Thursday 9 December 2010

Tory pledges to pay penance for tuition fees vote

Tory Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy told Lobbydog that after voting for the tuition fees rise tonight, he would ‘repay’ money for his degree, which he received from Cambridge University decades ago.

He told me: “I got my degree for nothing, but because I voted in favour of this rise I’m going to pay for it now.

“My degree was from King’s College Cambridge and when they bring out their fee structure I’ll work out what my degree would cost now.”

With his current wage and under the regulations set out in the new fees system, Mr Lefroy believes he will be paying back around £330 a month, though for how long depends on the overall cost of the degree.

He added: “I will pay the money to my local university in Staffordshire because I think that Cambridge probably has enough as it is.

“I thought long and hard about it and believe it’s the right thing to do if you were prepared to vote for this measure and you were given a free education, which I was – and I would urge other people to give to their universities too.

“In America one in ten people give to their universities, but in Britain the figure is only one in one hundred.”

Wednesday 8 December 2010

How Speaker Bercow cost Nick Clegg two hours of pain

The bust up between Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin and John Bercow on Monday night (video below courtesy of The Telegraph) was all about the Government’s attempt to limit tomorrow’s debate on tuition fees to three hours.

The Government had put down a motion to achieve that end and Labour MPs wanting to object to it shouted “object” at the wrong time – a few seconds early.

If Bercow hadn’t encouraged then moments later to shout “object” again, the motion would have passed and the debate been limited.

Interestingly, last night the ‘three hour limit’ motion was on the order paper again but, when given the opportunity, the Government whip declined to move it.

Today we find another motion is down to be moved at about 7pm. But this time the motion limits the tuition fees debate to five hours.

That suggests that after the Mcloughlin/Bercow incident negotiations may have taken place and the Government been forced to concede a further two hours on the debate – two extra hours of excruciating discussion for Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem MPs.

Chatting earlier, a Labour MP argued that instead of sticking to rigid rules Bercow used his ‘common sense’ to interpret them – he knew Labour wanted to object, everyone else knew Labour wanted to object, they had signalled their objection and therefore Bercow took the objection.

But then again you might argue that as a direct result of Bercow’s intervention the Government has been put at disadvantage. As one colleague put it: “The Labour objection was outside the rules. If you are not going to obey the rules, why bother having them?”

Tory committee chair critical of spin on NHS plans

Tory MP Stephen Dorrell, who chairs the Health Select Committee, has said the Government got it wrong in the way it presented key reforms of the NHS.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley claimed his White Paper – which included plans to abolish Primary Care Trusts and replace them with GP consortia – was a “radical shake up” of the NHS when it was published in the summer.

But Dorrell told Lobbydog the reforms were actually a continuation of measures put in place by the previous Government.

“It’s notable that when the process started this was presented as the most radical shake up of the health services since 1948,” said Dorrell, a former Health Secretary.

“They have started to change that now saying that it is more about evolution than revolution. That’s because it is not so much about new ideas as it is about new urgency to implement them.”

Mr Dorrell continued: “The last Government was in favour of a lot of things that Andrew Lansley is in favour of. The last Government was in favour of removing bureaucracy and so is Andrew Lansley.

“What’s happened is that now there is a greater emphasis on continuity and less on the idea that policy is going off in a different direction, because it isn’t doing that.”

The comments will be seen as a slight to Lansley. Particularly as it emerged last week that a ‘high level review board’ consisting of other senior members of the Coalition had been set up to keep an eye on the direction of health policy.

Mr Dorrell repeated recent comments that the NHS needed to prioritise attempts to deliver savings of £20bn.

The White Paper should be seen as a means to deliver the savings, he argued, but that would only be possible if more efforts were made by ministers to engage with NHS professionals and communities.

He said: “The White Paper didn’t seem to make engaging with people a top priority. The first priority was to make it look like a new world coming in 2014, but the real priority was to engage with people in 2011.”

Ed's comeback...

After last week’s PMQs debacle Ed Miliband showed grit to put in a good performance this week.

He even felt confident enough to turn one of Cameron’s taunts from last week – “not waving, but drowning” – back on the PM, though it wasn’t even his best line.

PMQs is normally not about scrutiny, which can’t be done properly when hundreds of people are screaming in your face. It’s more about embarrassing your opponent and lifting your troops.

On the second count Miliband got top marks, Labour MPs were buoyant. Even some of the front benchers who in the past haven’t played along with Miliband’s lines of attack by shouting at the right times, were letting themselves be led.

On the first count he did well too, but in part because the tuition fees policy, which he correctly pointed out was “in chaos”, offers an easy opportunity to divide the Coalition.

To make today’s performance develop into a run, he will eventually need to show he can carry out a solid assault on Coalition economic policy.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Mr Speaker's Hot Air: No.2

The next instalment of our regular feature. A response from Speaker Bercow, who often complains that members speak too long, to Chris Bryant MP.

What he said….

Mr Speaker: Well, I think that someone once said of the honourable Gentleman that his mind climbs mountains without any molehills. He is always thinking ahead of himself and I am not surprised, as he has a great elasticity of mind, but he is seeking to draw me into matters beyond where we have reached and he is absolutely right in his initial supposition that we do not discuss security matters on the floor of the House. He has registered his concern that the Home Secretary should be ready to make a statement if the eventuality he fears could happen, but should not, actually happen. I have a strong feeling that her office reads Hansard. I think that will probably do for today.

What he could have said…

Mr Speaker: We do not discuss security matters on the floor of the House. The member has registered his concerns.

Monday 6 December 2010

Ken Clarke's conundrum

Tomorrow Justice Secretary Ken Clarke will publish his Green Paper, the one which has caused all the fuss about shorter prison sentences.

Clarke’s message up to now has been;

a) that short prison sentences don’t stop re-offending,
b) that keeping people in prisons ‘unnecessarily’ is too costly for the taxpayer and
c) that given the parlous state of the public finances we need to do things that cost less.

Clarke has indicated that a way round the problem is to give beefed-up community sentences, instead of costly incarceration, to criminals committing lesser offences.

The idea works in the political sense because those on the Labour side identify with the idea that community sentences are more rehabilitative – Ed Miliband suggested he supported Clarke’s reforms during his speech at conference.

Meanwhile many Tories are prepared to suppress their instinct to rubbish the claim that Clarke’s ideas will reduce offending, as they accept the need to cut spending quickly and deeply.

But Clarke’s idea only continues to work politically as long as it continues to tread that path, and one senior member of the Coalition told me that the Ministry of Justice had faced some difficult challenges with it.

The crux of the problem was apparently that the kind of ‘beefed up’ community sentences that would be needed to make the idea viable for many Tory MPs, may end up being very expensive too.

“The question they’re asking is how do you make community sentences tougher and the answer is you need constant supervision – you need to get people out of bed, you need to get them to the workshop, you need to get them to the drug rehabilitation place, you need to watch and monitor them constantly," said my source.

“That is very expensive, particularly as these people live very chaotic lives. It may not be cheaper to do it that way and that is something they will have to justify.”

If it turns out that community sentences do not make significant enough savings, then those Tories sitting on their hands may begin to ask why they should support something that feels soft on crime, when it isn’t even cutting spending that much.