By Paul Goodman
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By Paul Goodman
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Michael Crick tweeted earlier this evening: "Four MPs at 1922 Committee critical of Andrew Mitchell - Andrew Percy, James Duddridge, Ann Main, Sarah Wollaston. 12-15 backed him."
I am told that the difference of view was more 50-50 than three or four to one. (Memories don't always tally, as I pointed out earlier this week in the context of the row itself.)
Robert Buckland, Bernard Jenkin, Edward Leigh, Penny Mordaunt, and Nicholas Soames were apparently supportive of Mr Mitchell (and Philip Davies rather critical).
I'm also informed that there is no mood in the '22 Executive for the Chief Whip to go now, though some of its members think that he should have departed after the original incident.
My guess earlier this week was that Mr Mitchell would attend the '22, and that any criticism of him would be muted.
For better or worse, he wasn't there - I presume it was decided that MPs present should be able to speak freely - and it can't fairly be claimed that they were constrained in what they said.
So we have the worst outcome for Cameron and the best outcome for Miliband: a wounded Conservative Chief Whip. I don't think Mr Mitchell should go, but he is in a bad way.
21.45pm Update A very senior source insists that the Crick tally was correct. I am recording his view to reinforce the point that, as I note above, "memories don't always tally".
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's debate on the Lords Reform Bill was heated, yet relatively polite. I noticed far more speakers against reform of the Lords than for - perhaps because pro-reform Tories knew, the programme motion having been withdrawn, that they would win the Second Reading vote easily (thanks to Labour votes).
Many Tories early in the debate - the initial stages took the form of Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, and his Shadow, Angela Eagle, giving statements on behalf of their leaderships - gave answers which followed the format of "Of course the current Lords is indefensible, but so is this Bill". Gareth Johnson (Dartford) did not take that line. He was proud to be in favour of the Lords' position as an unelected house:
"I have never defied the party line before, and it is something I hope not to do throughout my time in Parliament, but the Bill is fundamentally wrong. I have been a loyal supporter of both the Government and my party, but I am proud to be British, proud of our constitution and proud of our Parliament. The other place forms an essential part of our constitution, our heritage, history and culture, and once it is gone, it is gone. Seven hundred years of history will be undone if we support the Bill. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say, “I did not forsake the British constitution. I said no.”"
"I may be in a small minority, but I am one of those people who do not become infected by the view that we must have a democratic House of Lords. I do not want a democratic House of Lords, and that is precisely why I shall vote against the Bill. I want objectivity, expertise, experience and wisdom, all the qualities that we are told so often that we do not have in this House. I do not want Members of the House of Lords to be subject to the electoral and party pressures to which we may be subject here."
By Matthew Barrett
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Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
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:
By Matthew Barrett
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Labour's Luciana Berger also retained her position as the most fanciable female MP, although Tory women are rated as the most attractive with 6 listed in the top 10, while Labour have 4 and the Lib Dems have none. Despite Goldsmith's first place, Labour men did best overall with 5 entries, but the Tories were just behind with 4 places.
Nick Clegg is the only Liberal Democrat to feature in this year’s list, and the only party leader to qualify - both David Cameron and Ed Miliband missed out, although the senior Miliband brother makes 6th place.
Here is the full list (with last year’s rankings in brackets) for Sky's Most Fanciable MP 2012:
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
by Paul Goodman
So much happens in the Commons that isn't picked up by the media. If you want the core of the Government's view of the present position in Afghanistan, here it is - as presented to the House yesterday by Liam Fox, in the latest of the regular and very welcome quarter reports.
"In central Helmand, as General Petraeus has said, we have not yet seen success or victory, but we are seeing progress. It is fragile and not irreversible, but it is progress. The increase in Afghan and ISAF forces has enabled us to take the fight to the insurgency and, understandably, this has led to an overall increase in the number of violent incidents. But over the past three months, although the number is still higher than in previous years, we are seeing a trend of falling security incidents. For example, in the Marjah district of Helmand province, security incidents have fallen from a high of around 25 a day at the height of summer to just three or four a day at present. There is a seasonal pattern, as many insurgents, especially those fighting for financial rather than ideological reasons, return to their homes for the winter. This year, however, with the unusually mild weather and with winter arriving late, and the increased activity by ISAF and the Afghan national security forces, the fall in the number of incidents is more likely than in previous years to be an indicator of progress. However, I have to say to the House that casualty numbers are once again likely to rise in spring this year as insurgent activity increases.
This year will be just as difficult as 2010, but there will be distinct differences. The increased number of ANSF and ISAF forces allows us to arrest the momentum of the insurgency in more areas. Afghan forces will also begin to take the lead for security as the first districts and provinces begin the process of transition. There are now over 152,000 Afghan national army and 117,000 Afghan national police. This is on schedule to meet the October 2011 growth target to deliver 305,600 Afghan national security forces. But as the quantity increases, quality must not be neglected. One example is improving literacy to ensure that orders can be communicated in writing as well as orally, so that there is less scope for misinterpretation. Currently, around 85% of ANSF recruits are illiterate on entry. Literacy training is now mandatory for all recruits. The training is to be conducted by Afghan teachers, creating employment and boosting the economy, and significant progress is being made."
I wrote recently about the difficulty of trying to create a strong central state in Afghanistan, and asked whether an effective Afghan army would be in place by 2015. Adam Holloway, who I cited in my article, returned to these points, as did others. It's well worth noting the tone of the questions -
Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): There are many Afghans outside the ruling clique who believe not only that the exit strategy will not work in the long term, but that it is fatally flawed and in fact cannot work. General Petraeus's strategy has been described as "Fight, then talk". Does the Secretary of State think that we ought to be fighting and talking, and that this should include talking to all modes of the insurgency?
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and particularly for his last few words on involving the international players around Afghanistan in a final settlement. Can he say more about who will lead the political settlement around which we hope stability will be maintained as British and American troops withdraw later in this decade? May I point out that cautious optimism represents painfully slow progress 10 years after this war started, and that a lasting settlement is possible only if there is a political settlement that involves talking to our enemies?
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I also recently visited Afghanistan and can testify to the excellent job that our armed forces are doing in carrying out their duties. I do not believe that the same can be said of President Karzai or Members of the Afghan Parliament, and this is not just a capacity or knowledge issue: there is also too little focus on human rights and the quality of life of the Afghan people. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must address the political deficit, to ensure that in the long term the blood and treasure that this country is spending for the benefit of both our countries will not be in vain?
Not a single questioner expressed confidence in the political (as opposed to the military) strategy.
Penny Mordaunt won Portsmouth North at the general election and in giving her maiden speech during a debate on defence matters on Monday, she declared that like Sir Rogere Keyes, her one-tome predecessor as MP for Portsmouth, she intended to regularly come to the chamber “to speak for the Navy”:
“I was at primary school in Portsmouth during the Falklands conflict. Britain did not expect to face such an act of territorial expansion, but the Navy was unfaltering in its readiness and commitment to the defence of the British people. That spirit of duty and service made a deep impression on me, even though the Navy had already played a major role in my life before that. Indeed, I am named after HMS Penelope, which was the first cruiser able to do a complete about-turn within her own length-a manoeuvre that I hope never to have to deploy here.
“That spirit of service is as strong as ever in the Royal Navy, but although it is understandable that recent debates in the House and the wider media have focused primarily on the Army, the senior service has, as a consequence, often felt under-represented and unappreciated. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the contribution that the Navy makes to our way of life, to our ability to trade, to hydrographical and meteorological services, to tackling crime and to providing help in times of crisis. However, the breadth of its role should not detract from the depth of its contribution to the defence of the realm-continuous at-sea deterrence, delivery of commando force and air assets and mine counter-measures are but a few of its roles.
“In the review, we must not be sea-blind. We face very tough challenges and calls for immediate cuts. To see the scale of the challenge, one has to look just at the disparity between what the last strategic defence review suggested for the Navy and the current number of ships in service or planned to be in service. For example, the last review recommended 12 destroyers, but we are building only six. To close the gap between need and affordability and to preserve the development and maintenance capability that we want in our bases and dockyards, we need a planned but flexible approach to procurement. The review must listen to the drum beat of production in those UK yards and must seize every opportunity to strengthen UK exports.”
“HMS Raleigh - the Royal Navy's premier training establishment in the south-west and a real part of the community, where all ratings join the service and receive the first phase of their naval training - is located in South East Cornwall and has considerable influence on the town of Torpoint, as well as the Rame peninsula. Four new accommodation blocks, built as part of the major upgrade of facilities, have recently been unveiled. They are named Antelope, Ardent, Sir Galahad and Conqueror to commemorate four ships that played a part in the Falklands campaign.
“I have a specific interest in the Navy because my daughter is a serving Royal Navy officer. I have gained first-hand knowledge of the various ways in which our senior service operates in many roles around the globe. The Royal Navy is flexible, resilient and capable, providing Government with a range of options to deal with threats and challenges facing the UK and her allies. The varied tasks undertaken include: providing support for the Department for International Development; supporting the Home Office in protecting the territorial integrity of our home waters; providing fishery protection in English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters; and supporting the Cabinet Office in co-ordinating UK maritime surveillance information.
“The UK has been the world's most successful defence exporter over the past 10 years, and the naval sector earns around £3 billion of revenue per year. Flag-officer sea training is based in Plymouth. Over 100 ships and submarines from the Royal Navy and the navies of NATO and allied nations benefit from FOST's training expertise each year. I hope that the strategic defence review will recognise the return that could be generated from any investment in the Royal Navy, which offers variety and flexibility in the way in which it operates. I hope that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench appreciate that Devonport's dockyard and naval base provide South East Cornwall and, indeed, the city of Plymouth with a huge amount of benefits. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to keep funding in South East Cornwall, and to use the wealth of expertise that we have in our area.”