Good week for Eric Pickles, Andrew Turner and, yes, Caroline Spelman
Frontbencher of the Week: Eric Pickles. Last week ended with nearly half of the LibDem establishment in local government attacking the Communities Secretary. A fightback is now well and truly underway with the Sun, Telegraph, Express and Mail doing (1) a particularly good job at highlighting waste in those councils making the biggest cuts in local government and (2) also the massive inflation in councillor remuneration. The BBC has also started to pick up on the changed narrative with Nick Robinson comparing Tory Trafford's budget with that of Labour's shroud-waving Manchester. At the moment voters are blaming central and local government almost equally. How that changes will be interesting to watch.
Team of the Week: The Work & Pension ministers. Both IDS and Chris Grayling took more important steps towards a reshaping of the welfare system that makes work pay and focuses help on the genuinely needy. Some of the facts highlighted by Chris Grayling are chilling:
- 300,000 young people who have left school or college since 2007 and have never held down a job;
- 200,000 young people who left school or college between 2002 and 2006 and have never held down a job;
- 100,000 young people who left school or college between 1997 and 2001 and have never held down a job.
Rebel of the Week: Lord Lamont. The former Chancellor led the ultimately unsuccessful effort to get a 40% turnout threshold for the AV referendum. He convinced unlikely Tory peers including Lord Howe and Baroness Trumpington to vote with him. The Commons prevailed although I haven't met a Tory MP who doesn't (privately) agree with the case that Norman Lamont made in Monday's Times (£).
Human being of the Week: Caroline Spelman. She may have had to make an uncomfortable Yew-turn on forestry privatisation but her apology to the Commons wasn't in any way grudging but fullsome and very real. John Glen MP rightly said that it displayed a fundamental decency. A government should not make too many u-turns but one of the worst things about politics is the continuation of difficult projects for the sake of avoiding a loss of face. Mrs Spelman clearly has some mistakes to reflect on but my guess is her standing among fair-minded people has been enhanced. She can also get on with all the other work of DEFRA without this massive distraction.
Opinion poll finding of the Week: The more people hear about the Big Society, the less they seem to get it. Steve Hilton has apparently set up a war room to sell Cameron's flagship project but Anthony Wells has some concerning numbers: "The recent focus on the Big Society in the press certainly doesn’t seem to have increased public understanding of it. In January 63% said they did not understand it well (28%) or didn’t understand it at all (35%). That has now risen to 72% (43% not very well, 29% not at all)."
Blog of the week: Toby Young's J'Accuse letter to Andrew Slaughter: "I’m writing to you to express my disappointment about the manner in which you’re campaigning against the West London Free School. Nothing wrong with your decision to oppose the school. I was hoping you’d be more sympathetic, given that the classical liberal education on offer at our school will be similar to the education you received at the fee-paying Latymer Upper School. It seems you’re not in favour of extending the opportunities you enjoyed to local children from less privileged backgrounds, but that is your right." Read the whole thing.
Funny of the Week: Widdecombe and Mandelson dancing together (video). Or should it be Scary Moment of the Week?
Picture of the Week: Has to be Larry the Cat in Number 10.