Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by David Laws MP. They discuss the Lib Dems' local election hopes, as well as the latest on the Abu Qatada deportation row.
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Welcome to the Daily Politics. Did the Home Secretary, Theresa May get
her dates mixed up? Theresa May has been summoned to the Commons to
answer questions about the confusion over the deportation of
radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada. Had happened in the Commons, we are
to bring you the latest. Reforms to the court are being
discussed in Brighton today. As the British Government tries to push
through what it claims are significant changes, but will it
get its way? The Government narrowly avoids defeat in the
Commons on plans to attack static caravans and today Joan Bakewell is
here to tell us why the granny tax should be scrapped. The clock tower,
to us, Big Ben, should it be renamed the Elizabeth Tower? All of
that coming up. With us today, former Chief
Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws.
Now, we go to the breaking stories as we came on air, dramatic events
in the Commons with the Home Office proving its reputation as a
poisoned chalice for ministers. The case fr radical Muslim cleric, Abu
Qatada, has proved a thorny issue for the Home Secretary and all of
her Labour predecessors. This case goes all the way back to 2001.
Theresa May was speaking in the House of Commons. Summoned there to
answer an urgent question this morning, Yvette Cooper leading the
attack for the Labour opposition. It looked like the saga was coming
to an end, but now it unravels and it continues.
So, the saga of deporting the radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada,
goes on. The European Court of Human Rights blocked the
deportation to Jordan in January, saying that whilst they were
satisfied that the cleric would be treated well, that they could not
see evidence of him not having tortured used against him in Jordan.
Ministers believe that a deadline passed o on Monday night. On
Tuesday, the Home Secretary, May May, told the Commons, she had
received guarantees from Jordan that Abu Qatada would face a fair
trial and he could be deported. Abu Qatada was arrested by the police
and held in custody. On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights
said they had recieved a fresh appeal who, argued that the
deadline was a day later. A panel of five judges are to decide if the
case goes to the court's Grand Chamber, causing delay and the
prospect of Abu Qatada being released in the meantime. The 47
countries signed up to the court meeting in Brighton are to discuss
reforms as to whether there should be fewer appeals. Sir Nicolas
Bratza, however, warned of the times that no magic wand would
emerge. The Home Secretary has been summoned to the Commons to answer
an urgent question on the issue. This farce has serious consequences.
Additional delays, a risk that Abu Qatada is out on bail and a risk he
could sue the Government. So did the Home Office get assurances from
the European Court of Human Rights that the deadline was Monday night?
If so, will they publish them, if not, why not? Why did they not pick
up the phone to sort it out? The Home Office was told by a
journalist on Monday, nearly 24 hours before Abu Qatada was
arrested, that the European Court officials were saying that the
deadline was Tuesday. Did they do anything about it? I hope that she
is right, but at best there is uncertainty and several lawyers
saying that they agree with the European Court. So why take the
risk? What was the harm in waiting until Wednesday? Why create a legal
loophole for Abu Qatada's lawyers to create.
We have been clear that the process of deporting Abu Qatada is likely
to take many months. It should not come as a surprise to anybody that
Abu Qatada has intended to apply delaying tactics.
I repeat, that it should hardly come as a surprise to anybody...
That Abu Qatada has chosen to use delaying tactics. Afterall, he has
been doing this since 2001. Well, that is Theresa May coming
under fire then from the opposition benches and Yvette Cooper. I am
joined by Clive Coleman. Can you clear up for us, once and for all,
has Theresa May and the Home Office got the date wrong? Well, I've been
speaking to a number of lawyers this morning. They would say yes
she has. If you look at the wording of
article 47, when it says is that you start counting from the date
that the judgment is given. Now that was give no-one the Abu Qatada
case, the chamber judgment was given on the 17th of January. You
then count forward three months. Now going on that basis. So you
start from the next day, as it were if you start from the next day,
then that takes you to the Tuesday night, the 17th.
So on that basis, the Government has got it wrong. Now, there is
some case law on this. In relation to time limits for, not for
applications in the Abu Qatada-type situation, but for applications to
the court, for the court to hear a case. It is a six-month time limit,
but there are two cases that could not be clearer, but as I say, you
start counting the next day and count forward for three months. So
on the basis of the wording of Article 47 and on the basis of the
case law, although on a different time limit, but a time limit in
relation to getting in an application to the European Court
of Human Rights, on that basis, the Government seems to have it wrong.
If that is the case, if it is shown to be the case, what is the
likelihood of Abu Qatada released on bail while the legal process
takes its course? I was in court to hear the bail hearing. What the
judge was clear about, was that he said that he was to remand Abu
Qatada in custody, as there seemed to be a fast-track, a potential for
a really fast-track way of getting this all done and dusted. By this
is under deportation through the UK courts. Now if Abu Qatada's
application is successful, if he is successful in getting a full Grand
Chamber hearing. That would be in front of 17 judges of the European
Court of Human Rights. Then that could drag on. The judge was clear,
if within a couple of weeks it looks like it will drag on, that he
comes back to the court, that he will then consider the issue of
bail. When he was previously looking at the case, when a long
period was stretching ahead, he granted bail.
Thank you very much. Andrew? This is going to develop as
the day goes on. The Home Secretary is still answering questions in the
Commons. That could be a long session it is all beginning to
unravel. Let's see if we can pick where we are going. This is a
complicated legal case. If the studio I am joined by Diana Johnson.
In the Oxford studio, there is Michael Pinto-Duschinsky. He
recently resigned by the body set up by the coalition to examine our
relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and of course
David Laws is with us. David Laws, if Theresa May got the dates wrong
if she was out by a crucial 24 hours, is her job on the line?
is frustrating, but the first thing we need to find out is whether or
not the ECH, whether our approach is right or the Home Office. We
also do not know, frankly, in terms of advice that the Home Office gave
to the Home Secretary, whether it was informed by the ECHR. Was it a
consequence of the mistake made there. So until there is clarity it
is difficult to be sure, but I think when this came out it came
out in your report, that it is inconceivable, that this individual,
seeking to prolong and delay this for years and years, would not have
appealed any way. Although I find this, I am sure that the Home
Secretary finds it frustrating, and -- but I'm not sure we would have
gone through this type of a pale process.
She, May May, may have been guided by Home Office opinion on this, but
not by Strasbourg itself, so, I say again, if she has the crucial dates
wrong, that opens the British Government, or opens Abu Qatada to
being released on bail again, opens legal action by him against the
British Government and could delay matters yet further, it her job on
the line? No, I don't think it is. She has done a great job of getting
us where we are now. Secondly, I think it unlikely that the even if
there has been an error, that the Home Secretary herself is
responsible. I suspect she has had clear advice, either from officials
or possibly from her officials because of the advice given by the
ECHR. A third point is that I am not sure that this is material to
the fact that there would have been an appeal. So I think that her
position is clear, but the Government and the Home Secretary
will be furious about this and we have to get to the bottom of this.
Let me come to Diana Johnson. In your view has the Home Secretary
got the date right or wrong? Well, we have to look at what the ECHR
says when they meet, but it does seem there is confusion over the
date it seems that there, or it would have beenwiseer to wait to
ensure if there was a risk if there was an additional day to lodge
appeal, that was allowed to pass and then the action was taken. By
doing what the Home Secretary has done, she has opened herself up to
a claim of wrongful arrest, first of all, and possibly compensation
claims and also, when the Home Secretary, when I heard her
statement before I left the house, was one issue was that the hearing
on Tuesday afternoon, that they, Abu Qatada, appealed later on that
evening it seems to me should should have waited until the next
day. Do you mean if she was advised,
that she was entitled to press ahead, she would have been
irresponsible to have left it, then she could have discovered an appeal
comes in after that. It depends on how much credence you
give to the record of that department.
If you are a Home Office Minister you question everything that comes
before you. You ask if you are sure. If you are the Home Secretary, on a
case such of this with the national importance you definitely ask that
question. Let's bring in Michael Pinto-
Duschinsky. He is waiting in Oxford. I want to broaden this out to what
is going out in Brighton, also with the wider reforms that are meant to
be afoot there, but can you bring clarity to the issue of when the
clock starts to tick for the time limit within which someone can make
an appeal against a Strasbourg judgment? Well, I certainly can't.
I am pleased these days that I am not a lawyer, but I do think it is
a bit much for Mrs Johnson to attack Theresa May because for
years and years every Home Secretary has had to rely on
officials for different judgments. You will recall that Charles Clarke
had to resign as there were hundreds of prisoners, foreign
prisoners who should have been deported when their sentences in
jail came up and they were not to be found.
I think that many of them have not been found still. So I think that
one needs a bit of realism and humility about what goes on in the
job of a Home Secretary and indeed if Mrs Johnson ever becomes a Home
Secretary, herself, then she will find factly -- exactly the same
thing. There is an underlying problem of getting the Home Office
working better as a department and that is a long-standing and
important problem, but I do not think that this is something that
could be blamed in this case on Theresa May.
Let me ask you the broader issue, you know that the justice ministers
from across the members of the European Council are meeting in
Brighton. The British have a reform agenda. They have been pushing hard
in the six months in the chair. They hope to get the 47 to sign up
to it in Brighton this week, will they succeed in your view, fanned
so, will the reforms make a difference? I am sure that they
will succeed in getting a document signed up.
There has been a lot of very good work, I may say, on this for all
sides. But I don't think that it is going
to resolve the underlying issue, which is where does the buck stop?
Who has the final authority on deciding cases that come under the
European Convention on Human Rights? And the document says
clearly, that final authority rests with Strasbourg. So whatever
cosmetic concessions are made, will really not mean very much.
So, David Laws, whatever is decided in Brighton, my sung that the
Government's proposals have been watered down, that nothing will
change in Brighton to stop someone like Abu Qatada Maying the system
like a fiddle since 2001 and the European Court coming up with a
number of rulings that stop us from deporting him? Firstly, Michael is
gloomy about the outcomes it is possible.
Supposing so, let's be optimistic, the British Government gets
everything that it wants, all 47 sign up to this, what difference
In his case I am not sure you would. There needs to be an understanding
in ECHR by the type of people who were appointed to it, people with
more experience rather than academics, about the sensitivities
there are in countries in Europe that international law means not
only protecting the rights of people like this individual but
also the right of everybody else to be defended against people of his
alleged nature. The only other alternative to making these types
of change would be for us to pack up, leave ECHR, and give an open
invitation to the countries we do know do not respect law in their
own states, like Russia and Turkey, to leave as well. Although this
case is damn frustrating and I feel as angry that this has gone on as
anybody else, or the European Court of Human Rights is doing is trying
to ask the UK to ensure that there are protections to make sure this
man is not tortured when he goes to Jordan. Is that unreasonable to
ask? I do not think it is but we won these processes to work quickly
in the future. Many British people may think it is unreasonable. Our
own Supreme Court, with some of the best qualified judges in the
democratic world, has ruled this man should be sent back. So
couldn't a reform take place where by the European Court says if this
has been heard by a properly constituted, fully qualified courts
of Human Rights, using the convention as its set of yardsticks,
why doesn't need to go to Strasbourg? That is one of the
issues that could be looked at in the conference in terms of if in
the domestic courts they have had regard to the case of the European
Court, they could say you have dealt with that so that is one of
the suggestions. The problem with the Brighton conference is the
proposals on the agenda are watered down. I am not sure what will come
out of that conference but we would like to see reform, of course. We
don't want to see this again. could avoid the number of cases
What would you like to see be done that would stop a case like Abu
Qatada or dominating our judicial process and no politics since 2001?
I think any individual case like Abu Qatada has to be considered
very carefully. I do not criticise the Strasbourg judges on this, I
think they have been very careful and have come to what seemed to me
to be good judgment. So I don't want anybody to be tortured, or any
risk of torture. The problem comes with much broader policy decisions
such as should prisoners in general have the right to vote? And on
those are essentially political decisions, they should be taken by
our House of Commons, not by judges in Strasbourg. So I think we ought
to move to a system where the House of Commons has, in exceptional
cases, it right to override the Strasbourg court on matters that
deal essentially with political interpretations. Thank you for
joining us from Oxford. And to you. Ken Clarke said today that allowing
Parliament to overrule a Strasbourg ruling would take us back to Tudor
times. Was that a rather crushing remark? Was Theresa May let down by
civil servants at the Home Office over the deadline? Some
Conservative MPs claimed she was an even before the current funerary
there was growing discontent on the back benches that the pair of civil
servant in the government. A frustration articulated in Prime
Minister's Questions yesterday. recently asked the Prime Minister
to what extent he believed the Whitehall machine, the Sir Humphrey
factor, was frustrating reform stop he assured us it was not. According
to the Financial Times in Malaysia last week the PM said as Prime
Minister I can take you yes, Minister is true-to-life. Can the
Prime Minister tell us what has happened to change his mind? There
are few occasions where I think the Honourable Gentleman does need a
bit of a sense of humour. Douglas Carswell, can we get a reaction
about what has happened with Abu Qatada? Do you think Theresa May
has been let down by civil servants? Within 24 hours of me
making my comment, the Carry On Sir Humphrey episode in the latest
shenanigans rather demonstrates part of the problem. If Sir
Humphrey cannot even get the legal paperwork in on time and read a
Callender properly what chance is there of Sir Humphrey being able to
dig us out of this human rights mess? Again and again we find
reforming administration that came to office with a coalition
agreement that was meant to mean real change has been thwarted by
the institutional inertia of the Whitehall mandarins. Are you not
blaming too much civil servants? It is clear you think the officials
made the mistake, we have been discussing whether Theresa May
should have checked on such a big issue, although close to her on the
political basis, that they had the dates right? I am not exonerating
ministers. I think this is damning criticism of the ministers, I am
not exonerating them. I do not want to comment too much on the Abu
Qatada case but again and again and again in flagship Whitehall
departments we see promises ministers made to bring about
fundamental change and they are not delivering on it. An example - the
government came to office promising to cut the deficit. It is not only
spending more money in five years and borrowing more than Gordon
Brown did in 13, it is not only going -- even going to meet
Alistair Darling's target. It suggests to me Sir Humphrey is
running the show and he never wants to cut his budget. You have a
chance to respond to that. annual deficit 25% smaller when the
government -- than the figure we inherited from Alistair Darling.
But the government will have to borrow more over the course of the
parliament. The borrowing projections are the end of last
year, they were revised upwards from initial ones because the
European economy is softer and therefore our growth outlook is
different. We cannot blame civil servants for that. It is also
blaming ministers. If you look at what they can be held to account
for including ministers, in other words, how much we are spending in
the public sector, the public sector has met all the targets the
government met for cuts in public spending over the last two years.
The Bonfire of the quangos seems to have gone out. I am told by a
special adviser in the Treasury in the 1990s as civil servants would
perennially suggest a caravan Tax, granny tax and these things had
been slipped through because ministers are being run by the
departments, not dead -- not running their departments. So what
is the solution? There is our land mines the staff would have
predicted, are you saying more political appointments? Let's not
replicate the mistakes of Tony Blair. That sounds like what you
want though. I would like ministers to be able to appoint a chief of
staff. If they could do that, they could get a grip in a way they have
not always been able to. I would like to see select committee
chairman being held to account -- holding to account the Sir
Humphreys. I would like them to appeal for their money and their
budget before they get it. You have been accused of being a right wing
agitator, unhelpful to the Prime Minister, what do you say to that?
I do nothing you can dismiss me as a typical right window. I want
radical change in this country and one of the reasons I was excited
about the coalition was because I believed it was a historic
opportunity to merge traditional free-market Toryism with a
political radicalism we find that the Lib Dems. But if you look at
what the government is doing in health, education, the welfare
system, there is no evidence that civil servants have held up plans.
We have been criticised for the speed of reform in health and
education and welfare. The idea this has been blocked is not true.
In education and welfare and policing, we are seeing genuine
reforms. But in so many other departments we're not getting the
change we need. I have to stop you there. Have you got a sense of
humour? I hope so. I think I do. Lovely. Thank you. Now, the first
of our series of interviews with the seven candidates who hope to
fill Boris Johnson's shoes as London Mayor, one of them is Boris
Johnson, in fact. In a moment I will be speaking to the Green Party
candidate for the job, Jenny Jones. She is hoping to make a
breakthrough in London with policies including She'd also like
to see a 20mph speed limit across much of the capital and she wants
to close London City airport to cut But her manifesto goes beyond
natural green issues and includes pledges to try to introduce a
higher minimum wage and to create 150,000 apprentices. The party
supports weekly bin collections but would like to see London sending
nothing to landfil by 2030. When will all probably be gone. -- we
will. The Greens have made some notable advances in recent years,
including their first MP, and Jones has set her sights on overtaking
the Lib Dems to come third on May 3. You have been overtaken by you kick
on the pulse. What went wrong? What is your best poll recently?
Previous polls have put us on 4% and the Lib Dems on 6%. We think we
can do better. Green votes tend to come out late, I have no idea why,
they just don't register early. one Green voters to give their
second preferences to Ken Livingstone. If you feel like that
why wouldn't you just give Ken your first vote? Because we do not think
he is the best candidate, we think that is a green who can take London
forward in a sustainable way. were his former deputy. He
described your endorsement. As a key building block to a victory. --
endorsement point. Miracles happen. When, I've never seen one. Read our
manifesto if you have not already. I have even written your name in it.
You signed it for me? What about me? Sorry, I did not know you were
here. I appreciate that. But why are you so enthusiastic about Ken?
We have had this row about his tax returns after talking about rich
people and he always moans about the privatisation of the NHS and we
discover this morning he uses private health care. Why are you
keen for him to win? I am not going to justified Ken Livingstone.
You're telling people to vote for him. I am suggesting is deport the
Greens to make an impact, there are three ways to do it... You can vote
for me as Meyer because that's a signal at everybody about the
support we have, you can vote for assembly members having his strong
green pack of -- assembly members, having a strong pack of Green
members is a good way. And thirdly, if it has to be, go for Ken, we
can't work with Boris. What about the congestion charge? Far too many
people are paying it. How much would you put it up? We would put
the standard congestion charge up to �15. And for gas-guzzlers we
would make it �40. �40 a day?! With government ministers have to pay
that? Hopefully. But they would be Boris Johnson says that the
transport plans have an honesty. I think that is his idea of irony.
You want every new London home to have space to grow food, whether it
is a garden, balcony, would a window box do? It probably would.
And just to say, we have been joined by viewers in Scotland,
they've been watching First Minister's Questions live from
Holyrood. Now we are in London be, we with interviewing the Green
Party candidate, Jenny yons. You were explaining, you would be
satisfied if we had a window box? There is a need in lots of people
to grow things. There is a shortage of allotments?
Absolutely. We should close city airport and do something useful
with it. That is not going to happen? Why not? It is a key link
for the City of London for short- hall flights to Amsterdam,
Copenhagen, Stoke home... We should start to understand that short-hall
flights have to be overtaken by rail travel N other parts of Europe,
they are expanding the intake from around the railways.
That is because Charles De Gaulle has already built six runways, they
have done their expansion! We live with a finite amount of resources.
If there is growth in one area, there is recession in another. We
are greedy. We must learn how to adapt and to survive.
I would think it is tough, which is why some think you are not only
unlikely to win, but you could lose seats in the assembly, but it is
tough on the economic climate and these campaigning issues? Well, if
I can tell you about one policy. Insulating homes. If we do 1
million in the next four years we lower people's energy bills, that
is good for them. We reduce the car emissions. We reduce the need for
energy companies to invest in more energy, you know, infrastructure.
That is why we have the Green Deal. If only it went far enough. It does
and it will be. You can have a win, win, win
situation on the environment and on the economy! Thank you very much,
Jenny Jones, I will see you on Sunday.
The debate is going out on BBC One on Sunday night after the news at
10.25pm, when we have four of the main London mayoral candidates in
the debating area plus others on video tape. Now, a full list of the
candidates is on your screen now it is available on the BBC News
website. Now, the Government is involved in
a serious of rebellions, the most serious was the plan to impose VAT
on static caravans used for holidays. The Government's majority
was reduced to 25 on the issue. Clearly Margaret Beckett was doing
the whipping. The Government also won on the so-called pasty tax, but
with a considerable rebellion from coalition MPs. Let's give you a
flavour of the debate. We have a Cornish coalition moving
forward to try and protect the Cornish pasty. The paroles from the
Government, I fear, are unfair. They are unworkable, they will be
bad for the economy of Cornwall. The current rules mean that many do
not know whether they are charged vat sat on hot food as the
treatment depends on the shrier's purpose in heating the food.
-- supplier. The new rules ensure a level
playing food and we are removaling the sent tivity element.
proposal on VAT on static caravans will have a serious effect on all
of East Yorkshire and Hull, include ing the situation where it could
dramatically cut employment in the area. At a time when we are trying
to encourage growth and balance the books, this will not help to do
either in the situation it will reverse both.
It will destroy a purely British success story in the manufacturing
industry. 95% of the caravans are made in the UK. We want a proper
informed debate and consultation. I have heard the arguments about
extending the consultation period. That is a reasonable thing to do.
Rather than closing the consultation period on the 4th of
May. We are to extend it now to the 18th 6 May.
We want people to respond to these consultations, but it is right to
address these anomalies. Today, the debate moves back to the
region of the so-called granny tax. It is certainly the description
that we are using in the media. This is the plan to remove certain
areas of help for the elderly. Age UK says, "It is all relatively
small beer." Small amounts of money matter a great deal to older people
who have not got very much. Small amounts are being cut. So, this is
not the poorest. It does not affect the richest. They did not get this
tax relief? It affects those if they have their state pension which
is about �5,000, plus a private pension of �6,000. They would
therefore have a total income of �12,000. Not rich, you have to
admit. That is not rich. That is middle? Well... I mean
among the pensioners? These are the people, they are Tory voters.
Not all of them. They tend to be people who have
worked hard, have been putting things aside for pensions, they are
good, hard-working people, who have earned a pension and are suddenly
penalised by small beer to fund millionaires who have suddenly been
given a tax rebate of �40,000. You say that, but that is the
debating point. The real thing it has to stpund taking people on very
low incomes out of tax all together. That is the real cost.
But the fact is that many have a tax rebate of �40,000.
They don't. It is true that higher earners benefit, but being a
millionaire is a measure of wealth. Being a millionaire does not mean
you earn �1 million a year. However, that is a large amount, a
large some of money that is benefiting the rich. The people who
are small beer, losing small beer, it is a small amount that matters
to them. The rising cost of fuel, the rise in travel, the rise in the
cost of food. All of these are really hitting old people hard.
But what they have not been hit by and some would say, those in the
middle, they have been shielded, relatively so from austerity, as
they get the winter fuel payments, they are not means tested. The
state pension is going up by �5. Bus passes are still free. Travel
is free. First of all, �140 a week is not
great wealth. So let's not say that they are sitting pretty.
No, I'm not saying that, but they have been shielded from austerity?
Well, they are being shielded from inflation.
The �5 rise is in order to let the pensioner keep up with inflation.
Old people are hit by inflation, they are hit by VAT.
They spend their money because they have nothing else to spare it is a
very good case. You have made a correct point. I
come now to David Laws. We understand you had to finances, you
are committed to the idea of taking people out of tax. Especially those
at the lower end. We know it cost as lot of money to do so, but why
would you get some of this money from the sort of pensioners that
Joan Bakewell is talking about, they are on modest incomes. They
are not rich, as she says. They have worked hard all of their lives.
They are enjoying a modest affluence with the emphasis on the
word modest, rather than affluence. Why take the money from them?
accept this is something that we would rather not be doing, but what
we are trying to do in in order to deliver austerity and get the
budget on balance, is to ensure that those on the lowest incomes
make a contribution. It has been said that so far the pensioners
have been the one group we have not asked to make a contribution to
dealing with the austerity. Many may say and you should not.
That these people have give an lifetime of service to this country.
They have worked hard. They have paid their taxes. They have ended
up with pensions that are probably worth a lot less than they thought.
Annuities have been hammered. Private pension schemes are no
longer what they are. There are incredibly tough times
for the public finances. We took the decision to go for the full
uprating the state pension. But that is to keep apay -- apace
with inflation. It is, but let's have a look for
those people in employment what is happening. They are not getting
inflation increase. They are getting significant cuts in the
last few years of their real earnings.
But that is not the comparison to make. What about the people earning
more than �1 million who, are being treated out of all proportion
generously? What about their contribution? Let me come back on
that. Firstly for pensioners who are affluent or going to be so,
were raising something like �3.5 billion by restricting the pension
tax relief that goes to the highest people in the country. You were
wrong in the Budget to say that the money was funding the tax cut for
wealthy people. We have funded that five times over with other tax
increases on wealthy people. In a world of dodgy statistics, you
know that is in the premiere division of dodgy statistics.
I tell you why. You are saying that the cut from 50 to 45 pence will
cost the Treasury �100 million. That is the best estimate that the
Government has got to make that decision.
I don't know anyone who believes it. I don't want to get technical, but
the indicator you have picked is the most generous to show you don't
lose money? The Office for Budget Responsibility, he looked at this.
He put out a report. He said that the revenue estimate is as likely
to be in the opposite direction. Let me ask you the broader question.
The day after the bulgt, you described George Osbourne as, "A
grand strategist." Four weeks on, if that is what a grand strategist
looks like, what does a useless strategist look like? Well, you
return Gordon Brown, his Budgets would get great reception, then
they unravelled over time. I think when we look back on the Budget, in
three, six, nine months or a year's time, will see that the Chancellor
has taken really important correct economic decisions to give us a
competitive tax regime to take people on low incomes out of tax.
The big decisions were the right ones.
What was the last Budget? You can include all of Gordon Brown's in
this. What was the last Budget, unravelling four weeks after it was
unveiled? One of Gordon Brown's when he got the 10 pence tax rate.
There was a riot over that, but let's get this into perspective.
That is across the piste, the pasty piste! -- piste! We have looked at
the decisions that the Chancellor has taken and realised that this is
a good Budget, that has sent the message that Britain is open once
again for business. The nonsense about pasties, charitable donations
and all of the other bits and pieces we are voting on... Please,
everyone over 65 condemns the Budget.
Of course they don't like it, but the Government is having to do
tough things and everybody in society, everybody single group has
to contribute to this. You have to come back and see us.
This could be unravelling in two months' time it could be the
Olympics of unravelling! Stop being gloomy about this, Andrew.
Joan Bakewell, thank you very much. Now, the Government's troubles have
done nothing to improve the Liberal Democrats ratings. In some polls
they are behind UKIP. So how bad can it be for them? As demonstrated
by the website, the Lib Dem who is point, Lib Dems love pointing. They
also love local governments that involves lots of pointing, but does
local government love them? Right now across the UK they have about
3,147 councillors and outright control of 13 local authorities,
but last year, they lost 748 councillors and control of nine
councils. See that they hope will not be repeated this year in Essex.
Like this place was for the Normans, kolchest ser a bit of a Lib Dem
stronghold. They are the largest party on the local council. They
have a firm grip on the Westminster parliamentary seat. If they fail
here it is bad news. Benjamin Ramm says that bad is a good way of
describing the mood among the Those activist are committed,
resilient, but it is different when you're in coalition with a party
night the Conservatives who, in so many social and economic issues
that the Lib Dems have put themselves against while
campaigning. The Lib Dems are not putting up full slate in municipal
elections, this is problematic for the party. It is in part caused by
the fact there are not the activists pushing for greater
representation. On a cold Tuesday evening in February it is hard to
motivate yourself to go out with a yellow rosette. The Poles are
depressing, too. Some have the party on, or close to single
figures, another put them on level pegging with UKIP. It is not clear
how that will translate on the ground in places like Colchester.
Although it is a coalition I feel the Tories are the stronger part of
it. What they have been doing lately has not gone down well. I
feel some of that disillusionment might rub off towards the Lib Dems.
They go along with the Conservatives in lots of issues. So
people don't trust them, I don't think. Well that feed down to
politics at the council level? think so. The it is why you will
see Lib-Dems constantly pointing out popular policies based a are
there idea. Like the rise in the income tax threshold. It is an
effort to avoid another set of glum results in the local elections.
Well, David Laws is still with me... Let's pick up on another point
there where they say they are not fielding a full slate so. In some
areas we are targeting our resources which is something all
parties do. It is unusual for a party not have a full slate of
candidates, particularly for the Liberal Democrats. In the last
Parliament and probably in these elections there are many places the
Conservatives do not necessarily have a full slate. The Labour Party
in the last Parliament often did not contest seats. In my area,
Somerset, I would say sometimes three quarters of seats do not have
a Labour candidate in them. Last year the Lib Dems had what Nick
Clegg described as a very bad election. The polls have not
changed much since then. So what are your expectations? It will
inevitably be tough. Worse than last year? I am not going to make
forecasts on this programme for a number of weeks out. There are
signs things are looking better than last year but it is too early
to make definitive judgments. We all knew when we went into a
coalition government that things would be difficult, that poll
ratings would go down and inevitably that filters through to
local elections even though those should really be about local issues.
But that is the problem. You're not getting any message through locally
are either. Last year the Lib Dems lost every seat contested in
Manchester, the best performance was the Cotswolds, does that mean
Lib-Dems are going to end up being a party of the rural south? I don't
think so. If you look that -- back at many by-elections since the
election last year they have had a different pattern. In Somerset we
gain seats of the Somerset -- the Conservative Party. In the North it
has been more difficult because Labour has traditionally had a
greater strength there. They were very unpopular at the end of the
last government, they are up in the opinion polls significantly since
the last election. Of course that will be difficult for people at a
local level. My frustration is that in many of those areas we have had
a Lib Dem councillors do a great job after years of complacent
Labour administration and I think people need to make sure they vote
in local elections on local issues in order to get the right decisions
locally. But if they don't and if they punish the party like they did
last year, what will happen? All happened to the party if locally
York-based is diminished ever further, that is what the party was
about. We will continue to fight locally and on a local record, or
to highlight problems in particular areas. At a national level we have
always known what we were doing was difficult, was the right thing, but
that would we were -- but that we would be judged over a five-year
period. We will be judged and are happy to be at a national level in
The National polls over five years. If we do live on the economy on the
four pledges then my hopes and expectations for 2015 in the
general election are not at a 10% opinion rating that was seen to
date. Are you happy going into that election taking a �10 billion slice
to the welfare budget? We are happy to going on spending plans will be
agreed by the coalition as a whole. But there was a Budget announcement.
George Osborne did not say there would be a certain amount of
welfare cuts, he said if the next spending review looked like this
one, or if we protected particular areas, we would have to make bigger
welfare cuts. You would be happy to go along with that, to say we have
to make more cuts and it could mean something like �10 billion worth of
cuts to the welfare budget? We are not picking out precisely where we
need to make savings in public spending. We are saying last year
Danny Alexander and George Osborne announced the new spending totals
to take us be on the next election, we are committed to those of the
government. When we have the next spending review we will set out how
we deliver the plans. What happened to the policy of differentiation?
We are in a coalition working well together but of course occasionally
issues of differentiation come up where the Conservative Party will
have a strong view on one area, where we will. Most of those get
resolved behind the scenes. Would you agree with that briefing? The
leaking the Lib Dems have been blamed for? Whether they are blamed
on not, it does not mean we are responsible for the briefing. Both
parties should be free to breed in a coalition but it is also
important some of the legitimate debate and attempts to
differentiate in particular policy areas should not lead to a chaotic
process which gives the impression to people that the coalition cannot
govern effectively together. I pick a competition of ideas in the
coalition should be about how we deliver the proposals and policy
ambitions we have already agreed on, in other words, they should be
about how we go forward, not about different destinations. When do you
expect to come back into the government? I have no idea whether
or it will have other responsibilities. I am happy to be
a backbench support of the government, I think the Prime
Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are doing a good job, the coalition
will deliver on its bold ambitions, it is not for me to speculate on
other issues. We moved to the big Should Parliament's Clock Tower,
which most of us would know as Big Ben, be renamed after the Queen to
mark her Diamond Jubilee? That's what one Tory MP is calling for and
Tobias Ellwood's campaign has received cross party support from
MPs. But what's the feeling on the streets of Westminster? We've sent
Susana Mendonsa out to see what people think. That is the Victoria
Tower, the only tower at Westminster named after a monarch,
Queen Victoria, for her yuk -- for her years of service. Some think
Queen Elizabeth the second should receive the same on and they have
their eyes on the Big Ben, or the clock tower as it is officially
known. But should it become the Elizabeth Tower? It really ought to
stay as Big Ben and they should name something else after the Queen.
It is so well-known I don't think you can change it after all these
years. It assure name is the clock tower. We all know it as Big Ben.
It is iconic to London. You can't change it. It should not be renamed.
It is Big Ben for a good reason. is not its real name. I know but it
is the bell inside it. It is what it is known as. You can't remain
something so famous. It is a lovely idea. Would you still call it Big
Ben? Possibly but I think that our's name is for her, she has been
a wonderful Queen. The clock tower is named after the bell but I don't
mind them changing the name of the tower to celebrate the jubilee.
Fantastic idea. Would you still call it Big Ben? Yes. If they
renamed it what would you call it? I would not rename it. I would
still call it Big Ben. They were asked us where is the Elizabeth
Tower? We would say there and they would say but that's Big Ben. They
would be an argument. A group of MPs want to it rename it the
Elizabeth Tower. Stupid idea! joined now by Kate Hoey MP who is
one of the signaturees of this early day motion to change the name
of the Clock Tower. So people will just still call it Big Ben, when
they? Of course because they don't call it the clock tower, or the St
Stephen's Tower which some people think it is. This is about formally,
constitutionally changing it to the Elizabeth Tower so it is opposite
the Victoria Tower over the House of Lords because it is the diamond
jubilee and it would be a celebration of the Queen's rain.
But everyone would know it as Big Ben because Big Ben is the clock
and we all call it that. Is it worth changing the name? It is no
big deal. But it is a nice bit for the end of the programme and I
think it would be a nice gesture. There is a lot of party support for
it but the person who will decide it is Her Majesty the Queen. So you
think it will happen? I don't know how these things happen. If
somebody somewhere so is it is a good idea behind the scenes, it
could happen, but there is big support for it. But it will still
be Big Ben. What about people who say we have the Victoria Tower,
parliamentary democracy, we should not have the unelected head of
state, some might say, being part of the Houses of Parliament. Nobody
said that on your programme. That is not an issue. We are royalist
I have always been a great royalist. The idea of having an ex-prime
minister like Tony Blair as President, or something like that,
it is not sensible. There was a panel on 26th March saying we
should rename St Stephen's Tower as the suffragette power, or Big Ben,
as in Tony Benn. Did you support that? I did not. I don't know even
put that up. Two Towers, 1 Victoria, one Elizabeth. Big Ben still there.
What do you think? A nice bit of symmetry. That's it. Thanks to our
guests. I am back tonight with Alan Johnson, the man with the shirt,
Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by David Laws MP.
They discuss the Lib Dems' local election hopes, as well as the latest on the Abu Qatada deportation row.
And Baroness Joan Bakewell reacts to the granny tax.