Politics Summary: Friday, July 23rd

The Guardian front page reports that, “Labour steps up pressure on Tories in Sheffield Forgemasters sleaze row”. Labour accused Andrew Cook – the Tories’ largest donor in Yorkshire, who subsidised David Cameron’s flights in opposition to the tune of £54,000 – of a conflict of interest after he wrote to the Conservative business minister Mark Prisk in May to warn that an £80m state loan to Sheffield Forgemasters might be illegal under EU law. The Independent’s sketch outlines that, “The plot has enjoyed a number of thickening agents in the last couple of days” referring to both the Cook letter and correspondence that showed directors were willing to countenance a dilution of their shareholding in contrast to Nick Clegg’s original explanation for the cancellation – a point discussed at PMQs on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the government is also accused of improperly using aid funds after ministers approved the construction of an airport on the tiny South Atlantic island of St Helena just weeks after being lobbied by the Tories’ billionaire donor Lord Ashcroft, reveals the Guardian. The Telegraph reports that Lord Ashcroft said he had been “aware” that the progress of the runway project was being reviewed. Last week he had a Parliamentary Question about the landing strip plans answered. Asked if he had contacted Mr Mitchell about the plans for the airstrip, he said: “I know Andrew, but not particularly over this matter. I was aware they were reviewing it.”

The Financial Times reports that Royal Mail is likely to be partly or wholly in private hands within two to three years, according to the minister in charge of privatising the service. Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat minister, said in an interview with the Financial Times that the Con-Lib coalition would pass “flexible” legislation by June before embarking on the most ambitious privatisation for 20 years. The paper says, “A big test will be whether privatisation can be pushed through in the face of opposition from the Communication Workers’ Union without provoking strikes”. “I don’t expect the CWU to change their fundamental position on the injection of private capital but I have found them very constructive when talking about issues like their members’ pensions,” Mr Davey said. The Telegraph reports remarks by George Thomson, the general secretary of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, who said that the national postal service should be British-owned in order to protect the post office network from further cuts: “A foreign company does not have the interests of the British public at heart in the same way [as a British company].” There is speculation that either Dutch-owned TNT or Germany’s DHL could buy Royal Mail, or a stake in the company, as part of the Government plans to inject private capital into the business

The front page of the Daily Express covers the last minute decision by the Queen to ban BNP leader Nick Griffin from her garden party. The Guardian concludes that, “The British National party’s latest quest for political respectability collapsed in fiasco [yesterday]”. Griffin, who had earlier boasted on television that he would be representing a million British patriots – “this event shows how far this party has come” – was left fuming over what he described as a “thoroughly unBritish outrage”. Announcing the decision at lunchtime, just before the 8,000 guests began arriving, a palace statement said: “Nick Griffin MEP will be denied entry to today’s garden party at Buckingham Palace due to the fact he has overtly used his personal invitation for party political purposes through the media. This, in turn, has increased the security threat and the potential discomfort to the many other guests also attending. We would apply the same rules to anyone who would try to blatantly politicise their attendance in this way.”

The Daily Telegraph‘s front page outlines that, “Britain no longer has the cash to defend itself from every threat, says Liam Fox”. In an interview with the paper, Dr Fox said: “We don’t have the money as a country to protect ourselves against every potential future threat. We just don’t have it.” The Defence Secretary’s admission casts doubt on the future of the 25,000 troops currently stationed in Germany: “I would say, what do Challenger tanks in Germany and the costs of maintaining them and the personnel required to train for them, what does that contribute to what’s happening in Afghanistan?” In the last week Dr Fox has been fighting the Treasury to ensure that cash for the replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent comes from outside the MoD’s core budget.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Chris Huhne has admitted that “nuclear [power] is going to play a part in the energy mix”. The paper says that Mr Huhne was confident that a new generation of nuclear power stations would be built, even without state subsidies – a condition of enforced austerity which some Lib Dems expected to scupper the programme. When asked whether energy bills must increase to meet the government’s green agenda, Mr Huhne instead highlighted the dangers of an era of erratic oil prices. “The world we’re going into isn’t going to be a world where the oil price will be $80 a barrel flat for ever, or $150 a barrel flat for ever,” he said. “It will be a world where we will have very substantial oil price spikes, which have an enormous capacity to provide shocks to the domestic economy and to the world economy, exactly as they did in the 1970s and 80s.”

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