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.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday Robert Halfon's motion urging the Government to consider scrapping any further increases in fuel duty passed without a division. The debate was forced by an e-petition, which attracted over 100,000 signatures. Halfon had the backing of The Sun's Keep It Down campaign and FairFuelUK group led by Quentin Wilson.
The Government's abolition of the fuel escalator was welcomed by Halfon, as was the introduction of a semi-stabiliser so "that duty will rise quicker than inflation only if oil prices are low for a sustained period". This had meant that motorists were already making savings of £274 a year on average, in this parliament compared to a different outcome of a Labour re-election. However, Halfon said, Britain's petrol prices "are still the most expensive in Europe. Even bankrupt socialist nations such as Spain now have lower rates of fuel tax than Britain".
By Joseph Willits
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Chloe Smith's appointment as Economic Secretary to the Treasury caused a bit of a stir, so it's worth clocking her first Commons speech in the post, which she made yesterday. Smith spoke of the need to be “frank about the situation in which we find ourselves” with regards to Air Passenger Duty (APD) - praising her predecessor, Justine Greening (an even bigger beneficiary of the reshuffle) for spending time engaged in dialogue with airports, airlines, and other organisations in the industry, and pledging herself to do the same.
Smith said that due to the importance of tackling the deficit and the need to “steady the ship” after inheriting a “fiscal deficit of historic proportions", she could not “promise the House that APD will be cut in the near future”.
However, she acknowledged MPs' concerns about APD - in relation, for example, to changes made by the previous government in 2009. Banding structures on the APD, and the “anomalies” in them, have prompted concern, she said, and the Government has “received a number of representations from those who feel that flights to Caribbean destinations are unfairly penalised”. On this particular issue, like Greening, Smith promised to “hold a series of meetings with stakeholders on that subject” - and could thus only give “assurances” on the continuation of dialogue with representatives from the Caribbean, rather than declare a change in policy.
An “unfairness in the system” has been addressed she said, with the Chancellor’s announcement that “APD would be extended to passengers flying aboard business jets”.
Rarely do we reprint a speech in its entirety, but in the case of the maiden speech of the new MP for Norwich North, I am making an exception. Having taken her seat on Monday, she confidently delivered the speech to the Commons this afternoon during an Opposition Day debate on Higher Education.
This is what she told the chamber:
"Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this Opposition Day debate to make my maiden speech. As this is my first speech I would like to pay tribute to Dr Ian Gibson, the previous Member for Norwich North. He was a dedicated constituency member whose tradition of independence and plain speaking I hope to emulate. He was known locally for his work on science as, I understand, he also was here in the House, and for sticking up for the people. Although I don’t enter this place as a scientist, I certainly intend to stick up for all of my constituents.
There has been a Norwich North seat since 1950 but the city of Norwich has been represented in Parliament since 1298. I am proud of Norwich North, with its one foot in the city of Norwich and its other foot in surrounding parishes and beautiful Broadland. We have a history stretching back to Roman times, and colleagues in this House may already be familiar with Norwich’s trading prominence in the intervening centuries. We are known for industries that have included chocolate and mustard, wool and shoes, financial services and now modern technologies including biotechnology and engineering. We have a high proportion of small and medium sized firms and I applaud all those in Norwich who choose to take a risk and build their own business.
Norwich also has cultural prominence. Underpinning our current vibrant arts scene, we can also claim the writing in English – Middle English to be more specific for any other students of literature in the House – of the first book by a woman. On the political side, movements have often gathered on Mousehold Heath in my constituency, including the Chartists 170 years ago and Robert Kett’s followers before that.
We may also be known for the Canaries’ best efforts to stay up the leagues. Norwich City Football Club is currently prospering in Division One. Given that the last full match I saw in person resulted in Norwich losing 7-1 at home to Colchester I think that in the interests of the club it may be wise for me to stay away until promotion is well and truly secured. Of course, for any real aficionados of Norfolk’s footballing heritage, I draw hope from a reputed draw with Arsenal by the village Football Club of Thorpe St Andrew – only as recently as 1894. It remains a shame to this day that the Parish could not afford to pay the travel costs for the match replay in London.
Thorpe St Andrew is but one of the parishes which, in addition to its fine urban history, give present day Norwich North so much of its character. Sprowston, according to local sources, is the largest parish in Norfolk. I look forward to receiving letters claiming otherwise which I shall happily forward to the parish council. Old Catton can claim further cultural merit. It has, in Catton Hall, the location of the first commission for landscaping by Humphrey Repton. Old Catton’s history exemplifies the tradition of independence in the people of Norfolk, amongst whom I count myself. The parish had, according to local historians, I quote: “a high proportion of freemen in the Domesday record which is typical of Norfolk”.
The Norwich North by-election was held back in July but since today was the first day that Parliament has sat since the poll, it was only this afternoon that victor Chloe Smith was able officially to take her seat in the Commons. She has just done so, flanked by colleagues Angela Browning and Sir Peter Tapsell, who - at 79 - is 52 years her senior. Sir Peter is the oldest Conservative MP and Chloe is not only the youngest Conservative MP but also the youngest MP in the entire House of Commons, an accolade she has wrested from Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson.