By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter
Brian Binley's opinion of David Cameron is no secret. Only a couple of weeks ago, he wrote that “the Prime Minister has proven to be a rather disappointing custodian of our party”. Before that, there was that attack involving that Lib Dems and chambermaids.
But Mr Binley may well have exceeded his earlier efforts with the “open letter to the Prime Minister” that he has today posted on his website. You can read the whole thing here, but here are some of the more acidic paragraphs:
“Having been an office holder in the Conservative party for fifty-three years, I find it difficult to remember a time when the party’s leader in government failed consistently to chime with the natural instincts of our supporters.
There is a wide – and growing—gap on a number of issues. The media frenzy of the last week-end over gay marriage arising from your premature observations has resulted in the creation of organisational factions within the party squabbling in public over the issue. Countless activists are feeling driven to give up their much-needed support for the party, and, as any legislation progresses, this injury can only get worse.”
Our position on Europe is not shared by the overwhelming number of our supporters; our approach to energy policy risks littering our countryside with ineffective and expensive wind farms whilst the lights go out and industry is driven to foreign climes; the City of London is facing an assault of overt marginalisation from the high priests of the eurozone; and our priorities on spending are creating a dangerous void in defence whilst scarce fiscal resources are lavished on countries with space programmes in the name of poverty alleviation. We are, it seems, powerless as a sovereign democracy, to prevent dangerous miscreants achieving incremental enhancements in the name of human rights, whilst our Exchequer can be plundered by foreign bureaucrats on grandiose visions of a continental political project in which we do not share. Fine universities could be sacrificed for the sake of targets and quotas, rather than raising the standards and aspirations of an entire generation of young people. Our coalition partners have proven effective in mis-representing the achievements of the Conservative party in government, and we appear unwilling – or unable – to take a stand to correct the record.
I implore you to recognise that our current course is one which imperils our prospects for victory in 2015, and to take the steps that, as a leader, will put it right and create a platform for the majority Conservative government that this country so desperately needs.”
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
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."
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
On Friday, 50 MPs, including 34 Conservatives, wrote a letter to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, expressing their "serious concerns" with the Department of Health’s proposal to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.
The letter stated that:
"There is no reliable evidence that plain packaging will have any public health benefit; no country in the world has yet to introduce it. However, such a measure could have extremely negative consequences elsewhere. The proposal will be a smuggler’s charter. ... this policy threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector, and over 65,000 valued jobs in the associated supply chain. ... Given the continued difficult economic climate, businesses should not be subjected to further red tape and regulation"
The signatories of the letter also expressed concern about the freedom aspect of blocking any branding of tobacco products:
"...we believe products must be afforded certain basic commercial freedoms. The forcible removal of branding would infringe fundamental legal rights, severely damage principles around intellectual property and set a dangerous precedent for the future of commercial free speech. Indeed, if the Department of Health were to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products, would it also do the same for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and all other products deemed unhealthy for us?"
By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
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:
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of the University of Nottingham have released a new pamplet - "The Bumper Book of Coalition Rebellions", which documents the 239 backbench rebellions so far in this Parliament, in which 544 votes have been held.
The pamplet takes us from the first rebellion, on the government’s control of time in the Commons, to the last, on Sunday Trading during the Olympics. This Parliament has seen more rebellions by government MPs than in any other session in the post-war era. As "The Bumper Book" says, "It comfortably beats the previous record of 128, held by Conservative MPs in the 1971-72 session. Indeed, a figure of 239 is higher than all but three entire post-war parliaments."
In fact, there were more rebellions in the last two years than there were between 1945 and 1966 - a period which saw six Prime Ministers and six parliaments. On a different measure, the "relative rate of rebellion", this session's 239 rebellions constitute a rebellion by Coalition MPs in 44% of divisions, which is a record in post-war parliaments. The 44% figure can be broken down further: Conservative MPs have rebelled in 28% of votes, while Lib Dems have rebelled in 24% of votes.
It is also notable how much of a contrast there is between the 2010-12 session and most first sessions in a parliament. As the pamplet says: "The rebellion rate for coalition MPs collectively is way above all other first sessions in the post-war era (the previous record was 28%, for Labour MPs in the 2005-6 session, as the party entered its third, and most troublesome, parliament under Tony Blair)".
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
In my series profiling groups of Tory MPs, most groups I've looked at have been mostly or wholly composed of 2010 intake MPs. The next group is bit different, as it was founded more than 25 years ago. The No Turning Back group has a proud history of celebrating and promoting Thatcherism. How is the group doing now? In this profile, I'll be examining what No Turning Back, the backbench group for Thatcherites in Parliament, is doing now.
Origins of the group
No Turning Back was founded in 1985 to defend Mrs Thatcher's free-market policies. The 25 founding members included, amongst others, now-Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon, now-Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, and the late, great Eric Forth.
The name of the group comes from Mrs Thatcher's famous conference speech given in October 1980:
"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.” I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends."
There are about 100 members of the group, which is chaired by John Redwood, including "quite a lot" from the 2010 intake. Members include such big beasts as John Redwood, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Peter Lilley, Lord Forsyth, and Liam Fox. Current Conservative officeholders who are members of the group include the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron's PPS, Desmond Swayne; Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mark Harper; the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers; a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly; three government whips, Angela Watkinson, Mark Francois and Greg Hands; the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Greg Knight; and the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, John Whittingdale, who was Mrs Thatcher's Political Secretary in the late 1980s.
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Some extracts from yesterday in Parliament are pasted below. The exchanges occured after Business Secretary Vince Cable had decided to go ahead with the appointment of Les Ebdon as university access tsar. Michael Gove, David Cameron and the BIS Select Committee had all expressed doubts about Mr Ebdon's suitability. On ConHome last week Jill Kirby explained why. Mr Ebdon does not seem convinced that the root causes of social mobility need to be tackled first and universities do not need more state inteference in who they admit. Supported by David Willetts, universities minister, Mr Cable decided, nonetheless, to go ahead with the appointment. Channel 4's Gary Gibbon interpreted Mr Cable's decision as a sign that, post-Huhne, he wants to lead the Lib Dems' awkward squad.
James Clappison MP expressed his concern at Mr Cable over-ruling the advice of the Select Committee: "Is the Secretary of State aware that this is only the second time that a Select Committee has been overruled in this way? The first such occasion did not set a particularly happy precedent. What effect does he think his decision will have on the authority and standing of Select Committees of this House, and on the confirmation processes that they carry out? Although he may technically have the power to overrule the Select Committee, is it not deeply unsatisfactory for him to have done so with this appointment?"
Mr Cable responded: "The obligation on me, as Secretary of State, was to establish whether any new evidence had emerged from the hearings, and I found that none had. Had the report been unanimous and based on cross-party consensus, we might have responded differently to it, but it was not."
Brian Binley, a member of the BIS committee, tried again: "Given that the Committee was unable to endorse Professor Ebdon’s appointment and instead called for a new recruitment exercise, is it not deeply regrettable that Ministers have been so unwilling to engage with its concerns? Does this exercise not prompt serious questions about Ministers’ approach to higher education, especially as training appears to have been given more priority than the views of Parliament?"
Brian Binley MP has written an open letter to George Osborne, stating that banking reforms should provide banks with the stability and sustainability allowing them to understand the needs of their long standing, and long suffering customers.
The issue of bank reform has dominated public policy discourse intermittently since the financial crash of 2007. It is true that the future prosperity of our economy hangs firmly on the successful rehabilitation of the global financial services sector: but it will impact on more than just raw policy – these decisions will affect the lives of people across our country for a generation.
That is why the proposals announced yesterday – and the mood music generated around them – could have severe and negative implications. Our traditional position as a ‘home-owning democracy’ is imperilled if we allow the message to be communicated that it will become increasingly harder for those who aspire to own their homes to obtain the mortgage that they need to make their dream a reality; and the suggestion that existing home owners may become trapped by their mortgage arrangements is equally invidious.
By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.
There are conflicting views at present about where Conservative Euro-revolts go next. One is that they peaked on the vote over an EU referendum. Another is that they will climb higher if Britain enters any new treaty negotiations without a repatriation of powers proposal. My view is the latter (were the Government to present a bill based on such a treaty).
But either way, it is worth recording briefly that a Government motion relating to future EU budgets was passed yesterday evening without a Tory backbench amendment. Both a source loyal to the Government and a rebel used the same phrase to me yesterday about potential future rebellions - "guerilla warfare".
In other words, they are united in agreeing that rebellions will be back sooner or later, but for the moment there is no appetite for more among most of the 81 Conservative MPs who voted against the Government on the referendum motion. I think that Tracey Crouch's letter to Mark Pritchard last week rather caught the mood.
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter.
Last night at least 32 Tory MPs (listed below) voted with Labour against an 88% hike in Britain's contribution to the IMF. The hike is to partly fund the IMF's ability to fund bailouts. I write "at least" because I've only quickly scanned the voting list. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if I've missed anyone off the list.
The Government won the vote to increase Britain's contribution from £10.7 billion to £20.15 billion by 274 votes to 246. This is the first time that the Labour frontbench has voted with Tory Eurosceptics. Labour was voting against an increase in the IMF subscription that was largely agreed during Gordon brown's time in office.
On his blog John Redwood suggests that the 29 rebels are only one sign of Tory discontent. Given that there are more than 300 Tory MPs he calculates that AT LEAST 80 Conservatives were unavailable, abstained or voted against the government. He writes:
"Some of us want the UK government to use the influence it says it has at the IMF to halt the futile bail outs of Eurozone members. The debt markets show the markets do not believe that Greece can repay all its debts in full and on time. Yesterday was a day when market worries spread beyond Greece, Ireland and Portugal to Italy. Those in charge of the Euro scheme need to get a grip. It is doing a great deal of financial and economic damage, and they no longer seem to be in control of their project. The IMF should decline to bail out rich countries that have shackled themselves to a currency scheme that was badly put together and needs a thorough re think."
"The decision to raise our IMF subscriptions by 88 percent was first mooted when Gordon Brown was in charge – but was okayed by the current government last October. While Canada, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium all managed to keep the increase in their subs low, whoever negotiated the deal on our behalf seems to have preferred to have UK taxpayers assume greater debt liabilities so that they could sit on a bigger chair at the various international summits they attend on our behalf. Alongside fiscal policy and monetary policy, our approach towards the bailouts and the IMF shows that there has been remarkably little change in economic policy at the Treasury since Gordon Brown was in charge."
By Jonathan Isaby
On Wednesday, at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, two Conservative MPs made their feelings clear about the recent insistence by the European Court of Human Rights that not allowing prisoners to vote was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Here's what they had to say during a debate on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights:
Brian Binley: The Council of Europe was founded on principles of upholding democracy and civil liberties, and this Assembly was instrumental in preparing the European Convention on Human Rights, which led to the establishment of the Court. The Court has done much good work over the years and we, as one of its parents, should take pride in that. However, it has delivered a ruling of which last Thursday’s editorial in the The Times stated: “Within Britain, virtually nobody believes that prisoners should have the right to vote, aside from prisoners”. The ban on serving prisoners voting has been in place since 1870. However, in a case brought by John Hirst, a man jailed for killing his landlady with an axe, the Court ruled that the UK’s automatic restriction on the right to vote for convicted prisoners was in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1, and therein lies the problem.
Many constitutional experts have questioned the Court’s right to make such a ruling. The former law lord, Lord Hoffmann, summed up their concerns, arguing that it was not proper for a European supranational court to intervene in matters on which member states of the Council have not surrendered their sovereign powers. Many in Britain hold that the restriction of the right to vote in the case of those who freely choose to place themselves outside the rule of law for their own personal gratification, gain or ambition is not a denial of human rights but a choice they make themselves. Others would simply argue that the issue is a constitutional one, and not a human rights issue.
This matter touches on a greater problem. Increasingly, the actions of the Court are creating resentment, not only in my country but across the continent. Polls increasingly show a level of dissatisfaction that questions not only the credibility of the Court but of the EU itself, and that needs to be recognised. A political class that ignores the concerns of the people puts itself at great risk. Perhaps this Assembly needs to get round to facing up to these issues before it is too late; perhaps it is time for the good parents to act.
Claire Perry: As a member of the cross-party Select Committee on Justice in my parliament, and as a member of parliament with a prison in my constituency, Devizes, I take a keen interest in the matter. Although I believe there is much to welcome in the report presented today, in the case of this specific judgment I believe that the Court’s judgment is wrong. It ignores the great differences between member countries in terms of definitions of crime, sentencing and prison regime. It ignores the fact that those are matters for sovereign parliaments. Crime, sentencing and punishment, including the selective removal of voting rights, are constitutional matters for sovereign parliaments and for courts to decide in our member countries. In my view, the European Court is really riding its luck by unilaterally extending its remit to areas where consent to do so has never been granted by our member parliaments.
It is that sort of judgment that creatively – some would say mischievously – extends the reach of the original protocols, while ignoring sovereign law. It is that behaviour that does so much to spoil the appetite in my country, and in other countries, for more European unity and co-operation. It is also the case that by awarding compensation of tens of thousands of euros to convicted murderers, the Court runs the risk of looking unhinged in the international media.
I finish with a quote from Winston Churchill, who in many ways was the founding father of this Assembly. He believed passionately in European co-operation, but from a starting point of sovereign independence. He said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, but courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” I therefore urge the Court, this Assembly and our national governments to sit down and listen and reconsider the specific implantation plans for this judgment, as they are unworkable, unconstitutional and an unacceptable intrusion in the sovereign independence of our member states.
These view did not go down well with Christos Pourgourides, a Cypriot who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights: "On the issue of prisoners’ right to vote, I say to my Conservative colleagues from the UK that I recognise that the issue is sensitive in their country. However, I tell them, with all respect, that the rule of law was born in England and the UK’s international legal obligations require the UK to comply with the judgment with all due diligence. It is inappropriate – not to say unacceptable – for the oldest parliamentary country in Europe and a founding member of the Council of Europe to try to find excuses for not implementing a Court judgment."
By Paul Goodman
Jonathan offered an acute summary recently of the anger on the Tory backbenches about the Government, the European Court of Human Rights and the right of prisoners to vote. Early Day Motions are ten a penny, and nothing usually comes of them, but one tabled by Brian Binley may be worth noting. It's number 953, and reads as follows -
"That this House believes that if a crime is serious enough to warrant a term of imprisonment, then the perpetrator must forgo certain civil liberties, including the right to suffrage; and recognises that the right to vote does not aid the rehabilitation of a prisoner and is a privilege that should be exclusively reserved for law-abiding citizens."
I see that of the six original signatories, two are Labour - Jim Cunningham and Alan Meale - and that they've been joined by Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat. I assume, therefore, that they support withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights, which as far as I know is the only means of guaranteeing the objective set out in the motion.
Conservative MP Brian Binley has initiated an Early Day Motion calling for an inquiry into the effectiveness of the last government's smoking ban. The EDM "calls upon the Government to conduct a thorough review, supported by consultation with all parties and affected business sectors on the impact the smoking ban has had on public houses and private members clubs". It continues:
"Any review should consider a balanced and proportionate amendment to the legislation, which allows for segregated smoking rooms or areas within pubs, bars and clubs provided that effective smoke extraction systems of an authorised standard are installed, enabling smokers to be accommodated in comfort indoors without impacting on non smokers and staff whilst reducing intrusive noise to many who live close to such establishments, thus helping to safeguard the future of many in the licensed trade. And that any changes to the smoking ban legislation thereafter should be made on the basis of evidence, fairness, proportionality recognising the importance of such institutions to the nation’s social life and community wellbeing."
Mr Binley says that Labour ministers promised to review the ban three years after it came into force on 1st July 2007. That review does not appear to be forthcoming despite the fact that 2,000 pubs and clubs closed last year - in part, it is alleged, because of the smoking ban.
Mr Binley commented:
“Many pubs and clubs are finding it difficult dealing with the economic situation; the smoking ban has further impacted on many businesses and the trade is really struggling. I want to consider a balanced and proportionate amendment to the legislation, which allows for segregated smoking rooms or areas within pubs, bars and clubs provided that effective smoke extraction systems of an authorised standard are installed.”
> Related link: Why you should support the campaign to amend the smoking ban by Shane Frith