Friday 23 January 2009

More fight on Heathrow

So Hoon will have to face a proper debate and vote on Heathrow’s third runway.

The Transport Secretary and Notts MP had tried to dodge it but Cameron has opted to push the issue onto the agenda on Opposition Day next week.

It’ll be interesting because while a bunch of Labour MPs, including Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), will rebel – there are also Tories who secretly support it.

Either way after McDonnell’s antics the debate, on Wednesday, should launch a few fireworks.

Lobbydog wants to see Simpson going for the jugular.

From the Mind of Sam

For a younger person's take on events there is a new political blog being written by a bloke helping to run the Youth Parliament.

Sam Ellis is the chair of the YP's Board of Trustees and also happens to live in Notts.

Mercer and the think-tank

Patrick Mercer has been criticised by an academic for being “sceptical” about £1m worth of cash being handed to a think-tank run by former Muslim extremists – a story reported in The Times.

Prof Anthony Glees wrote a letter to the paper claiming the Notts MP’s scepticism did him “no credit.”

But, Prof Glees, as the chair of the Counter Terrorism Committee isn’t it Mercer’s job to be sceptical about these things?

As Lord Byron, one of Notts’ greatest sons, said: “I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”

Smug Flint

“Do something David. Stop her,” I shouted at the TV last night, while Mrs Lobbydog fell asleep on the sofa.

The ‘David’ was Dimbleby, and the ‘her’ was Caroline Flint who was reaching unprecedented levels of smugness on Question Time.

Flint gives such prosaic, diversionary answers that she undoubtedly practices jar therapy.

The way she smirked and made little comments on top of other people made my blood boil.

But worst of all was when she just locked in to “on-message” mode and started rambling despite being told to stop by Dimbleby.

She seemed a bit more buoyant than when I’ve met her in person – maybe she’s feeling inflated by her new position, either that or she was just soaking up the lime light.

Thursday 22 January 2009

It was George's fault

This from Clarke, on Conservative TV. He seems to forget to mention Europe. The Evening Post's parliamentary correspondent has done his column on it in tomorrow's paper to make up for it.

The impossibility of being Ken

This from Caroline Flint on Ken's comments: "Ken Clarke is absolutely right to warn David Cameron that his European policy would only serve to isolate Britain from the US.

"It's a straightforward test for David Cameron: Give up your policy on Europe, as Ken Clarke says, or give up the special relationship.

"Tory policy on Europe is ‘crackpot’, ‘dotty’ and ‘frankly absurd’, as Ken has repeatedly said."

This is really about much more than Ken's original comments, it shows the impossibility of his pledge not to challenge Tory policy on Europe.

If he walked down the street and shouted "hey you", someone would hear "EU" and accuse him of trying to take Britain into a federal Europe.

Silly EU policy

The Telegraph is running stories saying Ken Clarke is warning Cameron he might be seen as a “right wing nationalist” over Europe.

It’s a bit of a stretched interpretation of a speech he gave at the University of Nottingham if you ask me.

What Clarke actually said was: “A lot will depend on relations with Europe, because Obama doesn't want his strongest European ally led by a right wing nationalist.

“He wants them to be a key player inside Europe and he'll start looking at whoever is in Germany or France if we start being isolationist.”

He then went on to say the Tory party is not like that now and will probably move towards Europe in the future…

“I think the need to be working with Obama will influence my party on Europe. It is still firmly Eurosceptic but it's now moderate, harmless Euroscepticism.

“It's a bit silly sometimes like which group do you join in the European Parliament – but full blooded stuff like renegotiating the treaty of accession is as dead as a dodo.

“We've got lots of ideas on European policy on energy, security, relations with Russia, climate change, all that kind of thing.”

For me the better story would have been Clarke’s criticism of the dilly-dallying on which group to join in the European Parliament.

The break from the main right-of-centre group was a direct pledge of Cameron’s – so this part is really a direct criticism of his leader.

HEADLINE: Cam’s “silly” Euro plan.

When I become editor of the Telegraph I’ll rehash it.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Hair removal cream ad

Hat tip to Salome for this one. I got bored of reading about Obama, so decided not to blog on him - but I couldn't resist.

Expensive mistake

I’m tired and it’s late but it’d be wrong to leave without saying what an absolute cock-up the whole expenses thing has been.

Either the Government has handled it totally incompetently or they’ve been played out of the park by the Tories.

For those who missed it, Harriet Harman wanted to make MPs’ expenses exempt from FOI requests.

The vote was going to be whipped by Brown meaning Labour MPs would’ve been forced to pass it.

The PM even made comments in the chamber today saying opposition parties had originally supported the move, but withdrew backing at the last minute, meaning the whip was needed.

An hour later in confusion Harman announced the FOI exemption would be dropped.

One Labour MP I spoke to said he’d warned the leadership that discussing the issue with the Tories was dangerous.

He suggested that the Conservatives had supported the Government in bringing forward controversial proposals, only so that they could pull out – and accuse Labour of trying to conceal expenses.

Whatever happened, ministers are suffocating because of the amount of egg on their faces.

Theresa bites back...

Tory press office just put this out…

In response to Tony McNulty’s comments as reported on Lobbydog, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May said:

“Tony McNulty is like the rest of this Labour Government - living in denial…

“…Ministers need to offer real help to the unemployed instead of just spin.”

1 - 0 to McNutty I reckon. The tunnel comment (see below) was silly, but he wins round one for the directness of his attack.

McNulty finds his teeth

Tony McNulty has just launched a savage attack on new shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May.

It followed an interview in which the Employment Minister had said the words "light at the end of the tunnel".

Sniffing a bit of "green shoots" action, May accused him of being out of touch with reality.

McNulty said to Lobbydog: "Theresa May god bless her has written the most pathetic press release you'll have ever seen trying to allude to my comments, 'the light at the end of the tunnel', being akin to 'green shoots' - which is complete nonsense.”

He said he was being open about the fact that things were going to get worse, but added he'd meant the recession would end one day.

"People need to understand that and cling to this hope. We will get through it,” he spewed.

"If I can't say that without some pathetic little retort from the Conservative Party - if this is the best Theresa May can do - perhaps she should give up now before the end of the first day."

Fighting over Ken

It was a matter of when, not if, Ken Clarke would become the subject of squabbling banter between the front benches.

Sure enough at the first opportunity Gordon Brown waded in with a stinging attack that must’ve left George Osborne’s stomach turning.

Cameron now had the benefit of a “shadow shadow chancellor”, he said pointing with slathering glee at the Rushcliffe MP.

“F*****g hell,” a hack next to me exclaimed.

Clarke had earlier been cheered when he walked in the house, but now they turned to jeers from the Labour benches.

There is no coming back from a jibe that rings true – that Clarke’s presence is a snub to Osborne – but Cameron did what he could.

I have to tell him the difference between this former chancellor and that former chancellor,” he said air-fingering.

“This one left a golden legacy and that one wrecked it.” Cue loud cheers.

As the debate heated up MPs started to get over-excited – waving their arms around and dancing on their bottoms like small children.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon had his fingers over his mouth and his knee jerked up and down like he was dandling a hyper-active child.

The PM, not willing to leave the argument, came back a minute later with the European card.

If I were him I would have concentrated on Osborne a bit more – that was far more embarrassing.

He could have saved Europe till later, but he was never one for good timing in these things.

"The shadow business secretary called the Conservative European policy crackpot, dodgy, absurd,” he said.

“I know they’re trying to find a way of fitting together now, but they don’t agree with each other’s view on Europe and on many other things.”

There is another PMQs before Clarke gets to speak in business questions, I just wonder if Brown’s lines of attack have any more mileage.

Excuses, excuses

I'd expected some Labour MPs to be in the toilet, on unmissable business or unexplainably losing track of time on Thursday afternoon.

Members wishing to avoid publicly supporting Harriet Harman’s plan to exempt details of their expenses from FOI requests could have missed the vote.

But today Brown imposed a three line whip – which means Labour MPs will be obliged to support the proposals.

That's annoying because it gives MPs an excuse to vote for the measure, while off the record saying they were forced to.

Some will have the courage to vote against their party, but are unlikely to criticise their colleagues who don't.

I was shocked when they failed to bring in reform last year, this time I won't be surprised if they toast the measure's passage with champagne bought with tax payers' cash.

No Hoons here please

Is Geoff Hoon going to rue his Heathrow decision? Opposition is coming form all sorts of unexpected places.

After getting publicly dissed by Emma Thompson, the Transport Secrtary is being pulled into a debate with the organiser of his favourite music festival.

Hoon was banned from Latitude by the organiser Melvin Benn who said the presence of the man who gave the green light to a third Heathrow runway was untenable with the eco-themed event.

The Notts MP has ignored the snub and the offer of free tickets if he reverses his decision. Only telling NME: "I enjoy going to Latitude. It has an excellent mixture of music, film, theatre and comedy.

"I've always admired the efforts to attract an audience of all ages and its commitment to the environment. I have been able to play my part by cycling there."

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Europe calls

Lobbydog was chatting with Sherwood MP Paddy Tipping last night and he started a line of attack on Clarke that we'll hear a lot more of.

“The Tory party have put such a lot of emphasis on having a new beginning and being a new party that to bring Ken back works against all of that.

“That’s not to mention the whole question of Europe – he has apparently agreed not to go against party line which means that there is a whole area of policy that no-one in the shadow cabinet is allowed to ask him about.

“As shadow business secretary Europe is vital and I can’t see him not getting deeply involved in those issues.”

Jacqui Smith's pants on fire

When Lobbydog was a pup disobedient pupils at his school would set the fire alarm off just before double physics.

So, when Parliament’s alarm went off today, I wondered if Home Secretary Jacqui Smith hadn't hit the switch.

Bells started ringing just as she was due to give evidence to a committee on the Damian Green affair.

When we did finally get started 45 minutes later we may as well have stayed outside because she refused to answer anything of significance.

She trotted out the same old excuse about not saying anything while the police investigation was on-going.

It was fun, though, to watch her get all narky with David Davies when he asked her if Bob Quick was a "close friend" of hers.

Today Broxtowe, tomorrow the WORLD!

It turns out that Notts MP Nick Palmer is actually an evil genius, deviously planning to take over the world.

In an article for Total Politics magazine he reveals his secret penchant for war-gaming – his desire to conquer all, he says, means he’s no good at dinner party small talk.

Look at similar characters, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Moriatti for example. They too are the introvert types, secretly waiting for their glorious destinies to embrace them.

Their other trait is an unblinking self-confidence, think Lex Luther, which Palmer also exposes in his piece.

He writes of one game, Diplomacy, that the objective is to jockey your way to victory using the “occasional subtle betrayal.”

“I was British Champion at this some years ago and won the World Championship in the US last year,” he writes.

“…it requires a mixture of intelligent tactical planning and silver tonguery, with a dash of unscrupulousness.”

All these years I thought Nick Palmer was the quiet man of Notts politics, but I was wrong.

The member for Broxtowe has just silver-tongued us into believing that, when really he’s the power behind Barack Obama.

Monday 19 January 2009

Unlike the Murphy's

Lobbydog thinks Alan Duncan might be a bit defensive about losing his business portfolio to Ken Clarke.

The Melton MP was asked how he thought his time in the role had gone.

"Most of the early phase of the job was taken up by the turmoil in the financial markets,” said the MP.

“I argued way ahead of events that this was going to hit business itself and I turned out to be right.

“I was predicting three million unemployed and the challenges we now face well before others.”

Ken chills on the front bench

The story that Clarke's return was all masterminded by shadow chancellor George Osborne did not quite carry in the Commons today.

Clarke's first appearance as shadow business secretary was low key - but it had to be.

The challenge was to try and look like he was on Osborne's side while not looking like he was directing the show as the young’un made his speech on banks.

The problem was that Clarke was too cool.

He sat back arms crossed, legs stretched out like he'd never been off the Commons floor.

In fact, his absence from the back bench - Michael Howard looked a bit lonely - was starker than his presence on the front bench.

They might have got away with it if Osborne hadn't kept spinning his head round to look at the former Chancellor.

At that point Clarke would give a nod of the head and a smile that made it look as if his validation was needed.

As the big beast gets into full swing the problem is only going to get worse.

Bedtime stories

Alistair Darling has a reputation with sketch writers for being able to bore people's eyeballs out of their sockets.

I thought it was over-egged until I sat through his statement on the bank bail-out earlier.

His powers to make one drift from his words were almost genius in their subtlety.

Alarm bells first started ringing when I realised it suddenly felt like someone had turned the heaters up a notch.

The chamber had that warm, cosy feel of a room that has been slept in all night - I noticed hacks bending and resting their heads on the counter.

But first to go were weak opposition MPs helpless in the face of such a brutal onslaught of tedium.

Lib Dem shadow leader of the House Simon Hughes led the way, stretching his legs out from the front bench and lowering his chin.

His head began bobbing, mesmerised, as he tried and failed to wake from the Chancellor's spell.

Tory Peter Lilley was the next to succumb some moments later.

Unfortunately for him the exact moment he awoke - and clearly had no idea where the hell he was - was actually caught on TV.

I had to leave when Darling stood up for his follow up comments, afraid that I wouldn't be able to hold out.

More on reshuffle

The Post's Business Editor has done a clear diagnosis of the battle lines between Clarke and Mandelson. He writes on the Dark Prince:

"He was characterised by one former lobby correspondent as 'the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma'.

"Trying to put journalists off stories he didn't like, he would tell them quietly 'I think you will find that story will remain an exclusive'.

"Clarke, on the other hand, is the model of 'take me as you find me'.

"I bumped into him at Newark and Notts Show once to find not a sharp-suited high flyer with a retinue of minders in tow, but a bloke in a battered Barbour wondering which stand his lady wife had wandered off to."

First salvo

The gauntlet is down – Ken Clarke just directly challenged Mandelson for the first time on Sky News.

He said he knew Mandy quite well, but added: "I don't think Peter has made any real difference to the rather wandering aimlessness of Labour economic policy."

What will the Dark Prince come back with?

Osborne doth protest

The Tories are going to great lengths to make Clarke’s return not look like a snub to George Osborne.

There’s the repeated claim that it was Osborne's idea, the shadow chancellor - not Cameron - has been talking on the radio and the deal was even struck at his house.

But the fact such a point is being made of it gives a 'the lady doth protest too much', feel to the whole thing.

The Rushcliffe MP is going to be sitting on the front bench for the Commons statement on the new banking bail out.

Osborne will be bracing himself for some heckling from the opposite benches.

Get a grip

Perhaps Emma Thompson should be appointed to the Tory front-bench in today’s reshuffle?

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers was overshadowed by John McDonnell's antics in the Parliamentary debate on Heathrow's third runway last week.

But Oscar winning actress Thompson has been thrust to the front of the anti-runway campaign.

Her prominence was solidified by Notts MP Geoff Hoon who seemed to criticise the actress in a newspaper article.

She responded: "Get a grip Geoff!"

Sunday 18 January 2009

Rumble in the jungle

Big beast is back. Mandeslon is probably licking his lips. Let battle commence.

Pong at City Hall

London mayor Boris Johnson moved to quell reports that illicit games of ping pong – or “pingers” – were consuming official time in City Hall today.

He slapped down the rumour-mongers assuring the tax paying public that it was only played late at night.

Are we even sure pingers means ping pong?

Anyway, ping-pong-gate never really got off the ground on the Andrew Marr show this morning – which was missing its gangly front man.

Instead stand-in Fiona Bruce ambushed Johnson with claims that he’d used tax payers money to pay for hotels at the Tory conference last year.

His answer wasn’t very convincing but it was off the cuff.

“The mayor of the city goes to party conferences and there’s absolutely no reason why his bill should not be paid by the taxpayer,” he said.

“I think it’s greatly to our credit that this statistic has appeared, because it would of course have been concealed by the previous administration.”

He did manage to somehow turn it into a dig against populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – so top points for ingenuity.