Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Footage of Commons debate on EU veto...

If you didn't catch it yesterday...



Uploaded on to Youtube by TAofMoridura

Monday, 12 December 2011

Preview of tomorrow's column...

Here is a section of tomorrow's column in the Stoke Sentinel, buy the paper in the morning to get the full thwack...

Eddie suspected this all made the PM look a little like a loony right-winger, or at least like a PM kowtowing to a bunch of loony right-wingers on his backbenches.

But instead of stating it outright he asked what moderate pro-EU Tory peer Lord Heseltine had said on the issue.

The comment induced a hail of laughter from the rather mean righties on the Tory benches who see grandee Heseltine, nicknamed Tarzan in-part because of his wild hair, as a figure of fun.

“Oh, Oh, Oh,” said Ed managing to bend his mouth into such a perfect circle that it could have been used to mint a one pound coin.

“Oh Mr Speaker, oh how significant,” he continued. “That’s what they think of Lord Heseltine now in the Tory party,” added Miliband finally getting his own back for the Blair botch.

He then went on to quote Heseltine’s moderate view on the EU adding: “But it’s no longer the Conservative party of Lord Heseltine, it’s the Conservative party of the Right Honourable Member for Stone.”

That member is of course Stone MP Bill Cash – arch eurosceptic, arch agitator for his cause, arch thorn in the side of successive Tory leaders.


And for one golden moment you could see the thought fancifully dancing about behind his eyes – ‘the Conservative Party of Bill Cash’. What a glorious day it would be when that party came to power.

An immediate embargo slapped on Croissants, mange tout renamed ‘flat beans’, peppered German salami vetoed – every Englishman waking up every morning drinking English tea with his full-English breakfast – hurrah!


I'll post a link to the full column tomorrow night.

Clegg answers questions on his absence at EU debate

For those of you that missed here are the DPM's words after he missed the debate on the EU statement:

DPM: The coalition government is here to stay. On Europe, what I’m going to do is this – build bridges, re-engage, and make sure that the British voice is heard at the top table in Europe. Why? Not for the sake of the EU as a whole, because I think that is the right thing for jobs in this country, for growth in this country and for the livelihoods of millions of families in this country because that’s what I care about most.

Asked whether his not being there was a greater distraction:

DPM: The PM and I clearly do not agree on the outcome of the summit last week. I made it very clear that I think isolation in Europe when we are one against 26 is potentially a bad thing for jobs, a bad thing for growth and a bad thing for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. I’m not here to defend the EU in and of itself; I am here to defend the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people in this country. That’s what I care about and that’s why I think what we need to do know is build bridges, re-engage and make sure that the British voice is heard loud and clear in the heart of Europe.

Asked if he had changed his position since Friday:

DPM: On Friday, I said that I regretted the outcome, and I’ve stuck to that line and I said that I thought that anti-Europeans should be careful what they wish for so I was quite clear on Friday that I was not welcoming the outcome of the...[interrupted]

Asked about the fact that the negotiating position was agreed in advance:

DPM: I haven’t changed my mind on that at all. The specific list of safeguards which were sought, which was a list of negotiating asks, were perfectly reasonable and perfectly measured in their scope. I haven’t changed my mind one bit from the moment the summit was closed.

Asked if he was running scared from his own MPs:

DPM: When I was told the outcome of the summit, after it finished, I immediately told the Prime Minister that I could not welcome it, that I thought it was bad for Britain. I have stayed with that view since, and I have simply amplified on my reasons for that since the summit.

Asked how damaging this is to the coalition:

DPM: The Coalition Government is here to stay. That’s absolutely clear. On this issue – and by the way, there are many issues, of course, in the Coalition where the parties differ – we differ, and it so happens to be that this is a particularly significant issue. Why is it significant? It’s worth remembering. Not because all things in the European Union are perfect, far from it, but because I think that being isolated - as one - is potentially bad for jobs, bad for growth, bad for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. But the Coalition Government is here to stay.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Odds on collapse of Euro

William Hill is now offering odds of 3/1 that the Euro will cease to exist as a currency by the end of 2012, and 2/9 that it will survive.

The book-keeper have also slashed odds for the UK pulling out of the European Union before the next General Election from 33/1 to 20/1.

But it has also seen money for a 2012 General Election as punters speculate that the Coalition could split over Europe. Hills have cut odds on a 2012 election from 5/1 to 4/1.

How will Cam be treated back in the UK?

A couple of days ago the main story of the EU summit was how the nations would save the Euro, but this morning it has changed to Britain’s veto and the future of the EU.

That is even more so since our erstwhile allies in rejecting a deal, Hungary, the Czech Rep, and Sweden are all now looking to sign the “inter-governmental accord” leaving us in our very own group of one.

That has suited France and Germany who have removed the UK as a potential barrier from blocking their goals. One Labour MP also suggested to me this morning that Cameron had been deliberately hostile to a deal in order to paint himself as a blueblooded eurosceptic before a potential election.

Either way both Labour and Tory MPs that I’ve chatted with, both anti and pro EU, appear off-the-record to be agreeing on one thing – whatever deal the other 26 nations come up with, it won’t be enough to save the Euro.

Many also agree that even if there had been a treaty – which would have needed to be ratified through nation states’ parliaments and referenda – the Euro may well have gone down anyway, because any treaty would not have been enough to calm the markets.

That’s all speculation of course, but also a view of events “that might have been” which could shape the way Cameron is treated on his arrival back in the UK – one that moves away from seeing him as an isolated wrecker and towards a defender of the national interest in the face if an inevitable catastrophe.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Clegg on the eurozone

These are the latest quotes from Clegg on the eurozone crisis. Despite him saying he is "hand in glove" with David Cameron - which sounds a bit creepy by the way - on the issue of financial regulation, it doesn't quite feel that way. He points out that he is not asking for "exceptional" treatment for the City.

Deputy Prime Minister, what do you hope will come out of tomorrow’s meeting on the Eurozone?

Well, what I want to see, and what this whole Coalition Government wants to see, on all sides of the Coalition, is that we do the right thing for the country as a whole, in the national interest. What does that mean? It means firstly that we of course must play our bit in making sure that the Eurozone sorts itself out, because that’s good for our economy, it’s good for jobs and growth in Britain. And secondly, we must do everything we can to avoid a great big split in the European Union. Because if you split, you fragment the single market, which, after all, is the world’s largest borderless single market. That’s bad for jobs and growth in this country. Three million people are dependent for their jobs on our access to the single market. I have been speaking to a large number of European leaders over the last several days and weeks and, you know, that British perspective is one that is widely heard and widely shared by many other countries in the European Union.

What do you expect the Prime Minister to be asking for at that meeting?

The Prime Minister has been quite clear, and this is something that we all share in this Coalition Government, I mean I work in lockstep, hand in glove, with the Prime Minister on these issues, and as we are supportive to the Eurozone so they can sort their problems out, in return they introduce safeguards to ensure precisely what I said: that the single market is not fragmented and that important industries like the financial services industry are treated fairly. Not exceptional treatment, but are just simply treated fairly, on a level playing field within Europe.

You’ve said twice now that you’ve got to ensure there is no fragmentation of the market. Is there a danger that could happen?

There is always a danger at a moment of crisis, when some countries are part of the Eurozone and others are not, that you get, in the rush to create an instant solution, that you get momentum towards different solutions for different parts of the European Union. I think that might be tempting in the short term, but could be damaging in the long term. We have to remain, as we always have been as a country, absolutely part of our European backyard, our neighbourhood, and we’ve got to be able to continue to sell our goods and services, and create growth and jobs in this country, because of our place in the single market.

European charades

When I spoke to senior people at the Department for Transport earlier this year there was complete befuddlement over how the French and Germans managed to give almost all their major train-manufacture contracts to firms in their home countries without breaking EU rules to prevent protectionism.

As far as the British could see they were following exactly the same procurement process yet they were helpless to stop big deals often going to foreign firms – causing consternation and political problems at home when industries dependent on Government work lost contracts. Remember Thameslink?

Anyway the Government spent the summer studying how the French and Germans get away with it and this article based on Government documents not seen elsewhere lays out some of the things ministers have learnt.

The beauty of the whole thing is that when British officials didn’t understand how to “fix” contracts so they went to home-based firms, they complained the French and Germans weren’t sharing their secrets and even said they were a victim of a “conspiracy of silence”.

Now that they appear to be getting it, officials aren’t so willing to discuss the issue anymore, i.e. they have worked their way into the conspiracy.

What we are left with is three big European governments all shamelessly pretending they operate in an open market, and yet all giving their contracts to home industries. Satire at its best.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

PMQs - 'Weak, left wing and irresponsible' becomes new catchphrase

It’s not often I see Ed Miliband smile in the House of Commons. I mean a proper smile – open mouthed with teeth showing in absolute delight.

But David Cameron’s comment that he came into politics to improve people’s welfare was enough to force one on to his face, and on to that of his dramatics chum’s face Ed Balls.

It appears to me that Leader Ed has been taking some lessons of the other Ed on how to act while not speaking at PMQs. Widow twanky would have proud of Balls’ gurn when a question was asked by Jacob Rees-Mogg MP – a man who was written by PG Woodhouse rather than born. Indeed watching the Eds contort their faces as the Prime Minister spoke today was much more entertaining than listening to the PM try and bat away questions.

That might also be because PMQs was a bit banal after the hype of the Autumn Statement yesterday. Even the strikes, which formed the first part of the debate between the two leaders, didn’t really ignite – perhaps Cameron wanted it that way given that he branded the action a “damp squib”.

Ed knew that if he were not to exacerbate the difficulty of his position on the strikes, he would have to highlight them and align himself with anti-coalition feeling, if not fully back or oppose the action – something Cameron constantly poked him on, provoking the response from Ed that he would not “demonise dinner ladies”.

Cameron came back with the usual line about Labour being in the pocket of the unions (better than taking millions from Lord Ashcroft retorted Ed), but twice used the phrase “weak, left wing and irresponsible” – suggesting this might be the new buzz phrase the Tories use when attacking Labour over industrial action in coming months.

After that Ed floated on to tax credits and borrowing covering a lot of ground but not quite hitting any one of them meaningfully, a recurring theme in his PMQs attacks for me – until he gets that sorted I’m not sure he should be smiling quite as much as he was.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Leveson Inquiry witnesses

Here is the list of witnesses at the phone-hacking inquiry next week:

Monday 21st November
Bob Dowler
Sally Dowler
Hugh Grant
Graham Shear
Joan Smith

Tuesday 22nd November
Steve Coogan
Mary-Ellen Field
Garry Flitcroft
Margaret Watson

Wednesday 23rd November
Sheryl Gascoigne
Mark Lewis
Gerry McCann
Tom Rowland

Thursday 24th November
HJK
Sienna Miller
Max Mosley
JK Rowling
Mark Thomson

Monday 28th November
Charlotte Church
Anne Diamond
Ian Hurst
Chris Jefferies
Jane Winter

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Cameron's letter to Sepp Blatter

This just in - David Cameron's letter to FIFA chief (verbatim) over the poppy ban...

Dear Sepp

I know that you are aware of the importance of Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom, when we pay tribute those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in times of war.

We fully understand, and respect, FIFA’s rules on its member nations not adorning their shirts with ‘commercial’, ‘political’, or ‘religious’ symbols or messages. However, wearing a poppy is an almost universal symbol throughout the United Kingdom - people from all backgrounds and walks of life across the country join together in doing this as an act of national remembrance, to commemorate those who gave their lives in the service of their country. I can assure you that there are no political connotations whatsoever to wearing a poppy.

You will have seen the letter to you on this issue from Hugh Robertson, the Minister of Sport and Olympics, yesterday. The mood of the House of Commons on this issue today was clear - and I believe this reflects a similarly unambiguous sentiment across the country.

I do hope that we will be able to find a sensible way through which allows British participants in this weekend's matches to commemorate those who have fallen in conflict.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Government justice plans in spotlight

Earlier in the House of Commons there were gasps of horror when an MP raised the case of a paedophile let out on day release by a secure mental health unit, who went on to try and rape a ten year old boy.

You can read the full story here. It concerned one Shaun Tudor who was being held at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Notts.

The unit is the UK’s largest not-for-profit mental healthcare charity providing secure services and care for 70 men with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders.

The MP asking about it was Sherwood’s Mark Spencer who used the case to question the Government’s plans to encourage more charities and private sector companies to start projects to rehabilitate criminals and then pay them according to the number who cease offending.

Crispin Blunt responded: “That case referred to a patient who was detained under the Mental Heath Act – when unescorted leave required both the approval of the secretary of state with a risk assessment and with a recommendation from a responsible clinician.

“There are no proposals for companies to be making these kinds of decisions.”

None the less the case does raise questions about giving the private sector and charities any sort of supervisory role over criminals – particularly given the background of companies like G4S.

Who says they're a soft touch on sentencing?

There was more than a titter when it emerged in the House of Commons just now that according to the Government’s proposals on abolishing indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) someone will be in line for a mandatory life term if sentenced for using a nuclear weapon – the second time.

Presumably after the first offence the culprit will be given a probation officer and told to pick up litter in Victoria Gardens.

The issue emerged in a comment from the gnarled Scottish Labour MP Stephen McCabe during Justice Questions with Ken Clarke. McCabe went on: “Allowing for all the Lord Chancellor’s wisdom and guile wouldn’t it be an awful lot smarter to hold someone indefinitely the first time they committed that offence?”

IPPs were introduced in 2005 for a whole range of violent and sexual offences, but are now being abolished by the Government in favour of letting judges use their discretion.

Ken Clarke responded in as dry a voice as he could: “The Government takes a serious view of the use of nuclear weapons.”

On an aside – earlier in the session Labour justice spokesman Sadiq Kahn claimed the Chief Inspector of Prisons had taken a dim view of Government policy and thought “there should be a rocket put up this Justice Secretary’s backside”.

Hopefully the aforesaid inspector won’t be encouraged by the fact that if he makes it a nuclear one he might get away with it on the first strike.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Where is Tory support for marriage?

I was just reading through some recent early day motions when I saw this one today backing the “Faithfulness Matters” campaign.

It’s basically saying that cheating on your husband/wife/partner is bad for society and therefore websites which help to arrange extra marital affairs should be shut down.

I’m probably a bit young and naïve in these things, but I was shocked to see just how many of the websites there are and how popular they seem to be.

The question is of course at what point does the state stop interfering in a citizen’s personal life? And if these people want to have affairs then it’s not against the law. And if it’s not against the law then it’s a business opportunity and so the market steps in and you have a fledgling industry.

Interesting to see that there are no Tories that have signed the EDM though, despite the fact that they are the traditional defenders of the family unit. Isn’t this something the PM, for all his talk of supporting the institution of marriage, would want to take a moral stand on?

Friday, 4 November 2011

This week's column

My Notts column from this week, click to go to full article...

DAVID Cameron once called Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls the most annoying man in British politics. It was a brutal description, but perfectly true.

I imagine it is even a badge Balls is quite proud of, in the same way a trouble-making youth has no qualms telling peers about his asbo.

Indeed, in the scoff-fest of the Commons floor it helps to be highly annoying, it distracts your opponents and knocks them off guard and Balls is a master.

Friday, 28 October 2011

NEW PPSs

In the wake of the EU rebellion here are the new Parliamentary Private Secretaries (bag carriers) that have been appointed. Good for them - I wonder if they'll let them make the tea.

>Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, will act as PPS to the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

>Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, will act as PPS to the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland

>Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, will act as PPS to the Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister of State for Europe

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

PMQs vid



Great vid from the Telegraph site. Miliband should take note of how Blair skewers Major for having difficulties with his backbenchers. Also interesting to see Cameron having a go at Blair for asking questions when he should be answering them - one of his own favourite tactics now he's on the Government benches.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fox's response

This is Liam Fox's response to the report. Is it just me or can Fox not even bring himself to say Werritty's name in that second paragraph. Referring instead to "anyone other than Minsters and Officials".

“I am pleased that the report makes clear that the two most serious allegations, namely of any financial gain sought, expected or received by myself and any breach of national security, have no basis. As I said in the House of Commons last week, I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this.

“More care should have been taken to avoid the impression that anyone other than Minsters and Officials were speaking on behalf of the Government, as this was not the case. Although there were no actual conflicts of interest I acknowledge that in order to avoid any possible perception of this, all private interests should have been fully declared to the Permanent Secretary.

“I welcome the recommendations in this report which will provide greater clarity for Ministers, officials and private individuals in the future.”

GoD's plan to avoid another Fox affair

At the end of what is a pretty tame report from Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell on Liam Fox's behaviour, thease were his recommendations...

a. Where discussions take place with external organisations which raise substantive issues relating to departmental decisions or contracts and where an official is not present Ministers should inform their department.

b. On Ministerial visits, whether in the UK or abroad, departments should make sure there is no confusion about who is and is not a member of the Ministerial party.

c. Officials should accompany Ministers to all official visits and meetings overseas at which it is expected that official matters may be raised, and should seek guidance from the FCO if there is any uncertainty about the status of such meetings or the attendance of non-officials at them.

d. Permanent Secretaries should discuss with Ministers at the time of their appointment and regularly thereafter whether any acquaintances or advisers have contractual relationships with the department or are involved in policy development. The Minister and the Permanent Secretary should take action as necessary to ensure there can be no actual or perceived conflict of interest in line with the principles of the Ministerial Code.
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e. Permanent Secretaries should take responsibility for ensuring departmental procedures are followed, and for raising any concerns with Ministers, advising the Cabinet Secretary and ultimately the Prime Minister where such concerns are not resolved.

More civil servants at MoJ

The budget at the Ministry of Justice is being slashed back at the moment, with legal aid and prison spaces as two of the more high profile victims.

So it is interesting to see that the amount of money the MoJ is spending on hiring civil servants to deal with procurement is going up.

In 2009/10 the MoJ spent £7.7m, in 2010/11 they spent £8.8m, and in 2011/12 they are estimating that they’ll spend some £10.6m – a £3m odd increase over three years.

The figures, which will go down well with Ken Clarke’s insatiable critics, came from a written question here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Pensions motion

After the hoo-ha over MPs’ expenses politicians made a big deal of the fact that the issue of remuneration had been pushed out to an independent body.

So it wasn’t without a touch of irony when the Government, out of political expediency, asked Parliament to reject a pay-rise proposed by that independent body earlier this year.

Having got a taste for meddling, the Government has tabled a rather contradictory motion on MPs’ pensions today.

It starts saying that the Commons, “reasserts its view that the salaries, pensions and expenses scheme for hon. Members ought to be determined independently of this House”.

The motion notes that the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission has recommended a rise and then, without shame, says that the Commons should, “[invite] IPSA to increase contribution rates for hon. Members from 1 April 2012 in line with changes in pension contribution rates for other public service schemes”.

Should it? If these things are to be done independently surely Commons shouldn’t be taking any view at all, something which the amendment proposed by MPs Christopher Chope and Bill Esterson among others appears to grasp.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Liam Fox's full letter of resignation...

Dear David,

As you know, I have always placed a great deal of importance on accountability and responsibility. As I said in the House of Commons on Monday, I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my Government activities to become blurred. The consequences of this have become clearer in recent days. I am very sorry for this.

I have also repeatedly said that the national interest must always come before personal interest. I now have to hold myself to my own standard. I have therefore decided, with great sadness, to resign from my post as Secretary of State for Defence—a position which I have been immensely proud and honoured to have held.

I am particularly proud to have overseen the long overdue reforms to the Ministry of Defence and to our Armed Forces, which will shape them to meet the challenges of the future and keep this country safe.

I am proud also to have played a part in helping to liberate the people of Libya, and I regret that I will not see through to its conclusion Britain’s role in Afghanistan, where so much progress has been made.

Above all, I am honoured and humbled to have worked with the superb men and women in our Armed Forces. Their bravery, dedication and professionalism are second to none.

I appreciate all the support you have given me – and will continue to support the vital work of this Government, above all in controlling the enormous budget deficit we inherited, which is a threat not just to this country’s economic prosperity but also to its national security.

I look forward to continuing to represent my constituents in North Somerset.

Yours ever,

Liam

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Ripping of the day...

This segment of last night's Jobs and Growth debate got me chuckling when I read it this morning.

Mr Osborne: There was an absolutely staggering second omission from the shadow Chancellor’s speech, which was any reference — I will take an intervention if I have got this wrong — to Labour’s big new economic policy idea, which was unveiled at the Labour conference two weeks ago. I am referring, in case hon. Members have forgotten, to that great plan to divide British businesses into producers and predators — good and bad — and to levy different tax rates on them. Remember the speech from the Labour leader? Did the shadow Chancellor have any part in writing that speech?

Ed Balls: It was a very good speech.

Mr Osborne: At last there is something we agree on. It was absolutely the speech that we wanted to hear from the Labour leader at the Labour conference. I want to know what happened to this great idea, which was the centrepiece of Labour’s growth strategy for the new economy. Two weeks later it is not even referred to in the motion that we are being asked to debate. It is like the Lord Lucan of policy ideas: we do not know whether it is dead already or whether it has just gone missing for ever. I was really disappointed, because we know that the shadow Chancellor likes to cover all the policy areas in the shadow Cabinet and I was hoping for an explanation from him about how the idea was going to work. Are we supposed to grow our economy by levying new taxes and regulations on companies owned by private equity firms such as Boots, T-Mobile, the AA, Saga, Somerfield, Legoland and Chessington World of Adventures, those well known centres of predatory business activity?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Expenses probe

Here is the list of 20 MPs that have been investigated for their expenses including Alan Johnson, click to go to the IPSA compliance website for full details:

Anderson, David
Barker, Gregory
Blackman, Bob
Coffey, Ann
Fallon, Michael
Halfon, Robert
Henderson, Gordon
Hendrick, Mark
Johnson, Alan
Johnson, Joseph
Kwarteng, Kwasi
Lancaster, Mark
McGovern, Jim
Mearns, Ian
Michael, Alun
Robertson, Angus
Smith, Henry
Swales, Ian
Twigg, Stephen
Williams, Hywell

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Body Armour

This was that "body armour" quote that got cut out from the main story:

Ken Clarke said: "I expect I will have to wear body armour the next time I meet Theresa. She was at the thing I was at last night but I thought it was too soon to go over and greet her and say ‘it wasn’t my fault’."

Oh to be the proverbial fly when they finally do meet.

Clarke Vs May, Round 2

Before giving me these words Clarke admitted he'd probably have to wear body armour next time he sees Theresa May. Click on the quote to go to the full story.

"It's not only the judges that all get furious when the Home Secretary makes a parody of a court judgement, our commission who are helping us form our view on this are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given," said Mr Clarke.

"We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a Government you express a collective policy of the Government, you don't go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different."

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

That Q and A session...

ED looked exasperated as yet another person stood to ask a question and declared they were a Labour member.

This was after all meant to be a session in which non-partisan members of the public had come into the conference to “open up politics” – the first time it had ever been done, Ed had declared at the start.

“Please, I’m not being rude, but can we only have non Labour,” said Ed from the front realising that the credibility of the event was being stretched. Well, we’ve had old Labour, New Labour and just Labour, so perhaps non Labour is now the way to go.

Questioner after questioner got up and complained about cuts, complained about privatisation, about the Tories – if there were hard questions in the audience they were hiding underneath delegates’ chairs.

Only one disabled woman really challenged Miliband in the way he wanted, accusing him of perpetuating what she called the damaging rhetoric of “benefits scroungers” that the Coalition was promoting.

Ed dealt with the issue well, but through a bit of irritating organisation the woman had her microphone taken away and passed to someone else and so her possibly articulate follow on questions were not heard in the wider hall.

It’s clear that Ed is more comfortable doing this sort of thing, and the session is only just coming to an end as I write, than giving speeches – especially when the questions are so easy.

But the truth is that many attendees and half of the press that attended the conference left after he gave his speech – it will be that inglorious episode that defines his conference.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Laws gets on the committee...

Just a note to point out that David Laws made it on to the Financial Services Bill committee despite opposition from some Labour MPs.

Lobbydog revealed last week the opposition to his appointment to the key committee as a result of his being found guilty of breaching expenses rules.

Unusually however the Labour MPs did force a vote in the Commons on the issue last night as a result – Thomas Docherty in particular leading the way.

“This is about probity,” said Docherty. Read the full debate here. Either way, Laws journey to rebuilding his reputation begins here.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A better picture of what's happening with Bombardier...

Just had a couple of things to say about The Mirror’s story on Bombardier this morning which appeared to suffer from a heavy bit of top spin.

The story concerned a “leaked” document which the paper said showed David Cameron could have given the £1.4bn Thameslink deal to Bombardier instead of German-firm Siemens, thus avoiding job losses at the Derby train manufacturer.

Let’s deal with that word “leaked” first, which is only justified if The Mirror actually meant that the document was leaked to the internet where it has been publicly available here for at least a year, probably two.

Now the substance. The story correctly quotes a disclaimer printed in the invitation to tender (ITT) which states:

“The issue of this ITT in no way commits the Secretary of State to award the [Thameslink deal] to any person or party.

“The Secretary of State reserves the right to terminate the competition, to award the [Thameslink deal] without prior notice, to change the basis, the procedures and the timescales set out or referred to in this document or to reject any or all proposals and to terminate discussions with any or all bidders at any time.”

But there is a significant second piece of context, European Union law, which the story completely ignores. The disclaimer does say the Transport Secretary reserves the right to terminate the competition, but the Transport Secretary is also bound to act within the law.

It’s like saying that a person has the right to walk into the road, without pointing out that they will likely be hit by a car.

There are two courses of action that MPs campaigning on Bombardier’s behalf have put forward – one is that the Government should have taken account of social considerations like supporting employment when it took its decision on who should get the Thameslink deal earlier this year, the second is that the Government should terminate the competition and start again with one that puts Bombardier in a better winning position.

The first suggestion is untenable as demonstrated by the EU Commission document Buying Social: A Guide to Taking Account of Social Considerations in Public Procurement.

It shows the EU actually encourages governments to take account of such social factors, like employment opportunities, but that they must be published at the point the competition begins. It makes clear that if they are not included in tender documents at the start of the process they cannot be brought in at later stages – no such social considerations were included in the Thameslink deal when it was set up in 2007 by the previous government.

The second suggestion that the Government simply rip up the tendering process and start again is also tricky.

Business law expert Professor Chris Bovis from the University of Hull told me: "If they tore the contract apart the Government would become liable for compensation and for any losses incurred by Siemens."

Indeed the EU Commission also confirmed to me that firms who feel they are victim to discrimination in procurement process can use the EU Remedies Directive to extract compensation.

The only way the Government could perhaps tear up the existing tendering process, within the law, would be if they discovered there had been a serious misrepresentation by Siemens of its ability to deliver the product.

One avenue being explored here is whether Siemens’ failure to yet produce a “lightweight bogie” – the chassis that carries trains’ wheels – might negate its bid. It’s true that it was laid out in the original specifications that the carriages should have such a bogie, but it’s as of yet unclear whether this issue in itself annuls the firm’s bid.

It may also be that the Government does have the power to negotiate at this point that a chunk of Thameslink work, even half of it, be subcontracted back to Bombardier.

Whatever happens, printing a few sentences from a 90 page document and crying foul doesn’t necessarily help the efforts of people who are actually following feasible avenues as to how this thing might be turned around.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Labour blocks David Laws' return...

I was sitting in Portcullis House yesterday when David Laws moseyed past and it got me wondering why he had not begun his comeback yet.

Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron did at one point suggest they wanted him back as soon as possible, but it seems their efforts are being frustrated.

In May Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyons found that Laws had committed six breaches of expenses rules, in particular claiming for rent paid to his landlord, who also happened to be his partner.

The Commissioner suspended Laws from the Commons for seven days, ordered him to apologise and pay back some money.

It looked like that would rule out an early return to the Cabinet but it hasn’t stopped the Government whips trying to get him started elsewhere.

In particular, Lobbydog has learnt, they have been trying to get him on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee for the Financial Services Bill.

The problem is that Labour is having none of it and has constantly objected to his inclusion, given the expenses misdemeanour hanging over his head.

The committee was meant to be set up before the summer recess, but things have dragged on so much over the issue that it now looks like it won’t be established till September – possibly delaying the overall progress of the Bill.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hacking Inquiry's full draft terms of reference..

DRAFT TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR JUDGE-LED INQUIRY

Part 1

1 To inquire into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press, including:

a. Contacts between national newspapers and politicians;

b. The relationship between the press and the police;

c. The extent to which the current policy and regulatory framework has failed; and the extent to which there was a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct.

To make recommendations:

a. For a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and its independence from Government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards; and

b. For how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including Parliament, Government, the prosecuting authorities and the police; and

c. The future conduct of relations between politicians and the press.

Part 2

3 To inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other newspaper organisations.

4 To inquire into the way in which the police investigated allegations of unlawful conduct by persons within or connected with News International, and the review by the Metropolitan Police of their initial investigation.

5 To inquire into the extent to which the police received corrupt payments or were otherwise complicit in such misconduct or in suppressing its proper investigation and how this was allowed to happen.

6 To inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations.

7 In the light of these Inquiries, to consider the implications for the relationships between newspaper organisations and the police, and relevant regulatory bodies and to recommend what actions, if any, should be taken.

Process

The first part of the Inquiry (1) and (2) will be conducted by a Judge assisted by a panel of experts. It will report within 12 months. The second part of the Inquiry to be considered in light of the ongoing criminal proceedings. It will report jointly to the Culture Secretary and the Home Secretary.

MP calls for clear limits on media ownership...

Lobbydog chatted with Graham Allen MP a few moments ago to get a bit of background on his amendment to today’s Opposition motion on News Corporation’s takeover of BSkyB. The amendment seeks a broader effort to address media ownership. Here is what he said…

“I think it’s important to go a step further on this issue as there is already Government and Opposition support for the motion specifically dealing with BSkyB.

“The things that are happening now are a symptom, but what is the underlying issue?

“The UK papers and media are in very few hands and that’s why the people that own them have enormous power and that’s what needs to be addressed.

“The amendment is putting a mark down asking that we look at the serious underlying causes, of diversity and plurality in ownership, and consider proper regulation.

“There should be clear limits agreed with the existing owners on the number of newspapers or media outlets they own.”


Labour Uncut’s Dan Hodges correctly commented yesterday that Ed Miliband’s decision to negotiate with Cameron on the main motion today had shown he understood when to “take the win”.

Given that is the case I don’t see this amendment going through today, but – in the same way that political and constitutional reform became significant after expenses – the ownership issue is live and will be the next thing on the agenda.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

If you've been hacked, why not become a hacker...

Those Politics.co.uk boys are great, but I had to chuckle when I saw the website's coverage of today's phone hacking hearings. Check out the ad in the bottom right of the screen grab.



The ad boasts : "Have you ever been curious as to what your children or employees are chatting about on their cell phone? you could now listen in 100% completely undetected."

Monday, 11 July 2011

Hunt the human shield

Having stammered out the sound “umm”, poor Jeremy Hunt cut the figure of a guilty school-boy just asked the question “have you done your homework?”

Hunt was answering one of a barrage of prickly questions after his statement on the BSkyB takeover and he gave satisfactory answers to few – he did not know, could not say and, on one excruciating occasion, said the knowledge required for the answer was above his “grade”.

This was an occasion that demanded a brass neck, a deep voice and a steely eye, yet Hunt had the demeanour of a man angry that his butterfly collection had been tampered with.

We shouldn’t be too harsh on the Culture Secretary though – he arguably played a horrendous hand as well as it could be played.

For one thing the situation has been changing so fast today that he would have had little or no time to prepare his statement.

But crucially, such is the importance of this issue now that the Prime Minister should have been in the House to take questions.

David Cameron’s absence will be remembered, and it meant Hunt was always going to find it tough against an Opposition Leader with invigorated confidence on the Commons floor.

There is no other event that can possibly have been as critical right now as a debate on the BSkyB deal and trying to suggest that it is Hunt’s portfolio and place to respond, while technically correct, simply made it feel as though the Culture Secretary was being used as a human shield.

Jeremy Hunt's full letter to OFT...

Jeremy Hunt's full letter to Ofcom chief...


Yates going in front of committee...

Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz has confirmed that Assistant Commissioner John Yates will appear at a hearing tomorrow concerning questionable phone hacking evidence he gave to the same committee in October 2010.

Vaz said: "Following recent media reports I am most grateful to Mr Yates for agreeing to give evidence to the Committee next Tuesday.

"It is important that we establish a timeline as to exactly what has happened with the various police inquiries."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Tory MP breaks ranks...

Tory MP Pauline Latham stood apart from her peers yesterday to criticise Transport Secretary Philip Hammond over the Bombardier situation.

She rejected the idea that the decision to give the £1.4bn Thameslink contract to Siemens could not be reviewed. Full story in the Derby Telegraph, but here is a snippet...

Other Derbyshire Tories have avoided the suggestion that Mr Hammond could have done more to push the Thameslink contract Bombardier's way.

But Mrs Latham branded a ministerial pledge to see what other work could be offered to Bombardier as "an empty gesture".

She said: "The Transport Secretary has said he will review other available contracts to see if any might be brought forward, but that could take so long that we would lose the skilled workers from this area.

"I have been lobbying the minister and I'm angry that he hasn't listened.

"I accept that the tendering requirements set down may have restricted him and were set up badly, but he should be doing everything he can now to help, because the last thing we need in Derbyshire is 1,400 more people out of work."

Monday, 4 July 2011

Home Office FoI

Since the beginning of April Lobbydog has been trying to get hold of the numerous responses to the Government’s consultation on elected police commissioners using the Freedom of Information Act.

It’s pretty clear what the Association of Chief Police Officers thought about the idea, but it would be interesting to know what councils, particularly Tory run ones, said of the policy.

The Home Office initially refused the request to release all responses to the consultation saying it would cost too much money and take too much time to comply with.

So I refined my request to just ask for a selection of specific councils. Now they have come back and asked for more time to decide whether the information I’ve asked for is exempt from the FoI Act.

At the moment they are suggesting that it is exempt under section 35 – which in my experience is the exemption used when they can’t make any other exemption fit.

Section 35 exempts information from release if it “relates to the formulation or development of government policy” which could arguably be just about anything.

Watch this space.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Labour's 1922 Committee

Lobbydog has learnt that as part of the reforms to be debated and voted on by Labour MPs next week, Ed Miliband is planning on setting up an equivalent to the Tories’ 1922 Committee.

The move would be made in conjunction with already reported proposals to abolish elections to the shadow cabinet.

Margaret Beckett was one of the party veterans that Miliband consulted before broaching the issue with other MPs.

She told me: “The origin of the elected shadow cabinet was that they were also the executive of the parliamentary party – but there were complaints about that system because it meant ordinary backbenchers did not have a voice to connect them to the party leadership.

“For example, if you were a backbencher unhappy with the way our education policy was going, you couldn’t go to the shadow education secretary to complain and expect him to go to the leader on your behalf.”

Beckett explained that when Labour was in Government members of the cabinet shed their role as executive of the parliamentary party and a separate executive was elected that could represent backbench voices.

She said: “If the Prime Minister has time to deal the executive when in Government, then why can’t the Leader of the Opposition do it too? Why can’t we continue in Opposition with the same structure we had in Government?

“It would mean creating a separately elected group to represent backbenchers, a bit like the 1922 Committee, separate from the shadow cabinet.

“We also had evidence about the problems elected shadow cabinets have caused – the elections tend to go with popularity which is not always the same thing as ability, sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t.”

The 1922 Committee equivalent will act as a sweetener to those backbenchers who feel abolishing shadow cabinet elections reduces democracy in the parliamentary party, while allowing Miliband to take control of shadow cabinet selection, cementing his power as Leader.

At the moment I get the feeling the changes will go through – particularly because there are members of the new intake who think they have ability, but not the established popularity to be in with a shout for a job under the current system.

The issue will be debated on Monday and decided at a vote of Labour MPs on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Battle brewing over train deal...

Labour’s business and transport teams are going on the full offensive over the Government’s decision to award the £1.4bn Thameslink train-building contract to German firm Siemens over British based Bombardier.

John Denham and Maria Eagle will tomorrow visit Bombardier’s Derby factory which would have made the trains had the contract been won.

I revealed the decision a fortnight ago and ever since Labour MPs from the area have been attacking the Government for letting the chance to boost UK manufacturing slip through its fingers.

Missing the opportunity to give the contract to Bombardier puts 3,000 jobs at risk in Derby and thousands more in the supply chain and, the MPs say, that all runs counter to the Coalition’s stated aim of promoting a private sector recovery.

There are a couple of things to remember however. One is that a few years back a Labour government also failed to give Bombardier the larger Intercity Express Programme (IEP) contract, worth £7.5bn at the time though it was later downgraded, which perpetuated the financial troubles the UK based manufacturer has experienced.

On that occasion Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said his hands were tied by EU regulation which meant he could not favour UK based industry – the same reason that current Transport Secretary Philip Hammond gave when he confirmed that Siemens would win the Thameslink deal on June 16.

The question is how binding can these EU rules really be when both the French and German governments somehow manage to award almost all their train building contracts to home-based producers.

Labour MPs have suggested that the Government can, at the point of making a final decision, interpret the EU rules as they wish and therefore award the contract to who they wish.

Derby MP Margaret Beckett admitted to me that Labour made the wrong call on the IEP deal and should have given the work to Bombardier adding that the incident should also have diverted the new Government from 'making the same mistake again' with Thameslink.

But senior Government figures tell me the way to rig the tender a lá France is to fix the conditions to favour home-based manufacturers right at the very start of the process.

That of course would mean Bombardier’s loss of both IEP and Thameslink, the tender for which was set by Ruth Kelly back in 2007, were problems created by Labour.

With the Tories now ensconced in the DfT with access to the documents that tell the full story, or at least the part of it they want to tell, Labour may be walking a dangerous path by trying to pin the Thameslink decision on the current Government, then again they really have very little choice but to try.

A Miliband takes an effective line...

Was flicking through Hansard and noticed Miliband managing to attack the Government, while not betraying his progressive politics – David that is.

"It is nice to be able to speak in the House in full and enthusiastic support of the manifesto on which I was elected, and consistent with my previous votes in the House for 100% election and 80% election to the Lords, in 2003 and 2007. I look forward to getting the chance to vote on the matter again.

"I wish first to dispose of three very bad arguments against proceeding towards an elected House. The first is that we need to sort out the functions of the House of Lords before doing so. The truth is that there is agreement on that point. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber not equal to the House of Commons, prevented by statute from pre-empting the supremacy of this House and established by law and by practice to persuade and restrain this House.

"The second argument is that the public have got other things on their mind. The idea that the Government have a bad economic policy or health policy because they are distracted by House of Lords reform is frankly risible. We are elected to this place to debate the big issues of the time, and I do not believe that it is sufficient to say that this is not people’s main preoccupation.

"The third bad argument is by far the most tempting. It is: because the Deputy Prime Minister is in favour an elected House, is sponsoring the debate and will sponsor the Bill, it must be a bad idea. That view has many supporters in both main parties, as we will discover, and one can see the force of the point.

"When the right hon. Gentleman said before the election that he wanted to unite the nation, he could scarcely have imagined that people of all shades of opinion would come together so quickly to agree that he is not a very lovable rogue. However, although that is a tempting argument, I hope that my colleagues, especially Labour colleagues, will not fall for it. The right hon. Gentleman needs no help from either of the two so-called main parties to administer his fate, and there is a much bigger game here than the temptation to kick a man when he is down. The roadblock to reform is not, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman, but the Government’s puppetmaster, the Prime Minister. We should not be diverted by the temptation of kicking smaller fry."

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A win for one, but not a defeat for the other...

There’s always a gaggle of hacks around Gabby Bertin after PMQs, but today it expanded into a swarm that surrounded the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman.

That almost all the questions were about cancer patients’ stood testament to Ed Miliband’s fighting performance at PMQs, in which he managed to successfully dictate the course of the session. He chose a subject that was incredibly difficult for the PM to argue against, stuck to his lines and even improvised to make jeering Tory MPs look like the nasty party.

But while Cameron failed to turn the debate to questions around the Labour leadership, it is difficult to say he was “defeated” as such.

It is always hard to defeat an opponent at PMQs on the technicalities of a policy. And as long as Cameron puts his side of the technical argument forward while looking confident and without saying anything that cuts his wiggle room later, as he appeared to today, it will be difficult for Miliband to impose outright defeat – which broadly defined is when a leader embarrasses his opponent.

There may be people out there who don’t like that classification of defeat, who think it should be defined in terms of whether a person’s argument is more factual than their opponent’s.

But, right or wrong, PMQs doesn’t work like that. Victory in the bear-pit is a more visceral thing – a feeling of who came out on top.

There is another deeper issue here too. While more accomplished Miliband performances based on complaining about particular cuts, like today’s, will see the Labour leader cement his position and put pressure on the Government, they still come back to the argument on the economy.

That debate was won months ago after the Government managed to convince the country there was a big deficit and that cuts were necessary.

If it wants to argue against cuts Labour will still have to purge those demons wailing that they were in charge when the deficit was built and will have to be more specific about cuts they would make in the future.

For now though I don’t think Labour backbenchers will begrudge their leader a day to appreciate a much improved performance.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cranky Dr shouts at PM's media circus...



Hat tip Paul Waugh

"Massive Deficit" at 16/1

Bookie Paddy Power has launched a new weekly Prime Minister's Questions betting market called the PMQs Punt which allows people to bet on the first phrase/cliché to be uttered by the PM during his Wednesday grilling.

This week “David Miliband”, “plotting against your brother” and “soap opera” are all in the running to be the first retort from the PM at 12/1, with “brotherly love” at 8/1 and “bitter feud” at 6s.

Of the agenda-led phrases “National Health Service reform” is favourite at 4/1 with “vaccine” and “IMF” both at 6/1. Meanwhile “Big Society” is 8/1 to be the first phrase heard from the list.

The full list follows – I reckon “Massive Deficit” at 16/1 isn’t a bad shout.


4/1 NHS reform/National Health Service reform
6/1 Bitter feud
6/1 Vaccine/vaccines
6/1 IMF/International Monetary Fund
8/1 Brotherly Love
8/1 Boardroom pay
8/1 Big Society
9/1 Libya
10/1 Benefits cap
10/1 U-turn
12/1 David Miliband
12/1 Plotting against your brother
12/1 Soap opera
16/1 Massive deficit
20/1 Labour's mess
25/1 I love the NHS/I love the National Health Service
25/1 Superinjunction
25/1 We're in this together
25/1 Victims of crime
66/1 Hug a hoodie

Post-code lottery on MS drug...

There are some interesting figures out today showing the post-code lottery that constitutes the prescription of Sativex, the drug for multiple sclerosis patients.

The medicine, derived from cannabis, is administered as an oral spray and is used to alleviate pain and other distressing symptoms (more info here).

The Department of Health figures show that 128 out of 152 primary care trusts (PCTs) prescribed the drug between August 2010 and March 2011.

But out of those, 45 PCTs prescribed less than five items of Sativex in the entire period. Meanwhile the likes of Cumbria Teaching PCT prescribed 68 items and Hampshire, 70 items.

Many PCTs say the drug, which costs £11 a day, is not worth the costs, though doctors claim it’s the only medicine that can help some people.

Financial challenges facing the NHS are bound to exacerbate the situation.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Miliband's tittle tattle

AS a woman from the audience at Ed’s press conference rambled on, the Labour Leader’s eyes lamented that he’d needed to ask “normal people” for questions.

But he had needed to. He knew that if “normal people”, most of whom I imagine were Labour inclined, were not there to ask about “issues” then he would have only got questions on his leadership and the party’s direction (or lack of it) from scheming journalists.

From the start of the Q and A session Ed tried to show how much more important “normal people” and “issues” were to him, as opposed to journalists and Westminster “tittle-tattle” about whether he’s still going to be leader this time next year.

Such “tittle-tattle” isn’t relevant to people’s lives and the public aren’t interested in it, said Ed, twice reciting that old defence that was constantly trotted out by Gordon Brown before he went on to lose an election.

The problem is that while Ed may dismiss it as tittle-tattle, he knows that the speculation about his leadership is a serious problem. The public are interested in it to the extent that they will not vote for him if they don’t think the people closest to him have confidence in him.

Ed can say he only wants to talk about issues, the night sky, god and the universe – it won’t matter because the public won’t heed him, and journalists won’t stop asking questions, until concerns about his leadership are resolved.

They will linger unless Ed can prove himself to be an inspirational and captivating leader to the extent that it gives people something else to talk about.

It is not hacks, but an understanding among Labour MPs of that challenge, as well as a gnawing fear Ed’s not up to it, which is causing restlessness.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Thieves hit Parliament

A couple of weeks back someone wondered into the office of the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, and nicked a laptop and an iPad.

Now the House of Commons Commission has revealed more details of all thefts on the parliamentary estate over the last few years.

Vaz’s incident was part of a spate of crimes in April and May this year in which there were 25 thefts reported on the estate – almost as much as there were over the entire previous 12 months.

In the past four years odd items that have been nabbed include a bunch of flowers, an orchid, a bottle of whiskey, a set of golf clubs and a “charm” – whatever that is.

More shockingly is that there have been 25 laptops taken in 2011 so far.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Crucial crime fighting services may "drop into the ether"...

Chief constables are fretting over the introduction of the National Crime Agency (NCA) which Theresa May announces today.

The problem is that as well as replacing the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the NCA will also replace the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which provides services including managing several national crime databases – one of which was used by police to bring about the arrest of a man for the murder of 25-year-old Jia Ashton earlier this year.

However, while ministers will abolish the NPIA in 2012, the NCA will not be up and running till 2013 – leaving crucial functions unsupervised for a year.

The NPIA manages the Dangerous Persons Database, the National DNA Database, the UK’s Fingerprint Database and the Missing Person’s Bureau.

Meanwhile it also trains serving police officers in everything from mobile phone forensics to ‘strategic firearms command’.

The agency then provides operational support to the UK’s 43 forces – accrediting financial experts, for example, to help forces arrange what to do with the proceeds of crime they confiscate.

Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police Mick Creedon told a select committee a couple of weeks back: “We face an issue that there are critical services provided by the NPIA, absolutely critical services, that at the minute have a date which is going to drop off, with nowhere to go.”

He said the NPIA’s services could simply “drop into the ether”.

The Government is yet to formalise plans for what organisation will take on the agency’s functions in the intervening period.

We won’t hear much talk of that bit today from the ministers of course.