UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

What if it’s not the economy, stupid?

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Gordon Brown is counting on a swift economic turnaround. It’s probably his Labour Party’s only hope of avoiding a humiliating electoral defeat to the Conservatives next year.

The latest news on the economy has certainly got people in Downing Street smiling. The housing market is stabilising and some commentators are even talking about Britain becoming the first major country to pull out of the recession.

Treasury forecasts of reasonable growth that were derided just two months ago suddenly don’t look so bad.

The Number 10 dream scenario is that the economy recovers strongly, Brown takes the credit and the polls turn in time for a May election.

Should Alan Sugar have been hired?

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Among the surprises last week, as one cabinet minster after another stepped down, was Gordon Brown’s appointment of Sir Alan Sugar as the government’s Enterprise Tsar.

Was this a sound decision, several analysts wondered, or was it a possible case of Brown seeming to confuse the worlds of politics and show business, hoping perhaps that what works in the studio would work just as well in the real world?

UK MPs’ expenses: who’s next?

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The scandal engulfing British members of parliament over their often startling expenses claims has started to bring down some prominent victims: the speaker of the House of Commons, two Labour Party MPs and four from the Conservatives at time of writing.

The Daily Telegraph, which obtained a disk containing unexpurgated details of claims for moat dredging, floating duck houses, plasma screen televisions and reimbursement for mortgages long paid off, is now on Day 19 of its unremittingly lurid revelations.

Who can restore order to the House of Commons?

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In what turned out to be something of an anti-climactic announcement, House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin has said that he will step down on June 21.

Martin has been heavily criticised for his handling of the scandal over MPs’ expenses that has tarnished the reputation of the “Mother of Parliaments”, triggered outrage across recession-hit Britain and led to opposition calls for an early general election.

MPs’ expenses — worse than cash for questions?

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Britain’s anti-sleaze chief Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has said the MPs’ expenses scandal is worse than the infamous cash for questions affair that did so much damage to the John Major adminstration in the 1990s.

In that celebrated scandal, which fatally undermined Tory MP Neil Hamilton’s political career, Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed alleged he had paid two MPs to table parliamentary questions on his behalf.

Getting a nose in front

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Hosting a shindig conference at one of Britain’s most prestigious racecourses in the genteel spa town of Cheltenham hardly sends out a message that David Cameron’s opposition Conservatives are trying to reach out to the masses.

But the decision to come to the rolling hills of the Cotswolds sheds light on one of the obstacles standing between Cameron and the keys to No. 10 Downing Street.

In for a penny, in for £175 billion

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It may not be tax and spend exactly, but it’s definitely tax and borrow.

For the best part of 12 years, Labour has pursued essentially conservative (with a small ‘c’) economic policies, steadily underburdening itself of the ‘fiscally unreliable’ tag that some earlier Labour administrations were (wrongly or rightly) saddled with.

And for most of the past 12 years, as the global economy steadily expanded and Britain’s along with it, with aggregate wealth rising smoothly, Labour looked strong at the helm each time the budget came around.

Playing the blame game

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President Barack Obama had barely settled into in the White House before he was happy to admit he had “screwed up” over one of his choices for a cabinet job after Tom Daschle withdraw his nomination as health secretary over an income tax controversy.

Even Britain’s leading bankers were moved to apologise to parliament last month over the sector’s indiscretions in the boom years.

Global problem or self-inflicted wound?

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The government has unveiled a second package of measures aimed at getting the banks to start lending again and helping the economy off its knees.

The new package follows last October’s 37 billion pound bank bailout which ministers have reluctantly had to concede was not enough. It may have shored up their capital positions but it did not prompt them to start lending again. The latest plan aims to give them a hefty nudge in that direction by offering them insurance against losses and guaranteeing their debt.

Brown’s see-saw poll recovery

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A ComRes/Independent poll this week says Gordon Brown has staged a stunning political recovery and that the Labour party is now just one point behind David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Yet only four days ago an ICM/Guardian survey said Conservative popularity had returned to its summer peak with 45 percent of voter support and a lead of 15 points.

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