Warsi to ex-Labour Ministers: hand back your severance pay
By Paul Goodman
Fun and games at Local Government House this morning, but with a serious underlying purpose. In the form of Sayeeda Warsi and Chris Huhne, the Coalition raised the curtain on what the former described as "a summer of scrutiny" on Labour - in other words, on a political push to pin the blame on Labour for the autumn spending scaleback to come.
Huhne chaired the joint press conference, but Warsi delivered the political punch. She's written to all ex-Labour Ministers - including the two Milibands, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham, four of the five Party leadership contenders - asking them to give up their severance pay as an apology for Labour's over-spending during the last government. Warsi also referred to a video on Labour's failure which she's launching today as Party Chairman and is viewable below.
She said -
"At a time when people across the country are being asked to tighten their belts because of Labour's wasteful legacy, it is simply unacceptable that the very people responsible for the mess are eligible to walk away with a £20,000 reward for failure."
The move will inevitably be denounced as a stunt, and invite questions about future Cabinet severance payments. But it's right for the Coalition to get on the front front and try to fix the blame for the deficit where it belongs. Huhne said that the Liberal Democrats don't want to make cuts, but that the present situation makes them necessary. Warsi jibed at Labour waste and Liam Byrne's note to his successor admitting that there's no money left.
Both repeated a mantra about one Party creating this mess...and two working together to clear it up. It wasn't clear why either should be leading the charge on waste - neither, after all, are at the Cabinet Office or the Treasury - but it looks as though we'll see more Conservative-Liberal Democrat double acts on the same theme as the summer continues. It's the kind of exercise that William Hague or Michael Gove would also carry off very well.
Huhne had perhaps the sharpest point, and one we'll surely hear again and again from the Coalition. Labour pencilled in £50 billion worth of cuts pre-election: so if they don't like the Government's savings, what ones would they make instead? Oh, and a footnote: asked by Andy Sparrow of the Guardian whether the Party would definitely contest Eastleigh at the next election, Warsi said only that she was responsible for "developing Conservative thinking" and that the next election will be fought on "the Coalition's record". The answer won't help to calm speculation about the two parties fighting the next election as a single force.