Rowan's downtime, Syrian stockpiles and after the games
February 22, 2012
No 10’s cry for unity

David Cameron is seeking private talks with Ed Miliband about how to save the Union, Prospect has learned. No 10 has asked the office of the leader of the opposition to name a date for a high-level, cross-party discussion to see off Alex Salmond’s bid for a “yes” vote in a Scottish independence referendum in 2014. A Downing Street aide says there are fears that Miliband, though anti-separation, is reluctant to help the prime minister secure the legacy of saving the Union.

Treasured at the Treasury

Will Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove and George Osborne’s parliamentary private secretary, be the first male Asian cabinet member? He’s winning plaudits in the Treasury, and has the kind of background the party covets—his father was a bus driver.

Tax give and take

The Budget may wrong-foot Ed Miliband if the government accepts Nick Clegg’s proposal to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000. The Lib Dems want to fund the move, which could cost more than £8bn, by a crackdown on tax avoidance. Labour’s tactics for countering it are to argue that it is an inefficient way of returning money to the “squeezed middle.”

Shirley’s war

Shirley Williams invited friends to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall featuring her pianist friend Stephen Hough. But it clashed with the first day of the report stage of the health bill in the Lords, and Williams didn’t turn up. “Shirley is determined to wreck the competition clauses of the Bill,” says a friend.

The old boys’ network

Andrew Lansley now looks more comfortable in his job as Health Secretary. A Conservative adviser says sacking him would be difficult for David Cameron, whose boss, when he worked at the Conservative Research Department in the late 1980s, was one Andrew Lansley.

Rowan’s downtime

If, as reported, Rowan Williams will stand down as Archbishop of Canterbury later this year, he will soon have more time for his favourite DVDs. They include Rev, the comedy about a dysfunctional parish church, and the dark Danish thriller The Killing, though Williams is said to prefer the first series over the second.

Syrian stockpiles

Even more pressing than Iran’s nuclear programme are Syria’s chemical weapons. Any thought of bombing the stockpiles runs into one obstacle; analysts estimate that the fallout would kill 250,000 people downwind.

After the Games

If the Olympics pass without a terrorist attack, the government may divert resources to other concerns. One is stopping cyber attacks—or launching them. The Stuxnet virus, allegedly created by the Americans to target Iran’s nuclear programme, is seen to have failed; although it set back the work, Iran was able to decode it. A second is China, where Britain arguably neglected intelligence work after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. China is now believed to have 150,000 people devoted solely to hacking into western computers—more than half as many as those in Britain’s armed forces.

Jeb’s big brother

The Washington-based, super-élite Alfalfa Club famously nominates its own presidential candidate. This year’s pick is Jeb Bush who, according to the Washington Post, joked that because the 2012 Republican presidential field was “so muddled, at one point my brother was thinking about running again. ‘George,’ I said, ‘The Constitution prohibits you from running again.’ He said, ‘Wow, they put my name in the Constitution?’”

A Scot and a Hungarian

Prospect is indebted to a Hungarian financier for a joke apposite both to Scottish hopes of independence and Hungary’s current friction with Brussels. “What is the difference between a Scotsman and a Hungarian? A Scot will leave a party without saying goodbye; a Hungarian will say goodbye without leaving a party.”