Friday, 13 November 2009
Something monumental could be about to happen in Westminster that will affect the country for years to come.
Ten days from now a report will be published that could dramatically change the way Government works.
You will have noticed that the word “could” slipped into both of those sentences, the little blighter.
The Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons – it’s interesting, don’t stop reading – was appointed in the summer to consider and report on four specified matters:
• The appointment of members and chairmen of select committees
• The appointment of the chairman and deputy chairmen of 'Ways and Means', involved in parliamentary procedure
• Scheduling business in the House of Commons
The MPs who sit on the reform committee that I've spoke to are all adamant that a big power transfer is needed.
They are likely to say that the power to do the above should be taken from Government and given to Parliament.
They will also report on the possibility of the public being able to initiate business in the House.
If their recommendations are adopted it could mean much more ferocious scrutiny of policy and ministers, which is desperately needed if Parliament is to re-establish itself.
Watch this space.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Lobbydog was chatting with the shadow attorney general Edward Garnier earlier today about the case of two British men who were put on trial in Latvia.
The men had been arrested by an officer who claimed he'd been punched and kicked by the pair, who were in Riga on a stag do.
But when it came to court CCTV footage showed no such attack, plus it turned out the officer had had no bruising and was also trying to get £40,000 in damages.
Having spent £13,000 on legal fees the pair were acquitted and returned to the UK to get ready for their own weddings - only to find out Latvian prosecution lawyers are appealing the court’s decision and now they have to go back and do the whole thing over again.
In UK courts prosecutions can not appeal acquittals – a rule brought in to stop the state victimising people and to bring some finality to legal decisions.
You can have a retrial if new evidence comes up, and a defendant can appeal a conviction, but not the other way round.
Garnier said that, given the British legal system doesn't allow appeals against acquittals, there is no way that a few years ago a court here would have allowed them to be sent back once they had already been cleared.
Of course, with the European Arrest Warrant and a streamlined extradition system the UK courts have less power to stop it.
Furthermore, Garnier warned that things are only going to get worse now that the Lisbon Treaty has been brought in.
"The best idea to help David Cameron that us hacks in Room 12 could come up with was for the Tory leader to put ice cubes down his trousers.
Reading it back now it does seem a little severe."
Pick up a copy of the Evening Post or visit the paper's website tomorrow to see the parliamentary correspondent's full column.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Alan Johnson will finally announce the Government’s proposals for keeping details of innocent people on the DNA database today in a written statement.
Given the contentious nature of the database you’d think they’d give people a chance to debate it in the House.
But on this issue they’ve not been shy about squeezing things through on the quiet where possible.
As expected Johnson will say that the Government wants to retain the details of innocent people on the database for up to six years.
It’s a course of action that goes against the spirit, if not the word, of a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling last year.
At the time when the Home Office was formulating its response to the ECHR Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said the ruling did not strictly forbid the retention of those who had not been convicted of crimes.
Possibly not, it did however say:
“…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.”
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
It has come to Lobbydog’s attention that Downing Street is running a special series of meetings with MPs in a bid to rally the party and get the PLP on message.
The meetings are taking place on a region by region basis, with all the Labour members from each going in at a time.
They sit around the cabinet table with the PM, who then gives a speech before outlining areas of policy where Labour “differentiates” from the Tories.
The idea is that these are the lines they will be able to push on the campaign trail, to constituents and to their local papers.
Does this mean the election is closer than we think?
I try not to blog a commentary on the newspapers, but the transcript of the call between the PM and Jacqui Janes is too significant to miss.
It is utterly painful reading – in part, of course, because of Mrs Janes’ grief at losing her 20-year-old son.
But in the main it’s agonizing because of the PM’s manner, which is simply helpless. At times you can see he’s trying, but he just cannot separate politics from the situation.
He wants to comfort Mrs Janes, but cannot let her make a point which might be politically damaging without coming back – even though as far as he was concerned it was a private conversation.
A prime example is the part where Mrs Janes says she knows from pilots in Kandahar that there is only one casualty evacuation helicopter available.
He starts to tell her he is “sorry” she has been given that information. If you are going to say sorry in that situation, the only thing you can be sorry for is a lack of helicopters.
Anything else makes the word sorry seem empty – after that all you’re left with is a statement in which Brown is simply telling the mother she is wrong.
Surely the obvious answer for a politician in that situation would be – “that sounds like a terrible situation. I’ve done a lot to make sure troops have what they need but I will look into this personally and if it is the case, then I’ll employ the full power of Government and will intervene myself to put it right.”
I know it can be difficult to come up with the right words under pressure, but it shouldn’t be for a Prime Minister.
It sounds like Mrs Janes, coming from a military family, is well informed about what’s going on at the front.
But I suspect hacks at the Sun, who are doing David Cameron’s dirty work at the moment, have been providing her with information too.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that as long as she feels she is getting something out of the whole affair for her deceased son Jamie.
But I also hope she doesn’t come to regret getting his memory tangled up with journalists and politicians.
Monday, 9 November 2009
I think even PM’s spokesman Simon Lewis would concede that the lobby briefing this morning was a disaster.
It centred on the letter Gordon Brown sent to the mother of a soldier who had been killed in action, in which the PM misspelt the mum’s name and appeared to misspell her son's too.
The line Lewis wanted to take today was that Brown was sorry for any ‘offence caused’ to the soldier’s mum – with the following implication that the PM had not actually done anything wrong.
Hacks wouldn’t let him get away with it, asking whether Lewis meant he merely regretted the offence or whether he was admitting that mistakes had been made in the letter.
It was at this point that Lewis got into trouble, he began talking about how the PM’s handwriting was “unique” and may even be less legible.
Then he went further and suggested the soldier’s mum had actually “misread” the letter and misinterpreted the handwriting.
When the question “were there any mistakes in the letter” was put, there was a tacit refusal to answer.
This is obviously a really emotive issue around Remembrance Day.
Brown would have been better off saying he takes great care to write to all soldiers’ families by hand and on this occasion he got one name wrong, was mortified and really sorry.
Instead it has become a ‘Gordon Brown can’t admit he’s wrong’ story which is the last thing you need when the mother of a deceased British soldier is on the other side of the argument.