Sunday, May 31, 2009

Move Over Darling?

The Telegraph has yet another expenses bombshell on the Chancellor, Alistair Darling. Apart from fliping four times and charing the taxpayer for personal tax advice, it appears he has now been claiming on two second homes at the same time. Added together, these misdeeds surely make his position untenable. Perhaps he will be endure the same media firestorm as a certain Conservative politician did last week. I look forward to his local Respect Party organising a street petition demanding his resignation.

What this might hasten is the appointment of Ed Balls as Chancellor. What a truly terrifying delicious prospect. Guido was right yesterday. If Caligula could appoint his horse a consul...

The Daley Dozen: Sunday

1. Liberal England doesn't think much fo a code of conduct for MPs.
2. SNP Tactical Voting thinks it's Game On in the Speaker's constituency.
3. Michael Meacher outlines a blueprint for parliamentary reform.
4. Tory Politico thinks bloggers should be allowed into lobby briefings.
5. Daily Referendum has pictures from the Conservative bloggers drinks do.
6. Anna Raccoon is the very model of a modern parliamentarian.
7. Mark Reckons Brown's performance on Marr was pathetic.
8. Tim Montgomerie thinks CCHQ should not mislead new candidates on their likely chances.
9. Tory Diary thinks Cameron's use of expenses was "entirely appropriate".
10. Tom Harris accepts no responsibility.
11. Fraser Nelson fisks Gordon Brown.
12. Iain Martin breathes a sigh of relief about Gordon Brown being found alive.

If You Could Make a TV Documentary...

If you were offered the chance to make a TV documentary, either as a polemic or a piece of newsy reporting, what subject would you choose and why?

And before you ask, no, I haven't...

In Praise of the British Journalism Review

One of the publications I subscribe to is the British Journalism Review. It comes out quarterly and contains consistently excellent pieces about what's going on in the media today. Flicking through the latest issue I read two articles which I thought worth drawing to your attention.

The first is by Oliver Marre, who used to write the Pendennis column for The Observer. He charts the demise of the newspaper diary column and the fact that such columns have always been expensive and nowadays, partly because of internet competition, are harder and harder for newspapers to justify.

In part, the disappearance of gossip columns is simply as a result of the
change in economic circumstances across newspapers. Diaries aren't cheap... But
that's not the whole story, because the decline in newspaper revenue needs to be
seen against the backdrop of a changing social landscape. What was good for
chronicling the boom years does not seem so right when it comes to charting the
bust. What interested readers when times were good runs the risk of now seeming
irrelevant... Generally speaking, corks are being kept firmly on the champagne
bottles across the land so there is less for diaries to cover... the publishing
industry speaks openly of cutting back on book launch parties... That is not to
say that the readers' appetite for gossip has vanished overnight. [But] they
have to find homes elsewhere. The good ones are the easiest to rehouse. Decent
diary tales could always have claimed a place on the news pages and now, more
than ever, the lines between gossip and news are blurred. Somwhat you are
left with for the gossip column is some wry political reflection, a spot of
hypocrisy illuminated, and some funny quotes. At which point, inevitably, enter
the internet. Gossip websites with no lead times, are beating diarists to
breaking stories. Wheareas five years ago we shamelessly quoted blogs, because
other than a few pointy-headed enthusiasts nobody read them, these days bloggers
are the competition.

The full text of Oliver's article is HERE. And the second excellent article was by the BBC's Torin Douglas who writes about his job as BBC media correspondent. He's particularly good on how he has to report dispassionately about his own organisation when the brown stuff hits the fan. There are also excellent article on the decline of Sunday broadsheets and an obituary on local papers by Matthew Engel.

Sadly these articles are not online. But if you have £36 to spare, you could do worse than buy a subscription HERE.

Questions for Alan Duncan

Tomorrow I am going to be interviewing Alan Duncan for Total Politics. Feel free to suggest questions you'd like me to ask him.

Cameron: I May Order Reselections

"I may order some reselections to take place in some seats".

Those were the words from David Cameron's Sky interview which will send a shiver down the spine of many a Tory MP. He said he may take this step once the Scrutiny Committee has completed its work. He didn't say by what criteria he would make this judgment or even under what rules he, as leader, has the power to order reselections, but his intention is clear. I think this is a highly significant development which may well win hum plaudits in the party in the country, but will further anger Conservative MPs who are already none too pleased at some of Cameron's willingness to talk open about how local parties can deselect them.

The Same Old Gordon Brown

Watching Andrew Marr's interview with Gordon Brown was a frustrating experience. Marr barely laid a glove on him, and in some ways* it was an impressive performance by Brown, who was able to stonewall Marr at every turn. Whenever he was asked anything about MP expenses he just battered Marr with a list of what he, and he alone, had proposed to reform the system. "It's me who has proposed," he kept saying. Me, me, me. Not Cameron, Not Clegg, me.

Whenever Marr interrupted him he blurted out "hold on, hold on", and Marr stopped and let him continue. "You've known me for twenty years, Andrew," he said at one stage. And then, "you've got to give us credit...". Marr asked him about a lavender list of people he might appoint to the House of Lords, which Brown bizarrely interpreted as Marr suggesting that Brown might actually put himself in the House of Lords. The look on Marr's face was a picture.

The only new thing to come out of the interview was an apparent openness to the idea of electoral reform in the form of AV+.

Towards the end he came out with this pearl. "The Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP..." Nicely done.

Asked if he would step down if Cabinet ministers came to him and asked him to, he said "No". Marr suggested that instead, he would turn the pearl revolver onto them. Marr then asked him if he would hold a reshuffle after the "slaughter". Brown said that that it was wrong of the BBC to presume an election result.

He finished by saying that is any member of the Royal Family wanted to attend the D Day commemorations, he would make it possible. He appeared to hint that it was Buckingham Palace's decision that no one would be attending. That may prove to have been a big mistake.

In recent interviews, Brown has given the impression of being almost clinically depressed. This was not the case in this interview. He came out fighting, although I doubt whether many voters will have been swayed by what he said. It was the same old Gordon Brown.

* Impressive in terms of stonewalling and by comparison with some other interviews he has done of late. Just thought I'd clarify that, after some of the comments!

Survey Results: Who Reads This Blog

  • 84% of you are male (-2% on 2008)
  • 92% of you are in the UK (-)
  • 23% of you are in London (-4), 19% in the South East (-), 8% in Scotland (+2), 3% in Wales (-), 2% in Northern Ireland (+1)
  • 16% of you are age 16-25 (-), 26-35, 21% (-), 36-45, 20% (+2), 46-55, 19% (+2), 56-65 16% and 8% older than 65 (-)
  • 14% (-3%) of you are retired and 10% (+1) of you are students
  • The most common income range is £25-£50,000 (31%), but 9% of you earn more than £100,000
  • 26% of you read between 6 and 10 blogs a day
  • An astonishing 6% (+2%) of you read more than 25 blogs a day
  • 36% of you often read the comments on my blog. Only 4% never do.
  • 49% of you never leave comments.
  • 52% of you want more gossip and 67% want more policy analysis
  • 96% (+3) of you believe blogging has an increasing influence on the media
  • 94% (+7) of you believe blogging has an increasing influence on politics
  • 86% (+4) of you read blogs more often than you did a year ago
  • 61% of you think blogs haven't fulfilled their potential
All the figures in brackets show the difference to the 2008 survey.

Note: 2,400 of you took part in this survey

Bingo for Darling?

I've just been reading about how the government has been penalising ... wait for it ... the bingo industry. In the Budget the Chancellor, while he removed VAT as bingo clubs had requested, decided to increase bingo duty, making bingo - bizarrely - the highest taxed of all forms of gambling. This has got every single independent club in the UK in a rage and all their members too. Gordon Brown was accosted by an member in the north east on Wednesday. I'm told this is about to become a big issue in key marginals over the next few weeks and Labour MPs are bombarding Alistair Darling with requests not to increase the tax. There's a campaign website HERE.

I have to say I rather like a game of bingo. Not that I ever win it. It's a Why does the government want to increase taxes on something which is a completely harmless form of gambling and which gives a lot of pleasure to a lot of people?

Survey Results: How You Vote

This is the first part of the results of the 2009 Blog Survey I asked you to take part in last week. A massive 2,400 of you took part, more than ever before.

Rather in line with national polls, there is a noticeable shift in support from the three main parties to the minor parties among by blog readers.

Conservative 65% (-5%)
LibDem 8% (-3%)
Labour 5% (-5%)
UKIP 4% (+2%)
SNP 3% (+1%)
BNP 2% (+1%)
Green 2% (+1%)
Others were all below 1%
Won't Vote 3.6% (-1.3%)

  • 75% of you haven't changed your vote since 2005
  • 4.4% have switched from Labour to Conservative
  • 3.6% have switched from LibDem to Conservative
  • 2.8% have switched from Conservative to UKIP
  • 0.2% have switched from UKIP to Conservative
  • 61% (+5) of you expect a Conservative majority of more than 50 seats
  • 32% (-3) of you expect a Conservative majority of less than 50 seats
  • 75% (-6) of you think Gordon Brown will lead Labour into the next election
  • 34% (-7) of you are members of a political party
Note: 2,400 of you took part in this survey

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Saturday

1. Max Atkinson on Reagan's D Day Speech in 1984.
2. Dan Hannan on why voting Conservative will annoy Messers Patten and Britain.
3. Tom Harris is impressed with Nick Clegg's latest policy initiative.
4. Tony Sharp reckons Brown has had an attack of the Macavities.
5. Cranmer condemns the BBC's appeasement of the Muslim Council of Britain.
6. JP Floru on UKIP's fatal flaw.
7. John Redwood subliminally declares his support for West Ham United. And about time too.
8. Norfolk Blogger is a hard bastard. And quite right too.
9. Saint Report on 12 bits of advice for dealing with the press.
10. Marbury on how Robert Gibbs slagged off the British press.
11. Tim Hedges thinks Berlusconi is getting an unfair press in Britain.
12. Zelo Street defends Bill Cash.

Labour Enters the No Fly Zone

The ICM poll in tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph on general election voting intention makes devastating reading for Labour supporters. And it becomes even worse when you look at the figures for the Euro Elections...

The figures for UKIP seem to be at odds with YouGov who put them in second place on 19%. The rise in the support for the LibDems seems to come from disillusioned Labour supporters.

There has been much comment in recent days about the complete disappearance of Gordon Brown from our TV screens. Apart from one sighting kissing a baby he is nowhere to be seen. But he's not alone. Not a single Cabinet Minister is making an appearance on the political programmes this weekend. Astonishing, bearing in mind polling day is only four days away.

I think we are about to enter momentous times. Gordon Brown is presumably spending all his time wargaming the post elections scenarios. Everyone assumes he wants to hold a major, snap reshuffle. That's what beleaguered prime ministers do. But I think Brown is planning something much bigger. What is it? Frankly, neither I nor anyone else has the faintest idea. A general election? resignation? Take your choice. But whatever it is, I suspect I am going to regret taking a short trip to America at the end of next week...

Hattip for graphics to ConservativeHome

UPDATE: Gordon Brown is apparently on Marr tomorrow.

Tattonfilarious & Kammtastic

Flicking through THIS article by Brian Friedman on how to make MPs' lives more taxing, I noticed a comment by former MP Neil Hamilton, which told of his experience having the Inland Revenue combing through his affairs. I emailed him to ask for more details. This was his response....

After I lost my seat over 'cash for questions' the Revenue mounted an investigation of my tax affairs from 1987-97. The Special Compliance Office doesn't normally look at cases unless there is suspected tax fraud amounting to £250k but they decided to look at me because of all the publicity. That was fair enough in the circumstances.

They left no stone unturned, armed with an authority from me to demand info about my finances from anyone they liked. After a 3 year investigation, I came out squeaky clean. They accepted I hadn't received any illicit cash, so I had no extra tax to pay. Oh, and all my expenses over 10 years passed muster too!

I tried to get the Telegraph to print a letter about this two weeks ago. It was spiked by their lawyers because that nice Mr Fayed might sue them for suggesting the libel jury was wrong.

Whose judgment is the more reliable - the Revenue's elite fraudbusters or 12 Joe Soaps dragged from the street (one of whom couldn't read the oath and another who played noughts and crosses when he got bored with the case)?

I've been having a run-in with Oliver Kamm also on The Times. You might like to have a look at our exchange on the thread ' Neil Hamilton writes'. Kamm is Martin Bell's nephew and wrote all Bell's material when he stood against me, as I now discover.

It's a good opportunity for me to put the record straight - it's ironic that some of my most sanctimonious detractors are now in the headlights themselves...
The Kamm thread is unintentionally hilarious with all sorts of old wars being fought.

Why Isn't the Queen Going to be in Normandy?

I didn't write about this yesterday because I was too angry, and previous experience has told me it is best not to blog when angry. Anyway, in the meantime I received this email from a reader...
I should say that I was born in 1938 - which explains why I have only recently become a blog reader! My attention was drawn to them by all the Damien McBride furore and since then I have been an avid reader of yours, Guido's and various others. Fascinating and great stuff!

By way of a change from our MP's expenses, I wonder what you think of The Queen's shameful substitution by GB at the 65th D day anniversary? Heffer seems to think that it's all down to a subtle plot by the French to cosy up with Obama with only a nonentity present. I don't think so. I seem to remember some months ago that our government let it be known that they weren't 'doing' 65th anniversaries. It was only the violent reaction of the remaining Normandy 'Old sweats' that got some sort of grudging agreement to do something. This was purely home grown but must have influenced all the parties involved including the French and Americans.

Bearing in mind the obvious delight shown by the Sarkosy and Obama families during their respective meetings with the Queen I cannot believe that they would have been against her being present.

On Newsnight last night there was an American historian, whose name escapes me, who expressed a very strong view that it was shameful that the Queen would not be present. He pointed out (an American!) that of all the relevant Heads of State the Queen was the only one alive in 1944, her father was Head of State in 1944 and (my addition) Princess Elizabeth was in the WRAC at the time and appeared in uniform at the subsequent Victory ceremony. There was a nice confirmation of this in the film 'The Queen' when Helen Mirren correctly diagnosed a broken drive shaft on her ditched Land Rover!

Apologies this is becoming a rant, but against a background of phantom mortages, duck houses and 'servants quarters', I get very incensed when I see real character, honour and nobility put down by a miserable bunch of uneducated (as far as the Second World War is concerned) politicians.

I wonder what you think!

We were told yesterday that the French regarded the commemorations (no, they are not 'celebrations') as "primarily a French/American affair." Excuse me? If that is true, it is shameful for a country, which, without the bravery of thousands of British soldiers, sailors and airmen who laid down their lives so that the French might be liberated.

I don't know what went on here, and we will probably never find out the truth. It is clear that Buckingham Palace is none too pleased. I really don't think Gordon Brown has pulled rank over the Queen, but I don't think I am alone in thinking that even at this late stage he ought to find a way for the Queen to represent our country in Normandy.

Purnell Proposes Another Way to Fleece the Taxpayer

Imagine this scenario. You are a senior Cabinet Minister, regarded as the great white hope of a significant section of your party. But you have been implicated in a minor way in the expenses scandal and you recognise the way politics has been damaged by the whole furore. So what do you do? Yup, that's right, you tell taxpayers that they need to fork out millions of pounds to prop up the very structures they are rebelling against. Step forward James Purnell, who has chosen today to write an article for The Guardian proposing state funding of political parties. What a sureness of touch this man has displayed.

Out of touch, and soon out of office.

Who Will Be Brave Enough to Commit to Abolishing Barnett?

The ONS has published spending figures for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom for 2007-8.

Northern Ireland £9,577 per person
Scotland £9,032
Wales £8,493
England £7,426

Hardly a surprise, but it will provide further ammunition to those in all parties who believe the Barnett Formula needs to be reformed - sorry, abolished. It takes no account of devolution at all. It's thirty years old and from the last century. But don't hold your breath. Even though the SNP agree it's past it's sell by date, none of the three main parties will commit to reforming it for fear of it sparking another rise in nationalist fervour north of the border.

Bring Back Dickie Davies

Sometimes I really wish we could go back to the 1970s. Today is one of those times. Remember how Cup Final days used to be? TV coverage would start at about 9am and the atmosphere would build up during the course of the morning. Dickie Davies on World of Sport would introduce Cup Final Wrestling with Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki, Stuart Hall on BBC would host Cup Final It's a Knockout. There was a real sense of occasion about it.

And then today ITV kicks off its cup final coverage at 1pm with interviews with Andy Townsend and Joe Royle. Says it all.

So, who do you want to win this afternoon? Everton, or West Ham reserves? I know Dizzy and Norfolk Blogger will be cheering on Everton. I'd like to see them win too. The more trophies which go to those outside the top four, the better.

Last Night's Radio Show

Last night's radio show and Hollie Steel from Britain's Got Talent had one thing in common - we both had to start again. Until my show starts on Play Talk, the station plays the music output of Play 2. Unfortunately when I did my intro, unbeknown to me the music kept on playing. So I was ranting on about MP expenses n-n-n-n-n-19 was playing over me. So once the fault was sorted I had to start again. The show ended in even more bizarres style when we discussed the dying art of licking beavers. You'll have to wait for the podcast to find out why.

Again, the switchboard was busy for the whole show, and the quality of the calls was excellent. That's one thing which has pleased me, because often on phone in shows much of the time is filled up with calls from people who either have very little to say beyond 'look Mum, I'm on t'radio' or they sound as if they should have been sectioned. I especially enjoyed one of the last calls from Kevin in Leytonstone who wanted to have an argument with me about my assertion that Simon Heffer has proved himself not to be a Conservative. And Jonathan Sheppard was excellent in discussing the opening up of the Tory candidates list. He wanted to ask how any of the 1,000 people have applied had actually helped in the current election campaign, although he thought the idea was right in principle.

I'm told my show has already become the most popular on the station and the Podcast download figures are well into four figures - not bad for a two hour programme.

Next up are the two election results special programmes on Friday from 9am until 4pm and Sunday 6pm till midnight. The regular Friday night show won't be broadcast next week or the week after as I will be in America that weekend.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tune in Tonight at 11pm

Every Friday night I host a Talk Radio programme for Play Talk from 11pm-1am. It's part of PlayRadioUK, a new internet radio venture with 15 different stations.

I hope some of you will be tuning in and taking part tonight. I want to hear what you think of the week's events. Don't hold back!

Phone 01243 556161

Just go to, click on LISTEN, then choose Play Talk.

And if you have any ideas for the show, let me know!

If you have problems with the stream copy and paste this link into your browser.

Last week we had eyewitness accounts from Andrew MacKay's public meeting and a caller called Lord Elvis, who rang in and sang a song about Nadine in the voice of Elvis Presley. Who knows what will happen tonight...

Which Party is This Leaflet From?

When you first looked at this leaflet, which party did you think it was for? It's no surprise that this is Labour's Euro election leaflet for the North West of England - the region which is most likely to return a BNP MEP. Wonder who this leaflet is aimed at, then?

The Daley Dozen: Friday

1. Donal Blaney has some suggestions for celebrities who should stand for Parliament.
2. Dizzy wonders if Libertas is a Lesbian front organisation.
3. Bob Piper thinks Mike Smithson has become obsessed by Dave's Clause 4 moments.
4. Paul Waugh explains how the Chipmunk sank her fangs into Roy Fattersley.
5. Gordon Brown gives an exclusive interview to Tory Politico. Sort of.
6. Cicero's Songs wants to remind you that there is a European election taking place.
7. Chris Paul wonders if Sir Les Patterson and Sir Paul Judge were separated at birth.
8. Prodicus explains why he will vote for Sir Alan Haselhurst and not Simon Heffer.
9. Jonathan Sheppard does a Delia and asks all the new Tory candidates: where are you?
10. Vicky Ford wonders who is behind a new anti LibDem poster.
11. James Barlow on the BNP and Commonwealth War Graves.
12. Phil Taylor is not impressed by La Lumley's voting intention.

Clegg Prepares for Government

James Macintyre has a rather good interview with the Cleggmeister in this week's New Statesman. He tells Macintyre: "You're probably going to laugh like a drain chuckle, but I want to be Prime Minister." Well, we can all dream, can't we?

Throughout most of the interview Clegg comes across as the voice of sweet reason, as befits a Liberal Democrat. But then he goes and ruins it when launching into a diatribe about David Cameron. He concludes...
He hasn't even changed the Conservatives.

I doubt whether even David Cameron's worst enemy could say that with a straight face. Candidate selection, economic policy, policy on green issues, role of women, shall I go on?

Frank Dobson: Climate Change Denier & Chipmunk Hater

Kevin Maguire, in a rare example of an amusing anecdote in his New Statesman diary, reveals that Frank Dobson is a fan of climate change...
That a tax-free windfall on an ill-judged house dodge jeopardises the cabinet highchair of Little Labour's Hazel Blears is a cause of grave disappointment for one of Mrs Pepperpot's comrades. "I always thought," mused Frank Dobson, "that rising sea levels from global warming would get her first."

How very dare he.

UPDATE: I've just seen on a ConHome tweet that Maguire's last blogpost was on 6 May. Are we all missing him already? Seems not...

Keeping the Labour Whips Onside

Paul Waugh has a blogpost which every single one of you should read. He reports on a Radio 4 programme in which former Labour MP Jane Griffiths lays bare exactly how MPs come to claim expenses they have never been entitled to. Read this and weep.
"I don't drive a car, I never have, so didn't claim any mileage allowance for travel in the constituency. My whip said to me 'You don't claim mileage, why not?'

"I said 'well, because I don't drive a car'. He said 'You must get a taxi sometimes?' I said 'I do sometimes but not that often'. '

"No,' he said, 'There's an allowance of £250 per month for taxis and you don't have to give receipts, you just fill in a form that says £250 for taxis. And he said 'I want you to claim that'.

"So I did because it would get the whips off my back telling me to claim for things. So I had that money that morally I shouldn't have".

You can listen to the programme on iPlayer HERE. This corroborates what Ken Livingstone and other Labour MPs have said. I haven't heard a current or former Conservative MP relate a similar tale but it wouldn't surprise me at all if it happened across the parties in the past. One thing is for sure. It won't in future!

If You Hate Football, Look Away Now...

I think it is incredibly sad that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs have said they won't allow their players to play in a Great Britain football team at the London Olympics. It's short sighted and ill considered. FIFA had made crystal clear that their participation would not affect their futures as independent teams in world football.

Mind you, it's quite difficult to think of a single player from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland who would stand a cat in hell's chance of being selected for a Great Britain First XI anyway ... apart, obviously, from Jack Collison or James Collins :)

Accessing Iain Dale's Diary on Your Mobile

Thanks to Dizzy, I now have a new way for you to access this blog on your mobile phone. I know some people have trouble at present.

If you have an iPhone or a Blackberry use this address

Or this one will work on any phone (or so I am told!)

Cool, eh? Let me know what you think if you use it.

Dizzy Asks if Nick Clegg Passes the Smell Test

We've heard a lot about Conservative MPs having to pass the "smell test". What would you think about an MEP who flew to Brussels each week on budget airlines, but then claimed the full cost per trip (est £900), as he was fully entitled to under the rules? What would you think if he then put all that money aside to run his office? Does that pass the "smell" test? It's what Nick Clegg admitted to doing on 5 Live this morning, and it's no doubt what MEPs from all parties do. Thankfully the rules change next month so they will only be able to claim the actual cost in future, after a long fight by Dan Hannan among others. Dizzy has the full story HERE.

Cash Answers Questions: Will His Answers Wash?

I have just been listening to Bill Cash on Sky. His defence is that he let his son Sam have his Pimlico flat rent free while he then rented out his daughter's flat for £15k. He says that in 2004 it was permissible to do that as the rules allowed it. The rules changed in 2005. He says the "taxpayer was not disadvantaged". Hmmm. Don't think that's going to stick. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that he claimed money for his daughter's flat because he let his son have his Pimlico flat rent free.

Mr Cash has said that he will pay the money back if it is judged he has transgressed. A week ago, that would have probably been sufficient. I wonder if that's the media and public mood now.

Questions for Cash

Today's Telegraph revelations include the astonishing claim from Bill Cash for £15,000 in rent for a room in his daughter's Notting Hill home even though he owned a property in Pimlico. Even when he moved out after 15 months when she sold the flat, he then then nominated a London club as his second home, rather than the Pimlico property.
[Mr Cash] said his claims were in line with the rules and were approved by the House of Commons fees office.

He added: “What is lawful is appropriate.”

Asked why he lived in clubs rather than his own flat, he said: “I just didn’t and that’s all there is to it. I was nomadic at the time. It was around the time I was moving between two places and I was moving around.”
Sorry, not good enough.

But this illustrates a growing problem for political leaders and the media,and it is this. How on earth is it possible to be consistent when judging which of these incidents are serious and warrant a party taking action itself, or warrant a politician falling on his or her sword? You could accuse me of not being consistent in saying Bill Cash's explanation is not good enough, when I accepted Julie Kirkbride's. I could retort that Bill's explanation doesn't pass David Cameron's "smell test", but I thought Julie's explanation did. Why was Julie Kirkbride considered a more serious transgression by the media, than, say Hazel Blears, who cheerfully remains in her cabinet post? Wasn't what Tony McNulty did far more serious than any of these?

Objective reporting is not possible any longer on this issue because people are making subjective judgements the whole time.

* Questions for Cash was coined by Paxo on Newsnight last night, which I have just watched on iPlayer. The spat between Kelvin MacKenzie and Danny Finkelstein was a great bit of TV.

Alert: Live Election Results Coverage on 5 & 7 June

Next Friday from 9am until 4pm, and Sunday evening from 6pm until midnight I will be hosting, along with Hopi Sen, a live elections programme on PlayRadioUK. These would be very much akin to how we covered the local elections on 18 Doughty Street on local election night in 2007. Very rough and ready and using citizen journalists all round the country to provide information and updates on what is going on in their area. It will be a sort of on radio...

The BBC is not doing an election programme on the 5th and won't be on air until 9pm on the Sunday, so it seems to me there is a lot of scope to do something very innovative.

I'm looking for correspondents to cover each of the County Council/Unitary elections and also for the Sunday, correspondents to cover each Euro region - preferably more than one. We have the facility to get people on air by phone, Skype, email, text and Twitter.

We're not going to try to repeat the kind of election programme the mainstream broadcasters do - it will be very much live and loose, and totally reliant on citizen journalism and bloggers to make it work. We'll be talking to leading politicians and pundits over the course of the programmes too, but the bulk of it will be devoted to people like you.

When I first wrote about this, I had a huge response from people offering to play a part, and I'll be emailing you all over the weekend. But if there is anyone else who may be attending a count, or be able to act as a correspondent, do please email me or leave a comment and I will add you to our list.

And while I am at it, don't forget to tune into my normal weekly show on Playradiouk tonight from 11pm to 1am. And even better, call in!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Third MP Calls it Quits

Paul Waugh has twittered that yet another Tory MP has announced he will stand down. Christopher Fraser, MP for South West Norfolk (Gillian Shephard's old seat) has had some adverse publicity in the EDP about the fact that he had a house in Poole which was classed as his first home. I don't know any more details.

So that's 3 MPs standing down today. Is that a record in one day?

UPDATE: Christopher Fraser has released a statement which explains that he is standing down to look after his wife, who is suffering from ill health.

After Julie

OK, OK, I know I promised not to write about expenses related stories today, but I can hardly not write about the latest news, can I?

As you might guess I am very sad that Julie Kirkbride has announced she is stepping down at the next election. Let's not bother rehearsing all the pros and cons of her case - that's been done to death on here over the past 24 hours. I have no regrets in speaking out in her defence on the blog and on the media, but it was clear yesterday where this whole saga was heading. Time after time, we've seen that where a media head of steam has built up, it's impossible to overcome it. You may think it was fully deserved in Julie's case. I happen to think there were more deserving cases for media attention than hers. But that's politics, and that's the media and there's little point in whinging about it.

So what implications does this have? I think most people will see that if MPs have to stand down for alleged impropriety there are better candidates than Julie Kirkbride. But they are still in place.

Most of my friends, and all of my family keep asking me one question: why on earth would you want to be an MP if you are treated like this? They all think I am barking mad. And increasingly, I am wondering if they might have a point. I'm no different to most people who consider going into politics. You do it for a number of reasons - partly out of a wish to perform some sort of public service, but also because you see things you think are wrong and want to change, and realise you can't do that by writing a blog. And also because you have the somewhat arrogant belief that maybe, just maybe, you could do it better than those who have made such a mess of things in the past. If you do it for the money, you really are doing it for the wrong reasons.

But think of a forty year old woman with a couple of kids, who is thinking about going into politics. Think how this episode will affect her thought process. Julie Kirkbride quit, at least in part, over her child minding arrangements. She wanted her brother to be a child minder rather than a stranger. Who wouldn't? It didn't cost the taxpayer a penny, and yet she's been made out to look as if she has fleeced the taxpayer. No woman with small children in their right mind will look at a political career if things carry on like this.

Think about that.

Can Gordon Survive 4th June?

This will be an expenses free blog today. I hope.

Pop over to Guido who has a fascinating 'what if' post, looking at what might happen to Gordon Brown after June 4th. He says David Miliband and Alan Johnson have campaign teams ready to roll.

PS I'll be on the Jeremy Vine Show at noon talking about... no, am not going to mention it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hundreds Apply to be Conservative Candidates

According to one report I heard yesterday, CCHQ has received more than 1,000 enquiries from people wanting to be Conservative candidates - another put the figure at 500. It's great that there has been such a huge response, but it has given party staff a major headache. If the initiative is to mean anything the applications will have to be processed quickly, and when the mad, the bad and the sad have been weeded out the party will have to hold a series of one day assessment boards, where candidates have to undergo various forms of psychological torture tests before they are admitted onto the approved list. It's not going to be an easy process to manage and extra staff are already having to be recruited to cope with the workload.

The Daley Dozen: Wednesday

1. Shane Greer says it's time the Tories got rid of the dead wood.
2. Tom Harris explains when it is Ok to hate.
3. Cranmer on the revelation that Derek Draper has found God.
4. Peter Hitchens responds to readers questions.
5. Donal Blaney tells of an unsatisfactory experience at the hands of Staples.
6. Norfolk Blogger has a barchart which proves, er, that the LibDems are 3% less sleazy than the others. Way to go!
7. View From Planet Jamie on professional standards and ethics.
8. Red Box on ConservativeHome's role as Andrew MacKay's executioner.
9. Dan Hannan would be rather known as a blogger than an MEP.
10. Jennie Rigg isn't impressed by the LibDem European Website.
11. Paul Waugh says Joanna Lumley is going to vote Green. Bugger.
12. Trixy says Kevin Maguire is a hypocrite.

The Media Herd is Determined to Take its Scalp

By the way, perhaps we can now look forward to the following being subjected to twenty minutes of aggressive questioning about their own claims...

Elliot Morley
David Chayter
Margaret Moran
Ian Gibson
Alistair Darling
Geoff Hoon
James Purnell

I could go on. But I won't, the media herd has collectively decided on the name of its next scalp and will do everything it can to serve it up on a platter.

And I ask again. Why is this petition collector in Bromsgrove, Mrs France, being treated like some local heroine? She and her husband are leading members of Respect. Indeed, her husband is the secretary of Birmingham Respect. Why does no one on Sky or the BBC make any mention of this?

Julie Kirkbride Stands Up to be Counted

Like many of you I have just been watching Julie Kirkbride's extended interview on Sky News, where she answered quite aggressive questions from a pooled reporter over a period of about 20 minutes.

She remained calm at all times and was very eloquent in her answers. She didn't duck questions and explained fully her family arrangements. She finished by saying that if David Cameron asked her to stand down, she would.

Feel free to give your views on her interview, but please only comment if you actually saw it. Did she convince you? Did she change your mind about her?

What Part of "Before" Does the Telegraph Not Understand?

This is the sort of thing which gets newspapers a bad name. The Telegraph is saying that Sir Alan Haselhurst only said he'd pay the money back after Simon Heffer threatened to stand against him. The trouble is, it's a lie, as I exposed last night. Sir Alan sent out a press release yesterday morning to his local papers saying the money would be paid back. Heffer only announced his move late last night, not even knowing of Sir Alan's announcement. And yet the Telegraph is still trying to pretend otherwise.

The Telegraph story doesn't have a byline. I'm not surprised. No journalist with a reputation to think of would agree to have their name associated with such a distortion of the sequence of events.

UPDATE 4.30pm: Strangely, the wording has now changed. Spot the difference!

In Defence of Julie Kirkbride

I have been emailed this letter from former Conservative MP, Richard Needham. Seeing as ConHome and Guido are having a veritable feeding frenzy over Julie Kirkbride, I thought it important to publish it in full and show the other side of the story.

Several months ago we asked Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirkbride to come and stay for a few days over the Bank Holiday Weekend with their son Angus.
Little did I expect to witness the public and relentless execution paper by paper, news report by news report, hour by hour, of a decent, hardworking, minor public figure who has been ruthlessly hounded as if she was a major public enemy. Guilty until proved innocent has been the media mantra over the last few days.

Almost every Sky and BBC news report involves sending a ‘team’ to discover what the locals in Bromsgrove are saying about Julie. This entails interviewing those signing a ‘Julie Must Go’ petition being organised by George Galloway’s Respect Party. (Not that I have heard that mentioned by Sky or the BBC).

Those signing have two simple points to make ‘I think its disgusting what she has done’ and ‘if we did anything like this we’d be in prison’. Well, no actually, they would not. So what exactly is Julie accused of?

Firstly by being married to Andrew MacKay she is tarred with his brush. The fact that he has fallen on his sword means the spotlight swivels onto her. There are several Cabinet Ministers who enjoyed grace and favour residences and thereby failed the ‘reasonableness’ test on claiming for second home allowances like Andrew.

They remain in post and in residence and one would have thought were more worthy of media outrage than Julie who after all, as David Cameron pointed out, has a perfectly legitimate claim while living in London and owning a flat in her constituency.

But the accusations now levelled against her drip by drip, day by day, are to do with her employing or using members of her family to help run her family and parliamentary life.
There are millions of small businesses where family members help out in one way or the other. In doctors or dentists surgeries, in small legal practices, in shops, in factories, wherever you look families are helping each other and many of them rely for their income from the public purse.
So Julie lets her brother live rent free in a small bedroom in her constituency flat in return for which he looks after Angus weekend after weekend. (For the avoidance of doubt I know he does because I have seen it). He helps her buy IT equipment for her office use because he knows about it and she does not. He sets up her website and does what a retired elder brother might do for his sister anywhere else in the country without comment or vilification.

Julie also employs her sister part-time who happens to live in Dorset. The accusation is that because she lives in Dorset she can’t know anything about Bromsgrove. Nonsense, if she’d lived in London they wouldn’t complain and no doubt she has been to Bromsgrove often enough. She’s a professional woman who is networked into Julie’s office both in Westminster and in the constituency and her job is to deal with Julie’s constituents problems when Julie’s full time PA is away or on holiday.

The media is now so wound up about Julie’s family involvement that I am surprised she is not being compared to Silvio Berlusconi!

For me, there is something depressingly familiar about all of this. Nearly twenty years ago while a Minister in Northern Ireland I was given an RUC mobile phone on which, on a windy mountain top near Newry, I called Margaret Thatcher a ‘cow’ to my wife in faraway England. Little did I know the IRA, or another paramilitary organisation, were taping my calls with crystal clarity and passed on this little gem (or sold it through intermediaries) to the Sunday Times who used it to embarrass the Prime Minister and stitch me up.

No-one, except for a letter writer in the Spectator ever questioned the behaviour of the Sunday Times, nobody cared about my privacy, or was interested in my record in Ulster. All hell let loose. Off with his head! He always was indiscreet! He’s putting policemen’s lives at risk by using a mobile phone etc, etc. Go on television they cried, defend yourself! No-one wanted to know. Being filleted by Robin Day for two minutes would only have made everything worse. Luckily for me, a week later Geoffrey Howe intervened, Maggie went and I clung on. Julie Kirkbride does not have a Geoffrey Howe right now!

When I became an MP in 1979 BBC2 did a half hour programme entitled ‘The Honourable Member’s Wife’. It took four years in the making and followed Sissy around from becoming the candidate’s spouse, to the MP’s PA. I came out of it bossy and crotchety, Sissy came out of it as a Saint. She has been my aide, bookkeeper, diary secretary, typist and surrogate MP for the ten years I was a minister. Without her working with me I could have achieved almost nothing. When she said she had had enough of politics I handed in my notice. In those far off days the BBC seemed to believe that involving family members was a worthwhile, cost effective and beneficial thing to do. In Julie’s case the media are giving the impression that she is behaving like a member of the Cosa Nostra.

Of course, the circus will soon move on and Julie may or may not survive – although I pray she does. But it will leave behind a badly damaged family, a little boy who may face a torrid time at school and a horrible taste that anyone can be treated as guilty of misusing their position, misusing public funds and tarnishing democracy when all Julie Kirkbride has ever, ever done is what she believes was the best for her constituents, her party and her country.

What young mum will want to go to the Mother of Parliaments now?

I'm publishing this with little comment from me, as it speaks for itself. All I would say is that the pack of wolves circling Julie Kirkbride at the moment seems determined to get a kill and will exploit any sign of apparent weakness in her arrangements, even when they know full well that in reality she has done nothing wrong in employing her sister to cover for her secretary when she's on holiday or away, or I would submit, having her retired brother look after her son or help her with technology needs. Julie can defend herself on those two issues, but perhaps the media - especially Sky News - might like to defend its reporting of the petition in Bromsgrove. The woman behind it is a leading light in George Galloway's Respect party, yet as far as I know this fact hasn't been mentioned once. She's portrayed as some kind of heroic local citizen. And so she may be, but shouldn't her political background be transparent?

Endnote: I am sure that having posted this I will come in for a lot of flak. Whenever I defend a Tory in trouble I am accused of all sorts of things and motives. Over the last few weeks and months I have taken many Tory MPs to task over their expenses - Alan Duncan andJames Gray to name but two. So I am not blind to the failings of Tory MPs in this area. But I'm damned if I am going to stand by and see a young woman who is an excellent MP and done little wrong, so far as I can see, be trashed without the other side of the story being put. Disagree with me in the comments if you like, but do it in a measured and reasoned way. I give due warning now that I am not going to allow anonymous commenters to make lurid allegations. If you want to comment strongly, at least have the guts to put your name to your words.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 Blog Reader Survey

Every year I conduct a survey of the readers of my blog. Its aim is severalfold. I genuinely want to know what you like or dislike about the blog - what you think I am getting right and what I am not. In addition, it's an opportunity to find out more about you, your politics and background. It's partly because I am nosy and partly because I can then make a more accurate pitch to potential advertisers. Advertisers are taking blogs increasingly seriously, but they need accurate information about a blog's readers if they are going to pay for space. There are several sections...

1. Age/residence/job
2. Your blogging habits
3. Your views on this blog
4. Which other blogs you read
5. Voting habits
6. Media habits
7. Demographics

Anyway, there are 30 questions and it should take you about ten minutes to complete. Last year, I think more than 2,000 of you took part. Hopefully we can beat that this time.

Click HERE to take the survey.

The Daley Dozen: Tuesday

1. Nadine's blog is back, and she's pink and even got permalinks!
2. Paul Waugh on Jack Straw agreeing with the idea of recall elections.
3. Richard Willis on the Labour MPs whose tax advice we have paid for.
4. James Burdett says the BBC thinks Cameron is already PM.
5. And in late (as in, a week late) news, Tim Montgomerie signs up to Better Off Out.
6. Peter Ould on a dodgy LibDem election leaflet. Say it ain't so.
7. Speech coach Max Atkinson has two tips for David Cameron.
8. Daily Referendum with details of the Tory bloggers drinks do on 30 May.
9. Wrinkled Weasel on Labour and the "underclass".
10. Stephen Parkinson writes for the Huffington Post on his new book on the Cambridge Union.
11. Norfolk Blogger says LibDem leaflets are losing their edge.
12. Letters from a Tory reckons Cameron hit the nail on the head today.

Heffer's Election Campaign Stalls at First Hurdle

The Telegraph website proclaims tonight that Simon Heffer will stand against Sir Alan Haselhurst at the next election unless he repays the money he claimed (within the rules) for gardening. Er, just one problem with that. Here's the text of a press release Sir Alan sent to his local papers this morning at 9.35am...
The MP for Saffron Walden, the Rt. Hon. Sir Alan Haselhurst, has issued the following statement:-

“The expense claims I made over recent years have been strictly in accordance with parliamentary rules. The designation of my constituency home as my second home instead of my rented flat in London was obligatory on my becoming Deputy Speaker. In terms of total expense claims I currently rank 582nd out of 646 MPs. However, my claim for gardening help has caused concern. Out of respect to my constituents I am this week repaying the sum of £12,000.

“I deeply regret the public anger which the expenses revelations have understandably generated. The rules governing them are no longer acceptable. The process of reform has already begun. In the meantime the claims of all Conservative MPs are being urgently reviewed by a Scrutiny Commission set up by David Cameron. The claims made by all MPs will be further examined by an independent audit body announced by the Speaker last week.

“I will naturally abide by whatever recommendations are made”.

Is that the shortest campaign in living memory? Perhaps Simon might like to turn his attention to Geoff Hoon or Alistair Darling? He might not look such a prize fool, then.

Look Who's Been a Naughty Boy...

Oh dear. It was inevitable that the Comical Ali of defending Labour would, in the end, come to grief. Poor David Boothroyd*. Anna Raccoon has the STORY.

UPDATE: Dizzy reports that Mr Boothroyd has now had his Wikipedia entry deleted. The humiliation!

* For the uninitiated, David Boothroyd regularly comments here, defending the indefensible. Gordon Brown is a titan among minnows, Labour is pure as the virgin snow and all Tories are evil is is basic thesis.

David Cameron Will Need to Beat the 'Forces of Conservatism'

David Cameron's speech this morning, which outlined a whole host of reforms designed to make parliament and the political process more relevant, was a welcome one. It contained some truly radical ideas. In fact, some of them are so radical a lot of commentators are having some difficulty believing he really means it. He is accused of making this speech as a knee jerk reaction to the events of the last two weeks. Fine, if you want to be cynical, you'll believe that. But you ignore the fact that several of the proposals he announced this morning were in Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force.

What Cameron has done is provide leadership - again - in a way which leaves the other parties trailing in his wake. Even better, he will find that many of his proposals will have cross party support. Jack Straw on Sky News, who had been put up to criticise Cameron, did so in an extremely reluctant manner. Subliminally, he seemed rather impressed at the audacity of some of the measures.

My big fear is that if these proposals are all included in a Conservative manifesto, they will come to grief at the hands of what Tony Blair used to call the "Forces of conservatism". Can you imagine how difficult the crusty clerks in the House of Commons will make it for him? They will resist any change to their centuries old traditions and find 20 good reasons why something cannot be changed. So will the whips. So will the civil service. So make no mistake, David Cameron will have a fight on his hands if he is really determined to effect such radical changes.

I am delighted that he has come round to the idea of Fixed Term Parliaments. In October 2007, together with several others, I set up the Fixed Term website as a reaction to Gordon Brown's dithering over calling an election. We put the case for fixed terms, and if this has been accepted by David Cameron, it's a real step forward. I remain of the view that it is totally improper for a Prime Minister to call an election at the time of his or her own political convenience.

On Saturday I wrote a blogpost called How to Revive Parliament. It contained this paragraph...
When you get elected to the House of Commons any form of career planning goes out the window. You're randomly appointed to standing committees on bills you have no knowledge of or interested in. Indeed, if you do have knowledge of the subject you can be sure you won't be appointed to that committee, because heaven forfend that you should wish to table amendments or make a speech in committee. You role is to sit there for hours, preferably mute, and get on with your constituency correspondence, while the front benches do their pre-arranged stuff through the "usual channels". It's this which needs to change as lies at the heart of what's wrong with parliament today.

So when Cameron says he wants to end the "pliant" role of Parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage and to decide the timetable of bills, forgive me if I let out a little cheer. It's also good that he wants backbench MPs to choose the chairmen of standing committees and members of select committees.

But the one thing which he has announced which will meet firm opposition from Whitehall is to transfer competence for many areas away from Whitehall and back to local government. Just wait for the turf war battles on that one.

Read Camerons's speech HERE.

David Cameron Live From 11am

David Cameron will be giving a speech at the Open University in Milton Keynes at 11am, and immediately after the event, he’ll be taking part in a live Q&A with online users.

They’ll be collecting questions using a CoveritLive blog (it will be open for comments from just before 11am) and Twitter (users should use the tag #askdc for us to find them) and putting them to David to answer via the blog.The whole thing is going to be contained in a CoveritLive blog (which now has some very cool Mogulus & Twitter integration).

Weekend Catch Up

Here are some of my blogposts which you may have missed over the bank holiday weekend...

Take my 2009 Blog Readers Survey

Do we need a UK wide Constitutional Convention?
How can we Revive Parliament?
Labour MP Bullies Constituent over Gurkha Letter
Is Sir Alan About to Overtake Bercow?
Flint Mounts Chipmunk Rescue Mission
Telegraph Take Down Nadine's Blog
Friday Night's Radio Show

Winging It

Well that was an evening I don't want to repeat in a hurry. Normally, it takes an hour and a quarter to drive from Tunbridge Wells to the Sky studios in Osterley. I left at 8.45pm to get there in good time to scan the front pages before appearing at 10.30. Only I hadn't reckoned with the M25 being shut because of an overturned lorry and cows wandering across the motorway. In the end I got to Sky with only two minutes to spare before the longer review was due to start at 11.30. So to those who emailed complaining I wasn't wearing a tie, there was no time to put it on! Indeed, there was no time to read the papers either. I had to scan them as Gillian Joseph was doing the introduction. I was on with a comedian called Rob, so I had to do all the political stories in the first half. It's strange, I always seem to perform better when I am completely unprepared. Maybe it's the adrenalin rush of knowing you're about to wing it. It's the same with speeches. I always seem to do better when I have done little preparation and have no notes at all. One day I suspect I will come a cropper...

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Monday

1. John Prescott explains the tale of the two toilet seats. Well worth reading, too.
2. Jennie Rigg asks where the female bloggers are.
3. TrueBlueBlood wants open primaries for ALL Conservative seats.
4. Mars Hill has 20 Questions for Mike Smithson of
5. Peter Hitchens tells us why no sane person should vote for the BNP.
6. Raedwald on another blow for Damian Green.
7. Tom Harris on why Alan Johnson is wrong on electoral reform. Twice.
8. J Arthur MacNumpty on why Tom Harris is a "buffoon".
9. SNP Tactical Voting indulges in some shameless begging.
10. Oberon Houston reckons Bob Piper has lost his marbles.
11. Taking Liberties on some words which may come back to haunt John Bercow.
12. Plato on the MOD's embarrassing habit of losing personal data.

Rentoul is Wrong on Tax Returns

John Rentoul posts on the story that Labour Cabinet Ministers are using taxpayers' money to pay their personal accountancy bills. He sees nothing wrong with that. Apparently being an MP makes tax returns so complicated that they are forced to use accountants.
I know this is a moral failing on my part, but I find it hard to work myself up about this. Simply because these people are MPs, their tax status is complicated. They would not need an accountant if they were in conventional salaried employment. Elliot Morley is pilloried for failing to do his paperwork properly; then when Darling employs someone to do it properly for him, he gets in the neck for that.
The trouble is that the rest of the world doesn't see it like that. The rest of the world thinks: well if I can't get my business to pay for my accountancy needs why should MPs be able to? They don't care if it is within the rules. They think it shouldn't be. Even those in salaried employment find tax returns complicated and use accountants to fill in their tax return.

Rentoul does, however, think that Harriet Harman is in a bit of trouble for spending £10k on media training. He reckons she will have to pay it back. I wonder if the Prime Minister will regard it as "completely unaccetable behaviour".

Do We Need a UK-Wide Constitutional Convention?

I've just finished recording a ten minute discussion on devolution for BBC Radio Scotland's Scotland at Ten programme (listen tonight at 10pm) with Sir Alan Beith and academic Alan Trench. Sir Alan is chairman of the Justice Select Committee which has published a report on the issue (HERE). It doesn't come to any particular conclusion on what the solution to the English Question ought to be but at least it has defined the questions which need to be asked.

I have to say I don't think constitutional reform is going to be very high on the agenda of whatever colour the next government is and it will be incumbent on those of us who care deeply about constitutional reform to keep up the pressure, from both within and outside Parliament.

I'd like to see a UK wide constitutional convention, made up of all sorts of people and groups, not just elected politicians. It could run along similar lines to the Scottish one from the late 1990s, but England's constitutional future cannot be decided in isolation. There are pressures for the Welsh Assembly to be upgraded to a full parliament, which is something that would have consequences for the UK too. Should the Scottish Parliament also be given further powers? These are not just questions for Scotland and Wales to determine. Such a convention could also look at the future powers and makeup of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as the increasingly important question of the English democratic deficit.

Actually, thinking about it, this is a very good example of what we were debating below in the REVIVING PARLIAMENT thread. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a proponent of an English Parliament. That's not Conservative Party policy but it is something I believe in out of conviction. If, therefore, there was a debate in the Commons, and I was an MP, no one could expect me, as a backbench MP, to do anything but to follow my convictions. And if I didn't, I'd deserve all that was coming to me.

BREAKING NEWS: Two More Tory MPs Announce Their Departure

ConservativeHome is reporting that Sir Nicholas and Lady Ann Winterton have both decided to stand down at the next election. This brings to six the number of Tory MPs in so-called safe Conservative seats to announce their departure in the last ten days.

UPDATE: Here's Sir Nicholas's letter to David Cameron...
Dear David,

Ann and I have been giving considerable thought in recent months to our future plans. While I remain tremendously involved both in the House of Commons and in my Macclesfield Constituency (and Ann is also much involved too) I am aware that we cannot maintain the hectic pace at which we have lived for nearly four decades and we would like a steadier lifestyle which would enable us to see more of our family, including eight grandchildren, not least at weekends.

Also with all the changes taking place in Parliament and in local government we feel that it is an appropriate time to announce that we do not intend to stand as candidates at the next general election and we will be notifying our Association Chairmen accordingly. However, I would ask that you do not make any public announcement about our decision until we have done this.

Parliament and my constituency have been my life for almost 38 years (and politics in general for almost 50 years) and in Ann's case for more than 26 years, but when you feel as we do that maybe the years are taking their toll and perhaps we can no longer represent Macclesfield and Congleton with the some level of energy and enthusiasm as in the past, we have reached the conclusion that we should pass the baton to a younger person because both Congleton and Macclesfield deserve the very best.

I hope that during the remainder of this Parliament I can help others in returning to the House of Commons itself some authority, independence and integrity over the executive of the day because the House is currently virtually impotent. Our support for the Conservative and Unionist Party is total and we will continue to do all we can to ensure a great victory at the next General Election whenever it comes.

We wish you every success.
Yours ever

How Can We Revive Parliament?

I've had calls this morning from two MPs spitting blood about Boris Johnson's article in this morning's Telegraph. In the article he rails against the way parliament works (or doesn't) and the whipping system in particular. He paints a picture of lazy MPs who don't bother to think about what they are voting on and who bow meekly to a powerful executive.

They file through the lobbies to vote – and what are they voting on? Nine times out of 10, they haven't a clue. All they know, because their BlackBerrys tell them, is whether the whips want them to vote Aye or Nay; and so they shuffle obediently on and then, with a fatuous sense of a job done and a public served, they return to their dinners or the yielding arms of their companions of the evening; and yet another unnecessary and ill-drafted law prepares to enter the statute book; and the put-upon people of this country will be chivvied or taxed or cajoled or coerced in some new way by MPs who have only the vaguest understanding of what they have done.

I have lost count of the number of times I have sat through debates, after which my colleagues have begun their speeches with the words, "This has been an excellent debate", and I have wanted to shout, "No! It hasn't been remotely excellent.

"It has been a collection of cut-and-paste Lego-brick speeches in which people have been speaking not from the heart or direct knowledge of the issue, but because the whips have suggested it would be a good idea to speak."

Both my correspondents spluttered that Boris was the very personification of the parliament he now vilifies. One of them even questioned why the Telegraph hadn't looked into Boris's expenses. Boris's recipe for the future is that all MPs should stick two fingers up to the whips - not something I remember him doing a lot of in his time in the House of Commons, but there you go...
We want a new breed of MPs who will consistently tell the whips to get stuffed; who will smash the brutal and intellectually enervating system of party discipline that turns Westminster into a kind of Seventies Leyland car factory, apathetically turning out badly assembled laws to plague the people of this country.

We need far fewer laws and far fewer MPs (400 would do fine). My advice to constituency parties is not to hire candidates unless they promise two things: to read every line of every Bill they are called upon to pass; and to vote according to their conscience, and not according to the wishes or orders of the whips.

That may gum up the machinery of law-making, and that would be all to the good. It may make it impossible for Parliament to produce yet another annual Criminal Justice Bill. It may make it more difficult for MPs to produce yet more laws telling teachers, doctors, nurses and other public
servants how to manage their vocations.

If we had fewer MPs, and they were forced to concentrate on what they were actually doing, we would have much less legislation, and I can't think of a better way of saving us all time, trouble and money.

We need a Parliament of rebels, and we need it now.

I know where he's coming from, but this is very simplistic and populist. What he's suggesting is that Parliament should be made up of 646 independents, with very little party allegiance. That may reflect the prevailing mood, but it would lead to the seizing up of our system of parliamentary government.

I agree with him that politicians of the future need to be more individualistic and take far more interest in the legislation they are passing, but without a degree of whipping no government - or opposition, for that matter - would be able to function. Yes, whipping is too heavy at the moment, but a reactive move to the other side of the whipping pendulum would not improve matters. So what would?

New MPs must commit themselves to attending debates in the chamber more often and make it the national debating forum it is supposed to be. But the government must play its own part too. Instead of being addicted to passing legislation, it should allow far more parliamentary time for opposition debates and debates on the big issues of the day. When was there a long debate, for example, on the economic crisis? Graeme Archer points out today that MPs were denied the chance to vote on DNA sample retention. Why? No wonder voters see Parliament as being irrelevant.

MPs must assert themselves and their independence. Too often they are consumed by their own ambition to climb the greasy pole of politics. They know that any dissent is likely to be rewarded either with a further year of languishing on the backbenches or being appointed to Standing Committee A on European legislation. Rebellion for its own sake should never be rewarded. But conscience and conviction driven rebellion should be seen in a more positive light by the whips than it is at present. Government whips see there role through a very narrow prism - that of enabling the government to get its legislation through, with nothing else mattering. That needs to change.

When you get elected to the House of Commons any form of career planning goes out the window. You're randomly appointed to standing committees on bills you have no knowledge of or interested in. Indeed, if you do have knowledge of the subject you can be sure you won't be appointed to that committee, because heaven forfend that you should wish to table amendments or make a speech in committee. You role is to sit there for hours, preferably mute, and get on with your constituency correspondence, while the front benches do their pre-arranged stuff through the "usual channels". It's this which needs to change as lies at the heart of what's wrong with parliament today.

If you're lucky, and have kept your snout clean you might be appointed to a junor frontbench role, and then be expected to vote with your party every time. Any semblance of original thought goes out the window. It's likely that your frontbench role will, again, not be in an area where you have any expertise at all. You'll have to learn about your portfolio, and just when you think you might have got the hang of it and met all the relevant people you are reshuffled, with no consultation, to another random portfolio. Chances are you only got it because the first choice turned it down. But you accept it because you fear if you don't you'll be on your way out. Rarely does the Chief Whip ever sit you down and discuss your future in advance of it being decided for you.

One of the best things which could happen is for political parties to take a leaf out of the book of private sector organisations and develop some proper career planning structures for their MPs. being on the front bench should never be the be all and end all for any politician. Just being an MP ought to have enough job satisfaction on its own. There has been some progress on this by making Select Committees more powerful. Interestingly, Michael Fallon turned down a front bench Treasury role because he wanted to continue on the Treasury Select Committee. I can see more of this happening in the future. The Conservatives in government should also revive the backbench policy committees which did so much good work during the Thatcher and Major years.

As ever, Boris writes a thought provoking article, but his recipe is flawed and simplistic. There are many ways of enhancing the role of parliament and its reputation which he doesn't mention and which I haven't talked about here, but I have gone on long enough.

What would you do to revive the independence of Parliament and encourage the public to take a closer interest in its proceedings?

UPDATE: EU Referendum has a good post on this subject.

Clegg Squirms Over £2.4m Donation

Nick Clegg is rather uncomfortable at Jon Sopel's line of questioning in this short clip. He presses him to commit to paying back the £2.4 million donation to the LibDems from convicted fraudster Michael Brown. Clegg merely repeats the party line and looks increasingly shifty. He says they did all the due diligence they could reasonably have done but then in the next breath says the Electoral Commission will now have to look at all the papers to see if they really did do that.

It's clear from this interview that Clegg actually, in his heart of hearts, thinks they should pay the money back, but because they haven't got it, they can't.


If You Were In Any Doubt About Public Anger...

If you are in politics and you watch this video, you will squirm. It demonstrates clearly the anger of the people over MP expenses. It's from the Andrew MacKay public meeting, but it could be repeated in many other areas. It's clearly heavily edited, but no matter. Anyone who underestimates the public anger does so at their peril.

Hattip: ConservativeHome.