Once you write a story you often get new information sent to you. Now an MP has sent me the email sent out by Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East and a supporter of John Bercow, to hundreds of MPs at midnight warning them of the ambush that William Hague had set up to get rid of the Speaker.I thought it worth publishing as a little bit of Parliamentary history to go with the earlier story. I see the Spectator has also picked up the email.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is someone the public recognise. Every week while Parliament sits he is seen on TV controlling the bear garden that is Prime Minister’s Questions.. His role is like a strict disciplinarian headmaster trying to control overgrown adolescents shouting down and jeering their opponents like kids in a school playground.
But John Bercow is more than that. He is probably the best known speaker since former Tiller girl Betty Boothroyd became a hit in the United States with her unique smack of authority in a British Parliament. And he has made big changes that are good news for democracy and the public.
It was therefore deeply depressing early on Wednesday evening when I was rung up by a very trusted source to tell me about a shabby plan to unseat him by changing the election rules for the next Parliament in May without people realising what was going on.
The master minds behind the plans appear to be William Hague, leader of the House and Michael Gove, the chief whip aided and abetted by Greg Hands, the deputy chief whip, and Cameron’s nasty Aussie election strategist, Lynton Crosby. The Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg also agreed to the ruse.
My source told me that throughout the day Tory MPs had been sent three texts by the whips designed to ambush Labour and push through an arcane rule change in Parliament which would mean curtains for Bercow. It told them that a plan to send hundreds of Tory MPs to canvass voters in the marginal seat of Hastings and Rye, held by Amber Rudd, had been cancelled and they all had to turn up on a three-line whip ( Parliament’s on pain of death) to hear Lynton Crosby outline their general election strategy in Portcullis House at 10.30 am.
What it didn’t tell them was that the order of business had been changed at the last moment and an obscure report changing the election rules of the next Speaker – traditionally elected by a public vote – would be debated in the Chamber. They proposed to change this to a secret ballot so ministers could get rid of him without their votes being recorded.The plan was for the debate to take place while Crosby was briefing Mps and the vote to take place at 11.30 am just as all Tory MPs were leaving the briefing. They would march in the lobby to vote on William Hague’s motion without really knowing what it said. And Labour MPs would know nothing about the shabby deal – most having returned to their constituencies- and government would have got rid of Bercow.
But then my trusted source got to work – and I tweeted and briefed a few papers and broadcasters- and it began to unravel. For a start the very independent minded Tory MP, Charles Walker, who chaired the procedure committee found his report had been hijacked by Hague. Furthermore it did not recommend voting changes in the election of a Speaker – the two Tories on the committee who wanted it – Sir Roger Gale and James Gray – had been soundly defeated. They then agreed to accept the status quo and the report was unanimous agreed. So Hague was being dishonest as well as sneaky. by proposing the change as it was not recommended by the report. And James Gray, to his credit, appeared so disgusted with Hague’s behaviour that he voted against the government.
Then it is clear that Angela Eagle,shadow leader of the house got wind of the deal and started summoning Labour Mps back and stopping the rest leaving. And Mr Bercow realised what the plot was about and suddenly granted two urgent questions on matters of policy which delayed the timing of the debate and the vote.
By the time it was debated yesterday the sneaky little proposal fell apart as there enough Labour Mps back in Parliament and enough Tories and Liberal Democrats rebelled to defeat the government by 26 votes.. But it had been a close run thing. Some 23 Conservative and 10 Liberal Democrat MPs revolted. Scroll down this to see the debate and vote.
This is scandalous for two reasons. Parliament’s committee of MPs are independent of government and had proposed a completely different motion to be debated.. Hague had no business changing the findings of an independent committee.
And Bercow himself is a good thing. He has made ministers far more accountable for their actions by forcing them to come to Parliament to justify decisions – on one issue we have had on this blog Theresa May has been far more scrutinised by MPs on the child sex abuse inquiry because Bercow forced her to come to Parliament by accepting urgent questions from MPs.
The coalition ministers hated this aspect of democracy because it was last minute and inconvenient They much preferred a supine Parliament. On that issue alone people should think about how they cast their vote on May 7.
This weekend has seen the crowning moment of the rugby season with the Six Nation’s contest. Millions of people throughout the UK, Ireland, Italy and France have followed the game.
Tens of millions of pounds rolls in from punters, sponsors every year to finance the game and promote the sport. So perhaps you might be rather surprised to learn in this age of austerity and government spending cuts that this year for the first time taxpayers have started to fund the top end of the game to the tune of £600,000 over the next two years.
The funding body is the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Details are in this press release. It sounds very laudable.-the money is going to fund more participation by women and ethnic minorities.and disabled in the sport. It should also improve disabled access to the game.
They will include plans to “recruit 480 female teachers and volunteers and 156 schools to the Sports Inclusion Programme, run 156 five week rugby training programmes for girls and 104 five week sessions for children from ethnic minority backgrounds.”
However one might well ask in an age when public spending cuts are de reguer and the disabled, in particular, have suffered huge cuts from the “bedroom tax ” to the impending demise of the disability living fund, why rugby premier league should get new funding from the taxpayer. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has seen its budget slashed to pieces as well.
If you go to the Premiership Rugby site you will find it is not short of sponsorship.. As well as Aviva insurance funding the Premier League BT Sports have just signed a lucrative sponsorship deal, And it doesn’t stop there, other funding comes Land Rover, Guinness, Green Flag and premium Thai lager, Singha, to name a few.
Also if you check Premier League Rugby’s latest accounts for 2013- 2014 you will find they distributed over £41m to the 12 top clubs..It made a gross profit of over £4m before other expenses. And its top staff don’t seem to be badly paid. It employs just 23 people but they share £1.975m in wages between them plus another nearly £300,000 in pension and national insurance contributions.
When I prepared an article for Tribune a spokesman for Premiership Rugby told me that they weren’t a rich organisation and only four out of the 12 top Premier League clubs were in the black and the rest desperately needed the money. Certainly compared with Premier League football they are not rich but my nephews and my rugby mad relations tell me that at big games you don’t find many sponsorship tables empty. Perhaps then Gloucester, Saracens and London Welsh are in deep trouble but it doesn’t look like to me ( the one Gloucester game I went to seemed pretty full).
My point is that while I applaud the aims of this extra cash – i don’t really see why the taxpayer should foot the bill. It should not be difficult to get another sponsor to do it.
And it is about to get worse . Another £1.3m of taxpayer’s cash is about to go from the EHRC to the poverty stricken Premier League football and the England and Wales Cricket Board. All this is approved by the board of the EHRC but even Lord Holmes, the disability commissioner seems to have some doubts as shown in this blog.
Today is the eve of the publication of a new book by me, Francis Beckett and Nick Kochan which pulls together the life of Tony and Cherie Blair since they left Downing Street in 2007. It is the first account of what happened since Tony Blair ceased to be PM.
In one sense it is a surreal moment. It is the second book Francis and I have written on Tony Blair – the first originally titled The Blairs and their Court dealt with his time in office- and we have never interviewed him or Cherie as he did not want to see us. And most of the Blairs’ close friends are equally nervous of telling us anything.
Never has a man who still wants to dominate the world stage and charges – we are told – £500,000 for making a speech – been so determined to hide away from public gaze and go to such lengths to hide his income, his business dealings and his philanthropic and religious work. Both he and Cherie even wanted to keep secret where their business premises were located in London.
What this book puts together is a picture of man and a woman who are as his once close friend Peter Mandelson famously said is ” intensely relaxed with the filthy rich…”.
It tries to analyse his labyrinthine company structure that both generates his wealth and hides who pays him. It looks at his property empire – which allows him to replicate his life as PM with a Georgian town house in the heart of London and a historic house in the country.
It traces his less than effective role as a Middle East envoy and looks at his business deals with dictators across Central Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It examines the roles of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and his role in African governance and looks at how Cherie – once a proud feminist and human rights lawyer – is now much more keen on business dealings and setting up a property empire with their eldest son, Euan.
Altogether people – particularly Labour voters – may not find this a particularly attractive story. Apologists for him say he was the most successful PM in modern times and we will have omitted the great work he has done in improving the governance of African nations and his religious role through the Faith Foundation.
The extraordinary fact about Blair is how he has become loathed not only by the Labour left – over Iraq and calling for military intervention in Iran- but by the wider public and the Right for what they see as his hypocrisy as a Labour politician interested almost entirely in amassing wealth and not particularly bothered who was bankrolling him.
We have had three ex PMs who did not need to go into retirement homes. The other two – John Major and Gordon Brown – tread different paths and have escaped criticism. John Major simply did go into business to make money but does not spend his time lecturing the rest of us on political issues. Gordon Brown took another route and is devoting his life to charitable work – education in Africa – and not making millions.to have a luxury lifestyle.
Blair seemed to want everything ,wealth, rich friends, money, influence – and ended up a toxic brand. But if you go to enormous lengths to cover your tracks people have every right to be suspicious of your motives.
You can get our book directly from John Blake Publishing or from all good bookshops. It is also being published in Australia – more details to follow. You can also see extracts of the book on Mail On Line, articles in the Independent, the Guardian and a riveting lobbying story about what Tony Blair wrote to Hillary Clinton on Exaro news website.
The announcement by the Independent Police Complaints Commission that it is to investigate cover ups inside the Metropolitan Police on historical child sexual abuse inquiries is game changing. It means not only are the Met Police convinced that evidence from survivors of a powerful paedophile ring that may have operated in Westminster and Whitehall needs investigating and people prosecuted but the Met Police conduct at the time needs to be held to account
As the IPCC Deputy Chair Sarah Green said:
“These allegations are of historic, high level corruption of the most serious nature.
“We will oversee the investigations and ensure that they meet the terms of reference that we will set. Allegations of this nature are of grave concern and I would like to reassure people of our absolute commitment to ensuring that the investigations are thorough and robust.”
The press release names Dolphin Square as one of the venues of the ring and also South London – linking possible venues like Elm Guest House in Barnes and Lambeth. It covers a number of investigations by exaro and disclosures on a closed website that former Met police officers working on these cases believed they had been stopped from pursuing important people.
Survivors and victims should at last be pleased that they are being taken seriously and must hope that this will really be a thorough detailed investigation that will not shy away from finding out who in the Met agreed or was told to close down such investigations .
However a word of warning it is to be – as the Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent points out – a ” managed ” inquiry – meaning that the Met police’s own Professional Standards Body will carry out the investigation into the Met police. They will be overseen by the IPCC which is hit by not having enough resources due to the austerity measures.
In some ways this investigation parallels the equally appalling murder of Daniel Morgan – current the subject of an independent panel inquiry into the murder of the private investigator. The evidence from the Met Police finally handed over late last year should also open up inquiries into why leading figures in the Met never got a successful prosecution.
What can be said now is that these lurid allegations against MPs, senior Cabinet ministers, spies and the various churches- which some commentators believe must be false – have to be taken seriously and cannot just be ignored.
The investigation I hope will go some way to restore trust in the police to conduct such inquiries in the future and also show those who thought they could cover up matters in the 1970s and 1980s will not get away with it.
The inquiry has to be seen to be robust, transparent and thorough and getting to the root of the many scandals in the capital. If it doesn’t suspicions will remain. it will require nerves of steel to tackle the prominent people who stand accused.
Today’s announcement by Theresa May, the home secretary, and Justice Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge, heading the child sex abuse inquiry, on the structure of the inquiry shows at least that both of them have listened to MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.
The welcome news is that both have realised that there needs to be some continuity on the new panel of the inquiry and that it was not a good idea to throw everybody off the inquiry except for its QC, Ben Emmerson.
Particularly welcome is the promotion of Alexis Jay, who did so much to expose the appalling grooming scandal in Rotherham, to a panel member. Her voice and contribution to its work will be invaluable.
Also the reappointment of Dru Sharpling, one of the sharper minds, I am told, on the Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, is a good one – someone with knowledge of child sex abuse and dealing with the Official Secrets Act.
The third re-appointment,another barrister, Ivor Frank, I will reserve judgement as his speciality seems to be more in the field of child abduction rather than child sexual abuse.
While the appointment of Professor Malcolm Evans , appears to duplicate a rather crowded United Nations presence – since the chair, the QC himself are all connected to UN human rights and torture issues.
As expected survivors will have no role to play in writing the report or the detailed hearings. Justice Goddard makes it clear she was doesn’t want them present at the inner workings of the inquiry – taking a view often expressed by lawyers ( including those who defend paedophiles) that anyone who has been sexually abused is biased,can’t be objective about anything and can’t come to any independent conclusions.
She puts a bit more politely in her statement: “ the appointment of victims or survivors to the panel will not, in my view, be consistent with the objectivity, independence and impartiality that is required of members of an independent panel who are required to act in a quasi-judicial capacity in the course of the Inquiry. Secondly, because it became clear to me during my consultations with representatives of victims and survivors groups that they reflect a wide range of divergent experiences and views. “
Instead she proposes two advisory committees.
“I have decided instead to establish a Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel (VSCP) which will be closely involved in the work of the Inquiry and will provide advice and guidance to myself and the panel as the Inquiry proceeds. There will be eight members of the VSCP, nominated by victims and survivors, who will bring a representative cross-section of experience and opinion. The VSCP will be funded out of the Inquiry’s overall budget and those appointed to the VSCP will receive an honorarium for their contribution to the work of the Inquiry and will be entitled to reimbursement of travel and other expenses.”
The good thing is that she has listened to MPs about the advisory body having funding and a role -but I am to be convinced that they will have a real say. On top of this there appears to be an “also ran ” category- people who self select themselves to be involved if they fail to meet the criteria to sit on the main advisory board.
She has not fleshed out exactly how this is going to work – and the person who should have handled press inquiries had left her telephone on answer- so no guidance was available. Hardly very transparent.
The good thing is Theresa May has avoided the pitfall of leaving the inquiry in limbo- and got this announcement out in time before election purdah comes into play. But I shall remain sceptical – given the mess surrounding the creation of this inquiry – until more information is released.
This comes at a time when the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel , chaired by Baroness O’Loan has made a fresh appeal for people to come forward -particularly journalists – with fresh information which should be supported. No one should have such a hideous crime on their conscience.
Originally posted on Live Tweeting the hacking trial:
Today, on the anniversary of his brother’s brutal murder in 1987, Alastair Morgan makes an impassioned appeal to Rupert Murdoch to fully co-operate with the Independent Panel Inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, chaired by Baroness O’Loan.
The full text of the letter Alastair just hand delivered to Rupert Murdoch is here . But the personal appeal towards the end is particularly striking:
The work of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel is almost entirely dependent on disclosure and I am appealing to you today – on the 28th anniversary of my brother’s murder – to ensure that News Corporation discloses all relevant material in confidence to the Panel.
Daniel’s murder, the police corruption and the ensuing years of failed investigations have been agony for the whole family. Daniel’s children have grown up without a father and my mother is now 86 years old. We need to know the truth about what…
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