Feb 232009

This article is on the front page of the print edition of the Times today, although not, oddly, on the website:

Plans to axe new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation, are threatening to blow open a Cabinet rift over how Labour should respond to the economic downturn, The Times has learnt.

The proposals, outlined in the Queen’s Speech just two months ago, and championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, are at risk after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor called for a moratorium on any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses. Right-to-roam legislation and powers to allow councils to ban alcohol promotions are also under threat as the Government prepares to gut its legislative programme in the face of the recession.

This proposal is so eminently sensible that I have trouble believing that Mandelson himself is the originator, but lo! Somewhere along the line, he twigged that imposing extra costs on businesses during an economic slump was a fairly counterproductive move.

But my delight continues to grow:

Senior figures say many of the policies targeted are those promoted by Ms Harman, who has argued Labour should take a harder line on those to blame for the financial crisis and do more to protect its victims.

Snigger, snigger. Looks like Harman’s intention to become party leader when Brown finally cracks – as signalled, apparently, by a critical speech to her constituents and speculated upon heavily last week in the blogosphere – is being nipped in the bud. Ah, the Machiavellian machinations!

Sources close to Lord Mandelson defended the move to stop the new laws. saying that proposals to enhance maternity leave were almost certain to be scrapped, as were new measures to ensure that government contracts were awarded to firms with good records on equality.

Some regulations, such as a ban on cigarette displays in small shops, have already been delayed.

And so, at long last, Mandelson is doing his job and defending the interests of the business community (though not, admittedly, of the banking sector). It’s a positive step at the very least; even more preferable would be not a moratorium on such intrusive social engineering but a stop to it entirely – but any move critical of the government’s zeal for excessive legislation is better than no move at all.

While Lord Mandelson has risen in my estimation this day, however, proof remains that many Labour MPs are still absolute tits (emphasis mine):

Jon Cruddas, an influential left-wing Labour MP, warned last night that the Government was split over how to deal with the downturn. He said: “If the most progressive of our policies are the first to go under the hatchet, that will cause deep unease across the party. Genuflecting to the free market got us into this mess and the solution is not more of the same. There is now a deepening ideological divide about what to do next.”

I wonder if Jon Cruddas MP ghost-writes for Polly Toynbee…