By Paul Goodman
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Sir Gerald says of his new appointment: “As a country we face enormous challenges, just as we did when Margaret Thatcher took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975. The principles which guided the transformation of Britain then can, when applied to our current problems, do so again." And he promises three campaigns: on competitiveness and growth, social mobility and...defence!
I would raise an eyebrow, were I in Downing Street. The former Defence Minister's knighthood has done nothing to blunt his sharp politics - and, when it comes to the family and defence, Sir Gerald has never been backward about coming forward. He is a great survivor of the now endangered breed of socially traditionalist MPs. Ask him what he thinks about same-sex marriage...and then retire, having lit the blue touchpaper, to the safest corner of the room. And try to ensure that several large tables are placed between you and him.
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."
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.
A variety of reactions are pasted in this blog. The names of those calling for some change of message, priority or operational changes are emboldened. We have also included the contributions of MPs who have not advocated substantial changes.
5.45pm A little round-up of what Tory MPs have said during the day:
David Ruffley MP advocated radical economic measures - and a withdrawal from the Coalition if Lib Dems won't back them:
"I think now with the position now where there was a Coalition Agreement two years ago but quite a few senior colleagues think that was then, this is now. We didn't think two years ago that the economy would still be flat on its back and everything now has to be directed towards getting the British economy going. And yes it does mean looking at tax again but also, a freer labour market, the hiring and firing proposals to make sure that young people aren't turned away from jobs because of the very onerous social employment protection legislation in this country, so we should say to the Liberals on things like that which they are blocking, 'Listen we are in a real hole now. We need some radical economic polices put in place and you go with it and if you don't, we how would you like a general election?'"
Peter Bone MP urged the Government to drop any "wishy-washy" policies in the Queen's Speech:
"You can see what happens when there is a Conservative Government, because there was a Conservative Government run in London by Boris and he got re-elected. He put forward Conservative policies and he got re-elected and he bucked the national trend, and that really should be a message for the Coalition. Be more conservative and be less liberal wishy-washy and I think that’s what the voters would like to see in the Queen’s speech.”
By Matthew Barrett
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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
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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 Paul Goodman
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Lists of how Conservative MPs vote on "moral" issues have a perennial fascination (since they tend to divide more evenly than Labour ones.) Some vote for reasons of principle alone; others, particularly senior ones, want to show a bit of ankle to the party's right or the liberal media - and these motives aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
Here below from Hansard is the list of MPs who voted for the Dorries/Field abortion amendment yesterday on counselling. Among the senior Conservatives who voted in the Aye lobby were Henry Bellingham, Graham Brady, Chris Grayling, John Hayes, Gerald Howarth, Tim Loughton, Maria Miller, and Desmond Swayne, David Cameron's PPS.
I noted yesterday that Liam Fox, Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan Smith voted for the amendment, which was lost by 316 votes to 118. I will try to have a look later at those who passed through the No lobby.
Defence Questions came around again yesterday. Conservative members dominated the session and exhibited excellent technical knowledge.
James Arbuthnot (MP for North-East Hampshire) chairs the Defence Select Committee. He asked about Pakistan:
"Does the Secretary of State accept that the events in Lahore today show that instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan extends far beyond the border region? While we have troops in Afghanistan, we do not have them in Pakistan. Is the Secretary of State, along with the United States, rethinking his entire strategy for the region? Will he make a statement and perhaps allow a debate and possibly even a vote in this House about that?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, we are looking very carefully at all these matters. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to have a proper debate in this place in the usual way, either on a statement or in another way. It is very important not just for the security of our operation in Afghanistan but for the security of the UK as a whole that we develop an approach that encompasses the security challenge that Afghanistan poses as well as the growing threat of instability and extremism in Pakistan. We very much welcome President Obama’s new strategy, which was published last week. It has the prospect of significantly improving the situation in that very troubled region and we stand ready to play our part."
Former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind was also concerned:
"Is the Secretary of State aware that the Afghan Taliban have recently been successful in persuading the Pakistani Taliban to defer some of their operations in Pakistan and to join their Afghan colleagues to help to try to deal with the expected American surge? If the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban can get their act together, is it not about time that the Afghan and Pakistani Governments were also able to do so? Will the Secretary of State speak to his Pakistani colleague and impress upon him that the security of Afghanistan is crucial to the security of Pakistan itself?
Mr. Hutton: I agree very strongly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have already had those conversations with the Pakistani Minister of Defence, and I have had those conversations regularly with the Afghan Minister of Defence as well. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman 100 per cent., and we are focused very clearly on doing exactly what he has just said."
The House of Commons returned yesterday and got stuck into Defence questions.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox asked about Afghanistan:
"The general consensus on Afghanistan in the House has put the United Kingdom in a strong position in NATO. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if there is to be further British deployment in Afghanistan, four criteria must be met? First, there must be a clear and achievable political mission to support the military mission, as was the case with the surge in Iraq, but that does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Secondly, governance in Afghanistan, including widespread corruption, must be tackled because it is undermining our efforts. Thirdly, as has been said, all NATO allies should be asked to take a fairer share because too many are shamefully failing to do that. Fourthly, any increase in troop numbers must be matched by a proportionate and appropriate increase in equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Mr. Hutton: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We would not deploy additional forces to Afghanistan unless they had the right equipment to do their job properly. He has rightly drawn attention to the low number of helicopters that are available to support ISAF. We are working on that, as are our NATO partners and allies. The French-UK helicopter initiative is a small step in the right direction—it has yet to produce significant new assets but I hope that it will do soon.
Although I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, I caution him about drawing too many parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries, with very different security situations.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State will know that, over the weekend, reports in the press gave detailed information about the life-changing injuries that some of our troops in Afghanistan have sustained. Will he take the opportunity, relatively early in his time in office, to review the way in which the Ministry of Defence publishes statistics, so that we can have a full and transparent picture of the sacrifices that are being made on our behalf? The British public, our armed forces and their families deserve no less, and are far more able to deal with unpleasant truth than with what many may perceive as half-truths and evasions.
Mr. Hutton: I agree that transparency in the figures is important. Every fortnight, we publish a series of figures, which show the extent of injuries and wounds to service personnel in active theatres. It is not therefore fair or reasonable to criticise the MOD for failing to provide an accurate scorecard on what is happening. We do not have a category of “life-changing injuries”. Neither the statisticians nor the services have identified that as a meaningful definition. However, we publish comprehensive, fortnightly data, which deal with the extent of injuries and wounds. I am happy to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to that, if he wishes."
The House of Commons saw something rather unusual yesterday - a Conservative front bench spokesman going out of his way to rebut the remarks of a Conservative backbencher.
Speaking in a debate on defence, Harwich MP Douglas Carswell talked about procurement:
"Labour came to power promising to overhaul defence procurement, yet according to the best-selling author Lewis Page, its defence industrial strategy amounts to business as usual. The defence industrial strategy is more about industry than defence. It does more to safeguard the interests of selected contractors than the interests of the armed forces. The DIS is good at putting large amounts of public money on to the balance sheets of a few contractors, but that is about all it is good for. The DIS talks about best value for money, and improving delivery and costs, but all the evidence shows that the DIS promises things that are almost by definition mutually exclusive. We cannot both shore up our defence industrial base and provide our armed forces with the best value kit in the world; it is a logical impossibility.
"The DIS is, in reality, a corporatist, protectionist racket. Lobbyists for the DIS on the political left justify it as a means of preserving jobs. The same arguments once trotted out to justify Government subsidy of British Leyland are used to legitimise squandering our defence budget. To those on the political right, the fig leaf justification is about something called sovereignty of supply. The same arguments were once trotted out to justify the corn laws."
Shadow Defence Minister Gerald Howarth is also MP for Aldershot, an Army town. In his closing remarks he said:
"As far as the defence industrial strategy is concerned, I am afraid to say that I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. He is entitled to his view, but I have to put on the record that some of the things that he said about buying off the shelf are not the policy of the Conservative party. The policy of our party is to ensure that we have sovereign capability over key equipment, such as the joint strike fighter, and his suggestion that the whole procurement programme is a corporatist, protectionist racket is very wide of the mark."
With whom do you agree?
Questions from four Conservative MPs regarding Zimbabwe in Parliament yesterday.
A ROLE FOR THE SAS?
Gerald Howarth MP: "Many people find it morally repugnant that the international community has fiddled so ineffectively as Zimbabwe has literally burned. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many British subjects there are in Zimbabwe, and what sort of plans are in place in the event of civil war, which many correspondents are now suggesting might happen? What contingency plans are there to remove those British citizens to safety? I say to the Foreign Secretary that the Almighty is not the only person who could remove Mr. Mugabe; the Special Air Service could also do a pretty good job."
David Miliband, Foreign Secretary: "Whatever the degree of frustration that the hon. Gentleman feels, I do not think that he really wants me to pursue the latter part of his question. The best thing to say about British nationals is to refer back to my earlier statement on the issue, which recorded that there are 12,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, many of whom are elderly, and there is no evidence of them being subject to intimidation or attack thus far. They are supported by a well-developed wardens network, and by some very brave non-governmental organisations. The best thing to say is that they remain the subject of continued engagement, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a word with me afterwards, I could say a bit more to him about that."
SOUTH AFRICA'S ROLE
Nicholas Soames MP: "Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House to what he attributes Mr. Mbeki’s pathetically inadequate response to this terrible tragedy?"
David Miliband: "In respect of the first question, I do not want to put myself into the mind of the leader of South Africa. As I said earlier, the burden borne by South Africa from the 2 million-plus refugees from Zimbabwe who are there is reason enough for any country—from self-interest, never mind moral interest—to speak out on the issue. We have debated before the role of President Mbeki in securing the rounds of the election. Obviously, however, the fact that those elections have not been able to take place in anything other than grotesque circumstances has rendered that null and void."
Iain Duncan Smith MP: "Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I served in Rhodesia, as it was called in those days, in 1979 in order to bring universal suffrage to that country. I was proud of our position then, but I am not particularly proud of ours or Europe’s right now. Does not the secret to providing a solution lie in Pretoria and Beijing? Is it not time that we said in no uncertain terms to the Chinese that if they wish to be accepted as a decent nation, they should stop supporting violent regimes such as Mugabe’s? If we also said to President Mbeki, who is almost alone in South Africa in supporting that man, that if he pulled out the stops, made Zimbabwe a pariah state, cut off all support and said to Mugabe, “Go or we will finish you”, he would be gone in a week."
The Prime Minister: "I understand the knowledge of the situation that the right hon. Gentleman has given that he was in the country many years ago. I have to say to him that the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon and I believe that there will be a presidential statement. That will require the countries that are part of the UN Security Council and that play a part in its affairs, including the ones he has mentioned, to be able to support that statement. I hope that they will support a statement that says in the strongest terms that the violence is unacceptable. What has led to the opposition leader pulling out of the election is perfectly understandable and a way forward has to be found for the Zimbabwean people, but that will be discussed by the UN Security Council later this afternoon. I talked to President Mbeki before I came to the House this afternoon and urged it upon him that there had to be a solution and a way forward found, but he, too, will in my view join the statement that will be made by the UN later this afternoon, which shows that South Africa, too, wants an end to the violence and a solution to the problems we face."
THE UN AND ZIMBABWE
Douglas Hogg MP: "The right hon. Gentleman said that the full force of international law should be felt. Does that mean to say that as a matter of principle he accepts that the International Criminal Court should have jurisdiction over what is going on in Zimbabwe? If that is his position, and it is mine, will he start taking action within the Security Council to mobilise support for a resolution that would subject Mr. Mugabe and his immediate supporters to the full rigour of the International Criminal Court?"
David Miliband: "When I said “the full force of international law” earlier, I did not say it lightly but because I believe it. However, we have been trying to mobilise support to get Zimbabwe on to the Security Council agenda. That has been the blockage, and I would fail in my duty if I pretended to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we were at a stage yet when we could start mobilising support for something greater than a standing item on the agenda. However, I assure him that, from my two conversations with our permanent representative at the UN yesterday and previous conversations, there is no lack of clarity on the part of all members of the Security Council about the importance of the issue. Its discussion last week and the fact that Burkina Faso became the ninth country to support its debate at the Security Council is significant. I hope that we can build on that—it is certainly our priority."
Gerald Howarth MP: The Minister may know that the former Home Secretary’s decision to refuse citizenship to Mr. Mohamed Fayed was dispatched in a matter of weeks. Given the great distress and burden on the public purse caused by Fayed’s absurd allegations, will the Home Secretary take swift action to remove for good as an undesirable alien that thief, crook and liar?
Liam Byrne, Home Affairs Minister: Mr. Speaker, you will know that I have made it my policy not to discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House. Suffice it to say that the comments are on the record.
Some excellent questions being asked my Conservative MPs in Defence Questions yesterday...
Bernard Jenkin: The Secretary of State must be the only person in the House who does not understand that the armed forces are overstretched and under-resourced for the commitments that they have undertaken. When is he going to face up to the fact? If the military has to cancel 10 per cent. of their training every year, the resources are clearly not available for it to do the job and be trained for the job that it is meant to do?
Des Browne: Statistics show that the number of training events is increasing every year. For the year 2004-05, the total of planned training events was 379; for 2005-06, it was 533; and for 2006-07, it was 699. I accept that some of those events were cancelled, but the percentage of cancellations has decreased. I accept, too—I have said so at the Dispatch Box—that we are asking the military to do a significant amount, which has an effect. I have also explained time and again what we plan to do to reduce that pressure.
Julian Lewis: Have not the Government failed in their attempts since 2004 to produce a defence-specific inflation index? They keep trumpeting the fact that they have given the armed forces 1.5 per cent. more than the general level of inflation, but the Royal United Services Institute calculates that defence equipment projects run at 5 to 10 per cent. above the general level of inflation. Does that not mean that the Government’s claim that they are spending more on defence in real terms is simply a load of hogwash?
Des Browne: It is not a load of hogwash. I have given the figures, and the Opposition spokesmen must accept, however reluctantly, that there have been real- terms increases. The Opposition face a problem, as there is a £6 billion hole in their spending plans. In our policy debate last Tuesday, I invited the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to say from the Dispatch Box whether he would match or improve our spending
Andrew Mackinlay (Lab): May I tell the Secretary of State that we did not know that there was a report within Government in 2005? The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has been asking for and expecting a response to the representations that it made some eight years ago, following the Sandline inquiry and the problems arising from the fact that London is one of the world recruitment capitals for security firms. There is a problem with the interface and relationship between those firms and United Kingdom armed forces, and it needs to be addressed with greater expedition.
Des Browne: I think that my hon. Friend’s question betrays the complexity of the issues involved. The problem is defining the activities that should be regulated, and how any regulation of overseas activities might be enforced. That is not an easy matter to resolve. Indeed, the Blackwater incident and its aftermath shows that the United States of America is struggling to do so, given that the regulation of such companies in Iraq currently depends on a coalition provisional authority memorandum. There are a number of complexities with the issue. I am anxious that they be resolved, and that we can come to the House in good time to explain how we will proceed on that area of policy.
James Gray: The Secretary of State sounds reluctant to grasp the nettle on the issue so ably raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). Surely there are two problems: that the companies are doing things that the British armed forces would traditionally have done themselves, were it not for overstretch, and that the attraction of some of the companies is such that they pull people out of our armed services to go and work for them at much higher wages. That in itself contributes to overstretch.
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman only adds to the complexity of the issues with that qualification. It is not true to suggest that those companies, which are not all, by any stretch of the imagination, within the Government’s control, do work that the British Army would otherwise do were it not for overstretch. In fact, in Iraq, the Departments that contract those companies do so to provide security for civilian operators. It is by no means correct that the Army would provide that security in any event or that other military forces would do so. There is no lack of willingness on my part or energy to work our way through the difficulties, but they are significant, and we want to try to get them right before we announce the detailed policy to the House.
“Our reserves to meet the unexpected (as well as for current operations) are now almost non-existent...We now have almost no capability to react to the unexpected”.
Is that not a shocking indictment of this Government’s stewardship of our armed forces?
Bob Ainsworth: It is not the view of the chiefs of the defence staff that we are asking more than is possible of our armed forces. We, as Ministers, share the concern that our armed forces are extremely busy and that there is not a great residue of capacity left aside. We all know that we have two current operations going on. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is saying that all our armed forces are working extremely hard. No one is trying to hide that at all, but we are dealing with the situation, and our armed forces are dealing with it in an exemplary fashion.
More from Hansard here.