Friday, 17 July 2009

Ashton is prize turnip

This was the brilliant exchange between former MP Joe Ashton and the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts on Radio 4’s Today show this morning.

Letts takes Ashton apart, actually calling him a “prize turnip”. Wonderful.

Ken love bombs Mandy

Ken Clarke talking about Lord Mandelson in today’s FT.

KC: I think he adds to the quality of the government. He’s their best departmental minister and he’s a man of considerable skill and ability. He has engineered himself into quite an extraordinary role inside the whole set-up. I think apart from him it wouldn’t be a government at all. He is my political opponent but he’s a tremendous political operator.

He’s a brilliant strategic analyst and he’s a great one at laying political plans. And he’s obviously brought the present government together and kept Brown in office. I’m not going to speculate as to exactly why I think he’s doing it, you always have to ask why he’s doing it, but it was pretty brilliantly done. We would have had a different Prime Minister by now.

FT: Do you see any signs that all the good publicity might be going to his head slightly?

KC: Well, all politicians are vain and, Peter, shall we say, is not immune from that weakness.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Spads rake it in

Below are the current pay grades for 'special advisers', released by Number 10 today.

Spads, as they are known, are employed by ministers and taxpayer funded – but have a political role. Very grey area.

You'll notice that even some of those in pay-band two have a higher wage than your average MP – who will take home about £65,000 before expenses.

Shows where the power in Westminster lies perhaps.

Don't hold you breath Jacqui

In tomorrow’s issue of Total Politics Jacqui Smith apparently says she wants to come back into Government.

Maybe she, Margaret Beckett and Geoff Hoon should have a coffee morning together.

She’ll also call for training for ministers saying: “When I became Home Secretary, I’d never run a major organisation.

“I hope I did a good job but if I did it was more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills.”

I guess we could train ministers – or we could just choose ones who know what they’re doing in the first place.

Good day to bury bad news

In the usual spirit of transparency and openness that the Government embraces before summer recess, ministers are today making a whopping 53 statements.

A ministerial statement is a big policy announcement from a particular department. On a usual day you might see five or even ten.

If you’re cynical you’d say the rush to spew out shed loads of news before recess is an attempt to hide some of the more controversial announcements in the ensuing kafuffle.

If not, then you might just say officials had been lazy and left it all to the last minute. I know what I think.

The effect is that some important announcements may not get the attention they deserve in the media.

Let’s look at some of those among the 53 coming out today:

Six from the Home Office – including one on intercept evidence and others on the annual reports of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Identity and Passport Service.

Five from the Ministry of Justice – including one on reform of legal aid and another on Freedom of Information.

Nine from the Prime Minister’s office – including ministerial gifts, ministerial travel, official hospitality and one on special advisors.

Six from the Chancellor – including one on a tax law rewrite project and another on bank governance.

Oh, and don’t forget eco-towns.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bercow struggles

What on earth was Bercow doing at PMQs today, he seemed to totally lose it.

It all started to go pear shaped when he asked MPs to be quiet towards the end of Welsh questions.

Rather than shutting their gobs they all cheekily agreed with him very loudly and drowned him out.

The whole incident seemed to knock his confidence because after that things went downhill – Cameron was allowed to speak for ages, so was Brown.

We didn’t get to poor old Nick Clegg till after 20 minutes.

Far from meeting the new Speaker’s promise to streamline everything his performance made the whole event rather stale.

Smiling through it

A colleague of mine noted today that whatever Mandy says, even if it’s inherently negative, he always seems to smile afterwards. It’s part of what makes him such a curious character.

The little smirk he gave after his Sky News interview just now felt like an acknowledgement that the case he had so fervently argued a moment ago was indeed laughable.

He was asked to make clear the difference between Tory spending “cuts” and Labour spending “constraints” – his answer was “real choices”.

If even Mandy is finding it this hard to hold the cuts/investment argument together then it must begin to totally unravel at some point.

Expect more of the same at PMQs today.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

U turn if you want to...

A quiet little u-turn seems to have occurred on House of Commons reform.

At the moment the Government has the power to say what is discussed in the Commons and when, giving it obvious political advantages.

When it was grandstanding about parliamentary reform last month ministers seemed as though they were on the verge of letting the Commons schedule its own business.

Obviously, that would have meant the Government giving up its power for the greater parliamentary good.

But then, when setting out the reform motion, Harriet Harman only outlined the scheduling of “non-governmental” business.

That meant Parliament would not get to schedule any of the laws put forward by Government – 85% of what goes through the Commons.

There was uproar among MPs on the reform committee – who felt the Government was finding it too hard to let go of power.

Then today the motion appeared again on the order paper – this time without the words “non governmental”.

It means the Government has backed down and is now prepared to entertain the idea of the Commons scheduling all business.

Second time lucky for whips?

Labour whips will be trying hard to get it right today as the Government attempts to undo an embarrassing Commons defeat from last month.

They had planned to hold the first meeting of the East Midlands Grand Committee – comprised of every MP in the region – in Nottingham on September 9.

But Labour hadn’t consulted with opposition parties over the date and when it came to a Commons vote to approve it there weren’t enough red MPs in the chamber.

The motion was defeated by 104 votes to 98 – prompting jubilant cheers from Tories and Liberal Democrats and calls of "what a shambles".

Labour will try and approve the meeting for exactly the same date again this evening

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ainswort loses his H

Bob Ainsworth’s “H” was all over the place at defence questions just now.

I became suspicious when an extra H found its way into a sentence where it wasn’t welcome.

Troops had apparently been hit by a determined “hambush”, said the Defence Secretary.

Moments after it became clear that the H had been borrowed from a later comment, when Ainsworth explained he was getting troops more “elicopters” as soon as possible.

Eco-towns finale

John Healey will set out the Government’s plans for eco-towns on Thursday – my bet is there will be some long grass involved.

The eco-towns programme was the Government’s flagship proposal to build new eco-friendly settlements around the UK.

There are 11 potential sites of which up to ten may make it on to the final shortlist. Over the years the idea that there would be ten has gone from being a plan to being an “aspiration”.

A couple of the potential sites have not met any opposition locally in which case you’d imagine they’ll get the go ahead.

But many, like the one in Leicestershire for example, have proved highly unpopular and been opposed by local MPs of all colours.

What are the bets the beef of the decision will be put off until after the election?

Either way, if ten sites aren’t confirmed it’s going to look like backing down. If it’s as few as two or three then it’s another U-turn.