This is a dangerous week for Alistair Darling. It's half term at Westminster, not much is going on, and when things are quiet there's mischief about. Put together the dire headlines for the Chancellor yesterday and today (Not just "Knives out as Darling loses trust of City" - Sunday Times; "Why Darling is a menace to Britain" - William Rees-Mogg; "Darling's confidence seems misplaced" - Anatole Kaletsky; but more importantly the FT/Telegraph pincer movement on non-doms) and you get a picture of trouble.
Booze: Is Bottler Brown Dithering?
On the day three scumbag yobs were jailed for kicking Garry Newlove to death in what the judge called a night of "drunken aggression", you might have expected the Government to signal a crackdown on cheap booze. But you'd be wrong. My narks in the Treasury tell me the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, is unlikely to hammer cheap beers and lagers sold in supermarkets with big tax increases in his Budget on March 12.
Sharing The Proceeds Of Growth
Take a look at the chart. It shows how much of our GDP has been spent by government under each of our last six Prime Ministers (counting the 1974-79 administration as one). 44 years ago when Harold Wilson first took the controls, government spent 38%. This year, it expects to spend 42% (£589bn), but the path from 1964 has been extraordinarily bumpy, and back in the mid-70s they spent 50% (we're using HM Treasury's figures on Total Managed Expenditure- TME). Where will the line go next?
And the brass neck of the year award goes to...
If there is an award for a brass neck of 2008, George Osborne has just done enough to win in. First, he proposes a tax on the non-doms (which I critiqued at the time). Then, Darling nicks it in his infamous magpie budget. Then, it becomes clear this daft proposal will simply drive away the highly-mobile millionaires resulting in a net loss to the Exchequer. Today Osborne has written an “open letter” to Darling asking him to repeal this proposal for all the harm it will do. A proposal which he was complaining was nicked from him. Of course winning parties tend to have brass necks – and Osborne’s cheek is far preferable to the pusillanimous approach of previous Shadow Chancellors. But what a cheek it is.
Dr Martin Parsons: Gordon Brown’s hypocrisy in condemning the Archbishop's sharia comments
On Thursday Gordon Brown’s spokesman denounced Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ claim that the introduction of sharia to the UK was inevitable. However, Gordon Brown himself has been quietly seeking to appease certain aspects of the agenda of 'peaceful' Islamist groups in the UK - including what amounts to a partial implementation of sharia.
Should Labour adopt all-black shortlists?
If not positive discrimination, then what? An internal Labour Party report on increasing black representation in parliament – written by Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote – is recommending that current law be changed to allow all black shortlists for parliamentary selections. This is a proposal I am instinctively uneasy with, largely because I can remember the way positive discrimination worked in local government and the voluntary sector in the 1980s, before being subsequently outlawed. In particular, I recall watching one young Asian woman – a pleasant enough human being, as it goes, who co-habbed with a pal of mine for a while – enjoy a string of rapid promotions to jobs that were on any fair judgement beyond her capabilities, until she predictably came rather spectacularly unstuck.
Clegg's first 50 days
The new leader of the Liberal Democrats has made a steady start but he should now exploit Cameron's weaknesses
Censoring the interweb
I was stuck at the back of an inordinately long queue in the central Post Office yesterday so naturally I picked up the in-house magazine, put there to divert customers' attention from the fact that their lunch break is being frittered away, whilst half of the counter positions remain unstaffed. Inside was a feature asking people's views as to whether the internet should be censored. Presumably, the editor felt that it would make a good talking point. Unfortunately, none of the proffered arguments convinced me.
Why Lynton Crosby will encourage me to bet on Boris?
Is Ken being ousted the best bet around at the moment? Cards on the table straight-away: quite simply I believe that the 1.84/1 that’s available on Boris Johnson to win the London Mayoralty is by far the best value political bet that’s currently available. Last October I pocketed £3,400 on Gordon’s general election U-turn and in the coming eleven weeks I’ll be investing at least half of that on Boris - when the prices are right. As Sean Fear observed in his excellent analysis on Friday Ken won last time thanks to the fact that many non-Labour voters in the GLA election opted to split their ticket and vote for Ken in the Mayoral race.
Do the Tories need a change of tactics?
Mick Fealty at Brassneck has a very good take on the Tories' discussion on whether or not they should be bolder in taking on Brown. "Cameron and Osbourne are in tight, working hard and lacing the Brown Government with short body blows, none of which looks remotely like taking down the old Scots slugger. It may be that they need to stand off and offer a fresh perspective on that most ancient and pivotal of political arguments, tax."
Mayor unveils programme to transform cycling and walking in London
Ken Livingstone today announced the most ambitious programme to transform walking and cycling in London’s history. The package of measures will create a new network of quick, simple, and safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians that will change the profile and priority of walking and cycling on London's streets.