Blog Posts by Alex Stevenson

  • Maria Miller’s seven deadly errors

    Maria Miller's departure from the government was fully avoidable. But for years her scornful attitude has combined with some terrible decision-making to leave her no choice but to resign. Here's a breakdown of her seven biggest mistakes...

    Dodgy expenses

    Maria Miller's expenses claims were, at the very least, dodgy. She had bought a home in London in the late 1990s where she lived with her children and parents. When she became elected an MP in Basingstoke - just an hour from central London - she began renting a home in her constituency. This was subsequently declared to be her main home, allowing her to claim the London property as her second home for which she began claiming expenses. On the balance of probabilities, the commissioner found, the designation of Miller's home was wrong. MPs decided not to agree with that judgement.

    Playing the Leveson card (part one)

    When the story originally emerged, Miller's special adviser threatened the Telegraph newspaper by linking the issue to the

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  • ‘We’re getting hammered’: The never-ending misery of energy bosses

    Facing a maelstrom of public anger from consumers, politicians and the press, energy bosses are getting desperate. Today's news of a two-year price freeze from SSE shows just how grim things are getting.

    SSE's decision is bad news for the 500 workers who will lose their jobs as a result. The environment will suffer because three planned offshore wind developments are being shelved.

    But it has at least earned SSE a respite from the endless vilification of politicians. Energy secretary Ed Davey has praised the company, saying the move shows "the big energy firms are able to cut their costs and profits, and be confident about their ability to weather potential uncertainty in the wholesale markets, to give bill payers long-term price security".

    Will the other players in the energy sector follow suit? Judging by the mood at a utilities industry conference in London, it doesn't seem likely.

    Besuited executives from across the utilities industry have gathered in the City for a bit of

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  • Osborne’s three clever Budget tricks revealed

    The chancellor's funding this year's giveaways by whacking the 'baddies' of 21st century Britain. If you're a tax-avoiding smoker with a penchant for gambling and a company car... well, let's just say this Budget might not be great news.

    Yes, there are big giveaways. The personal allowance is going up to £10,500. Savings are getting boosted with improvements to individual savings accounts. And, most importantly, beer duty is falling. But where, you have to ask, is the money coming from?

    The chancellor's strategy, summed up, is to take money from the baddies, even if it's not necessarily the baddies' money just yet, on the basis that if he only targets the unpopular no-one will hear them scream.

    Stealing from the future

    There's not much money around right now. That's a pretty firmly established fact in Westminster. So how about taking money from the future instead?

    That's what the chancellor is doing to 33,000 very wealthy taxpayers who have 'fessed up to involvement in tax avoidance

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  • This is how Britain does annexations

    Russia is relying on a dodgy referendum to grab Crimea from the Ukraine. When Britain decides to grab some territory, it has much less subtle means of taking what it wants.

    The last time this happened was in 1955, when the nation's new Queen authorised a Royal Navy officer called Lieutenant-Commander Desmond Scott to sail into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and stick a flag on Britain's new acquisition.

    It was actually the Russians who were behind this modest expansion of the United Kingdom's dominion – or, as we liked to call it then, the British Empire.

    The presence of the tiny island of Rockall was rather awkward for the Ministry of Defence, which was keen on testing the missiles which would carry Britain's nuclear deterrent from a firing range in the Outer Hebrides.

    So in order to prevent the Russians claiming Rockall and using it to monitor Britain's Cold War antics, the UK decided its only option was to grab the rock for itself.

    And so, on September 18th 1955, the great global

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  • Inequality: Budget obsessives risk missing the bigger picture

    It's Budget week. So the Westminster news machine is in its much-worn rut of news stories about deficit reduction, numbers we only half-understand and an unhealthy fixation on the price of cigarettes and alcohol.

    This is also the week when the really serious issue of income inequality gets an airing. Useful because the huge gulf between the richest and poorest in 21st century Britain is obscene; the UK, after all, has the second-highest levels of income inequality in the OECD.  This week the chancellor has the chance to try and do something to help put this right. On Wednesday, we'll be delving into the green book trying to work out exactly how much they're bashing the rich and helping the poor.

    The numbers are hard to argue with. As today's figures from Oxfam suggest, the five richest families are wealthier than the bottom 20% of the entire population. This roughly equates to 12.6 million, about the same number of people living below the poverty line.

    The Equality Trust went further

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  • Why can’t science and politics get along?

    It's always been a complicated relationship. Politicians rely on scientists to provide them with accurate advice they can use to make important decisions about the lives we all lead. But keeping politicians up to date with science, as parliament's scientific champion Andrew Miller admits, is "permanently difficult". And ministers often decide to ignore the advice they receive altogether.

    Each department has a chief scientific officer. Miller, as chair of the Commons' science and technology committee, talks to all of them. "With a few exceptions, the relationships are moving in the right direction," he says. "There have been some exceptions where the way in which scientific advice has been sought and delivered has been tantamount to saying, 'here's the answer, now give me the question'. That comes from people who don't understand how proper scientific decisions are determined."

    Politics is often to blame for the disconnect between science and policy. Take fracking, one of the most

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  • Why Ukip’s MEPs should trumpet their laziness

    The Liberal Democrats' newfound mission of Ukip-bashing is a good idea in general. But attacking Nigel Farage and his party's MEPs for laziness in Strasbourg risks backfiring.

    Nick Clegg will use a speech at the Centre for European Reform thinktank today to accuse Ukip's MEPs of being "lazy". His beef is that they "refuse to roll up their sleeves and get down to work".

    "Nigel Farage and deputy leader Paul Nuttall rarely turn up to vote in the European parliament, despite being happy to take their tax-payer-funded salaries," Clegg will say.

    The evidence for this accusation is that Farage hasn't tabled an amendment on any EU legislation since July 2009. Ukip's voting and turnout records, the Lib Dems say, are worse than any other party in the European parliament.

    These criticisms would be damaging to politicians belonging to Britain's mainstream political parties. But they are unlikely to be vote-losers for Ukip's core support. "Our objective is not to spend time voting endlessly for

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  • Ukip’s dodgy jokes are no laughing matter

    You can tell a lot by a political party from the sort of jokes it laughs at. So, if you haven't heard the one about the xenophobic, Islamophobic UK Independence party, you're in for a treat.

    At a black-tie dinner wrapping up its spring conference, the standard of humour which had the Kippers rolling in the aisles was thoroughly depressing.

    The jokes, as reported by yesterday's Sunday Mirror, didn't target celebrities who seek the limelight, or companies which rip off the consumer, or even other politicians.

    Instead many of the minorities that live in Britain were on the receiving end.

    Comedian Paul Eastwood chanted an Islamic call to prayer, calling it a "traditional Midlands folk song".

    He suggested the Polish medal haul from the Winter Olympics included "bronze, silver, gold, lead, copper – anything they could get their hands on".

    And he mocked three Asian women at the party, telling them that they "looked a bit lost".

    Humour has its place in politics, of course it does. Any

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  • Labour’s Brit Awards horror: A tragedy in 3 acts

    There was a time, kids, when politicians thought it was a good idea to associate with pop stars.  It's a terrible story, beginning before the members of One Direction had even been born, of hubris, arrogance and catastrophe. If you ever wondered why you don't see David Cameron or Ed Miliband showing up to present awards these days… this is why.


    It doesn't get any cooler, in 1985, than the BPI Awards presented by a yuckily bearded Noel Edmonds. This TV monstrosity, introducing the leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock, observes cryptically: "If he gave up his current line of work, there'd be room for him in this industry." Then on comes Kinnock, looking chirpy and dressed to the nines in a thoroughly un-left-wing dinner jacket. But he doesn't let Margaret Thatcher's government get away with it. Questioned by Edmonds on the importance of the music industry, Kinnock comments: "It may be the last British industry with vitality, I hope it

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  • Clegg is flirting with Labour – but he doesn’t really care who gets into No 10

    It will prompt scorn from Conservative colleagues in government and contempt from the voters – but Nick Clegg's flirtations with Labour are a necessary bit of politicking.

    It's essential for the Liberal Democrat leader that he opens up the possibility of a deal with the men and women who have spent the last few years rubbishing him at every opportunity.

    Believe it or not, his party have already been making substantial progress. Backroom conversations have been going on for about 12 months, now. Meaningful chit-chats in the corridors of parliament. Carefully-cultivated private talks by the big facilitators of Lib-Lab relations, most notably former transport secretary Andrew Adonis. These private overtures were the way of escaping from the deep hatred of 2010 and 2011, when Ed Miliband appealed to disgruntled left-leaning liberals to desert to the Labour party and Clegg was painted as being a closet Tory by every opposition figure you ever met. Now the behind-closed-doors rapprochement

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