Politics Summary: Tuesday, May 18th

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Jon Cruddas has ruled himself out of the running for the Labour leadership. Writing in today’s Guardian, he says: “Hand on heart, I do not want to be leader of the Labour party or subsequently prime minister. These require certain qualities I do not possess. The role of leader is one of the greatest honours imaginable – but it is not a bauble to aspire for. It is a duty to fulfil. I do not feel that I am in a position to deliver on the hopes and expectations that will be placed in the next leader.” On the role he played in crushing the BNP, he adds: “Standing at the count for my seat in Dagenham almost two weeks ago, I watched as Labour won both parliamentary seats in a borough targeted by the BNP. The council elections saw the BNP wiped out in a borough where they had high hopes. I also saw results come in from Oxford East, Blackburn, seats in Birmingham, and stunning local election results in places like Camden and Islington on the Friday.”

Echoing Gordon Brown in his conference speech of 2003, Mr Cruddas concludes by saying: “Labour has a chance to be bold. And at our boldest, we are Britain’s best hope for a freer more just country. The next few months will decide whether the party is ready to grasp that chance.” On the process for electing Mr Brown’s successor, The Guardian reports that “The Labour national executive committee will meet tomorrow to decide whether to extend the contest to the party’s annual conference in September, or hold an expensive special leadership conference in the summer. Unions are pressing for the longer timetable, doubting that the Liberal-Conservative coalition will fall apart quickly.”

The new Lib Dem/Tory government is to “rush through” £6 billion of cuts on Monday as it starts to hack away at Britain’s record £163bn deficit. The Independent reports that David Laws, new chief secretary to the Treasury, has compiled a “hit list” which includes: curbs on recruitment – a freeze on filling some vacant posts and cutting cost of agency and contract staff could save £1bn-£2bn; the use of consultants; scaling back quangos; doubling the expected savings on IT projects; scrapping ‘wasteful projects’ like identity cards; cutting the bills from 70 major suppliers – renegotiating contracts of 70 goods and services suppliers could save up to £3bn, according to the Tories; lower property costs and squeezing advertising budgets – £50m public-health campaigns may be squeezed. The Guardian quotes a Treasury source as saying: “If you are going to look at waste, you are, by definition, going to look at similar areas around waste, around procurement and around IT. One of the central things this government is saying: let’s get cracking quicker. The previous government identified a whole bunch of waste. It just wasn’t doing anything about it. We want to get on doing it quickly.” However, the government was warned by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that it should “take time in making the cuts”, and consider a five-year spending review instead of the more usual three-year schedule.

The Times reports that more than £750 million of funding earmarked by Lord Mandelson to help Britain’s car and nuclear industry is under threat from the Lib-Con government. It reports that “loans worth £270 million to Vauxhall, £90 million to Sheffield Forgemasters, £20 million to Nissan, and £379 million worth of guarantees to Ford will be reviewed this week by David Laws”. He will decide next week “whether the loans and guarantees represent value for money … the four car and nuclear projects were signed off by the Treasury so will return to the desk of the Chief Secretary for review”. A Treasury source said: “In order for us to reconsider they would have to be considered poor value for money. I have not seen it suggested that they were.” The report adds that the Chancellor once again failed to rule out a rise in VAT: “While Mr Osborne declined to be drawn on whether the Government would announce an increase in VAT in the Budget, he hinted that he would stand by a pre-election pledge to cut corporation tax from 28 per cent to 25 per cent and introduce a cut in the tax rate for smaller firms.”

The Telegraph reports that graduate debts “could rise to £40,000” under new plans unveiled by the Russell Group of elite universities. Britain’s leading universities have called for a rise in tuition fees, arguing that the existing £3,225-a-year limit on fees “should be abolished altogether”, paving the way “for the introduction of a US-style system where fees top £20,000 for sought-after degrees at the best universities”. The Russell Group also says that “interest rates on student loans should rise and middle-class graduates should make bigger contributions to fund bursary programmes for the poorest undergraduates”, with universities insisting that “a rise in interest rates would mean the government could still provide loans to cover the full cost of fees – even if they were almost tripled to £9,000 per year”. The recommendations will be presented to Lord Browne, who is chairing a review of student finance which will report to ministers in the autumn. The group adds that an increase in graduate contributions represents the “only viable option for ensuring sufficient funding for a world-class higher education system”. Left Foot Forward will have a response to the proposals from the National Union of Students later today.

Finally, the High Court has granted an injunction to British Airways, ruling the next wave of strikes by cabin crew illegal – a decision that has stunned the Unite union and angered its leaders. The Guardian reports that the court overturned the overwhelming 81% strike vote because of a technical breach of the 1992 Trade Union Act, “because Unite’s attempts to inform members of the poll result were inadequate”. Joint general secretaries of Unite, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, described the decision as “an absolute disgrace”, and that it would now be “all but impossible” to take industrial action in the future. They said: “”This judgment is an absolute disgrace and will rank as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action. Its implication is that it is now all but impossible to take legally protected strike action against any employer who wishes to seek an injunction on even the most trivial grounds.” A BA spokesman, however, called the proposed action “extreme and unjustified”, saying: “We are delighted for our customers that Unite’s plans for extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead.” The union will appeal the decision today.

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