Tuesday, 31 August 2010

EDF puts up electricity prices

An estimated 1.2 million customers will be hit by the price rise, which takes effect from the start of October. Bills will increase by 2.6 per cent, or £10 a year, from £399 on average to £409. This is the first time that any of the major six suppliers have increased their main tariffs since the summer of 2008, and some experts warned it was an worrying sign that bills were on their way back up.

Credit Suisse accused of "sophisticated and aggressive tax avoidance"

Credit Suisse was accused yesterday of "sophisticated and aggressive tax avoidance" after the investment bank and wealth management group briefed staff that an unexpected one-off bonus would be awarded to hundreds of its London-based bankers tomorrow – less than five months after the government's 50% levy on bank bonuses expired.

The bank had initially won praise in some quarters for curbing 2009 bonuses in response to the tax on bankers' rewards announced by the then chancellor, Alistair Darling, last December. In effect, it appeared that Credit Suisse bankers were to shoulder this temporary tax burden, whereas several other investment banks chose to pass on the tax charge to shareholders. Yesterday, however, Credit Suisse staff were briefed that the bank's 400 UK managing directors would this morning be receiving one-off "discretionary leadership awards". The total cost of these awards was not disclosed but they will take the form of payments in cash to be released to bankers in 2012 and 2013. The payments will be subject to "clawback" if related performance falters.

Critics of the City's bonus culture were quick to see the move as a cynical attempt by Credit Suisse to avoid contributing its fair share to the Treasury's already perilously light coffers. The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Lord Oakeshott, said: "This could be sophisticated and aggressive tax avoidance. If so, Credit Suisse managing directors are laughing all the way to the bank with an exceptional bonus and the British taxpayer is out of pocket."

Credit Suisse would not comment on accusations of tax avoidance or an out-of-control bonus culture. In a statement it said: "We are committed to remaining competitive in the UK. We are recognising the commitment of our UK leadership team with a discretionary leadership award. The award is long-term in nature, deferred over three years, tied to … performance of the bank and is subject to clawback provisions."

Blanket coverage of Pope's visit live on BBC

The BBC has today unveiled more details of its extensive plans for coverage of the forthcoming UK visit by Pope Benedict XVI, with more than ten hours of live broadcasting on BBC1 and BBC2. In addition to about twelve and a half hours of live programming on the two main TV channels, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and other BBC TV, radio and online services will be contributing to the coverage. Huw Edwards will be the main television anchor for the pope's arrival, broadcast live on BBC1 from Edinburgh on Thursday 16 September, when the pope will also meet the Queen. 

Oh, for fuck's sake, give her a nudge

Edwards will give commentary on the Westminster Abbey service the following day on BBC2, which will also be on Radio 4 Longwave, covered by Ed Stourton. On Saturday 18 September, Edwards will present coverage of a mass at Westminster Cathedral, where he will be joined by Monsignor Mark Langham. Sunday coverage will include the beatification mass of Cardinal John Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham, which will air on BBC2. The programme will be fronted by Edwards, joined by Stourton and Langham. On the same day, Radio 4's Sunday Programme and a special edition of Sunday Worship will also be broadcast live before the main ceremony.

In addition to the blanket live coverage during the papal visit, there will be "some current affairs programming looking at the different aspects of the Catholic Church". There are also a wide range of papal-themed documentaries. BBC2 is airing two documentaries, Benedict: Trials of a Pope and Newman: Saint or Sinner? fronted by Ann Widdecombe, plus highlights of the trip in The Pope's Visit. BBC 4 is screening Vatican – The Hidden World of God's Servants and Radio 4 is airing The Pope's British Divisions, which will feature Mark Dowd examining the impact of the sex abuse crisis in Britain's Catholic community, plus highlights of the beatification of Cardinal Newman.

Radio 2 will air a special hour-long edition of Sunday Half Hour from a vigil in Hyde Park, while Radio 5 Live will have "extensive" coverage led by Shelagh Fogarty and including live broadcasts of the Pope's arrival in Edinburgh on 16 September and of his first mass the same day during 5 Live Drive. The following day Fogarty will present 5 Live Breakfast from Twickenham, where Pope Benedict will be staying, with "live coverage of his official engagements throughout the day", plus broadcast of the final mass of the visit.

The BBC said it "will also be covering other events during the papal visit on the BBC News Channel". Aaqil Ahmed, BBC commissioning editor for television and head of religion and ethics, said: "This is the first papal visit to Britain for 28 years and the first ever state visit and is of great significance not only to the millions of Catholics in this country but to the countless others who will be watching in the UK and around the globe. I am delighted that the BBC is bringing together a team of presenters and specialists who can provide insight into such an historic occasion."

planetpmc recommended link: National Secular Society

Government could earn £30bn profit from bailout scheme

The government is set to reap almost £30bn from its holdings in the British banks it bailed out at the time of the financial crisis, according to an analysis published today. The estimated sum, enough to fund the UK's primary schools for a year, comes after predictions at the height of the crisis that propping up the banks could cost taxpayers up to £850bn. The gains will be achieved if equity prices rise in line with predicted economic growth over the next five years, delivering a profit of around £19bn to the taxpayer by 2015, according to The Banker magazine.

At least a further £8bn will be due from fees for loans, bond guarantees and the asset protection scheme (APS) set up by the Treasury in 2009 to restore confidence in banks were in danger of failing. Lloyds paid £2.5bn in fees to join the APS, but did not participate, while losses at RBS are unlikely to be large enough for the bank to call upon the guarantee of taxpayer money, for which it has so far paid £1.4bn.

UK taxpayers are breaking even on their 83% shareholding in Royal Bank of Scotland and 41% of Lloyds TSB, when dividends and other earnings are taken into account. Receiving a profit from the holdings would be a welcome boost for a coalition government which is fighting to fill the hole in the national finances left by the banking crisis, but would also be welcomed by Labour as a vindication of the strategy it adopted while dealing with the crisis.

The Banker's editor, Brian Caplen, said: "While the banks remain at fault for decisions that led to some of them needing a rescue package, the UK taxpayer could make a significant profit from bailing out the banks by 2015."

Graham Norton show to replace Friday Night with Jonathan Ross

Graham Norton's chat show is to replace Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, the controller of BBC One has said. Jay Hunt announced at the Edinburgh Television Festival that The Graham Norton Show would move from its current Monday night slot. She said: "I'm sure the audience will love his unique blend of comedy and entertainment on a Friday night." 

The ubiquitous and increasingly irritating Norton

Norton's show originally began on BBC Two in 2007 before switching to BBC One in October last year. "I'm thrilled that BBC One like the show enough to move it to Fridays," Norton said. "It's the night the show started on many years ago so it's nice to be back."

It was also confirmed in May that Norton would be filling Ross's BBC Radio 2 slot on Saturday mornings from 2 October. Ross announced at the beginning of the year he was leaving the BBC after 13 years, having decided not to renew his contract.

Coalition 'opts out' from EU directive against sex trafficking

David Cameron and Nick Clegg stand accused of sending the "wrong signal" to pimps and human traffickers across the world after the coalition decided against endorsing an EU directive designed to co-ordinate European efforts to combat the trade in sex slaves. As new figures show that fewer traffickers are being jailed than at any time in the last five years, Labour called for a government rethink on the directive, appealing to the pro-European Liberal Democrats to explain to their coalition partners the benefits of EU action.

Denis MacShane [above], Labour's former Europe minister, launched the appeal after the government decided not to sign up to the directive. The document includes a common definition of the crime of trafficking, to make it easier to convict offenders in the EU's 27 member states.

Campaigners regard co-ordinated EU action as essential because many victims are trafficked through the new member states of Bulgaria and Romania. The directive would allow suspects to be prosecuted for offences in other member states, and would boost the rights of victims.

The coalition is invoking a special British right on any EU justice and home affairs measures. The directive will be decided in the EU by the system known as qualified majority voting, according to which no member state can wield a veto. But Britain has the right to decide whether to "opt in".

English Defence League lunches in Brighton

Around thirty protesters, most of them English Defence League supporters, joined a march organised by the English Nationalist Alliance through Brighton yesterday. They were given a heavy police escort as they marched through the town and were heckled by locals and anti-fascist counter-protesters. The EDL supporters had lunch on the terrace of a popular gay bar and went home suitably stuffed.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Spawn of the Coalition

Cannabis may relieve chronic nerve pain

Smoking cannabis from a pipe can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients with damaged nerves, a study suggests. A small study of twenty-three people also showed improvements with sleep and anxiety. Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers said larger studies using inhaler-type devices for cannabis were needed. UK experts said the pain relief seen was small but potentially important and more investigation was warranted. Around 2% of people suffer from chronic neuropathic pain (the pain is due to problems with signalling between nerves) but effective treatments are lacking.

 This woman feels no pain

Some patients with this type of chronic pain say smoking cannabis helps with their symptoms. And researchers have been investigating whether taking cannabinoids - the chemicals within cannabis that effect pain - in pill form could have the same effect. But the team from McGill University in Montreal said clinical trials on smoked cannabis were lacking. The study used three different potencies of cannabis - containing 2.5%, 6% and 9.4% of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol - as well as a placebo (dummy version). Under nurse supervision, participants inhaled a single 25mg dose through a pipe three times a day for five days followed by nine days off, for four cycles. Those given the highest dose had significantly reduced average pain compared with the placebo as well as less anxiety and depression, and better sleep.

Study leader Dr Mark Ware said: "To our knowledge, this is the first outpatient clinical trial of smoked cannabis ever reported." He said larger more long-term studies with higher potencies of cannabis were needed to further test the findings and to better assess safety. Clinical trials using inhaler-type devices for delivering measured amounts of cannabis should be carried out, he added. Professor Tony Dickenson, an expert in pain medicine at University College London, said a lot of patients with this type of pain say they benefit from cannabis but there were clearly health issues associated with self-medicating in this way. He also said the pain relief seen was quite small but could make an important difference to patients who often suffer sleeplessness and depression because of their condition.

It was also worth investigating whether inhaling the drug was a more effective way of getting it into the body than taking it orally, he added. "It may be important in the future to find patients who respond particularly well because it may be that it is not suitable for some groups, such as older patients," he said. "They didn't get as many patients in the trial as they wanted and it shows that this sort of research is very difficult to do." Dr Peter Shortland, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said: "Importantly, smoking the drug did not produce the psychoactive effects commonly associated with full strength cannabis." He added the trial was "an encouraging step forward" but further large-scale clinical trials were warranted.

"Electoral cul-de-sac" awaits if new leader takes party back to pre-New Labour, says Mandelson

Labour would be left in an "electoral cul-de-sac" if its next leader tried to create a pre-New Labour party, Lord Mandelson has warned. Speaking to the Times, in the week that voting begins for a new leader, he appeared to be criticising Ed Miliband. Mr Miliband has said he can take the party beyond what he has called the "New Labour comfort zone". In an interview with the Independent, the leadership contender said Labour had became "cautious" in government. He said his policies would appeal to the common sense of voters.

All aboard the Milibandwagon

The leadership contender suggested New Labour had feared increasing taxes for high earners, as well as displaying an aversion to Old Labour's anti-Americanism and suffering from an unnecessary desire to protect the public from the views of Labour members. This led to a "control freak" style of party management and a "hollowed out" party.

Speaking to the Times, Lord Mandelson addressed Mr Miliband's criticisms of New Labour. He said: "I think that if he or anyone else wants to create a pre-New Labour future for the party then he and the rest of them will quickly find that that is an electoral cul-de-sac." The peer also accused Roy Hattersley and former leader Neil Kinnock of wanting to "hark back to a previous age".

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said: "A contest that has rumbled on for months in a roadshow of hustings for Labour party members has sparked into life. The five candidates know that this is a critical moment in their campaigns because ballot papers are posted out on Wednesday and voting begins." 

Mr Miliband's brother, David, will hold a rally for supporters in London later in which he is expected to criticise the government's vision of a "big society".

Ivabradine pill may save lives of thousands of heart failure patients

A pill costing less than £1.50 a day has the potential to save the lives of thousands of heart failure patients, medical trials suggest. The drug, ivabradine, is already available in the UK to treat angina. Prof Martin Cowie, who led the UK-based part of the study, said it could save up to 10,000 lives each year. The trial involved more than 6,500 people in 37 countries who already used standard treatments such as beta-blocker drugs.

"It is vital that the results of this study are implemented and ivabradine is used as 
part of standard heart failure treatment as soon as possible."

Over a typical study period of two years, ivabradine cut the risk of death from heart failure by 26%. It had a similar impact on the likelihood of patients being admitted to hospital. Unlike other treatments, such as beta-blockers, ivabradine lowers the number of heartbeats per minute without also reducing blood pressure. The research findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Stockholm.

More than 700,000 people over the age of 45 are thought to live with heart failure, which occurs when damage to the heart leaves it too weak to pump blood efficiently round the body. Heart failure uses up 1% to 2% of the total NHS budget and direct medical costs alone amounting to £625m each year. Prof Cowie, a consultant cardiologist at London's Royal Brompton Hospital, said estimates that 10,000 deaths could be prevented in the UK by prescribing the drug to eligible patients were conservative.

"The evidence represents a significant clinical breakthrough in the management of heart failure and is incredibly important information for patients with this condition. We now know that more lives can be saved and improved simply by adding ivabradine to their current treatment in order to take some of the strain off the heart. It is vital that the results of this study are implemented and ivabradine is used as part of standard heart failure treatment as soon as possible," said Prof Cowie.

Although ivabradine is already available in the UK for angina - the pain caused by insufficient blood reaching the heart - it is only prescribed to about 10% of patients with the condition.

Mr Wippy and the Conettes at Lollibop Festival

Borough Market wholesalers sue trust in lease row

Traders accuse market's trustees of trying to force them out but trustees say traders are out of touch with changing market, writes Rajeev Syal in today's Guardian.

It claims to be the biggest and may be one of the oldest food markets in the world, and has been at the heart of Britain's gastronomic boom over recent years. But a storm is gathering at Borough Market in south London, whose trustees have been accused of trying to force out wholesalers based there for generations in the pursuit of greater profits.

Fruit and vegetable merchants are suing the charity that runs the market in a dispute over lease agreements that could end in their eviction. They accuse the trust's managers of attempting to capitalise on the market's growing international reputation as a foodie destination by bringing in more lucrative high-end retailers. Separately, some stallholders are furious that the trustees have been subjecting them to anonymous taste-testing, which they claim is biased against traditional and cheaper products.

The last three remaining fruit and vegetable wholesalers based at permanent stalls have launched a High Court case against the market's trustees, claiming they have reneged on an agreement to guarantee them leases until at least 2014. The trustees of Borough Market (Southwark) insist they will fight the case, which they argue has been provoked unnecessarily by out-of-touch traders who do not want to engage with a changing market.

Jack Wilshere arrested after 'fracas' in Kensington High Street

Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere was arrested in the early hours in connection with a "fracas". A spokesman for the player said the footballer was held after the incident at 0245 BST in Kensington High Street, London, and later released on bail. Three other men were also arrested. Emergency crews were called after a man suffered minor facial injuries and a woman sustained a broken arm.

Wilshere, 18, made his England debut in last month's friendly against Hungary. But this week he was named in the England under-21 squad rather than remaining in contention for the senior side's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the four men - two aged 18 and two aged 21 - were taken to a west London police station and later bailed to return in mid-October pending further inquiries.

A spokesman for the player insisted the 18-year-old had been playing the "role of peacemaker" in the incident. The spokesman said: "Jack Wilshere was arrested by police in the early hours following a fracas but was released on bail later. The police have made it very clear that he is an important witness to the incident and played the role of peacemaker and is unlikely to face any charges as a result. Jack has made it very clear he will co-operate fully with the police investigation."

Stevenage-born Wilshere came on as a substitute for Arsenal in the 84th minute on Saturday in his team's 2-1 win over Blackburn. He has played in all three of Arsenal's Premier League matches so far this season, after spending much of last season on loan at Bolton, and is rated as one of the best young English prospects in the game. 

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Police were called at approximately 2.45am on Sunday 29 August following reports of an assault on Kensington High Street. Officers and London Ambulance Service attended and discovered a man and a woman suffering injuries. "The woman had suffered a broken and dislocated elbow; the man was treated for a minor facial injury. Both went to a west London hospital for treatment."

Third edition of Oxford English Dictionary unlikely to appear in print format

Publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary have confirmed that the third edition may never appear in print. A team of 80 lexicographers began working on it following the publication of the second edition in 1989. It is 28% finished. In comments to a Sunday newspaper, Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, which owns the dictionary, said: "The print dictionary market is just disappearing. It is falling away by tens of percent a year." Asked if he thought the third edition would appear in printed format, he said: "I don't think so." However, an OUP spokeswoman said no decision had been made.

"It is likely to be more than a decade before the full edition is published and a decision on format will be taken at that point," she said. "Demand for online resources is growing but large numbers of people continue to purchase dictionaries in printed form and we have no plans to stop publishing print dictionaries." The Oxford English Dictionary already publishes revised and new entries online every three months, with a new version of its OED Online website due to be launched in December. The publisher produces approximately 500 dictionaries, thesauruses and language reference titles in more than 40 languages in a variety of formats."

George Bush's White House had 'grave doubts' about Gordon Brown as PM

The White House under George Bush reportedly told Tony Blair it harboured "grave doubts" about Gordon Brown's suitability to be prime minister, according to today's Sunday Telegraph. The concerns about Brown, whose relations with Bush were stilted when he eventually became prime minister, arose from a difficult meeting with Condoleezza Rice. Brown is said to have "harangued" Rice, then secretary of state, over US policy on aid and development in Africa. Rice reportedly alerted the White House which passed on its concerns to Blair.

No date is given for the meeting with Rice, who became secretary of state at the start of Bush's second term in January 2005. Blair announced in the early autumn of 2006 that he would stand down before the time of the Labour conference in 2007, suggesting that Rice's comments were passed on in 2005 or 2006. Labour sources were not surprised by the report, given Brown had made it clear he did not share Blair's enthusiasm for the US president. But the paper's suggestion that Blair prolonged his time in Downing Street in response to misgivings in the White House were dismissed by insiders.

Peter Mandelson's recent memoirs state that Blair hung on so long because Brown declined to support his domestic public services reforms. "Basically Gordon is on strike," Blair reportedly told Mandelson of the then chancellor's view of a series of five year plans he launched at the Labour conference in 2004. Blair's hand was finally forced in 2006 after he declined to call for a ceasefire after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. David Miliband, then the environment secretary, was one of his supporters to speak out in cabinet, inadvertently strengthening the hand of Brown's supporters who finally struck

Brown eventually became prime minister at the end of June 2007. A month later he visited Bush at Camp David, causing mild offence by briefing that he would not handle relations with the White House in the same way as his predecessor. In contrast to the jeans sported by Blair for a Camp David meeting with Bush, Brown made a point of wearing a suit and tie for his joint press conference. Bush addressed Brown as Gordon who then replied "Mr President". Brown described their discussions as "full and frank"

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Margaret Thatcher blocked Soviet aid for striking miners, files reveal

Now newly released Downing Street documents have shed fresh light on the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, exposing how Thatcher exerted intense diplomatic pressure on the future leader to successfully block a Soviet donation of much-needed cash to the strikers.

The documents, released to the Guardian after a five-year freedom of information battle, show how the pair clashed during the titanic miners' strike that convulsed Britain in 1984-85.

Read the full Guardian article here.

Government to give cash to councils that build traveller sites

Ministers are to offer cash incentives to councils that build official sites for travellers in an attempt to persuade communities to allow travellers set up home on their doorsteps. In a move that risks igniting a major row, the Government is to use powers to encourage home building to also offer "financial benefits" to local authorities that develop land for caravans and campers. 

A charming, dancing gypsy boy

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, wants to stamp out unlawful developments. This week he will launch a charm offensive with the traveller community [haha!], saying those who "play by the rules" will get more rights and be treated in the same way as other mobile home residents. In January this year there were more than 1,800 caravans on sites "not tolerated" by officials. The figures showed an 11 per cent increase on the previous year, while the number of caravans on sites with permission rose by 4 per cent in the same period. 

Earlier this month, the Government announced plans for a new homes bonus which would be paid to councils that built more houses. But this week Mr Pickles will announce that the scheme will also include authorised traveller sites to ensure "all types of authorised residential developments are treated equally".  Travellers on official council sites will be given the same rights and responsibilities as residents on other mobile home sites, while those who abide by their pitch agreement will have greater protection against eviction. 

At the same time, the Government is expected to revoke the Whitehall Planning Circulars on travellers which some councils say have forced them to build on the countryside and compulsorily purchase land. It has been estimated that councils spend £18m a year evicting travellers from unauthorised sites.

New tax cuts unlikely before 2015, says Danny Alexander

New tax cuts are unlikely within the next five years, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said. In an interview with the Observer he said the overall tax burden was likely to remain at its current level for "quite some time", to help reduce the UK's deficit. He appeared to dismiss more tax cuts before 2015 but stressed that a fair, rebalanced tax system was the priority. Later this week ministers will meet to discuss departmental spending cuts.

In the newspaper interview, Mr Alexander - Chancellor George Osborne's deputy - said: "I think the tax burden is necessary as a significant contribution to getting the country's finances in order. So it will have to stay at that level for quite some time." When asked whether a reduction in the overall tax burden was possible once the country's books were in order, the minister added: "You are asking me to take decisions for five years down the line now and I am not going to do that."

Blackburn 1 - 2 Arsenal

Saturday, 28 August 2010

I curse the day Gerry Rafferty was born

Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, some bastard plays Baker Street on his clarinet in Pavilion Gardens, Brighton non-stop for seven hours, come rain or come shine. There's a gun shop in Brighton - I'm tempted.

Looking a tad flushed there, Gerry
"Troubled 70s pop star Gerry Rafferty was last night said to be safe and well - after being reported missing six months ago. Boozy Gerry, 61 - famed for 1978 hit Baker Street - vanished from hospital while being treated for liver failure. But ex--wife Carla, 58, of Evesham, Worcs, has now revealed: "He's fine. He's got plenty of people looking after him." However, she refused to disclose his whereabouts. Pal Tony Williams from his old band Stealers Wheel - best-known for Stuck in The Middle With You - said: "I'm so glad. He had me worried."
Daily Mirror, 17th February 2009
Hmmm, I wonder if it's him.

Microsoft's Paul Allen sues Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube and others over patent infringement

The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, is suing several high-tech giants for infringing patents held by a firm he founded in the 1990s. The legal action against Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Google and eBay, as well as six other firms, asserts that web technologies first developed by Interval Licensing have been infringed. The patents are key to how e-commerce and search websites worked, it says.

Messrs Gate and Allen without whom this blog would not be possible

Google, Facebook and eBay immediately said they would fight the accusations. "This lawsuit against some of America's most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "Innovation - not litigation - is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world." A Facebook spokesman called the action "completely without merit".

In the suit filed in the US District Court in Washington on Friday, Interval said it was seeking damages and a halt to the alleged violations of its patents. The four patents concerned essentially involve using web browsers to find information; letting users know when items of interest appear; and enabling adverts, stock quotes, news update or video images to pop up on a computer screen while the user is engaged in another activity. The company also alleges that it helped fund outside projects including research by Larry Page and Sergey Brin that resulted in Google. The other companies named in the lawsuit are AOL, YouTube, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples.

Cabinet minister may act over false claims of gay affairs

The minister, who is married, has been accused of having an affair with a Whitehall official and of having a long-term relationship with a journalist. He has strongly denied the allegations. Senior Downing Street aides are braced this weekend for “suggestive” reports to begin surfacing over the Cabinet minister’s private life. 

"OK, stop mincing and don't call me Wizziwig"

Friends of "the minister" have warned that he will not hesitate to take “action” should unfounded allegations that he is homosexual, which are circulating on the internet, appear in mainstream media. It is not clear whether this action would take the form of an injunction or a threat to sue following publication. “He is happily married and is not gay, it is as simple as that,” said one source. “He will not hesitate before taking the necessary action should someone overstep the mark and suggest something which is not true.”

The Cabinet minister has faced repeated questions about his private life over the past few months. In recent weeks, The Daily Telegraph, along with several other newspapers, received details of two alleged male lovers of the Cabinet minister. Photographers were present outside the home of one of the men, whose family are thought to have left the country. The other alleged lover, a journalist, has also been approached by reporters over an apparent affair.

Friday, 27 August 2010

NHS Direct to be replaced by cut-price health advice service

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has let slip that the government is planning to scrap NHS Direct, the hugely popular medical telephone helpline. While touring Basingstoke and North Hampshire hospital on Thursday, he revealed that the phone service – which this year cost £123m to run – is to be axed. Until Lansley's apparent indiscretion, the official government line was that a new free telephone service, NHS 111, would not replace existing local telephone services or NHS Direct but might do so in the longer term if a pilot scheme is successful.

NHS Direct handles more than 27,000 calls a day

The Department of Health has confirmed that NHS 111 would replace NHS Direct within three years. The new service is undergoing trials in County Durham and Darlington. "When NHS 111 is rolled out nationally, it will replace the NHS Direct 0845 4647 telephone number," the department said yesterday. People can dial 111 to get health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24-hour chemists. Although the new number is free, it is expected to be far cheaper to run than NHS Direct because it is likely to employ fewer medically trained staff.

The department said it did not know how much NHS 111 would cost but admitted that it had a responsibility to save money. "It is important that we deliver the best possible service for the public and, in the economic climate, deliver the best value for money," said a spokeswoman. The NHS has been told to find up to £20bn of savings by 2014, even though the health service is due to see rises in its budget in the coming years. This is because of the increasing demands from an ageing population, new drugs and lifestyle changes such as increasing obesity.

Another Tory MP bites the pillow

Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP and prisons minister, has separated from his wife and is "coming to terms with his homosexuality", he has announced. Blunt said no one else was involved in the separation and appealed for his family's privacy to be respected.

A statement released by his office said: "Crispin Blunt wishes to make it known that he has separated from his wife, Victoria. He decided to come to terms with his homosexuality and explained the position to his family. The consequence is this separation. There is no third-party involvement but this is difficult for his immediate and wider family and he hopes for understanding and support for them. The family do not wish to make any further public comment and hope that their privacy will be respected as they deal with these difficult private issues."

Blunt, 50, has been the Conservative MP for Reigate since 1997. He and his wife were married in 1990 and they have one son and one daughter. The MP became a parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice in May following the formation of the coalition government. Blunt was slapped down by Downing Street last month after saying he was lifting a ban on arts events such as comedy workshops and fancy dress parties for prisoners. Number 10 overruled him the following day, ordering that there would be no such parties.

Blunt's track record on homosexuality and equal rights can be seen here.

Joe Cole's driving ban delayed over wife's scare

Joe Cole avoided an immediate ban for speeding at 105mph after a court heard today that his wife was "severely traumatised" after being dragged from her car by "eight thugs on motorbikes". Carly Zucker has been left unable to get back behind the wheel after she was the victim of a carjacking outside her Chelsea home, Staines Magistrates' Court in south west London was told. Police are still hunting for the black Audi A4 which was stolen almost a fortnight ago, said Cole's lawyer Nick Freeman. Chairman of the bench John Neary agreed to suspend a 50-day ban and £750 fine while Mr Freeman, known as Mr Loophole, launches an appeal. The Liverpool and England star did not appear in court for the hearing.

Mr Freeman told the court: "His wife was outside their house in London when she was carjacked by eight thugs who were on motorbikes. She was physically removed from the car. "The car was stolen and it has not yet been recovered. She is 26 and has been severely traumatised by this incident to the extent that she has not driven a car since." He said the situation was "now compounded" by the fact that Cole and his wife have moved up to Merseyside since his summer switch from Chelsea to Liverpool FC. Mrs Zucker and her five-month-old baby would not be able to use public transport if Cole was banned because of their "profile", the lawyer added. Cole's driving licence and documents were in the glove compartment of the stolen car, Mr Freeman added.

Cole, who has recently encountered on-field troubles after missing a penalty and being sent off since making his debut for Liverpool, was driving his wife's A4 when a police officer spotted him breaking the 70mph limit in November last year. In a recording of the incident, Cole appeared to be smiling as he drove past the officer on the A3 Esher bypass in Claygate, Surrey. He was not pulled over but was later sent a speeding ticket by Surrey Police, via his wife. Andrew Mitchell, who has since retired from the force, told the court he believed Cole's car was being driven at more than 70mph when he saw it approach at 12.55pm on November 19. "My estimate was confirmed when the laser, when shone on the vehicle, recorded a speed of 105mph," he said at an earlier hearing.

Cole, whose address was given as Chelsea, London, confirmed he was driving but previously denied speeding. The footballer already had six points on his licence. He was told he must pay £600 costs in addition to the fine. Speaking outside court Mr Freeman welcomed the result, saying Cole would be "very pleased". Mr Freeman had told the court it was a "substantial but unusual" mitigating factor that Cole's wife had been victim of the carjacking. Cole had missed the court appearance because he had flown out with his club for a European match in Turkey, the court heard. Mr Freeman asked the magistrates "would you consider suspending this?" after Mr Neary said he believe a "sentence of disqualification" was appropriate.

A slippery slope

The future of the UK's largest dry ski slope looks more assured after a rescue package to save it was agreed. A special meeting of Midlothian Council, which owns the loss-making Midlothian Snowsports Centre, backed the plan. It would see £600,000 of investment from SportScotland and involve the sale of green belt land near the site to developers.

Well, at least we can all go fucking skiing

The centre, known as Hillend ski slope, is losing half a million pounds a year. About 30 Olympians, including Alain Baxter and Finlay Mickel, have trained on its artificial slopes over the years. The centre has been the focus of an internet campaign, supported by more than 27,000 people. A management shake-up has already made savings, and the council now hopes the rescue deal could see Hillend break even within two years.

What is your Labour leadership vote worth?

Two pence isn't the right answer, I'm afraid, but not far from it. The New Statesman informs us that the big decision lies with an electoral college split equally three ways between the 271 MPs and MEPs, all party members (around 165,000) and members of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies (an eclectic bunch that includes the Fabian Society, the Jewish Labour movement, the Christian Socialist Movement, Scientists for Labour and the Labour Animal Welfare Society). 

I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my mammy

As a result, the vote of one MP is worth proportionally more than those of hundreds of regular party members and thousands of affiliated members (of whom there are an estimated 3.5 million). This contrasts with the system used by the Tories and the Lib Dems, under which candidates are nominated by MPs before going forward to a membership ballot.

To display the idiosyncracies of the Labour system better, here are some key figures:

  • The vote of one MP is worth the votes of nearly 608 party members and 12,915 affiliated members.
  • The vote of one party member is worth the votes of 21 affiliated members.
  • An MP's vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member's vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member's vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent.

David Miliband currently enjoys the support of the largest number of MPs (101, after the Cruddas endorsement) and the highest number of Constituency Labour Parties (165). Should the former win the day for him, it would be surprising if some Labour activists didn't begin to question the vastly disproportionate power wielded by MPs under the present arrangements.

George Eaton, the New Statesman

Cuts undermine David Cameron's 'big society', says Labour

David Cameron's "big society" has been dismissed as vacuous by Labour as figures show the government is cutting £734m from voluntary projects at the heart of the prime minister's mission. An audit by the Labour party shows that 6% of the statutory funding for civil society projects is being cut as part of the coalition's plan to reduce Britain's record fiscal deficit.

Yes, we can

The cuts include:

• £370m after the extension of the Future Jobs Fund was cancelled. The number of job grants was due to rise to 200,000, of which 64% were for civil society groups.

• £95m from the National Affordable Housing programme.

• £14m from the Youth Community Action programme, designed to ensure that all young people participate in at least 50 hours of community action by 19, and £11m from the Youth Sector Development Fund, which is focused on the disadvantaged.

• £7m from the Prevent programme, designed to help challenge extremists and £4m from the Cohesion programme designed to tackle extremism.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that voluntary organisations received £12.8bn from public funds in 2007-08. The £734m cuts announced by the government represent 6% of this amount.

Tessa Jowell, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "What people want is not the vacuous promise of a big society but a good society where everybody does their bit and is helped to do so to improve their community and create benefits for everyone.But a big society that cuts people loose, leaving them to stand on their own, will never work."

Trabzonspor 1 - 2 Liverpool (agg 1 - 3)

Spot the hairdressers

Worlds apart

Countess Marianne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn takes a photo ahead of 
the Pakistan Benefit Concert at Haus fuer Mozart concert hall in Salzburg, Austria

Cameron dragged into cash for access controversy

David Cameron has been dragged into the Conservatives’ “cash for access” controversy with the disclosure that the party is offering meetings with the Prime Minister to supporters who pay £2,000. The Tory fund-raising operation is inviting financial backers to join Team 2000, a donors’ group whose members are promised “first-hand” insights into government policy from Mr Cameron. It has also emerged that the Liberal Democrats are offering meetings with their ministers to business leaders who make payments to the party.

The disclosure comes after The Daily Telegraph yesterday reported that the Tories are offering access to ministers to supporters who pay £1,000 to attend a dinner in October. According to the party website, people donating £2,000 a year qualify for Team 2000. The team is the “principal group of donors who support and market the Party’s policies in Government, by hearing them first-hand from the leader and key Conservative politicians through a lively programme of drinks receptions, dinner and discussion groups”. Because £2,000 is below the legal limit for declaring donations to parties, the names of members are not made public.

Team 2000 is one of several “patrons’ clubs” the Conservatives operate to raise money. At the top of the scale is the Leader’s Group, at £50,000 a year. Members are “invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, [and] drinks receptions”. Some members have been invited to dinner at Mr Cameron’s home. A Tory spokesman said the patrons’ clubs were legitimate. “Under the current system, all political parties have to raise money in order to operate,” he said. “All donations are declared in accordance with Electoral Commission guidelines.” The Conservative clubs were set up in Opposition, but have continued now that the party is in power.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Tottenham Hotspur 4 - 0 Young Boys

Tottenham Hotspur ambled into the Champions League proper last night and looked as if they belong among the type of clubs who consider this tournament to be their natural habitat. Young Boys, by contrast, were entirely ill at ease and had Senad Lulic sent off after he brought down Gareth Bale. Peter Crouch duly obliged  and notched his side's fourth goal from the penalty, completing his hat-trick.

The striker, all the same, was overshadowed - Bale contributed to each of the goals and, at 21, personifies a side that appears to have come of age. By now his left-footed deliveries are in the thoughts of all rivals, but no amount of planning nullifies the threat entirely. Oh, and it rained for the entire match.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Labour's legal landmines slow the Coalition's advance

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban crashed and burned on Radio 4 this morning. When asked whether he had conducted a formal study of the impact of the government’s spending proposals on disadvantaged groups, he didn’t have a clue what the interviewer, Justin Webb, was talking about. That this is a legal requirement was clearly news to him and he repeatedly avoided answering the question. 

Sitting comfortably? Then let us begin to tear you apart

As this was going on, UNISON, the public sector union, announced that it would mount a legal challenge against Andrew Lansley’s NHS white paper on the grounds that the NHS constitution is legally binding and prevents the government from implementing any change without major consultation.

Some commentators have already spotted the potential legal booby-traps in the measures brought in by the Labour government in its dying days. Legislation giving people legal entitlements to public services and stronger equality laws were always going to make it more difficult to cut public spending. Theresa May anticipated this back in June and warned George Osborne about it before the budget.

Treasury's Mark Hoban repeatedly dodges Radio 4's fairness question

Fresh analysis of the coalition government's first Budget has concluded that low income families are among the biggest losers from the measures announced in June. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the poorest households will see their annual incomes fall by about 5% cent on average by 2014. Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban gave his response to the report on Radio 4's Today programme, challenging the IFS's "selective analysis".

Here is a transcript of the Hoban and Webb exchange over the legally required assessment on the fairness of the Budget:

Justin Webb (R4): Can I just ask you this quick question: have you conducted an assessment which you are required to do by law by the equalities act of 2010 to find out what affect this budget has on ethnic minorities, disabled, other vulnerable groups?
Mark Hoban: Look Justin we went through a very detailed distributional analysis at the time of the Budget, it was the most extensive piece of work that anyone has done…
JW: But have you conducted this assessment?
MH: And it looked across a wide range of households in a way that other governments haven’t done, and I think the choice that we faced…
JW: So hold on, can I just get straight from you, have you conducted this legal assessment or not?
MH: Justin, we have gone through the most detailed and rigourous assessment of the distributional impact of this Budget than any government…
JW: So you’ve not, you’ve not actually done the assessment that you’re required to do under the 2010 act?
MH: We’ve gone through the most rigourous assessment of the impact of this Budget on families…
JW: But Not this formal assessment?
MH: We’ve gone through, Justin this is the best and most detailed piece of work any government has done on the impact of their Budget on families and households…
JW: Can I just get it clear from you, you’ve not done the formal assessment that some people think you are required to do under the equalities act 2010?
MH: Justin I think you know you are looking at detail rather than actually at recognising the fact we had to take some difficult decisions in the Budget to tackle the deficit we inherited from Labour, the choice we faced was either to take action now or to do nothing…
JW: But people are going to conclude that you’ve not conducted that, I mean you call it a detail, people are going to conclude now that you haven’t conducted it and that’s a fair conclusion.

Yes, I think that's a fair conclusion.

You're going to reap just what you sow

Nick Hayes, the Guardian

Top 10 STI hotspots in England

1. Hackney
2. Lambeth
3. Southwark
4. Hammersmith and Fulham
5. Islington
6. Haringey
7. Wandsworth
8. Tower Hamlets
9. Westminster
10.Brighton and Hove

Just LOL

Source: BBC News

Ireland's credit rating downgraded

The Irish Republic has had its credit rating downgraded by a leading ratings agency, Standard and Poor's (S&P). S&P fears that the growing cost of propping up the country's troubled banking sector will further weaken the government's finances. It now thinks that the Irish government will spend 90bn euros ($101bn; £74bn) helping the banks, 10bn euros higher than previous estimates. The country's own debt agency described the analysis as "flawed". It claimed that S&P's outlook was based on an "extreme" scenario of the cost of recapitalising the banks.

S&P cut the rating one step to from AA to AA-, its lowest since 1995. This follows clearance earlier this month for an additional injection of 10bn euros into Anglo Irish Bank. The agency now forecasts that net government debt - the sum of all borrowing - will rise to 113% of GDP in 2010. That would be a substantial increase on the 64% level recorded in 2009. It would also make it one of the highest in the eurozone and well above its projections for Spain (65%) and Belgium (98%).

The rating could be cut again if the costs of the bail-out rise or the economic recovery becomes more sluggish, S&P warned. A lower rating can make it more expensive for governmenta to borrow money on the markets - vital for countries needing to finance large deficits such as Ireland. The Irish economy has been affected by a damaging recession prompted by the global financial crisis and the collapse of the once-booming property market. This weighed heavily on Ireland's banks which have needed massive injections of government money. Unemployment has continued to rise, reaching 13.3% at the last count.

Manchester United's owners fail to pay mortgage on four more shopping malls

Manchester United's owners, the Glazer family, have suffered further embarrassing financial difficulties after four more of its US shopping malls recently fell into default on their mortgages. With the interest rate charged on United's enormous "payment-in-kind debts" rising from 14.25% to 16.25% this month, the news could hardly come at a worse time.

The four malls are in Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado and two in Ohio. That means nine, or 13%, of the Glazers' malls are now "delinquent" or insolvent, and a further 29 centres, 43%, have so many units empty the rental income does not cover the mortgage payments. First Allied is the only significant business the Florida-based family runs besides Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL franchise, and the bank disclosures show it making income above the malls' running costs of only US$9m a year.

Read the full Guardian article here.

Camerons confirm new baby to be called Waynetta

Sam and Dave held a press conference late on Tuesday night and confirmed that their new daughter will be called Waynetta.

Young Conservative, Waynetta

"It's a nod at the 2018 England World Cup bid that I had to miss due to being on holiday and acknowledgement of Wayne Rooney's performance at the last World Cup. Like Wayne, our daughter will make us laugh and make us cry but we'll do everything we can to ensure that she doesn't speak like him," Dave jested. "If she makes half as much money as him we'll be laughing all the way to the bank that we will, by that time, own."

The Scamerons admit they had toyed with the names suggested to them by their Cornish subjects including Pasty, Scrumpy and Bikeshed but plumped for Waynetta when they heard that Mr Rooney had accepted their invitation to be the girl's godfather. That and the fact they didn't ever want to be reminded of Cornwall again.

The local god of fertility, Paddy Pantsdown, sent the couple a signed copy of his book, A Fortunate Life.

Osborne's budget 'clearly regressive' says IFS

In a direct challenge to Treasury claims that the package of spending cuts and tax increases announced in June was fair, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said welfare cuts meant working families on the lowest incomes, particularly those with children, were the biggest losers. The IFS said it had always been sceptical about Osborne's claim that the budget was "progressive" but added that this instant judgment had been reinforced by a study of proposed changes to housing benefit, disability allowances and tax credits due to come in between now and 2015.

Passing judgment that is likely to make uncomfortable reading for the Liberal Democrats, the IFS concluded: "Once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms." Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, has argued that the budget represented "progressive austerity" by sparing the poorest families from the brunt of the attack on the UK's record peacetime deficit.

Alistair Darling, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, said: "Just last week George Osborne told us that his budget was 'fair'. But it's decisions, not warm words, that count. Today there's conclusive evidence that far from being fair the coalition has hit the poorest hardest, especially those with children. "While Nick Clegg is in charge he would do well to ask himself what he thinks he's doing providing cover for this old-fashioned Tory budget." An Osborne aide said: "We will take no lectures on fairness from a party that, for example, failed to meet its targets on child poverty and did not restore the pension-earnings link."

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Freedom of information request submitted re William Hague and his new "adviser"

Interest in William Hague’s new special adviser, 25-year-old Chris Myers, shows no sign of abating. As the Mail on Sunday reported at the weekend, Myers, a history graduate from Durham University, has joined the Foreign Secretary’s coterie despite the coalition’s promise to slash spending on ministers’ support staff.

Please can we go and see a musical, Wizziwig, please

Blogger Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, has submitted a Freedom of Information request with the following enquiries: "Has Mr Myers been on any international trips with the Foreign Secretary involving overnight stays?" "How much is Mr Myers being paid?" And "Could you please provide a detailed job description." Myers was appointed two weeks ago to the so-called Tyke Mafia, an inner circle of special advisers who share Hague’s Yorkshire roots. All are believed to be on £30,000 salaries.

Guido terms his FoI request "Just Asking" and opines: "Seems odd that young Christopher Myers (25) should go from driving William Hague (49) around his constituency during elections, where according to the Mirror … they became close during campaigns" to become his third special adviser. The Foreign Secretary’s office says Hague has hired a third special adviser owing to his additional responsibilities as First Secretary of State. Staines acknowledges this on his blog but comments that "[Peter] Mandelson [the previous First Secretary of State] didn’t hire young friends as special advisers, so far as I know".

Pressed further this morning about he detailed nature of his FoI request, Staines is defiant. "It is a question of propriety," he says.

Donations to political parties reach record levels

Donations to political parties reached their highest level on record around this year's general election, the Electoral Commission has said. Some £26.3 million worth of gifts were reported by sixteen parties as having been received in April, May and June.

The main beneficiaries were the Conservative Party which received £12.3 million; Labour with £10.9 million; and the Liberal Democrats with £2 million. The three main parties also took a share of more than £1 million of public funds and owed more than £31 million between them at the end of the period. Labour had the highest borrowing at the end of June with £16,645,172, followed by the Tories on £13,128,326 and the Lib Dems on £1,600,314.

The previous record for quarterly political donations was £20.6 million, received by parties in January, February and March 2005 ahead of that year's election. The increase is even more marked than the figures suggest, as the threshold at which donations have to be reported rose in January. For gifts to the central parties it rose from £5,000 to £7,500 and for those to smaller accounting units, like constituency parties, it rose from £1,000 to £1,500. Individual donations made to the central parties in the month before the May 6th general election were previously published as part of the weekly campaign updates.

Peter Wardle, chief executive of the Electoral Commission, said: "Since 2001 we have made public details of almost 30,000 donations to political parties, with a total value of just over £433 million. Voters have come to expect a high level of transparency about the way political parties are funded and never more so than for the period covering a general election in the UK. Voters will want to see who funded political parties during the election campaign, and contributed towards this record-breaking quarter."

M&S appoints Robert Swannell as chairman

"Who?" I hear you ask. Why, the chairman of HMV, of course. Follows, doesn't it? HMV ... M&S ... The 59-year-old will earn an annual salary of £450,000. He will take over the role from Sir Stuart Rose from January next year. 

Rather good at blending into the background

Mr Swannell spent 30 years at Schroders (later Citigroup), where he advised M&S on its defence of a hostile takeover bid by Topshop owner Sir Philip Green [oh, good man]. "He knows his way around M&S, retail and the City. Sure, he's not as big a personality as Sir Stuart, but he is just as competent and that's what counts," said Neil Saunders, a director at Verdict research [who?]. His background in doing deals has prompted some to suggest M&S either plans an acquisition or sees itself as a takeover target.

Manchester City 3 - 0 Liverpool

Manchester City's celebrated owner Sheikh Mansour made his first visit to Eastlands this evening and was greeted by an impressive performance that saw his team cruise to victory against Liverpool. It was also James Milner's first outing in sky blue although first night nerves were nowhere to be seen.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sam Hutchinson retires due to persistent injury

Sam Hutchinson has announced his retirement as a professional footballer. The 21 year old defender suffered a reoccurrence of the knee injury that affected his past three seasons and it is has been decided he will not recover sufficiently for the physical demands of a professional career. Hutchinson will continue to be supported by Chelsea Football Club and will work in their Academy while also studying sports science at university. He will later pursue coaching qualifications.

Sam was to have featured in the forthcoming planetpmc xxv

He made his first-team debut as a substitute in the final league game of the 2006/07 season and was part of the first team pre-season visit to the United States that followed. José Mourinho spoke about him as a future permanent member of the Chelsea squad. Comfortable at full-back or in central-defence, Hutchinson was expected to make rapid progress but after just five reserve games in 2007/08, the knee problems began and brought the season to a halt. Further recovery time was needed in the middle section of 2008/09, limiting Sam to six games for the reserves, a side which he had captained.

Sam joined Chelsea at the age of nine and developed into an England Under-19 international. He received an England Under 21 call-up but withdrew to manage his injury, a process that looked to be paying dividends when Hutchinson rejoined the first team squad for the pre-season tour of the US in 2009 under Carlo Ancelotti who said: 'He is a very good, young talent and we have a lot of trust in him.' Last season he played as a sub against Fulham in August and started against QPR in the Carling Cup before, in April, coming on in the 7-0 home win over Stoke and crossing for Frank Lampard's goal.