Friday, 3 September 2010

New MPs want new rules...

When I first heard there were Labour MPs who had suggested changing the rules on choosing the party’s shadow cabinet, I immediately assumed they would be connected to one of the leadership contender’s campaigns.

These were people, I thought, trying to smooth the way for the winning candidate to pick a shadow cabinet of their liking once they had taken the top job. But the picture emerging is different.

At the moment, once the Labour leader has been selected, the party’s MPs have internal elections to choose who should have a job at the top table.

It’s meant in the past that opposition leaders have been stuck with one or two in their shadow team whom they wouldn’t naturally choose, but who are popular with backbenchers.

But now it seems there are two groups who feel the current system is archaic and needs changing.

The first are made up of the new intake of MPs who think the current electoral system represents a popularity contest.

Presumably they believe that new individuals who are talented, but do not have a following among backbench colleagues, will get passed over.

Meanwhile the second group is made up of old hands who remember what happened last time around – i.e. that some got in that shouldn’t have, while others who deserved to did not.

In the end I can’t see backbenchers handing the power to choose the shadow cabinet to the leader.

But the dynamic of the vote, on Wednesday, could be an interesting sign of the shape of the new Parliamentary Labour Party – yet to fully emerge.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Patronising Pat strikes again...

I rather enjoyed this little passage from A Journey about Blair letting Pat Hewitt talk at cabinet just to annoy John Prescott.

He wrote of Prescott: “He was definitely old fashioned and not great at working with a certain type of middle class woman, and though sound on the policy of gay rights was led more by his head than his heart.”

Mr Blair continues, telling how at cabinet Mr Prescott would sit “like a grumbling volcano ready to erupt” often because of one of the women that had spoken up.

He writes: “Patricia Hewitt was sure to get him going. She was in fact a really good minister and was excellent at the Department of Health, taking truly difficult decisions with immense determination, but at cabinet she would usually raise the women’s angle.

“John would make some slightly off colour remark if he was in a sour mood. I would then bring her in again just for the sheer entertainment of watching him explode.

“She would patronise him in the most wonderfully insensitive fashion: ‘Now John, that’s a very, very good point you’ve just made, and it’s always so worth listening to you.’”

You can actually hear Hewitt’s voice in your head when you read that last bit. Freakish.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Nuclear shame...

The story about MPs being barred from discussing the plight of Britain’s nuclear test veterans in Parliament was picked up in the Daily Mail today.

The veterans took part in our nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and now suffer a range of diseases and illnesses as a result of being exposed to radiation.

Other countries like the USA and France – and even China and Russia – have paid out compensation to veterans who served similar roles. Meanwhile the UK Government refuses and is even fighting a court case to avoid doing so.

The Daily Mail story tells how previously veterans had relied on the support of MPs to speak out on the issue in Parliament. But after taking advice from the Ministry of Defence, the Commons Authorities - under the power of John Bercow - effectively barred any discussion on the subject.

The reason was that it would be “sub-judice” as the court battle for compensation is on-going. It’s a rather flimsy excuse because all the evidence has been heard in the case and a decision will be taken by three Appeal Court judges, not a jury, so legally speaking there is no chance of prejudicing the trial.

And anyway, there has already been Parliamentary discussion of veterans’ issues while legal proceedings in the case were active – it’s only since taking this most recent advice from the MoD that restrictions seem to have come into play.

The Mail picked up the story from the campaign website NuclearTestShame, which has been at the forefront on this issue.

Anyone who cares about how the MoD is treating these veterans, and also about freedom of speech, should check the website out and follow developments with them on Twitter.