Thursday 5 November 2009

Let me just say...nothing

On hearing that Miliband is apparently going to become European Foreign Minister a colleague drew to my attention the comedy value of this quote from Brown last week.

The PM had just been confronted with the possibility of his Foreign Secretary jumping ship to the continent.

"Let me just say – I have been at the meeting," Brown said.

"That was not their decision – just let me tell you. Also, if there is a shortlist, I am sure David would be on it, because he has excellent qualifications. But he doesn't want to be on it. And indeed – there is no such list."

Covering all the bases there.

Pillow talk

Kelly also announced a ban on MPs employing spouses – which seemed to be the one that caused most anger.

“For one thing,” one MP who employs his wife told me, “she is the only person that I can talk about the day’s work in bed with.”

Had he tried it with anyone else, I asked.

“Well, I thought about making it a part of the interview process for whoever I get to replace her.”

Pick up a copy of the Evening Post tomorrow to read the Parliamentary Correspondent’s column. I’ll link in later this week too.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Kelly has a dig

Drowning in expenses stories, but just a quickie. Respect to Sir Christopher Kelly for twice outing political game playing:

1. He said the leaks of his report were incredibly frustrating and that they had not come from his committee. In fact, he added, they had started to appear within hours of him pre-briefing party leaders on what his report would say. Tut tut.

2. Harriet Harman, he pointed out, had told his committee that MPs should not be allowed to employ spouses, but then speaking in the House reversed her view. It’s leaders that are meant to tell people what they want to hear, Hattie. You’re not one yet.

Crunch moment

Sifting through the blogosphere this morning there seems to be a fair bit of vitriol from grass roots Tories about Cameron’s Lisbon U turn.

Take a look through the comments at ConservativeHome, or underneath Ben Brogan’s piece on the Telegraph website.

Some try to divert anger on to Labour, their thinking – “we would never have had to break our referendum promise, had Gordon Brown not broken his in the first place”. A bit limp if you ask me.

You have to wonder how many votes Cameron will lose to UKIP over this. What happens now though is absolutely critical for the leader.

He has had months and months to get his policy sorted for this moment, and Tories who are still backing him will be hoping that the sense of behind the scenes kafuffle are unfounded.

If Cameron has learnt anything from this whole affair, it should be that he needs to be straight with people.

But I fear that when he spells out his new European policies later today there will be vague promises to repatriate powers which will be hard to keep.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Clarke not about

I wonder what Ken makes of Cameron’s pending refusal to grant the referendum on Lisbon.

I called his office but, ironically, he’s out of the country.

A humiliating disgrace

There have been reports floating around about Imtiaz Hussain – a convicted rapist that was due for deportation to Pakistan – which have been slightly inaccurate.

Before deporting anyone it’s usual practice to have them interviewed by an embassy official of the relevant country in order to get their papers sorted.

In the case of dangerous criminals, like double-rapist Hussain, the practice is for the embassy to send an official to the prison which logically removes the need for guards to bring dangerous killers/rapists etc to an embassy in central London.

But the UK Border Agency (UKBA) screwed up and brought Hussain to the Pakistan High Commission for an interview – further more they sent the crook along with just one guard and didn’t tell the Commission they were coming.

That much has been in the news. Reports have said that Hussain told his guard he needed the toilet and then climbed out of a bog window to escape – but that’s not how it happened.

The Pakistani Consul General told Lobbydog today that the Commission’s ‘on street’ CCTV footage shows the prisoner and UKBA guard approaching the building.

They enter and then not a minute and a half later the prisoner is seen walking out the front door and running off down the street, the UKBA guard no where to be seen.

Obviously the Commission’s own security didn’t stop Hussain, at this point they still hadn’t even been told UKBA had brought the rapist in.

The question is where did the original false story – that he’d escaped through a window – come from.

The real tale was more embarrassing (if that is possible) because it suggests the UKBA guard must have simply turned his back for a second and let Hussain run off.

He’s still on the run now. One MP was pretty spot on when he described it as a “humiliating disgrace” for UKBA.

Monday 2 November 2009

The row rolls on

John Spellar MP has "weighed in" to the row over the scientists that have quit as Government advisers.

He says on his website:

“Alan Johnson is right and there is an important democratic principle at stake. Advisers and officials can give their views and ignore public opinion, but Ministers and MPs are answerable to the voters. Outside advice is useful, but ultimately we have to answer to the public and I think the public are clear in their opposition to a free for all on drugs. If someone has a different view they should put themselves up for election.”

If it is Spellar’s view that people with opinions varying from Government line should “put themselves up for election” then why bother having advisers at all?

What people are taking away from this, and what the Government is doing little to disprove, is that ministers only appoint advisers so they can appear to make decisions based on expert advice, when actually they are making them based on something else.

What is that something else? Spellar tells us when he makes the rather clumsy admission that “ministers are answerable to the voters”. In other words, it is not wise in an electoral sense to go against the public mood on an issue as volatile as this.

I’m not an advocate of some of the things these advisors have said about drugs, but you can’t simply ignore the fact that they are saying them.

Even worse, Spellar seeks to discredit them by misrepresenting their views. He implies these former Government expert advisers are calling for a "free for all on drugs". Childish hyperbole.

The Government has to face up to these people’s views if they have been appointed to give them.

They would be much wiser to tackle them in an open debate rather than throwing toys out of the pram like Alan Johnson did on Sky yesterday.

Wriggle it, and not just a little bit...

There was a distinct wriggling feeling about the answers relating to Kelly that were given in the Lobby this morning.

The discussion was all about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) – the body that will put in place the Kelly review, or so we thought.

Hacks were pressing PM’s mouthpiece Simon Lewis on three issues:

1) Who will get to appoint IPSA?

2) What powers will it have to reject parts of Kelly?

3) When will it report?

The answer to the first question was that it will be the Members Estimate Committee (Harman, Bercow and co), in some sort of guise.

Lewis repeated that the important thing was that appointments were made in a “fair and open” way, correcting my assumption that the most important thing was that it was independent (a fair assumption, given the I in IPSA).

While highly unsatisfactory in its substance, the answer was actually the most satisfactory in terms of clarity.

Lewis responded to the second question on ‘powers to reject’ saying that it was “for IPSA” to take Kelly’s report and implement it as it saw fit within its remit.

It felt like an answer that was preparing the ground for at least some of Kelly to be ditched.

The answer to question three was a straight forward “I don’t know”, which applied even when Lewis was pressed to say whether IPSA would report before the election.

If, as some are starting to suspect, Kelly’s review is kicked into the long grass or watered down beyond recognition, I’ve no doubt the Government will pay the price at the ballot box.

More backwards decision making at the Home Office

Just a few days ago this blog highlighted the backwards decision making at the Home Office relating to the national DNA database.

Ministers have decided they want to keep innocent people’s DNA on the database and are searching for evidence to back their stance.

It’s a dangerous approach to governance, rather than the more sensible process of conducting an investigation and basing policy ideas on the evidence that comes out.

One reader, Gareth, aptly named what the Government is doing as “policy based evidence making”.

Now the Home Office is guilty of doing the same again on the issue of drugs.

Two scientists have quit as Government advisers because they claim ministers are disregarding advice and asking them simply to rubber stamp drug enforcement policy.

“You can’t have a chief advisor …campaigning against Government decisions,” said Home Secretary Alan Johnson after axing Prof David Nutt, who said that LSD and ecstasy were less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.

Unfortunately, you can have a bloody-minded Government who doesn’t take any notice of the advice given to it.