SKETCH: So How Many Royal Mail Shares Did Labour Buy?

Years ago, I felt a British decline in my bones, and an imminent currency collapse – lo, it came to pass.

Sterling almost went to parity with the US dollar and I said, with triumph, to a banker friend, “I knew that was going to happen.” He looked at me with admiration, “So, how much did you make?”

“Oh, I didn’t.”

Then what contempt! “So, you didn’t know,” he said, witheringly.

When Labour denounce Cable and Fallon for selling the Royal Mail too cheaply, at a knocked-down price, on firesale terms, with a guaranteed profit built-in – it is worth asking how many shares they bought?

Chuka told the Commons this afternoon that the Government could easily have got hundreds of millions more – it does beg the question, did he tell his investment planners, his analysts and brokers to put in for the maximum allocation? He could have donated the guaranteed, safe-as-houses profit to Labour’s election campaign.

Vince didn’t do as badly as Labour might have hoped. He had a neat answer as to why so many “long-term investors” got out so quickly. “They considered the price after the sale was over-valued.”

Some quiet, admiring laughter. Some yelps.

His other defence was Labour’s record in selling Qinetiq. That went for £125m, the civil servants and advisers got £107m, and the company was promptly valued at over 10 times the initial offering: £1.3bn.

There is much to jeer at in the Royal Mail sale, and much to criticize, no doubt. But it’s not absolutely clear that Cable and Fallon would, in China, be hanged as economic criminals.

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SKETCH:  Rage Against the Cuts – DWP Questions

Q1: Research by the think tank Rage, Rage Against the Cuts shows that long-term youth unemployment of seasonally-adjusted people in the north-by-north-west among people between five foot seven and six feet is reaching appallingly record highs under this incompetent government of part-time, insecure, zero-hour contract workers.
A: The rising rate of employment has never been higher for all young people as measured by the OBR in six of the seven warmest days in the last quarter. The party opposite never did anything about it when they were in power and their councils are the ones making employees work in shoes that are three sizes too small.

Q2: Why has the Government IT shambles learnt nothing from IT shambles when we were in Government? How many shambles make a shambles? It’s pathetic!
A: That’s easily said, but the facts are different and everyone knows the new program is saving £1m a day, it’s on time, it’s on budget, it’s saving lives, it’s getting people back to work and while it has been shelved, pending review, it is being rolled out now all over the North by North East.

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PMQs SKETCH: Ed Enters Valley of Death

Reactions vary, but that looked to me like slaughter.

“A total demolition,” Ed Miliband said, and it was surely that.

His “energy price freeze” collapsed on itself like a factory chimney.

This morning, a power company announced it was holding its prices for 20 months.

That’s good news, they thought on Planet Ed. There wasn’t time to go through the consequences.

Ed led on it. Here it is, he cried, the very price freeze Labour has proposed.

His features took on a life of their own. He started to look like Tory Rory Stewart, who looks like a pre-op Miliband. It’s really not what prime ministers look like.

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SKETCH: Paul Flowers in Rehab on Newsnight

This Neo-Paxman, the non-judgmental, chastened, gently inquisitive human being – what late-life crisis produced him? Did Russell Brand overthrow him so completely?

His interview with Rev Flowers last night – it must be why people don’t watch Newsnight any more.

The nitwits who run the programme thought, “Let’s go beneath the media caricature of a drug-taking, bank-wrecking Labour supporter and find what’s really there. A martyr, probably.”

“What’s the last year been like for you?” Paxman probed.

Portly, plausible uncle Paul said: “There have been certain moments when it has been …” pause to consider, to contain himself, quietly to choose his word: “Hellish.”

Cutaway to Paxman flinching back, with an intake of breath.

“To find some professional support for the issues I was facing,” (issues, in his words last year, of being “trollied” on ketamine and rentboys,) “I booked myself into a very well-known hospital for four weeks,” to discover not just the superficial but “the deeper issues why people resort to addiction.”

That’s the penance over with.

“What made you think you were qualified to run a bank?”

“I didn’t,” he said. Everyone else did.

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SKETCH: Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Electronic Whiteboard

The liveliest moment in the Work and Pensions Budget debate came when Mark Harper named “the very well-known website, Guido Fawkes”. Shouts of protest from Labour. Wasn’t there some sort of rule, some guide to parliamentary language? What was the Speaker thinking?

Ah, Bercow’s campaign to propitiate the Tories is coming along nicely. He is considerably less loathsome in this new incarnation. Hardly loathsome at all, some say (Christians, mainly). If his backstage bullying has abated, that will suggest a complete personal refit. Any information welcome.

Mark Harper. He quoted the story (run below) revealing Ms Reeves’ raving red ambitions to offer hundreds of billions in universal benefits. Had she or hadn’t she said it?

Hers was the party, she riposted, that was prepared to take tough decisions.

She will need something dramatic to entice the electorate. Ms Reeves makes IDS look normal.

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Gallery Guido: Labour is Becoming a Byzantine Family Dynasty

The hon-hon Tristram “Hereditary” Hunt in Education questions was followed by Chris Bryant defending the hereditary property rights of council house tenants.

Labour is becoming as much a Byzantine family dynasty as a political party.

In the Labour Shadow Cabinet, the leader is one half of a fraternal duo sired by a scion of the Left. He is followed, or complemented by… twin sisters, a husband-and-wife team, and Harriet Harman – who’s married to a Labour MP for whom she fixed a constituency, and who has a son, Joe, himself looking for a seat.

Then there’s Hereditary Hilary (with his niece Emily – if she makes it she’ll be the fifth generation of Benns in parliament).

Gone to the Lords is another hereditary Hilary, the ex-chief whip who inherited her seat from her father.

Tristram Hunt’s father is in the Lords, too, as we know, as is Lindsay Hoyle’s.

John Cryer’s mother and father were MPs (and he’s married to Ellie Reeves on Labour’s NEC – she is Rachel’s sister).

Keith and Valerie Vaz are brother and sister.

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BUDGET SKETCH: Miliband’s Privileged Few

A Budget of the, by the, for the privileged, Miliband said, and it certainly felt like that. If you count business-owners, export-manufacturers, pension-holders, tax-payers, theatre-producers, ISA-investors, beer-drinkers, Premium Bond-buyers, children-keepers, bingo-players, pothole-haters, car-drivers and people with a propensity to vote as privileged then it probably was.

You’ll also be happy if you support the Magna Carta Trust – they got a handsome grant. I couldn’t catch how much they were given, but Osborne declared he wanted to support the commemoration of a weak leader who betrayed his brother and was humiliated by unruly barons into signing on the line. That was worth the grant whatever it was.

Ed Balls came up with a new gesture. Waggling one hand with splayed downturned fingers and nudging his elbow sideways. My deaf friend said, “Before the watershed? That’s just disgusting.”

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PMQs SKETCH: Harriet Harman is Grooming the LibDems

Questions to the Prime Minister weren’t to the Prime Minister, nor were they questions.

Nick Clegg was denounced, castigated, mocked and accused by Harriet Harman, Toby Perkins, Kevin Brennan and many others of crimes against lapdogs, of shameless, spineless capitulation to the Tories, of kicking apprentices in the teeth, evicting widows, starving children, killing constituents, and (worst of the worst) “electoral self-interest” (gasps from a shocked Labour movement).

This wasn’t Harriet Harman “holding the executive to account” this was “grooming”.

This was making sure the Lib Dems know what’s expected of them when Ed Miliband needs a coalition partner after the general election.

They want to be sure that the Libs will spinelessly kick apprentices in the teeth for Labour.

There won’t be a problem.

Clegg counter-denounced Harriet for the mess she’d left behind. The deficit. Bankers. Poverty.

Clegg assumes he will be standing at the same despatch box next year counter-attacking Tories for the mess he and Labour are clearing up (the deficit, bankers, poverty).

But then he’s assuming it will be he who is the kingmaker and not Lord Biro of the Bus Pass Elvis Party who famously thrashed the Libs in Clifton recently.

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PMQs Sketch: Miliband's Improvement

An unsketchable PMQs kicked off by Peter Bone (soon to be holding the executive to account from Wormwood Scrubs).

It never got going, limped home, and will be considered a victory for Leveson-lovers and the Vegan Internationale known as “grown-up politics”.

Ed Miliband led on and finished with the Ukraine. He consensualised. He joined the top table. He looked (and I say the things that others daren’t think) pretty good.

One barb he left, quoting Cameron on the invasion of Georgia – Russian shoppers shouldn’t be allowed in Harrods while Russian troops were violating borders.

He then called for assets to be frozen.

But Putin would be delighted if his troublesome oligarchs had their assets frozen abroad. You might have thought the Labour leader understood the mind of the Kremlin better than anyone in the Commons.

Cameron repeated the costs and consequences of Putin’s aggression.

Exports of Marmite to Moscow suspended. Block voting by democracies against Russia’s Eurovision Song entry. The Poet Laureate to satirise post-imperial Slavic aggression in a 500-canto lyric.

The only point of interest might be Miliband’s improvement. He’s better than he was six months ago and dramatically better than a year ago. He’s stopped touching his face and stroking his lips. He’s got a nice, relaxed register in his voice as he tails away at the end of his sentences. When not ululating he doesn’t look ridiculous any more.

If the Tories think he’ll look unelectable in a year’s time, they should rethink.

SKETCH: Peter Tapsell Remembers His Time as Eden's PPS

Students of unintended consequences will thoroughly enjoy the new Crimean War – it can be blamed on the European Union.

Peter Tapsell made a decent start today, attacking the organisation that draws its self-esteem from having kept the peace in Europe for 50 years.

He suggested that “the already over-enlarged Union” was “trying to extend its boundaries to Mongolia” and that would result “in a third world war.”

People laugh at Tapsell because he was a personal assistant to Anthony Eden during Suez – around the time the Crimea was handed over to the Ukraine. That isn’t history for Tapsell, it’s current events.

People talk about the “inviolability of Ukraine’s borders”, the treaties, declarations and accords that councils and supra-nationals have put together.

But Tapsell says, “Every Russian knows the capture of the Crimea was the greatest achievement of Catherine the Great – that’s why she was called the Great!

“No Russian government could ever give up Sebastapol, and the Russian people are passionately in support of President Putin.”

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SKETCH: Who is Responsible for the Energy Price Surge?

The hardest thing is getting them to admit the simplest things.

Margaret Hodge had the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change in to ask who is responsible for the great surge in energy prices and who is looking after consumers’ interests.

She didn’t question the departmental witnesses, but yelped at them in frustration, and then gazed with spaniel-eyed looks of reproach.

The water industry, she remembered, underspent one year by £1bn and with the regulator’s approval they gave the money out as a dividend, rather than put it into infrastructure. Why was that allowed to happen? Who allowed it? Why didn’t they do anything to stop it?

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SKETCH: Boris in Parliament

What a life it is, in politics. Having to satisfy the craving, constantly chasing a dragon.

So, Boris Johnson – the proconsular celebrity – appeared in front of the Communities and Local Government committee.

Had they asked him to declare his interests he might have confessed to the Aga Khan’s hospitality, a Hollywood superpass, oligarchical love interests.

But the committee were more interested in declaring their own interests. They said, a little competitively: I’m vice president of the local government association. I’ve got two members of staff of who are local councillors in Newcastle. My husband is leader of a district council.

Fair play to Boris for sticking it out. A man like him with all his assets and interests applying himself to local government fiscal devolution. Having to answer to these sober, worthy vegans, sitting it out for forty minutes discussing the suite of five metropolitan property taxes, council tax bands, a reset mechanism five years into the rationalization of the business rate structure – and all without recourse to alcohol.

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PMQs SKETCH: Beast On a Leash, Parliament Behaves Itself

They could at least have brought in visual aids to express solidarity, to raise awareness, to promote resilience among the nation’s flood victims. Fabricant in flippers. Hancock in a wetsuit. Dromey with his big black periscope.

No, they played PMQs like it was Lent.

All the Tories wanted to do was express their joy at Miliband in wet weather gear – you can’t do that under Storm Force Eight.

The Leader from Primrose Hill pretending not to have wellington boots filled with black, freezing water – that could only be honoured with Tory thunder.

When Miliband stood, they started to crank it but some sense of propriety, or possibly a Whips’ choke chain silenced them.

It was like watching drunks nearly throwing up.

All MPs realized how their natural effusions would come across on TV. The storm-tossed public out there in the plashy fens – they didn’t want to see their representatives enjoying themselves.

And Miliband without the mockery doesn’t do as badly as Tories think. He asked about “money no object” – what did that actually mean?


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SKETCH: Many-Headed Monster Delightfully Out of Control

Unusually, the Prime Minister called the Speaker. It’s usually the other way round.

The noise from Labour was so great – the raucous enjoyment of their weekly Ten Minute Hate – that on two occasions the Prime Minister shook his head and gestured towards the Speaker indicating he should intervene. The first time, the Speaker got up at once to call for quiet. The second time Cameron had to say: “Mr Speaker, really,” and up the Speaker popped up to do the bidding.

What a change!

Hard to say who won on noise.

As for the argument – gender politics. Not my subject, really.

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SKETCH: Doubling Down on the Digital Fiasco

The big BBC software project has gone up in pyre of bytes.

They’ve written off £98m as totally worthless work – and there may be another £80m behind that. One question remains of interest to the Public Accounts Committee – who’s going to carry the can?

The answer to that has an even larger question: how do we control these very large public service bodies? They pay each other little miracles of money in salaries, expenses, bonuses and pensions, and when their projects collapse they talk about learning lessons and the journey they’ve been on.

They have realised that if they “say sorry”, there’s nothing further that can be done to them. Now they are all starting to construct painfree apologies. You can tell there’s no real repentance – there’s no contrition – and therefore no real change in behaviour.

But leave the theology to one side.

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SKETCH: Unsettling the “Settled Science” of Climate Change

The committee for Energy and Climate Change must be in line for an award. Its performance this week was exceptional.

The mental level of Yeo’s committee is – well, the climate debate is so rancorous let’s try for decorum.

Suffice it to say that John Robertson’s questioning would have been a credit to a clever dugong. Albert Owen nearly grasped the idea that that a Greenpeace activist in charge of an IPCC Chapter might lack objectivity. And Tim Yeo’s chairing was as good as a golf club captain in a Saturday night lock-in.

The committee had just received three mainstream climate workers and now, to say they had looked at all sides, they had three sceptics.

No doubt their sceptical remarks are contentious, their facts arguable and their conclusions unusual – but the three of them certainly gave the lie to the claim that “the science is settled”.

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SKETCH: It’s Plodgate II

The Sussex police seem to have taken offence at their dapper Tory MP Tim Loughton. They issued him with a written warning for harassment of one of his constituents.

It’s a proto-ASBO. Like a cease and desist letter. It’s called a Police Information Notice, a PIN, a “peace-keeping” device the police have come up with on their own initiative without the aid of Parliament.

The PIN issued against Loughton said that any infringement of its instructions could lead to criminal proceedings. No small matter for an MP.

Loughton’s offence?

Sending a vexatious constituent a Hansard containing a speech explaining why he was no longer able to represent him.

Exhibit A – shortly after the Columbine massacres, the sometime Schools minister was photoshopped by this disaffected constituent into carrying a gun, wearing swastikas, and terrorizing school children. The image was put up on the constituent’s blog.

Exhibit B – the minister’s daughters had their Facebook pages penetrated, their photographs taken and doctored with horses’ heads. The image displayed as above.

Exhibit C – the MP sent a copy of Hansard to the constituent. It contained a record of a debate in which the MP explained why, partly on account of the first two exhibits (and much else beside), he felt unable to represent his constituent any more.

The police did nothing about the first two. For the third, they issued Tim Loughton that PIN threatening possible prosecution and have registered a hate event against him.

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SKETCH: Troops in the Trenches, Ammo to the Front

The battle lines are drawn, the pounding begins.

The ragged band of guerillas called HM opposition – demoralised and scarce, fortified no longer by the Speaker – goaded the Tory arsenal to ever-greater firepower.

Five full benches of Tories had the numbers – in the Chamber and in the Book of Stats from which they now draw strength.

Everything they want up is going up, and what they want down is going down.

It’s been two decades coming but suddenly it’s a great time to be a Tory.

Labour’s Shelia Gilmore raised her sixpenny jezail and said that 0.7 growth in the last quarter was lower than the 0.8 in the quarter before . . .

She’s got a big voice but not big enough to rise above the indignation she provoked. She folded her arms, shrugged, stood and took the Tories’ joyful rage.

Eventually, George Osborne moved the decimal point – under Labour, he said, the economy shrank by 7 per cent.

The Labour posture, he went on to say, is “anti-business, anti-recovery, anti-jobs, anti-investment and anti-Britain.”

Ed Balls. The other man who hates Britain.

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SKETCH: There’s Been a 40% Reduction in Knife Crime Statistics

It was Home Office questions.

“What can be done about the appalling knife crime statistics?” you ask. It’s already been done. There’s been a 40 per cent reduction in knife crime statistics. And not just in the British Crime Survey but in NHS knife wound records. What does this mean? The NHS has poached its statisticians from the police. A triumph of best practice.

Andrew Bridgen said that Leicestershire police got less money per head than Northumbria police but had achieved a greater fall in crime figures than that northern wasteland of blackmailing, dog-fighting cage-warriors.

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Is the Blank Sheet of Paper Half Full or Half Empty?

Fifteen months out from a general election campaign, Labour is holding a symposium on what they might do in Government.

The event to be held on Jan 28 is billed as a Policy Review Symposium entitled ‘Renewing the Economy and Reforming the State’.[…] Read the rest


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Bill Cash, the original Brexiter, tells The Daily Politics he distinguishes…

“…between being in the customs union and a customs union… what a customs union means is something yet to be resolved.”


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