Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Busy Bobby

Busy day for Lord Mandelson, starting very early on the Today programme and then facing the assembled ranks of the media at 8.30am to outline government plans for a £20 billion of loans to help small businesses survive the economic downturn.

Central to the long-awaited plan is a £10bn Working Capital Scheme designed to help banks lend much needed capital to small businesses. The government will provide guarantees on 50% of £20bn short term loans to businesses with a turnover of up to £500m.

He batted questions away easily and said he was determined that the scheme would not be abused. "I am absolutely confident that they will produce real results for UK companies," said Mandelson

With a theatrical flourish Lord Mandelson then introduced Mervyn Davies, the chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, who has been was appointed a new minister in the Business Department, which is becoming a branch office of the House of Lords. There are now three peers - Mandelson, Baroness Vadera and now Lord Davies - in its ministerial ranks.

Lord Mandelson shook the new Lord warmly by the hand in front of the clicking cameras, declaring the banker was happy to take the Labour whip. The Government would value Mr Davies’s expertise and experience in helping to tackle the current financial crisis he said.

A quick trot then across to the Commons and Committee Room 15 where he was in front of the Business and Enterprise Committee, some of whom had a thing or two to say about departmental accountability to the House of Commons. Short of holding a general election Lord Mandelson couldn’t think of any way to get Mr Davies’s talents into government quicker.

There was a good old ding-dong with Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle over the plans to bring private capital into the Royal Mail operation. The government faces a major rebellion on this with 66 Labour MPS having signed an early day motion opposing the idea - Dundee West MP Jim McGovern, who resigned as a PPS over the plan, and Michael Connarty among them.

Mandelson used the platform to send out the message that he opposed privatisation and to warn that the Tories would do worse than bring in a minority partner. "It (Royal Mail) will remain part of the public sector and in my view must do so if we are going to sustain the universal service obligation, the delivery to all parts of the country at one price."

I’ve left the committee hearing to write this but he’s still in there answering questions on subsidies to the car industry and toying with Tories on the committee played with the Tories on the return on Ken Clarke to the shadow cabinet. There’s a lot of speculation on Tory reshuffles not helped by David Cameron hailing William Hague as his number two. Politically that's a kick in the groin for George Osborne .

Anyway back to Mandy. After the committee appearance, where he looks to be swatting the questions away, he’ll look in on PMQs and he has meetings with these disgruntled Labour MPs on the Royal Mail in the afternoon.

Update - Mandy has popped up at PMQs, as he always does now, sitting in the Peers’ gallery. The first bout of the year was a bit of a re-thread all round. Cameron accused Brown of copying his policies on business loans, Brown accused the Tories of being the "do nothing party" and Nick Clegg popped up with some economic advice he had last given in November.

Mandy stayed on for an urgent question on his business loan plans and to hear Shadow Business Secretary Alan Duncan condemn his "contempt" for the Commons by leaking the plans last night, being interviewed about them at dawn, briefing the press in the morning and only issuing a statement to parliament. Water of a duck's back for the dark Lord.

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