Friday 11 June 2010

Ken Clarke starts to lay out the battle lines...

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke may be setting himself on a collision course with UK lawyers.

“We are going to have to make savings and it’s going to upset the legal profession. It has already upset them,” he told Lobbydog.

We were talking about how savings might be made from the legal aid bill – money the Government pays to lawyers so that people who can’t afford to defend themselves in court can have legal advice.

The previous Government had already reduced the amount they were paid and Clarke suggested things were only going down hill from here.

“There is less [money] in the pipeline, the previous Government already launched on that. They [lawyers] are all complaining. But my starting point is there is no way I can go back on what the previous Government has already done.

“One thing they can’t expect is that we’re going to cancel what they’re already protesting about even though it hasn’t come into effect.

“And there could be more [cuts] further down the road.”

Under Thatcher Clarke had a reputation for being a bruiser who could push through tough decisions – looks like he’s planning on living up to it.

McKinnon case to get looked at?

Lobbydog hears that the newly elected chair of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz is interested in conducting an inquiry into the case of Gary McKinnon.

McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, could be extradited to the US for trial after he hacked into the country’s military computer systems.

Vaz spoke out on the case last year, but an inquiry would certainly reignite interest.

Ultimately nothing will be decided until the other members of the committee are elected – but several other areas have also been tipped to come under scrutiny.

They include Government plans to introduce elected police officials, something that has proved controversial amongst police chief constables, and firearms regulations.

An inquiry into the gun laws would no doubt spark public debate in the wake of the Cumbria Massacre.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Hoon up to his old tricks...

I had planned to go to the Baha Mousa Inquiry today to see former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon give evidence.

The inquiry panel is looking into the death of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who died in Basra in 2003 having been hooded and allegedly beaten to death by British soldiers.

Last week we heard how Hoon’s Armed Forces Minister at the time, Adam Ingram, had admitted to the inquiry that he had misled MPs when he told them hooding was only used for the transport of prisoners, despite having been informed it had also been used in other circumstances.

Today Hoon, who avoided the waiting press by entering the inquiry building via a back door, showed he has not lost his knack for ‘qualified’ speech (notwithstanding the lobbygate affair).

While saying he was "deeply shocked" when he discovered that an Iraqi detainee had died, he added that it was Ingram who had been responsible for day-to-day issues relating to the treatment of detainees.

Reminds me of that “I think it was Sue” moment from Bigot-gate.

I’ll put up a fuller version of the transcript when I get it.

Crazy to own a gun?

Chris Williamson caused a stir in certain quarters last week after asking whether there shouldn’t be a total ban on all private gun ownership.

Not yet content, Labour’s Derby North MP has now written to the Home Secretary suggesting several measures he thinks should be included in reviewed firearms legislation.

These include:

• Mental health examinations for anyone wanting any gun licence.
• A requirement that when any person applies for a gun licence their GP be notified.
• A public register of all gun owners so that “the community” can notify the authorities if an individual starts “displaying signs of unsuitability”.
• Compulsory training and examinations for gun licence applicants.

Coincidentally, if the first measure was ever implemented it would mean certain licence holding members of the Tory benches would have to undergo mental health checks.

I’ve no doubt that the irritation this will cause the gun-lobby on the opposite benches has not escaped Williamson. But if it’s not enough he adds at the end of his letter…

“I therefore trust you [the Home Secretary] will not be cowed by those who have a vested interest and are attempting to close off any debate about strengthening firearms legislation.”

I await the return fire.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Z-listers revenge

The new North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen is carving out a solid “no-nonsense Tory” reputation for himself.

There was a joke going around that Bridgen had started a new backbench group of MPs, “the Z-listers” – a jibe at David Cameron’s “A-listers”.

Those on the A-list were given priority treatment when it came to choosing who would represent the Conservatives in more winnable seats at the election.

It was set up in a bid to diversify the Parliamentary Tory party and it included more women, ethnic minority and gay candidates – but critics claimed it also contained celebrities and ‘well-connected’ individuals.

But behind the “Z-lister” joke Bridgen told Lobbydog there is a more serious issue at stake.

“I’m totally in favour of working to get more women and ethnic minority candidates selected. If that means giving people extra support to maximise their performance and chances of being selected, then it should be given.

“But I think it is dangerous to say that there are some people in the party that are particularly special. I think setting up an A-list could be seen as divisive.”

He added: “I know that some of the Z-listers won very good majorities at the election. It would be interesting to do a proper analysis of the figures to see what kind of majorities different candidates won.”

There were seats where A-list candidates lost out when trying to overturn majorities smaller than those overturned by so-called Z-listers.

Whether that is because A-listers felt they didn’t need to work as hard, or because Tory voters did not respond to them, or other reasons, I’ll leave the Tories to argue out.

I’ve no doubt however that some in the party are asking whether the Tories would have taken a bigger number of seats in the Commons had the A-list not existed.

Too busy to think, too busy to talk...

Lobbydog called an old friend yesterday to see how life is since she left the Westminster bubble.

When Ms Hewitt picked up she was in a mini-cab on the way to a meeting. It was a cordial conversation for ten seconds or so.

It was around then that I asked whether she would be taking her “resettlement grant”. The last time I asked her about it was before the election when she said she’d been “too busy” to think about it.

The grant, a cool £54,000 in Hewitt’s case, is meant to tide MPs over while they relocate from Westminster and find another job – indeed, while they “resettle”.

But I couldn’t help but feel that Patricia seems awfully resettled already – she holds jobs with Boots, BT, Cinven, Barclays Capital and Eurostar.

She held all but the Eurostar position while she was still an MP in fact, so no wonder she’s been so busy; but back to the mini-cab.

Having been asked whether she would take the grant the former member for Leicester West suddenly said she’d arrived at her destination and had to rush into a meeting and that she would call me back.

She hasn’t yet, but she is very busy after all.

Monday 7 June 2010

Hunt gives first speech..

The new Stoke on Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt is going to give his maiden speech in the Commons later today.

He is the TV historian that was selected as the seat’s candidate, despite an outcry from some constituency party members who wanted a local to represent them.

The secretary of the local party even quit, so that he could stand as an independent Labour candidate against Hunt.

Being camera trained, the new MP is an eloquent sort and has no doubt understood the need to address the issue in some sort of way.

He’ll apparently talk a little about how his predecessor Mark Fisher became the Labour MP in the seat despite being a former Eton pupil and son of a Tory MP.

“They are, as I have discovered, enormously forgiving in the Potteries,” Hunt will tell the House.

Former MP signs on...

Former Labour Broxtowe MP Nick Palmer has apparently signed on at his local Job Centre Plus.

Given that he’s a mathematician with a PhD, you’d think he might be able to pick up work somewhere without the state’s help.

He admits freely, of course, that he just wants to see how the system works – but why bother if you’re not an MP anymore?

My guess is that Palmer does not give the coalition Government much of a life and actually thinks he‘ll get a chance to fight his Broxtowe seat again sometime soon. He only lost it by 389 votes to Tory Anna Soubry.

The election battle between them was mired with accusations of underhand tactics – the spreading of political falsehoods and even some more sordid rumours.

It was made that little bit more intense by the fact that Palmer and Soubry actually live opposite one another on the same street – the stuff of sitcoms.

Needless to say, the two candidates are not necessarily best friends.