Friday 10 July 2009

A watch from an Arab Sheik and a trip to Monaco for who knows what

In the short time since July 1 that MPs have had to register their earnings in more detail a few interesting titbits have already popped up.

The register of members’ interests shows John Reid (left) getting a £5,000 trip to Bahrain, paid for by that country’s Government, to meet ministers.

Seems odd considering the former Home Secretary doesn’t have a role here anymore.

Nonetheless, His Excellency Sheik Rashid bin Abdallah al Khalifa of Bahrain still saw fit to give him a watch for good measure.

I always wonder how MPs can hold advisory roles with some organisations without there ever being a conflict of interest.

Labour’s Jim Hood has registered getting £7,500 from Scottish Coal for being a consultant on parliamentary matters.

Meanwhile Tory Tim Yeo (right) had a trip to Monaco paid for by a Romanian company – so far he has declined to record how much it was worth and for what purpose he went there.

Cameron could be descendant of Moses

Some people have been fond of likening Gordon Brown to Moses – albeit one who leads the people into the sea without it having parted.

But a Jewish scholar at the University of Manchester claims Cameron (left), who just had to go one better, could actually be a direct descendent of the biblical figure.

The Times writes that Dr Yaakov Wise traced the Tory leader’s ancestral line back to Elijah Levita who lived from 1469-1549.

The name Levita is the Latin form of Levite, meaning a Jew descended from the tribe of Levi, the son of Jacob, and one of the original 12 tribes of Israel.

Dr Wise said: “It is possible that Cameron is a direct descendant of Moses or, at least, a cousin.”

Thursday 9 July 2009

Tories V Lib Dems - press office wars

With the news-barren summer recess approaching, a war has erupted between the Tory and Lib Dem press offices.

It all started when the Tories noticed that a Lib Dem press release was based on figures that a Conservative MP had asked for.

The figures had been printed in Hansard, the Lib Dems had seen them and managed to get a press release out before the Tories.

Their release was worded carefully, not saying that the Lib Dems had “discovered” figures, but merely saying they were “highlighting” them.

It has now happened more than once.

On one occasion this week the Tory press office, a little riled no doubt, proceeded to copy the Lib Dem release word for word – just changing the quoted politician to a Tory before sending it out quickly.

The sneaky Lib Dems managed to spot another set of Tory figures and get their release out first again today.

Shortly after the Tories got their handbags out and called around local hacks telling them the Lib Dems had stolen their figures.

I suggest there should be a group fight – blues versus yellows – in central lobby at 5pm.

The particular variety of Lib Dem Bull****

Every now and then we get a wonderful snapshot of just how dignified politicians are not.

A leaked e-mail has emerged from a defeated Lib Dem councillor who lost her seat in recent elections, and is also a parliamentary candidate.

Sally Morgan writes in response to being contacted by “apparatchiks” to ask for a bigger donation to the party. Read it all the way, it’s priceless.

Dear Cowley St and Campaigns Dept.
Please do not employ apparatchiks to telephone me at home to tell me how well the Party did in the local elections only days after I and many of my colleagues lost our seats.
I do not appreciate being told how the public decided to teach Gordon brown a lesson nor that a General Election is around the corner and we have never been in a better position.
I no longer subscribe to that particular variety of bull****.
I was particularly taken aback to be asked if I would make a substantial donation and increase my standing order. Is that not the equivalent of frisking a mugging victim for any more pickings?
The party has benefited from several thousand pounds of my money as well as my blood, sweat and tears and yet the Party chooses to spend such money on employing ‘organisers’ whose sole purpose it seems is to forward centrally-generated emails that I have already received.
I would happily save the Party thousands of pounds a year by offering the services of my 11-year-old daughter who would be more than capable of performing such tasks for the price of a tenner and a few bags of Haribo cola bottles.
They obviously do little else as I have not seen sight nor sound of such organisers for many, many months despite being a Parliamentary Candidate.
Perhaps the Party thinks PPCs who are councillors and mothers have not time for such fripperies. The lack of support would lead me to believe so.
For that reason I’ve cancelled my, already generous, standing order and when my membership expires in October the Party can sing for it.
Yours, with b***** all left to lose.

Hat tip Matt Chorley and the WMN

Coulson will have to go

There will be frenzied planning in David Cameron’s office today after it emerged a newspaper his press secretary Andy Coulson ran tapped the phones of everyone and his wife.

The problem for Cameron is that he can’t stand on the moral high-ground demanding the departure of Damian McBride – you remember Smeargate of course – and now keep Coulson under his wing.

McBride’s case was different – his misdemeanours were committed while he was working for the Prime Minister, while Coulson’s situation occurred in a previous career at the News of The World. Plus the former editor claims he knew nothing of it.

The editors of the papers I’ve worked at had a very good idea of all the big stories being cooked up.

In terms of Coulson’s position it’s irrelevant whether he knew or not, because muck sticks and if Cameron doesn’t jettison his press secretary it’ll stick to him too.

So the planning they’ll be doing now, I suspect, is how to minimise the impact of his departure.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

PMQs vid

Hat tip Mindtrackresearch

Harman makes best of a bad hand

I actually thought Harriet Harman did a better job of arguing Labour’s case on cuts Vs investment than Brown has done until now.

If you start from the point that Labour’s case is full of holes, to advocate it you have to stay away from the figures – which is what Harman did.

It even meant she didn’t look totally stupid when challenged with the 0% rise claim. She didn’t defend it at all, she just talked about something else.

If it were Brown he would have pulled out a list of stats that didn’t add up, before making some sort of tenuous claim about them.

His problem is that he can’t avoid the figures when he’s talking because normally that’s the only area he’s comfortable with.

All in all, PMQs was a fairly tedious affair today, the Tories had to keep themselves amused.

Nadine Dorries even gave Andrew Robathan a flirtatious little tickle on her way out, making the whip jump like a girl.

Coaker makes impact

Minister Vernon Coaker had a grounding moment just now when he went to give evidence to the Children, Schools and Family Committee.

Just as everyone was about to get started chair Barry Sheerman MP commented that it was the first time Coaker had been in front of the committee in his new role as Schools Minister.

“Er, we were here three weeks ago chair. Nice to know we’re having an impact,” the minister replied to chuckles in the room.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Healey drives me up the wall

I heard Housing Minister John Healey defending his party’s dog whistle politics on the Today show this morning.

You’d have thought they would have learnt their lesson after the “British Jobs, for British workers” fiasco.

Instead they decided to promise local authorities more power to prioritise “local people” for housing.

No doubt it’s a reaction to, and an attempt to stymie, the BNP’s success – but actually it plays right into their hands.

Healey dodged the issue, using that most irritating style of ignoring what was being asked and answering a different question.

To be fair, many politicians do it. But when it’s employed with such precise obtuseness, it’s enough to drive one to distraction.

Monday 6 July 2009

Conservative rural re-action

Lobbydog was unimpressed with the Conservative’s Rural Action campaign which the party “launched” today.

Rural Action was touted as an “agenda for rural communities”. In truth it was largely made up of previously announced proposals collected in a document with “rural” written on the front.

It seemed particularly meagre as Gordon Brown was given such an ear-bashing by the Tories for wrapping up old policies in new packaging with the Building Britain’s Future plan last week.

In Rural Action the Tories said they’d help save village schools by abolishing current limits on surplus places. But this was a wider policy David Cameron and Michael Gove proposed as far back as 18 months ago.

Under Rural Action the party would also let communities decide where new developments went through Local Housing Trusts, something Grant Schapps announced in April.

Then there was the document’s promise to help small firms with tax relief – one of Caroline Spelman’s announcements from March.

They would’ve been better off highlighting the benefit of their policies to rural areas when they were first announced – and targeting the relevant rural media outlets to hammer the point home.

Instead they’re trying to convince rural lobby groups that they’re important because they have their very own “agenda” document, full of polices announced months ago for everyone else.

Shadow rural affairs minister Jim Paice admitted the Tories don’t have the rural vote sewn up yet – if they want it they need to do better than this.

Lords scold Government

A Lords Committee has slammed the Government’s attempt to bring in new laws to improve standards of conduct in Westminster.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill was pushed out in the wake of the expenses scandal.

The Bill has already suffered two setbacks after parts – including one which would rob MPs of protection to speak freely in the Commons – were defeated.

Now the Lords Constitution Committee has said what others suspected – it has all been too rushed.

They wrote: “The Bill is the product of a desire to respond to a demand to see something done, as the Government put it, rather than the product of a law making process suitable for a bill with serious constitutional repercussions.

They said the Government’s attempt to fast-track the bill was “wholly unacceptable”.