By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the groups of Tory MPs continues with a look at a pioneering Eurosceptic group which helped backbenchers cause significant headaches for Prime Minister John Major during the early 1990s. The Bruges Group is a well-established forum for advocating looser ties with Brussels, and it has gone from a relatively small collection of Tories to one of the groups that best represents mainstream Conservative thinking on its particular policy area.
Origins of the group
The Bruges Group was founded in February 1989 to promote and uphold the ideas Margaret Thatcher expressed in her famous Bruges Speech in late 1988. Mrs Thatcher argued that the tide of opinion on the continent was towards centralising the structure of the European institutions - and this would be unsuitable for Britain's national identity and democracy. In the most famous passage of the speech, Mrs Thatcher said:
"I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world. But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. ... We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."
The group was set up by Patrick Robertson and Lord Harris of High Cross, ie Ralph Harris, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs from 1957 to 1988. Lord Harris' work promoting free-market economics at the IEA was instrumental in the creation of Thatcherism.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
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 Jonathan Isaby
The new MP for Wycombe, Steve Baker, secured a one-and-a-half hour adjournment debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on a topic which is of particular interest to his constituents, namely the High Speed 2 Rail link which looks set to run through Buckinghamshire, and set out his opposition to the scheme thus:
"The Chilterns AONB is a rare, precious landscape benefiting not just those who live there but the millions who visit every year from across the country, particularly, due to its proximity, from London. I have lived adjacent to the AONB for almost three years and can confirm that it is one of Britain's most beautiful and ecologically rich landscapes. The preferred route of HS 2 crosses the AONB at its widest point, in contradiction to the policy followed for HS 1. In Kent, the route of HS 1 was amended to avoid the North Downs AONB. By contrast, HS 2 appears to have been deliberately routed through the least spoilt, widest part of the Chilterns... Some 59 different protected species have been recorded within 1 km of the route of HS 2. The recommended route involves tunnelling directly through an aquifer, risking reducing the water table and exacerbating low flow in the Chess and Misbourne. It also risks possible contamination of the ground water. The environmental impact of the recommended route of HS 2 would be enormous. I am therefore calling for an official environmental impact assessment of the preferred route well in advance of the planned consultation, so that interested parties can fully digest its findings."
"There is no benefit to Buckinghamshire from accepting high-speed rail. The project would have to be bullied through against the well-grounded wishes of those affected, causing not just the environmental damage described but also infringing the property rights of large numbers of people. Doing so would thoroughly undermine the Government's commitment to increasing people's power over their own lives. From Buckinghamshire's perspective, the answer to whether HS 2 should run across the county is, of course, a resounding no. Buckinghamshire people are bound to object to a programme that would merely blight our beautiful county and trespass on local people's businesses and the quiet enjoyment of their homes. I find myself asking, "Should any area of the country be forced to accept high-speed rail?"
The shadow transport secretary, Theresa Villiers, used her two questions of the Transport ministers yesterday to challenge the Government over what it is doing about screening passengers at airports. Here's her exchange with the junior minister:
Theresa Villiers: I fully appreciate that the extreme sensitivity of this issue puts real constraints on the detail that the Minister can share with the House, but can he help me with the following question? The Israelis have used behavioural analysis for some years to spot suspicious behaviour within a perimeter that stretches out as widely as airport car parks. Does he see any scope for using such techniques in the UK to address risks that arise before the security check stage to guard against attacks of the sort that we saw in Glasgow in 2007, which are targeted on people queuing?
Paul Clark: The hon. Lady is right that it is not possible to go into operational details. As regards the techniques that are available to us, we continue to receive information and consider opportunities through the intelligence agencies as to what is possible. Behavioural analysis techniques are being trialled at Heathrow with the BAA and UK Border Agency staff based there. I saw that for myself earlier this week when I visited Heathrow and discussed it with the operatives. We keep all these opportunities under review.
Theresa Villiers: There is clearly scope for a consensus to emerge on an intelligence-led approach to security, which is welcome. However, the Minister will recall the Prime Minister’s 2007 promise to deliver a data system to identify and stop terror suspects before they board a plane to come to the UK. Why have the “authority to carry” provisions that are necessary to deliver that not been put in place, given that countries such as Australia have had those systems for some years? Will the Minister admit that the e-Borders programme is expensive, late, and leaves us behind other countries that have better systems that are already in operation?
Paul Clark: The hon. Lady will be well aware of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary earlier this month, and of the Prime Minister’s statement to this House on 20 January, clearly taking forward the options and rolling out further the e-Borders programme, as well as the watch list and no-fly list, which we are working on. We are in discussion with other countries, and working together where there is a security threat, before these people board flights to the UK or elsewhere.
John Bercow MP, Speaker: "Before I call the Minister to make his statement, I regret that this House is the last to hear it. That said, if the statement had been made earlier it would have further constrained the time given to the main business of today. I hope that such circumstances are not repeated in the case of other Departments. In answer to points of order made earlier today, I acknowledge that a written ministerial statement was made today at 7 am, before the Secretary of State’s interview was broadcast."
Theresa Villiers MP: "Twelve hours after the stock exchange, 11 and a half hours after “Today” programme listeners, and some four hours after the House of Lords, we finally get to hear the news officially. What we have heard is evidence of the incompetence and failure that has characterised the Government’s handling of the rail franchising system. Two franchises have collapsed in the space of two and a half years on one of the nation’s most important transport corridors, on which millions of people and businesses rely, both in England and Scotland. To borrow a well-known phrase, to lose one east coast franchise might be said to be unfortunate; to lose two looks like carelessness.
The Secretary of State told their lordships that he hoped that the next franchise would be better than the last. Clearly, for Labour, it is third time lucky, or so it hopes. On the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State seemed to be saying that National Express East Coast was already in default of its contracts, yet that allegation was not repeated in the written statement, or the statement from the Minister today. Does the Minister stand by the statement made by his boss this morning?
The Secretary of State has claimed that the “Nat Ex” holding company is not prepared to “stand by” its loss-making subsidiary. Does the Minister regret that his Government signed up to a deal that caps the liability of the holding company, and apparently entitles it just to walk away when the going gets tough? Does he accept that the incredibly detailed—even invasive, some would say—due diligence process that the Department for Transport carries out in relation to the credibility of franchise bids and bidders has wholly failed in this case? How much will re-letting the franchise cost? How much did the original franchise process cost? What assessment has the Minister made of alternative solutions to direct Government control, such as getting another operator to run the line under a management contract? How much will the fiasco cost the taxpayer in total? Will the money come out of the control period 4 funding settlement? If not, which part of the DFT budget will be raided to cover it? National Express East Coast was due to pay £1.4 billion over the lifetime of the franchise to help fund CP4. What will be the shortfall on that income? How will the Minister plug the resulting black hole in the funding for CP4?
Here are some interesting answers from the latest edition of Hansard.
Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary David Willetts asked a question that couldn't be answered:
"Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many EU citizens working in the UK paid sufficient national insurance contributions to earn a potential entitlement to the state pension in each year since 1997. 
National Insurance is effectively income tax - especially as we have no guarantee that we will see the benefit of our contributions when we retire. It is staggering that the Government doesn't know how much it takes from British subjects specifically.
Yesterday saw questions to Transport ministers.
Congleton's Ann Winterton (right) - who is an assiduous attendee of oral questions - asked about rail prices:
"What recent assessment he has made of levels of rail fares. 
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): We continue to regulate rail fares to balance the protection for passengers and taxpayers while allowing significant investment in rail. We have made it clear that the average cap—usually the retail prices index plus 1 per cent.—will be applied next year even if RPI is negative, leading to lower regulated fares in January 2010. From January 2010, the cap will also apply generally to individual regulated fares.
Ann Winterton: The Secretary of State will be aware of the horror expressed by commuters and passengers about the huge hike of more than 6 per cent.—the figure is much higher in some areas—in rail fares this year. I welcome his reaffirmation on behalf of the Government that fares next year will be pegged to the standard formula, but will he also assure us that rail companies will not cut services?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady refers to regulated fares. To deal with her last point first, the services are governed by the franchise agreement entered into by the train operating companies. Of course, we will not allow those agreements to be changed without a clear, good reason. To deal with the generality of her observation, support for railways comes from two sources: fare-paying passengers and taxpayers. If we are to maintain the level of investment in our railways that I think we should have, we have a clear choice. We can either allow fares to be increased according to the consistent arrangements that have operated for many years, or we can increase the subsidy from the taxpayer. If she is unhappy about the balance that we have struck, she needs to say so, as does her party. Instead of simply making generalised complaints, I want to hear what specific proposals the Conservative party would make about fares and the level of taxpayers’ subsidy."
Shadow Transport Minister Stephen Hammond posed a follow-up question on the same subject:
"The facts show that the Passenger Focus report published in February this year highlighted value for money as the most serious concern for passengers. The facts also show that the most packed trains are running at more than 170 per cent. capacity and that, since 2003, regulated and unregulated fares have risen by a third. Do not the facts show that after a decade of Labour control, the story is one of overcrowded trains, value for money falling, and the taxpayer having to pick up the tab?
I would not want the Conservative party to feel that I was letting it off the hook after the comments that I made about the Liberal Democrats. If the hon. Gentleman gets his way and eventually ends up on the Government Benches taking the decisions, he will have £840 million less to spend on the railways and on transport in general than has been spent by this Government. He and his party have to explain how they will manage to continue with investment in much-needed projects such as Crossrail at the same time as cutting the railway budget."
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villers has come in for quite a bit of stick for her position on aviation, including from my CentreRight colleague Matthew Sinclair.
Readers might like to see her statement in the House of Commons yesterday about Heathrow:
That this House urges the Government to rethink its plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and to give full consideration to alternative solutions; regrets the Government’s heavy reliance on data supplied by BAA in assessing the case for expansion and notes the likely forthcoming break-up of BAA’s ownership of three of 5 London’s airports following the investigation by the Competition Commission; believes that the consultation paper Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport was deeply flawed, as it paid insufficient regard to the costs of air and noise pollution in the surrounding areas and the commitment to curb carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change; regrets the fact that provisions to improve high-speed rail lines from 10 Heathrow to major cities have not been fully explored, along with the potential of other UK airports to handle more long-haul flights; and urges the Government to initiate a consultation on a new national planning policy statement on the theme of airports and high-speed rail.
I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats for the motion, which is lifted verbatim from early-day motion 2344, tabled last year by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), with cross-party backing. The issue is of grave importance, and rightly spans party boundaries.
Let me first explode a myth peddled by the Secretary of State. To oppose a third runway is not to oppose flying. We recognise the importance of aviation and the benefits of flying for our economic competitiveness and for holidaymakers. We applaud the work of the budget airlines in bringing air travel within the reach of a wide range of people, for whom it would have been a distant aspiration less than a generation ago.
However, there comes a time when stuffing thousands and thousands more flights and millions and millions more passengers into the same overcrowded corner of the south-east of England starts to impose an unacceptable cost on our environment and our quality of life. We believe that Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. That is why we and so many others oppose the Government’s plans to build a third runway."
Mrs Villiers also said that the Party was not looking at the option of building an airport in the Thames Estuary (a policy favoured by London Mayor Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse, a Deputy Mayor) but added that the Conservatives "acknowledge the possibilities and benefits that could come from the proportionate and carefully considered expansion of regional airports".
She also confirmed that the Party wants a "viable alternative to a third runway—namely, a top-class, high-speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester and London".
Over to you guys!
The House of Commons hosted Transport questions yesterday. Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, made a quite absurd remark about Theresa Villiers.
Before that Wellingborough MP Peter asked about electric rail:
"What date he has set for the full electrification of the midland main line. 
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, quieter and produce less carbon dioxide. In my statement to the House on 15 January, I announced that, commensurate with the timetable for procuring the new inter-city express fleet, I intended to make a decision on electrification of the midland main line north of Bedford later this year.
Mr. Bone: Last month there were four dewirements on the west coast main line, causing havoc to the service, so will the Government learn from previous electrifications and build a scheme that is of a high standard, and not on the cheap? Otherwise, when the wind blows in Derbyshire the trains will stop in Wellingborough.
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept for a moment the implication of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks—that somehow the improvements to the west coast main line were done on the cheap, or that the failures that occurred over the new year period were attributable to the upgrade. Indeed, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is generally a fair-minded man, will look at the evidence that demonstrates that a number of different problems arose, that they were all caused separately, and that they were not in any way related to the upgrade programme. I will certainly send him details of the investigations that resulted, but if he accepts what I have said, he will recognise that the proposals to electrify both the midland main line and the Great Western main line do not need to suffer from any particular problems of the kind that have been suggested as being associated with the upgrade of the west coast main line."
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers asked about Network Rail:
"Is not the real reason why it takes so long for the west coast main line to recover from disruptive incidents the fact that when Labour created Network Rail, Ministers left it accountable to nobody—not to the regulator, not to the train operators and certainly not to the passenger? Is it not time to reform Network Rail so that its management have to be accountable to a more effective structure than the toothless membership that they themselves appoint?
Mr. Hoon: I find the hon. Lady’s remarks curious, given the sad history of Railtrack, for which her party, in government, was solely responsible. My predecessor created Network Rail to deal with the complete failure of Railtrack, over which she and her Government presided."
Theresa Villiers most assuredly did not preside over Railtrack! She entered the House of Commons in 2005.
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers raised the issue of Heathrow once again in the Commons yesterday:
"Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): How many children will have their education affected by a deteriorating noise environment if the Government press ahead with their plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady knows full well that a number of schools are in the immediate vicinity of Heathrow. Action has been taken to provide noise insulation at those schools. Clearly, in the event of there being any decision to expand Heathrow, further action would have to be taken to ensure that those schoolchildren were able to attend and participate in lessons in the way that they do already.
Mrs. Villiers: According to the local authorities affected, 114 schools and around 100,000 children will suffer from serious noise problems if a third runway goes ahead. Meanwhile, around the world, air traffic is falling, Stelios is telling the easyJet board that the days of exponential passenger growth have gone, and yesterday’s pre-Budget report predicted a fall in demand for aviation. Is it not time that the Secretary of State revised down his aviation growth forecasts and scrapped his plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
Mr. Hoon: Unfortunately, the statistics that the hon. Lady quotes are not additional to any decision to build an extra runway. She simply gives the number of children currently affected. I anticipated that in the answer that I gave a few moments ago. She needs to ensure, when she is putting forward this case, that she has her statistics right and that she deploys them accurately as far as the House is concerned, so that we can have a proper debate about these matters. As I made clear at the outset, no decision has been taken on the matter. Any decision that is taken, will be taken in the light of air quality, noise and public transport arrangements."
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon's reply on the number of schoolchildren potentially affected is odd. Surely a third runway won't only affect new schools but also create additional noise for schools which are already affected.
Mrs Villiers's assertion that aviation forecasts should be revised because demand for air travel is falling is very interesting. Do you agree?
Yesterday the House of Commons debated Heathrow. Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon referred to a lengthy public consultation on the matter, for which over 70,000 submissions were received.
The three options consultees were asked to consider were, Mr Hoon told the House:
"a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; secondly, mixed-mode landing and take-off patterns within existing capacity around 2010 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; and thirdly, mixed-mode within existing capacity around 2010, full mixed-mode around 2015 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020."
"Mixed-mode" means using runways for take-offs and landings.
The Government announced in 2003 that it supports a third runway and additional terminal capacity. Mr Hoon stressed yesterday that this is subject to various environmental conditions - meeting European air quality obligations, not increasing the size of the area "significantly affected" by aircraft noise and an improvement in public transport, especially rail. The Prime Minister has also said that next month's final decision will be taken in light of these considerations.
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers outlined the Opposition's stance:
There are several noteworthy written answers in the latest edition of Hansard.
The Opposition has supported the Government's carbon reduction plans. The following question from Shadow Local Government spokesman Eric Pickles is interesting in light of this. Are the Conservatives contemplating a spending commitment?
"Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether local authorities will be compensated for the regulatory costs of the carbon reduction commitment. 
There are no plans to provide additional funding to local authorities in regard to their participation in the Carbon Reduction Commitment. There are already funding streams in place to help local authorities monitor and reduce their energy use via the Local Authority Performance Framework Climate Change Indicators and the SALIX Finance fund. The additional administration costs of the emissions monitoring required by the Carbon Reduction Commitment are not substantial.
Overall the energy efficiency benefits of participating in the Carbon Reduction Commitment are calculated to outweigh the administrative costs. Economic analysis indicates that local authorities are well placed to perform well in the scheme as there are significant opportunities for local authorities to increase the energy efficiency of their operations."
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers asked about Metronet - who are responsible for two-thirds of London Underground's infrastructure - and we were reminded how costly the programme is:
"Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the effects of Metronet going into administration upon the delivery of its commitment under its public-private partnership contract. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: Following the PPP administration of Metronet on 18 July 2007, both Metronet companies transferred to Transport for London on 27 May 2008. Transport for London, together with London Underground and the Government, are currently considering the future structure for the lines previously the responsibility of Metronet. A key consideration is to ensure that the major upgrades due to be completed on the Victoria, Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith and City lines are not significantly affected by Metronet’s failure.
The comprehensive spending review 2007 settlement sets out the expected levels of Transport for London’s grant and borrowing to 2017-18. This generous funding package worth some £40 billion over the next 10 years makes provision for the continued modernisation of the underground and costs arising from Metronet’s administration. Government will continue to work with London Underground and Transport for London to ensure that these upgrades can be delivered.
Passenger safety remains of paramount importance. London Underground has always retained overall responsibility for passenger safety on the network and the Office of Rail Regulation regulates health and safety on the underground."
It is a frequent surprise to see what information Government ministers cannot lay their hands on. Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers has unearthed one example with a written parliamentary question:
"Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many driving bans were served concurrently with prison sentences in each region of England and Wales in (a) each of the last 10 years and (b) 2008 to date.
Maria Eagle: Although the court proceedings data held by my Department provides information on the sentencing of individuals for individual offences, including whether they are disqualified from driving as a result of those offences, it does not hold information on whether each person is already banned from driving when sentence is passed."
Driving bans exist not only to protect the public but to punish people. Needless to say, a driving ban is a comparatively minor inconvenience to a prison inmate. It seems extraordinary that the Government can't break this one down for us.