Theresa’s got her claws out for boss cat Ken

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

KITTEN-heeled Theresa May got in a right cat flap with Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke today – over the Human Rights Act.

The Home Secretary had her claws out after he poured scorn on her claim that an illegal immigrant dodged a deportation order to look after his pet pussy.

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Home Secretary Theresa May chats to David Wooding in her office.

Mrs May had seized on the story to highlight her opposition to the controversial laws in a speech to the Tory conference in Manchester.

She won a standing ovation when she told of “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I’m not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

But moments later, Cabinet top cat Mr Clarke stamped all over her claim with his size 11 Hush Puppies by claiming she had over-hyped the story.

The Justice Secretary declared: “I will have a small bet with her that nobody has ever been refused deportation on the grounds of a cat.

“I’ve never had a conversation on the subject with Theresa, so I’d have to find out about these strange cases she is throwing out. I cannot believe anybody has ever had deportation refused on the basis of owning a cat.”

He later quipped: “I heard Theresa refer to it and I sat there with a Victor Meldrew reaction. I thought… I can’t believe it.”

Mrs May was privately furious at the cat-astrophic intervention by Mr Clarke, who’s had a ban run of his own over his “soft” stance on prison sentences.

It was the fist Cabinet bust-up since the rally opened on Sunday and tonight both sides were hurling details of the case at each other to defend their corner.

A Home Office source said the case highlighted how illegal immigrants were taking the Act to extremes by exploiting the section which gives them a right to a family life.

Claws out: Ken Clarke

Mr Clarke, who is due to receive a recort on the European Convention on Human Rights,  said the Home Secretary had failed to consult him before making her remarks.

He said: “When I found out what these examples are that have upset her, I will probably find that she agrees with me. It is these daft misinterpretations of the Act which are giving the whole thing a bad reputation, when we should be a force in favour of human rights and individual liberty in the modern world, not in any way resiling from it.”

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What can the Tories do for the North?

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

The North-South divide is wider than at any time since the 1980s – with a huge gap in unemployment levels, school standards and health.

It presents a golden opportunity for David Cameron to succeed in Labour’s traditional heartlands by tackling this age-old problem.

But what can the Tories do for the North? Tonight we will attempt to answer that question at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

Angel of the North statue.

I will be joining a panel of fellow Northerners to discuss what action can be taken to bridge the traditional gulf over the next few years.

With the electoral battleground moving further north, we will be asking why the Tories did so badly in the North at the last election and how they can do better next time.

Is it time for the government to have a proper strategy for the poorest counties in the land? And at a time when public services are being cut, what hope is there for a region which relies so heavily on them for work?

The panel includes Manchester MP Graham Brady,  YouGov pollster Anthony Wells, Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council and David Skelton, deputy director of Policy Exchange think tank, who are organising the event.

The event kicks off at 5.15pm tonight in the Novotel Centre, 21 Dickinson Street, Manchester.

 

Why council tax freeze is £144 winner

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

IT went down a storm last time so who can blame George Osborne for pulling the same trick again.

The Chancellor announced a freeze on council tax for the second year running to help ease the strain on cash-strapped families.

The move will save the average household an estimated total of £144 over the past two years and means bills will not rise before April 2013 at the earliest.

George Osborne talks to David Wooding

Mr Osborne can’t force councils to peg council tax but he is stumping up an extra £805 million to give to those who limit spending increases to 2.5 per cent.

Labour have scoffed at the move, claiming it will only lead further cuts in services provided by town halls.

But deep down they know this will prove enormously popular with millions of families who struggle to pay what must be the most begrudge bill in their household budget.

Mr Osborne obviously remembers the huge applause he received in the conference hall – and mass acclaim outside – when he announced the current freeze on council bills.

That must have driven him to find the cash to put on a repeat performance at the Tories’ annual rally inManchester. Money will also be offered to Scottish and Welsh administrations to spend as they wish.

Mr Osborne said: “I am doing everything to help you, your family, to help the economy, to get people into work, to keep people in work.

“That is what we are working flat out on. We reject the idea that governments can’t do anything in the face of these global storms. My job is to take the difficult decisions that help families to put food on the table and keep the people in work who bring the bread home. That’s my job.

“We are working flat out, using every tool available to us. We are not standing on the sidelines.”

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A vote on Europe at last…but we’re staying in, says Hague

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

WILLIAM Hague has ruled out letting the public decide whether Britain stays in the EU – even if MPs vote for it.

The Foreign Secretary has brushed off a 100,000-name petition demanding a referendum and appears to have shed his hardline Euro-sceptic beliefs, insisting: “Our place is in the European Union.”

His remarks will infuriate the Tory right-wing who are already threatening to use the issue to hijack this week’s party conference in Manchester.

MPs have been forced to stage a Commons debate on Britain’s future in Europe after Independent MEP Nikki Sinclaire handed in a petition demanding a referendum at 10 Downing Street.

More than 80 backbench Tories want voters to have the final say and many Labour MPs could back the move because it would be hugely popular with the public, who now pay an average of £299 a year each to run the EU.

It would be the first time Parliament has held a major debate on a giving the public a say since the 1975 referendum confirmed the decision to join the Common Market – and could be held before Christmas.

But if MPs vote in favour of a referendum, it would not be binding on the government.

And asked if he would grant one, Mr Hague said bluntly: “No”.

He admits the EU is “cumbersome, slow and bureacratic” but stresses the upside is the power of 27 nations uniting on vital issues such as imposing sanctions against Syria.

Mr Hague (pictured left with David Wooding) said: “When you you’ve negotiated them, 95 per cent of the sales of crude ooils are stopped because 27 nations together act on that.”

The former Tory leader’s comments are more remarkable because he fought and lost the 2001 general election on a tough anti-EU stance.

He still believes Brussels has too much power but since entering government has seen the bloc of nations acting as a power for good in the world.

Mr Hague’s referendum snub will anger his party’s Right-wing gathering in Manchester today – but cheer pro-EU Lib Dem coalition partners.

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the Conservative 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “Europe is back as an issue. That is my message.”

Human Rights

But Home Secretary Theresa May has delighted the Right by calling for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.

She said: “I’d personally like to see it go because I think we have had some problems with it.”

Her words fly in the face of Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s speech the the Lib Dems two weeks ago when he said the controversial Act was “here to stay”.

Europe and human rights will be among the hottest issues for David Cameron in his second conference as Prime Minister.

The economy, law and order and welfare reform will also be high on the agenda.

Mr Cameron will also be keen to reach out to woman after polls show he has problems appealing to female voters.

When asked to score on his understanding of women’s issues, respondents gave him just one out of 10.

In an interview with The Sunday Times today,  Mr Cameron admits he made a “terrible mistake” with his “calm down, dear” remark at Labour MP Angela Eagle in the Commons earlier this year.

He declared: “It’s my fault. I’ve got to do better, I totally accept. I’m the one who’s got to explain who I am, what I think and what I’m like.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding