By Tim Montgomerie
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On ConHome Adam Afryie's Eastleigh reflection urged a focus on measures to boost economic growth. Read it here.
The best contribution I've seen so far came from Gavin Barwell. He urged a focus on rebuilding our ground operation and focusing on so-called pavement politics. Paul Goodman has also worried today about the decline of our grassroots strength.
Here's a collection of what some other Tory MPs have been saying in reaction to the Eastleigh by-election:
Eleanor Laing warned David Cameron against alienating more traditionalist supporters: “Loyalty is a two-way thing and the leadership of the Conservative Party asks for loyalty from our supporters but those supporters don’t feel that they’re getting loyalty back.” She continued: "In my own constituency, on the doorsteps in Eastleigh and generally people I talk to – they actually feel hurt and they feel left out. They are told they are old-fashioned and they think they don't matter and what they stand for and what they believe in doesn't matter. Those people who for decades have put their faith in the Conservative party – the only way to take forward those issues people really care about is to have a truly Conservative government. To do that, the leadership of my party has to tune in better to the people who want to support it, who want loyalty and who now feel rather left out." Quoted in The Guardian.
Here's what some MPs have been saying on Twitter:
And I was glad to see some kind words from Claire Perry for Maria Hutchings:
I hope there'll be no briefing against a good lady.
By Matthew Barrett
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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
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Since details of the reshuffle have emerged, Tory MPs, especially on the right of the party, have been reacting positively to David Cameron's appointments.
"I am on the whole very pleased with what has been done. There's another purpose why you need reshuffles. There is always a need to curb public spending and ministers become attached to their departmental budgets and therefore the Treasury needs to have new ministers who will look at their departmental budgets with fresh eyes and find ways of further savings and that is particularly necessary at the present time."
He had specific praise for Owen Paterson's promotion:
"I am very pleased to see in this reshuffle the promotion of Owen Paterson. Owen Paterson is little known to the British public because he has been Northern Ireland Secretary, so he is well known there, but really little known elsewhere. He is in fact one of the most able and promising young men or women around the Cabinet and therefore his promotion to Environment is extremely welcome….he is a man of reason and sense."
"I think the reaction from the backbenches is that this reshuffle is quite a lot more extensive than we actually predicted. So it is far more radical. But at the end of the day, these reshuffles are of great interest for those of us in the Westminster bubble and the media out there, but I think the people, your viewers, are really interested in policy, not necessarily personality, and it’s about reinvigorating the Government and pushing those policies forward to deliver economic growth that’s going to get the country out of recession."
By Peter Hoskin
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The first featured Michael Gove, and can be watched in its entirety here. The Education Secretary repeated the main points from his Today Programme interview this morning: that he will not intervene in the GCSE marking row as it is a matter for the exams regulator Ofqual, and that he and the government will soon announce their GCSE reform plans, presumably designed to make the exams more rigorous.
The second came after Nick Clegg’s statement about Lords reform, in which the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed — as if confirmation were needed — that the Coalition’s plans for the second chamber are no more. Some Tory MPs cheered as Mr Clegg grumbled through his lines, seemingly delighted at his discomfort. “'I can confirm that the Government has today withdrawn that Bill,” he said, “about which I am not as happy as members behind me are.”
But there was anger, as well as merriment, from the Tory benches — for, after his original statement, Mr Clegg reaffirmed his intention to vote down the boundary changes, claiming once again that they were wrapped up in the same policy package as Lords reform. “Nothing will change my mind,” he added for emphasis, even though there remains speculation that something eventually might.
It was around this point that Eleanor Laing cited Mr Clegg’s previous words on the matter:
“The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed that on 6 August, he said that, the House of Lords Reform Bill having been withdrawn, his party would no longer support the boundaries legislation. Does he recall that on 19 April, in answer to my questions, he told the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform that there was ‘no link’ between the two issues? Does he accept that he cannot have been telling the truth on both occasions?”
Soon after, Jacob Rees Mogg asked a question that began in tongue-in-cheek but ended with a rasp:
“May I commend the Deputy Prime Minister on his remarkable statesmanship with regard to the boundary changes? He will be pleased to know that the commission was proposing a North East Somerset that would have been a safe Lib Dem seat, so I am in with a sporting chance of being back after the next election. However, now that he has said that Lib Dem Ministers will vote against Government policy, I wonder what his definition of collective responsibility is within a coalition Government.”
And, before them both, Bernard Jenkin had implied that Mr Clegg’s actions were a “disgrace”:
“My right hon. Friend should comfort himself: he gave it his best shot, with all his sincerity, and we respect him for that. May I draw his attention to the fact that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 remains in force? Therefore, the boundary commissions remain under a duty to make proposals on a House of 600 Members. Does he have the power to instruct them to stop? No, he does not. Is he therefore not simply going to obstruct a constitutional process for his own party political advantage, which is a disgrace?”
What was particularly striking, apart from these Tory attacks, was the ferocity of the Deputy Prime Minister’s attacks against Labour. At one point he described them as “miserable little party point-scoring politicians,” which will do nothing to invalidate the idea that he could never take his party into Coalition with Miliband & Co. (or, more accurately perhaps, his party could never take him into Coalition with Miliband & Co.).
So, first day back for Nick Clegg, and he already seems to be antagonising MPs on all sides. He’s really only safe in the Cabinet Office now.
By Tim Montgomerie
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"The Conservative Party is not honouring the commitment to Lords reform and, as a result, part of our contract has now been broken... I have told the prime minister that when, in due course, parliament votes on boundary changes for the 2015 election I will be instructing my party to oppose them."
Nick Clegg answering a question from Tory MP Eleanor Laing on 19th April this year (Q179):
"Is it the case that the reports that your party’s support for further progress on boundaries legislation is dependent upon progress on House of Lords reform legislation are wrong?"
Nick Clegg (my emphasis):
"Of course, there is no reliance on our support for a Coalition Agreement commitment for progress on unrelated or other significant parallel constitutional formations. I have said that. There is no link; of course, there is no link."
There is a word for that. Every student in Britain who remembers Nick Clegg's pre-election promises on tuition fees will know what it is. A three letter word. Yet another Liberal Democrat porky pie.
By Matthew Barrett
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Expanding upon his earlier remarks, Jesse Norman appeared on The World At One, and described the reform proposals as "a constitutional monstrosity", saying the Bill "should never have reached the House of Commons":
"Unfortunately the Conservative manifesto didn’t contain anything like the commitment that everyone’s pretending it did and it’s a small dishonesty to pretend that it did. What the Conservative manifesto said is that the party made a commitment to ‘seek to build a consensus’ for a mainly elected second chamber. Now it has sought to build a consensus until it is blue in the face and all of that tells us that there’s no possible consensus around the bill. Now, there might have been a consensus around a more intelligently crafted set of reforms but this bill is a total nonsense."
"This bill, which is being drawn up to satisfy the Deputy Prime Minister, is clearly a nonsense. I think that most people would be pretty outraged at the idea that some grubby little deal between the Conservatives and the Liberals that says we will give you permanent controlling vote position in the House of Lords in return for you to agreeing to vote for boundary changes that will give us 20 extra seats. That is not the basis of which to proceed with major constitutional reform."
"Absolutely not. I think this is an extraordinary piece of legislation in many ways. This is legislation brought forward by a government which actually gives Parliament more power over the executive. We will actually end up with a proper, fully-fledged bicameral system, which will ensure that Parliament can hold government more to account, in many ways ensure that we get better legislation, and possibly from a Conservative point of view desirable with less legislation."
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:
Yesterday in a five hour debate MPs discussed the law on assisted suicide. Extracts from some of the contributions from Conservative MPs are pasted below.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: "We have to legislate for the weak and vulnerable, and for those who have nobody to defend them. Yes, of course we can all cite examples of intelligent, capable people who would be able, for example, to resist pressure from family members who might be after an inheritance, but what about those who feel that they have become a burden to society? My greatest concern for the elderly and the frail is that, although they might be enjoying their lives, they might feel that they have become a burden and therefore selflessly propose that their own end should be hastened. That is my concern about the term “voluntary”."
John Baron: "For the avoidance of doubt, let me absolutely clear: I believe that the compassionate approach for patients who are in severe pain, are terminally ill and have the support of their family would be to allow them to choose to die provided that the appropriate safeguards are in place. Yes, there is a right to life, and that is terribly important, but there is also a right to choose to die with dignity, knowing that one’s relatives will not be prosecuted, and surrounded by family and loved ones—not alone for fear of the prosecution of those left behind. That is why I will support amendment (a). This area is far too important and the situation is far too unique to be left to Government officials. It should be subject to parliamentary oversight. Yes, we know that the guidelines are just that and are not law, but prosecution or the threat of it can be profoundly disturbing to the loved ones left behind. We should not underestimate that. We do not know for sure whether those left behind will have committed a criminal act, but the threat of prosecution or prosecution itself can be profoundly disturbing, particularly for those who have already had to endure severe grief in their lives. Putting guidance on the statute book brings that certainty. It brings certainty that those who maliciously assist someone to die will be prosecuted and also provides protection to those acting on compassionate grounds. I believe that those factors should be taken into account and that we need to end that uncertainty."
Eleanor Laing: "Many hon. Members have spoken about choice and palliative care, but palliative care does not work for everyone. If it did, we would not have a problem and we would not be having this debate. Some people who are in the final stages of life have intolerable and untreatable suffering and pain. They have no choice, and they deserve our compassion. Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) about the right to life being paramount, we cannot ignore quality of life at its end."
By Joseph Willits
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Downton Abbey has a way of entering in to the political arena. David Cameron's controversial mimicking of Australian PM Julia Gillard, will always be associated with his dressed like "an extra from Downton Abbey" attire. More recently, the series has been highlighted by MP Eleanor Laing as evidence of inequality in hereditary peerages in the House of Lords, and a historic lesson of what not to aspire to.
In his Lord Mayor's speech, Cameron discussed "the historic agreement" made about royal succession at the Commonwealth conference in Perth, that "if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a little girl, that girl will be our Queen." Whilst changes have been made to the law on royal succession, there are currently no plans to do so regarding hereditary peerages in the House of Lords.
A report by MPs in the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform committee, have discussed "modest" rule changes to the House of Lords, but at present, suggests "there may be no compelling reason to alter an historic system of inheritance", due to the fact that "aristocratic titles no longer confer any particular rights, duties or privileges".
By Joseph Willits
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In an over-subscribed Urgent Question debate in the Commons yesterday, on the Palestinian statehood bid, foreign office minister Alistair Burt (standing in for Hague who was in Libya) refused to be drawn on whether the government would officially support a Palestinian bid for UN membership.
On Tuesday, ConservativeHome reported that only 2 Tory MPs, Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley had signed an Early Day Motion in favour of a Palestinian state. Upon writing this, the number had increased to four Tory MPs, with Julian Brazier and Eleanor Laing adding their signatures.
The hesitancy with which Tory MPs are having putting their name to the EDM, bears resemblance to the government's caution, because of fears that the bid could ruin the peace process. Alistair Burt stated that it would be "premature to speculate on what the Government’s response might be" before any proposal for membership had been published. Burt also stressed it was "vital that any action in the UN does nothing to endanger the prospect of talks".
Following on from the Arab Spring "the world can no longer claim that change in the Middle East will come slowly and incrementally, or allow the middle east peace process to limp along indefinitely, as it has done", said Burt. Any resolution made between the Israelis and Palestinians, he said, is seemingly "more significant" in relation to events of the Arab Spring.
By Jonathan Isaby
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I have already covered Conor Burns' sideswipe at Lord Heseltine from the debate on Lords reform, but what else happened during the debate?
Overall, one got the impression that (with a few exceptions) the Conservative benches were highly sceptical about an elected second chamber - including many who are usually deemed to be supporters of the Government.
Later in his speech, Conor Burns spoke in favour of the status quo - ie a fully appointed chamber - and then considered what parties had promised in their manifestos:
"I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue. We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known?
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday saw the Second Reading in the Commons of the Pensions Bill - the legislation currently in the news which accelerates the existing timetable for increasing the State Pension age to 66. This will mean the pension age will be increased from 60 to 65 for women by 2018, before being raised to 66 for both men and women in 2020.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said the core aim of the Bill is to "to secure this country’s retirement system, putting it on a stable and sustainable footing for the future."
The news headlines surrounding the Bill relate to the fact that women born in March 1953 will begin to receive their pension at 62, but women born in April 1953 will have to wait until 65. Mr Duncan Smith was asked about this early on in his remarks:
"Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given that the vast majority of the 600,000 people who will be excluded from getting a pension under the raised threshold are women, is the Secretary of State at all worried that the Bill is beginning to look as if it discriminates against women?
Mr Duncan Smith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We are not blind to the issue, but we have decided to strike a balance between making the scheme work from the beginning and avoiding driving people on very low incomes into sacrificing too much and therefore not seeing the rewards. It is important to make the point that in the Green Paper, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, we talk about the single tier pension, from which there will be very significant benefits to women. We hope that in due course that will achieve a balance.
I do not dismiss the hon. Gentleman’s considerations. We keep the issue constantly under review and will watch carefully to see what happens. It is important that we get auto-enrolment off the ground in a stable manner. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that these are balanced decisions—sometimes nuanced decisions—that we have to take, but we will make sure that we review them."
Mr Duncan Smith was also asked about this specific group of women several times, by Members on all sides, including Conservatives Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) and James Gray (North Wiltshire), as well as Labour's socially conservative welfare reformer, Frank Field. Mr Duncan Smith stood his ground and defended the Government's policy:
By Jonathan Isaby
In advance of the 2010 General Election, I was proud to found the successful Save General Election Night campaign to ensure that votes were counted as soon as the polls shut, despite a number of Returning Officers wanting to wait until the following day to conduct the count. My reasons for the campaign were set out in the original post on the issue.
The same concern about Returning Officers wanting to delay the counting of votes has now arisen with regard to the Scottish Parliament elections taking place in May, and Labour tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill in the Commons on Monday seeking to give Returning Officers the same duty with respect to Holyrood elections as for Westminster elections.
Shadow Scotland Office minister Tom Greatrex explained:
"It is widely acknowledged that, by and large, people in Scotland want to know the results of their elections as soon as it is practicable so to do. That was the objective of Minister when he was in opposition in the lead-up to the general election last year and it was supported by the then Opposition parties in respect of an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1983, which my amendment seeks to replicate."
"I find myself in the extremely unusual position of agreeing entirely with everything that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) has said. That is not surprising, however, given that the amendment that was accepted by the Government approximately a year ago, before the last general election, was originally tabled by me. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) wisely added his name to it and accepted it as a Government amendment, and it became part of the Bill. At the time, I thought that that was the only thing that I had ever achieved from the Opposition Front Bench, but perhaps that was due to the cynicism engendered by 13 years of opposition.
By Jonathan Isaby
During last night's proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, Tory MP Bill Cash proposed an amendment that the AV referendum should be subject to a 40% turnout threshold.
He explained to the Commons:
"My amendment is very modest. It simply calls on the Government to agree that we should insert in the Bill that the result of the referendum will not pass if less than 40% vote in it. That is 40% of those who are eligible to cast a vote. It is about turnout, and 40% is not a large proportion. It is much less than what George Cunningham insisted on in the Scottish devolution proposals that led to the 1979 legislation on that; he insisted on having 40% for a yes vote, whereas I am calling here for only 40% of the electorate. It is a very modest proposal. Is it not a reasonable proposal? Is it not reasonable that the people of this country should be able to have the result of a referendum refused if less than 40% actually cast a vote in it?"
"The threshold question is very important and we were previously deprived of an opportunity to discuss it properly because of the programme motion and other activities that I regarded as rather disreputable. I believe the Bill is being severely vitiated, and I think it is very important that the people of this country know that threshold is a key issue. Indeed, threshold and the 40% figure are regarded by all commentators as having significance across the international scene as well as for the United Kingdom."
Eleanor Laing, meanwhile, had another proposal: to require 25% of those who are entitled to vote, to vote yes for the referendum to be binding.
In replying, Cabinet Office Minister Mark Harper did not accept their amendments. He said:
"The reason why we have not specified a threshold in the Bill is, as a number of hon. Members said, that we want to respect the will of the people who vote in the referendum, without any qualifications... People may choose to abstain, but the amendment would create an incentive for people who favour a no vote to abstain. So people would not campaign, as they rightly should, for only yes or no votes in the referendum. We would have people campaigning actively for voters not to participate. We debated this a little on Second Reading, and as I said in my speech then, I do not think that is right. We need to encourage participation in the referendum. We want people to take part, and putting in a rule that encourages at least one side to campaign actively for voters not to take part would do our democracy a disservice.
"I am not concerned as some colleagues are about what the turnout will be. As we have said in previous debates, both in Committee and in the House, there are elections for the devolved Administrations-for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly-but there are also elections scheduled next year for 81% of England. The percentage turnout in English local elections varies, but it is usually in the mid to high 30s at least. I am confident that with the additional publicity and the awareness of the referendum, and the fact that it is an important decision, we will indeed get a good turnout."
"Let me now focus on the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). She is right to say that it proposes a completely different, outcome-specific threshold. It is worth saying to colleagues on the Government Benches who support the Government's proposals and respect the coalition agreement that my hon. Friend's amendment is not compatible with what we set out in the coalition agreement, which was a simple majority referendum, without an outcome-specific threshold. Colleagues who are reconciled to a referendum being held should bear that in mind if they are tempted to vote for my hon. Friend's amendment."
The voting saw 31 MPs favour thresholds with 549 voting against.
The 21 Conservatives backing the thresholds were:
It is odd to see Keith Simpson's name there since he is a PPS and would usually be expected to vote in line with the payroll. Those marked with an asterisk* are members of the 2010 intake.
Later last night the Bill then comfortably obtained its Third Reading by 321 votes to 264. With speculation at various points that the Government would struggle to get the Bill through as it wished - with MPs wanting to change the referendum date, impose those thresholds or be less prescriptive about the electorate quotas of the new constituencies - the whips will doubtless be quietly pleased about it attaining a majority of 57.
The following 15 Tories voted against the Third Reading:
By Jonathan Isaby
This afternoon in the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper was summoned to the Dispatch Box to answer an Urgent Question on the decision to grant the right to vote to prisoners. Quite why Nick Clegg could not have done so, given that his is the only of the main parties to have actually promoted this policy, I don't know.
Mr Harper explained:
"The UK’s blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting was declared unlawful by the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in October 2005, as a result of a successful challenge by a prisoner, John Hirst. The Government accept, as did the previous Government, that as a result of the judgment of the Strasbourg Court in the Hirst case, there is a need to change the law. This is not a choice; it is a legal obligation. Ministers are currently considering how to implement the judgment, and when the Government have made a decision the House will be the first to know."
Labour shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan then responded with a flurry of questions:
"When the previous Government consulted on this matter, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Justice and is now the Attorney-General, described the prospect of giving prisoners the vote as “ludicrous”. Does the Minister share that view? One of the most troubling aspects of the European Court ruling is that it opens the door to the possibility of serious offenders being given the vote. Will he explain how the Government would ensure that serious offenders are not given the vote? Press reports suggest that sentence length will be the key determinant in deciding which prisoners can vote. If that is the case, what length of sentence do the Government have in mind? How will they ensure that prisoners who are guilty of serious offences but serving short sentences are not given the vote? Will the Minister provide details of the precise mechanics that prisoner voting will entail? Can he also tell us whether prisoners will be allowed to vote in referendums as well as elections?
"The Prime Minister is reportedly “exasperated” and “furious” at having to agree to votes for prisoners. Does the Minister share that view? There is a strong sense that the decision is being forced on this country against the will both of the Government and of the people’s representatives in this Parliament. For the sake of public trust in British democracy, will the Minister who is standing in for the Deputy Prime Minister therefore agree that any legislation put before the House on this vital issue should be the subject of a free vote?"
The minister responded:
"No one would have realised, listening to that, that the right hon. Gentleman was ever a member of the previous Government, who also accepted that the law needed to be changed, and accepted the judgment. I have looked carefully at the media reports, and all I can see is an expression by the Government, relating to what they are going to say in a pending legal case, that they must comply with the law. I would not have thought that explaining that the Government had to comply with the law was particularly revelatory. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman shared our view when he was in government. He was quite right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Prime Minister is exasperated. I suspect that every Member of the House is exasperated about this, but we have no choice about complying with the law.
"The fact that the previous Government failed for five years to do what they knew was necessary has left our country in a much worse position, both because of the possibility of having to pay damages and because case law has moved on. The only thing that would be worse than giving prisoners the vote would be giving them the vote and having to pay them damages as well. That is the position that the previous Government left us in.
"I shall now turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. I made it clear in my statement that Ministers were considering how to implement the judgment, and when decisions have been taken they will be announced to the House at the Dispatch Box in the usual way. No decisions have been taken, and I am therefore unable to answer any of his questions at this time. The previous Government took five years to do nothing when they knew that something had to be done—in exactly the same way as they behaved in not dealing with the deficit. This Government have been in office for only a matter of months, but yet again our two parties are having to deal with the mess left behind by Labour."
There then followed questions from a wide variety of MPs, including many angry Tories from across the whole spectrum of the party. Here is a selection of their points: