Friday 3 December 2010

See you in court….

Bad news for the Government. Nottingham City Council has been given permission to go to a full court hearing in their bid to overturn a Coalition decision to cancel school funding.

Nottingham had been promised millions under the Building Schools for the Future programme to upgrade its secondary schools.

But earlier this year Education Secretary Michael Gove withdrew the funding, despite the council have already spend a lot of money on the preparatory planning.

Unwilling to accept the decision Nottingham sought judicial review and has now been given permission by the courts to take the case forward.

The date of the full hearing is to be decided at a case management session on Monday.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Right wing buffers

Lobbydog hears that a group of the new Tory intake have been selected as right-wing ‘buffers’.

They’ve been sanctioned by the Tory leadership to discuss certain issues in the media which have been deemed too politically sensitive for the leadership to talk openly about.

Their purpose is to make sure right-wing party members and associations see that their issues are not being ignored in Westminster.

But obviously it also offers the opportunity for the leadership to co-opt a potentially troublesome element of the parliamentary party.

Cameron will have been well aware that MPs on the Government benches are more rebellious than any group of MPs have been in decades.

Of course, by grouping these people together you give them a collective identity which may turn out to be dangerous if they choose to speak with a single voice against the leadership.

The new age of expenses transparency

Predictably the IPSA ‘expenses search’ website has crashed, it seemed to go down less than 15mins after the new set of MPs’ claims went on line

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Miliband misses another chance...

In the press gallery there was a feeling of slight embarrassment for Ed Miliband after his PMQs performance today – similar to when you watch a goalie throw the ball into his own net by mistake.

It was generally agreed, even by the likes of The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire it seems, that he had been out manoeuvred and defeated by a sharper Cameron.

A more rightish colleague suggested the performance would precipitate a full on leadership crisis.

I wasn't so sure at first and was prepared to think that while he may have flopped, at least he was attempting to reshape the debate on who is to blame for the recession and slow recovery.

That itself seemed to be more than we have seen from the Labour leader so far.

But having spoken to one or two Labour MPs, there seems to be an acute sense of disappointment – this, they said, was an important chance to hit the Coalition on the economy and it was badly missed.

I still think it’s too early to think of a full on leadership crisis, Labour MPs tend to be more forgiving of their leaders than Tories, but Miliband will only be given so much time.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

A New Blog Feature: Mr Speaker’s Hot Air, No. 1

This was the response of Speaker Bercow (who often chides MPs for talking too long) to a point of order raised by Keith Vaz MP yesterday. It regarded an incident in which technicians mistakenly broadcasted a private session of Vaz’s Home Affairs Select Committee.

What he said…

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. I understand from the advance notification and from what he has just said that there was a technical problem with the recording of his Committee's meeting last week. There is not really a procedural solution that I can offer him or the House, but I am advised that all necessary steps are being taken to avoid a recurrence. If no harm was done, I am sure that the Committee and its illustrious Chairman will be relieved. In essence, he asked me a hypothetical question-whether it would have been a contempt, and so on and so forth. I think that he is capable of working out such matters for himself. On this occasion, I hope that he will understand it if I adopt the approach of the late Lord Whitelaw, which was that on the whole, judging from experience, he preferred to cross a bridge only when he came to it.

What he could have said….

Mr Speaker: Right now there is no procedural solution to the problem that exists. We’re finding out what went wrong and making sure it doesn’t happen again. If the media were ever to try and broadcast a private committee session to the public, we will deal with the problem at that point.

Labour squeaks on tuition fees...

Students should take note of the nuance in the motion Labour has tabled on tuition fees for the Opposition Day Debate today.

Far from showing the kind of brick-wall resistance to Government proposals student leaders want, Miliband’s mealy worded motion indicates nervousness over the issue.

It doesn’t call for tuition fees to be scrapped or lowered, but calls for the Government to “publish a White Paper…before asking the House to vote”.

It makes no mention of students from poor backgrounds being able to afford university, but instead “is concerned that major questions about how the Government’s market in higher education is intended to work remain unanswered”. Powerful stuff.

Compare that to the far more stirring motion tabled by Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards, supported by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, which talks about education “being a right, not a privilege” and you see just how carefully Miliband is stepping on tuition fees.

Firstly this highlights the problem that students face on this issue – they don’t, and have not had for a long time, any solid support from any major political party over fees.

Labour instigated the Browne Review and even the Lib Dems had resigned themselves to reversing their pledge on fees because it’s simply unaffordable.

If students want to make any headway they need to address affordability, not simply complain about who has ‘betrayed’ them politically.

But Labour’s motion also reflects the difficulty the shadow cabinet is having on agreeing its approach to tuition fees. Until they do the Coalition will continue to get an easier ride than it should on the issue.

Flattery will get you...

You might think one of the only politicians to be singled out in the WikiLeaks papers yesterday would be perturbed, but not Alan Duncan.

Dunky, Minister for International Development, was thrilled by the fact that our friends across the water had shown such an interest.

He was out of the country on official business yesterday, but a close friend of his told Lobbydog: “Alan thought it was all rather flattering. All this shows is that Washington thought he knew a lot about the Middle East and that he knows a lot about Government.

“It also indicates that the Americans were pretty sure that the Tories were going to win the election back in January. Alan thinks the resurrection of the William Hague stuff is nonsense.”

The “Hague stuff” alludes to the fact that the Americans seemed to show a particular interest in Duncan’s relationship with the then shadow foreign secretary – with whom he had once shared a flat.

All rather trivial really, but interesting to know the kind of information the Americans like to be armed with when they go into negotiations.