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David Cameron used his monthly press conference this morning to announce a new Economic Recovery Committee which will meet fortnightly and review Conservative policy on how to deal with the recession and co-ordinate strategy for reconstructing the British economy.

The membership will comprise members of the shadow cabinet with responsibility for economic and business portfolios and a number of those from the private sector with expertise on which David Cameron wants to call.

They are:

  • David Cameron (Chairman)
  • George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor
  • Ken Clarke, Shadow Business Secretary
  • Theresa May, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
  • David Willetts, Shadow Universities, Innovations and Skills Secretary
  • Phillip Hammond, Shadow Chief Secretary
  • Oliver Letwin, Chairman of the Policy Review
  • William Hague, senior member of the Shadow Cabinet
  • Sir Christopher Gent (Vodafone founder)
  • Sir Peter Middleton (former Treasury permanent secretary)
  • Baroness Noakes
  • Sir Brian Pitman (former chief exec and chairman of Lloyds Bank)
  • Sir James Sassoon (former Treasury envoy to the City)
  • Simon Wolfson (of Next)
  • Eric Schmidt (of Google) as International Business Adviser

Mr Cameron stressed that this would be an executive body rather than merely an advisory committee and that all the non-politicians were acting in a personal capacity. He said that in these extraordinary times it was right to "look beyond Whitehall and Westminster to draw together top talent" and that they were not merely a "trophy cabinet".

Here’s a run-down of other issues which came up during the press conference:

RBS bonuses

Whilst Mr Cameron stopped short of saying every bonus for every branch manager or teller should
be stopped, he repeatedly said that it would be wrong merely to apply
any ban on bonuses for Board members and those who made bad decisions.
In a bad year for any business, he said, staff generally have to forego
bonuses and he made the point that the state-backed banks wouldn’t
exist if they hadn’t been propped up by the taxpayer. He also attacked the Government for being slow to wake up to this as an issue
and said that a review should have been announced in October: "The
Government didn’t so much shut the door after the horse had bolted, as
shut the door after the horse had won the 3.20 at Uttoxeter," he said. The Government needs to take a lead and ensure that good sense prevails, he added.

Would he accept refuse donations to the party from people who had received one of those bonuses? (Apologies for that error and thanks to josh for pointing it out)

"No, I have to fund a party from a wide range of sources… frankly it would be a better use of the money to give it to the Conservative Party… than buy a new Ferrari."

Inheritance tax

I asked if he remained committed to raising the IHT threshold, or if he’d rather cut National Insurance. He said "I do remain committed to that poicy", saying it was "simpler, clearer and bolder" than that which the Government proposed and that it was "an important pledge" (Tim discussed this issue in a ToryDiary post last night).

Scotland

I also asked whether he would rule out the suggestion I made yesterday to hold an early referendum in Scotland to endorse its constitutional status within the UK. He did not rule this out, saying he would want to "do whatever it takes to govern in the interests of the whole of the UK" and that he was "prepared to consider all things in order to be able to do that". He said he would recognise the probable "shortage of mandate in Scotland" by getting up there, meeting with the First Minister, having his Cabinet do the same, and encouraging Scottish ministers to come to London for discussions.

Here are his quotes in full:

"If we win the election and if, by some miracle, we don’t have 25
seats in Scotland and have slightly fewer, then I would be a Prime
Minister who would want to govern in the interests of everyone in
Scotland.


"I would recognise the shortage of mandate, if you like, in Scotland by
getting straight up there and meeting the First Minister and saying,
look, anyone who wants to try to work with me, I will work with them. I
will make sure my ministers go to Holyrood and listen to committees
there. Likewise, Scottish ministers should come to Westminster and
engage with the committees here.


"I would do whatever it takes to govern in the interests of the whole
of the United Kingdom and to try to make sure, that over time, that we
can strengthen that United Kingdom. I would be prepared to consider
anything to enable us to do that."

Jacqui Smith’s use of housing allowances

Mr Cameron said as far as the "Daily Mail test" goes – how a story about a politician looks when splashed on the front page of the Daily Mail – Jacqui Smith looked "not very good". But he said that it was a matter for her and that it was "perfectly right" that she had to answer a few questions about it. He explained in answer to a question that his main home was the one in "North Kensington" and that it was his constituency home in Chipping Norton on which he claimed the second home allowances.

Lord Ashcroft’s tax status

When asked about this, he merely said: "Someone’s tax status is a matter between them and the Inland Revenue".

Jonathan Isaby

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