Friday, 24 October 2008

Women Gurkhas


Newark MP Patrick Mercer has been quoted in national papers today talking about whether women should be let into the Gurkhas.

For anyone who doesn’t know, there are four Gurkha regiments from Nepal who fight for the British Army – a remnant of imperial days.

The men are famed for their combat prowess and have fought all over the world with the Brits, receiving 13 Victoria Crosses between them.

According to newspaper reports army chiefs are angry at being forced to recruit female Gurkhas saying it may mean they have to lower combat training standards.

Patrick told the Daily Mail: “The end result will be a less flexible brigade of Gurkhas and a less capable British Army.”

It’s important to note here that the Gurkhas are unique in being the only regiment where every single soldier does infantry training.

So unlike the rest of the army, the cooks, desk-clerks and engineers can all fix bayonets at a moment’s notice and go into combat – herein lies the issue.

Speaking to Lobbydog Patrick explained that in the forces women are trained as gunners, airmen, sailors etc, but they do not serve in combat arms of the infantry.

So the problem as army chiefs see it is that women could not be let into the Gurkhas without giving them infantry combat training – to have ‘non-fighting’ troops would reduce the “combat efficiency” of the regiment as a whole.

But to combat train women – a precedent across the entire army – they suspect they may have to lower the standards of the male soldiers as equality rules dictate everyone must have the same training.

Patrick emphasises that he thinks women should be able to do whatever they are capable of and has served with armed women when he was an intelligence officer in Northern Ireland – as he puts it, “they were bloody good.”

But he adds: “I just don’t think there is a place for women yet in an infantry section. I don’t say that to be controversial, I say that because it’s straight-forward hard-nosed practicality.”

What do you think?

Business or pleasure?

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman controversially told MPs they could have an extra long Christmas break this year.

MPs will leave Westminster on December 18 and will not need to return until January 12 - a week longer than usual and the second longest break since records began 30 years ago.

Some Tory MPs have howled indignantly, which is slightly disingenuous considering the dates will have been agreed at a meeting of all parties' whips.

It has been reported that some MPs will take longer foreign holidays though others, including Notts MPs I've spoken to, have said the time will be used for extra constituency work.

If that is the case then it would be valuable time for voters to get access to their representatives, but it seems to be down to the individual MP.

Let me know what you think - vote in Lobbydog's poll.

Nine out of ten stats...


Vernon Coaker had to do his first bit of ministerial fire-fighting after the national crime statistics went pear shaped yesterday.

Apparently there was a 22% rise in violent crime, but worse was that thirteen forces had been recording things wrong.

The Gedling MP, now Police Minister, batted off all the questions about the gaff being embarrassing and stuck limpet-like to the line - that the Government still had faith in crime stats.

But in the coming weeks any minister worth his salt would be knocking his officials’ heads together to sort the mess out.

The problem is while the Government may still have faith in crime stats, not many other people do anymore.

It's not just crime stats and it's not just Labour, all the parties over-use figures. Every day in the press gallery here we get flooded with them.

Once you scratch beneath the surface 90% of them fail to support the story the political party is trying to sell you.

The PR guys would do well to start trying to sell stories with human angles rather than statistical ones.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Discuss...


The current form of Government has fostered incompetence in the civil service.

At lest that's what Rushcliffe MP Ken Clarke reckons.

The MP told a select committee that constant pandering to the public, trying to form policies quickly to respond to the 24/7 media and constant reshuffling of ministers had crippled government.

"Things like the child support agency, things like the section of the Inland Revenue that deals with tax credits,” he said.

"They have sort of collapsed into a level of incompetence that I don't think we ever previously had.

"I put that down largely to weakened junior ministers, or people not staying as long as they should.

"But more importantly to overcomplicated rushed policies that it was thought would be delivered in double quick time with the aid of some new information technology system."

A46 update

Apparently Notts County Council had asked Sherwood MP Paddy Tipping to get involved in the debate on widening the A46 this week.

The road doesn't actually run through his constituency but the council thought the argument might carry more weight if it was supported by a Labour MP in Parliament, which is true.

There is the other point that it might be bad for a Labour council in an election year to have two Tory MPs sorting out their biggest transport problem.

See tomorrow's Evening Post for more.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Finger jabbing good

Everyone's arms must have been aching from all the finger pointing at PMQs today.

Yes, Osbornski had a tough time, we'll come to that.

But I felt most sorry for the poor chap in front of Tory Julia Kirkbride. He was stabbed in the back of the head by her vigourous air-fingering at least twice.

Both Gordon and Dave got in on the act with a bit of neat index-jabbing and Dennis Skinner, the old beast, topped them all with a big leftie swish of his pointed fist.

The session marked a comforting return to political hostilities between the leaders after an awkward period of unity during the banking crisis.

The blues and Dave, sitting on the very edge of his seat, were chomping at the bit to start thumping away at Gordon after a couple of weeks being nice.

In fact the Tory leader went at it so hard that any other week you would have him as the winner, despite a decent performance from the PM.

The old accusations were there - Gordon being unable to answer a question straight, Dave having no policies - but both seemed to be on form.

Unfortunately sitting next to Dave was George - who yesterday was accused of soliciting a £50,000 donation from a Russian billionaire while on-board his luxury yacht.

George denied it all of course and even put out a statement detailing pretty much every conversation he had over the week in question.

Can you pick a week from your summer holiday and remember every conversation you had every night of it? I digress.

While everyone knew the issue was going to come up, the way it eventually reared its ugly head surprised us.

If this had been Blair he would have made some joke about having to steer the country through choppy economic waters - as not everyone had the fortune to sit on a luxury yacht.

There would have been jeers and mortified embarrassment and the PM would have his scalp.

But Brown didn't quite seem to know how to handle it. When he alluded to the shadow chancellor's judgement, no-one was quite sure if he was making a joke or not.

Then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, while attacking the Government, said the Prime Minister was "all at sea".

People started to laugh and, realising his words would have been better shot at the Tory's, Clegg tried to redirect the joke - but only revealed his lack of forethought.

It was almost as if Osborne had got away with it until Dennis Skinner (complete with swishing fist of fury) stood up and started ranting about Russians.

He raved as a man on the street the likes of which Osborne’s school teachers told him not to talk to.

Everyone cheered and Osborne looked as if he might cry, his lips quivering into an attempted smirk.

Then, just as a bloodthirsty house was baying for a devilishly witty put-down and the final humiliation, Brown stood up and said: "This is a very serious matter indeed and I hope it is investigated by the authorities."

What? But we were just having some fun.

The real problem with it is that nothing illegal has actually happened. Even if George did ask for a donation, it could have been legally given through the Russian's British owned company.

People were simply complaining, justifiably so, about the distaste of the matter.

A Number 10 spokesman was hounded by hacks about the comment afterwards – when asked which allegations Mr Brown had meant he said those made "over the past 24 hours".

When asked which authorities he meant the spokesman said: “Whichever are appropriate.”

It is probably the PM’s mix up, not Mr Osborne’s holiday conversations that will appear in the papers tomorrow. A victory, but a botched one.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Accountable Mandelson

Tory MP Peter Luff must’ve been licking his lips when he realised who he would have the chance to question in his select committee.

Luff is the self-satisfied Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Chair or, as one of his committee members astutely pointed out, the Berrc.

Only last week the MP, who describes his Berr Committee chairmanship as “centre-stage” on his website, was grilling EMDA chair Bryan Jackson – but today he could look important with the eyes of all Westminster looking on.

The occasion was the questioning of new Business Secretary Lord Mandelson (aka The Prince of Darkness) after his triumphant return to Westminster.

“It’s been a long time,” noted one committee member.

“It has been a long time,” replied the Lord, “but it makes it all the sweeter.”

“Let’s see if we can stir the sugar up a little then,” said the member.

Mandelson’s charm was referred to by the committee over and again. And charm them he did – speaking eloquently and informatively.

Tory Julie Kirkbride was positively gooey-eyed and cooing as she tried to get the Lord to criticise Barak Obama for trade-protectionism – Mandelson didn’t need to brush her aside, she obligingly lay on the ground and accepted his answers.

But Berrc was not going to miss his chance and was constantly cutting his own members and Mandelson off – saying that the meeting had to run to his plan of what would be talked about.

“You are one of the most powerful men in Parliament running a department that is a shadow of its former self,” he said.

Luff first tried to nail Mandelson on why the corruption part of his department answered not to him but to Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

“To be honest I don’t think it is the most important item on my agenda,” replied Mandelson, who spent most of his time trying to bring the conversation round to the economic crisis.

Luff tried again, attempting to nail Mandy on accountability – the problem being that as a Lord he would not answer to the Commons. A devilishly clever response came back.

He said: “If I can satisfy you with my accountability I can satisfy myself.”

Adding: “I know that my principal masters will be this committee and I hope that you help me, enable me, to be more accountable.”

Not all members of the committee bought the line and some continued to demand Mandelson report to the Commons.

But he showed his prowess in dealing with a thorny situation – particularly on a day when whispers about Russian yachts abound.

Husky girls

Amber Valley MP Judy Mallaber has stuck two fingers up to outdated male attitudes in Westminster in a debate about gender equality.

She produced a 1943 guide to hiring women which gave advice that she claimed many men probably still thought true in the House of Commons today.

Reading out the guide she noted that it suggests men should...

  • Be tactful when issuing instructions or making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman.

  • Give the female employee a definite day long schedule of duties so that she will keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes.

And Lobbydog's personal favourite...

  • General experience indicates that "husky" girls, those who are a little on the heavy side, are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.
Judy admitted that "some slight progress" had been made since those days.

Business or pleasure?

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman controversially told MPs they could have an extra long Christmas break this year.

MPs will leave Westminster on December 18 and will not need to return until January 12 - a week longer than usual and the second longest break since records began 30 years ago.

Some Tory MPs have howled indignantly, which is slightly disingenuous considering the dates will have been agreed at a meeting of all parties' whips.

It has been reported that some MPs will take longer foreign holidays though others, including Notts MPs I've spoken to, have said the time will be used for extra constituency work.

If that is the case then it would be valuable time for voters to get access to their representatives, but it seems to be down to the individual MP.

Let me know what you think - vote in Lobbydog's poll.

Monday, 20 October 2008

A46

Hostilities may have resumed between the Tory and Labour front benches but on one issue Notts MPs are planning to work together this week.

Newark MP Patrick Mercer, Sherwood MP Paddy Tipping and Rushcliffe's Ken Clarke have ganged up to try and push through the duelling of the A46.

The scheme to widen the road - also the subject of an Evening Post campaign - has planning permission but is stalling due to a lack of cash.

Paddy and Patrick will team up to lobby new junior transport minister Paul Clarke in the House tomorrow.

They'll be urging central Government to cough up for the plan which could save lives on the Notts road.

Mud

While some hacks have been rubbing their hands at the good newslines Mandy's return to Westminster may bring, others are happy just to have a clear voice to talk to.

He may be the "Prince of Darkness" but Mandy knows how to talk to journalists - whatever the pretext of his comments might be.

That is in stark contrast to the army of departmental and ministerial spokespeople.

When asked whether Mandelson would change the Government's proposals on flexi-time working hours a Number Ten spokesman said...

"The current position is that no decisions have been taken on any of these things to change the current position."

Tory tax cuts...

British politics has finally started to get back on track - with a clear dividing line on tackling the recession emerging between the two main parties.

Under Tory plans businesses with fewer than five employees would have the rate of employers' National Insurance cut by 1p for at least six months.

Most people accept that the cuts themselves are not a panacea for our problems.

But they are in stark contrast to Darling's announcement to drive the economy by putting money into public works.

Having the right talk about tax cuts and the left about the public sector is a return to normality after an odd period of false togetherness.

Hopefully it will mean we can all start to get a clearer view of what the parties stand for - let the competition begin.