Friday 20 August 2010

Hoon didn't order it...

Lobbydog gave his old chum Geoff Hoon a call this morning to see what he had to say about the £272,000 spent on artwork for the MoD during his tenure as Defence Secretary.

It was part of a larger refurbishment of the MoD’s Whitehall HQ in 2004, but also came as the country was fighting wars in which troops were chronically under-funded and under-equipped.

The cash was blown on eight pieces of modern art – since nicknamed ‘modern fart’ by MoD staff according to The Sun who reported the story today.

Hoon told Lobbydog: “I doubt that I ordered it. I certainly was not aware that I ordered it.”

I imagine these words have come in handy for Hoon in the various inquiries he’s had to give evidence at.

Next stop the Dr David Kelly inquest.

UK fights for hearts and minds

I’m sure the Government is boosting aid to Pakistan and acting as its international advocate because it’s the right thing to do to help the flood hit nation.

The Government has doubled aid to effected areas of Pakistan, offering an extra £33 million on top of the £31.3 million already pledged to help cope with the crisis.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell also advocated a much broader aid effort from the international community at the UN this week.

But the pubic relations campaign that the Government is waging also makes the cynic in me suppose that the additional benefits to their course of action has not escaped our diplomats.

Firstly this is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to soften any hard feelings caused by his comments about Pakistan supporting terrorism.

Secondly, it’s a good chance to show to the UK’s Pakistani community that the Governemnt is on their side and on the side of the Pakistani people – as opposed to just being cosy with their politicians in the fight against terrorism.

Lobbydog is aware that the Department for International Development has gone to unusual efforts to make sure local news outlets in areas of the UK with large Pakistani communities are well aware of the UK’s efforts.

Mitchell told Lobbydog earlier today: “I want to assure [the UK Pakistani community] that Britain will be doing everything it can to help Pakistan in its hour of need. Britain and Pakistan are bound together by ties of friendship and history and we will not let them down.”

This is the war for hearts and minds being waged in the UK.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Another grilling for Hoon?

It’s looking like Geoff Hoon could be called to give evidence at yet another public hearing relating to the Iraq War.

The gaffe-prone former Defence Secretary has already had to give evidence at the Iraq War Inquiry, at which he claimed Gordon Brown had starved the Ministry of Defence of funds.

Then there was the Baha Mousa Inquiry, where he washed his hands of the death of an Iraqi detainee, and unceremoniously pointed the finger at his junior minister at the time.

With renewed calls for a full public inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly, who died while Hoon was Defence Secretary, we may get one last chance to go and watch the former Ashfield MP get grilled.

Ironically the key lies with Hoon’s former parliamentary colleague from Nottinghamshire Ken Clarke.

The Justice Secretary is now responsible for deciding whether the records of Dr Kelly’s post mortem – which Lord Hutton ordered be kept secret for 70 years – are released.

Clarke’s office told me this morning that the decision was under consideration, but no doubt the Tory cabinet minister will be happy to let the former Labour MP sweat for a few weeks more.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

What have the Tory rebels got?

With a crucial Commons debate on the Coalition’s plans for electoral reform approaching, the Tory awkward squad are looking to flex their muscles.

Government plans to hold a referendum on whether to switch general elections to the Alternative Vote (AV) system will be almost first on the agenda when MPs come back to Westminster.

A good number of Tory MPs worry the AV system might lead to them losing parliamentary seats.

So Tory rebels are using an early day motion (edm) to garner support for opposing the AV referendum – but also to send a warning to the Coalition not to take them for granted.

At the moment the motion has won support from 45 MPs, two of which are Labour. That leaves 43 Tories who might vote against the Government on the issue.

The coalition has a majority of over 70 so it’s not urgent for Cameron and Clegg. Plus, many of the MPs who have put their name to the edm may well fall into line or extract some deal from the Government in return for support.

None the less, the debate on September 6 and 7 should be an interesting test of the Tory rebels’ chutzpah.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Resettlement grants battle

It looks like Lobbydog will be forced to go to the Information Commissioner to get a few facts that should be in the public domain.

Before I nipped off on summer hols I put a Freedom of Information request in with the Commons Authorities to find out which MPs had drawn their resettlement grants and which had not.

At first request I was refused outright, with the authorities ludicrously claiming that to reveal the information would breach data protection law.

This blog demanded a review of the decision and has managed to glean a little more information – 200 MPs have drawn their grants, that’s of 230 odd MPs who left Parliament.

While there are those of you out there who might think the grant – paid to help MPs “adjust to non parliamentary life” – is shameful full stop, I’d suggest there are some instances in which it is more shameful than others.

Some MPs, like Patricia Hewitt for example, walked straight into a very well paid job (or jobs in Hewitt’s case) and have absolutely no need for a payment which stretches in to the tens of thousands of pounds to ‘tide them over’.

However the authorities have still refused to give me a list of those who have drawn the grant and those who have not.

Given that it concerns public money, there is no reason why the authorities should refuse to release information about who has drawn grants, particularly as they have already put out a lot of information on other allowances claimed.

Information Commissioner here I come.

Monday 16 August 2010

Fort holding

Lobbydog has returned to work today to find all sorts of people stressing that Nick Clegg is definitely not running the country.

I never actually thought he would run things in Cameron’s absence, but the veracity with which the point is now being forced is making me think otherwise.

It’s like a bad whodunit TV show when some-one says “I didn’t murder him,” and the detective replies with raised eyebrow, “no-one said anything about murder.”

Maybe the Tories are scared Clegg will do something stupid while they’re away. Anyway, the rather comical line, of which we’re reminded every 15 minutes on Sky, is that Nick is only “holding the fort”.

If the polls are anything to go by then maybe that’s what they’ll write on his political head stone. Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg – holding the fort from 2007 to 2010.