Today's Conservative Parliamentary Party awayday takes place at a mystery location in Oxfordshire - indeed and to be more specific, in David Cameron's constituency, I am told. Downing Street is presenting it as a chance for the Prime Minister to "listen to the views and concerns of Conservative MPs". Predictably, Cameron will address the gathering. Almost as predictably, so will Lynton Crosby. Break-out sessions on policy will be led by George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.
By Peter Hoskin
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It’s no surprise that Tory MPs are joining Douglas Alexander in seeking a recall of Parliament ahead of any military action in Syria. After all, 81 of them signed a letter to David Cameron in June, demanding a vote on any decision to dispatch British arms to the rebels.
And it’s also no surprise that the author of that letter, Andrew Bridgen, is among the most insistent voices this time around, now that missiles appear poised to strike at Assad. “We need to recall Parliament immediately, if that’s what’s on the table,” is how he put it on the radio yesterday. “I want to hear what the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary has to say at the despatch box.”
By Paul Goodman
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Fourteen Conservative MPs voted against David Cameron's proposals on press regulation earlier this evening - or, rather, against the amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill which set out proposals for exemplary damages in relation to newspapers and websites that refuse to be regulated by the new regulator. The Hansard list isn't up yet, but I'm told that they were -
- and that the tellers were Richard Drax and Jacob Rees Mogg. I'm also told that there was only vote (on which there were rebellions, at any rate). We will see more when the whole of yesterday's Hansard is published. But we don't need to view it to laud this tiny band as heroes of free speech.
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 Tim Montgomerie
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On ConHome 45 minutes ago and on Comment Is Free yesterday two Tory MPs - Bernard Jenkin and Sarah Wollaston - have both highlighted the Liberal Democrats' extraordinary hypocrisy on boundary reform. Later today Tory MPs will vote against some dubious parliamentary manoeuvring by LibDems in the Lords which will almost certainly mean the review is rescheduled for 2018 not, as originally intended, in time for the next general election. I'm hearing that two or three Tory MPs may vote with Labour and the Liberal Democrats because they, personally, would have suffered from the redrawing of constituencies. I hope that, even at this late stage, they'll have a change of heart. Today's vote isn't about boundary changes but about LibDem skulduggery and betrayal. If this handful of Tory MPs can't vote with the massed ranks of their Tory colleagues they should at least abstain. Pasted below are two extracts from the Jenkin and Wollaston pieces that may help them understand what today's vote is all about.
Bernard Jenkin: "Neither the AV referendum result, nor the failure of House of Lords reform, can alter the simple principle of fairness: that votes should be of more equal weight, so constituencies should be of more equal size, so a vote matters the same where ever it is cast. Now Liberal Democrats find themselves in the invidious position, having argued for a ‘fairer’ and ‘more proportional’ electoral system, while they are blocking the reform they have voted for and which would deliver what they say they believe in."
Sarah Wollaston: "There is another charge that will be hung around the necks of the Lib Dems if they reject reform; the sheer scale of the waste of public money for a boundary review which they initially accepted but now reject in their long sulk over Lords reform and a lost referendum. If the Lib Dems abandon the coalition agreement on boundary reform they will be seen to be abandoning fairness for narrow-self interest. The only consolation will be that they will have to stop lecturing the rest of us about it."
By Tim Montgomerie
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The Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston has taken to the pages of The Guardian to make the case for gun control in the United States.
She makes three key points:
Meanwhile, writing in today's Express, Frederick Forsyth makes the case against further gun control in the UK:
"The underworld is teeming with illegal guns and they keep pouring in from abroad. I believe we should keep the tight rules we have, which make the USA look like a free-for-all shooting gallery, but stop there for there is one thing we cannot see coming or stop in his tracks – the madman. Stanley Baldwin once said: “The bomber will always get through.” So it seems will the mass murderer. Because if the targets are small enough, or unsuspecting enough, or helpless enough, even a machete or knife or axe will do."
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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Yesterday afternoon, David Cameron made a statement to the House on his recent G20 meetings. Given that the Prime Minister described the main topic of debate as "instability in the eurozone", one could have predicted Eurosceptic members would turn up in force - as indeed they did. Douglas Carswell, Bill Cash, and Peter Bone were amongst the MPs asking questions.
Bill Cash posed the first challenging question of the session:
"Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Given that the single market, including the City of London, is governed by qualified majority voting, how does the Prime Minister propose to achieve a majority to protect our interests in the context of the fiscal union that he advocates?
The Prime Minister: First, we need to disconnect the issues that my hon. Friend raises. The issue of the single market and the threat to the City of London and Britain’s financial services is a real threat. We have to work extremely hard to build alliances in the single market and in the European Council to stop directives that would damage our interests. I think it is extremely important that we do that work. Financial services matter hugely to this country, and this is one of the areas that I want to ensure we can better safeguard in future."
By Jonathan Isaby
A Ten-Minute Rule Bill was introduced on Wednesday by Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who has represented Totnes since last year's general election, which would place new restrictions on how alcohol can be marketed in order to reduce children's exposure to such advertising.
"Youth culture is heavily influenced by marketing and our children are saturated by alcohol advertising. Despite the clear evidence of harm - only Denmark and the Isle of Man have higher levels of binge drinking and drunkenness in their schoolchildren - the European school survey demonstrated that our children have the most positive expectations of alcohol of any children in Europe and were the least likely to feel that it might cause them harm.
"Where do those positive expectations come from? Let us just look at the scale of marketing in the UK. The estimated spend on alcohol marketing is around £800 million, compared with the Drinkaware trust's funding by the industry of just £2.6 million. When £307 is spent encouraging drinking for every pound spent promoting sensible behaviour, the results are predictable. The World Health Organisation hit the nail on the head when it said: "In such a profoundly pro-drinking environment, health education becomes futile."
By Jonathan Isaby
The Lib Dems' objections to the current NHS Bill are well documented, but four Tory MPs have popped their heads above the parapet to indicate they have concerns too.
An amendment to this afternoon's Labour motion on the NHS reorganisation has been submitted which would instruct the Government "to listen to the concerns of patient groups, professional bodies and independent experts and work with them to achieve a strengthened NHS".
This has been tabled by Tory MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston (pictured), and co-signed by Charles Walker, Douglas Carswell and Anne Main (along with six Lib Dems).
The amendment is unlikley to be called to be voted upon, but some of those individuals may seek to catch the Speaker's eye during the debate and expand upon their concerns...
By Jonathan Isaby
Last month Andrew Lansley wrote exclusively for ConHome here about the Government's Health and Social Care Bill.
The Bill had its Second Reading in the Commons yesterday, during which new Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams gave her maiden speech and David Miliband gave his first full speech as a backbencher since losing the Labour leadership.
But here a snapshot of the contributions from the Conservative backbenches.
"During the lifetime of this Parliament the national health service faces a genuinely unprecedented challenge, first articulated not by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the present Government, but by the chief executive of the health service before the general election in May 2009, when he drew attention to the fact that demand for health care should be expected to continue to rise at roughly 4% per annum, as it has done throughout the recent history of the national health service. However, because of the budget deficit situation, we will not see the health budget continue to rise to absorb that rise in demand, in the way it has done over the past decade.
"Therefore, during the lifetime of this Parliament, we will have to see, in the national health service, a 4% efficiency gain four years running-something that not merely our health care system, but no other health care system in the world, has ever delivered. The Select Committee has referred to that as the Nicholson challenge, reflecting the fact that it was first articulated by the chief executive and endorsed by the previous Government. Again, this is a case of a shared agenda across the House of Commons.
"Given the Budget deficit, the only way we can continue to meet the demand for high-quality health care, which we all want to see, is by delivering an unprecedented efficiency gain in the NHS for four years running. That is why I support the Bill. I support it because to my mind it is inconceivable that we can deliver such an efficiency gain without delivering more effectively than we have done yet on the ideas, which have been endorsed over the past 20 years, about greater clinical engagement in NHS commissioning, which I have been talking about. Commissioning cannot be successful if it is something that is done to doctors by managers; it must engage the whole clinical community. We must address the democratic deficit, because we cannot bring change on the scale that we need to deliver the efficiency gain without engaging local communities."
Yesterday in the Commons saw a debate covering the Coalition Government's proposals to "extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants".
There were many well-informed contributions and a number of the new Conservative intake contributed to voice their concern about the proposal and to make alternative suggestions as to a way forward.
"I have no doubt from my practice and from talking to other members of the Bar and to members of the judiciary that when a name is put into the public domain other complainants come forward. There are many instances of it. I know from my practice that when the name of a priest who was arrested went into the local newspaper, other women came forward who had been to him and to whom he had been their minister. When they knew that others had made a complaint, they came forward. That tendency should not be underestimated."
She has a proposal of her own which she is putting forward via a Private Member's Bill:
"I ask the Minister to consider allowing anybody who is arrested to enjoy the privilege, almost, of not having his or her name published in the press. I believe that we can do that effectively and efficiently while still allowing the prosecution to apply to a judge, depending on the particular circumstances of an offence, for the name to be published. We must allow our judges to exercise their discretion, which they usually do, when they are allowed to do their jobs, particularly well."
Lousie Bagshwe (Corby) agreed with this idea:
Totnes’s new MP, Sarah Wollaston - a GP and the first Conservative candidate to have been selected by an all-postal primary - used her maiden speech last week to support the minimum pricing of alcohol (a proposal which Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had reportedly rejected that very morning):
“After the tragedy of the Paddington rail disaster in which 31 people lost their lives, we rightly held a public inquiry and that led to the setting up of the Rail Safety and Standards Board, and after 3,000 terrible deaths in the USA, we joined a “Global War on Terror”, so what should we say should happen after 15,000 to 20,000 deaths every year in this country as a result of alcohol? I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), who has chaired the Select Committee on Health. It has recommended minimum-price alcohol as the best way forward. That may not be popular—in fact, in suggesting that we cull diseased badgers and raise the price of alcohol, it is clear that I am going for the popular vote! However, unless we do something about this, our constituents will continue to suffer. Let us look at the statistics: 1.3 million children in this country are directly affected by alcohol, and alcohol is a factor in half of all homicides. Members also need only consider the number of constituents they see in their surgeries who are victims of domestic violence. Alcohol continues to be the number one date-rape drug in this country, too. I ask all Members to look at the evidence, so we can have evidence-based politics.
“The evidence is out there, and it is very clear. If we want to do something about the death toll—15,000 to 20,000 people a year in this country—we have to do something about price and availability. This is not about the nanny state; lives are at stake, and I ask the House to look again at the evidence, not only from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence report issued today, but from its own Select Committee. I commend minimum-price alcohol to the House. There is no such thing as cheap alcohol; we are all paying a very heavy price.”
Dr Wollaston also took the opportunity afforded by her maiden speech to note “the adverse effect of the common fisheries policy on our fishing industry” and to highlight the problem of bovine TB in her constituency.