By Peter Hoskin
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Here's David Cameron's statement:
“I would like to congratulate Barack Obama on his re-election.
I have really enjoyed working with him over the last few years and I look forward to working with him again over the next four years.
There are so many things that we need to do: we need to kick start the world economy and I want to see an EU-US trade deal.
Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.
Above all, congratulations to Barack. I’ve enjoyed working with him, I think he’s a very successful US president and I look forward to working with him in the future.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Aidan Burley MP has got himself into trouble (again). This time for some sour tweets about the Olympics' Opening Ceremony:
There's a report in The Telegraph. Number 10 quickly distanced himself from Mr Burley's Tweets. "We do not agree with him," said a Downing Street source. Fellow Tory MP Gavin Barwell tweeted his own rebuttal. There's nothing left-wing about embracing diversity, said the member for Croydon Central.
Robert Halfon MP was positive throughout the evening (writing a blog entitled "Olymptastic") but he did object to Shami Chakrabati's casting as Olympic flag carrier "given her senior role in LSE: the Uni that sucked up to Gadaffi". I agree with Rob, why not an Afghan war vetaran instead?
Most Tory MPs were completely uncritical, however. Here's a selection:
By Tim Montgomerie
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Lots of Tory MPs reacted angrily yesterday to the decision of the PCS union to disrupt border control on the eve of the Olympics. Here's a selection of what they Tweeted:
My hope is that the anger that we felt yesterday and today is not forgotten. We need to embrace the strike threshold laws that have long been advocated by the CBI, Policy Exchange and Boris Johnson - and supported by Tory members. Rob Halfon MP is right. We need to make a distinction between the many excellent union members and some of their very well-paid leaders who are intent on political warfare rather than representing those members. We have to take action, however, against the unions who enjoy heavy subsidy from the taxpayer and use those subsidies to organise in the way that the PCS organises - to disrupt the Olympics and embarrass Britain at a moment when the world and global investors are watching us.
By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron dispensing ice creams in Downing Street and with girl guides:
Stuart Andrew and friend waiting on the Commons Terrace for the pageant to pass by:
Rob Wilson with Sir John Madejski, Chairman of newly promoted Reading FC:
Matt Hancock and his predecessor Lord Risby (Richard Spring) planting a Jubilee Oak at Haverhill:
Send any more photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Tim Montgomerie
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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) was one of forty or so MPs and peers from all parties who ran yesterday's Westminster Mile - a race to raise funds for Sport Relief. The winner, though, was another Tory MP, George Eustice. He beat last year's winner David Davies into second place. The Monmouth MP would probably beat George, however, in a boxing contest! Others taking up the challenge for Sport Relief included Alun Cairns MP for Vale of Glamorgan, Rob Wilson MP for Reading East and Karen Bradley MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.
By Tim Montgomerie
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I'm with Douglas Carswell in believing that John Bercow has been good for the power of backbenchers versus the executive but I also do think he seeks too much attention. His constant Ratner-like interventions at Prime Minister's Question Time - telling MPs that the public doesn't like their behaviour - add up to something close to parliamentary self-flagellation. Does he ever consider that his constant attacks on MPs' behaviour are counter-productive? There is also the issue of his alleged unfairness to Conservative MPs. Elevated to the Speaker's chair on a Labour bloc vote in the last parliament Tory MPs think he is a partial umpire. Tory MP Rob Wilson has been number crunching and has calculated that Bercow IS much likelier to intervene against a Conservative MP than a Labour MP. The graphic below summarises his findings:
Commenting on his research Mr Wilson said:
“I am not sure these statistics can be waved away by saying the Conservatives do not behave as well in the Chamber as other parties. Being the largest Party in the Chamber does not explain why there is such a big differential in percentage between a Party MPs elected and those chastised. After all, in the Chamber each side (Government and Opposition) gets an equal chance to have its say because the Speaker rotates between the two sides in both Ministerial Questions and debates. These figures are therefore very powerful and confirm a trend that is well set in this Parliament. We should all reflect carefully on their implications as they should provide the Speaker, MPs and the public with valuable food for thought. I am certainly concerned about their implications, but I leave it to the public and Members of Parliament to consider them and draw their own conclusions.”
By Joseph Willits
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It would probably be fair to say that anything the Speaker and his wife Sally do, will attract criticism from somewhere. The latest in a long list of 'what's wrong with the Bercow's' is a Christmas card, originally a Sun cartoon by Andy Davey.
The image, bought by the Bercows for £300, with the money going to charity, shows a red-faced order shouting Speaker berating his wife Sally as she answers the doors to paparazzi - making light of her time on Celebrity Big Brother where she became best friends with Paddy Doherty of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding fame. John Bercow apparently wasn't very happy about her Big Brother appearance.
Writing in the Mail, Kirsty Walker describes the Christmas card as a "self-deprecating image in the style of an old-style saucy seaside postcard", and her article uses comments from Tory MP Rob Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Bercows, who says the "image shows that his wife clearly has a single minded view of herself."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Rob Wilson - the Conservative backbencher who recently described the Speaker as "partisan" and "divisive" - has turned anecdote into evidence by totting up the number of times Mr Bercow has shouted "Order!" at a Conservative MP and the number of times he has done so at a Labour MP. The answers show a tendency to admonish Conservative MPs twice as often as Labour MPs:
Michael Gove is John Bercow's top target. He's been targeted EIGHTEEN times by The Speaker. Cameron has been "Bollocked By Bercow" twelve times. I say "Bollocked By Bercow" because The Sunday Times reports that "Tory whips are thinking about awarding tongue-in-cheek medals inscribed “BBB”, meaning “bollocked by Bercow”."
More in the newspaper (£).
By Tim Montgomerie
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Conservative MP Rob Wilson has launched a direct attack on the Speaker, John Bercow. He hasn't done it on the floor of the House but on the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
He writes that Bercow "has emerged as a partisan, divisive figure, and one far too full of his own importance."
As evidence of partrisanship Mr Wilson argues that "he constantly interrupts and chastises Conservative MPs, while giving generous leeway to Labour opponents." He also cites last week's PMQs when, twice, the Speaker cut Cameron off in midflow.
by Paul Goodman
On Wednesday afternoon, I picked up unease in the Commons from Conservative backbenchers about the Government's University admission plans.
Yesterday, this unhappiness was reflected during Business, Universities and Skills questions -
"Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): I have discussed on many occasions with the Minister for Universities and Science my view that Governments should avoid unnecessary interference in universities. The enhanced role given to OFFA is causing great unease in the sector and among some Government Members. Will the Secretary of State clarify the powers that OFFA has and how it will be expected to deploy them in relation to universities that set fees above £6,000?
Vince Cable: I think that there is complete clarity. I set out the position in a letter that I sent to OFFA some weeks ago, which is available and which I can certainly make available to the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely right that, in return for being allowed to charge the higher fee levels, universities should make the maximum possible access available to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a particular problem with traditional universities, where social mobility declined in the last decade. We are determined to overcome that."
By Jonathan Isaby
He cited a number of statistics about the poor educational attainment of pupils from the poorest backgrounds, from GCSE results all the way up to the gaining of university places.
Before setting out the course of action he wanted to see private schools adopt, he was keen to stress what he was not saying:
"First, I am not making sweeping claims that independent schools are better than state-maintained schools. There are huge variations within the independent sector in terms of standards and pupil attainment. The bottom half of private schools accounted for just 7% of A* A-level grades in the independent sector last year. Moreover, the OECD has argued that on average the difference in attainment between state schools and private schools is largely accounted for by the socio-economic background of the students.
"Secondly, as I will explain later, I am not calling for a system-wide educational passport or public subsidy for private schools. Thirdly, I do not wish to re-enter the argument about selection or reintroducing grammar schools. None of the main parties has plans to expand selection in the education system in England, and neither do I. Fourthly and finally, what I shall propose in the next few minutes is not a panacea for improving educational attainment across the whole population of school children, but I stress that it will make an important contribution to social mobility and aspiration in England."
He then came on to the thrust of his proposal, which was as follows:
"If we are serious about boosting the life chances of more children from poor homes, and increasing social mobility so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have a better chance of making it to the top, something must be done to break down the social apartheid in our schools. I would like the Minister to consider a proposal that could broaden the social base of some of our leading private schools and boost the life chances of many less affluent pupils now, rather than in however many years it takes to dramatically raise teaching quality and tackle issues of poor behaviour across the entire school system.
"Specifically, I would like a number of the leading private day schools to consider offering a number of free places to pupils in their surrounding area who are eligible for free school meals. The Government could support them by meeting some of the cost, but by no means all of it. It would be entirely up to the children and their families whether they applied for a place at participating schools. The pupils would have to demonstrate their aptitude and potential through a competitive admissions process. As the Sutton Trust has noted, tests these days are far more sophisticated than the old 11-plus. For example, many independent schools have developed tests around verbal reasoning, which test the child's aptitude rather than how well they have been tutored or taught at school. My proposal is not an exercise in social engineering, so all those who take the test-rich or poor-should have the same chance of success.
"My proposal is completely cost-neutral to the Government and therefore to the taxpayer. All that changes is that the per pupil funding and the pupil premium shift to another school. The remainder of the cost of the fees is met by the independent school itself or its supporters. Many such schools have alumni who are willing to step in. It is interesting to note that the Government will provide £150 million for a national scholarship scheme for disadvantaged young people attending our universities. Those resources are devoted to creating a more balanced intake for our elite universities, which, after all, are independent, selective, fee-charging educational institutions."
Read the full debate here.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson secured a Westminster Hall debate for today, on the subject of Fibromyalgia. North Thanet MP Roger Gale was in the chair.
Highlights from Mr Wilson's speech follow. It is clear that this is another area where the data that ministers gather is inadequate - a theme I wrote about recently.
"I should take this opportunity to give a brief introduction to fibromyalgia, as there is little knowledge of the condition. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. Its name is made up of “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments, “my” indicating muscles and “algia” meaning pain. A patient can experience widespread muscular pain, stiffness, constant fatigue and non-refreshing sleep. The pain tends to be felt as an aching or burning, and is often described as being felt from head to toe. It can change location and can be worse at some times than others. Because it can come and go, sufferers can feel suddenly drained of energy, as if someone has just pulled the plug on them.
Fibromyalgia has been shown to have more impact on patients’ lives than many other forms of widespread pain and chronic illness. I believe that the sheer scale of the illness and the suffering that results from it mean that it is high time fibromyalgia was taken seriously as an issue.
Many people do not know that fibromyalgia is a very common illness. It is in fact as common as rheumatoid arthritis and can be even more painful. It is a condition with no age limits. It affects mainly women, from children to the elderly, and the mean age is 49. A staggering 2.7 million people in the UK suffer from the illness. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe, they may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy much of a social life.
Even those GPs who know about the condition—and there are too few of those—who are looking for specialist help within the NHS cannot always refer patients directly to consultants with an interest in and knowledge of fibromyalgia. One of the immediate actions that the Minister could take today is to rectify the situation. Those clinics could be added to the choose and book system, and the NHS could build and provide an extensive list of accepted specialist NHS services around the country.
I also know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place, and that she is anxious for the NHS to help. However, recent parliamentary questions from hon. Members throughout the House have had a less than encouraging response. In June 2008, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked what plans the Department of Health had to improve treatment for people with fibromyalgia. The answer came:
“There are no specific plans to improve the treatment for those living with fibromyalgia.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 655W.]
Another hon. Member asked how people were diagnosed in his constituency, the region and nationwide since 1997. The answer was:
“Information on the number of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia is not collected.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 998W.]
Here are the highlights from yesterday's Children, Schools and Families questions.
Buckingham MP John Bercow advocated a more liberal exclusion policy:
"Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that."
By contrast Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton stressed the importance of protecting pupils from violence:
"Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that."