Here’s a lunchtime summary.
• Unemployment has risen sharply, hitting its highest level in 17 years. At PMQs, when he was challenged about the figures, David Cameron said the figures were “disappointing”. He went on: “I accept we have got to do more to get our economy moving, to get jobs for our people, but we mustn’t abandon the plan that has given us record low interest rates.” But Ed Miliband replied: “The same script, month after month. Doesn’t he realise? It isn’t working.”
• Cameron has praised Liam Fox for doing an “excellent job” as defence secretary. Although today’s papers are full of fresh stories about the Fox affair, Cameron said Fox had done an “excellent job clearing up the mess left by Labour”. Cameron also refused to say that a breach of the ministerial code would definitely lead to Fox being sacked. Asked about this issue, he said: “It is for the prime minister to decide whether someone keeps their job or not. In the case of the defence secretary, I think it is very important when the leader of the opposition has called for an inquiry and I have established an inquiry, let us allow the Cabinet Secretary to do his work.” Originally it was said that the inquiry would be over by the end of next week. But Downing Street has now indicated it could take longer. In response to a story in today’s Sun, Fox has said that he was “appalled” by the suggestion that he tried to mislead the media about what happened when his flat was burgled last year.
• Fox has revealed that the Libyan war will cost Britain around £300m. As the Press Association reports, Fox said in a Commons written answer that the cost of operations – from the start of the missions in March to the middle of December – was estimated at £16Om. In addition, the Ministry of Defence faces a bill of £140m to replace the ammunition used. All costs will be met from Treasury reserves and will not affect the MoD’s core budget.
• Cameron has told MPs that he has written to the leader of other countries where the Queen is head of state to get support for plans to change the rules of succession. He wants gender equality to be introduced, so that in future girls do not take precedence over boys in the line of succession. “It isn’t an easy issue to sort, and there may be worries about starting a legal process,” Cameron said. “I am clear it is an issue we ought to get sorted and I would be delighted in playing a part in doing that.”
• Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, has announced the details of a new inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. An earlier inquiry established that Finucane, a Catholic solicitor, was killed following collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. In a statement to the Commons Paterson said: “Accepting collusion is not sufficient in itself. The public now need to know the extent and nature of that collusion. I have therefore asked the distinguished former United Nations war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond Da Silva QC to conduct an independent review to produce a full public account of any state involvement in the murder.” At PMQs Cameron defended the decision, which has angered Finucane’s widow, not to hold a full judicial inquiry. He said it was more important for the government to tell the truth than to have a “costly and open-ended” inquiry.
• MPs have been told that recommended limits on alcohol consumption should not be allowed to rise. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol and chairman of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, told the Commons science committee: “As someone who still looks after people with liver disease, and with hospital admissions rising, I think that any recommendation to increase limits would add to the tide of harm that we are seeing in our hospitals every day.”
• Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, has launched a consultation on Labour’s criminal justice policy. “Communities battling antisocial behaviour and victims of crime need to have a voice in debates about our criminal justice policy, and I am determined to make sure they are heard,” he said. “That’s why I am reaching out to victims’ groups and community organisations and asking them to participate in Labour’s justice policy review.”
• Jesse Norman, a Conservative MP and a member of the Commons Treasury committee, has called for Dave Hartnett, permanent secretary at HM Revenue, to resign after it emerged that Goldman Sachs had been let off £10m in tax. Norman said on his blog: “In my constituency I have hundreds of small firms, for whom the Revenue’s penalties on unpaid tax are 200 times as high on average as those on large companies. But this settlement with Goldman is the last straw: Dave Hartnett should resign.”
• The Department for Education has published research showing that “GCSE pupils’ reading is more than a year behind the standard of their peers in Shanghai, Korea and Finland”.
Scottish and Southern Energy is auctioning all its electricity on the open market – is taking place because of what he said at the Labour party conference. Miliband has certainly been very vocal on the need to break up monopolies in the energy market, but there is no evidence that SSE decided to act just because of what they heard Miliband say at Liverpool. It was a relatively minor slip, but it allowed Cameron, who quick-wittedly made a link to Gordon Brown’s famous “I saved the word” error, to recover right at the end of the exchanges.Verdict: Ed Miliband seemed to have the upper hand as he and Cameron clashed on the economy. His decision to remind Cameron that Cameron claimed last year that unemployment would be falling by now put Cameron firmly on the defensive and, although Cameron was spluttering out damaging Labour quotes like a CCHQ fax machine on overdrive, he could not refute Miliband’s central charge: the government’s growth promotion strategy doesn’t seem to be working. But then Miliband slipped by claiming that a shake-in in the electricity market announced today –
One other point worth noting: Cameron was very supportive of Liam Fox. After hearing PMQs, and after hearing the Downing Street hint that the inquiry might be strung out for a while (see 11.47am), I think Fox’s survival chances are looking a bit stronger than they were looking this morning.
Cameron says he does not want a “costly and open-ended” inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. The important thing is for the government to open up and tell the truth about what happened. He does not want another Saville inquiry, he says.
Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, is making a statement about this after PMQs.
Cameron says the government will ensure that there is time for MPs to debate the Hillsborough tragedy. There was supposed to be a debate last night, but it got held up.
Henry Smith, a Conservative, says a recent TaxPayers’ Alliance report said 38 trade unions leaders were paid more than £100,000. Should they exercise restraint?
As Labour MPs jeer, Cameron says Labour would rather listen to the unions than the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Cameron says youth unemployment has been going up since 2004.
Simon Hart, a Conservative, asks about bank lending.
Cameron says the government will keep the pressure up on the banks.
Cameron avoids the question. He says all issues are being considered by the inquiry.
Labour’s Keith Vaz asks about changing the rules of royal succession to stop boys taking precedence.
Cameron says he wants to sort this out. He has started a consultation. But some Commonwealth countries are cautious about opening up this issue, he says.
Labour’s Pat Glass asks if a minister should resign if he or she breaks the ministerial code.
Cameron says it is up to the prime minister. Labour have called for an inquiry, and so they should wait until Sir Gus O’Donnell has finished his investigation. Cameron says he thinks Liam Fox is doing an excellent job clearing up the mess left by Labour.
Mark Spencer, a Conservative, asks what the government is doing to help “hard-working families”.
Cameron mentions some of his welfare initiatives, including the cap on welfare payments and universal credit.
the “show trial” of Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukraine. He calls it “Stalinist”. Cameron says the government agrees.Denis MacShane asks about
Cameron says he is establishing a new unit under Louise Casey to take charge of turning around the 120,000 most troubled families.
Labour’s Andy Slaughter asks about health. Cameron says he is increasing health spending throughout this parliament.
He quotes Andy Burnham as saying it is “irresponsible” to increase health spending in real terms. Cameron says he does not agree.
Lorraine Fullbrook, a Conservative, asks about the job losses at BAE Systems. Cameron says the government is creating an enterprise zone.
Snap verdict: Miliband was winning until his hubristic slip about the energy market allowed Cameron to get the upper hand with his final reply. More later.
Miliband says this should tell Cameron that his policies are not working. He mentions Labour’s plans.
Cameron says: “You cannot borrow your way out of a debt crisis.” Digby Jones, the former trade minister, described Miliband’s conference speech as “divisive”. He describes Jones as a “Labour minister” (although Jones never joined the Labour party).
Miliband defends his speech. He says we are seeing change today in the energy sector “because of what I said”. Miliband is trying to save Liam Fox’s job. He should worry about other people’s jobs.
Cameron said the last Labour prime minister claimed he had saved the world. Miliband is Walter Mitty. Miliband and Ed Balls worked for Gordon Brown. You would not bring back Fred Godwin to save the banks. And you would not bring back Brown’s team to save the economy, he says.
Miliband says to have a credible plan on the deficit, you need a credible plan for growth. Cameron does not have one. When did unemployment among women last reach the level it hit today?
Cameron avoids this question. He says Miliband himself does not have a credible plan. He quotes a former chancellor (Alistair Darling?) saying that if you don’t have a credible plan, you are not at the races. He quotes a former home secretary (Charles Clarke?) saying Labour’s plans are not convincing.
Miliband says women’s unemployment is at its highest level since 1988. Instead of apologising four months late for the “Calm down, dear” comment, he should be apologising t women for the economy.
How many businesses have taken part in the scheme designed to help 400,000 businesses.
Cameron replies: “7,000.”
Ed Miliband starts with his own tribute to the soldiers.
He says Cameron told MPs at PMQs last year that unemployment would fall this year. Shouldn’t he admit his plan is not working?
Cameron says today’s figures are disappointing. But the government is doing all it can to help, he says, citing the work programme, welfare reform, education and apprenticeships. But he must not abandon the plan that has given the UK “record low interest rates”.
Miliband says the plan isn’t working. Why won’t Cameron accept responsibility?
Cameron says he accepts responsibility for everything that happens in government. He only wishes those in the last government accepted responsibility. He mentions tax cuts brought in by the government. But Miliband wants him to change course. If he changed course, the economy would go into a tailspin.
Sir Alan Beith, a Lib Dem MP, asks what Cameron will do to help women affected by the government’s decision to raise the pension age for women quicker than planned.
Cameron says a “large group” are affected by this transition. The government is looking at “transitional help” and an announcement will be made “shortly”.
David Cameron starts with a tribute to two soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
PMQs is about to start. What are the odds on Ed Miliband splitting his questions, and asking three on the economy, and three on Fox?
We thought the Whitehall inquiry into the Liam Fox affair would be over by the end of next week, because Fox said 21 October as a deadline when he asked Ursula Brennan, the Ministry of Defence’s permanent secretary, to investigate the facts at the end of next week.
But David Cameron has now asked Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, to get involved and the 21 October has been abandoned. This is what the prime minister’s spokesman told reporters at the lobby briefing this morning.
There is no timetable. We want to do this as quickly as possible. But equally, we want to be sure we answer the questions properly.
Asked if Fox was still able to do his job properly, the spokesman replied: “As far as No 10 is concerned, he is getting on with his job.”
all the Guardian’s coverage of the Liam Fox affair here. As for the rest of the papers, I’ve already mentioned the Sun’s claim that Tory officials lied about Fox being on his own when his flat was burgled last year. (See 9.02am.) Here are the other main stories about the affair in today’s papers.You can read
Liam Fox’s close friend operated as a one-man intelligence service to help the Defence Secretary overcome Whitehall inertia, according to authoritative sources.
Adam Werritty was an unofficial advance party for Dr Fox ahead of overseas visits in opposition and continued the practice in government. He was looking to assist Dr Fox on issues ranging from peace in Sri Lanka, to Iran’s naval capability, Israeli security, Russia, and Washington politics.
The aim was to ensure that Dr Fox’s foreign policy vision — often hawkish and sometimes at odds with government policy — did not get clogged up in the Civil Service machine.
Friends of Mr Werritty insisted that he was driven by patriotism rather than financial gain and worked in a private capacity to help Dr Fox in policy areas where he had long-standing personal interests.
Former defence ministers have expressed astonishment at the extent of Liam Fox’s travels amid concerns in Whitehall at his frequent absence from the office.
“Forty-eight trips in about 16 months? When I heard that I was very surprised,” Bob Ainsworth, Dr Fox’s predecessor as Defence Secretary, said.
Three visits to Sri Lanka, which cost about £7,500 and took place when Dr Fox was Shadow Defence Secretary, were funded by the Sri Lanka Development Trust. It has an address in Edinburgh but is unknown to the Charity Commission and Companies House.
Adam Werritty has been provided with a free desk by Michael Hintze, the founder of the CQS hedge fund, at the company’s London base.
Mr Werritty, who has held meetings with Dr Fox 40 times since the election, despite having no official Whitehall role is also said to have boasted to a former girlfriend that he was financed by Conservative Party donors. The disclosures will raise new questions over whether Dr Fox helped to establish Mr Werritty in business, and whether the unofficial adviser was providing any benefit to Mr Hintze, a multi-millionaire investor.
It also emerged today that Dr Fox tagged four short foreign trips with Adam Werritty on to official Government visits thanks to flights funded by the taxpayer. Two of the mini-breaks were in Dubai and two in Hong Kong.
On one occasion, Dr Fox took two days’ annual leave to spend time with his former flatmate and self-styled ‘adviser’ in luxury in the Gulf before continuing his journey to meet British troops risking their lives in Afghanistan.
As the one and two-day breaks were tagged on to Government trips, Dr Fox could legitimately have his travel paid for from the public purse.
The Mail also says that Werritty tried – unsuccessfully – to get his rent reduced because he was short of money. It says he pays an estimated rent of more than £2,500 a month for his flat in Pimlico.
One of the reasons why the Liam Fox story is so damaging is that it has almost been dominating the headlines for a whole week. On BBC News this morning Norman Smith was quoting the “Alastair Campbell rule” which says that if a scandal lasts for 10 days (or 12, or 11, or 9 – it varies), the minister involved can’t survive. As a description of how these things work, it tends to be true – although it is also very self-serving, because it means that if the media can keep writing about a controversy for long enough, they will get a scalp, which they can then use to justify their decision to pursue the issue in the first place.
There’s only one problem with the Alastair Campbell rule. As James Macintyre found out when he rang Campbell up to ask him about it, Campbell himself has no memory of coming up with it at all.
From Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary
This is a day of judgement for the government.
Today’s figures are the clearest proof yet that the government’s decision to cut too far, and too fast is hurting and just not working. Unemployment is soaring, and more young people are out of work than ever before.
Britain now needs a change of direction. What we now need is a new plan like Labour’s 5 point plan for jobs and growth. Getting people – and our young people – back to work is quite simply the safest, surest way to get the deficit down and put Britain on the right course for the future.
Today Labour has summoned the chancellor to the House of Commons for an all day debate on jobs and economy. The question he must answer is simple: will he now change course?
Byrne is referring to today’s opposition day debate, which is on a Labour motion saying that there has been no growth for nine months and that the government should implement Ed Balls’s five-point plan for growth.
From Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors
These are grim figures, and are likely to get worse before they get better. But abandoning the deficit reduction plan will do the unemployed no favours. The hope is that QE2 will lift the money supply and economic activity, but the ongoing eurocrisis is pushing the UK towards a double-dip with increasing speed. All this is before the threat of contagion has actually materialised. We are sailing in stormy seas.
From Ian Brinkley, centre director at The Work Foundation
The labour market figures released this morning are very troubling. The fall in employment of 180,000 in a single quarter is comparable to the quarterly losses seen during the depths of the last recession.
Unemployment among young people between the ages of 18 and 24 is increasing twice as fast as for the workforce as a whole and there has been a dramatic increase in long-term youth unemployment.
The main mitigating factor in today’s figures is that total hours worked has remained stable, with most of the job losses being part-time. People still in work seem to be increasing their hours at the same time as the workforce contracts.
The IPPR thinktank has now put out its response to the unemployment figures. It has highlighted these key points.
• Overall, 867,000 people have been unemployed for more than a year, the highest for 15 years.
• Of those, 227,000 young people (aged 18-24) have been unemployed for more than a year, the highest for 17 years.
• Almost a million (991,000) young people (aged 16-24) are now unemployed, the highest since comparable records began in 1992.
• More than million women (1,069,000) are now unemployed, the highest for 23 years.
• Of those, almost a third of women (303,000) have been unemployed for more than a year, the highest since 1994.
And this is what Nick Pearce, the IPPR’s director, is saying:
Today’s figures show that young people and women are being hit hardest by Britain’s jobs crisis, with the highest numbers out of work for a generation.
Being out of work for more than a year can have a scarring affect, making it harder to get a job as well as having a negative impact on one’s health and well-being. The government’s decision to abolish job guarantees for young people may leave a generation of young people scarred for many years to come.
The longer someone is out of work, the more they lose motivation and confidence. They also miss out on vital training and work experience. This means that even when employment starts to pick up again, they will find it hard to compete with other jobseekers and could find themselves permanently shut out of the jobs market. The longer someone is unemployed, the less likely they are to ever return to work. The government should guarantee everyone who has been unemployed for more than a year a job at the minimum wage.
Fox regards himself as an outsider. He was a champion of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Atlanticist cause long after it had gone out of fashion.
In government, just as he had in opposition, he wanted to talk to someone who thought like he did, who could ask the questions he would, who was on his side …
In one way, this explanation may clear things up for Mr Fox. In another, though, they may make things more tricky.
It appears that Mr Fox may have been getting and seeking private advice paid for by political sympathisers without the restraints placed on political advisers who work within the civil service and are paid for by the taxpayer – the political equivalent of the banks’ “off balance sheet” activity.
From Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary
These are terrible figures. The government’s austerity measures have turned unemployment into a full-blown crisis – with job losses not seen since the darkest days of the recession.
Worryingly, this is not simply the result of Eurozone troubles. This unemployment crisis is state-sponsored, and areas like the North East are paying a heavy price, with over one in 10 people out of work.
The news for those in work is bleak too, with wage rises falling back to just 1.8%, and creating an tighter squeeze on living standards.
The chancellor’s Plan A has sent unemployment to a 17-year high. This country urgently needs a plan B to get people back into work.
From Chris Grayling, the employment minister
It is clear that we are seeing the effect of the international economic crisis on the UK labour market. That’s why last week we announced the right-to-buy housing scheme to support growth and today we are offering more support for jobseekers as sector-based work academies come on stream, combining real training, work experience and a guaranteed interview.
Our new Work Programme is now up and running and offers people who have lost their jobs flexible, tailored support to get back into jobs and stay there.
From Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB
The Tories and Lib Dems’ big gamble that private sector growth would create enough jobs to compensate for their cuts in public sector jobs has not come off, as the rise to 2.57m without jobs shows.
In the middle of the worst international recession for 80 years, the government itself is creating unemployment, with 250,000 public sector posts already gone and still more to come. These posts could have been available to the 2.57m workers now facing the despair of mass unemployment.
Government policy is hurting but it’s not working. The squandering of human talent through unemployment is a crime that will haunt future generations.
This is what Liam Fox said today as he left on the Eurostar for talks in Paris with his French counterpart.
I shall carry on doing the job that I am meant to do, the job that I am paid for.
Like it or not, Liam Fox’s private life is now a subject for national debate. Or at least it’s a subject for debate on the Today programme, which in my book amounts to the same thing.
For the record, this is what happened when John Humphrys raised the matter with Chris Grayling this morning. Grayling, the employment minister, was on the programme to talk about unemployment, but he was asked about this subject because he was Fox’s campaign manager in the 2005 Conservative leadership contest.
JH: There’s a lot of suggestions in the papers this morning about all sorts of things. Let’s try and stick to the facts of it, to the extent that you know them yourself. [Fox] has made it clear that he thinks the campaign against him is driven by smear and innuendo and he said in the Commons on Monday “if the honourable gentleman or anyone else has a substantial challenge, let him or her bring it out into the open rather than whispering from the weeds”. What’s he mean by that?
CG: I think this is certainly something where there is something of a “mass pursuit” of Liam at the moment. I think he has been very clear in standing up and saying, “look, I made mistake, I did things wrong”. Downing Street has accepted the same, that he made some mistakes and made some errors of judgement.
The question is, is that enough to counter-balance the fact he is doing a really good job in Defence, a very important job in defence? My own view is that, if a minister makes a mistake and puts his hands up and says “Yup, I got that wrong”, we should respect that. I have not seen anything emerge in any of this that gives me rise to believe that Liam has done anything substantially wrong that would call his position into question.
JH: Well, we did ask a friend of his what he meant by “whispering from the weeds” and they steered us towards and an interview he had given in 2005, when he was running for leader. And he said this. He admitted that he had been subject to rumours for years, that he was both gay and a promiscuous homosexual. “They say” – and I’m quoting – ‘why are you not married? You must be a playboy or a wild man or gay. It’s perfectly clear” – he said – “that Jesme and I are very much in love. I’m not going into that smear territory, which people would love to get into instead of having a debate.” Obviously, you can argue that that is smear territory. But you can also argue that when a politician occupies such a sensitive job as secretary of state for defence, then this stuff could matter if it calls into question his behaviour in any particular way. It makes him more vulnerable, doesn’t it?
CG: Look, if you look around the Westminster village you will find all kinds of wild gossip about all kinds of individuals in all parties. That doesn’t mean they are not good at their jobs.
JH: I’m not suggesting that for a second, whether he’s good at his job. What I’m suggesting that if these things persist, as they have now persisted for a very long time, and they are in the very forefront now – every story you read makes certain suggestions about his private life – it’s very important, isn’t it, that it be cleared up …
CG: I have known Liam for many years. I know him and his wife, and they have always struck me as being a happily married couple. The reality is that the gossip is certainly circulating.
I think we have got past the point in politics, though, where we needed to worry about people’s private lives. The question is, is somebody doing an important, capable job. If you look at what Liam is doing to turn round the Ministry of Defence to get through a very difficult period ..
JH: Isn’t the question whether he should clear this up once and for all, by perhaps doing an interview, perhaps making a different kind of statement …
CG: Well, I think he did that in 2005. The reality is, there may be gossip, innuendo and tittle-tattle around but the fact is Liam is a very good defence secretary doing a very good job.”
The unemployment figures are out. Here are the headline statistics.
• Unemployment increased by 114,000 between June and August to 2.57m.
• The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance last month increased by 17,500 to 1.6m.
• Youth unemployment reached a record high of 991,000.
• Average earnings increased by 2.8% in the year to August, 0.1% down on the previous month.
The full details are in the 17-page statistical bulletin from the Office for National Statistics (pdf).
9.02am.) Now, according to the Press Association, he has pulled out of a keel-laying ceremony in Barrow tomorrow. An MOD spokeswoman said the cancellation of his visit was for “logistical” reasons and that it was not connected to the Werritty controversy. Another minister will take Fox’s place.Liam Fox has already cancelled a press conference that was due to take place today. (See
As I told the police at the time, a friend was staying in the guest room. My wife was stranded in Hong Kong due to the ash cloud. For the sake of clarity, it wasn’t Adam Werritty.
I was a victim of a violent crime and I’m appalled at being portrayed as having something to hide. We’re trying to establish why the media were given the impression I was alone.
There are two big stories in Westminster today. There’s a crunch vote in the House of Lords on the health bill and Liam Fox is coming under fresh pressure to resign following the arrival of a fresh crop of stories about him on the newspaper front pages. But we’ll be running a separate live blog on the health bill, and so I will be focusing on Fox. The BBC are now openly talking about his private life, and the rumours that he is gay, although there is no evidence to support these claims and they are being strongly dismissed by his friends.
Here’a s quick summary of the latest developments.
• Fox has cancelled a press conference that he was due to give today in Paris with his French counterpart, Gerard Longuet.
• The Sun is claiming that Tory officials lied about Fox being alone when his flat was burgled during the general election campaign last year. A “younger man” was staying in the flat, the Sun says.
• Chris Grayling, the employment minister and Fox’s campaign manager in the 2005 Conservative leadership contest, has conceded on the BBC that “the gossip is certainly circulating” about Fox. But Grayling has dismissed suggestions that Fox is gay. “I’ve known Liam for many years, I’ve known Liam and his wife, they’ve always struck me as being a very happily married couple,” Grayling said.
• The BBC’s Nick Robinson has revealed that Fox has told officials that he was not having a relationship with Adam Werritty, the friend who accompanied him on many of his trips abroad.
• Robinson has also said that Werritty’s arrangements were funded by private clients who paid him an annual retainer in exchange for strategic and political advice.
• Fox has told Sky News that he is not resigning.
I’ll be focusing on the Fox story today but I’ll also be keeping tabs on other political stories. Here’s a diary for the day.
9.30am: Unemployment figures are released.
9.45am: Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, gives evidence to a Commons committee about the “big society:.
10.30am: Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the UK permanent representative to the United Nations, gives evidence to a Commons committee about Libya.
12pm: David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash at prime minister’s questions.
Around 1.30pm: Peers vote on the health bill.
As usual, I’ll also be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another in the afternoon.