Saturday, 31 July 2010

David and Romeo Beckham

Tax credits and benefits could be replaced with 'negative income tax' under shake-up

The proposals form part of a consultation paper on the biggest overhaul in decades to the benefits system in a drive to simplify the structure and make work pay. The Coalition is determined to end the situation where some people are better off on benefits than in employment. Under one proposal, the complex structure of benefits and tax credits paid to those seeking work or in low paid jobs would be replaced by a single “negative income tax” scheme.


Claimants would receive their entitlement through a regular income tax rebate, which would decline as they returned to work and their pay started to increase. It would mean the end of tax credits, child benefit, income support, housing benefit, incapacity benefit and job seekers allowance. Only benefits for pensioners, the disabled and carers would remain unchanged. Lord Freud, the Welfare Reform minister and former City banker, said: “One of the options we are looking at is to integrate not just the benefits and tax credit system but also the tax system into a single coherent negative income tax.”

The negative income tax plan was one of several ways to simplify the current system, and ensure people on benefits were rewarded for going back to work, suggested by the report. Other options included a simple flat rate ‘working age benefit’ and an integrated ‘family allowance’ paid directly into bank accounts. Simplifying the system would “take a very big bite” – possibly £2billion to £3billion - out of the £9billion annual bill for administration, errors and fraud, Lord Freud said. The current scheme was so complex that people on benefits needed a degree in maths to work out whether it was worth their while taking a job.

Cécile Aubry

Cécile Aubry has died, aged 82. Aubry was a French actor, writer and director, who will be best remembered in this country for the hugely successful children's story, Belle et Sébastien. Adapted by Aubry from her own novel, it ran for 13 episodes in 1965, with two sequels broadcast in 1968 and 1970. The story told of the  adventures of a young boy, Sébastien (played by her son, Mehdi El Glaoui), and his large white dog, Belle, in a small village in the Pyrenees; the series continues to be shown on television internationally to each new generation. A dubbed version was broadcast by the BBC in its Tales from Europe series from 1967 to 1968.  

Cécile Aubry
1928 - 2010

Health secretary accused of U-turn on hospital cutbacks

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, has launched a stinging attack on health secretary Andrew Lansley's "U-turn" over his promises to reconsider the possible closure of hospital wards and accident and emergency departments. David Nicholson, the health service's chief executive, has written to NHS managers saying that there should be plans in place to "reconfigure" hospitals by the end of October – a pressing need given the NHS will need to save £20bn in the next three years. Lansley had promised a moratorium on the changes planned by Labour. However, Nicholson told the managers: "The NHS has always changed and adapted to new technologies, medicines and treatments and must continue to do so." 

I'm not saying a word

Burnham repeatedly questioned the credibility of Lansley's promises on the election trail. He said: "This U-turn proves that Lansley was playing politics with the NHS at the election and has now had to face up to reality. His opportunistic pledge to halt A&E and maternity closures has lasted less than two months." Lansley, Burnham's successor as health secretary, had also reneged on his commitment to "end top down reorganisations of the NHS". Burnham said: "In May he said that service changes should not be subject to top down processes or timetables. Now he is asking strategic health authorities to oversee a bureaucratic process to review all planned, ongoing and completed reconfigurations to a nationally set timetable. This means more uncertainty for patients and staff. The NHS needs stability right now - what they are being offered is confusion, contradictions and chaos."

Coalition is more radical than Thatcher government, says senior Tory minister

The coalition is trying to push through quicker and more vigorous reforms than attempted by either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair in their first terms, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister and senior Tory responsible for the party's transition into government, has said. There has been criticism that David Cameron risks overloading the Whitehall machine, and storing up political trouble, by quickly pursuing radical reforms on so many fronts simultaneously.

But Maude, in a Guardian interview, said: "If you look at the last transitions of governments and the way they came in, I would say one of the things that Thatcher regretted was not pushing ahead vigorously enough, and quickly enough, in terms of reform. The big reforming Thatcher governments were not until 1983 and 1987. "Similarly, the Blair government did not just waste its first 100 days – it wasted its first five years. By contrast we have prepared very carefully. So we are well equipped to hit the ground running." 

A member of the cabinet's "star chamber" on spending, Maude defended plans for a vast efficiency drive, including redundancies in Whitehall, saying it was the best way to ultimately protect frontline public services. He said he wanted to unleash a new wave of public sector entrepreneurs willing to take over public services as co-ops or mutuals. He also pointed to the 60,000 responses to the Treasury's call for suggestions on how to make government more efficient as proof that there is a thirst to take charge of public services.

Pakistan security officers cancel UK visit in light of Cameron's comments

Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency has cancelled planned talks with British security experts in protest at David Cameron's comments that elements within the country are responsible for exporting terrorism abroad, it was reported last night. ISI officers were due in London for discussions on counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services. But the talks have been scrapped after the prime minister's remarks while on a visit to India on Wednesday, the Times reported. "The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British prime minister against Pakistan," an ISI spokesman was quoted as saying. "Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain."

Cameron spouting shit, as per

Cameron sparked outrage in Islamabad when he said: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India, whether to Afghanistan, or to anywhere else in the world." The comments were made during a visit to Delhi. Neither Downing Street nor the Foreign Office would comment on the reported decision by the ISI, which also comes days before a UK visit by the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari. He is expected to stay with Cameron at his country retreat, Chequers.

Last night, officials said that Zardari's visit was still expected to take place. "Our understanding is that the visit is on," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. Following Cameron's remarks, Pakistani politicians pointed to the country's offensive against militants on the border with Afghanistan and the many victims of terrorist bombs in Pakistan. Cameron defended his comments a day later, saying: "I don't think the British taxpayer wants me to go around the world saying what people want to hear."

the Guardian

Cameron must apologise, says the Pakistan Observer. Read the full article here.

Oh, it's a jolly holiday with you, Dave

Martin Rowson, the Guardian

Friday, 30 July 2010

Michael Gove comes under fire from his own transport minister

Education Secretary Michael Gove's flagship schools policy came under fire from Tory transport minister Theresa Villiers today, after his department rejected an application for academy status from a school in her constituency. Ravenscroft School, a technology specialist school in a poorer part of Chipping Barnet, was rejected amid concerns about standards and under-subscription. Labour claims the decision underlines its case that the new push for academies is aimed at more affluent schools.

An angry Ms Villiers wrote to Mr Gove: “I know you do not wish academy status to be confined to those schools which head the results league tables.” All schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, which include Ravenscroft, have been invited to apply for academy status in a bid to cut bureaucracy and give them more control over budgets and curriculum. After a meeting with Ms Villiers, Mr Gove has agreed to send the decision back for further consideration.

Parliamentary privilege posse loses appeal against prosecution

Three former Labour MPs and an ex-Tory peer facing expenses fraud allegations have lost appeals over a ruling that they are not protected by parliamentary privilege from prosecution. Elliott Morley, David Chaytor, Jim Devine and Lord Hanningfield had argued at the Court of Appeal that only Parliament could hear their case. The four all deny charges of false accounting over their expenses. The charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

The PPP: old habits die hard

The men had appealed against a ruling in June by Mr Justice Saunders sitting at Southwark Crown Court in central London. The judge had rejected arguments that they were protected by parliamentary privilege and should be dealt with by Parliament alone. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Neuberger and Sir Anthony May, agreed with the judge's ruling. Giving the Court of Appeal judgement, Lord Judge said: "The stark reality is that the defendants are alleged to have taken advantage of the allowances scheme designed to enable them to perform their important public duties as Members of Parliament to commit crimes of dishonesty to which parliamentary immunity or privilege does not, has never, and, we believe, never would attach."

The four men are all on unconditional bail and face separate criminal trials as a result of the ruling. However, they could take their case to the Supreme Court for a further challenge. The charges against the men followed a nine-month police investigation triggered after details of all MPs' expenses claims were leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Mr Morley, the former MP for Scunthorpe, Mr Chaytor, formerly MP for Bury North and ex-Livingston MP Mr Devine were barred from standing at the general election after the allegations surfaced. Lord Hanningfield, formerly leader of Essex County Council, has been suspended by his party.

Boris's Bikes

A bike hire scheme is being launched in London today and so far more than 11,000 people have signed up for the 5,000 bicycles which will be available  at special docking stations. Transport for London admitted it was expecting "teething problems". But it insisted that although members outnumbered bikes, people would not face a shortage. [Who's going to maintain 5000 bicycles? That's an awful lot of puncture repair kits.]

Boris photographed with some of his bikes

Already, more than 12,450 keys have been handed out to Londoners enabling them to unlock bikes left at 330 docking points across the city. The keys cost £3 and the cost of using the cycles varies from £1 for an hour to £50 for 24 hours.  Docking stations will be available in Camden, City of London, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Westminster and several of the Royal Parks. Boris Johnson officially launches the scheme at 0800 BST in Jubilee Park on the South Bank. With a target of 6,000 cycles and 400 docking stations by the end of this year, London's cycle hire scheme will cost £140 million over 6 years. 

TUC cancels Vince Cable's invitation to be guest speaker

Business Secretary Vince Cable will not address the TUC's annual congress after his invitation to speak was withdrawn. It means the 2010 congress will be the first that a government minister has not attended for more than a decade. TUC officials said Mr Cable would meet a delegation of union leaders privately instead, to discuss relevant issues. The business department said Mr Cable was not offended. A spokesman said Mr Cable was willing to talk to union leaders at any time.

Professor Hindsight

Mr Cable was asked to speak earlier this month, and accepted, after Prime Minister David Cameron said he could not attend as the event was likely to coincide with his wife giving birth and his planned period of paternity leave. One union had threatened to walk out if the Conservative leader had attended. The Business Department said Mr Cable had since been "uninvited", but a TUC spokesman said the private meeting with TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and other officials would provide a full opportunity to discuss issues at length.

Relations between the coalition and the union movement have quickly become strained with union leaders promising to fight planned spending cuts, which could see departmental budgets shrink by between 25% and 40%. They argue the cuts will increase unemployment and damage public services. One union, the PCS, has threatened strike action over plans to cap redundancy payments to civil servants. Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman is due to speak at September's event in Manchester, as well as Bank of England Governor Mervyn King.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Budget review recommends up to 60,000 public jobs cut in Scotland

Up to 60,000 public sector workers in Scotland could lose their jobs in the next few years, an independent review commissioned by ministers has said. The panel, which considered options for future expenditure, recommended a fall in public sector employment of between 5.7% and 10% by 2014-15. It called for reductions to be made as far as possible by natural wastage. The panel was created in February to detail which cuts could be made in the face of a £42bn squeeze over 16 years. Led by ex-Scottish Enterprise chief Crawford Beveridge, its recommendations could shape the Scottish budget for 2011-12.

The Independent Budget Review report set out options that Holyrood may want to consider "in the face of the most challenging public spending environment since the Second World War". It said one in 10 public sector jobs would have to go if pay grew in line with UK plans, although this could drop to 35,000 (5.7%) if a tougher approach to pay restraint was adopted. The report called for a two-year pay freeze from 2011-12 "as the first essential step to constrain growth in the public sector pay bill" - which accounts for 60% of spending in Scotland. It also called for a review of public sector pensions and a reduction in the number of public bodies.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Scupper the Lib Dems' plans for AV? Me?

Nick Clegg faces a bruising battle in the Commons over the timing of a planned referendum on electoral reform, with Labour poised to join rebel Conservatives in a fight to ensure it does not coincide with May’s local and regional elections. Senior Tories, including four former ministers, went against their own party’s policy on Tuesday by calling for the date to be changed, amid claims by pro-reform campaigners that a delay could scupper the chances of a Yes vote. A total of 44 Tory MPs, and Labour MP Dennis MacShane, have signed a parliamentary motion opposing the idea of holding the plebiscite on May 5.

The shadow cabinet is considering supporting that rebellion deepening the potential difficulties for Mr Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, who have been the main drivers of the bill. If Labour joined forces with the disaffected Tory MPs the coalition could come perilously close to its first Commons defeat. The coalition has cited the efficiency savings to be gleaned from holding the referendum on the day that Britons are going to the polls in other elections. But the Lib Dems stand to gain the most from that timing because a Yes vote is thought more likely if the turnout is higher. Thomas Docherty, a Labour backbencher, will table an amendment when parliament reconvenes in September, calling for a change of date. He is in talks with disaffected Tories to suggest an alternative.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Maradona sacked as Argentine coach

Diego Maradona's stormy spell as Argentina's coach came to a swift end on Tuesday when soccer chiefs voted unanimously not to renew his contract. Maradona's future had been in doubt since Argentina's 4-0 thrashing by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals in South Africa earlier this month. "The executive committee ... has resolved unanimously not to renew the contract of Diego Armando Maradona as coach of the national team," AFA spokesman Ernesto Cherquis Bialo told a news conference after the meeting of soccer bosses.

Don't cry for me, Maradona

Cameron champions Turkey

What the fuck's he doing? Who let him out? Who told him we want Turkey in the EU? What the fuck's he on? Where's this in the manifesto? Jesus Christ, dissing Israel? What the holy fuck?! And now he's off to India. Is he re-building the fucking empire? Does Her Majesty know about this? Will he wear a sari? Please at least get him on an elephant and smack the fucking thing so it hurtles off into the sunset.


Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand denies allegations over hit song

When he hit European television screens in 1977, pogoing across music stages with a glint in his eye and a flower in his buttonhole, Plastic Bertrand gave no reason for anyone to doubt him when he yelled into the audience "Ça plane pour moi" (All's cool with me). Thirty-three years later, however, the erstwhile hero of Brussels' music scene could be forgiven for ruing his youthful chutzpah. If evidence given to a Belgian court this week is to be believed, the man recognised as the voice behind Euro-punk's anthem had built his acclaim on shaky ground: he did not actually sing the song.

According to a linguistician commissioned by a Belgian judge to examine the original recording of Ça Plane Pour Moi and compare it with a version released in 2006 by Bertrand's former producer, the singer of the 1977 track spoke with a distinctive twang that would not have come naturally to the Brussels-born front-man. "With the endings of sentences on the tapes the voice can only belong to a Ch'ti or a Picard," read the judgment, implying the true singer must have originated from north-eastern France, an area which produced both the Picard dialect and the affectionately mocked Ch'ti patois.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Mandelson attacks withdrawal of Sheffield Forgemasters loan

Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, todayclaimed the government had misled parliament after it claimed there had been no Treasury support for an £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. He was speaking alongside the shadow business secretary, Pat McFadden, after the two men had spent more than an hour looking at papers in the business department relating to the planned Forgemasters loan. 

The loan was cancelled by the government in what is seen as a blow to a strategic UK industry. The coalition government has come up with different explanations for the decision, but said an intervention by a rival Sheffield engineering firm and a Tory donor calling for the loan to be cancelled was not relevant. The loan was cancelled weeks after Andrew Cook, who has subsidised some of David Cameron's flights, warned the government it could be illegal.

BP boss Hayward to get immediate £600,000 pension

BP chief executive Tony Hayward will get an immediate annual pension worth about £600,000 ($930,000) when he leaves in October, the BBC has learned. Mr Hayward is to stand down after sustained criticism of his handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. However, a BP source said he would be nominated for a non-executive position at the firm's Russian joint venture.

Yeah, how do you like it when the bird shits on you?

BP pension scheme rules say that those who joined before April 2006 can take the pension at any point from age 50. Mr Hayward is 53. He will also receive a year's salary plus benefits worth more than £1m. Mr Hayward's pension pot is valued at about £11m and he will keep his rights to shares under a long-term performance scheme which could, depending on BP's stock market recovery, eventually be worth several million pounds.

Radical police shake-up outlined

Plans for a massive shake-up in policing in England and Wales have been outlined by Theresa May, the home secretary. A new national crime-fighting agency, to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), is among the proposals. People will also be able to vote in two years' time for locally-elected officials to oversee each police force. Shadow home secretary Alan Johnson said police did not back the plans which would "make their job harder".

The Home Office consultation paper, Policing in the 21st Centurywas described by Ms May as the "most radical reform of policing for 50 years". She told the Commons on Monday that the police had "become too bureaucratic, too much accountable to Whitehall, rather than to the people they're serving".

Key changes include:
  • the abolition of Soca in favour of a new National Crime Agency, which will include organised crime, border policing, and the child exploitation and online protection centre (Ceop)
  • the scrapping of Police Authorities. Instead, elected police and crime commissioners will have the power to hire and fire chief constables from May 2012
  • the proposed introduction of police reservists - a pool of volunteers to undertake police duties
  • "community crime fighters" - ordinary people could take part in joint patrols with officers. There will also be a push for more to become special constables or join Neighbourhood Watch schemes
  • phasing out of watchdog the National Policing Improvement Agent.

Soca was criticised last year when figures showed that for every £15 of public money it spent, just £1 was recovered from criminals. Its chairman, Sir Stephen Lander, said seizing assets was not the "be all and end all" and said the body had also stopped gangs using an additional £460m.

Cull of quangos to save £180m in health sector

Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, today announced a cull of regulators to save £180m in the health sector – consigning the agency that handles public health emergencies to oblivion and splitting up the fertility watchdog. Lansley said the aim was to save costs and cut bureaucracy in the NHS and that "essential" work would be moved to other bodies. The department stated that "the changes outlined in today's report will reduce the number of health ALBs (arm's-length bodies) from eighteen to between eight and ten; they are expected to deliver savings of over £180m by 2014/15". The report gives does not say how many jobs will go.

The shakeup will see high-profile casualties. The Health Protection Agency, which has been responsible for responding to public health hazards such as bird flu and swine flu since 2003, will be subsumed into a new Public Health Service. Also going is the National Patient Safety Agency – its main remit will go into a new NHS commissioning board while its research and ethics functions will move elsewhere. By the end of the current parliament, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will be dismembered and its roles taken up by a new research regulator, the Care Quality Commission, and the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

UK Film Council to be abolished

The UK Film Council is to be axed as part of a cost-cutting drive by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), it has been announced. The organisation, founded in 2000, had an annual budget of £15m to invest in British films and employed 75 people. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to establish a "direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute". UK Film Council chairman Tim Bevan called it "a bad decision". He said the announcement was "imposed without any consultation or evaluation". 


The Film Council was set up by the Labour government to develop and promote the British film industry. Funded by the National Lottery, it channelled about £160m into more than 900 films over the last 10 years, including Bend It Like Beckham, The Last King of Scotland and Streetdance 3D. Other initiatives included the Digital Screen Network, which invested in 240 digital cinema screens across the UK - meaning the UK now has more digital cinemas than any other European country.

Coalition proposes first private university for over thirty years

The UK's first new private sector university college for more than thirty years is being announced by the universities minister. David Willetts will allow London-based BPP, which has fourteen regional branches, to become a university college. The new college, which offers law and business degrees, wants to expand into health and teaching degrees.

Private universities will help to create a "dynamic and flexible" degree system, says Mr Willetts. The new private-sector university college has ambitions to set up a range of new courses in the next 12 months. A planned school of healthcare could offer degree courses in areas including dentistry, nursing, radiography, speech therapy, psychology and physiotherapy. "It is healthy to have a vibrant private sector working alongside our more traditional universities," said Mr Willetts, who has conferred university college status with immediate effect. "I am delighted that, less than four months after coming into office, we are creating the first new private university college in more than 30 years."

Sunday, 25 July 2010

BP chief Tony Hayward 'negotiating exit deal'

How about NOW?!

West Ham to make offer for David Beckham

LA Galaxy Midfielder David Beckham could be poised for a sensational return to the Premier League with West Ham. The Hammers hope to lure Beckham back to his East End roots to help them in their audacious bid to move to the Olympic Stadium in 2013. Sunday Times

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has made it clear that defender Ashley Cole will be staying at Stamford Bridge, despite interest from Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho. Sunday Mirror

Mourinho is preparing to make one last-ditch attempt to sign midfielder Steven Gerrard from Liverpool and has instructed the Real Madrid hierarchy to offer £30m. 
Mail on Sunday

Tottenham are set to hijack Manchester City's £24m-move for Aston Villa midfielder James Milner. News of the World

Phew! Lucky I had a pic of him.

Ed Balls 'not quitting' Labour leadership race

Ed Balls has rejected speculation that he is considering quitting the Labour leadership contest. The shadow education secretary told the BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend he was "fighting to the end and I'm fighting to win". Speculation about his leadership bid came [from the Daily Telegraph] after he failed to win the backing of the Unite union, which gave its endorsement to Ed Miliband. Ed Balls is being backed by the Communication Workers Union.

Mr Balls has also issued a statement on his campaign blog in which he says he has "never been a front runner in this campaign". He added: "I did not have the early organisation of some other candidates and I am behind on formal CLP [Constituency Labour Party] and union endorsements." But he goes on to say: "My message to local party activists, councillors and union members is this: I am fighting to defend the jobs and front line public services in your local communities. I will carry on fighting to stop unfair tax rises and the withdrawal of essential benefits, I will carry on fighting to defeat a coalition hell-bent on cutting public services, putting up VAT, cancelling new schools and turning recovery into a double-dip recession. 

"I am fighting to win this leadership contest to continue these campaigns, to give a voice to our communities and constituents and to show that as leader I would be best placed to set out an alternative plan for jobs and social justice for our country. I joined this contest because I believed this was a fight worth fighting for the future of our party and our country. I still do."

Loathsome Tory MP warned over requests to remove face veils

A Conservative MP has been warned he could face legal action if he refuses to meet constituents who wear burkas or niqabs, which hide their faces. Lawyers for pressure group Liberty have written to Philip 'Toad' Hollobone stating the Equality Act obliges him to avoid discrimination. The Kettering MP said he needed to meet voters face-to-face. He added he would invite those who did not remove their veil to communicate in a different way, such as by letter. 

He's got a fucking nerve with a face like that

Mr Hollobone was unavailable for comment when the BBC attempted to contact him. He is trying to bring in a Private Member's Bill to ban women wearing the burka or niqab in public. A similar rule has been introduced in France. His comments were criticised by Muslim groups, and the idea of a ban has been dismissed by government ministers as "un-British" and unhelpful to women. Immigration minister Damian Green has said banning the full Islamic veil in public would be "at odds with the UK's tolerant society" as he crossed his fingers behind his back.

Axe falls on NHS services, says Sunday Telegraph

Some of the most common operations - including hip replacements and cataract surgery - will be rationed as part of attempts to save billions of pounds, despite government promises that front-line services would be protected. Patients’ groups have described the measures as “astonishingly brutal”.

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered widespread cuts planned across the NHS, many of which have already been agreed by senior health service officials. They include:

Gordon Brown calls for global responsibility

bbcpmc productions

Stick up for the BBC. It's the last bulwark against rule by the mob, says Will Hutton

Ministers under political pressure and their spin doctors usually find it hard to resist a jibe at media interviewers, especially if they are from the BBC. To ask hard questions, they reason, is to betray an anti-government bias. Alastair Campbell became obsessed during his attempts to defend the actions of his boss, Tony Blair. The BBC was on an anti-New Labour crusade because its interviewers and reporters dared to be intelligently critical of so much Labour policy – the Iraq war in particular.

Nick Clegg goes on summer tour to boost Liberal Democrat support

Nick Clegg is to hold public meetings across the country this summer to boost support for the Liberal Democrats, after the party plummeted to 13% in the polls. The move by the deputy prime minister comes after dire warnings that the party could have only 16 MPs after the next election. The party's grassroots membership has pleaded with leaders to ensure it does not get squeezed out in the coalition government.

Your party needs you!

Clegg will try to persuade voters that his party has distinct values from the Conservatives. He will also say that the Lib Dems are having a powerful influence on policy in areas such as civil liberties and tax. His tour will come alongside a fundraising drive to make up for the loss of so-called parliamentary short money – which provided £2m a year when the Lib Dems were in opposition.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

If Labour can't fight social injustice, what's it all for? asks Polly Toynbee

Monday marks the end of the gruelling round of over 40 Labour leadership hustings with the deadline for "supporting nominations". Tonight David Miliband had 130 constituencies' support, his brother Ed closing fast on 106, Andy Burnham on 34, Diane Abbott 18 and Ed Balls eight – with Ed Miliband winning most union backing. Hard to know how these convert to real votes when every party and union member gets their own ballot. (Anyone who wants a vote must join the party by 8 September.) Bookies put David Miliband on shortest odds but drifting out to his brother, with very long odds on anyone not called Miliband.

Manchester United's delight as Nemanja Vidic stays on at Old Trafford

Manchester United  have ended the uncertainty surrounding Nemanja Vidic's future by reaching agreement with the Serbia international over a lucrative contract extension. The as yet unsigned deal is expected to keep the 28-year-old at Old Trafford until 2014 and will be worth around £90,000 a week.

Vidic's future at United has been under a cloud for several months and in June the player's agent, Paolo Fabbri, claimed the defender would consider his options after the World Cup. Real Madrid and several Italian clubs had been linked with the commanding central defender, a £7m signing from Spartak Moscow in 2006, although the feeling inside Old Trafford was that he was angling to elevate Vidic to being among the highest earners at the club. That is now the case and Vidic will sign his new contract when he returns from holiday.

David Davis pub talk reveals Tory unease at the 'Brokeback Coalition'

Unease on the Tory right over David Cameron's coalition with the Liberal Democrats was highlighted last night in unguarded comments made by the man Cameron defeated in the 2005 Tory leadership campaign. David Davis is reported to have approvingly repeated a description of the partnership between Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as "Brokeback Coalition", which he attributed to another senior Tory.

Did he get something in his eye?

Davis made his remarks during a private lunch with former colleagues from Tate & Lyle at the Boot & Flogger wine bar in Southwark on Thursday. The MP was reportedly overheard saying that Lord Ashcroft, the ex-Conservative party deputy chairman, had referred to the government as "Brokeback Coalition" – a reference to the Oscar-winning film Brokeback Mountain, about a gay relationship. Davis, whose remarks are disclosed in today's Financial Times, said he had been misheard.

New manager suspends France's entire mutinous World Cup squad

Laurent Blanc will begin his tenure as France's manager without any of the 23 players who brought shame to the nation at the World Cup finals, having chosen to suspend each one of them for his first match in charge against Norway next month as punishment for their shocking and mutinous behaviour in South Africa.

Blanc has succeeded the deposed and disgraced Raymond Domenech – the decision to appoint him was taken before the World Cup – and he hopes that the unprecedented move to impose the one-match suspension will also serve to draw a line under a controversy that has seen scorn heaped upon Les Bleus.

Gay priest sex exposé rocks Vatican

The Catholic church, already reeling from a string of clerical sex abuse scandals, was last night facing new embarrassment after an Italian magazine published an investigation into what it termed the double life of gay priests in Rome.

Using hidden cameras, the weekly Panorama, owned by Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, captured priests visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex. The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals, but it teaches that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered". In one of his earliest moves, Pope Benedict barred actively gay men from studying for the priesthood.

Gay Stories 2: Gay porn star Cal Culver claims he had an affair with Superman star Christopher Reeve

A gay porn star has sensationally claimed from beyond the grave that he had an affair with Superman star Christopher Reeve, says the Daily Mail. It goes on: "In new book Hollywood Babylon Strikes Again, Cal Culver gives details of their relationship in an interview conducted before his death in 1987.

O Superman

He wrote: 'Christopher was a great lover and I think I liberated him sexually. I didn't think he was gay but he seemed willing to try anything once. He was curious.' 

In the book extract, obtained by the America's Globe newspaper, Culver [pictured left] claims Superman star Reeve was 'the man of my dreams' and says that the pair had a passionate two-month relationship until Reeve discovered Culver was a gay porn star, performing under the name Casey Donovan.

The news may come as a surprise [may?!] to the millions of Reeve fans who saw the star enjoy a healthy 12-year marriage to wife Dana. He also had a son William with Dana, as well as children Matthew and Alexandra from a previous relationship.

Culver, who died of an Aids-related illness, alleges that he met Reeve when they were both auditioning for a Broadway role in the mid-1970s."

Two nuns go on run over threat to send them to retirement home

Two fugitive nuns in their 80s have gone on the run in France to escape being sent to a retirement home by their Mother Superior. Sister Marie-Daniel, 86, and Sister Saint-Denis, 82, fled their nunnery two weeks ago after convent officials said they were being sent to a remote mountain retreat 250 miles away.

The pair vanished from the Sisters of Saint-Joseph convent in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, on the French Riviera convent, on July 12 and have not been seen since. A third 89-year-old nun, Sister Maurice-Marie, has revealed she also wanted to flee but broke her leg four days before the two elderly sisters disappeared.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Ikea furniture is ...

Richard Desmond buys channel Five group for €125m

Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star, has bought Five Group from entertainment network RTL for €125m (£104m). The deal for Mr Desmond's Northern & Shell company to buy Five, which runs TV channel Five, has been closed with immediate effect. 

People who have a view over London generally want to own it

RTL said a recovery in the UK TV advertising market meant now was a good time for it to sell. Last month, Mr Desmond indicated that he wanted to buy the Sun newspaper. "With a significant recovery of the UK TV advertising market and Five performing well in the first half of 2010, we saw a window of opportunity to realise a transaction based on a fair evaluation of Five," said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of RTL Group.

New Metro bank issues cards in 15 minutes

New high street bank Metro Bank has announced it had joined forces with MasterCard to provide new customers with payment cards within 15 minutes of them opening an account. The group, which will be the first high street bank to launch in the UK for more than a century when it opens its doors on Thursday, has signed a five-year deal with MasterCard, under which it will supply all of the banks credit and debit cards.

Not tacky at all

As part of the partnership, MasterCard has invested in new technology, enabling Metro Bank to offer the 'while you wait' card service, while still carrying out the same level of security checks. MasterCard will supply Metro Bank customers with its new Debit MasterCard, which can be used at more than 30 million outlets and 1.5 million cash machines around the world.

Trafigura fined €1m for dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast

A Dutch court has fined the oil trading company Trafigura €1m (£840,000) for illegally exporting hazardous waste to west Africa. The court in Amsterdam declared the export to Ivory Coast was against the law, and also found Trafigura guilty of concealing the dangerous nature of the waste when it was initially unloaded from a ship in Amsterdam. Prosecutors had asked for a fine of €2m.

The Amsterdam district court judge Frans Bauduin also convicted a Trafigura employee for his role in the 2006 scandal, and the Ukranian captain of the Probo Koala ship that carried the waste. Thousands became ill in the Ivory Coast capital, Abidjan, in August 2006, but Trafigura insists the waste from the Probo Koala could not have caused serious illness.

Peter Tatchell gets honorary doctorate in Brighton

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell is to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex. Students nominated him for the honour in recognition of his services to human rights over a period of 43 years. He will receive the award from University of Sussex chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar, during the graduation ceremony at Brighton Dome later.

Saint Peter of Sussex: be sceptical, question authority, be a rebel

Mr Tatchell said he was honoured the students had sought to recognise his human rights work. He added: "I was hesitant about accepting this honour. After all, my contribution to human rights is very modest. "I am a long way from being a brave and effective campaigner. Many others are much more deserving than me. My decision to accept was partly because the initiative for this honorary doctorate was a grassroots one, from the staff and students."

Hugo Chávez breaks diplomatic ties between Venezuela and Colombia

Hugo Chávez severed diplomatic ties with Colombia yesterday after it accused Venezuela of harbouring leftist guerrillas in dozens of camps along the border. Venezuela's president ordered a "maximum alert" on the border and warned that his Andean neighbour could provoke war. "We have no other choice but, out of dignity, to totally break our relations with our brother nation of Colombia," Chávez told state television.

Nice goal, dickhead

Colombia had claimed that Venezuela was sheltering 1,500 rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which have waged a decades-long conflict with the Colombian state. Colombia presented maps, photographs, videos and witness testimony in a presentation at a meeting in Washington of the Organisation of American States, a pan-regional body.

Senator calls Blair and Straw to give evidence over Megrahi release

Tony Blair is to be asked to appear before a Senate committee in Washington to give evidence about the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, say sources in the US. Leading politicians on Capitol Hill want to question the former prime minister about the relations between his government, the Libyans and BP – which is currently America's least-favourite oil company.

Tony Blair: bringing democracy to a nation near you

If Mr Blair takes up the invitation – which his office last night denied he had received – he will want to lay to rest US suspicions that the UK Government had its arms twisted by BP to do a deal with Libya to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, in return for oil concessions.

David Cameron unveils his national service pilot scheme to the delight of the nation's teenagers

David Cameron today unveiled pilot plans for a National Citizen Service designed to teach 16-year-old school leavers social responsibility as part of the prime minister's "big society" [anagram: soggy biscuit]. The government-backed pilots, planned for next summer, will provide around 10,000 places, and are expected to pave the way for a wider roll-out.

The train to oblivion

Cameron said the scheme would encourage people from different social backgrounds to mix, and would help address the "tragic waste of potential in this country" NCS is a key part of the "big society" agenda set out by the prime minister earlier this week in Liverpool, and will involve activities designed to introduce young people to the concept of civic responsibility as they make the transition into adulthood. Partners from the youth sector are to be invited next month to submit bids to provide individual projects. But the Cabinet Office admitted it was unclear how much money would be allocated to the pilot schemes until the outcome of the autumn spending review, when the government will review budgets to try to reduce the structural deficit.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Director of public prosecutions rules out charges against G20 police

An official decision to bring no charges against the policeman who struck Ian Tomlinson minutes before he died at the G20 protests came under intense scrutiny tonight as it emerged that the Independent Police Complaints Commission had backed a prosecution for manslaughter.

Bizarrely, this man will not be prosecuted

Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, acknowledged there was evidence that the officer, named as PC Simon Harwood, assaulted Tomlinson minutes before he died. But he said there was no realistic prospect of conviction because of "sharp disagreements" between pathologists.

Read the full Guardian article here.

Roxy Music announce 'For Your Pleasure' tour II

A statement from Buckingham Palace

 "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 purpose through the media. This in turn has increased the security threat and the potential discomfort to the many other guests also attending. Mr Griffin's personal invitation was issued to him as an elected member of the European Parliament. The decision to deny entry is not intended to show any disrespect to the democratic process by which the invitation was issued. However, we would apply the same rules to anyone who tried to blatantly politicise their attendance in this way."

All the best

To which Nick Griffin replied: "It is an absolute scandal. I represent a million voters in the North West. This appears to be a rule invented for me. Nowhere in the book of rules given to all attendees does it say anything about not giving media interviews and, of course, countless people have done precisely that in the past. This decision is an attack on the media and their right to report on important events of the day. It is an attack on the right of every person in Britain to get the news of current events reported by the media, and it is an attack on the one million plus patriots who voted for the BNP. The move has obviously been made under pressure from the Con-Dem regime who are desperate for any reason to bar the BNP."

Oh, well.

Roxy Music perform In Every Dream Home a Heartache on Jonathan Ross

Roxy Music have provided the soundtrack to my life and here is one of the reasons. They performed this after Love is the Drug but it was edited out of the transmission last week - I can only presume the BBC thought that 6:21 minutes of Roxy Music at their finest was too much for a Friday night television audience.

Is this the end of Britain's 24-hour drinking culture?

Pubs and clubs will be prevented from opening 24 hours a day under plans by the Home Office to tackle problem drinking. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to publish a consultation paper that proposes increased powers for local councils to take action in areas plagued by alcohol-influenced crime and disorder. The paper will set out an overhaul of the licensing regime to include a ban on shops selling alcohol at below cost price and a “late-night” levy on some pubs and clubs to contribute towards the additional costs of policing.

There are also moves to give councils and the police greater powers to close permanently those shops or bars that serve children repeatedly. Fines for selling alcohol to those who are underage would be doubled. Local authorities currently have to deal with each licence individually and often find it difficult to identify a specific pub or club at fault. In practice, problems often relate to the cumulative effect of a number of nearby premises staying open late at night. Under the plans, which could be announced as early as next week, councils would be given powers to introduce a ban on drinking after midnight in entire streets or towns.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

University and college teaching budgets slashed by £82m

Universities and colleges are being forced to do without £82m that the government had promised them for the current financial year, it has emerged. The cut will come out of institutions' teaching grants and was revealed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), which distributes public funds on behalf of the government.

Vice-chancellors and principals were told by how much their individual teaching budgets were being reduced on Tuesday, but will only discover tomorrow how the entire higher education sector has fared. Some complained it is too late notice to impose cuts, given the financial year started in April. Professor Simon Gaskell, principal of Queen Mary, University of London, said the cuts, and their timing, introduced "uncertainty that was crippling" for universities. He said: "It is ironic that universities have been urged to plan well when what immediately follows is a sabotaging of that in the current financial year."

Electoral Commission to review Zac Goldsmith's election spending

The Electoral Commission today announced that it was carrying out a review of the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith's election spending after questions were raised over whether he declared in full the money spent on his campaign for the 6 May poll. The multimillionaire MP, who won Richmond Park from the Liberal Democrats, was involved in a live on-air spat with the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow after the programme broadcast allegations about his spending.

In a joint investigation, Channel 4 News and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism (BIJ) uncovered invoices for campaign items including signs, leaflets and branded jackets which allegedly did not tally with the spending declaration made by the Goldsmith team. Goldsmith's declaration, signed on 7 June, stated that he spent £220 less than the £11,003 limit for the final 23 days of the campaign, with a total of £10,783.

Cameron denies, Clegg clarifies, Cable mystifies - and they're the brains of the Coalition

David Cameron has denied sending out "mixed messages" over plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2015. The prime minister, his deputy Nick Clegg and foreign secretary William Hague have all said UK forces will not stay beyond that date in a combat role. But Mr Cameron has also said the withdrawal would be "conditions based".

Bewildered of Westminster

Hitting back at criticism from Labour and some of his own backbenchers, he told the BBC "there was absolutely no contradiction between the two things". Mr Cameron, who is in Washington, said there was "absolutely no change in policy" on Afghanistan from the previous government. He explained that he had said troops would be home by 2015 because he wanted to send out a signal "that we won't be in Afghanistan forever. To give people some certainty, we have said, to be clear, that in 2015 there are not going to be combat troops, or large numbers of British troops, in Afghanistan," he told BBC News.

Defence bill 'unaffordable', warns Liam Fox

Britain's defence programme is "entirely unaffordable" as it stands, the defence secretary, Liam Fox, said yesterday, in a speech preparing contractors and the military for a shift in spending priorities. He told an audience at the Farnborough air show that "change was coming", because of the unavoidable reality of running two overseas conflicts, and the acute cuts forced upon him "thanks to the mess left by the previous government".

"The defence programme is entirely unaffordable – especially if we try to do what we need to do in the future while simultaneously doing everything that we've done in the past," he said. His assessment came after he confirmed over the weekend that the Ministry of Defence was being asked to foot the bill for the capital costs of renewing Trident. If he loses that battle, ministerial allies have warned there would have to be a further cut to troop numbers than that already accepted by Fox. His department is conducting a strategic review to update its spending priorities but, regardless, faces cuts of up to 20% in the government's autumn comprehensive spending review.