front-pages-12

The tedium of bankers’ bonuses dominated the front pages today: according to Politics Home, 75% of political stories were dominated by the theme in some way or another. The fact George Osborne and Alistair Darling managed to sound remarkably similar on the Andrew Marr Show – both pointing out banks like RBS would no longer exist without taxpayer support – just goes to show how little scope there is for real discussion on the question of bonuses, especially after Obama’s $500k salary cap for financiers.

I thought Osborne came across better than usual in a slightly chastened form, less the snarling aristocrat and more the balanced politican, although I wouldn’t go to the rhapsodising lengths of rightwing bloggers like Daily Referendum. Having just said there seems to be cross party agreement on taking actions against disproportionate City bonuses, Nick Clegg managed to take it a step further:

The government’s response has been pathetic. We do not need an inquiry to answer the question of whether bankers should receive bonuses – the right answer is no.

Anyone on the boards of the banks, the executives, should not take bonuses. In future they should not get cash bonuses at all.

The Telegraph and Independent both splashed on bonuses; the Sunday Times linked Glen Moreno, the private sector whizz tasked with overseeing the government’s £37bn banking stakes, to a Liechtenstein bank infamous for exploiting tax loopholes.

liechtenstein-slide-01

The Mail on Sunday raised some questions about Jacqui Smith’s parliamentary expenses, claiming she raked in £116,000 annually for a second home despite “effectively lodging with her sister”. Whoever said politics wasn’t glamorous?

Interestingly two rightwing pundits, Peter Oborne and Matthew D’Ancona, reckon sleaze could be the banana

skin on which either party slips at the next election. D’Ancona reckons there are increasing parallels between Brown and John Major. Although it’s been said many a time before, he argues Clarkson’s “One eyed Scottish idiot” jibe marks a new low in personal insults directed at the PM.

Finally, it’s worth comparing d’Ancona’s piece with Andrew Rawnsley. The Spectator man argues that David Miliband was fundamentally right to withhold publication of certain details of Binyam Mohamed’s trial; Rawnsley thinks it’s an extension of Blair’s “great moral failure”.

Advertisements

front-pages-10

Not since Corfugate in October has a Sunday paper’s front page detonated so spectacularly. Baroness Royall, leader of the House of Lords, was forced to abandon her morning tea and crumpets today to remind Andrew Marr that Labour Lords Truscott, Taylor, Moonie and Snape are all denying any wrongdoing despite allegations they offered to table amendments to legislation in exchange for cash retainers from undercover Sunday Times reporters.

Amidst the uncomfortable Sunday evenings the four peers in question must be having, Ulster Unionist Lord Rogan has to be revelling in squeaky clean feel-good factor. When approached by the Insight team he apparently gave the short shrift:

If your direct proposal is as stark as for me… to help put down an amendment, that’s a non-runner. A, it’s not right and B, my personal integrity wouldn’t let me do it.

Maybe he was just the only Lord smart enough to realise that one of the Insight reporters was the same guy who caught out Tory MPs Graham Riddick and David Treddinick by offering them £1,000 apiece to table questions in the Commons in the early ’90s, in the original cash-for-questions scandal.

ken-clarke

Meanwhile, things are certainly going to get scrappy in the Commons midfield battle. Plump tough-talker Ken Clarke weighed into the debate with his first sally as Shadow Business Secretary by calling for an independent inquiry into the Lords’ conduct:

The Commissioner on Standards has got to carry out an investigation pretty rapidly. If the allegations are true then this one is very serious. Some people would call that corruption so I hope they clear themselves.

Cameron’s reshuffle this week must have placed considerable strain on the woodwork of the Tory front bench, pretty much doubling the body mass as it did of the entire cabinet. Clarke’s move to the business brief has been the most talked-about, for obvious reasons, but Eric Pickles – another bluff heavyweight with a waistline to match – was promoted to party chairman, not something to be taken lightly. He’s seen as a no-nonsense talker with the same tactical intelligence as Clarke who could cause Labour trouble in its heartlands. Thirdly, the slender Dominic Grieve’s surprise demotion from Home Secretary just six months after replacing David Davis has heralded the rise of Chris Grayling, another porker with a sharp tongue.

Not to be outdone, former Labour deputy PM John Prescott is in the process of launching a website so he can “talk to people individually”:

I have a Facebook, there is a new audience that we need to connect to. I’m 70 years of age saying I’m trying to communicate with those of 18.

It’s not just giving out statements of Ministers, which I’ve done enough of, now it’s about talking to people individually.

Note the use of article before “Facebook”. Down with the kids.

Over at The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley reckons the reshuffle is a sign of nervousness on Cameron’s part; he points out, fairly enough, that Blair didn’t feel the need to bring back Denis Healey before the 1997 election. More tellingly, Martin Ivens at The Sunday Times – whose commentators incidentally gave Labour no quarter this week – thinks Osborne’s graceful acceptance of someone who clearly knows more than him about almost everything “speaks well for his political maturity”.

cash

In The Independent, John Rentoul thinks Brown’s attempt to block disclosure of MPs’ expenses will turn out to be a costly mistake:

The Prime Minister did not seem to realise that the expenses issue is part of dealing with the economic crisis. He will gain no credit for trying to protect people from the effects of the recession if

 he is also trying to protect MPs with their snouts in the trough.

A fair point. To round off the round-up, The Mail on Sunday splashed on a story about Treasury civil servants having a Burns Night knees-up, complete with pictures of rosy cheeked bureaucrats emerging from their revels with kilts on, while The Express urged banks to “Lend! Lend! Lend!”. Although if the likes of Fred the Shred still lucky enough to have jobs aren’t listening to cross-party consensus and transatlantic precedent, they’re pretty unlikely to stop in their tracks and listen to the Express.

front-pages-91

The Sunday Times definitely trumped the rest this week. Grace Mugabe showed it’s not just D-list celebrities who can lose their temper with photographers after apparently lashing out at a Sunday Times snapper; Margaret Beckett found herself in hot water, echoing Baroness Vadera’s strife earlier in the week by saying she could see signs of recovery in the housing market; and Roman Abramovich has reportedly been getting bored with the giant train set that is Chelsea, and is trying to offload the club to Gulf investors.

The Observer went with the fragile Gazan ceasefire and a story about the ‘rise of mixed-race Britain’ which claims, among other things, that “some distinct ethnic groups – starting with Caribbean – will virtually disappear” according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Essex University.

The Telegraph’s front page follows the twists and turns of a financial week that saw 25 per cent wiped off the value of Barclays shares in an hour with news that the government could put up to £200bn of toxic debt on public books. The Mirror and the News of the World plumped for the joys of Boy George and Jade Goody respectively, while the Mail on Sunday had a similar £200bn toxic debt story to The Telegraph and suggestions that naughty Tesco staff have been posting rude comments about customers on the net.

obama-win-404_669729c

Clearly the mother of all stories lurking behind the small fry is Obama’s ascension to the White House, commanding double page spreads a-plenty and dominating the comment pages. Andrew Rawnsley notes the hubristic nods to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt in Obama’s pre-inauguration whirlwind but points out that if ever there was a time to set pessimism aside, it’s now. On the Independent’s newly reworked blogspot John Rentoul amusingly points out that the communist Weekly Worker magazine has already branded Obama the world’s number one terrorist. There’s also chat about the Tories’ resurgence in the polls – they’re up nine points to 42 per cent, according to ComRes – and Andrew Grice rounds off last week’s political coverage with a mention of the Commons’ attempts to censor TV footage of a heated exchange involving John McDonnell MP.

Martin Ivens is taken up with the (quickly becoming interminable) topic of Ken Clarke and his possible return to the shadow cabinet. He aptly compares the prospect of a fourth Labour term as another series of an increasingly dreary sitcom.

My personal pick of the week goes to Ruth Sutherland in the Observer for a piece suggesting the credit crunch was the result of testosterone driven patriarchs high in the glittering towers of Canary Wharf and Wall Street, and looking at the effects of the downturn on women – who she argues will be hardest hit. Just when you thought every possible angle had been taken on the recession, up pops the old gender divide.

Finally, Frost/Nixon is out at the end of January and promises to be a timely look at the only president whose calamitous exit from the White House can rival Dubya’s shambolic departure.

front-pages-6

You can almost smell the cordite in the air. Mass briefings, new advertising campaigns and a striking Pre-Budget Report: an election is in the offing, and today the first salvos were fired.

Even the quickest flick through the Sunday headlines gets monotonous. The Observer went with “Darling to slash VAT and spark Xmas spree”, The Sunday Times said “Gordon brown to cut VAT as winter recession bites”, The Telegraph heralded the PBR as an ’emergency budget’, while The Independent said “Brown and Darling slash VAT in £18bn tax gamble”.

Last night’s Treasury phone bill must have been a whopper.

At the red-top end of the market, Gordon Brown wrote a piece in today’s News of the World declaring “I’ll give help when you need it”, and Alistair Darling similarly honoured The Mirror with an exclusive interview.

Before we get into the meat of it, there’s a telling contrast in the ads the two main parties are putting out. After so much chatter about the way Obama used web tools to sweep to US electoral victory, it’s refreshing to see Labour take a leaf from his script. Have a look at this electronic dig at David Cameron from the Labour website:

cameronschoolboy

Unusually for a political ad, it’s actually quite funny. On the other side of the divide, the Tories have dredged up the famous ‘tax bombshell’ ad John Major deployed against Neil Kinnock in 1992:

bombshell1

It’s surprising to see the Conservatives harking back so clearly to Major’s beleaguered and recession-struck government, even if the poster did play a part in bashing down Kinnock’s 16-point poll lead at the time.

Darling’s PBR on Monday is expected to slash VAT to 15 per cent, increase the state pension by up to £5 a week and cancel tax hikes on car users and small businesses. It’s a festive swag-bag of goodies to woo that taxpayer that will cost the Treasury £18bn. So what next?

In April, Britain takes presidency of the G20 and world leaders – including Barack Obama – converge on London. This is the earliest point Gordon Brown could realistically call an election. This week a former Cabinet minister told The New Statesman that “Gordon has to get the Obama visit out of the way then call an election”.

Keen not to be seen cashing in on the economic crisis, the man himself told BBC One that “I am not thinking about that at all”. Cameron told Andrew Marr that “I am ready for an election at any time”. A great vignette from Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column:mandelson

Peter Mandelson was on fine form at a drinks party at Millbank last week. The Business Secretary made a few eyes pop out on stalks by openly declaring that the general election would be on 10 June next year, the same day as the local and Euro elections. After savouring the effect this had on his listeners, he then gave us a pantomime wink. “That was a joke,” he twinkled.

One thing is for sure – timing is everything, and if Brown fluffs it as he did last autumn he will certainly forefeit the premiership. The Independent’s Alan Watkins thinks a spring election is on the cards if the polls tighten a bit more. Spectator editor and Telegraph columnist Matthew D’Ancona thinks Tory ranks are rattled by the prospect of an election, but believes the Conservative top brass is expecting Brown to play long and go for autumn 2009 or spring 2010. In The Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson thinks Brown and Darling’s PBR is a huge error and calls on Jeremy Clarkson to save the country.

For me, the man of the moment has to be big beast and former Chancellor Ken Clarke. If I were George Osborne, I’d be looking over my shoulder with some concern.

front-pages-5

Since the London bombings of July 7, 2005, Britain has become a more troubled, less confident and harmonious country.britishjihad

So begins the introduction to this autumn’s Granta Magazine. In a comprehensive article entitled ‘The Rise of The British Jihad’, BBC journalist Richard Watson says Western democracies have been “disastrously slow” to realise where the battle lines are drawn in the fight against internal networks of extremists:

M15’s warning about the dangers posed by extremist ideology has come too late… [But] few within the security services [now] doubt there will be another murderous attack in Britain before too long.

Transatlantic rumblings are beginning to suggest Barack Obama could face an early test from Islamic terrorists in his vulnerable ‘transition period’ into the White House. Following an article in The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, yesterday’s Times warned of a “huge threat” to the president elect in his first days:

Security officials say that there is genuine concern that al-Qaeda will attempt a ‘spectacular”’in the transition period… Many Muslim [extremists] are intrigued by Mr Obama’s arrival in the White House.

In the Los Angeles Times, Sebastian Rotella says Obama will face a third war against stateless terrorist cells which should engage his administration’s attention as much as Iraq and Afghanistan.

An early strike would certainly test the new president’s mettle in the harshest way. So far, 31 of Obama’s 47 appointments have been drawn from the ranks of Clintonites. While Bill Clinton’s administration was a formidable election winning machine, it’s rarely remembered for its foreign policy achievements.

spectatorawardsAnother man facing down a threat from within this week is George Osborne.

After presenting Peter Mandelson with Best Newcomer at the Spectator Awards earlier in the week – what a delicious moment that was – Osborne took to the Andrew Marr Show this morning for what turned out to be a very defensive interview about his job prospects and his sterling doom-mongering in The Times.

Blinking rampantly and looking a bit like a puppy who’s been on the receiving end of a hearty slapping, Osborne repeatedly dodged Marr’s question as to whether he thought his role as Shadow Chancellor was tenable.

You get the feeling his answer was tilted towards the older guard in the Tory ranks who apparently harbour some pretty venomous feelings for him:

David Cameron and I work the whole time on economic policy, not for the next few weeks but in the run up to a general election. We are working as a team but it is not the David and George show, that’s a misunderstanding of the way we work. We have a very strong team in the shadow cabinet.

The lady doth protest too much, I think. There’s a good news article covering the interview on Politics Home.

At the most cynical end of the commentariat, News of the World man Fraser Nelson gives Osborne eight days to reedem himself:

I hear he was even thinking of writing a book recently. I wonder what the title was: “How to lose a 20-point poll lead in four weeks?”

I now know at least THREE Shadow Cabinet members who are openly talking about a new Shadow Chancellor.

Andrew Rawnsley thinks for Cameron to dismiss Osborne would be “madness”. “He [Osborne] is trying to see 18 months ahead,” Rawnsley argues. “That makes the Shadow Chancellor smarter than those Tories who want to toss him overboard.”

 In The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens is as mystified as the rest of us by Gordon Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde transmutations on the economy and Baby P.

 Against the flow of news and opinion, The Independent’s Alan Watkins still reckons Good Ship Cameron is cruising to an easy electoral victory:

Mr Brown has been revived temporarily by a shot of bad news in the arm. The Tories are still favourites.

That should set Dave’s mind at rest.

 Finally, there’s a book coming out this week that promises tantalising material a-plenty for anyone hugo_younginterested in politics.

The Hugo Young Papers: 30 years of British politics off the record is a compilation of the legendary journalist’s off-the-record chats with some of the biggest players in the establishment, up until his death in 2003.

Alan Rusbridger wrote an affectionate portrait of the man in yesterday’s Guardian along with some snippets of what to expect. Apparently, Young’s conversations with Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson circa 1994 are all going to be aired for the first time.