Politics Summary: Friday, July 16th

The Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has stopped leaking oil for the first time since rupturing in April.

Sign up to receive this daily email by 9am every morning.

The Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has stopped leaking oil for the first time since rupturing in April. The Guardian reports: “The oil well has been sealed with a cap, which engineers are now monitoring to see if it holds. They will watch pressure readings to see if the cap is working. High pressure is better, because it means the oil is staying within the cap and not escaping through an unknown leak. Low pressure means there could be another leak.”

While the Telegraph explains that: “BP has been slowly reducing the flow as part of a test on a new cap. Engineers are now monitoring the pressure to see if the broken well holds. The victory — long awaited by weary residents along the coast — is the most significant milestone yet in BP’s effort to control one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history… The stoppage came 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes after the first report April 20 of an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill. Now begins a waiting period to see if the cap can hold the oil without blowing a new leak in the well. Engineers will monitor pressure readings incrementally for up to 48 hours before reopening the cap while they decide what to do.” And The Independent reports: “Pictures from underwater video cameras seemed to confirm the encouraging news that for the first time since the blowout on 20 April when an explosion killed 11 men and wrecked the oil rig they were operating there was no oil leaking into the marine environment. The well was ‘shut in’ the company said. This does not guarantee that the leaks were over permanently and officials continued to stress that only with the completion of the relief wells, hopefully sometime next month, will it be possible to describe the well as completely sealed in perpetuity.”

Up to a quarter of a million students could miss out on university places. There were more than 660,000 applications for a place this autumn – up 68,000 (12 per cent) on last year’s record numbers – with applications from foreign students up 15 per cent. The Telegraph explains that: “The number of places for British and European Union students is capped and vice-chancellors face fines if they exceed their limits, which will be set later this year. Last year, 373,793 British and European students were awarded places on undergraduate courses at English universities when 592,312 had applied for places. This year 660,953 have applied, including 54,254 from outside the EU, meaning around 225,000 students, a record number, will miss out. So far the Coalition has promised that just 8,000 extra full-time and 2,000 part-time undergraduate places will be available, mostly on maths and science courses. The overall budget for higher education is being cut by £200 million and David Willetts, the universities minister, admitted there was not the ‘capacity to meet such a surge in demand’.” The Guardian reports on Vince Cable’s keynote speech on higher education yesterday, which put a graduate tax and private colleges at the heart of the Coalition’s higher education blueprint. Dr Cable said: “What we have is an urgent problem. Universities are going to have to ask how they can do more for less. There will probably be less public funding per student… quite possibly fewer students coming straight from school to do three-year degrees… Britain is a poorer country than two years ago and future spending had to be adjusted accordingly.” Yesterday on Left Foot Forward, the president of the National Union of Students asked whether the skills secretary was a “friend of students or con artist?”

The Senate has backed President Obama’s bill cracking down on Wall Street. The Guardian calls it a “much needed boost” for the president, describing the bill as the “biggest reform of Wall Street since the Great Depression”; it will tighten regulations on bad mortgages, credit access and banking control. There could be trouble ahead for the president, however, if the Republicans are successful in November’s mid-terms: “Further legislative gains for the Obama administration, in areas such as a major climate change bill or one on immigration reform, could become scarcer if the Republicans, as polls suggest, take the House, replacing the Democratic Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, with the Republican John Boehner. Polls indicate the Republicans will also eat into the slim Democratic majority in the Senate. All 435 House seats are up for election in November, and a third of the 100 Senate seats. A Washington Post/ABC News poll on Tuesday found almost six in 10 voters have little or no confidence in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions for the US.” On the bill itself, the Financial Times says: “Lawmakers voted 60-39 in favour of the bill, sending it to Mr Obama to sign into law. Hours earlier they voted 60-38 to end debate on the bill, which in spite of the smattering of Republican votes and some influence on the text, remains a partisan piece of legislation. More than a year after the mammoth legislative effort began, Democrats managed to persuade three Republican senators to support the Dodd-Frank bill, enough for the 60-vote supermajority needed to bring debate to a close… New curbs on activity, such as the Volcker Rule that bars deposit-taking banks from trading for their own account were added, as the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers rode a wave of public anger created by the continuing high unemployment and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charges against Goldman Sachs.”

Millionaire Tory MP Zac Goldsmith is set to face an Electoral Commission investigation into claims he breached election rules by overspending. Goldsmith, who has donated £264,000 to the Richmond Park Tory association since 2007 won by 4,091 votes from the Liberal Democrats’ Susan Kramer. The Independent reports that: “According to Channel 4 News, Mr Goldsmith reduced the real cost of spending on campaign materials – including 200 blue ‘I back Zac’ jackets for his supporters – so that his official returns remained below the legal limit of £11,003 in the 23 days up to polling day. His team says it obeyed the spirit and letter of the law. Mr Goldsmith’s declaration, signed on 7 June, states that he came £220 below the ceiling with a campaign total of £10,783. But invoices for some materials he bought show they were reduced by 90 per cent on his return, enabling him to stick within the overall limit… The Goldsmith team ordered 272,000 posters and leaflets, costing more than £14,000 – enough by itself to take him over his spending limit. The campaign said he did not use 62,000 of them, cutting his spending declaration by more than £2,500… The commission is to carry out an initial assessment over the next few days and decide if the matter requires a full inquiry. A breach of the rules can result in an MP being barred.” The report adds: “Mr Goldsmith, 35, is worth some £200m and inherited his fortune from his father, the late Sir James Goldsmith. It emerged last November that he was non-domiciled in order to avoid tax on his foreign earnings. He said this related to income from a family trust and said he had decided to change his status.”

And Liam Fox, the defence secretary, is in a “wrangle” with the Treasury over the bill for Trident. The Financial Times reports: “Liam Fox, the defence secretary, is locked in high-stakes talks with the Treasury over the future funding for Britain’s nuclear deterrent, as he resists pressure on his department to absorb the £20bn cost of renewing the system into its core budget… Mr Fox insists that the Treasury must stick to a commitment made by the last Labour government that the nuclear deterrent is of special strategic significance – and that the cost of renewing it must, therefore, be ring-fenced from spending on conventional defence equipment. However, the Treasury takes a different view. It expects the bulk of capital expenditure to come out of the MoD’s core budget, which is set to be squeezed in the forthcoming spending review.” A senior MoD official tells the FT: “Fox wants to have a like-for-like deterrent with four new submarines, but the new babe on the block is that the MoD will have to pay for it. Within 10 years, this will absorb a huge chunk of the equipment budget. So people are going round saying: ‘Bloody hell, we didn’t know that.’” While another official says absorbing Trident into the core MoD budget would be “prohibitively expensive”. And RUSI’s Malcolm Chalmers said the Treasury’s stance might be designed to force the MoD to think much harder about how it could save money on the deterrent: “There is no way you can complete the defence review without first working out who is paying for Trident.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.