Conservative Diary

Parliamentary moments

8 May 2013 13:31:30

What a Martian would take away from the State Opening of Parliament

By Andrew Gimson
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Snip20130508_1In a clear, level and impartial tone the Queen read out her Government's great list of aspirations: "continue to focus on building a strong economy...a fairer society that rewards people  who work hard...strengthen Britain's economic competitiveness...invest in infrastructure...improve the quality of education...committed to supporting people who have saved for their retirement...further reform Britain's immigration system...reform ways in which offenders are rehabilitated..."

By this stage, some of us were beginning to wonder whether her Government was trying to do a bit too much. But no hint of doubt entered the Queen's voice. No trace of satire could be detected even in her final wish: "I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels."

Commentators chattered excitedly about how she had said nothing about minimum prices for alcohol or plain packaging for cigarettes. But a visitor from another planet might have noted that here on Earth, or this part of Earth, we look to the Government to arrange a very great many things on our behalf. Heaven on Earth is somehow to be introduced by legislation, though to ensure complete success the blessing of Almighty God will also be required.

One trusts that any visiting Martian would have enjoyed the glittering ceremonial which surrounded the speech: for even if there is life on Mars, one suspects it does not include anything as magnificent as this. And one trusts that our friendly Martian would have appreciated the double submission which lay at the heart of the ceremony. Everyone deferred to the Queen. Bishops, peers, judges, ambassadors and ministers all stood when she entered the House of Lords, and only sat when she told them they could.

Democratic politicians were crowded into a cramped space at the far end of the chamber. Hereditary dignitaries - the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl Marshal - and ancient symbols of authority - the Imperial State Crown, the Cap of Maintenance, the Sword of State - played much far prominent roles than they did. The Queen was escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, her ladies in waiting, her pages and any number of gallant guards. This was the first time the Duchess of Cornwall had taken part in the State Opening, but she proved her fitness for the occasion by looking as if she might always have been there. Every kind of gorgeous uniform was worn as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The heralds, in their tabards, looked more than ever like a de luxe set of playing cards.

Even Chris Grayling, in normal life the Justice Secretary, was allowed to adorn himself with the robes of the Lord Chancellor. As Mr Grayling handed the speech to the Queen, he had the decency to look as if he was there for the first time.

Yet it was the democratic politicians who dictated what the Queen said. Her words were not her own, and when she sent Black Rod to summon the Commons to hear her, he had the door of that Chamber slammed in his face, and had to knock to gain admittance.

Once inside the Commons, Black Rod was heckled by the Beast of Bolsover, an ancient part of the British Constitution, who on this occasion shouted: "Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised." The Beast, also known as Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), has himself been marginalised by having himself turned into a House of Commons character.

But our Martian friend must not allow himself to be distracted by such sideshows. Let him take home to Mars a report which says that we possess a hereditary monarch, who occupies the space which a dictator might otherwise try to seize, but who wields no political power. For the Queen is told what to say by a band of democratic scoundrels, who promise to achieve far more than they are actually able to perform.

1 Dec 2012 21:49:34

Has Tory support of Leveson-style regulation softened?

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron at Leveson

The Sunday Telegraph reports that a number of Tory MPs who wrote a letter in support of Leveson-style statutory regulation of the press have now brought their positions in line with David Cameron - opposed to such far-reaching state control. The letter, signed last month, had called for Parliament not to "duck the challenge" of changing press regulation laws.

The Sunday Telegraph were able to reach about half of the 42 MPs, and say that several now back the Prime Minister. This might well indicate a less bruising time for Mr Cameron as he attempts to debate and pass legislation on the press in 2013.

Continue reading "Has Tory support of Leveson-style regulation softened?" »

26 Nov 2012 17:48:38

David Cameron makes a triumphant post-summit return to the Commons and says "a deal is still do-able" on the European budget

By Matthew Barrett
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CameronUKDavid Cameron made a statement to the House of Commons today, following on from his successful opposition to the EU budget hike proposed by several other member states at a summit last week. The Prime Minister had three main messages.

Firstly, the deal he had rejected:

"Prior to the Council the Commission produced a ludicrous proposal for increasing the commitments ceiling still further to over €1 trillion. We said no. So going in to the Council, the President produced a new proposal: this time a ceiling of €973 billion. As you can see, Mr Speaker, we were making progress in getting the ceilings down. But as I  and other leaders - made clear, it was not enough."

Mr Cameron found the Commission's claims that there were no areas where savings could be made ridiculous:

"For example, when it came to the bureaucratic costs of the European Commission not a single euro in administrative savings was offered. Not one Euro. We need to cut unaffordable spending. The deal on the table was just not good enough and that is why we  and others  rejected it."

Continue reading "David Cameron makes a triumphant post-summit return to the Commons and says "a deal is still do-able" on the European budget" »

17 Nov 2012 21:25:09

The Government prepares a compromise to stop Europe giving prisoners the vote

By Matthew Barrett
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The Sunday Telegraph reports this evening that the Government plans to introduce a Bill on prisoner voting this coming Thursday. The newspaper says that the Ministry of Justice's Bill will give Parliament the choice of three options:

  1. Votes for prisoners who've been imprisoned for four years or less
  2. Votes for prisoners who've been imprisoned for six months or less
  3. No votes for prisoners at all

What is unclear is how the Government would proceed if MPs decide, as one might predict, to vote for the third option, not to give prisoners the vote, and the Court decides to fine the Government. The fact that the Government appears to be willing to be fined by Europe rather than defy the will of Parliament will seem a positive step for many Conservatives.

If the different options of the Bill are presented as a free vote, as one would expect, Cabinet members will also be free to vote as they wish, and it will be a point of interest as to how Ministers choose to vote. David Cameron's vote will be watched especially closely. A month ago at PMQs he said:

"I do not want prisoners to have the vote, and they should not get the vote—I am very clear about that. If it helps to have another vote in Parliament on another resolution to make it absolutely clear and help put the legal position beyond doubt, I am happy to do that. But no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government."

This statement would make it seem inconsistent for the Prime Minister to do anything other than vote for the third option in the Bill.

Continue reading "The Government prepares a compromise to stop Europe giving prisoners the vote" »

4 Sep 2012 12:19:13

Full post-reshuffle list of Cabinet members

By Matthew Barrett
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I have compiled a full list of Cabinet members below, with new appointments listed in bold:

  • Prime Minister - David Cameron
  • Deputy Prime Minister - Nick Clegg
  • Chairman of the Conservative Party - Grant Shapps
  • Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills - Vince Cable
  • Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Eric Pickles
  • Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport - Maria Miller
  • Secretary of State for Defence - Philip Hammond
  • Secretary of State for Education - Michael Gove
  • Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change - Ed Davey
  • Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Owen Paterson
  • Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs - William Hague
  • Secretary of State for Health - Jeremy Hunt
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department - Theresa May
  • Secretary of State for International Development - Justine Greening
  • Secretary of State for Justice - Chris Grayling
  • Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - Theresa Villiers
  • Secretary of State for Scotland - Michael Moore
  • Secretary of State for Transport - Patrick McLoughlin
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer - George Osborne
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Danny Alexander
  • Secretary of State for Wales - David Jones
  • Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - Iain Duncan Smith
  • Attorney General - Dominic Grieve
  • Leader of the House of Commons -  Andrew Lansley
  • Chief Whip - Andrew Mitchell

19 Aug 2012 09:01:04

The next Coalition u-turn on the horizon: rail fare increases?

By Matthew Barrett
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Update 1.15pm

Adding to the sense of Tory discontent with the Government's rail fare increases, Priti Patel MP said on Sky News today that she wants Ministers to "do more" to help the situation:

"Our commuters are paying a lot of money to commute to work and they’re getting a poor deal off the back of this. And actually I’d like to see out Ministers do more, they are doing a great deal a lot already, but do more to put feet to fire when it comes to some of these train operating companies, some of these franchisees on these lines, to deliver a good service for our commuters and bang for buck."


Train stationThe Observer has news of the next possible Coalition split: rail fares. It's not Lib Dems and Tory frontbenchers against the Tory backbenches, nor is it Tory front and backbenches against Lib Dems: it's Lib Dems and Tory backbenchers against the Government. 

The newspaper reports that MPs from both parties will lobby George Osborne and the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, to cap fare increases at 1% above inflation, instead of the 3%+ increase that many fares will rise by in January. The first 1% goes to the rail companies, but the 2% (or more in some cases) of the 3% increase will go to the Treasury (effectively imposing a tax), hence George Osborne is said to be unwilling to u-turn on the steep increase. Justine Greening, on the other hand, is said to be sympathetic to the MPs. In last year's Autumn Statement, Tory MPs were able to secure the 1% they now seek again.

It is worth noting the MPs who are quoted complaining about the increase. Firstly, one representing a stereotypically prosperous Tory constituency, and one with plenty of commuters:

"One Kent MP – Sir John Stanley, the member for Tonbridge and Malling – accused ministers of "exploiting commuters" and using rail fares as "a disguised form of taxation"."

Another of the three Tory MPs quoted is from a more working class constituency, albeit still in the South East and with plenty of commuters:

"Tracey Crouch, the Tory MP for Chatham and Aylesford in Kent, said: "A lot of Tory MPs will be seeking meetings with ministers as soon as we return. Household living standards are already squeezed and people who have to commute are feeling very aggrieved.""

And the other Tory MP quoted represents an Essex Man-style swing seat:

"The Conservative MP for Harlow in Essex, Robert Halfon, said: "I have already written to Justine Greening. It is a simple cost-of-living issue. Many people in my constituency are on below-average earnings and commute into London, and they cannot afford these rises.""

Continue reading "The next Coalition u-turn on the horizon: rail fare increases?" »

8 Jul 2012 13:04:18

Lords reform Minister Mark Harper says "very Conservative proposals" will strengthen Parliament

By Matthew Barrett
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Harper MarkThe Parliamentary Under Secretary for Constitutional and Political Reform (ie Nick Clegg's Conservative deputy), Mark Harper, appeared on Sky News earlier to give the Government's side of the Lords reform argument. Mr Harper said:

"It’s been Conservative policy to have a mainly elected House of Lords since 1999. I stood on the last three elections on that manifesto and the Coalition Agreement does no more than ask both the Coalition parties to deliver what was in both of our manifestos and indeed what was in Labour’s manifesto as well and I think it’s a very good Conservative measure about strengthening Parliament and having a check on the power of the executive and I think all Conservatives ought to be able to support it."

The Conservative manifesto actually says "We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords", which does not entail proceeding with any legislation, and the fact that 80-100 Tory MPs are likely to rebel indicates quite clearly that a consensus has not been reached. Mr Harper continued:

"This is a proposition on which most members of the public – 70% of the public – will say that it’s perfectly sensible that you elect most of the lawmakers in the House of Lords, they don’t think there’s anything exceptional about it. I think we should have a proper debate in Parliament, a proportional amount of time, I don’t think we should over-focus on it but we should get on and enact this very sensible reform which the public support."

Continue reading "Lords reform Minister Mark Harper says "very Conservative proposals" will strengthen Parliament" »

8 Jul 2012 08:59:53

Do Tory Lords rebels have 100 votes or 80?

By Matthew Barrett
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Lords_ChamberThe newspapers today are, of course, filled with plenty of Lords rebellion stories. The Observer has details of a letter written by 36 cross-party peers, including Norman Lamont and Geoffrey Howe, and... 

"...the former Northern Ireland secretary and party chairman Peter Brooke, the former Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth, the former agriculture minister Michael Jopling, the former transport secretary John MacGregor, the former attorney general Patrick Mayhew, the former Scottish secretary Ian Lang and former environment, industry and social security secretary Patrick Jenkin. Another signatory is the former Liberal leader David Steel."

The letter argues that the Lords is "a vast reservoir of talent and experience, which complements the more youthful and vigorous House of Commons without ever being able to threaten it", and reform along Nick Clegg's suggested lines would "remove the unambiguous democratic mandate the House of Commons currently enjoys".

Such attempts at persuading MPs may be necessary: a number of newspapers report the number of Tory rebels to be at 80 - as opposed to 100, the figure given a number of times during the week. The Sunday Telegraph confirms the whips are responsible for the drop in numbers - and says the Prime Minister will telephone rebels to further try and change their minds:

"Sources across Westminster agree that Tuesday’s vote on House of Lords reform is on a “knife edge”. It is understood the number of Conservative rebels has fallen from almost 100 to around 80 in recent days as the whips have set to work shoring up support for the Government. ... This weekend the Prime Minister is to ring rebel Tories directly in an attempt to persuade them to change their minds."

Continue reading "Do Tory Lords rebels have 100 votes or 80?" »

2 Jul 2012 18:33:06

Cameron and Osborne announce parliamentary inquiry into banking industry

By Matthew Barrett
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At the end of David Cameron's European statement, the Prime Minister made a short statement on an inquiry into banking following the Barclays/Libor scandal:

"We need to take action right across the board. Introducing the toughest and most transparent rules on pay and bonuses of any major financial centre in the world. Increasing the taxes banks must pay. Ensuring tough civil and criminal penalties for those who break the law. And above all, clearing up the regulatory failure left by the last government. The British people want to see two things. That bankers who act improperly are punished. And that we learn the broader lessons of what happened in this particular scandal."

Mr Cameron then announced his plan for a parliamentary - rather than judge-led/independent, etc - inquiry into banking:

"[T]he Serious Fraud Office are looking at whether there are any criminal prosecutions that can be brought, and they are using the full force of the law in dealing with this. ... I want us to establish a full parliamentary committee of Inquiry involving both Houses chaired by the Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee [Andrew Tyrie]. This Inquiry will take evidence under oath have full access to papers, officials and Ministers – including Ministers and Special advisers from the last government and it will be given, by the government, all the resources it needs to do its job properly."

Continue reading "Cameron and Osborne announce parliamentary inquiry into banking industry" »

9 May 2012 17:34:52

Cameron hails the Queen's Speech as doing right by "the do-ers, the strivers, those who work hard and play by the rules"

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron loyal address 2012

The Queen's Speech this morning meant there was no PMQs today, but, being a Wednesday, Members felt the need to turn the Loyal Address that follows the Speech into something resembling a slightly relaxed version of the usual weekly questioning session.

The session started off with Nadhim Zahawi giving the traditional Address, which was well delivered and funny, and will be covered more fully in due course. David Cameron's speech following the announcement of the Government's legislation for the forthcoming session, however, was the main business for the House. He started off by heralding some of the Government's achievements - getting the deficit down, and so on, but also the amount spent on overseas aid - something which some Labour MPs had complained had not been legislated for in the Queen's Speech itself.

Continue reading "Cameron hails the Queen's Speech as doing right by "the do-ers, the strivers, those who work hard and play by the rules"" »