5 Dec 2012 11:09:15
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
Continue reading "70 Tory MPs vote to repeal the Human Rights Act" »
26 Oct 2012 06:22:26
By Matthew Barrett
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Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.
Origins of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party - there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 - so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director.
Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.
Continue reading "Who are Conservative Friends of Israel? A profile of the Conservative Party's most populous grouping" »
17 May 2012 17:20:59
By Tim Montgomerie
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Like Graham Brady I wasn't keen on the nature of some of the electioneering but the overall result of the 1922 elections was, as I blogged this morning, encouraging. I'm more worried about the outcome of the elections for the Backbench Business Committee.
The BBBC has been hugely successful. It has meant that the House of Commons has debated issues that wouldn't have been discussed if the two frontbenches had had their way. The most famous debates of this kind were on prisoner voting and, of course, the EU referendum motion (in which 81 Tory MPs rebelled). Other debates have included the war in Afghanistan, welfare of circus animals, contaminated blood products, metal theft, charging for Big Ben tours, assisted suicide and the Hillsborough stadium tragedy.
Their voting behaviour (see list within this post) may have been too anti-Coalition for their colleagues but central to making the BBBC a success were Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone. Sadly both were unsuccessful in yesterday's election and I fear the BBBC will be a little more tame from now on. Two changes orchestrated by the Whip's Office since the "81 rebellion" made them particularly vulnerable. One change, a few months ago, meant that the BBBC's members were no longer elected by the whole house but the Tory members by Tory backbench MPs only and Labour representatives by Labour backbench MPs etc. The second change was to allow ministerial aides (Parliamentary Private Secretaries) as well as full backbenchers to vote and these received instructions from Keith Simpson, bag carrier to William Hague to vote for change. I don't know what the margins were in the secret ballot but the two rule changes certainly contributed to the fact that the new Tory representatives exclude Messrs Bone and Hollobone. The successful candidates were David Amess, Bob Blackman, Jane Ellison and Marcus Jones.
Continue reading "Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone can be proud of their work on the BackBench Business Committee --- but it may never be as powerful/ awkward for the govt again if the new members get their way..." »
15 May 2012 15:45:08
By Paul Goodman
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8.45pm Update by Matthew Barrett: I have now learned which candidates are being backed by the traditional organisations on the right of the Conservative Party, such as the No Turning Back group. I have highlighted these in purple.
The following have been returned unopposed:-
Posts for which elections will take place (I have marked those previously identified by Tim as members of the 301 slate in blue):
1) Secretary - the following nominations have been received for TWO posts:
NICK DE BOIS
2) Executive members - the following nominations have been received for TWELVE posts.
PRITI PATEL - Priti Patel is being backed by both the 301 group, and the right of the Party.
Finally and separately, the following nominations have been received for Conservative members of the Backbench Business Committee - four posts:
20 Apr 2012 06:33:09
By Matthew Barrett
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The 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
Continue reading "Who are the 301? The Tory MPs who want to refresh the 1922 Committee" »
13 Feb 2012 19:56:55
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday on ConservativeHome Ruth Lea questioned the continuation of UK aid to India. Her sceptical position is shared by most Britons. By 60% to 14% voters told YouGov that aid spending should be switched to countries with greater needs.
In a letter to The Telegraph Tory MPs Bob Blackman, William Cash, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Pauline Latham and Jeremy Lefroy have come to its defence (my emphasis):
"SIR – In the debate about British aid to India, we believe our programme in India is helping to rebuild lives and is also in Britain’s long-term interest. While it is true that India is a growing economic force, it is also home to a third of the world’s very poorest people. It is right for Britain to work with the Indian government to help tackle this dire poverty.
It is also right to ensure that our aid is targeted effectively. We welcome the Coalition Government’s radical overhaul of the Department for International Development’s aid programme to India: freezing the amount spent and targeting it at three of the poorest states. India is a vital strategic ally with whom we share extensive connections; more than 1.6 million British Indians live here. With India we share democracy, the English language and trade links that amount to billions of pounds. India will be an essential partner if we are to rebalance our economy and improve human rights around the globe.
Providing short-term support to ensure people in India can eat and live should not be contentious. We do not believe our aid programme should continue indefinitely, but now isn’t the time to turn our backs."
I certainly agree. DFID notes that "a third of the world's poorest people (living on less than 80p a day) live in India – more than in sub-Saharan Africa". Just because the Indian government has the wrong spending priorities, the poor citizens of its country should not suffer.
Other signatories include a number of business people plus Lord Popat of Conservative Friends of India and Baroness Jenkin of Conservative Friends of International Development.
31 Jan 2012 18:15:43
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
Continue reading "Cameron today: Off the hook on the veto. On it over more IMF money." »
24 Jan 2012 18:58:37
By Joseph Willits
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To commemorate Holcaust Memorial Day this coming Friday, yesterday evening the Holocaust Educational Trust hosted its annual Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture at Portcullis House. Whilst the keynote address was given by historian Sir Ian Kershaw, its guest speaker was Francis Maude.
Maude praised the work done by the Holocaust Educational Trust in its Lessons from Auschwitz Project in educating young people thoughtfully, and enabling them to return from their visit with a sensitive awareness of the actual event. Perhaps the most crucial lesson learnt from the Holocaust Educational Trust's project, is being able to apply the horrors of Auschwitz, to proactively fight prejudice in all forms on their return.
There were three main points made by Maude in his speech:
- He spoke of the "coldness" and "horrendous industrial scale" with which a genocide of Jews was carried out by Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Perhaps alluding to current atrocities today, for example in Syria, the Holocaust wasn't carried out "in anger, surge of fury, or rage".
- It is always important to remember, said Maude, that this genocide was carried out in "living memory" in a "European country where we thought our values were shared, and are shared now".
- Maude concluded with a warning about tolerance, in a much broader sense, even outside the actions of Nazi Germany. Tolerance he said, wasn't "enough to answer prejudice and bigotry ... to just accept", and that the word itself had a dimension of coldness about it. His message, and that of the Holocaust Educational Trust, was to fight prejudice "proactively by active intervention". This approach was crucial he said, because "hatred can take root and flourish very quickly", and will do so again albeit in different forms.
Continue reading "In a speech to the Holocaust Education Trust, Francis Maude says to learn from the Holocaust is to proactively fight bigotry" »
21 Dec 2011 11:20:13
By Joseph Willits
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In yesterday's Adjournment debate before the start of the Christmas recess, a mix of topics were raised by MPs.
Chris Skidmore MP (Kingswood), who also wrote on ConservativeHome yesterday about making history a compulsory subject for under-16s, spoke of the study of history reaching a record low. Skidmore said that "in 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE". Despite these figures already being low enough as it is, there was a need to break them down, he said, "because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE".
"Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts."
Whilst this debate was important, he warned of history "becoming a subject of two nations" and Britain's isolation in Europe, if people were not united in the view "that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation".
Continue reading "History, Europe, family and needs of business feature in Christmas adjournment debate " »
9 Dec 2011 06:34:36
By Matthew Barrett
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As the Feltham and Heston by-election reaches its later stages - it is set to take place next Thursday - senior Conservative MPs have been paying visits to the constituency. In the last few days, the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, the Minister of State for Immigration, Damian Green, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, and the Prime Minister, have all been campaigning in the seat, to try and help Cllr Mark Bowen.
At present, the Labour majority stands at 4,658, a majority that Mark Bowen, who was the candidate in 2005 and 2010, has managed to reduce by almost two-thirds, down from 12,657 in 2001.
We have some pictures (see right, click to expand), and Bob Blackman MP has another frontline report:
"One week out from polling day in Feltham and Heston the campaign is shifting up a gear. We have run a strong campaign from the off and with the Prime Minister, the International Development Secretary and the Immigration Minister in the constituency today, as well as dozens of MPs, councillors and activists, today has been a high visibility day. The PM got a great reception at a Cameron Direct at the local DHL depot. It’s clear from feedback on the ground that our local candidate is well respected as a hard-working councillor. We are listening to local people’s concerns. Our key messages of controlling immigration, taking the necessary action to reduce the deficit and reforming welfare to end Labour’s something for nothing culture are really resonating with people on the doorstep. As we enter the final week we will be fighting hard for every vote."
Update 2.15pm: Dr Andrew Murrison MP has sent us this account of his experience campaigning in the seat:
"I’ve just been canvassing in Feltham and Heston with the candidate Cllr Mark Bowen and was there all day last Thursday. I have rarely met a candidate who is so well plugged in to the local community. In such a complex and diverse seat, being comprehensively tuned in is a challenge and one that the other candidates do not appear to have mastered. Being able to get by in a number of languages relevant to the area is a distinct advantage and a real plus on the doorstep. Mark definitely deserves to win."
11 Nov 2010 15:40:53
By Jonathan Isaby
Before yesterday's debate on EU Economic Governance there was another minor Tory backbench rebellion during proceedings on the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill.
An amendment was proposed by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton which would have extended compensation payments to policyholders who took out annuities before September 1992.
The newly-elected Conservative MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, spoke in favour of the move::
"I praise our Treasury team, who have done a magnificent job of righting the wrong that was done to Equitable Life policyholders over many years. Opposition Members - there are some exceptions - should hang their heads in shame because of what they did when in government to Equitable Life policyholders. I came to the issue of the damage to policyholders rather late in the process-shortly before the general election. Like others, I was encouraged by my former employer to invest in Equitable Life, but it was a good job that I did not do so, or my view now might be different.
"I remind hon. Members about the pledge that we made before the election: 380 MPs agreed to press for proper compensation for victims by swift, simple, transparent and fair payment schemes, as recommended by the ombudsman; and we agreed that we would all join the all-party group on justice for Equitable Life policyholders. I agree with the pledge, which I signed, and I have honoured every element of it. A large number of colleagues have not joined the all-party group that I have the privilege of co-chairing, and I encourage them to do so even if latterly."
"We have a problem, however, and amendment 1 attempts to address it. The amendment has cross-party support; we must be seen to be acting not just as a party but as parliamentarians overseeing the Executive. The problem is that if someone took out a policy on a particular day, they would receive no compensation at all, even though the maladministration was taking place at the time; whereas someone who took out a policy on the following day would get 100% compensation. There are always difficulties when arbitrary dates are set, but that is neither fair nor reasonable.
"I believe that we should set aside the date and review all the trapped annuitants to ensure that they get fair and proper compensation. The Chadwick report has been rubbished by EMAG, and by Members on both sides of the House, but even Chadwick proposed a scheme that would have compensated those trapped annuitants whose policies were taken out before the cut-off date."
When it was put to a vote, the amendment was defeated by 301 votes to 76, but eight Conservatives backed the amendment:
- John Baron
- Andrew Bingham
- Bob Blackman
- David Davis
- Mike Freer
- Richard Fuller
- Gordon Henderson
- Sarah Wollaston
All except Baron and Davis and members of the new intake and for Freer and Fuller, it was their first ever rebellious vote (outside of registering a view on a ten-minute rule bill).
Additionally, Craig Whittaker registered a positive abstention by voting in both the Aye and No lobbies.
6 Oct 2010 05:23:56
Here is the latest in our series of Twenty Questions with members of the Class of 2010...
Bob Blackman was elected MP for Harrow East with a majority of 3,403.
1. What is your earliest political memory? Coming home from school to hear from my parents that Harold Wilson had been elected as Prime Minister and encountering their total outrage at this gross error by the British people!
2. Complete the sentence: “I’m a Conservative because… I passionately believe in the maximum freedom of the individual under the law, promoting personal responsibility, enterprise, the family and speaking up for the “silent majority”.
3. Who is your political hero and why? Churchill for determination in adversity; Iain Macleod for thinking outside the box; Gandhi for proving the power of words over violence; Martin Luther King for vision and oratory.
4. When did you decide you wanted to become an MP? When I was at school. I have always been a representative of people, at school, University, work, Council and now Parliament.
5. What is your reading material of choice? I read mysteries and thrillers. My favourite author is Ian Rankin.
6. Who is your favourite political interviewer/presenter on TV or radio? Jeremy Paxman. He is excellent at forcing an answer to questions!
7. If you could run any government department, which would it be and why? Communities and Local Government. My experience in local government would stand me in good stead!
8. Which non-Conservative politician do you most admire? Mahatma Gandhi.
9. Who would you least want to get stuck with in a House of Commons lift? Either of the Milliband brothers! My nightmare is being stuck there with both of them!
10. If you were in the US, would you be a Republican or a Democrat? Republican.
11. What do you enjoy doing to unwind and relax? I am a passionate supporter of Tottenham Hotspur FC where I have a season ticket. This allows me to let off steam and experience the highs and lows which all Spurs supporters will understand!
12. What is your favourite book? Strip Jack by Ian Rankin.
13. What is your favourite film? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I am an avid fan of Clint Eastwood and have seen all of his films. The most harrowing film, Schindler’s List and most moving, The Pianist.
14. What is your favourite music? Rock music. My favourite singer is Rod Stewart, favourite group Led Zeppelin although I do like modern groups such as Snow Patrol, the Killers and Stereophonics.
15. What would be your ideal meal and where would you eat it? Curry at my local Tandoori restaurant.
16. What is your favourite holiday destination? Rio de Janeiro.
17. What do you most want to achieve during your first term in Parliament? I want to be seen as a keen and enthusiastic advocate for the people of Harrow East.
18. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about yourself. Before becoming fully involved in politics, I managed a local Sunday League football team and we won the league in my final season and the cup the previous year! I went out on a high note.
19. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about your constituency. Harrow East is home to Bentley Wood where the RAF Fighter Command had their HQ during the Battle of Britain.
20. Share with us your most amusing story or favourite anecdote from the campaign trail. I was canvassing on a Saturday morning. I knocked on a door and there was no answer. I sighed and pushed one of my leaflets through the letter box. There was a short pause (just enough for the leaflet to be read). The letter box opened and my leaflet was pushed out again! All of this conducted in total silence and would look good in a silent movie. I marked the individual as “Against”!
> Previously: Claire Perry MP
8 Jun 2010 16:54:58
Dominic Raab, the new MP for Esher and Walton (and author of the excellent The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights) set out his stall as the civil libertarian-in-chief among the new intake in his maiden speech yesterday:
"There is much to cheer in the coalition Government’s programme, and in particular the commitment to defend our freedoms by scrapping identity cards and by enacting a freedom Bill to restore our proud tradition of liberty in this country—eroded after 13 years of legislative hyperactivity and government by press release.
"In particular, the coalition programme pledges to defend trial by jury—that ancient bulwark of British justice, dating back to Magna Carta. Steeped in our history, it was a jury that acquitted William Cobbett when he was prosecuted for campaigning for social and political reforms in the 1830s. But that is also relevant today, and not just to whistleblowers and political activists. Take the vindictive prosecution of Janet Devers, the east end market trader prosecuted for selling vegetables in pounds and ounces. She was convicted in the magistrates court of a string of petty offences, but the additional prosecution in the Crown court collapsed on day one when faced with the prospect of trying to convince a jury. Juries are the reality check on bad law and abuse of state power."
Meanwhile, Bob Blackman - who beat former Labour minister Tony McNulty in Harrow East - also took up the theme of civil liberties:
"This Government will do one thing of vital importance for all those people: restore civil liberties in this country. The threat of identity cards, the threat of being detained for 28 days without charge, and the huge amounts of data on individual people who are innocent of any crime kept on police DNA databases—the police state that has started to grow in this country—will be swept away. I believe that that is something for which people who are relatively new to this country will feel immensely grateful."