House of Commons (general)

4 Nov 2007 06:53:00

Douglas Carswell MP: Culture, Media and another holiday

Carswell_douglas Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons.

On Monday, the House of Commons debated Culture, Media and Sport.  Or rather, that is what the order paper said we were discussing.  Quite why politicians think they have much to contribute culturally is beyond me.   

Margaret Hodge, who claims to be in charge of our culture, boasted that the arts are doing fine because government funding “has already increased by 73 per cent in real terms”. There is so much presumption in that statement, it is difficult to know where to begin.  She appears to see "more government" as good in itself.  How did Shakespeare manage?

Interestingly all three of the Conservative frontbenchers in the debate are from the 2005 in-take.  Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) is clearly head and shoulders above many an MP.  His debating style means he comes across as utterly reasonable, yet sound.  He made the point that all the recent scandals mean that TV in Britain does not need more regulation, but “better observance of existing regulations”.

James Purnell, the Minister, looked pedestrian as he trotted out the predictable line about the need for yet more regulation:  Hunt 1 , Purnell 0

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) then asked Tessa Jowell, who claims to be running the olympics these days, if more could be done to ensure that the Queen’s diamond jubilee is not overshadowed by the games.  Bravo, Andrew!

Maybe the way to ensure that the jubilee is a success, and not overshadowed by the olympics, would be to leave Tessa in charge of just the games.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday saw the Commons debating ..... um ..... well, not much really.  In fact, the Commons took a week's holiday.

That's right, a week after announcing that MPs cost the taxpayer £87 million in annual allowances, they took off.

Some colleagues might regard me as a traitor for pointing all this out.  And perhaps they were indeed all working terribly hard back in their constituencies.  It could be that one day the website will start to use satnav technology so we can keep tabs on our MPs' whereabouts.  Looking at the satnav screen during recess this week, would we have seen dots scattered evenly across Britain, as MPs held their local surgeries.  Or would there be clusters, around, say airports?

I do not think anyone would seriously begrudge MPs their allowances or holiday arrangements, if they did a good job in return.  The House of Commons is indeed very good at churning out headline grabbing laws, but does it hold the executive to account?

The truth is that this week, or any week, the Commons is monumentally useless at holding government to account.

Would the Commons be any better if there were more Conservatives in the Commons?  Obviously I think so.  Yet, then we would be the executive, and it would be up to people like Margaret Hodge - who appear to like Big Government - to hold government to account.

Listening to what little debate there was in the Commons this week, I think we need to change more than just which side of the chamber we sit on.  We need radical change in the relationship between government, the Commons, and the people.

19 Oct 2007 14:45:41

Douglas Carswell's review of the week

Douglas_carswell Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons chamber.

And so it goes on.  Another week of Parliamentary pretence; Ministers pretend to be making the big decisions and we MPs pretend to hold them to account.

Tuesday’s performance of the European Scrutiny Committee demonstrated this rather well.  Foreign Secretary David Miliband was grilled by MPs wanting to know why people will not get a say on the EU Constitutional Treaty through a referendum.  Mr Miliband is no more able to justify this grotesque fact than you or me because it is no more his decision than it is ours.  Miliband’s biggest decisions at the Foreign Office are on the wine list.

Like a long line of MPs in the role of Foreign Secretary, he is little other than the department’s mouthpiece, expected to justify Sir Humphry’s actions in Parliament and on the Today programme.  Indeed several times during the committee session, Miliband had to turn to the Sir Humphry-types sitting beside him to clarify his lines.  Normally departmental mouthpieces (sorry, Ministers) have learnt what to say about "red lines" et al fully before going through the charade of appearing before MPs.

The phoneyness of the government position prompted the irrepressible Bill Cash to table an Early Day Motion demanding a referendum "before or after ratification".  Three cheers, Bill!

Even if this fag-end of a government signs us up to this technocratic treaty, the Conservatives must insist on a referendum. That is called consistency, and like its close relation authenticity, it is a rare and precious commodity in politics today.

Indeed, we must go further and recognise we will never get the enlightened foreign policy Britain so desperately needs as long as vile Sir Humphry at the Foreign Office remains beyond meaningful democratic accountability.  Parliament alone no longer provides that - as this week has again shown.

Peter Bone (Wellingborough) introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to make it compulsory for under 14 year olds to wear cycle helmets.  I am assuming this is only when they are on a bike?

While not a classic liberal position, Peter argued his points well.  Of course, this Bill stands little chance of becoming law.  It is not those we elect to Parliament who make our laws and more, but a myriad of quangos and officials.  If Sir Humphrey wanted this measure introduced, it would be done in ten minutes, not a Ten Minute Rule Bill.

Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) cut to the chase with excellent questions during the defence debate.  Are we spending enough on defence (and spending it the right way), given the massive tasks we have set for our armed forces?  As the debate showed, it will take more than wee Des Browne, Defence Ministry mouthpiece, to answer.

Also on the ball was Philip Davies (Shipley). He asked Parmjit Dhanda, during Local Government questions, about the impact of immigration on housing.  Mr Dhanda, despite being one of the more able Labour frontbenchers tried to brush Davies aside, as if he had been impertinent.  Always a mistake with Davies, one of the most cheerful and determined MPs in Westminster.

As MPs headed off to their constituencies on Friday, news emerges that next year MPs will sit for even fewer days.  Perhaps some might be forgiven for asking what Parliament is for. I instinctively dislike the idea of politicians sitting in Westminster looking for new ways to tax and regulate us.  Yet, so much is rotten with the way our country is run.  So much is wrong with the direction we are moving in.  But Parliament seems incapable of holding those with executive power to account for any of it.

We don't just need a change of government; we need to change how we are governed as well.

15 Oct 2007 14:09:00

Douglas Carswell's weekly review of the Commons

Douglas_carswell Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons chamber.

Only Cherie Blair could have enjoyed last week's Prime Minister Question Time more.  It is rare to see someone come apart in a debate, but Gordon Brown did.  Years of scheming and plotting against Tony Blair - and then he flunks it.  As I watched him visibly reduced, I imagined the laughter and delight rippling through the Blair household.  I can almost hear Cherie now; "Not quite as easy as Tony made it looks, is it, Gordon?"

Yet Brownite sorrows come not as single spies, but in battalions.

If PMQs got most coverage, the performance of the week belongs to Conservative education spokeman, Michael Gove MP (Surrey Heath).  In an education debate with Education Minister Ed Balls (Normanton), the Gove was not merely eloquent, but brilliant.  Funny, yet without flippancy, Gove showed how the government has comprehensively failed to achieve on its big promise to improve education.  All that talk and millions of pounds of money, and all too many of our children are still failing.

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