Tuesday 21 December 2010

Michael Moore in tapegate doo-doo now

The Daily Telegraph tapes story is rolling on with many twists and turns. Here's the latest Scottish angle, concerning Michael Moore, filed for the Daily Record:

Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is the latest government minister to blow the lid off the cosy image of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition

Talking to undercover Daily Telegraph reporters Moore has described the nightmare of introducing policies that he has no belief in

Moore said the coalition decision to cut Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers is "blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do"

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Moore also admitted the increase in tuition fees for English students to a maximum £9,000 was “a car crash”.
He described the Lib Dem u-turn on student fees as "the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this..., a train wreck"

Moore was also quoted as saying the coalition had "marginalised" the Conservative right wing, who, he said, "hate us with a passion - and I can't say it's unreciprocated".

He insisted that Lib Dem ministers "remain passionately Liberal Democrat"and said some Conservative ministers were "on a different planet" .

He said fellow Scot Defence Secretary Liam Fox "probably couldn't stay in the same situation for very long" if they were discussing a wide range of policies.

Moore is one of a string of Lib Dem Ministers taped in their constituency surgeries by undercover reporters criticising coalition policy.

The candid confessions, led by Business Secretary Vince Cable, exposed the sham of co-operation that Tory leader David Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg present in public.

Moore told undercover reporters he was tortured by the decision to increase student fees despite an election promise not to.

He said: "I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I've just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I've had to break a pledge and very, very publicly." Moore said the move was "deeply damaging" to Lib Dems.

The comments were published after a dramatic day that saw Business Secretary Vince Cable humiliated and stripped of some ministerial responsibilities after he told the same undercover reporter he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch over the media tycoon's bid to take over BSkyB.

Cable left David Cameron and Nick Clegg furious after he bragged to a blond female reporter that he could bring the Government down by using the "nuclear option" of resigning if Conservative colleagues pushed him too hard.

Cable kept his job but was stripped of the responsibility of judging on the News Corporation bid to take over BSkyB.

Sacking him would have destabilised the coalition but keeping him left Tory backbenchers thinking Cameron had no authority as Prime Minister.

Labour described him as a lame duck Minister who should walk the plank.

Other Lib Dem Ministers fell for the same trick as reporters posed as constituents.
Business Minister Ed Davey said he was "gobsmacked" by the decision to cut Child Benefit, and Pensions Minister Steve Webb said he had written to Chancellor George Osborne seeking changes to the policy.

The Child Benefit cut which will hit couples where one partner earns just over the £42,000 higher-rate threshold but not those with two partners earning just below that level.

Monday 20 December 2010

Nick Clegg's Last Christmas post

Nick Clegg's Christmas message to students.
From these clever people at Designiscentral for the STUC's "There is a better way" campaign.

Ah, the cuts, this only shows half-frame. Click through below for a better view

Thursday 9 December 2010

AP flash on Charles and Camilla

Student protesters attack car containing Prince Charles and his wife Camilla
LONDON (AP) - Angry protesters in London have attacked a car containing Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
An Associated Press photographer saw demonstrators kick the car in Regent Street, in the heart of London's shopping district. The car then drove off.
The prince's office had no immediate comment.
Protesters angry at a huge tuition fee hike are fighting with police and smashing windows in London.

How the Scot LibDem MPs voted on tuition fees

This is the picture of how Scottish Lib Dem MPs voted in the tuition fees debate, according to PA.

Menzies Campbell
Mike Crockart
Charles Kennedy
Alan Reid

Danny Alexander
Alistair Carmichael
Jo Swinson
Malcolm Bruce
Michael Moore

John Thurso

Robert Smith

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Wikileaks reignite Megrahi controversy

The Wikileaks revelations have lapped up onto Scottish shores again tonight with the claim that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi threatened the UK with "thuggish" reprisals if the Lockerbie bomber was not released from Greenock jail.

The leaked cables from the US Ambassador in the UK in 2009, show that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was privately “shocked” by the fierce American reaction to the release of the Abdul Basset al-Megrahi, leaked US documents reveal.

The latest Wikileaks cables, private dispatches from US diplomats in the UK in 2008, show that the SNP ministers found themselves “out of their depth” when the release of Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds created a firestorm of protest in the United States.

The US view is clearly that the UK government played the SNP into releasing Megrahi, leaving Salmond empty handed and feeling the heat of US outrage. Salmond expresses himself shocked and claims that the SNP "played straight" over the release of Megrahi and did not expect the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or the former head of the FBI to condemn him.

The latest revelations came as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London on an international arrest warrant in relation to allegations of rape in Sweden.

Megrahi, who continues to live with his family in Tripoli, returned to a Saltire-waving hero's welcome that sparked protests from the US government and families of the victims of the downed Pan Am flight 103.

The US Consol in Edinburgh at the time wrote to Washington: "The Scottish government severely underestimated both US government and UK public reaction to its decision … Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was 'shocked'."

The revelations come as a sharp reminder to the SNP of the fury they faced when Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill decided to release Megrahi, who is suffering from prostrate cancer, on compassionate grounds.

The Wikileaks cable reveal the UK government feared an even harsher reaction by Libya against UK interests if the convicted Lockerbie bomber died in jail.

According to the Guardian the message US diplomats received from Jack Straw, then justice minister, was that although Megrahi might survive up to five years Salmond and the SNP were nonetheless inclined to release him.

A cable states: "Megrahi could have as long as five years to live but the average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is 18 months to two years. Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale."The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release … but HMG believes that the Scottish may be inclined to grant the request, when it comes, based on conversations between … Alex Salmond and UK justice secretary Jack Straw.

The Americans concluded that UK Justice Minister Jack Straw succeeded in manoeuvring MacAskill into granting a "compassionate release" to a storm of protest in August 2009 and that the British ambassador in Lybia expressed “relief” at the outcome. I'm sure some cable somewhere will reveal that Jack Straw privately expressed a wry smile.

Firewalk with me, Clegg tells his MPs

The Lib Dem MPs are meeting right now to discuss their position on increasing tuition fees for students in England.

Outside committee room 11 in the Commons we've just been given a briefing on what Nick Clegg told the meeting at the beginning.

He said he would have preferred if the Lib Dems had "walked through the fire together" on Thursday's vote but he now accepts that this will not happen.

He said he was proud of the "great strength" the Lib Dems had shown under pressure in recent weeks and that there was no animosity despite strongly held opinions.

The meeting goes on for another two hours, we expect, and the outcome will probably be the same as it was at the beginning, with those determined to vote against doing so. Maybe some of the abstentions will be persuaded that if they're going to take pelters anyway then they might as well do so standing by their leader.

Others may have read the detail of the YouGov poll on voting attitudes to the Lib Dems and the tuition fees issue.

Candidates standing for the Scottish parliament next May will be punished at the polls if their Westminster MPs vote for higher tuition fees in England, according to a new opinion poll.

The YouGov poll found that people voted Liberal Democrat in the General Election, 49% would be less likely to back them again in the Scottish Elections should they back an increase in fees.

Eleven Scottish Lib Dem MPs are under pressure not to back the Tories by voting for a rise in tuition fees on Thursday.

Students are furious that Lib Dem MPs signed a pledge against student fees during the election but could now go back on their word.

Treasury Minister and Inverness MP Danny Alexander is backing party leader Nick Clegg in voting for fees. But former leaders Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy have voiced opposition. Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart is considering resigning as a parliamentary secretary in protest over the issue. Others may abstain from the vote in an attempt at party unity.

The poll also revealed good news for Scottish Liberal Democrat candidates. Should their fellow MPs vote against higher tuition fees, with 47% of those undecided voters stating they would be more likely to vote Lib Dem in the Scottish election.

The poll, commissioned by NUS Scotland and UCU Scotland, also found that overall 52% of people oppose the government’s plans to raise tuition fees, with only a third supporting the proposals and that 60% of Scots who voted Liberal Democrat in the General Elections oppose the increase in fees;

Liam Burns, President of NUS Scotland, said the fees increase would mean over £40,000 of debt for any Scottish students wanting to study in England and a drastic reduction in public spending on university teaching salaries which would slash the Scottish Government’s current budget.

He said: "The proposed changes to loan arrangements will strip tens of millions from the student support budget in Scotland which we already know is inadequate, and higher fees elsewhere will fuel calls for English students who vote in Scotland to pay much higher fees to avoid a cross border flow of ‘fee refugees’. These proposals are bad news for Scotland.”

Monday 6 December 2010

Lib Dem Highland meltdown over tuition fees

There is no formal pairing system operating in the Commons - when two opposing MPs arrange to miss a whipped vote to negate their absence. But if Inverness airport is shut by snow for the next few days then we might be granted one in the crucial tuition fees debate this Thursday.

Imagine the scene in the VIP cabin in departures at Dalcross this morning as Danny Alexander (Treasury, for) and Charles Kennedy (Lib Dem, against) wait patiently for their delayed London flight to be called.

The two Highland MPs, with neighbouring constituencies, represent the fight for the soul of the Lib Democrats, a battle of power against principle. Kennedy, with a Highland Liberal tradition behind him, has said he'd find it hard to support the move to triple tuition fees in England, after signing an election pledge not to do so.

Alexander, who would be admired in Brussels for his technocratic passion, has no real political heritage to fall back on here and can only be driven further into the embrace of the coalition by this week's events.

Stop press: enough speculating. It's coming through that Michael Crockart, the new Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, has threatened to resign as unpaid parliamentary private secretary to Michael Moore in protest over the tuition fees vote.

It looks like the Lib Dem whips, headed by Alastair Carmichael from Orkney and Shetland, are putting the screws on MPs, to vote loyally or resign. Crockart has said that he will have no option but to resign in that case. It's a long time until Thursday though.

Interesting how the whole Lib Dem fight over tuition fees is being played out against a Scottish backdrop. Kennedy and Alexander, Crockart and Carmichael, not forgetting Menzie Campbell and Michael Moore - all finding themselves on opposing sides. Can't work out which side are the Covenanters yet.

Footnote: I don't usually post anonymous comment or respond, it's so much bolder to put your name to a strongly held opinion. But someone has posted: "Higher Education is a devolved issue. This is a solely English issue. What business is it of these interfering Scots? They should keep their noses (especially those with bright red ones) out of it!"

There are implications for Scotland in the tuition fees vote in that the Browne review recommended to cut two-thirds of the teaching grant paid by the Treasury to English universities once they start charging fees. This, Labour argue, could have a knock-on effect in Scotland, via the Barnett Formula, to the tune of £400 million.

Obviously there are the effects of student refugees seeking sanctuary from higher fees in the south putting pressure on places in Scotland. There is also the academic and financial standing of Scottish universities, which will not have the same level of student fees pouring in. Unless, that is, they introduce fees too, as Vince Cable recommended. I was right, don't respond to anonymous comment, you'll spend all day on it.

Naughtie to read weather for Kent countryside

Much hilarity this morning over Jim Naughtie's spoonerism on the Today programme at 8am.

Naughtie, had meant to preview an item on Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary but instead he said...

It's not the first time Hunt has heard that one. I'm sure, and he has taken it in good humour.

However, it does seem the mistake was too much of rude awakening for some listeners of Radio 4, who called in to complain. Just as well Naughtie didn't read that report about the snowfall in the Kent countryside.

Guido, indispensible as ever to the political blogosphere, is ahead of BBC i-player, on posting this play it again. Click here.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Britain covered in snow - official picture

Confirmation, were it needed, that it's snowing out there. The University of Dundee's satellite receiving station captured this image of a blanketed Britain this morning.

The picture was received at 1145 GMT on Thursday from Nasa satellite Terra, shows almost the entire country covered by snow, apart from bits of Argyll and Cumbria.

And there's me complaining that our Scottish lobby Christmas dinner has been postponed tonight for fear that people won't be able to get home afterwards. I thought that was the whole point of a Christmas night out.

Scottish MPs expenses from May to August

IPSA, the parliamentary expenses watchdog, has this morning published MPs expenses under the new transparency rules which Holyrood watchers will be familiar with.

There's a mass of detail in there and over £3m worth of claims.The IPSA website keeps crashing, but here we've complied the total expenses of Scottish MPs for the first quarter of the year.

The MPs are ordered by name, not by expenditure, and clearly some of them have not managed to make claims in the first quarter. If you want individual details dig into the IPSA site, and good luck.

Danny Alexander, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey,LDem - £4,995

Douglas Alexander, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Lab - £7,534

Willie Bain, Glasgow North East, Lab - £2,636

Gordon Banks, Ochil and South Perthshire, Lab £7,040

Anne Begg, Aberdeen South, Labour - £12,542

Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Lab - £2,532

Russell Brown, Dumfries and Galloway, Lab - £9,918

Malcolm Bruce, Gordon, LibDem - £6,734

David Cairns, Inverclyde, Lab - £1,808

Menzies Campbell, Fife North East, LibDem - £4,956

Alistair Carmichael, Orkney and Shetland, Lib Dem - £10,456

Katy Clark, North Ayrshire and Arran, Lab - £1,191

Tom Clarke, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Lab - £7,772

Michael Connarty, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Lab - £8,416

Mike Crockart, Edinburgh West, Lib Dem - £9,187

Margaret Curran, Glasgow East, Lab - £3,029

Alistair Darling, Edinburgh South West, Lab - £4,207

Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West, Lab/Co-op - £0

Thomas Docherty, Dunfermline and West Fife, Lab - £9,956

Brian Donohoe, Central Ayrshire, Labour - £13,353

Frank Doran, Aberdeen North, Lab - £9,529

Gemma Doyle, West Dunbartonshire, Lab - £ 0

Sheila Gilmore, Edinburgh East, Lab - £ 1,845

Tom Greatrex, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Lab - £11,383

David Hamilton, Midlothian, Lab - £3,818

Tom Harris, Glasgow South, Lab - £1,513

Jimmy Hood, Lanark and Hamilton East, Lab - £6,039

Stewart Hosie, Dundee East , SNP - £10,530

Cathy Jamieson, Kilmarnock and Loudoun, Lab/Co-op - £4,324

Eric Joyce, Falkirk, Lab - £4,541

Charles Kennedy, Ross, Skye and Lochaber, LibDem - £917

Mark Lazarowicz, Edinburgh North and Leith, Lab/Co-op - £2,726

Angus MacNeil, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, SNP - £1,355

Michael McCann, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, Lab - £12,133

Gregg McClymont, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Lab - £783

James McGovern, Dundee West, Lab - £4,053

Anne McGuire , Stirling, Lab - £5,411

Ann McKechin, Glasgow North, Lab - £3,513

Michael Moore, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Lib Dem - £11,120

Graeme Morrice, Livingston, Lab - £6,500

David Mundell, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, Con - £13,262

Jim Murphy, East Renfrewshire, Lab - £4,908

Ian Murray, Edinburgh South, Lab - £11,382

Pamela Nash, Airdrie and Shotts, Lab - £0

Fiona O’Donnell , East Lothian, Lab £14,450

Sandra Osborne, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, Lab - £8,432

Alan Reid, Argyll and Bute, Lib Dem - £0

Angus Robertson, Moray, SNP - £2,644

John Robertson Glasgow North West, Lab - £12,323

Frank Roy, Motherwell and Wishaw, Lab - £7,779

Lindsay Roy, Glenrothes, Lab - £10,039

Anas Sarwar, Glasgow Central, Lab - £1,012

James Sheridan, Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Lab - £9, 383

Robert Smith, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Lib Dem - £7,505

Jo Swinson, East Dunbartonshire, LibDem - £4,978

John Thurso, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Lib Dem - £13,948

Mike Weir, Angus,SNP - £10,824

Eilidh Whiteford, Banff and Buchan, SNP - £5,721

Pete Wishart, Perth and North Perthshire, SNP - £10,968


Daivd Cameron - £2,581
Ed Miliband - £2,066
Nick Clegg - £0
George Osborne - £582

Hague to update Commons on Linda Norgrove case

The Foreign Secretary will be making a statement in the House to update Parliament on the investigation into Linda Norgrove’s death shortly.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Whitehall civil servants face big freeze

It's all been a bit Elsinore in the Palace of Westminster over the last few days, but this morning the heating system in Room 18 of the Press Gallery was wrenched into juddering life.

Suddenly it's quite toasty and just as we're stripping off the layers in the newssauna word comes in, via a leaked e mail, that the entire Whitehall heating system has broken down. We're guessing the two events are not linked in any way. Our snouts tell us Number Ten isn't affected.

Paul Waugh has the story, and the leaked e mail, over on his new blog, The Waugh Room.

PM swats Miliband as "son of Brown"

That was a fairly emphatic win for Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions today. There was no hiding the gloom of the Miliband team or on the back benches, where Alistair Darling sat frozen-faded as his party leader tore into proposals to raise VAT and scale back welfare benefits.

The consensus is that Miliband chose the wrong jokes, the wrong lines and paid a big price for a weak rhetorical swipe at Cameron as a "child of Thatcher".

Quick as a flash, Cameron hit back: "I'd rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown". That wasn't his only win either.

The Cameron team where cock-a-hoop afterwards. One crowed, we're going to Zurich next week too. The thinking there is that Cameron, unleashed from the strictures of Westminster and the over assiduous preparation that goes into the half hour event, performs much better.

He flew back in from Switzerland at half-time in the World Cup bid so was only lightly briefed for the weekly tournament. And an off-the-cuff Cameron, being himself, is highly effective, as he proved originally in his defining speech to the Tory conference when standing for leader.

But while Miliband is left to lick the many self-inflicted wounds of the past fortnight - "blank page", two year policy review - Cameron ought to be careful too.

There's nothing more dangerous for a Prime Minister than hubris, says an wiser lobby colleague, who points out that Cameron unleashed has managed to insult the Speaker, the London Mayor in the last fortnight in speeches and has been charged by some commentators for failing to invoke the "dignity of the office" of Prime Minister.

Pride comes before a fall, and all that, but Miliband has to do better than wait for the Prime Minister to trip up.

Curran give unqualified backing for England bid

Labour’s Margaret Curran gave England’s World Cup bid Glasgow’s backing yesterday as the Prime Minister headed back to Switzerland to join Prince William and David Beckham do battle against the favourites, the Russians.

Curran, MP for Glasgow East, was the first member called at Prime Minister’s Questions and took the opportunity to give Cameron a tongue-in-cheek assurance that Scots back the England bid to bring football home.

“Can I give you Glasgow’s best wishes in the bid for England?” said Curraan, before adding after a pause: “And I mean that most sincerely.”

After the laughter had subsided in the chamber, Cameron replied: “I know she would never mislead this House so I know what you said was utterly sincere and I’m sure is shared by Members wherever they sit for in the United Kingdom.”

Everyone does back the bid, originally a Labour bid the opposition spindoctors were eager to remind me, even if it only means the games will be easier to get to than teh 2014 tournament in Brazil. The decision on 2018 will be made tomorrow afternoon.