Friday 20 March 2009

Mid-Staffs boss could get "golden pay-off"

Once again a minister has been unable to guarantee that a big-wig won’t get a wedge of cash for letting the tax-payer down.

Health Minister Ann Keen refused yesterday to rule-out the possibility that the suspended chief executive of Stafford Hospital wouldn’t get a “golden pay-off”.

Martin Yeates ran the hospital during a period in which the Healthcare Commission said hundreds of patients may have died due to “appalling” standards.

Keen was asked by Staffs MP Charlotte Atkins at a Health Committee hearing to ensure no pay-off was handed out.

The minister could only reply: “The new chair and the new trust are undertaking a real rapid response to this – a suspension has taken place and then we will have to act within the confines of the law.”

This comes as the NHS Trusts annual reports show Yeates was also given up to a £39,000 pay rise while his hospital was being investigated by the Healthcare Commission.

Innocents to be kept on DNA database?

The Police Minister gave me a clear sign today that the Government will try and keep collecting the details of innocent people on the UK’s DNA database – despite an EU ruling.

In December the European Court ruled it unlawful that the database held the details of two people who’d never been convicted of a crime.

One of them had his details taken when he was 11 after being arrested – but released without charge – for burglary.

To comply with the ruling the Government must now pass a law laying out how the database will change.

But this blog revealed how a row erupted last month after the Government decided to pass the law through a committee in which they can pack loyal Labour MPs, rather than through the Commons chamber – where it might face a high profile debate.

Opposition MPs told me they feared the Government was trying to “weasel around” the ruling – complying with it in word but not in spirit.

The ruling said:

The Court finds that the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention...fails to strike a fair balance…the [UK] has overstepped any acceptable margin…

…the retention at issue constitutes a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.

This morning Notts MP and Police Minister Vernon Coaker told me details of all those on the database under age ten had been removed. But he added:

"The ruling didn’t say retention - or retention after arrest – was wrong. But that we should have a clear policy of whose DNA was retained and how long we should retain it for.

"[The EU Court is] not against retention, even after arrest. They know that a significant number of cases – including murders and rapes – have been solved due to the retention of details of someone who was arrested and not charged."

The Minister’s words seem diametrically opposed to the European Courts’.

But given the ruling is a complex document it’s not inconceivable that they can somehow comply while keeping the details of innocents on the database.

Even if the database is useful, to deny the House the chance to debate it is scandalous.

Suicide law

Lobbydog backs a law-change which would protect people who help loved ones commit suicide from prosecution.

It's an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that's been tabled by Patricia Hewitt and will be debated on Monday and Tuesday.

The ability and the right to choose when we die is part of what defines us as human.

A bit morbid for a Friday morning I know, but I haven't had my first coffee of the day yet.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Whip slags off lazy MPs

I know the Chief Whip is meant to be a hard-arse, but I would've thought he'd draw the line at slagging off his own MPs.

Nick Brown told a room full of lobby correspondents earlier that some Labour members suffered from "idleness".

“What impresses me is just how hard some people are working. They wouldn’t have to work quite so hard if one or two of them did a little bit more.”

Apparently a new system may get brought in to push lazy members to attend statutory committee meetings.

Lobbydog has attended such committees and can understand why an MP would want to give them a wide berth.

But then again, Lobbydog isn’t paid tax-payers' money to be there.

Livingstone: Brown is tighter than Stalin

Ken Livingstone sounds off against the PM in an interview to be published tomorrow.

Both Labour and the Tories are big on devolving power, but Livingstone says neither really want it or will deliver it. He tells Total Politics:

97 % of all tax collected in Britain is collected by Gordon Brown. When I told the Mayor of Moscow that he said: “That’s worse than Russia under Stalin”.

From the moment Thatcher got power everything was sucked up to the centre and it got worse under Blair and Brown.

He continues: I think [Cameron] has already made the fatal mistake which will sink his government. He’s not really going to devolve power away from Whitehall.

He’s already told local government there will be no great change or shift in power.

He’ll try to run all the schools from the centre. When they talk about localism it’s a sham. Neither this government, nor a Cameron one will empower people.

Labour’s real mistake was to micro-manage everything and try to run everything from the centre. Nowhere else in the world does this work.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

McNulty - more lobbydoggy, than attack doggy

“Is the blog-man here,” asked McNulty sitting down at the briefing table. Lobbydog put up his hand.

It was the start of a slightly bizarre exchange I had with the Employment Minister this morning, in which he revealed he was a Lobbydog reader.

At the last briefing he joked with other hacks that he wanted to ban me – but deep down it seems Tony “attack-dog” McNulty is actually a puppy, a glutton for punishment even.

Asked by another hack if he read their blog he answered: “You haven’t offended me yet.”

An invitation if ever I heard one.

He added that he reads Iain Dale every day – one in the eye for Draper and Campbell.

This blog certainly has a history of giving McNulty the odd slap and its readers are never shy in sounding off.

However, the minister said he’d resisted leaving a comment so far – come on Tony, you know you want to.

“I’m a big West Wing fan," he said to me. "Do you like the West Wing?”

“There’s an episode where Josh, who is the number two on the communications side, decides he’s going to answer something on the blogs.

“His secretary tells him not to because he gets obsessed when they then answer back – he has to say ‘that’s not right. That’s not right. Where do these people live? What planet are they on?’

“But really, I love my blogs.”

So bloggers – McNulty doesn’t know what planet you’re living on. Why don’t you tell him?


The House of Commons Commission has revealed today that thousands of pounds worth of goods have been stolen from the Parliamentary estate over the past five years.

Bizarre items include:

£5,000 worth of chairs, £800 worth of rugs and £360 worth of shower fixtures – all from Portcullis House.

Worrying items include:

Six laptops, 19 computers, four briefcases, documents, a floppy disk and a security pass.

I haven’t even mentioned loads of cash, phones and other items listed. Have a look here.

Lobbydog has always suspected security on the estate wasn’t as tight as it first seemed – but this is shocking.

Biggest shrink since 1944

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Hoon admits balls-up on Heathrow evidence

That should help people have confidence in the decision making process then.

The Transport Secretary has said there was a cock-up relating to the predicted 2009 gross domestic product growth rate given in proposals.

The GDP figure was given as 1% when it should have been -1%, meaning the Heathrow third runway and sixth terminal net benefit comes down from £5.4bn to £5.1bn.

Notts MP Hoon said the mistake did "not materially affect" evidence presented on the impact of expansion.

I wonder what Leila Deen thinks.

Labour gains

Labour closed the gap to ten points in the most recent Ipsos Mori poll.

But as Mike Simthson at Politicalbetting.com points out, it’s after a period when Cameron has been off the radar due to his son's death.

Another indicator of the shadow cabinet’s dependence on Cameron perhaps.

It also included the aftermath of Brown’s trip to the US.

MYNERS: I was not told the full story

Myners is attempting to vomit all over RBS in the Treasury Committee – it’s very ugly.

He said the remuneration committee knowingly “doubled” Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension when it wasn’t required of them, and then hid the move from the Government – by claiming it was contractual.

Meanwhile Michael Fallon accused Myners of being “party to some very expensive back-scratching” – and only changing his tune on the pension when the PM started to get embarrassed about things.

It’s a good watch – anyone who can get close to a TV should switch it on.

Anti-EU campaign gets sexy

This is a poster from East Midlands Tory MEP Roger Helmer as he gears up for June elections.

I posted it because I thought it gave an interesting and deep insight into the Conservative understanding of the European venture (if you believe that you‘ll believe anything.)

Brown sets out stall

I almost didn’t notice the picture alongside the Gordon Brown article in the Guardian today.

On a black background sits the PM’s floating head, sporting a zen-like expression – his right hand, also floating, is waving a philosophical gesture.

When I finally took it in any deep contemplation of the issues was replaced with the thought… “that’s a bit odd, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately it’s something that happens quite often when listening to the PM for too long.

The whole experience detracted from what was a significant piece of news.

Addressing the ‘apology debate’ Brown says he takes full responsibility for his actions – as much as anyone could hope for from a serving PM.

Unfortunately it comes a few days after Cameron’s “we could’ve done better” comments, so it feels a little tardy.

More significant was the dividing line Brown draws between him and the Tories.

“People on the centre-left and the progressive agenda should be confident enough to say that the old idea that markets were by definition efficient and could work things out themselves is gone.”

The clearer Brown is about his position the greater the pressure on the Tories to be clear about their’s – but coming out in favour of freer markets is a difficult challenge for Cameron.

If the economy gets much worse, of course, all of this will be immaterial as people vote to dump the incumbent.

But edgy Labour MPs who told Lobbydog they want clear ideological chatter from the PM will be happier today.

Monday 16 March 2009

Vaz takes legal action against Daily Mail

The MP for Leicester East has announced he's taking legal action over stories printed in the Daily Mail recently.

They regard a letter he reportedly wrote to the High Court about a case involving lawyer Shahrokh Mireskandari.

Vaz said: "The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner has considered all the allegations published in the Daily Mail, which were originally published in September 2008.

"He dismissed all the allegations in full. He informed me in January 2009.

"There are currently defamation proceedings ongoing against the Mail.

"I have in respect of this matter had a longstanding interest in dealing with allegations of racism in the SRA and will continue to pursue them."

How do we think this will go?