Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A prize politician

Notts MP Geoff Hoon has finished off the year with a crowning achievement - having an award named after him.

As the news stream slows to a dribble, sites across blogosphere are desperately running fill-in bits to keep their readers hitting.

The most common format is the "award list" - though Guido has decided to parody it with his 'worst of' style awards.

The "Hoon Prix d'sh*t" has so far attracted nominations for Peter Mandelson, Michael Martin and Hoon himself.

Winning ways

Lobbydog has ended the year in winning ways by taking the top prize in Bent Society's Christmas caption contest.


He looks forward to taking part in more. Happy New Year Nottingham bloggers.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Clarke, cure or poison?

If people say something for long enough it starts to become accepted truth – for example that bringing back Ken Clarke is a good thing for the Tories.

Rumours of a return have been rife for some time, but over the last fortnight there have also been shed loads of column inches on a possible position for the Rushcliffe MP in a New Year Conservative reshuffle.

A survey from ConservativeHome has now shown support for the move among grass roots Tories.

The problem is that calls for the return are beginning to take on a life of their own.

Now that debate seems to have turned in favour of Clarke, there has been less and less mention of the division that may follow in his wake.

People should note that the poll showed a far higher margin of support for a return for David Davis, 72% for and 22% against, than for Clarke, 50% for and 41% against.

For many in the party Clarke is simply unacceptable because of his views on Europe.

He is plainly at odds with Cameron’s current thinking on the EU and is not the sort of man to change his tune.

That would prove a headache for Cameron and would force the European issue back onto the agenda – so would he be a saviour for the Tories or a gift for Labour?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Lobbydog wishes all readers, bloggers, surfers and others a very merry Christmas and an exceedingly riotous New Year.

Unfortunately I have to return to the sofa before my skeleton collapses under the weight of my indulgence.

But when I’ve recovered I’ll be back blogging without remorse. Speak soon!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Gordon's Christmas list

Lobbydog was prowling through the Commons chamber this morning when he saw a small envelope propped up against the despatch box. A letter inside read...


Dear Father Christmas,

I know it has been many years since last I wrote, but these are extra-ordinary times and they call for extra-ordinary measures.

I have learnt much from being Prime Minister over the past 12 months – mainly that when it seems as though you have nowhere else to turn, it is right to ask for help from someone that you haven’t spoken to in a long time, perhaps even someone you tried to pretend didn’t exist.

That is why today I am taking action and writing this letter to you.

It is essential, with Christmas morning so close and in such uncertain and difficult times, that you understand the true nature of what has passed in 2008.

Yes people are losing their jobs, yes, businesses are going bankrupt and, yes, there is a queue of big companies lining up for cash handouts at the doors of the Treasury.

But what is happening is a global problem – it started in America with the sub-prime market – and I’m not the only one saying that, even George admits it.

Those bad American financiers put so many toxic debts into the system that the rest of us were left helpless.

So I accept that things look bad, but let me be absolutely clear – it’s not because I’ve been naughty. Quite the opposite.

Not only did I save the world, but I’ve also put in place the foundation stones for the long, um, smooth road to recovery.

In addition I’ve helped 13 grand-mothers walk across dangerous roads, saved 24 kittens and puppies which were drowning in lakes and made recordings of me reading out the full works of William Shakespeare so that the visually impaired can enjoy the drama and excitement of Britain’s greatest writer.

I was the one who decided to spend £20 billion to put money back into the economy saving thousands of jobs, hopefully.

Bearing all of that in mind, this Christmas please can you bring me £20 billion?

If you think there is still some space left at the top of my stocking please can I also have a ten point lead over the Tories by May?

I’ve always thought the job that you do is absolutely vital for British children and families.

That is why it is important to point out that, while there were only two ginger nuts left in the biscuit tin – which Sarah and I were going to have with our coco before bed – we’ve taken the tough decision, and made the difficult choice, and opted to leave both of them out for you.

In addition, we’ve boosted our support with a wee dram of scotch, while also giving real help to Rudolph and his friends in the form of 12 carrots.

Yours Sincerely,

The Rt. Hon Gordon Brown, Prime Minister

Monday, 22 December 2008

Simpson rumour spreads


This is a bizarre one. A rumour is circulating that Alan Simpson MP has been hired by top political blogger Iain Dale - and it all began with a badly drawn Christmas card.

While not blogging Dale is publisher for the Total Politics website - which this year put out a Christmas card sporting a drawing of its staff.

Someone thought the pic of Dale (second from the left at the back) looked like the Nottingham South MP and did a joke blog on it.

Several whispers later someone tells Lobbydog seriously that Simpson has found work with Dale after he steps down at the next election.

Dale assures Lobbydog it's not true and the whole thing is the odd result of the card artist having an off-day.

Funny how rumours spread.

CALLING ALL NOTTS BLOGGERS

Lobbydog can pick up the scent of any MP.

But, having trained to sniff in Nottingham, he has a particular talent for tracking Notts members.

That's why he wants to find and link into as many Nottingham blogs as possible.

If you write one that isn't linked in to our 'Nottingham Blogs' list already, then give me a shout.

Even if you don't write one and you simply have some interesting gossip about your Notts MP, then drop me an e-mail.

Bob Quick, Cameron slow

All of a sudden there's something a bit fishy about the Tory party's Damian Green dealings.

The whole affair always had the makings of a situation that might back fire, leaving egg on Conservative faces.

Originally, after Green's arrest, they were happy to play the part of state harassment victims.

But now Met Police assistant commissioner Bob Quick has accused the party and its "friends" of aggravating his investigation into the affair.

That is an accusation which can be brushed off.

However, Quick also said he was forced to move his children away from home because of details published in a right-of-centre newspaper article.

When was the last time children were pulled into politics like this? When Damian Green was arrested in front of his daughter.

Cameron has gone on the offensive, demanding Quick withdraw comments suggesting the Tories had anything to do with the article.
As far as I can see, though it may simply have not been reported, Cameron has made no statement of concern for the children involved.

Even if the Tories had nothing to do with the article – Quick’s reaction does have a knee-jerk feel to it – you would expect savvy PR man Cameron to show some concern for the kiddies.

UPDATE, 11.25am: Quick just issued a full apology. Dominic Grieve said on behalf of the Tories: “We accept Assistant Commissioner Quick’s unreserved apology and this draws a line under the matter.

How magnanimous.

Geoff Hoon - barn dancing elf



Notts MP Geoff Hoon stars along with Virgin's Sir Richard Branson and Stagecoach's Brian Souter in this special video released by a rail passenger group.

TrainSardine.org says the video shows "fat controller rail bosses" dancing for Christmas joy while the railways are in chaos.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Samantha Who?

Maybe it's because everyone is shutting down for Christmas, but conversation on Marr this morning was particularly dire. Extract...

AM: It has been an incredibly dynastic time in American politics, with the Bushes, the Clintons and the Kennedys.

Samantha Bond: Yes.

(Silence. Nervous laughter.)

AM: Let's talk about Strictly Come Dancing.

Who is Samantha Bond again? She obviously didn't think enough people knew as she decided to use her first 'pick of the papers' choice to highlight a story about a film she is in.

Her other choice was an article on Heathrow's third runway.

She said it was because of the environment, but let her nimbyism slip when she claimed it would be awful for people, like her, who lived in West London.

I was amused, however, by Neil Kinnock slating a Government plan to charge interest on state loans.

"I don't know where it came from," said the former Labour leader of James Purnell's plan, "but I know where it's going."

Friday, 19 December 2008

MP calls for a fiscal stimulus - ANOTHER ONE

If a fiscal stimulus was going to work then you would hope £20 billion would do the job.

But Labour MP Andy Reed suggested yesterday that, as conditions were so exceptional, Alistair Darling should consider a second stimulus in the new-year.

First of all let's look at that logically. If it didn't work once, it's not going to work the second time just because you want it to.

Chucking another 1% of GDP at the problem isn't just whipping a dead horse, it’s like trying to ride the rotting corpse in the Grand National.

Now let’s consider the economic impact.

If all the countries in the world were students, we are the guy who had to take out a second loan because we blew our first one on a fancy stereo.

We then blew that on speakers, we've maxed out our credit card getting pissed and we're at our overdraft limit.

The best thing to do now is to not take out another loan. Thankfully that message seems to have got through to Alistair Darling who denied his colleague.

Spleen vented

Ed Balls has just confirmed he'll attend the first Regional Lobby lunch in January.

For anyone who rues the day Labour started tinkering with the education system this "provocative" piece by Old Holborn will fit the bill.

Iraq inquiry

The only thing worse than a blackout, is a whitewash.

MPs are right to call for an investigation into the Iraq War, like member for Newark Patrick Mercer who said today that it would be absolutely crucial.

But they need to be honest with themselves about what their role in the probe should be.

Lobbydog is not certain that MPs are capable of conducting such an inquiry at the moment without becoming distracted by politics.

More than ever recently Parliament has shown its knack for letting partisan loyalties get in the way of the real issue.

Perhaps an inquiry carried out by a judge, appointed by a cross party group of MPs would be better?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Chuck your shoes at George Bush!


Great fun. Hat-tip to Thunder Dragon.

Eight to read before bed...

Lobbydog's lot

1) Paul Waugh on the Nike Recession.
2) Lib Dem Voice rates Nick Clegg's first year.
3) Tim Worstall on Tobin Taxes and batshit.
4) Ben Brogan gets the inside track on Jaguar.
5) Burning Our Money argues for elected sheriffs.
6) PJC Journal on the Libertarian Test.
7) Jonathan Rutherford and Jon Cruddas MP at Liberal Conspiracy.
8) Harry's Place deals with the SWP.

Cheer up Geoff!

In the most recent issue of a2b, the Department for Transport's internal magazine, Geoff Hoon describes himself as "a sad person".

The Notts MP trys to explain the comment, but Lobbydog can spot a freudian slip when he hears one.

It's ok Geoff, Lobbydog understands. We all feel a bit down now and then.

With a Christmas period in which the Heathrow row will be left to simmer anyone in your position might feel a bit gloomy.

So keep your chin up Geoff, this one's for you.

Chorus for Clarke grows

Today Stephen Glover writes in the Daily Mail:

"If Mr Cameron wants to save himself, and to safeguard all that he has achieved, he will send for Kenneth Clarke."

He goes further and suggests Clarke is the only person who can help the Tories.

I don't think the piece gives enough weight to the European problem, but overall he may well be right.

Police politics ditched

Plans to make police authorities directly elected have been binned.

It's a kick in the balls for the Government and Jacqui Smith who looked like they might ignore everyone's advice and push on blindly.

It'll also be interesting to see what Vernon Coaker has to say about the whole thing.

He was vehemently defending the idea not a week ago.

The question now - if they can turn on this, then on what else?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Mc Mc Mc McNulty

In today's stats briefing Tony "the attack dog" McNulty gave a memorably crap answer.

The Employment Minister was asked by a hack whether he agreed with the Chancellor – that recession would ease off at the end of 2009 – or with Lord Mandelson, that it is deeper and longer than we expect.

He said: “I agree with both of course. I think that in different ways they are trying to say the same thing.

“Alistair was saying, rather like the Bank of England, all the signs look like, thus far, an up-turn towards the end of that year.

“But if you look at the chart that the Governor [of the BoE] introduced, as ever with bankers, economists and everybody, there was a huge spread between quite how sharp the line would go back up and how slowly it went back up.

“There was a huge array of, sort of, ‘this is the trend, here’s how it may go’.”


Thanks for that. The hack pressed him again.

“I think they are explaining the same phenomenon," he gibbered.

“One in an economic, er, er, e-e-e economic, economicistic way and one in a business focused way.”

Bennt truth

Hilary Benn has just said in the House that six local authorities will be the first to benefit from £15m set aside to help councils build flood defences.

He named the six areas - a sure thing to get a headline in a local paper.

What he didn't say, and what sharp regional hacks have just found out from Defra, is that each of those six will actually only get £50,000.

That might just cover the cost of a public consultation on what they should do with the money they don't have.

Unemployment

Tony McNulty is giving us a briefing on today's unemployment statistics – showing 1.86m people are out of work – in 20 minutes.

Then at 2pm the Tory's have set their briefing up, let the spin tug-of-war begin.

We should be able to get some sort of breakdown to show how badly Nottingham has been hit, read about it in the paper tomorrow.

"Travel is good"

...said Geoff Hoon to Christian Wolmer at the DfT drinks do last night.

I wonder if that was one of the answers the Notts MP gave during the interview for the Transport Secretary job.

Christian gives a rather interesting yet cutting view of his first meeting with Hoon here.

Loose tongues cost lives

Recess Monkey happened to overhear this conversation between David Davis and a colleague on the tube the other night.

If I were Cameron I'd shunt him up to the Lords sooner rather than later.

The Post Office has to change. Dramatically.

Whether it's full or part privatisation or something else – big change needs to be the starting point for any plan.

The Post Office is going down the toilet and is a monumental drain on public funds, it needs rebuilding.

Lobbydog understands this is controversial, but thinks any plan to save it is being hindered by the need to be sensitive.

Peter Mandelson has, whisperers say, apparently been arguing for full privatisation behind the scenes – ruffling feathers.

So it was intriguing to hear him suggest initial part privatisation. Lobbydog's gut tells him this is a rather feeble ruse to placate core Labour – a first step to the full whack.

Nick Robinson hasn't just taken the bait – he's been caught, filleted and wrapped in breadcrumbs.

"He's saying yes to part privatisation, and no to full privatisation," says Nick, just in case we didn't hear Mandy the first time.

UPDATE: Sky has just reported that Jim McGovern, Pat McFadden's PPS, has resigned over the Post Office plan.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Eight to read before bed...

Lobbydog's lot

1) Politicalbetting: Tories close gap on Labour
2) Mr Eugenides takes aim at Toynbee
3) Iain Dale's Diary gives the PM his undivided attention
4) Letters from a Tory: Slating Kenneth Branagh

5) The Croydonian spots something that we all should know
6) Stumbling and Mumbling: Why New Labour nannies us
7) Fraser Nelson asks Cameron what he would do
8) Order order: Guido confesses

Tipping piles in

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has come under fire from another fellow Notts Labour MP today.

Paddy Tipping chided the Government for cocking-up the new law controlling energy companies.

Department for Transport lawyers omitted the current requirement for oil firms to include 2.5% of bio-fuels in their overall supply to UK motorists.

Oil companies will now probably choose to save a packet by not bothering to buy up the fuels.

Tipping said: "The effect of this error has been to threaten the viability of UK companies and in some cases to put them out of business.

"From the Government’s own records, these companies are the very ones that would have delivered high levels of carbon saving.”

A newly invigorated Alan Simpson is also nipping at the heels of Hoon over Heathrow's third runway.

Woofers

There is a closed door briefing about to start at the MoD on the use of Snatch Vixen Land Rovers in war zones.

Hopefully they will announce the earlier, less armoured models are to be withdrawn.

Particularly as John Hutton has just announced the Sherwood Foresters will be deploying to Afghanistan again in April.

UPDATE: No such luck. Some top brass just said that Snatch was here to stay.

At least until science and industry comes up with a better model with similar capabilities that can outperform it.

Ve have vays of making you small talk

The Department for Transport installed a super computer to run all its HR services and – you couldn’t make it up – it started sending messages out in German.

Brilliant. I hear the computer has now begun questioning Gordon Brown’s fiscal stimulus.

The DfT's shared services centre in Swansea provides human resources, payroll and finance support services to the department and its agencies

It was originally forecast to cost £55m but would lead to £112m of savings – a benefit of £57m.

But DfT now reckons the programme will cost £121m and produce benefits of £40m, resulting in a net cost to the taxpayer of £81m.

At least it will provide some small talk material when Lobbydog has drinks with Geoff Hoon tonight.

Last minute reprieve

The Police Minister called Lobbydog last night to point out that the MET's human trafficking team had been saved – for now at least.

The Post's parliamentary correspondent wrote a column about how officers were miffed that the team, which has fought crime very successfully, was going to be closed.

In it he looked at how Vernon Coaker, also Gedling MP, was going to have a tough time whatever he decided to do.

In the end the Government has found half of the funding to keep it going for one more year, the MET will pay the other half.

It's a stay of execution. But the problem will return for the team and Coaker next year.

P.s. Lobbydog took the opportunity to ask Coaker for a pre-Christmas interview about the use of statistics to which he agreed – watch this space.

Monday, 15 December 2008

That's that cleared up then.

What about this little gem of Government speak? It’s from a document compiled by the Dept. of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Officials were asked how they measured the performance of regional development agencies, to which they replied:

"The tasking framework for RDAs has been radically simplified in the SNR, with the previous suite of 12 PSAs and six output targets replaced by a single growth objective derived from the regional economic performance PSA."

Lobbydog

Maybe it's because the weather has grown colder, maybe it's because a full moon approaches or maybe it's just because he has grown tired of politicians – but Lobbydog has grown some teeth.

Whether his new grizzly form lasts, remains to be seen.



Impossible situation

As if recent stabbing stats and crime figure botches weren't enough to torpedo confidence in Government/police information, there was more embarrassment today.

Last week Police Minister and Notts MP Vernon Coaker said in a select committee that police had to be proportionate when dealing with protestors.

The demonstration at Kingsnorth power station - which led to accusations of police heavy handedness - was raised, but Coaker defended officers saying they needed to protect themselves as well.

Originally Kent Police said their officers had suffered 70 injuries in the £5.9m crowd control operation.

But the Guardian reports that Coaker has now written to Lib Dems admitting none of the "injuries" were as a result of contact with protestors.


Problems included tooth ache, heat exhaustion, diarrhoea and a sting from a "possible wasp".

What is a possible wasp? In fact, what is an impossible wasp? For some reason Yvette Cooper springs to mind.

The Home Office and Number 10 need to get a grip on the information issue. Unfortunately if they don't it will only be a Notts MP who pays the price.

UPDATE, Dec 16: Coaker apologised in Parliament for the Kingsnorth balls up on Monday, and his boss Jacqui Smith for the kinfe crime botch. A bad day at the Home Office.

Portillo on Ken Clarke's bottom


I never thought I'd write that in a headline.


Portillo did a piece in The Sunday Times yesterday looking at the pros and cons of bringing Ken back.


He wrote: "He has what his party’s front bench apparently lacks: 'Bottom', that combination of independent-mindedness, experience and gravitas that makes people listen and trust."

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Super Gord



Very funny by Patrick Blower.

Don't mention the...


So it's Britain and France against Germany again.

Nicolas Sarkozy has apparently come to Gordon Brown's support in the diplomatic spat over fiscal stimuli.

The Guardian reports British officials were delighted when Sarko made a joke about the German finance minister - who had previously slated the PM's strategy.

He said: "I have full confidence [Angela Merkel] will give instructions to her finance minister."

Those French really know how to tell them.

How to start the weekend

Lobbydog woke up with a tender head this morning and has only just made it to a computer.

He spent yesterday evening visiting bars in the Palace of Westminster, soaking up Guiness and the wisdom of Tim Worstall - a heady mix if ever there was one.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Gov Stats: Irregular and selective


News that Number 10 pushed the Home Office to publish unchecked stats of stabbing figures in Notts is outrageous, but sadly not surprising.

Suspicion that something fishy was going on was first raised when the press release, which had been previously announced, was delayed again and again throughout Thursday.

When it did finally come there was no breakdown of the nine areas involved – including Notts – just an overall figure.

A Home Office official told me the breakdown wasn’t ready yet, which set alarm bells ringing considering the total figure must have come from the sum of all the broken down figures in the first place.

Furthermore the total figure seemed to bear no resemblance to what was happening in Notts – teen stab wounds at the city’s main hospital actually seem to have gone up.

The Home Office was last stung by a statistics balls up quite recently, so it’s no wonder that officials there weren’t willing to put figures out until they were ready.

You have to ask why Number 10 felt the need to push the issue – a desire to get a good headline before Christmas perhaps?

Or maybe to divert attention away from German finance ministers slagging of the PM’s economic policy.

Lobbydog has tried caling Notts MP and Police Minister Vernon Coaker, but it went through to answering machine.

STAMP DUTY SOLVED?


Lobbydog was speaking to his close friend and respected sage Old Tory Fart last night who suggested what on the face of it sounds like a win-win policy for a future Government.

Stamp duty on home purchases should be abolished and replaced with stamp duty on home sales.

1) It removes a huge barrier for young people trying to get on the property ladder.

2) People selling a house have the capital available to afford the tax.

3) Revenue to the Exchequer may actually improve due to the capitally increased figure from which a tax percentage is taken.

Old Tory Fart reckoned some “transitional relief” for people who currently own a property should be provided – after all, they've already paid when they bought their house.

He suggested that if such a person eventually sells their house, then the amount already paid could be deducted from the amount due under the new tax.

George, Alistair, if either of you want to take it on drop me a line.

What do we think people?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Meale tips


Apparently Mansfield’s Labour MP has become something of a lucky charm in the House of Commons.

Alan Meale and two other members, Tony Cunningham and Tony Wright, own a horse called Theatre Bell.

By the end of November it had romped home in four of its last six races – filling the pockets of fluttering MPs.

The horse had previously lost 15 races in a row when stabled in Thirsk, but a move to a new stable turned everything around.

Where was this providential place? Sedgefield – the former constituency of Tony Blair. You couldn’t write it more ironically.

Mann takes scalp


Notts MP John Mann will no doubt have a celebratory pint of ale tonight after partners from law firm Beresfords were struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal also found the partners guilty on charges of misconduct.

Mann has been waging war on a number of big law firms he accuses of over-charging miners trying to claim compensation for ill health.

He too has been the subject of attacks from sections of the law community who've tried to discredit him - Lobbydog has previously been sent information packs briefing against the Bassetlaw MP.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Saint Alan the Renewable


A Labour colleague approached Alan Simpson after today's PMQs and despaired of the rebel Nottingham South MP's luck.

This MP always kept his head down, always turned up to vote the way the Government wanted (half the time not knowing what the vote was about, he said) and still nothing nice was ever said about him.

"But you," the MP complained, "you do everything you can to make trouble for the Government, then say one thing in the House and suddenly you're Saint Alan the bloody Renewable."

I rather like the nickname. The city MP has actually won some leverage from his intervention today.

Read about it in the parliamentary correspondent's column in the Evening Post on Friday.

One to remember...

Brown's hero


I think even Alan Simpson (Nottingham South) was shocked that he came to the Prime Minister's rescue in such gallivanting fashion during today's PMQs.

Moments before, the PM had made a humiliating blooper that left his lower lip wobbling like bit of liver.

Brown had meant to say he had saved the banks, but instead – in a monumental Freudian slip – said: "We not only saved the world."

Before he could finish the next sentence the house had exploded and Brown turned to red – the cacophony ringing through the Palace of Westminster.

He was on the back-foot, but Cameron took his time landing the killer blow that could have finished the PM for the day.

Then Simpson was called by Michael Martin: "Actually Mr Speaker it's quite nice to have a Prime Minister who would save the world when we're faced with an opposition who can barely save face."

It was a pithy comeback that gave Labour MPs something to cheer and even seemed to boost Brown.

The significance of the whole affair was pushed aside when an even more monumental blooper was made by Nick Clegg (Hallam) minutes later.

The Lib Dem leader wanted to tell a story about a constituent, but foolishly started by saying that a single mum had come to see him with a young child.

Given his reputation - he once told a magazine he had slept with around 30 women - it's no wonder the house fell about laughing for a full minute.

The lame-duck Speaker didn't even try and control the rabble - Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) sat opposite ‘Clegg-over’ using his fingers to flash up number 31.

For the festively challenged among us...

http://isitchristmas.com/

Merry Cameron


Isn't it a bit weird to receive a Christmas card from someone you know with a picture of them on the front?

Hacks in the Lobby were tearing open cards from the Camerons today which sported a typically wholesome black and white snap of the family.

It's funny how politics makes otherwise obscure things seem normal. Maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't get one.

Jar therapy


There was a time when Margaret Beckett must have had a jar in the bottom draw of her desk which, at the end of each day, she opened when no-one was around, whispered into it what she really thought and then tightly screwed the lid back on – packing it away relieved.

Only that way does Lobbydog believe the Housing Minister could have held her tongue while giving the guarded answers she is so known for.

This conclusion was reached after hearing from a Labour MP that Mrs Beckett voted against Michael Martin at every stage of the ballot to elect the Speaker eight years ago – believing him unsuitable.

But she still managed to point out in recent days, albeit through gritted teeth, that it was a tradition for MPs not to criticize the Speaker.

The MP from Derby had also previously said the Government was not, and never had been, tied to building any number of eco-towns – a confusing statement for anyone who has followed the story and one possibly leaving her in need of some jar therapy.

But Lobbydog now fears the jar may be full, after the minister made an uncharacteristic slip the other day – highlighting that a bank thought a Government mortgage help-package might only help 9,000 families.

It may also have been a lack of anywhere else to put her thoughts that led her to “do a Flint” and flash some private papers while walking into Downing Street recently.

Either way, the Prime Minister can’t be happy with it all.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Darling to face tougher challenge?


Can MPs on the Treasury Select Committee please twist the thumb-screws on Alistair Darling tomorrow?

If what one member of the committee tells Lobbydog is right, it should be a little tougher than last time the Chancellor sat in front of them.

On that occasion he got more of a light simmering than a grilling, as Chair John McFall opted to read out questions sent in by the public rather than let his members fully probe Darling.

Tomorrow, when they quiz him on the PBR, we can expect members to ask what his 'plan B' is if the fiscal stimulus falls flat, as some have said it may.

They will also ask if he's going to get any tougher with banks in forcing them to lend and why so many people are saying his forecasts are too optimistic.

We all know select committees don't have huge teeth, but they can still make a spectacle.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Suppressed anger


A Notts MP told Lobbydog today that anger amongst Labour members over Michael Martin's performance is much greater than has been reported.

A story on the BBC suggested thirty-two MPs no longer had confidence in the Commons Speaker and 50 said he was at fault over the arrest of Damian Green.

While the MPs won’t be willing to let the Tories take Martin's scalp, there will be mounting pressure on him to step down behind the scenes.

Lobbydog has already made its view known - considering the Speaker has been in post for the customary eight years, it's time to let someone else have the chair.

Simpson and Hoon square up


Geoff Hoon may have to keep watch over his shoulder – the row over Heathrow's third runway is getting closer to home.

The Transport Secretary announced last week that he would take the decision on the runway without giving the Commons a vote – suggesting he thinks it might be controversial.

But now it looks like those Labour MPs opposing the runway – possibly working with the opposition – will try and force a vote.

Nottingham South's rebel Alan Simpson, who has never been afraid of giving the Government a kick when needs be, freely admits he's against the plan.

He told Lobbydog today that Hoon, Ashfield MP, would be wise not to expand Heathrow.

When asked whether he was afraid that such a rebellion would damage the Government Simpson said: "You can say that it would be damaging.

"But for those of us that believe that a permanent shift in Government policy is needed, it would be less damaging to do nothing."

Whipping up a storm

Bob Marshall-Andrews just revealed in the Commons that Labour MPs have been put on a "thinly veiled" three line whip for today's Damian Green debate.

If anyone needed any proof that this issue has become too politicised to be meaningful, that was it.

Good on Bob, a Labour MP himself, for letting the cat out of the bag.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bioballs-up


A balls-up by DfT lawyers working under Notts MP Geoff Hoon could see the entire British bio-fuels industry go to the wall.

The claim, reported in the Independent, is being made by industry bodies which reckon firms could be wiped out as early as April 2009.

When drafting the new law regulating the biofuels industry the lawyers omitted the current requirement for oil firms to include 2.5% of bio-fuels in their overall supply to UK motorists.

The fear from the biofuels industry is that if oil companies don’t have to buy up their produce, they won’t. Indeed oil companies could save millions by taking advantage of the loophole.

Meanwhile those firms who were producing bio-diesel and bio-ethanol for a known market and a known volume of 2.5% of UK sales have seen the reason for their existence disintegrate.

There have been emergency meetings this week. Could biofuels be to Hoon what Iraq was to… er, Hoon?

Rebellion

A single parliamentary session under Gordon Brown saw more rebellions than an entire Parliament under Tony Blair.

That was one of the findings of University of Nottingham Academic Philip Cowley in a study about Labour dissension that he co-authored.

Brown’s first complete parliamentary session as PM, Nov 6 2007 to Nov 27 2008, saw Labour MPs defy whips 103 times.

Under Blair’s first Parliament, between 1997 and 2001, Labour MPs voted against their whips 96 times.

To put it in context the ‘103’ figure is a greater number of rebellions in one session than under any Government in 30 years.

See Cowley’s full report here.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Rumble in the jungle



I'd like to see it. If you would, catch the parliamentary correspondent's column in the Evening Post tomorrow.

UPDATE (Dec 7): Read the full column here.

Where the hell is Airwash?


It’s been so long since we heard from Erewash MP Liz Blackman in the House of Commons that I’d forgotten what she sounded like.

On Wednesday the MP seconded the Loyal Address – a statement of the Commons’ “gratitude” for the Queen’s speech.

Even she admitted it had been a while since she last spoke and decided it would be a good idea to remind people where she came from.

“My constituency is pronounced ‘Erreywash’, not ‘Airwash’, and certainly not ‘Earwash’, and it is found between Nottingham and Derby,” said the former whip.

It was of course that position in the whip’s office that has prevented her from speaking out in recent times – the idea is that if it’s your job to enforce the party line then you can’t have an opinion of your own.

The way the whip system works is a little archaic and bizarre and something MPs, whips or not, just know. It’s a bit like that unnaturally slow, buttock-clenching walk that everyone in Westminster performs during state ceremonies.

Those close to the top of Labour’s chain of command tell Lobbydog that Blackman’s loyalty is highly valued and that she is an effective operator – a shoe-in for a Government position next time something comes up.

But it’s easy to be loyal when you have an excuse not to say anything publicly.

Now that Blackman has the freedom to sing the people of Erewash should expect her to make up for lost time.

Lobbydog wants to see this ‘effective operator’ holding her own Government to account – the question is whether she’ll be prepared to put her neck on the line and risk future promotion.