Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward

The Queen's speech, the coalition's £6bn cuts, trouble for Cameron from the Tory right, the Labour leadership latest, the Alastair Campbell QT row and more.

The Week in Politics

• Her Majesty unveiled the new Coalition Government’s legislative programme on Tuesday, the 59th time she has opened Parliament in her 57-year reign, and the first under a two-party government. Among the headline measures were plans to create 2,000 new academies, scrapping the planned rise in National Insurance contributions, the ‘Great Repeals Bill’ which will abolish ID cards and curb the use of CCTV, and a ‘Parliamentary Reform Bill’ which would bring in fixed-term parliaments and equalise the size of constituencies.

The day before, the Chancellor and Chief Secretary announced details of the Government’s £6.2 billion of cuts, across all departments except the ringfenced health and international development budgets. The departments facing the biggest cuts are Business, Innovation and Skills (£836 million), Communities (£780m), Transport (£683m) and Education (£670m).

Even though the Government has insisted “the quality of key frontline services” will be protected, the acting Leader of the Opposition, Harriet Harman, warned of the dangers of cutting before the recovery is secure, telling the Commons that the £6 billion cuts would “blight the prospects” of young people and threaten jobs, and there was also concern from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the impact of the cuts.

The prime minister also faced criticism from his own side, with Tory right-wingers threatening a revolt over capital gains tax rises. In yesterday’s Daily Mail, prominent Conservative backbencher and former shadow home secretary David Davis said it was “unfair, won’t work and would punish the hard-working middle classes”, while The Daily Telegraph this morning launched a campaign against it, “inviting readers to lobby George Osborne” and flex their muscles.

In another sign of trouble for Mr Cameron, the 1922 Committee gave him a “bloody nose” by electing über-Thatcherite Graham Brady their new leader on Wednesday – a man who has made clear his belief that a minority administration would have been preferable to the coaltion. As The Times reports, several Tory backbenchers are upset at what they perceive to be a “massive watering down” of the Conservative manifesto.

• There is just under two weeks to go before nominations close in the race for the Labour leadership, with only David and Ed Miliband having secured their places on the ballot so far. Diane Abbott left it till today to officially launch her campaign, calling the Iraq war a “mistake” and pledging to fight public spending cuts.

Front-runner David Miliband, meanwhile, launched his official campaign website on Wednesday, with the strapline “bringing Labour together, leading Labour to power”. At the launch, the shadow foreign secretary said he hoped the website would be “a place for debate and discussion” and a resource to “build relationships and coalitions for political change”.

And Ed Miliband, in a speech to the LSE today, promised the introduction of a nationwide living wage would be “central to his campaign”. The shadow energy and climate change secretary said the living wage “empowered the powerless and made it possible for them to get decency in the work place”.


Progressive of the week

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party and Britain’s first Green MP – every other western European nation has green MPs in their parliament. Yesterday Ms Lucas made her maiden speech in the Commons. The Independent’s environment Michael McCarthy was there to capture the scene:

“History doesn’t always come in thunderclaps or cheering crowds, and yesterday it was made with very little outward fuss when a woman in a pale blue trouser suit got to her feet from a green leather bench and began to speak.

It was precisely 3.30 in the afternoon, and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Hugh Bayley, had just issued a two-word invitation: ‘Caroline Lucas.’ And with that, the first MP of the Green Party, in fact the first MP of a new national party for many years, began her maiden speech and her party’s political life at Westminster. Henceforth, the environment has its own representation in our politics.”

In her speech, Ms Lucas said:

“If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need, than we currently are today. I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for 10 years in the European Parliament. But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

“Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question. And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.”


Regressive of the week

New defence secretary Liam Fox, who described Afghanistan as a “broken, 13th-century country” in an interview with The Times on Saturday, an error compounded by Fox’s ignorance of his own coutry’s 13th-century past vis-a-vis Afghanistan. As a Telegraph editorial so brilliantly put it under the masterful headline “13th-century Fox”:

“By the 13th century, Afghanistan was at the heart of the Islamic renaissance, boasting magnificent architecture, art, calligraphy, literature and advances in mathematics. The poet Jelaluddin Rumi, born in 1207 in Balkh, is still widely read today in the West.

“After its destruction by Genghis Khan in 1221, Herat in western Afghanistan was rebuilt into the city that under the Timurids would be called “the Florence of the East”. Meanwhile, Viking sagas were warning travellers to Scotland, Dr Fox’s homeland, that they visited such a barbaric and warlike place at their peril.


Evidence of the week

Analysis this week of general election voting trends which showed that Labour’s problem is deeper than merely a loss of support among C2-class skilled manual workers. As Left Foot Forward reported on Monday, Labour hemorrhaged support among Ds, Es, and, to a lesser extent, As and Bs. For detailed definitions of demographic classifications see here.

Declan Gaffney, writing on Labour List, explained:

“Labour’s vote share among the ‘C2’ demographic did fall in 2010, but by 11 percentage points, rather than 20… In 1997, Labour had 59% of votes in [the DE] group; by 2010, this was down to 40%.”


What’s trending on Twitter

According to our friends at Tweetminster, it’s been another quiet week out there in the Twittersphere; the main stories to trend were:

• The Queen’s Speech – though it didn’t generate a significant level of buzz – interestingly, most people were more interested in the ceremonial process than in the content itself;

• Yesterday’s decision by the Government to not send a cabinet member on Question Time was also widely debated and tweeted;

• Other stories to gain some traction were Vince Cable standing down as Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems, and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform plans;

• Finally, and On a lighter note, quite a few political journalists, bloggers and commentators now own an iPad 🙂


Here is the Twitter reaction to the Coalition Government’s chickening out of a showdown with Alastair Campbell:

@CllrMarkBennett: Government refused to field a minister if @campbellclaret was on #bbcqt. To their credit, the BBC refused.

@danieldmoses: What’s Campbell carrying a framed picture of David Laws around for?! #bbcqt

@edacuk: @Aiannucci Should Malcolm Tucker appear on Question Time in the next series of The Thick of It? #bbcqt

@davesimps0n: Been following the kerfuffle on 5live about #bbcqt and the Coalition’s extraordinary cowardice in not putting anyone up v @campbellclaret.

@jpieslak: @campbellclaret and #bbcqt -gate. Worried abt a Boulton? This exposes two things about the new govt:fear and a ridiculous need to control.

@SilkWilloughby: Take a moment to remember this classic John Redwood moment http://youtu.be/RIwBvjoLyZc #bbcqt

@martinb9999: If David Laws was supposed to be on #bbcqt last night & didn’t show, why wasn’t the Tub of Lard deployed?

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