Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward

Lord Ashcroft, strikes, the unemployment stats, Iraq and more.

The Week in Politics

• The Lord Ashcroft scandal hit the headlines again following the release of confidential papers showing the Tory deputy chairman was only awarded a peerage “in the clear belief that he would sign a crucial Inland Revenue form, IR DOM1 (Domicile)”.

The news heaps yet more pressure on William Hague to come clean about exactly what he knew of Ashcroft’s intentions to avoid paying tax and when – and boils down to the crucial point of whether Hague willfully misled Tony Blair when promising Ashcroft would pay “tens of millions a year in tax” if ennobled.

As Sunder Katwala on Next Left, in a piece headlined “Hague lied”, explains: “We have reached the point in the clumsy and damaging Ashcroft cover-up where the Shadow Foreign Secretary may as well now change his name by deed poll to ‘the beleagured William Hague’. The newspapers note how his attempt to close down the Ashcroft cover-up have surely raised more questions than they answer.

“What now seems crystal clear that William Hague either lied or misled (if you prefer the more parliamentary language) in his interview on the Today programme yesterday morning … We still do not have the full story. But the beleagured William Hague’s new account stretches all credulity, as many of his own colleagues will admit.

• The British Airways cabin crew strike will go ahead tomorrow after last ditch talks at the TUC failed to bring a halt to the dispute, with both sides as far apart as ever. BA boss Willie Walsh described claims he wanted to break the striking unions as “absolute nonsense”, adding the strike was “deeply regrettable”, while Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley insisted that the airline “ultimately wants to go to war with this union”.

The dispute had turned political earlier in the week, with David Cameron, Tory bloggers and right-wing newspapers using the stand-off to launch a well coordinated attack on the prime minister, the Labour party and the trade union movement, described by Unite’s political director Charlie Whelan as a “witch hunt” against the trade unions. In an exclusive interview with Left Foot Forward, Whelan said:

“What’s really frightening is firstly the Tories don’t want to resolve this dispute but also there is almost a witch-hunt of being a trade unionist. It’s not illegal to be a trade unionist. I’m proud to be a trade unionist. In fact, in countries where you don’t have trade unions you don’t have democracy. Is that what Eric Pickles is saying when he writes to the Prime Minister and demands to know which Labour MPs are trade unionists? I think it’s frightening.”

• The big news on the economy this week was the release of the latest unemployment figures, which showed an unexpected fall, down 33,000 on the quarter to January and down 32,000 in the last month – the largest monthly fall in the claimant count since November 1997. The figure now stands at 2.45 million or 7.8 per cent.

Youth unemployment also fell, by 34,000 on the last quarter and also on the JSA count, while vacancies were up by 39,000, evidence of the economy moving in a good direction, or at the very least not going backwards.


Progressive of the week

Chair of the Financial Services Authority Adair Turner, who, reports Thursday’s Times, provided a boost for the Robin Hood Tax campaign, saying: “We should certainly not exclude the potential role for financial transaction taxes which might, in [the economist] James Tobin’s words, ‘throw some sand in the wheels’ of speculative activity.”


Regressive of the week

Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke, who on Tuesday called for £30 billion in additional cuts, telling the BBC: “A new Government is required to start cutting spending now, get rid of wasteful spending, and to continue to get onto the perfectly sensible target of 3% of GDP for a deficit which was the rule I had when I was Chancellor.”

As Left Foot Forward explained, the Treasury’s projections in the pre-Budget report show that the Government is set to reduce the “Treaty deficit” – the preferred EU measure – to 4.6 per cent by 2014-15. Given projected nominal GDP of £1,841 billion in 2014-15 (Table B1), the implied reduction of 1.6 per cent of GDP is equivalent to £29.5 billion.


Evidence of the week

The revelations, on the front page of yesterday’s Independent, that the further education budget would be slashed by £573 million, resulting in “funding cuts imposed on 99 of England’s 130 universities” – leading to a possible 220,000 young people being left without a place.

The news came on top of stories about rising student debt, the student loans system in chaos, 50,000 students with good good grades being denied places and calls both for the cap on fees to be lifted and for universities to be privatised, rounded-up by Left Foot Forward earlier today.


Conor Pope’s Blog The Week

This week, the Blog The Week team goes house hunting in Hyndburn, explains to the Tories the complex idea that a party founded by trade unions may, y’know, stand up for trade unions, and offers saucy Lib Dem PPC Anna Arrowsmith some tips on how to make a politico-graphic video…


What’s trending on Twitter

According to our friends at Tweetminster, here is a list of the week’s top political stories:

• The debate over Unite’s funding to Labour;

• The Digital Economy Bill;

• The Liberal Democrat spring conference and its impact on the polls;

• The debate around Sure Start;

• The Lord #CAshcroft scandal; and

• Gordon Brown’s remarks at the Iraq Inquiry on defence spending.

Gordon Brown Iraq

Here is a selection of Tweets on that last story:

@Ericrosoman: #bbcqt If Gordon Brown is not stupid enough to deliberately deceive the Iraq Inquiry then he is obviously incompetent for doing it.

@bbcquestiontime: “I can’t imagine that anyone thinks that… Gordon Brown [misled the Iraq Inquiry] deliberately” – Margaret Beckett #bbcqt

@craignicol: Did Gordon Brown mislead the Iraq enquiry or was he just living up to his quote that he’s rubbish at maths? #bbcqt

@Broadcast_News: Paper Round (18 March) – a look at the day’s newspapers: LONDON – Gordon Brown’s retreat over Iraq-funding clai.. http://bit.ly/aBkFvb

@bbcvideo: Gordon Brown is to clarify his evidence to the Iraq inquiry after accepting defence spending had not risen in .. http://bit.ly/9kjkYt

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