I’m going to wrap it up there. Thanks for having me. Here are this evening’s headlines:
• At an angry prime minister’s questions, David Cameron said he wanted an immediate inquiry into competition in the energy industry. PMQs again focused on the issue of energy prices and Labour’s promised freeze, with Ed Miliband accusing the prime minister of being a spokesman for the energy companies and David Cameron calling Labour’s policy a “price con”.
• At a combative press conference, Nick Clegg attacked Labour over its indecision on HS2 and its energy price freeze, his Tory colleague Grant Shapps over his threat to the BBC, and said the government would continue to discuss what to do about the green levies on energy. He said support for HS2 would be a red line for his party in any future coalition negotiations and ruled out a further rise in tuition fees.
• Boris Johnson issued a staunch defence of the Guardian‘s “salient and interesting” revelations about the activities of US and UK intelligence agencies based on secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
• Newspaper publishers (not including the Guardian) lost their high court battle to stop government ministers going to the Privy Council later today to seek the Queen’s approval for a new royal charter to regulate the press. They will now take their case to the court of appeal.
• Jeremy Hunt revealed that two accident and emergency departments in London will not close, hours after his attempts to downgrade services in nearby Lewisham suffered a blow.
• The government’s education reforms mean that people who flip burgers require more qualifications than people who choose to teach, Labour’s Tristram Hunt claimed in an attack on the government’s free schools programme, which allows non-qualified teachers to teach in schools.
Thanks for all your comments. See you again some time.
Here’s a two-minute greatest hits from today’s PMQs.
While I was trying to keep track of Nick Clegg, education secretary Michael Gove and his Labour shadow Tristram Hunt were going head to head in the Commons. Twitter seemed divided over whether Hunt did well or badly. Here is a taste of it from PA:
The government’s education reforms mean that people who flip burgers require more qualifications than people who choose to teach, a senior Labour MP claimed today.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said that while the Labour party supported innovation, it was also important that schools were set “basic standards”.
Mr Hunt said: “This side of the house calls on the government to uphold the highest standards in our schools.”
Speaking during an opposition day debate on the need for qualified teachers, he said: “The secretary of state used to praise teaching standards in Finland, in South Korea, in Singapore, saying in all those countries teaching is a high-esteem profession.
“And how did they ensure they remain so? I quote, by making ‘it difficult to become a teacher’. But what has the secretary of state done in office? Everything possible to make it as easy as possible to assume control of a classroom.”
Turning to education secretary Michael Gove, he said: “You have undermined the profession, sought to remove teacher training from universities, adopted a policy of wholesale deregulation, leading to a 141% increase in the number of qualified teachers in free schools and academies.
“The surprising truth is that under this government, you need more qualifications to get a job in a burger bar than you do to teach in an English school.
“And while I salute the efforts of restaurant chains to improve the skills of their workforce, I would also like history teachers as well as hamburger managers to have some basic qualifications.”
Here’s Patrick Wintour’s story on PMQs. He points out that Cameron told MPs he wanted an immediate inquiry into competition in the energy industry.
He made his proposal in Commons exchanges with Ed Miliband that were dominated again by the issue of rising energy prices and ahead of a statement by the energy secretary, Ed Davey, on Thursday on an annual competition review in the energy industry.
This annual review is likely to be conducted by the energy regulator Ofgem, the Office of Fair Trading and the new Competition and Markets Authority, the body that will follow the current competition commission, but it is still unlikely that it will lead to a swift break up of the big six energy firms.
It had been throught the tripartite energy review could not begin until next year, but Cameron’s remarks suggest the timetable will be swifter.
Here’s some news.
(That’s a reference to these remarks by his colleague Jeremy Browne.)
(OK … that works.)
This sounds like an interesting press conference. I wish it was being broadcast. I know, I know, I should have actually got up and left the office and gone to it …
Clegg’s mixed metaphors can be legendary to behold.
More from Clegg’s press conference:
(Cameron’s pushed that idea, too, hasn’t he?)
Here is a video of today’s PMQs.
Back to Clegg:
If you’re not a Clegg fan …
Nick Clegg’s press conference seems to have begun, but unfortunately the 24-hour news channels are showing no signs of covering it. I’ll try to piece something together from Twitter.
Here’s some comment from the Department for Culture on the court ruling rejecting the newspaper groups’ application to seek judicial review:
Both the industry and the government agree self-regulation of the press is the way forward and we both agree that a royal charter is the best framework for that.
We are clear the process for considering the industry royal charter was robust and fair and the courts have agreed. We can now get on with implementing the cross-party charter.
A royal charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation.
We will continue to work with the industry, as we always have, and recent changes to arbitration, the standards code and the parliamentary lock will ensure the system is workable.
At PMQs, David Cameron was asked about the security services and the Snowden revelations.
Lib Dem Julian Huppert, who has defended the Guardian’s publication of leaks from Edward Snowden, asked:
Does the prime minister agree with President Obama that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence, that we need to more effectively weigh the risks and rewards of our activities? Will the prime minister follow the president’s lead?
What I’ve said in the house before, and I’ll repeat again, obviously we’ll always listen to what other countries have to say about the issues, but I believe that in Britain we have a good way of having intelligence and security services, having them overseen by a parliamentary committee, having their work examined by an intelligence commissioner, and ensuring that they act under a proper legal basis. I take these responsibilities very, very seriously, but I believe we have a good system in this country and we can be proud of the people that work in it and proud of the people that oversee it.
Boris backs Guardian
Boris Johnson has issued a staunch defence of the Guardian‘s “salient and interesting” revelations about the activities of US and UK intelligence agencies based on secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, as Matthew Taylor reports.
The mayor of London said:
I think the public deserves to know. The world is better for government being kept under the beady-eyed scrutiny of the media and for salient and interesting facts about public espionage being brought into the public domain.
I personally defend the Guardian’s right to publish interesting information such as that Angela Merkel’s phone was bugged by Barack Obama. I think that is an interesting fact.
I don’t believe that the fact that Angela Merkel’s phone was bugged by the NSA does anything to jeopardise anybody’s security; it’s merely colossally embarrassing and it should come out.
Asked whether his own phone had ever been bugged, Johnson said: “I’m sure my mobile has been bugged by everybody, and good luck to them!”
“Weak, weak, weak” … Cameron and Miliband reminded me a little of my guinea pigs towards the end of PMQs.
Labour MP John Woodcock tweets this:
In the comments, JKhardie responds to the charge that Miliband is weak by noting:
I’m interested in what you think. I broadly agree with JKhardie’s list, but my own feeling is still that the public is only actually aware of two things about Ed Miliband: that he knifed his brother and that he defended his dad.
Neither one them suggests weakness, but knifing David was the wrong kind of strength, if you’ll forgive me putting it so inelegantly. It was an essentially dislikeable thing to do, so I don’t think it mattered whether it projected weakness or strength.
But defending his father against the Daily Mail – that did project strength, and it was also something that almost everyone could sympathise with, as evidenced by the fact David Cameron and Nick Clegg both felt they had to come out and back him.
But in my opinion there is still something about Miliband’s public persona that does suggest weakness. In person he is tall, reasonably physically imposing, and can be charismatic – none of this comes across on TV, but what does come across frequently is his lack of gravitas.
If this does result in a perception of weakness, perhaps that helps explain why Labour does not seem to have received any bump in the polls from an extremely popular policy (the energy price freeze) that has cut through and actually been noticed by the public (a rare event). If people do perceive Miliband as weak, they may not believe he would actually be able to enforce such a price freeze. But what do you think?
The newspapers will now take their case to the court of appeal – this afternoon.
Newspaper publishers have lost their high court battle to stop government ministers going to the Privy Council later today to seek the Queen’s approval for a new royal charter to regulate the press.
More details soon …
Sorry for the delay on this – it was concentrate on Hunt or do the PMQs verdict, and I know you were clamouring for the verdict.
As the Press Association reports:
Jeremy Hunt revealed today that two accident and emergency departments in London will not close, hours after his attempts to downgrade services in nearby Lewisham suffered a blow.
The health secretary said Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals should continue to have an A&E service “even if it is in a different shape or size” from that currently on offer.
He told MPs that further work was needed but he wanted to end the uncertainty surrounding the future of the sites, which have been examined during a review into health services in north west London since 2009.
My colleague James Meikle is covering this story, and I’ll post his full coverage shortly.
Louise Mensch, the former Tory MP, was also watching PMQs (presumably from afar?). She feels that if Labour turns against HS2, that will open the way for the Tories to become the party of the north and the Midlands.
I can’t speak for the Midlands, but if the Tories become the party of the north I’ll be very surprised, to put it mildly.
PMQs: the verdict
That was an angry performance from David Cameron at PMQs, and I felt Ed Miliband had the best of it – until the unedifying final exchanges, which degenerated into he and Cameron telling each other they were weak over and over again and reflected well on neither of them.
As I thought he might, Miliband attempted to paint Cameron as “the unofficial spokesman for the energy companies”, an effective line, and I don’t think Cameron’s repeated dismissal of Labour’s policy as “not a price freeze, it’s a price con” will cut much ice with those voters who would love their gas and electricity bills to drop – ie all of them.
Cameron’s comeback that Miliband was a hypocrite because he had attacked a policy calling for consumers to switch suppliers, but had switched himself, was inane.
Miliband’s quip that people needed to switch the prime minister instead was neat – although his comment that Cameron had gone “from Rambo to Bambi” was baffling and to some eyes might have been considered a compliment. (Can we please retire this unfunny “from x to y” formula for parliamentary insults now?)
Cameron’s line that Miliband was a one-trick pony that had run out of road was nearly as bad.
Cameron rightly noted that Labour MPs were avoiding talking about the economy, but that only served to remind viewers that Labour was managing to set the agenda for this PMQs and the PM was merely reacting to what was thrown at him (despite the wearying number of planted questions from Tories).
On HS2, Cameron may well be able to paint Miliband as weak eventually, if Labour does end up withdrawing support for the scheme – but since that decision seems to be up in the air right now the accusation doesn’t quite stick.
Winner: Ed Miliband. But please don’t make that Rambo joke again.
I’ll wrap up Jeremy Hunt’s statement next.
I’ll deliver my all-important verdict in a second, but first we have Jeremy Hunt’s statement on budget cuts at Lewisham hospital.
Labour’s David Anderson asks if the PM has regrets about “cack-handed” privatisations under the former Tory government.
Cameron says Anderson backed a government that never built a single nuclear power station.
Lib Dem Julian Huppert asks Cameron if he agrees with Barack Obama about restraining the security services.
In Britain we have a good system of oversight, he says. He takes those responsibilities very seriously.
Labour’s Lucy Powell says she has a question on the economy.
Does he agree with his own advisers that the government’s youth contract is failing to tackle the appallingly high levels of youth unemployment.
The scheme has got thousands of young people into work experience, the PM says. That’s why we see the youth claimant count coming down so rapidly, although there is still much to do, he says.
To another question about HS2, Cameron says Labour is letting down the north and the Midlands.
Labour’s Sian James asks about the changes to the probation service – is he prepared to gamble with the safety of the public?
The PM says he wants a service more focused on results and stopping reoffending.
Not one question from Labour on the economy, he points out.
Labour’s Peter Hain says two thirds of the green levies were introduced under this government “so why has the prime minister been attacking himself?”
Cameron says Labour introduced lots of them.
Labour’s Jim Sheridan asks about jobs, but Cameron says he is the leader of the Unite group of MPs and criticises the union over the Grangemouth dispute.
Labour’s Katy Clark asks if Royal Mail was undervalued.
Cameron says it was losing a lot of money in the past and the whole country is glad it is in private hands. It was Peter Mandelson’s idea in the first place, he crows.
Labour’s Emily Thornberry talks about a £720,000 two-bedroom flat in her Islington constituency.
The PM says we need to build more houses, so the government is going to reform the planning system and has introduced Help to Buy – both opposed by Labour, he says.
Tory Andrew Jones asks about railways.
Cameron says HS2 needs cross party support and he’s seen a “pathetic spectacle” from Labour and its “weak” leader on this issue.
Cameron is asked about an interview in which the PM said he had to stop by his office to switch the heating on just so it’s a bit nicer in there later – how many of his constituents can afford to do that?
Cameron says the price freeze is a price con.
Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue asks whether more people will switch the heating off this year.
Fuel poverty went up under Labour, Cameron says. The government has taken action.
Tory Caroline Nokes asks essentially the same question as her two colleagues.
Cameron reels off a lots of positive economic statistics and says Labour would have made them all worse.
Tory Michael Ellis asks essentially the same question as Sheryll Murray did earlier.
Cameron says there are 1m more people employed but Labour is too weak to admit it got it wrong.
Gavin Shuker asks about the cuts to nurses. Cameron says he believes in the NHS and has invested in it.
Miliband says a former Tory climate change secretary says Cameron’s figures are false.
He could institute a price freeze now – why doesn’t he act?
“Because it’s not a price freeze, it’s a price con,” Cameron says.
He is hiding behind this economically illiterate policy because he can’t talk about the economy because it’s growing, Cameron. He’s weak and has no ideas.
No, the PM is weak, Miliband says. It’s time he started acting like a PM standing up for consumers and not a PR man for the energy companies.
I’ll tell you what is weak, says Cameron – not standing up Len McCluskey, Ed Balls, and others. On HS2 Miliband has cowered in his office, too weak to make a decision.
Cameron says a former energy spokesman in the Lords is troubled by the party’s decarbonisation target.
The whole country can see he’s a one trick pony and he’s run out of road, Cameron says.
How will a review next summer help people pay their bills this winter, he asks.
Miliband says it’s hard to keep up with the PM on green levies, because in January he was boasting about how big they were.
Earlier he said Cameron had gone from Rambo to Bambi in four short years.
Who gave us the big six, asks Cameron? Labour, he says.
Labour is voting for a price rise, through its decarbonisation target, he says.
He is so on the side of the energy companies we should call them the big seven, says Miliband – the PM and the energy companies.
The companies are against a price freeze, but the public are for it.
Less competition, higher prices – same old Labour, says Cameron.
“As the unofficial spokesman for the energy companies”, can he explain why when wholesale prices have stayed still why have retail prices gone up, asks Miliband.
We need competition and cuts to charges, Cameron says.
Miliband says people need to switch the prime minister instead.
Miliband stands up to a roar of support.
Referring to the energy select committee hearing yesterday, he asks: what’s the difference between Cameron’s policy on energy and that of the energy companies?
Not a word of apology about predicting a million jobs lost, Cameron replies.
The energy market needs more competition to drive profits and prices down, he says.
Competition should include switching, Cameron says.
Miliband has said switching is a con, but he has switched his own supplier, the PM says. “He adopts Tory policy to help his own family!”
Tory Sheryll Murray says Labour should apologise for saying the government’s policies would lead to job losses.
David Cameron says she’s absolutely right and the British economy is on the mend. Labour and Ed Miliband were wrong and should apologise.
The Commons chamber seems packed and rowdy as MPs take their seats for PMQs.
Just before PMQs starts, you might want to take a look at this new party political broadcast from Labour, focusing on energy bills.
Filmed in fuzzy soft focus over rolling piano arpeggios, sympathetic ordinary women talk about their fears about not being able to afford to heat the home or about having to buy worse food because they can’t afford to pay energy bills. “People are turning off their heating and unscrewing their lightbulbs.”
“The system is broken, and we’re going to fix it,” a disembodied Ed Miliband says firmly. “The blame lies with government, for not having had the strength to take this on.”
It ends with a clip of Miliband, hands together in a statesmanlike fashion, telling the Labour conference he will freeze energy prices.
I’ve always thought this policy was a winner for Labour, but I have to say that the party has also done a great job projecting the policy and keeping it on the agenda, and I thought this PPB was pretty effective.
Back to work
Here is Shiv Malik‘s story on the back to work schemes. He’s pretty clear it’s a defeat for the government.
The government’s “back to work” schemes at the centre of the high-profile Poundland case were legally flawed, the UK’s highest court has ruled.
Cait Reilly won her long-running case against the Department for Work and Pensions in the supreme court after she first disputed the legality of the government’s employment schemes in January 2012.
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, failed in his attempt to overturn an earlier ruling, in the court of appeal, that regulations from 2011 that supposedly gave the schemes their legal footing were invalid.
Five supreme court justices upheld a decision by the court of appeal that went against the government in February.
While the supreme court stopped short of ruling that the regulations constituted forced or compulsory labour, it decided that it was unlawful for the government to fail to supply parliament and hundreds of thousands of jobseekers with proper information about the so-called “workfare” schemes they were forced to undertake at pain of losing jobseeker’s allowance.
Shiv adds that “the judgment would have resulted in the government’s having to refund £130m to about 250,000 unemployed people for unlawful sanctioning, had it not been for emergency retroactive legislation introduced by Duncan Smith in the spring.”
After the introduction of that emergency law, the solicitors Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who represent Reilly and Wilson, lodged a judicial review accusing Duncan Smith of conspiring to undermine basic human rights by enacting the retroactive legislation.
They say they will continue to pursue that judicial review after their success in the supreme court.
The Laws session has wrapped up.
Incidentally, Jeremy Hunt is to make an oral statement to the Commons on changes to health services in London this afternoon.
The health secretary suffered an embarrassing legal defeat on Tuesday when appeal court judges ruled he had acted illegally in cutting A&E and maternity services at Lewisham hospital in south-east London.
I don’t know if you have been following this row over how much sugar should be in jam …
Nice day in Westminster today …
Laws suggests that the other parties might have to introduce mechanisms so it is not just their leadership agreeing to coalition.
He says the Lib Dems had some leverage because they could – just about – have gone with the Tories or Labour. So that sped the process up, he says. It may not happen so quickly next time.
Laws suggests that in future the junior party’s access to information and adviser support should be codified.
Lord Hart (Labour) asks what steps the Lib Dems are taking to prepare for the possibility of another coalition in 2015.
It’s too early to start that, Laws says, but they will probably start earlier this time.
His party has hoped for a hung parliament for decades, and they don’t always come along that often, he says.
Back in the Lords constitution committee, David Laws is reassuring the peers that the government takes collective cabinet responsibility very seriously.
Lib Dem Lady Falkner asks how ministerial appointments were divided up in 2010. Did they want to scatter Lib Dems widely or concentrate them in a few departments?
Laws says the Lib Dems felt you shouldn’t talk about jobs while talking about policy, so negotiations weren’t tainted by negotiators feeling they could get a better job from a certain party, so this question came up later.
It was decided by Nick Clegg and “possibly” Danny Alexander in the last 24 hours before the coalition was formed, he says.
Laws says it is “risky to only colonise bits of a government” and to be “detached from other areas”.
Back to work ruling
Back to the back to work ruling for a second – I agree it’s a bit confusing that both sides are claiming victory. Here’s what Cait Reilly, whose challenge led to the ruling, had to say:
I am really pleased with today’s judgment, which I hope will serve to improve the current system and assist jobseekers who have been unfairly stripped of their benefits.
I brought these proceedings because I knew that there was something wrong when I was stopped from doing voluntary work in a local museum and instead forced to work for Poundland for free.
I have been fortunate enough to find work in a supermarket but I know how difficult it can be. It must be time for the government to rethink its strategy and actually do something constructive to help lift people out of unemployment and poverty.
We’ll have a full report from my colleague Shiv Malik, who has been following the case closely, shorly.
Tory Lord Lexden asks why five years rather than four, and why was this done through legislation rather than a binding motion. A “huge amount of time” was taken to pass the bill through both houses, the peer says.
Laws says on the timespan “that was simply what came out of the talks”.
“If you ask any politician right after a general election whether they want a longer or shorter parliament” that’s the answer you’ll get, he says with a sly smile.
Lib Dem Lord Lester says other countries in their written constitutions have fixed-term parliaments as a “way of achieving legal certainty”.
Laws is asked about the introduction of five-year fixed-term parliaments. This was the least controversial proposal for political reform in both sets of 2010 negotiations, Laws says.
Laws says the Lib Dems were in favour, and he thinks Labour was, and the Tories didn’t regard it as “objectionable”.
He says it helps give both sides in a coalition a sense of reassurance that the coalition would last.
It is put to Laws that it undermines the principle that a government should stay in power only while it commands the support of the Commons, and thus disenfranchises the electorate.
Laws says the electorate wanted a stable government, particularly at the time of economic crisis.
The public would not have welcomed a second general election, he says.
David Laws, who was a member of the Lib Dem negotiation team after the 2010 election, is speaking to the Lords constitution committee at the moment.
He says his fellow Lib Dems wanted the leadership to go into coalition (with whichever party) rather than merely provide a “confidence and supply” arrangement.
As for the rest of the papers, here’s the PoliticsHome list of top 10 must reads, here’s the ConservativeHome round-up of today’s politics stories in the papers and here’s the New Statesman’s list of top 10 comment articles.
Here are the latest YouGov poll results, for the Sun:
Lib Dem: 10%
Government approval was -27.
That’s a Labour lead of 6%, but, because of the vagaries of the electoral system, it would result in a Labour majority of 78 seats, according to UK Polling Report’s “swing calculator“.
Electoral Calculus gives a Labour majority of 74.
Back to work ruling
The government has lost in the supreme court in its attempt to overturn a ruling over its controversial back to work schemes.
The UK’s highest court has upheld a previous court of appeal decision ruling that 2011 regulations underpinning the scheme were invalid.
The schemes were criticised as “slave labour” because they involved work without pay and cuts in jobseeker’s allowance for those who failed to comply. But the supreme court ruled that they did not constitute forced labour.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said:
We are very pleased that the supreme court today unanimously upheld our right to require those claiming jobseeker’s allowance to take part in programmes which will help get them into work.
We have always said that it was ridiculous to say that our schemes amounted to forced labour, and yet again we have won this argument.
Ultimately this judgment confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits.
Despite his comments, the ruling was a victory for university graduate Cait Reilly, 24, from Birmingham, who challenged having to work for free at a local Poundland discount store, and HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham, who objected to doing unpaid work cleaning furniture and as a result was stripped of his jobseeker’s allowance for six months.
Lawyers for the pair said the immediate effect of the ruling was that all applicants who had their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the schemes were entitled to reclaim their allowance.
Hi all. As you know Andrew Sparrow is off all this week, but politics goes on without him, just about, so I’m afraid that for today you’re stuck with me as we head for another bruising round of PMQs.
Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze policy has dominated the last few sessions, to the seeming frustration of David Cameron, who thinks it’s Marxist and it impossible to enforce. With energy bosses coming under fire again yesterday for their high price rises at the energy select committee, it seems likely that the issue will rear its head again today, with Miliband, as ever, keen to force Cameron into the role of de facto spokesman for the big six.
It’s possible the our own dear Guardian and its publication of leaks about US and UK surveillance from Edward Snowden might come up again too, with Cameron having seemingly hardened his position slightly on Monday.
Also today Nick Clegg will hold a press conference rescheduled from Monday when a crane fell on the Cabinet Office in the St Jude’s storm; this will take place at 2pm, and I’ll be covering that too.
Here’s today’s schedule:
9am: Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, addresses the World Islamic Economic Forum in London.
9.45am: The supreme court rules on back to work schemes.
10.30am: Influential Lib Dem David Laws gives evidence on the constitutional implications of coalition government to the Lords constitution committee.
10.30am: Newspaper publishers ask the high court for permission to mount a legal challenge to the government’s decision to reject their proposals for a press regulating royal charter (more here).
Midday: Prime minister’s questions.
2pm: Nick Clegg’s press conference.
2.15pm: Michael Fallon, the Tory energy minister, gives evidence on energy subsidies to the Commons environmental audit committee.
Before I start, maybe I’d better just clear the air a bit. Now, I know the last time I was on here I got Danny Alexander and Douglas Alexander mixed up – so I’m sorry, all right? But look … their surnames are both Alexander and their first names both begin with D. And they’re both Scottish… It’s easily done. I got two Scottish guys called D Alexander mixed up… I mean, come on, give me a break …
I tell you what, though, I didn’t receive any complaints whatsoever from Danny and/or Douglas Alexander. They found the whole thing completely understandable. It’s been happening to them since school.
Anyway, if it happens again, I’m sure you’ll let me know.
On a legal note, there are some extremely tight publishing restrictions around the News of the World phone-hacking trial, so if you mention the case and you find your comment has been deleted, that is probably why. Sorry about that.