Friday 10 September 2010

Big Beast gets his claws out for Blair

Ken Clarke isn’t the sort to let a challenge pass without saying something.

So when I read in Tony Blair’s memoirs that the former PM claimed to have whipped Clarke in debates over crime back in the 90s, I knew there would be come-back.

Then in The Telegraph on Monday Blair had another swing – this time at the Justice Secretary’s prisons policy.

Blair said he “abhors” Clarke’s suggestion that money might be saved by locking up fewer people and focusing on rehabilitation.

Talking exclusively to Lobbydog Clarke said: “Frankly I was unimpressed and I flatly reject his criticism.

“I actually think he’s had a hard time of things recently and he’s become a very unpopular figure and he was trying to say something to avoid talking about Iraq and also to create controversy about his book.”

The pair sparred in the House of Commons when Clarke was Home Secretary in John Major’s government and Blair was Labour’s home affairs spokesman.

Clarke added: “Tony was my shadow back then in the early 90s and was left dealing with crime issues. He was good at slogans but never came up with any policy.

“‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was his famous one. But to be honest I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t agree with that – it was like many of Tony’s slogans, a platitude.”

You can read the full story in tomorrow’s Nottingham Post, I’ll link in from Lobbydog too.

The die is cast...

I finally submitted my complaint to the Information Commissioner today over the House of Commons’ refusal to release details of which MPs have drawn resettlement grants and which have not.

It took me a couple of weeks because I wanted to read all the case law behind the issue to make sure it was arguable before I got on my high horse.

I’ve been on a mission to read through the original MPs’ expenses FOI battle, the Information Commissioner’s and Information Tribunal’s rulings and the High Court’s judgement.

There’s a whole bunch of other case law that’s relevant too – supporting the argument for disclosure.

What I’ve found most irritating is that the Commons is using exactly the same argument for withholding resettlement grant information, as they did when they were withholding information on MPs expenses and allowances all those months ago.

Saying “they just don’t get it” has become a terrible cliché, but what else is there?

They were forced to release the information then, and I’m hoping they will be now.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Johnson put down

Notts MP Anna Soubry was lashed down by Alan Johnson in the Commons last night.

After she’d made an intervention which the former Home Secretary thought had gone on too long, Johnson said: “That went on a bit.”

Then when she tried to intervene again he simply said: “I will not give way again. It was tedious last time, and it would be tedious again.”

Ouch. Johnson always seemed like such a gentleman in Government, but he seems to have grown some thorns in opposition.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

It can't be, it is....

“Please don’t be Gordon, please don’t be Gordon, please don’t be Gordon,” said the collective look on the faces of Labour MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions today.

Nick Clegg was about to reveal who the first person to call Andy Coulson was, after the then News of the World editor resigned over the phone-hacking scandal back in 2006.

While they’d hoped it was not Gordon who’d called Coulson to commiserate, comfort him and tell that he would one day have a “worthwhile” job – the irony – they knew deep down that it was him.

As one red MP later commented: “That’s so Gordon.”

It was the best moment in terms of theatre at PMQs, but obviously the more significant thing is that Speaker John Bercow said he would grant an emergency debate on the phone hacking scandal tomorrow.

Pressure mounts on Coulson. I’ll be there of course.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Vaz hacking inquiry

This is what Keith Vaz had to say as he launched the Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into the phone hacking scandal today.

"The evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates today raised a number questions of importance about the law on phone hacking, the way the police deal with such breaches of the law and the manner in which victims are informed of those breaches.

“I hope that this inquiry will clarify all these important areas."

In particular the Inquiry will focus on:

  • The definition of the offences relating to unauthorised tapping or hacking in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the ease of prosecuting such offences.
  • The police response to such offences, especially the treatment of those whose communications have been intercepted.
  • What the police are doing to control such offences.
These were basically the issues that were raised during the committee session earlier today.

You could tell Vaz wasn’t satisfied with the answers because he was doing that eyebrow thing. You know what I mean.

Failure is a tough pill to swallow...

When Labour MPs attack Coalition plans for redrawing electoral boundaries, they go in on the point that there are three million odd people not registered to vote – a problem they say must be tackled first.

The response that stops them dead is that Labour “did nothing” to increase voter registration for 13 years.

It stops them dead because it stinks of truth – it’s a very big carpet that three million unregistered voters can be swept underneath.

Labour MPs loathe letting opponents score points, so they tend to just shake their heads in denial. But more need to recognise the public trust to be won from admitting that some of their policies in Government just didn’t work.

A ‘mea culpa’ along the lines of the one Vernon Coaker gave to Lobbydog last night would give the party more credibility and initiative.

Coaker admitted that Labour had “failed” when it came to voter registration – that then gave him the room to attack the Government.

He told me: “We made great attempts to try and increase voter registration. Did it always work? I think we have to say ‘no’ it clearly didn’t.

“In the sense that our efforts to increase voter registration were not as successful as we would have liked, we failed.

“But that can't be justification for the Government to review constituency boundaries while ignoring three million people not registered to vote.”

He added: “To attack us for not being successful is just playing politics with a serious issue – it’s childish and doesn’t serve the interests of democracy.”

Monday 6 September 2010

Believe it or not?

It was one of those slightly uncomfortable Lobby briefings this morning where the PM’s spokesman practically refused to answer the question that was put.

Pretty much the entire session focussed on the Andy Coulson phone-hacking story, which appeared in most national papers today.

Several hacks, led by the Guardian’s Andy Sparrow, were asking whether the PM believed Coulson’s claim that he knew nothing about phone-hacking that took place at the News of The World when he was editor.

The Downing Street spokesman said: “[Coulson] has denied the allegations and the Prime Minister accepts that.”

The ensuing exchange saw hacks point out that ‘accepting’ Coulson had made a denial was not the same as ‘believing’ it, yet the spokesman still declined to use the word ‘believe’.

The exchange finished with Sparrow observing out loud that the spokesman was refusing to say that the PM believed Coulson. Something the spokesman responded to by rolling out the stock response quoted above.

The spokesman would not say whether Coulson would be suspended if the Met were to re-open the investigation, but did say that while the force was considering things it wouldn’t be right for the Home Office to look at the way the Met had handled the initial inquiry. Handy.

Meanwhile he added that Coulson, who has now offered to speak to police officers, had definitely not offered his resignation up to this point.

At the moment the Head of Comms looks safe, but the Downing Street spokesman’s comments suggest the PM knows things can change.