Conservative MPs I spoke to yesterday were excoriating about the shambles of the recall of Parliament and the whipping of yesterday's vote. One told me that the first he heard of the decision to recall was a message from EasyJet offering him a flight back. "Perhaps the Whips Office should just be franchised out to EasyJet," he told me. Another said that he wasn't contacted by the Whips until Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours before the start of yesterday's debate. A third said that he had a missed call from one of the Prime Minister's PPS's, but no message or text explaining it or asking him to ring back. One of the three said that although Sir George Young runs the office in a calm and courteous way, it lacks the presence of MPs with a feel for what their backbench colleagues are thinking: as others have done, he recommended the recruitment of Tracey Crouch, one of yesterday evening's rebels. He also offered the thought that the Government Whips Office has not recovered the status it lost under Tony Blair, when it was moved out of 12 Downing Street.
A senior backbench source disagreed with this view, claiming that the Whips warned Downing Street months ago that as many as 70 Conservative MPs could vote against intervention in Syria. (Those who opposed the Government motion yesterday were only the tip of the iceberg, since the motion was effectively a dry run for one proposing such action.) I suspect that the truth is between these two extremes. It's important to remember that most Whips would themselves have been absent from Westminster earlier this week, and a co-ordinated office ring-round both to ask backbenchers to return to the Commons and seek their views on military action would therefore have been slower to get under way than in term time. Above all, David Cameron was clearly thrown by Ed Miliband's volte-face on missile strikes: he was expecting a Labour abstention which would allow the original Government motion to pass. In other words, he was prepared to push his Syria policy through in the teeth of the opposition of perhaps a third of Tory MPs, and thus risking yesterday's wounding blow to his authority - and defeat for Government foreign policy unprecedented in modern times.
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 Matthew Barrett
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After today's 1922 Committee elections, Robert Buckland has been elected Joint-Secretary (replacing Karen Bradley, an Assistant Whip) and Simon Hart and Karl McCartney have also been elected to the Executive, replacing George Hollingbery (now PPS to Theresa May) and Simon Kirby (now PPS to Hugh Robertson).
A few results of the Select Committee elections have trickled through, and this post will be updated with a full list of newly elected committee members in due course.
The following MPs have been elected to Select Committee vacancies:
Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
Caroline Dinenage and Robin Walker
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
By Matthew Barrett
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Guido Fawkes has a list of new Conservative members of Select Committees, from Graham Brady's office. Mr Brady explains: "For the following committees I have received the same number of nominations as there are vacancies, the following are therefore elected". The appointments are:
Communities and Local Government
John Stevenson (Carlisle), replacing George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who became PPS to Theresa May at the reshuffle.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), replacing Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), who became PPS to Mark Francois, the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), replacing Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich), who was made the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Health Services.
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 Matthew Barrett
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Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.
Origins of the Group:
The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.
Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."
Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".
By Tim Montgomerie
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There have been reports in the press - see today's Independent (following yet another Paul Waugh exclusive) - that an "81 Group" was being formed to organise last week's rebels. Mark Pritchard MP is quoted as saying that "it is not a formal grouping, a faction or a party within a party but an informal caucus of like-minded MPs from both the left and right of the party who want to put the country first." Dan Byles tweeted disdain for Paul Waugh's discription of the group last night. Tracey Crouch MP, another of the 81, has gone further with a letter to Mark Pritchard MP and copied to others. She tells Mark that she does not want to be part of any "bash the PM' group. The full text of her letter is below.
Since my election you’ve shown me genuine support for my abstention on tuition fees, my election to the 1922 Executive, the party’s initial views on boundary changes and my fight with the FA; it is support that has been much appreciated. In return I supported you on the motion to ban circus animals, which was a victory for animal welfare in these modern days and is an issue I shall continue to campaign for.
However I was horrified to read in the papers and on twitter this morning that my vote for the EU referendum motion last week is being turned into something it was not, namely an attempt to bash the PM on Europe. I voted for the motion last week for reasons that Zac in particular articulated so well in the chamber: we need to restore trust in politicians and if we promise to do something, albeit in loose terms, then we should do it. I also voted for the motion because not only has our relationship with Europe changed since the referendum on our entry into the EEC but I believe the millions of British taxpayers under the age of 50 who contribute to the funding of the EU want a say on our future relationship with Europe – which incidentally should not necessarily be interrupted as wanting to get out of the EU but taking ownership of our relationship with the EU. Finally, despite accusations of it being fundamentally flawed, I supported the motion because I was attracted to the fact that it included the 3 options of In, Out or Renegotiation. I personally think that a referendum, which secured a popular vote on the latter, would give the Government a strong mandate to take on the European institutions. I did not support the motion because I want to see us leave Europe and I fear the establishment of your “81 Group” is painting those of us who reluctantly defied the whip in order to represent the very many constituents who contacted us on this issue as anti-European.
By using the label of the 81 Group it undermines the principled stance that some us took and looks to the media as an organised faction against the PM. While I think the Government should be doing more to articulate its policy on repatriating powers from Europe, I have no desire to be part of this faction and would like to strongly disassociate myself with the Group. I see the work that George & Andrea are doing on the EU as enough in terms of backbench representation and that no further formal or informal groups are required. Last week should not be seen as the start of some sort of Tory Spring - I voted for a referendum not a revolution!
I have copied in some colleagues from the 2010 intake who voted for the motion last week, many of whom defied the whip for the first time in doing so, some of whom don’t agree with my less than anti-EU views but may well share my disappointment that the vote is being taken down a path that it was not intended.
I am chairing a conference later this morning and sadly won’t be at the 1922 Exec this afternoon due to the AGM of the APPG Dementia and/or the amendment on knife crime in the chamber. I’m also slipped for a ministerial visit tomorrow but happy to chat over the weekend. In the meantime, please do reconsider either the name or the aims of this 81 Group – I really do believe it is not helping our cause, either as a group of people who want a referendum or a team of colleagues who want a Conservative Government.
TRACEY CROUCH MP
Chatham & Aylesford"
I don't think Mark Pritchard ever claimed to have all 81 MPs signed up but I'm sure he'll clarify the status of the group soon.
11am Mark Pritchard has sent this letter back:
Thank you for your email.
I agree with you entirely.
This name has not come from me. I understand it came out of a centre right meeting last week (which I did not attend). I also understand that the name had been blogged about several days before today’s comment.
It is not a term or name that I created. Others have done that.
The comment I made to the press was inclusive and rebuts the idea of a ‘formal’ group or any faction but recognises that perhaps on other major European votes, some of the MPs who voted for the Motion last Monday, may or may not vote along similar lines in the future.
I am happy to chat.
I like Tracey Crouch but it might have been better to have picked up the phone to Mark first and get to the bottom of the nature of the 81 Group. I think it's also unfair to say Mark Pritchard is simply a "PM basher". Regardless of this, the organisers of the group will certainly now need to proceed with greater caution. They must be careful not to present themselves as a bigger group than they are.
By Joseph Willits
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Social networking, flashbacks to the G20 riots, the role of CCTV, restorative justice, and the power of the police in their approach, seemed to be some of the themes covered.
Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford) highlighted the role social networking had played in the disruption, but also how it countered and assisted, she said “social networks such as Twitter have also provided the police … with an opportunity to dispel rumours and myths about where future disturbances happen.” She asked the Home Secretary to “congratulate forces that have used social networking to their advantage and concentrate on the closed networking opportunities” such as Blackberry.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) whose constituency was devastated in parts by the rioting welcomed, alongside other factors, David Cameron’s talk of “fresh powers” in regard to social networking. He also welcomed aforesaid “fresh powers” on “curfews ... and on powers for the police in relation to people who cover their faces”. He heaped praise on the people of his constituency who played their part in their attempts to undo the damage caused. “People want criminals brought to justice” he said, and talked of “the crucial role” that CCTV played “in identifying who was responsible” he added, “I hope that members on the Treasury Bench will take note of that”. Barwell also reiterated the sentiments of many people. “People want those responsible to be properly punished and to make reparation to those they have damaged. They want those who have committed these crimes to have access to taxpayers’ money in the form of benefits. They want those who are council tenants evicted, so that decent people on the waiting list get a home instead. They want those who are not British citizens removed from this country.”
Lee Scott (Ilford North) whose constituency was also affected by the riots, urged more powers to be given to the police that it is important we take off their “handcuffs” and that they “should be allowed to do what they think they need to. The use of water cannons, and rubber bullets should be at their discretions, he said.
Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) stressed that it was important for “political leaders to articulate their support” and that “we must not fall into the trap that her Government did when Ministers in the Ministry of Defence failed to give backing to troops doing very difficult jobs in very difficult circumstances.”
Angie Bray (Ealing Central & Action), member of another affected constituency, encouraged the debate on “what policing wants.” She welcomed such a debate between the public, their elected representatives and the police. She stressed the need for “consent” particularly in they need to “provide a slightly more robust response” during events we have just witnessed.
Margot James (Stourbridge) asked about the stand-and-observe order given to police under certain circumstances. She asked the Home Secretary, “given that they have been criticised for how they dealt with the G20 riots, on which there is a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights … whatever police powers we end up agreeing with … we must provide consistent support when things go wrong.”
Robert Buckland (South Swindon) highlighted that many involved in the rioting and looting have been young children. He encouraged the need for “restorative justice … making them face up to the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done”. He suggested this as a a “good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.”
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday in the Commons Tory MPs voiced concern about legal financial companies that charge very high interest rates. They were speaking in response to proposals from the Labour benches.
Learning the lessons from anti-smoking campaigns, Neil Parish MP called for health warnings to be added to the advertising of companies such as Wonga: "[Wonga] can charge up to 4,500% interest on its loans. Uncle Buck can charge 2,500% and PaydayUK can charge 1,200%. With a base rate of 0.5%, how can charging such inordinate interest be justified? These companies—I call them all loan sharks, to be blunt—travel around our poorest areas... I know that Ministers are not keen on dealing with this problem through regulation, but perhaps we should consider our approach to smoking: we do not stop people smoking—although we have banned it in public places—but we put large health warnings on cigarette packets. The Financial Services Authority, or whichever body will be responsible, should at the very least take action so that there are serious health warnings for those considering taking out these loans."
The MP for Tiverton and Honiton also supported greater support for credit unions: "About 50% of the population in Ireland are involved in credit unions. In the US and Canada, the figure is about 40%, in Australia and New Zealand it is about 25%, but in the UK it is only 2%. I know that the Government are looking into increasing the availability of credit unions across the country, but we need to act much faster. In the meantime, we have to act against these companies, the loan sharks, because people who take out the loans sometimes have to pay back 10, 20, 30 or 100 times as much as they originally borrowed."
By Jonathan Isaby
Both divisions tonight - on increasing the upper tuition fees limit to £9,000 and on raising the cap on basic tuition fees to £6,000 - saw identical results: 323 votes in favour and 302 votes against.
Factoring in two tellers from each side, you had 325 MPs backing the Government line and 304 opposing it, meaning that 629 out of a possible 640 MPs participated in the divisions (the remaining ten are accounted for by the 5 Sinn Fein MPs, the Speaker, 3 Deputy Speakers and the vacancy in Oldham East and Saddleworth).
So who voted which way?
297 of the 305 Conservative MPs, comprising:
28 of the 57 Lib Dem MPs, comprising:
ABSENT FROM THE VOTE (DELIBERATELY ABSTAINING OR OTHERWISE)
Of the six Tory rebels, most have quite a lot of "form" when it comes to walking through the lobbies against the Government line:
Of the two Tory abstainers, as a PPS until yesterday, Lee Scott, has no history of rebellion; meanwhile, Tracey Crouch, who also abstained, has still never actively voted in a division lobby against the government line.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday the Commons used the time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee to debate the issue of immigration. Here is a selection of excerpts from the contributions of Conservative backbenchers...
"People have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant-as bigots, even-if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.
"It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services-our infrastructure-might be able to cope with an increased population."
"The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000."
Here are excerpts from four more maiden speeches delivered during Thursday’s debate on poverty.
“It is not just one thing that needs to change. Low income, family breakdown, addiction, mental health problems and criminal behaviour contribute to a lack of expectation that, in turn, leads to inactivity. Charities find themselves too small to help; agencies find it too difficult and authorities find it too expensive. Complex problems may require multiple solutions, but unless we invest our time, energy and support, deprivation in parts of one of the most advanced countries in the world will continue to blight our nation.
“I have heard many maiden speeches over the past few weeks, and the one thing all new Members share is the desire to make a difference. While I am in Parliament, I want to accomplish many things on behalf of all my constituents, but I hope that improving the plight of the poorest will be my greatest achievement. The Government must of course cut the deficit, but our legacy must be to reduce the dreadful levels of poverty and give every person in my constituency and throughout the country the standard of living they deserve.”
“First, I wish to say a quick word about international poverty. As a former ambassador for ActionAid, I believe that whatever economic difficulties we face nationally, we must not neglect our responsibilities as a civilised nation to act to reduce world poverty. Hunger kills 3.5 million children every year—one every 10 seconds—and we must do all we can to end it.
“Even closer to home, we have issues of poverty to tackle, and that is even more important now than ever before. I see that in areas across my constituency. Currently, 2.9 million children are living in poverty in this country, which prevents them from having the fair start in life that all children deserve. We will work to change this. I agree with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) that our first task is to ensure that we give children the best education possible and give them the skills that will make a real difference to their lives. After that, it is about cutting the deficit and creating jobs for the future, so that we can create a strong and stable future for us all.”
David Nuttall, who gained Bury North from Labour spoke with the hinterland of a working-class background in the “Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire” and concluded that there was no reason why anyone should be categorised as living in poverty:
“I note that nowadays poverty comes in all sorts of technical categories. We have “severe” poverty, “relative” poverty, “absolute” poverty and “persistent” poverty, but it seems to me that, with our welfare system and the vast amounts that we spend on welfare in Britain today, there is no reason why any of our fellow citizens should be categorised as living in poverty. It is incumbent on us all to look at how we are spending our welfare budget. It is the poverty of aspiration and ambition, which is so pervasive and widespread among many in the lower socio-economic groups, that is the real problem. In that regard, I hope that perhaps my achievements can be an inspiration to others.”
Finally, Jessica Lee , the new MP for Erewash – who has legal experience in this area, as well as having worked with the Centre for Social Justice – offered her services to Frank Field as he reviews these matters:
“I applaud my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that there will be a review on poverty in the UK and how the state can assist the least advantaged. The whole House benefited from the contribution to the debate made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who will lead the review, and I look forward to assisting in any way that I can.
“Agencies working together locally to assist families is the key to fighting poverty. The reality is that the state cannot and should not seek to provide all the answers to this complex problem by itself. We have a dedicated voluntary sector with many large and small charities that help disadvantaged families in the UK. Further steps to enable the third sector to work hand in hand with social services and adult services are to be encouraged.
“Before I was elected to the House, it was my privilege to work as a lawyer specialising in cases concerning children and their welfare. The consequences for children of a life in poverty were all too clear to see in my daily work. Family breakdown, substance misuse, personal debt and educational failure can all too easily follow, and the consequences for children can be far-reaching and devastating. I will contribute in any way that I can to the ongoing debate on protecting children and ending the cycle of poverty that can perpetuate.”