Mitchell's Manoeuvres

“A well-placed source” told Tim Shipman at The Mail today:

“Andrew Mitchell is very well thought of and familiar with all the issues. He sits on the National Security Council. He would have been sent over last year if William had gone and he’s still the man. William has lost his mojo. He seems tired and often unengaged. He just doesn’t seem that interested.”

Would that be the same cheerleaders that were promoting Mitchell as a new Chief Whip to Ben Brogan back in December:

“Andrew Mitchell’s supporters are promoting him as a suitable alternative, arguing that Mad Mitch knows a thing or two about plots and discipline”

He’s certainly displaying a dubious understanding of discipline with his briefings. His choice of words regarding Hague’s decline are remarkably similar to the thoughts Mitchell shared with the FT about the current Chief Whip in February“The trouble is if you spend a long time as a Whip, the iron of cynicism starts to corrode your soul.” Guido knows the International Development job would be enough to corrode any man’s soul, but Mitchell is hardly being subtle in his desire to move on up. Is all that pillow talk going to his head?

Downing Street Struggles in the Thick of It

There is an air of chaos in Westminster today. Firstly Craig Oliver was all in a spin after being refused entry by Downing Street security, but that’s nothing on the mess that the capture of the SAS troops and our “diplomat” in the desert has caused. Hague, who has taken his eye off various balls recently, looks like he is being hung out to dry on this one. He will be before the House at three thirty, but not before a Whitehall source mouthed off to the BBC confirming he personally authorised the mission, despite little evidence our overtures were welcome. It’s almost as if No.10 has other matters on their plate…

The Prince Andrew story has gone nuclear, not least because an-as-of-yet-un-named SpAd briefed in Cardiff over the weekend that “one more story” and Andrew would be out. Cue a mass shaking of the branch by every hack. Another briefing, perhaps by the same chatty character, said “no tears would be shed” at Andrews departure. A long cry from the official line this morning that the Duke has the government’s full confidence. It’s times like this that real weak spots are being exposed and a bad day for Dave and co to go gallivanting up north for a gimmicky Cabinet Away Day. No wonder it’s open season on SpAds according to Ben Brogan

UPDATE: Mark Wallace notices that SpAd’s are even using Malcom Tucker’s favourite “omnishambles”. You could make it up…

Reddies from the Reds

Sometimes there is just easy money to be had. When Guido saw Labour pushing a story that Pickles’ SpAds had been busted “smearing” Jenny Watson of the Audit Commission as incompetent and a public purse milker he couldn’t quite see where a crime had been committed. The truth cannot be a smear.

It got better though, the line was pushed that the Department for Local Government had been forced to spend fifty grand on legal fees consulting about how to deal with the situation. If that is the going rate, who knows what the legal advice concerning McBride ran up to…

Political Scrapbook dived on the story and have been hammering it for weeks. Guido smelt bullshit early on and bet the PS team £50 that the actual sum was more likely to be closer to zero. And guess what?

The sum was infact zero. In reply to a Parliamentary Question on the subject, Bob Neil said:

“I wish to use this opportunity to put on record a short comment. Pursuant to my answer to the hon. Member of 4 November 2010, Official Report, column 937W, no expenditure has been undertaken on legal fees on potential defamation cases relating in any way to that whole topic.”

Guido would like two twenties and two fives please.

It’s not only Political Scrapbook with egg on their faces though. The Local Government Chronicle broke the story, PR Week followed it up and rent-a-quote Caroline Flint was even deployed to ask awkward questions. Funny how it was Tom Watson who asked the PQ that was shot down by Bob Neil. It’s almost as if his fingerprints were all over this from the start…

When is a Smear Not a Smear?

There has been an ongoing rumbling about the Audit Commission’s Jenny Watson being smeared as an incompetent who milked the taxpayer by one of Eric Pickles’ SpAds in a briefing to Sam Coates of the Times, which he then obediently reprinted.

Figures have been plucked out of thin air to suggest that the Department of Local Government had spent “thousands” on legal advice because of the case, though Guido was confident enough to bet the editor of Political Scrapbook £50 that the figure was closer to zero. Labour are pushing the story around, though it’s hardly up there with Damian McBride. What it comes down to is that Jenny Watson did milk the taxpayer. The truth cannot be a smear…

UPDATE: Paul Richards, author of Be Your Own Spin Doctor tweets piously that taxpayer funded SpAds “are not employed to slag people off in anonymous briefings to hacks.” Totally different to the time when he as a taxpayer funded SpAd ghost wrote an article in the Guardian slagging Guido off as a “vicious nihilist”…

Lobbying Register Warning Bells

Guido has to laugh at the audacity that some of the more brazen members of the lobbying community have shown in defending the new voluntary register of “political consultants”. As Spinwatch said, this is no more than a “PR stunt from PR experts”.

As the new UK PAC site with public registers went live this week just 251, out of an estimated 14,000 spinners, had  voluntarily signed up. A further 1,362 were put on the list automatically by their companies, but where are the big hitters? Search the register for power-lobbyists like Roland Rudd, Tim Bell, Alan Parker or Matthew Freud and you get “Your search did not return any results.” Francis Ingham, spinmeister for the widely discredited PRCA trade body, makes hyperbolic claims for the nascent self-regulator: “It provides a foundation on which to grow self-regulation. It is – though doubtless our detractors will dispute this – a good thing.” It is an abject failure, with an estimated 90% of lobbyists ignoring the register.

Guido is no fan of government regulation of the private sector but the political lobbying industry thwarts democracy and pollutes the body politic to such an extent something has to be done. Guido’s idea is that all politicians and civil servants should be required to transparently publish all details of meetings with lobbyists – Cameron’s government ministers and Downing Street SpAds already have to do this. The idea should be rolled out as a requirement for all those paid by taxpayers and involved in influencing legislation. Obviously this means the question of identifying political lobbyists will have to be addressed.

To avoid any confusion by ministers or civil servants when unknowingly or inadvertently meeting lobbyists socially, taking up tickets to the opera or lunching at Michelin-starred restaurants and the like, registered lobbyists should make themselves easily identifiable.  The historically tried and tested solution for just this problem springs to mind. They should be made to wear bells around their necks, like lepers…

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

The gentlemen of the Lobby are as thin-skinned and status conscious as a gaggle of gay hairdressers on a night out, so Craig Oliver will need to up his game. The Lobby already have their noses a little out of joint because Downing Street hired a bloke off the telly, BBC TV at that, rather than one of their own. Downing Street implicitly signalling to the ink-stained old hands of the Lobby that telly is more important than they are in the great scheme of things.

When Craig visited the press gallery this week to introduce himself (sans bumbag) there was the usual faux bonhomie on both sides. The inkies and the TV luvvie meet and greet was respectful if not warm. Asked for his mobile number Craig put one political editor in their place thus “you can get me through the switchboard”.

Craig Oliver 1.0

Hip-hop headphones, an iPad, no cufflinks, an off the peg suit and a manbag was enough to drive Westminster villagers into an in-depth discussion about Dave’s new comms chief Craig Oliver and his modern metro style. But have they all been spun a yarn?

On the first day Oliver, who left the BBC with not love lost apparently, was dressed up like a truly modern gadget man, yet by his second day he looked a little more like someone going to steer the entire government communications machine. Where were the glasses and notebooks before? Surely Guido is being too cynical to think, as others have suggested, that it was all for show?

A Wee Bit Off

Denis Macshane and Douglas Alexander are attempting to politicise the Libya situation. Macshane, who despite losing the whip, still falls into line to spin for Labour just told Jeremy Vine that he thinks the government had their eye off the ball. Alexander says they haven’t reacted to the situation quickly enough, which is odd given that he didn’t suggest the UK should be doing more when he appeared on Newsnight just two nights ago. A swift and convenient change of heart.

And do these two really want to open up that particular can of worms? When it comes to throwing blame around for this mess, Labour have a bit of a moral deficit on this one. Lest we forget it was Wee Dougie’s government that did “all it could” to get Megrahi released. It was Wee Dougie’s preferred choice of leader that was “working discreetly” to see the Lockerbie bomber returned to Gadaffi’s warm embrace. It seems Wee Dougie has forgotten also that it was Labour Minister Bill Rammell who was giving Libya legal advice too. And it didn’t just stop with Megrahi – throughout 2008 Lord Jones,­ Bill Rammell and Dawn Primarolo all popped into Tripoli for a cup of tea and a chat about trade. Perhaps Wee Dougie should have a quick quip at them for not acting swiftly enough.

It seems Labour very much had their eye on the ball, of sorts.

Jacqui: "It Was Dick"

It’s amazing what a former MP will do for money, especially one whose career ended in tatters. Jacqui Smith is taking part in a Radio 5 documentary about the nail in a her political coffin – porn.

“In the programme she will talk about her own attitudes to the industry. She also speaks to film-makers, actors, feminists and politicians, as well as men and women who consume pornography.”

Well it shouldn’t be too hard to find a consumer, she’ll just have to call downstairs to the sofa. At time of the scandal, word was put about to sympathetic ears that Smith’s researcher and husband Richard was covering for their son who was actually the late night viewer, but that has today been dismissed:

“Let me just say, I knew he had used porn. Did he use it very much? No. Having said that, there were two movies on the same week”

Smith apparently also claims “some people say to me, “Oh well, at least you didn’t have to leave because of a great policy ****-up”. Yes, because she was such a successful Home Secretary…

The Guardian: Uncut and Full of Cant

On Saturday morning The Guardian decided to give UK Uncut a front page boost.  The protestors managed to shut down three dozen of the 1,720 branches of Barclays bank. Surprised they found any branches to occupy given Saturday opening hours.

The gist of the shabby story was Barclays bankers are evil tax dodgers. The evidence was a hatchet job with the paper making the spurious claim that Barclay’s only paid 1% tax on their £11.6 billion profits. In arriving at a profit before tax figure of £11.6 billion, The Guardian has added the profit from the ongoing business (£4.5 billion) to profits from a disposed business (£726 million) and the gain made on disposal of that business (£6.3 billion) to reach a total of £11.6 billion.

What they chose to ignore however was the total tax take Barclay’s had to pay; payroll taxes, bank levy, non-recoverable VAT, employers NI, SDRT and so on. Over the weekend Tim Worstall and the FCA Blog tore chunks out of the piece:

The article compares the cash paid to HMRC in respect of UK corporation tax in 2009 (£113 million) to the profits generated by the consolidated Barclays group worldwide in 2009. In the UK, tax is paid in arrears, so 2009 taxes would relate to widespread 2008 losses, not 2009 profits.

Multinational companies such as Barclays pay tax in a number of jurisdictions. Generally speaking Barclays only pays UK corporation tax on profits it generated in the UK.  Anything earned outside the UK doesn’t get taxed here. So it’s a howler to compare the UK corporation tax payment to the global consolidated profit. Most of those profits were taxed where they were made.

In 2002 (under Gordon Brown, Chuka), the UK government introduced the substantial shareholdings exemption, a corporation tax exemption for UK businesses disposing of a substantial shareholding in a part of their business. The idea was that businesses should be able to restructure their businesses without having to worry about chargeable gains implications. Barclays are heavily criticised by The Guardian for using it.  The last time that Guido saw this being used was by the, err, Guardian Media Group to save themselves some £60 million of taxes in 2008:

“In 2008 GMG sold half of Auto Trader publisher Trader Media Group and made an exceptional (one-off) profit of more than £300 million. No tax was payable on the return from that sale because under UK law GMG qualified for SSE”

In 2008 The Guardian made £302 million in profits and paid no corporation taxes. The CEO, Carolyn McCall, was paid an £827,000 package. Yet we don’t see the UK Uncut crowd kicking up a stink about The Guardian’s tax structures or their fat cat pay and bonuses.

Over the weekend the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (half-a-million a year since you asked) tweeted about Barclay’s offshore holding corporations. Guardian Media Group holds hundreds of millions in assets in a Caymans Island domiciled offshore corporation.

Guido put it to the GMG press office that GMG has £223.8 million invested in an overseas/offshore hedge fund managed by Cambridge Associates which trades currency derivatives. They don’t deny it and have declined to confirm the fund’s structure for tax purposes.

Guardian readers seem to be under the illusion that it is owned by a not-for-profit charity. The Scott Trust was wound up in October 2008 and the Guardian is a for-profit-privately-owned media business, the well paid directors of which confirm in their annual accounts that they operate tax strategies in line with their fiduciary duty to the shareholders – just like any other business.

The old Scott Trust was set up in 1936 to avoid inheritance taxes and wound up in 2008 so that GMG could cynically exploit the SSE capital gains tax shelter to pay 0% in corporation taxes on their £302 million in profits that year. GMG claim that it was about modernising the holding structure, in fact it was a disingenuous cover for corporate venality.

For three quarters of a century the The Guardian has been shirking taxes, Guido has no problem with them acting in their shareholders’ best interests. The hypocritical cant from them however about others doing the same is beyond contemptible…

The Donkey and the Lions

It is a political rite of passage for the Leader of the Opposition to go and meet the troops. Often given a warmer reception than the PM, the footage is always carefully stage-managed. But what happens behind the cameras?

Guido’s man on the frontline reports that when Ed visited Afghanistan two weeks ago he decided he wanted to have lunch with some soldiers to talk candidly away from the scrutiny of the pack. All very well and good. Having sat down with some troops he was busy eating and chatting away before someone pointed out the American flags on their sleeves…

Chuka vs The World

And so it came to pass that a chosen one would emerge. The Child was blessed in looks and intellect and ventured forth to bring light to the world:

http://twitter.com/#!/ChukaUmunna/status/38235359527575553

Bet they were shaking in their boots…

An obligatory Tip of the Hat to Gerard Baker writing about another breathtakingly arrogant politician.

Manchester Council Madness

Today’s order of the OTT goes to the leader of Manchester Council for comparing government cuts to an IRA bomb. Writing in the Manchester Evening News sick Sir Richard Leese said:

“Since I was first elected to the council almost 27 years ago, I have seen many difficult times . . . just weeks after becoming council leader in 1996, I had to deal with the aftermath of the IRA bomb. But nothing has been as difficult or as painful as the struggle we have been having over the last two months to produce a legal, balanced budget.”

What does Sir Richard know about surviving after having a limb or two blown off, or coping with a life of blindness or brain-damage? Would he still be so flippant if he’d had a face full of glass?

Come Vote With Me

Last night’s Newsnight special hardly covered the referendum in glory, despite the best attempts of the BBC to nail their colours to their sleeve. With the headline “Majority want overhaul of voting system, poll suggests” you would have thought that it was good news for the Yes campaign, but get to the second paragraph of their story and you find: “63% of those polled said a referendum on changing the system is a waste of time and money when there are other pressing needs in the country.” Hmmm…

Jo Swinson did not help her cause last night with her strictly quite ridiculous suggestion:

On Twitter in the aftermath even her own side rejected the idea. Messy.

All Eds are Equal

Politics Home has got hold of a letter sent to Labour MPs from Tom Baldwin with demands for clearing statements and control way beyond what even Gordon imposed. Any public breath from the invisible frontbench team must first be cleared with high command. The letter is co-signed by both Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor.

With Balls being able to hold the chains, it’s as if they are equals…

UPDATE: With Alan Johnson already outlining a central clearing process three months ago, you could argue this further reiteration of the point, this time with bruiser Ball’s stamp on it, merely illustrates Miliband’s weak authority.

More on that Alleged LibDem Scandal

Andrew Neil’s hint of a pending LibDem scandal has set tongues wagging. While Guido did hear an amusing tale from a cabby the other day about a certain LibDem cabinet minister and a large black dominatrix, he doesn’t think this is the story that Brillo is getting at. Given that he is the chairman of Press Holdings, owners of The Scotsman*, perhaps we should turn our eyes north…

This morning’s Scotsman ran a rather bizarre story about Michael Moore the invisible Secretary of State for Scotland. He missed the VAT vote, which was convenient for his re-election attempts but the reason he gave has unraveled. The original answer that he was in Scotland on ministerial business was “incorrect” (translation: a lie) and last night the government claimed releasing Moore’s location would “endanger the physical or mental health of an individual”. Why? What was it Michael Moore was doing on the 13th July?

UPDATE : Michael Moore has gone favourite to be the next resignation from the Cabinet.

UPDATE II: *Scratch that theory:

Guido’s money is still on Tim Farron.

Larry the SpAd

Larry has spent the afternoon sleeping and scratching ITV’s Lucy Manning. According to the PMS’s afternoon update: “The PM has met the cat, he’s held the cat. It’s early days in their relationship.” Andrew Sparrow has been digging in the veritable litter tray of who is paying for Larry. Apparently it’s coming out of the Number 10 staff kitty:

“They tell me that Larry is “for Number 10”. In other words, he’s an office cat. And are the Camerons paying for his food? It appears not. The costs of the cat will be met by “Downing Street staff”, I’m told. The taxpayer won’t be paying. But the Camerons won’t be buying the cat food themselves either. (Cameron isn’t “Downing Street staff”.) So Larry is not an official civil service cat, and he’s not a member of the Cameron family either. He’s somewhere in-between – the feline equivalent of a SPAD.”


Well done to Dave Woolf who, so far, is in the lead for the Lolz cat poster contest and will be getting the Bruichladdich scotch unless something inspired comes in over night…

A Battalion of Spinners

The MOD isn’t having a good day. They are rightly being hounded after news emerged that thirty eight soldiers had been sacked by email, Andrew Neil asked Patrick Mercer on the Daily Politics “Is the MOD run by a bunch of numpties?” There was an awkward laugh and a notable pause before the denial.

As troop numbers are being slashed, who is responsible for mopping up these PR disasters? Well according to research by Think Defence, a battalion of spinners. They conclude that there are 697 personnel from both the military and civil service engaged in MoD spinning. Perhaps Fox should look again at where the axe is falling. Maybe send them an email.

Breaking Mews: Larry Arrives

No photo outside the door as apparently he is stressed. As anyone would be after the snip – apparently the cat has been cut.

Happy As Larry

Larry the cat has left Battersea. The Prime Ministers Official Spokesman told the Lobby earlier that Larry is up for the job and that he had showed a very stong predatory drive and enjoyed playing with toy mice. No really. Next question, who is paying for the cat food?[…] Read the rest

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Alan Sugar on Jeremy Corbyn:

“It’s clear you alluded to students refunds to get votes from young impressionable people. You are a cheat and should resign.”

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