?

- Sarkozy says he is "open" to CAP reform he means moving from higher subsidies towards higher tariffs. Thats the opposite of what the UK wants.

- When he says "there can't be 27 different immigration" policies he causes a sharp intake of breath in Downing Street. Will Brown really agree to a single EU-wide definition of asylum?

- Sarkozy wants to have a 60,000 strong common intervention force. But that can only divert resources away from the war in Afghanistan - the last thing Brown wants.

There are plenty of other rather tricky issues too. Have a look at our briefing note for the gory details. Nonetheless it will doubtless get gushing coverage on the TV news ce soir. As usual, the devil is in the detail, which is never reported.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

european parliament transparancy initiative



Below is an email which we have sent to all UK MEPs today.

It follows a whole series of disturbing reports over recent weeks - for example see:

Times
BBC
Sunday Times
Daily Mail

Most MEPs are away this week - so we probably won't be publishing our first summary of their responses until next week. If we get a good response from UK MEPs we will be broadening it out to all MEPs.

Let us know what you think and about where we should go with this next.

----------------

European Parliament Transparency Initiative

Following a series of damaging stories about the European Parliament in recent weeks we are writing to all UK MEPs asking for your help in restoring trust in the Parliament.

The irregularities discussed in the recent internal audit report paint a picture of widespread abuse of the current expenses system.

Our aim is to find a way to reassure voters that UK MEPs are not in any way implicated in these problems.

That is why we are today writing to all UK MEPs asking them if you will state:

1. Who is your paying agent/service provider?

2. What are his or her book-keeping or accountancy qualifications?

3. How much of the money claimed by your paying agent or service provider since your election has been paid out so far, and how much is still in his or her account?

4. Have you ever claimed less than the full entitlement, or repaid any excess?

5. Do you employ any family members?

6. Are you prepared to list the people currently in your employment (not their salary levels)?

We are not seeking to criticise Members of the Parliament for employing family members. We accept the argument that in many cases family members will work longer hours for less money than anyone else. However, it is essential to ensure that such arrangements are not abused, and we believe transparency is the best way to ensure this.

We believe disclosure of these details will help to restore trust that public money is being well spent. Our aim in this initiative is to restore confidence in the Parliament and MEPs of all parties. We will be publishing regular reports on the progress of the initiative.

We are very grateful for your help in this.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about the initiative.

Many thanks

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Black Wednesday 2008

Gordon Brown returns again and again to Black Wednesday. He is always keen to remind people of Cameron’s role in that credibility-shredding day.

As of yesterday, he might want to stop banging on about it.

As of yesterday the pound has fallen by more since the Prime Minister took office than it did on black Wednesday.

The day before Brown took over the pound bought you 1.49 euros. It is now worth 1.269 euros – a fall of about 14%.

Have a look at the graph. Norman Lamont's era is in tory blue, and Brown's is in fetching pink.

The day before black Wednesday (16 September 1992) the pound got you DM 2.78. After black Wednesday it was about 12% down, before falling to 14% down on 5 October - the low point of Black Wednesday which we have now surpassed.

Brown could argue that the real low point was long after black wednesday in March 1993. But looking at what happened after black wednesday makes the comparison worse. At the equivalent point nine months after black Wednesday the pound was back up to 2.49, or just over 10% down. It was the same after a year.

On the other hand, If the current trend continues the pound will be down about 18-20% by Brown’s first anniversary. Brown's Black Wednesday may be happening more slowly compared to Lamont's - but it could be bigger.

Is this a bad thing? Yes and no.

It certainly isn’t a huge vote of confidence in the UK economy. In fact the pound was the only currency to fall against the dollar yesterday.

But on the positive side, the fact that outside the euro the UK can have appropriate interest rates and can gain competitiveness from a falling pound is extremely good news as the world economy heads downwards.

Euro member states like Spain and Ireland are going to have, er… “interesting times” if they suffer from property crashes.

They can’t cut rates, and the ECB has set its face against taking action. Fair enough: inflation in the eurozone is above target and German exports are doing fine. So the struggling member states of the periphery are on their own.

In the Telegraph Ambrose Evans Pritchard points out that the Fed taking manic action to stave off recession while the Bundesbank ECB sits on its hands is reminiscent of the conditions just before the 1987 crash.

If things do get worse it will be the first real test of the euro system. How will it fare? In the good times member states have done little to prepare for problems and run deficits at the top of the cycle. France and Germany trashed their own fiscal rules at the first sign of trouble in 2002. They have failed to resolve structural questions like the eurozone’s lack of a lender of last resort.

So while the pound might be falling like a stone, this is not like 1992. Remember, Britain’s exit from the ERM was a good thing – it was being in it that was the problem. With interest rates subordinated to an artificial exchange rate target, the ERM became rightly known as the Eternal Recession Mechanism.

At least in 2008 the authorities have the ability to respond if things do get worse: with a free hand on fiscal policy; a flexible exchange rate; and ultimately even control over the monetary target . And if you don’t think they are doing a good job… at least you can get rid of them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

That detailed parliamentary scrutiny in action

"I went with the party leader Nick Clegg because he is an expert on Europe and I didn't want to read the 200 pages of the EU treaty myself."

- Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, on the referendum debate in the Commons.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Nick Clegg's "tedious, uneventful" week

Over at the Times Red Box. Vaguely patronising, no?


The audience go wild for Clegg.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

These are the good guys

There were slightly more MPs in favour of giving their constituents a say than people realise. A few MPs voted for one pro-referendum amendment and not the other last night. Counting the tellers too there were 252 MPs in favor of giving people a say on one or other of the options. There's a list below.

Surprising choices?

Nick Harvey has been pro referendum but sat on his hands last night. We contacted him for a quote.

"Given a free vote, I would personally have supported a referendum on the treaty. But the party line was that an In/Out referendum was a truer representation of our manifesto commitment to a referendum on the earlier Constitution. We were on a three line whip, and I correctly calculated that Liberal Democrat votes were not going to affect the outcome. It would not have served any purpose my resigning if it wouldn't change the result."

It was a shame too that Jon Cruddas didn't vote for a referendum. He has previously called for one, and is a famously principled guy. Maybe he used his "no" vote to wring some kind of concession out of the Government on rights at work, or low incomes, or some other labour issue - which, in fairness, is always his top priority. He is a canny guy and a nice man (maybe even a future Leader?) But it was a still a shame not to have him vote for a referendum, as a lot of others who look up to him would have followed him.

On the heroes side of the equation special mention has to go to the Labour MPs who took all manner of abuse from the whips: Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart, Frank Field and Graham Stringer.

Ditto Ian Davidson who worked incedibly hard for a referendum. All the others put up with a hell of a lot of abuse for doing the right thing.

Among the Lib Dems Alistair Carmichael, David Heath and Tim Farron all gave up their their jobs to vote for their principles. You really don't get much of that these days. They are all total heroes.

So are the other 13 Liberal Democrats who did the liberal and democratic thing. The mechanics of the house were interesting. As the bulk of the Lib Dems sat there, absurdly, the honourable ones had to literally stand up and be counted. To go and vote they had to push past their colleagues like people arriving late at a cinema. It obviously required a lot of courage and good on them.

The MPs who voted against should be ashamed of themselves, but they won't be. Despite the Governments pompous and hypocritical arguments about how "detailed line by line scrutiny" is far better than giving the plebs a say, most of those trooping through the no lobby have never read the text, don't care about the issue, and are little better than Pavlogs dogs, answering to the beep of a pager. As Iain Martin has pointed out, most of them would just have been thinking about what to have for tea.

There's the list of the good guys in the post below.

The full list part one

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Mr. Richard Benyon
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Mr. Crispin Blunt
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Burgon, Colin
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cook, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Cummings, John
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Drew, Mr. David
Duddridge, James
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Field, Mr. Mark
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Galloway, Mr. George
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hoey, Kate
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Jones, Lynne
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew

the full list part two

Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Marshall, Mr. David
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, rh Mr. Peter
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Salmond, rh Mr. Alex
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Alan
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Tredinnick, David
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Look over there!

Isn't it a wee bit obvious, announcing an increase in the National Minimum Wage at PMQs on the day of the Commons referendum vote?

As a piece of news management, it's slightly cack-handed...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why we should get rid of Euronews

The creepy EU-funded TV station "Euronews" is a menace. Admittedly, not much of a menace because almost no-one watches its hours of dreary euro-coverage. But nonetheless, it is not an organisation with particularly high news values.

It was the only news organisation to say that "I want a referendum" was behind the recent crane stunt (wrong). Having been woken up several times between 3 and 4 AM yesterday by journos who actually wanted to check who was responsible before writing, it was then a bit dissapointing of "Euronews" to nonetheless say that IWR was responsible for what they are calling "operation squirrel". (See report below.)

EuroNews - English Version

March 3, 2008

'Squirrel' action for EU treaty referendum

SECTION: Europa

LENGTH: 151 words

Two members of the 'I Want a Referendum campaign' group (or IWR), in Britain, have staged a protest up a crane near the houses of parliament in Westminster.

They called it 'Operation Squirrel'.

'All we want is a referendum on the new EU treaty, like the govenment promised,' they said.

IWR is a cross-party campaign.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues the Lisbon treaty is much less far-reaching than the EU constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, and so it does not need to be put to a referendum vote.

The crane-climbing comes just a couple of days before the Conservative opposition is due to make a formal proposal for a referendum.

Meanwhile, the IWR are very excited about an unofficial poll they conducted in ten Labour and Liberal Democrat constituencies in February.

The group hailed the response as substantial, and said some 88 percent of the respondents wanted a referendum.