Politics Summary: Friday, October 30th

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The Guardian report that women earn an average of 21 per cent an hour less than men for full- and part-time work with huge national disparities. The Fawcett Society’s data shows that this figure is 53 per cent in West Somerset, while in Windsor and Maidenhead it is 49 per cent and in South Northamptonshire 43 per cent. A poll for the Fawcett Society and the union Unison showed that 85 per cent of the public believe employers should be compelled by law to conduct pay audits to expose unfair treatment, and to rectify any discrimination discovered. Britain has slipped down the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index and is now ranked 15th out of 130 countries having fallen from 13th last year and 9th in 2006.

Tony Blair’s hopes of becoming Europe’s first sitting president were “fading” last night. A french source told the Guardian: “Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are not terribly enthusiastic. Silvio Berlusconi remains his strongest backer.” The Times reports that Gordon Brown found himself isolated among the seven other centre-left governments. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s prime minister, announced that the centre left across the EU was more concerned with securing the post of European foreign minister, a position where David Miliband is seen as a “serious contender.” According to the FT, France’s Le Monde on Thursday declared him “young and brilliant.” Steve Richards in the Independent says “Blair is the only man for this job” as a YouGov poll for the Telegraph found just 31 per cent of voters support Blair, with 31 per cent opposed and 38 per cent undecided. Meanwhile, nine Eastern European countries have refused to commit to an international fund to pay developing countries to go green. Gordon Brown warned: “Unless we have a plan for funding the action we are taking on climate change we will not get agreement in Copenhagen.”

The Independent reports that peers face having allowances slashed and some will be forced to give up lucrative consultancy jobs under plans to radically reform the House of Lords. The Times quote Lord Eames who chaired the reform group: “There is no place in the House of Lords for ‘peers for hire’.” Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP who sits on the House of Commons standards watchdog told a Question Time audience he expects “three or four” MPs to be jailed over the expenses scandal on the day that Tony McNulty, former employment minister, apologised “without reservation” to the Commons after claiming expenses on a property occupied rent-free by his parents. Meanwhile, the Independent splashes that Michael Ashcroft, the Conservative peer who is funding a key part of David Cameron’s election campaign, is caught in the middle of a legal and political storm in Belize, where many of his businesses are based. The Prime Minister of Belize said: “he fully expects that he who pays the piper plays the tune.”

Refugee welfare groups reacted angrily to statements by Home Office ministers that Zimbabwe is now safe enough to resume the forcible return of thousands of failed asylum seekers. The Home Office statement said there had been “positive changes” in the past six months. Donna Covey of the Refugee Council said, “In the past few days allegations of arrest, intimidation and harassment of supporters of the MDC and of human rights defenders have been widely reported.”

The Guardian and Independent claim that Labour is “under fire” after the US became the latest major industrial nation to celebrate a recovery. But George Osborne was described as a “clown” after telling the BBC, “the White House has confirmed that they would be out of recession in the US even without the stimulus” on the day that US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said: “The stimulus and getting credit flowing again were tremendously important for getting things to turn around when the economy was in free-fall.”

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