Tag Archives: Parliament

The numbers game

As Malcolm was saying elsewhere, there’s a smidgeon of suspicion over the division voting for the Tory attempt to reboot the constituency gerrymander. It came out at 334 to 292 to accept the Lords amendments, so nothing changes until at least 2018.

What’s a bit odd is there are 303 Tory MPs. This must have been a heavy three-line Whip, so we are ten or a dozen short. Meanwhile the combined Opposition is around 347 (omitting, by convention, the Speaker and his Deputy). We further deduct another five for the abstentionist Sinn Feiners and their Mid-Ulster vacancy: we’re now at 342. All the minority parties seem to have piled in — even the DUP who, we were told, were getting serious courtship over the weekend, up to and including an exemption of Northern Ireland from the cull.

That leaves just eight non-Tories unaccounted for. Even if all those were “paired” (and the tellers for both sides would be, so cancel out), there are four Tories off-piste, presumably abstaining. That would match the reports from earlier today that four Tories — mostly named “Davi(e)s” — were trailed to be crossing to vote with the Opposition.

We also now know that Wee Willie Hague was one of the Tory absentees for today’s vote. He’s away to DC and wishing Hilary Clinton a fond farewell — so presumably would be “paired”.

One other missing name (so far) is Helen Grant, the A-list replacement for Anne Widdecombe as MP for Maidstone and The Weald. She’s on the payroll, as understrapper for Women and Equalities at the Minister of Justice. This one certainly needs explanation.


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Still with the parliamentary accountancy

That previous post was merely a taster of poisons to come.

Sure enough, the SNP and Caroline Lucas, as well as William McCrae, are now firmly on record, saying “No change!” What was it about turkeys voting for Christmas?

On the other hand, we have Harriett Baldwin, the MP for West Worcestershire (maj: 6854 over a Lib Dim. These are the Malvern Hills and Bredon, and have been Tory since Adam were a lad), tweeting:

If it does cost £590,000 a year for each MP, delaying the boundary changes which cut 50MPs by 3 yrs will cost taxpayers £90 million

To which Malcolm has replied:

 If Cameron hadn’t set a world record in creating 125 new Life Peers, that might almost be an argument.

Almost one a week.

Members of the Lords are entitled to £3oo a day, plus travel, accommodation and fodder allowances.

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Cringing bankers!


Well, that ought to become a Captain Haddock- type expletive, but Malcolm finds the grilling by John McFall‘s Treasury Committee quite rivetting stuff.

The Masters of the Universe are put to the question, and with many responses show the fright of rabbits skewered by the approaching headlights of doom.

Into which delightful private misery, the Lady in Malcolm’s life inserts two comments:

  • It makes a change to see fire and brimstone being heaped on the heads of others than teachers.
  • Haringey Social Services looks good by comparison: they only lose a child every four or five years. This lot have imposed misery on millions for any foreseeable future.

To adapt King Lear:

Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt; that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless HSBC customer! Away, away!

Not, of course, that endowment policies played any part in Milady’s Ulster venom.



In all this lies a neat analogy.

There is an interesting little note (available on line) from 1975 hidden in the Margaret Thatcher archive. It is a note from Adam Ridley to Thatcher:

I formed the strong impression that the Bank [of England] are more worried about the inflationary situation than some other parts of the official machine… First, they have recently carried out an elaborate analysis of [wage] settlements in the public and private sector since the TUC’s wage guidelines were published last June, taking care to consider not only the size of the individual awards but the period between settlements. As far as I can gather their conclusion is that though private sector settlements may on average be of smaller size than those in the public sector, their greater frequency has led to a faster rate of growth in wage rates in the private sector. This is consistent with the information one can glean from the FT’s monthly survey.

These are the words of the later Sir Adam Ridley of Hambros (remember them?), and the Director General of the London Investment Banking Association. Clearly an expert witness, he is advising Thatcher that her anti-public sector rhetoric is misdirected. In the mid-70s it was the private sector stoking up the wage-inflation. Somehow, that accusation went unheard.

The bane of Thatcher still percolates through the British blood-system. She not only did for much of British productive industry, but her manias led to our present debilities.

Let us focus on the housing market, for therein lie the festerings of our “toxic debt”, both sides of the Atlantic. It was, in passing, also a debt which was predicated to continued oversaving (now, there‘s something straight out of the Marxist manual!) in the Chinese economy, to be reinvested in dollar stocks.

First, there was the “right to buy”, which ensured that the most desirable local authority real estate was sold off at gunpoint, leaving the decaying residue in public hands, and a destitute underclass trapped into ghettos. Let us pass over that national disaster as decently as possible.

More significant, though, is the destruction of the mutuals. For most people (like Malcolm and his ilk) the first step on the property ladder was not a mortgage, but a savings account with a Building Society. How quaint!

When one had proved one’s prudence by accumulating a decent deposit, one might be granted a mortgage. That was a system which had survived two World Wars and numerous other tribulations. It was not, of course, good enough for the Heralds of Free Enterprise. In the late 1980s, Thatcherism deliberately blurred the distinctions between banks and mutual building societies. In short order, the Societies “demutualised” (which meant they became banks in their own right) and then were absorbed by the bigger beasts in the banking jungle. This was made possible by the Thatcherite Building Societies Act of 1986.

Almost by programme, the Herald of Free Enterprise piled onto the sandbank in March 1987: it was an omen of what was to happen to the rest of the free-enterprise banking system.

Let us remember that the jury at the inquest on the 187 killed at Zeebrugge were warned by the Coroner they could bring in a verdict of unlawful killing only if they:

believed a criminal act had been committed and that there had been gross negligence.

The jury did just that.

The sand-bank off the Belgian coast no more leaped unannounced on the Free Enterprise ferry than did the housing crisis on the bankers. Nor was it all written in the stars. In both cases the disaster, as history will record, should have been foreseeable. Both were the result of overweening ambition and carelessness. So we might conclude, of Thatcherites, bankers, and ferry operators, as Dryden said, back in 1681, of Shaftesbury:

A daring pilot in extremity;
Pleas’d with the danger, when the waves went high
He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near alli’d;
And thin partitions do their bounds divide…


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Idle questions

Perhaps, on reflection, the attempt at a punch-line in the previous post was unfair; and therefore Iain Dale’s response (see comments thereon) has merit.

Malcolm’s only excuse is his contempt for the overwheening arrogance of Tory bloggers. For months we have been assured that the second coming is just around the corner, that a General Election could be foregone as a mere inconvenient formality, that the Bullingdon boys are reincarnations of Demosthenes and Cicero.


To be honest, Malcolm finds the weekly Wednesday tournament a bit of a bore. It somehow reminds Malcolm of that New Statesman competition, many years ago. The task was to invent desperate small-ads for The Stage. These used, in Malcolm’s recollection, to fill a complete page, as variety entertainers burnished limited, provincial talents with a name and a slogan. One of the Statesman‘s prize-winners was the imaginary performer whose vaunt was:

Sixty years a stripper.laurence8-7749

When Malcolm first took an interest in PMQs, the star-act was Harold Macmillan, who seemed, towards the end, a potential understudy for Laurence Olivier’s Archie Rice. Or, more properly, since The Entertainer was received as a satire on the state of Britain in 1960, a case of life imitating art imitating life.

Wilson chewed up Home twice a week. Wilson and Heath would have been declared a mismatch by the Boxing Board of Control; but it was obvious that both were merely working through, and often against their assumed personae. By then, the idea of “questions” had long been subsumed into sound-bites. Callaghan did his twice-weekly “Sunny Jim” show, with mixed success. Thatcher screeched, bludgeoned, and surfed on Whip-induced waves of Tory adulation. Major could occasionally be as endearing as he could generally be pathetic. Blair was, perhaps, the greatest ham-actor of them all.

No: PMQs rarely becomes a memorable parliamentary occasion. Even more rarely is any useful light shed.

Malcolm noticed that his own critique of today’s matinée was not dissimilar to that of Nick Assinder at politicshome. Assinder built a workmanlike literary conceit:

As bombshells go, that was a bit of a disappointment. Like the bonfire night “Vesuvius” that squirts with the power of a damp match rather than erupting with a force capable of destroying whole civilisations.

He concluded that the froth and frottage amounted to:

the now well rehearsed election campaign slogans – as this is surely what they will become – that Mr Brown is to pay for his borrowing binge with a tax bombshell, and that Mr Cameron is the do nothing leader of a do nothing party.

But it was all a bit like resorting to the sparklers when the bigger display had failed to set the world alight, as it were.

Bring down the curtain.

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Lynch-mob politics

“Something must be done about it”guillotine

Fingers must be pointed. A culprit must be “exposed”, preferably a new and different one daily, until the cause célèbre fades from the 200-point headlines.

So, roll out the tumbrils, sharpen the blade, grease up the guillotine. The Fourth Estate’s self-appointed Committee of Public Safety, led by Citizen Dacre of the Daily Mail, has spoken.

Bloggerdom will follow the curve. And so we have those, usually quite sensible types, like Nich Starling (of Norfolk Blogger) waxing delirious:

David Cameron asked some serious and purposeful questions about the handling of the latest sorry case of child murder in Haringey (and am I the only one concerned that these child murderers seem to be able to remain anonymous ?).

Gordon Brown, could not answer a simple question on the subject and instead levelled accusations of making it a “party political issue” at Mr Cameron. Actually, I didn’t see it that way, and the only person who chose to make it a party political issue was Gordon Brown.

If politicians are not allowed to ask serious meaningful questions of the Prime Minister in PMQs, what is the point of PMQs at all, then again, we might ask what is the point of Gordon Brown.

Starling is no frothing Guido Fawkes, though often tending to the sensational and emotional, but here is a typical mouthpiece of the Appalled-of-Attleborough and Dismayed-of-Diss school of internet hyperbole. His ill-liberal offering appears under the hardly-impartial heading “Beneath contempt”.

And yet …

There are two not-wholly-related issues here:

  • the problem of what Haringey Social Services did or did not do;
  • the Parliamentary furore that ensued on Wednesday.

So Malcolm considered.

First, nothing like the whole nasty story (and, no, Malcolm does not know it either) is yet generally available. It appears that further legal actions are under way, and there will be even more salacious revelations. Since the dogs will have barked themselves to a croak, the caravan moved on to pastures new, these findings will be relegated to page 16, below the fold.

Second, given the alternative of a billet in a less-demanding and better-heeled locality, one would have to be truly dedicated or a charlatan to work in Haringey’s Social Services. The Wards in the east of the Borough are not just among the most-deprived in the country, they lead the pack. The Borough reviews a dozen section 47 child-protection cases each and every working week. None of that assures us that the system is working perfectly: it is, however, working.

Curious, isn’t it, that those who winge about the “nanny State” and government interference, are those demanding that the State take over the local Social Services Department, and that it be micro-managed from the Minister’s desk?

Now for the shot-and-shell of the Parliamentary front-line.

Unlike most other instant pundits, Malcolm listened carefully to what was being said at Wednesday’s PMQs. He then refreshed his hearing by referring to the Hansard transcript. The following is the full version of the moment-of-ignition between Cameron and Brown:

Mr. Cameron: I tell you what is shameful, and that is trying to shout down someone who is asking reasonable questions about something that has gone wrong. Let us be honest: this is a story about a 17-year-old girl who had no idea how to bring up a child. It is about a boyfriend who could not read but who could beat a child, and it is about a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children. That is what this is about.

In the case of failing schools, we take them over. In this department in Haringey, one in four positions for social workers is completely vacant. It does nothing to help struggling local schools that are failing, and another child has been beaten to death. I do not expect an answer now, because we never get one, but will the Prime Minister at least consider whether the time has come to take over this failing department and put someone in charge who can run it properly for our children?

The Prime Minister: I think that we are both agreed that this is a tragic and serious loss of life that has got to be investigated properly so that all the lessons can be learned. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that appointing Lord Laming to go around the country and look at what is happening in each area so that we are assured about what is happening is the right thing to do. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has to accept that the executive summary, which has already been published, from the inquiry done in Haringey shows that weaknesses exist. There is an admission of weaknesses that have to be addressed. We have received the full report this morning, and we will act on it quickly. We will do it in the right way so that we come to the judgments that are necessary to protect children in the future. I regret making a party political issue of this matter— [ Interruption. ] I do regret that, because I think— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister is in order.

The Prime Minister: I think that the whole country shares the outrage, wants to see action and will support the action that is taken both nationally and in relation to Haringey.

Mr. Cameron: I think that what the Prime Minister said just now was, frankly, cheap. I am not making— [Interruption.] I asked some perfectly reasonable questions about a process that is wrong, and I would ask the Prime Minister to withdraw the attack that that was about party politics.

One has to notice how cavalier Cameron is with the most basic facts (“a 17-year-old girl”). Then there is his low blow about “a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children”: the sum of money, surely, is a marker of assessed need, not of public extravagance.

More disgraceful is what the commentators did with Brown’s reply. Here, for example, in Thursday’s Guardian, is Simon Hoggart:

Mr Brown returned. He would do things “in the right way”. Meanwhile, he said, fatally, “I do regret [him] making a party political issue of it.”

At this, the Tories erupted themselves. “Cheap! Disgraceful! Withdraw!” they bellowed, baying and booming, a ferocious blend of genuine and mock outrage. Mr Cameron demanded that the prime minister withdraw.

Compare that with Hansard above, and notice the interpolated “[him]”. A casual reader might think this is Hoggard interpretion “you” or “the Rt Hon gentleman” for the sake of clarity or grammar. No: it is a clear interpolation. It changes the whole meaning. Brown made a general point: this is not a suitable matter for party politics. The Speaker heard just that: “The Prime Minister is in order.”

Cameron either misheard or chose to hear Brown making a personal attack.

Hoggard chose then, more sinister still, to tell us not what was said, but, as unvarnished truth, what Cameron wanted to hear.

Thank goodness, then, that the Guardian has a cooler, more honest, head in Michael White: his blog piece today, Where does the buck stop in Baby P case?, is excellent and balanced.

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