BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Michael Crick

Archives for June 2010

Are Mayor's political advisers paid too much?

Michael Crick | 17:40 UK time, Friday, 25 June 2010

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has no fewer than seven aides whom he pays more than £100,000 a year.

They are:

Guto Harri £127,784
Sir Simon Milton £127,784
Dan Ritterband £127,784
Anthony Browne £127,784
Pamela Chesters £127,784
Nicholas Griffin £102,227
Kulveer Ranger £102,750

David Cameron, in contrast, has only three advisers in Downing Street on £100,000 plus.

Andy Coulson £142,000
Ed Llewellyn £125,000
Kate Fall £100,000

So of the six highest-paid political advisers on the public payroll, five work for Boris Johnson.

Yet surely the Prime Minister's top advisers deserve more than senior people working for the Mayor?

Which prime ministers were born in Wales?

Michael Crick | 09:38 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010

For years I've been teasing people with that question. It's a bit of a trick, really, for the answer has always been none. No, not even David Lloyd George - he was actually born in Manchester.

It is a surprising fact, especially when so many Welsh-born politicians came quite close to the premiership - including Nye Bevan, Neil Kinnock, Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine, Michael Howard and John Prescott.

Now my answer will have to be revised. Wales has a prime minister at last. The new Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, who was born in Barry, in south Wales.

Huhne resumes public engagements

Michael Crick | 10:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Chris Huhne resumed his public engagements last night, less than 48 hours after an expose by a Sunday newspaper forced him to announce he was leaving his wife of 27 years, Vicky Pryce.

Addressing the Gladstone Club in London, the climate change secretary was "calm and jovial", says my source, "at ease and comfortable."

"It was incredible."

Speaking and answering questions for almost two hours, I am told Huhne behaved as if nothing had happened over the weekend.

William Gladstone would have approved of the coalition government, Huhne insisted.
"Gladstonian retrenchment speaks to us today."

Huhne also revealed that senior Lib Dems had conducted war games before the election, in preparation for possible negotiations with the Conservatives in the event that no party got an overall majority.

But in the event Lib Dem negotiators were surprised that the Conservatives conceded ground to them to the extent they did.

Young blood in the House of Commons

Michael Crick | 17:24 UK time, Wednesday, 16 June 2010

I had lunch this week with Jonathan Reynolds, the new Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde. He's only 29, but far from the youngest member of the House.

Indeed, it's a striking aspect of the 2010 election that so many MPs who are still in their 20s were elected. At least 12 of them by my reckoning, and there are almost certainly some I've missed

My list of 20-somethings is:

Age 25
The new Baby of the House, Pamela Nash (Lab, Airdrie + Shotts)

Age 26
Bridget Phillipson (Lab, Houghton + Sunderland)
James Wharton (Con, Stockton South)

Age 27
Anas Sarwar (Lab, Glasgow Central)

Age 28
Shabana Mahmood (Lab, Birmingham Ladywood)
Chloe Smith (Con, re-elected for Norwich North, and now a junior whip)
Gavin Shuker (Lab, Luton South)
Luciana Berger (Lab, Liverpool Wavertree)
Chris Skidmore (Con, Kingswood))

Age 29
Tom Blenkinsop (Lab, Middlesbrough South + South Cleveland)
Jonathan Reynolds (Lab, Stalybridge + Hyde).
Gemma Doyle (Lab, West Dumbartonshire)

How does this compare with other recent elections? The number of people in their 20s elected each time was:

2010 - 12 (9 Lab, 3 Con)
2005 - 3 (all Lib Dem)
2001 - 5 (4 Lab, 1 Con)
1997 - 11 (10 Lab, 1 Con)
1992 - 1 (Lib Dem)
1987 - 4 (2 Con, 1 Lib, 1 SDP)

Lib Dems squeezed at PMQs

Michael Crick | 14:58 UK time, Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Prime Ministers' Questions today again illustrated the problem of the Liberal Democrats being squeezed by the new coalition arrangements.

Today there was just one question from a Lib Dem MP, on hill-farmers from Sir Alan Beith.

In the past the big set-piece political event of the week would see three to four Liberal Democrat questions - two automatically for the party leader, and usually one or two others for other Lib Dems.

And again David Cameron faced significant fire from the Right - on prisons from Philip Davies, and on Europe from Douglas Carswell.

IDS on how to win the leadership

Michael Crick | 16:09 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

The former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith recently bumped into the Labour leadership contender Diane Abbott and offered her the benefit of his experience.

"What I can offer you is advice on how to win the leadership," said IDS.

"Where I can't help you is advice on how to hold onto it."

Would David be willing to serve under Ed?

Michael Crick | 15:04 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

An interesting aspect of the Labour leadership election - as ever in these things - is which candidates would be willing to serve under each other.

In particular would David Miliband be content to serve under his younger brother Ed?

The talk among many Labour people at the moment is that if David were to lose to Ed then the elder brother might leave politics altogether.

I don't imagine Ed would have any trouble serving under David, but the other way round?

It's a matter of ordinary human psychology.

How many people in life would be willing to work in such a public role under the command of their younger sibling?

I certainly wouldn't.

And what would make it even more humiliating for David Miliband is that for many years he was the heir apparent, and then his younger brother took the bold and unusual decision to challenge him.

Can you provide a home for an MP?

Michael Crick | 16:19 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Full marks for initiative to Winkworth, the estate agents.

They've been distributing glossy cards to properties in Westminster and Pimlico asking if people want to let their homes to an MP.


Under the new rules drawn up in the wake of the expenses scandal, MPs can no longer use parliamentary allowances to buy a second home. They must claim rent for properties, or for hotel bills.

"Let your home to an MP," reads Winkworth's card.

"The Winkworth MP Service sources high quality rental properties for the hundreds of new MPs now re-locating to London," it says.

"Developed in consultation with recently retired senior MPs from all parties, our exclusive service has already been presented to over 500 MPs in an information pack."

"Since the election, the MP Service has been a great success and we have had a lot of demand from new MPs looking for a property to rent. We now have a shortage of stock to meet this high demand.

"If you are thinking of letting your property, please call 020 7828 1786 for more information or come and see us at 31 Belgrave Road, Pimlico, London SW1V 1RB."

Most people, I imagine, would be horrified at the idea of an MP living in their home.

And yet MPs, surely, are likely to be reliable tenants than most - easy to chase up for rent, and away for much of the year.

Nick Goble of Winkworths tells me they have been distributing their cards in Battersea, Clapham and Kennington as well as Pimlico and Westminster:

"We've had a good response," he says, though he can't say if they've actually fixed any MPs up yet. "They're all under pressure because there's not enough stock."

I took the oportunity to ask what I would get in Kennington for £950 a month. A small one-bedroom flat, Mr Goble said.

That's strange. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws was paying that much for just a bedroom and bathroom in his boyfriend's flat in Kennington.

Which rather suggests Mr Laws may have been overpaying his partner. Or at least he may not quite be the financial wizard that some people are claiming.

News mafia - is the country run by former journalists?

Michael Crick | 14:57 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Four of the five Labour leadership contenders used to be journalists:

Ed Balls (Financial Times)
Ed Miliband (TV researcher with Brook Lapping)
Andy Burnham (reporter with local paper in Middleton, Lancs)
Diane Abbott (producer with LWT)

I see that Boris Johnson has a piece in this week's Spectator saying the country is now run by journalists.

I've not had a chance to read his article, but he has a point.

Apart from Johnson himself, we also have George Osborne, Nick Clegg, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, Shaun Woodward and Ben Bradshaw, while Gordon Brown was also a TV reporter.

David Cameron was never a journalist but once worked in PR for Carlton Television.

There must be many others too.

Mind you, it's not entirely new - Winston Churchill, Michael Foot, Edward Heath and Tony Benn were all journalists in their early years.

Lib Dems haven't given up hope of Short Money deal

Michael Crick | 17:58 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Liberal Democrats still haven't given up hope of a deal whereby they will be able to carry on receiving Short Money - the state funds which Opposition parties traditionally get to compensate for the fact that governing parties benefit from the resources of the civil service.

I reported three weeks ago on how the Lib Dems were still hoping to get Short funding, though they ackowledged it would inevitably be less than the £1.75 million a year that they get now.

I'm told that Short funds paid for 32 staff at Lib Dem headquarters in Cowley Street. Ten of those have now got jobs on the government pay-roll as part of the coalition, so there are around two dozen staff at Cowley Street who face the sack if a deal isn't done soon.

The three new deputy speakers elected by secret ballot

Michael Crick | 16:39 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

MPs have just elected by secret ballot three new deputy speakers, and a very different lot they are from previous holders of the post.

Lindsay Hoyle (Labour) was elected as the new chairman of Ways and Means, while his two deputies are the Conservative Nigel Evans and the former long-standing Treasury minister (and one time ally of Tony Benn) Dawn Primarolo.

Taken with the new Speaker John Bercow, this represents a very new generation in the chair - a long way from the pin-striped knights of the shires and elderly trades union types who used to occupy such offices in the past.

Perhaps the most colourful amongst them is Nigel Evans who briefly served in the Conservative shadow cabinet. Although he is MP for Ribble Valley in Lancashire, Evans still owns (and sometimes works in) the family newsagents shop in his native Swansea - or at least he still did the last time we discussed it a year or two back.

Ed Miliband says no to Mandelson in shadow cabinet

Michael Crick | 13:25 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010

I'm at the first Labour leadership hustings at the GMB conference in Southport.

And the very first question from the chair, Mary Turner?

"As Labour leader, would you invite Peter Mandelson to join your shadow cabinet?"

"All of us believe in dignity in retirement," replied Ed Miliband.

Renowned psephologist and inventor of the swingometer moves aside

Michael Crick | 10:22 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Friday marks a rather sad and historic day in the history of political science in Britain.

The renowned Oxford psephologist, David Butler, a pioneer of the BBC's election results programmes, will be hosting the very last of his famous Nuffield Friday evening seminars.

This comes at the extraordinary age of 85, after an amazing run of 53 years. The first was held in 1957, the year Harold Macmillan became prime minister.

When I was an Oxford PPE student in the late 1970s, David Butler's Friday seminars were the academic highlight of my week.

Indeed, many weeks they were the only academic event of my week!

And Butler managed to lure a string of big names to his Nuffield College seminar room - Cabinet ministers, civil service mandarins, and leading figures in the media.

All were persuaded to give us frank and fascinating background detail and anecdotal accounts of how politics and power really work in Britain.

Many generations of Oxford students have been inspired by what they heard, and by Butler's teaching, to go into politics themselves, or the civil service, into journalism or academic life.

As a young psephologist Butler invented the concept of swing. As a TV performer in the 50s, 60s and 70s, he helped invent the once famous TV swingometer.

And over 60 years, from 1945 to 2005, he was involved the famous Nuffield election books, co-editing every edition from 1951 onwards.

What remarkable about David Butler is not just his longevity, but his continuing energy and unrelenting enthusiasm for politics and elections, not just in Britain but in several countries abroad - the US, India and Australia.

He was still conducting Oxford undergraduate tutorials until recently, and he still regularly attends seminars and hearings in all sorts of locations, though in recent years he has had to slow the pace to look after his ailing wife, the distinguished English don Marilyn Butler.

David Butler is one of the few remaining figures in British politics to have experience of the whole span of post-war political history. (Two others are Denis Healey and Butler's good friend Tony Benn).

As a don in his 20s, around the year 1950, he was twice summoned by the-then opposition leader Winston Churchill to Chartwell to explain new developments in the developing science of psephology.

"Tell me young man," Churchill reportedly asked Butler, "do you think I've become a liability to my party?"

Butler's brave response?

"Let me put it this way, sir, I'm not sure that you're the asset to your party that you once were."

Sixty years on, Butler himself certainly remains a great national asset, an inspiring figure for politics enthusiasts everywhere.

I will try to get to his final Nuffield seminar tomorrow night, though I fear that Newsnight duties may prevent me.

The election is over - so the elections begin

Michael Crick | 19:00 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The election's over, and now every MP seems obsessed with elections.

Portcullis House at Westminster seemed alive today with MPs canvassing for at least five different sets of elections. These are:

1. The Labour leadership - both Milibands, Eb Balls, Andy Burnham, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. Result September.
2. The Liberal Democrat deputy leadership - Simon Hughes v Tim Farron. Result 9 June.
3. The three Commons deputy speakers, where candidates include Dawn Primarolo, George Howarth, Tom Clarke and Lindsay Hoyle for Labour who get two posts, and Nigel Evans, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Roger Gale for the Conservatives, who will get one post. Nominations close Monday.
4. The new select committee chairmen, who are being elected by secret ballot for the first time. Results also Wed 9 June.
5. Labour's Shadow Cabinet, not due to be elected until the autumn, but lobbying is already well underway.

Add to that Labour's London mayoral selection, and various backbench committes, and Parliament is a hive of electioneering at the moment. I love it.

Why being in coalition may not be all roses for Lib Dems

Michael Crick | 17:42 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Today's PMQs illustrated the problems the Liberal Democrats may have in getting squeezed.

Before the election Nick Clegg would get two questions automatically, and then one or two other Lib Dem MPs would get to ask questions as well.

Today they got just one question, from Sir Alan Beith.

The problem is that with almost 20 of their MPs now serving as ministers in the coalition, there are now fewer than 40 Lib Dem MPs who can ask questions of the prime minister.

Unless there's some behind-the-scenes deal involving the Speaker then it's hard to see how the Liberal Democrats improve their position.

Together with broadcasting time and the disappearance of Short Money, it's another sign of how being in coalition government may not be all yellow or orange roses for the Lib Dems.

Cameron's fast thinking pays off at first PMQs

Michael Crick | 15:20 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Two quick observations on David Cameron's first performance at Prime Minister's Questions.

First, he seemed very nervous to start, and I could see his hands very visibly shaking from my vantage position directly above.

Second, Cameron has very few notes. Whereas Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had thick ring-binders of notes and possible replies, the new PM has only a thin sheaf of papers, and had nothing at all during his exchanges with Harriet Harman.

He seems to rely a lot more on memory and thinking on his feet, with some success against Harman (though I thought she performed better than normal).

Sarah Brown offers her memoirs to publishers

Michael Crick | 20:15 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

I hear that Sarah Brown is offering her diaries around our major publishers. The former Prime Minister's wife is well-known for her updates on Twitter, where she has more than a million followers. But I can reveal that she has also kept a traditional diary for several years now, and is looking to publish it.

Potentially at least, given her role at he centre of affairs in No 11 and No 10 for the last decade, the diary could be explosive, a rival to Alastair Campbell's bestselling diaries.

Alas, it seems Mrs Brown's recollections are, in fact, quite disappointing. I'm told she's unlikely to get much of a response from Rupert Murdoch's firm, HarperCollins, where senior editors have been reading them recently.

HarperCollins has a track record of trying to get the memoirs of British Prime Ministers and their spouses. But the verdict at HarperCollins, according to my source, is "there's not much commercial potential in them. The feeling seems to be we won't take them now."

Another firm likely to have been offered Sarah Brown's diaries are Random House, who are publishing the Blair memoirs this September.

Quentin Davies' U-turn on peerages

Michael Crick | 15:31 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Interesting to see that Quentin Davies, having failed to get a Commons seat, gets a place in the Lords.

A Conservative minister points out to me that on the day Davies defected from the Conservatives to Labour in 2007 he was taunted about this possibility by Alan Duncan on Newsnight, and said he only believed in an elected Lords.

From Newsnight 26 06 2007:

ALAN DUNCAN: "Will you give an undertaking tonight that under no circumstances will you accept a peerage from the Labour government?"

QUENTIN DAVIES: "I'm not giving any undertakings tonight, but I'm certainly not interested in peerages. And frankly Alan, if you knew anything about my record, you'd know that I have a consistent record in voting for a 100% democratically elected House of Lords, for the abolition of the nominated House of Lords - which I think is completely wrong. I want a democratic chamber. So if I was myself hoping for some nomination for the House of Lords I'd hardly be doing that, would I?"

Watch the exchange here:

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