Posted Thursday, 27 November 2008 at 13:51
Posted Thursday, 27 November 2008 at 13:40
On Tuesday George Osborne skilfully presented a motion known as an 'SO24' calling for an emergency debate on the Pre Budget Report (PBR).
George rightly said that the PBR had in effect been a budget, which under normal circumstances would have warranted days of debate.
No one in the House can remember the last time the Speaker granted an SO24, however, he did. It would have been difficult to do otherwise, as the case was so glaringly obvious; however by the expressions on the other side of the Chamber, it would appear that Hubris has permeated the Government at all levels. They were not happy.
The Speaker granted three hours. Not enough obviously, but better than nothing.
During the three hours the Conservative Chief Whip called a point of order to have the three hours extended, he was refused.
Three hours was all the Speaker was going to allow.
At precisely 2hrs and 59mins into the debate the Liberal Democrats called a vote, to end the debate which was about to end anyway.
It gets worse. At the end of the vote Simon Hughes called a point of order and during his point of order spoke of how he had wanter further debate.. at lenght..obviously to rectify the confusion just created ..Given his verbosity, he is the man to do it for the Liberals; however, he hadn’t reckoned on Iain Duncan Smith who also called a point of order and said as plain as a Pikestaff:
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope, if possible, that when you answer that point of order you might correct something that the hon. Gentleman said. He said that that he and his colleagues voted to get more time on the motion, but in fact what they voted on was closing the debate ahead of time.
Well said Iain. Also a perfect demonstration of how Parliament needs the experience and gravitas that only those who have seen it all before can bring.
As one very senior MP said to me the other day when I was trying to make sense of a procedure which after three years I hadn’t even heard of, "Never try and make sense of this place, it is indeed a grave mistake to even try."
Yesterday, sat listening to Simon Hughes, I felt like Alice must have when she fell down the very long hole and landed in the Mad Hatter's tea party. Mad being the word.
The Will To Live
Posted Monday, 24 November 2008 at 20:46
The atmosphere inside the Chamber was tense during the PBR.
The Labour MPs sat behind Alistair Darling and looked as though they were all on Mogadon.
When George pointed out that they had all cheered when Gordon announced the end of the 10p tax band and then cheered months later when he brought it back, they looked as though they were in shock.
Darling looked uncomfortable, like he would rather have been anywhere other than stood next to Brown reading that statement.
George was fantastic. He was angry and right. An excellent combination.
The public should be worried. The Chamber was tense for good reason. We are watching a country being taken down the pan by an arrogant and incompetent administration, that is doing what all Labour governments do, run out of money, ideas and it would appear, the will to live.
Posted Monday, 24 November 2008 at 11:46
Fraser Nelson is without doubt my favourite political journalist.
I buy the News of The World every Sunday, just to read Fraser and the Spectator are lucky to have him as their political editor.
I was therefore slightly perplexed to read the following quote on Sunday.
"Osborne can do it. He must pledge to cut wasteful spending, split the proceeds between tax cuts and debt repayment."
This is exactly what Oliver Letwin promised to do prior to the 2005 election. It’s what the James Review (the Conservative version of Gershon) was all about.
It wasn’t believed and didn’t work then, why would it now? I would be really interested to know why Fraser thinks it would. As a political message it’s the right one and the approach I favour, but one we will never have the opportunity to deploy unless we are in power.
If the message didn't penetrate as a real one with the voters in 2005, why would we use it again, knowing it has a track record of failure?
Posted Monday, 24 November 2008 at 11:21
Just in case Margaret Beckett thinks that the passage of time has eased the anger felt towards the proposed Eco Town by the people of Mid Beds.....
My Friday in Mid Beds
Posted Tuesday, 18 November 2008 at 09:41
I've just received some photographs from my day in the constituency last Friday.
The day consisted of meeting with the parents and carers of children with cerebral palsy.
The purpose of the meeting was to talk about their interaction with social services in Bedfordshire, and whether or not their needs were being met.
It was then on to open a new independent living centre at Wadelow Grange near Tingrith, which was set up by the Really Flexible Care group.
I then planted a tree with James, named a Rooster and a flock of Chickens, and then on to learn about and support an overland trek, to raise money for children with disabilities and learning needs in Bedfordshire.
I am hoping once again to organise my day for children with disabilities and special needs in June. I had hoped Center Parcs would be open so that they could honour a few of their promises to the families of disabled children, but they haven't even dug the first footing yet! Details of the day will follow after Christmas.
Posted Monday, 17 November 2008 at 15:47
On Saturday, the angelic photo of 'Baby P' shocked me, as his beautiful eyes stared out from the newspaper rack in Salisbury's Marks and Spencers.
The lovely man in my life stood at the express till to pay for a collection of Saturday's papers - whilst I stood and stared at the little innocent face.
Others commented as they picked up their paper - "Can't believe it can you?" said one. "Too cruel for words" said another in reply.
I had no words, it was too cruel indeed, I murmured in agreement as I looked at his beautiful eyes - far too young to know such sadness.
That night I held a few weeks old baby in my arms, he looked at me locked onto my eyes, and chuckled a beautiful gurgle. "Look" said I. "He's laughing" and he turned with his wide eyes, looked and smiled again.
Such trust for a pair of strangers from a nine week old bundle of beautiful innocence.
By Sunday night the Newsrack picture had changed to one of a face covered in chocolate, supposedly to hide the facial bruises.
But the truth once again was in the eyes.
Chocolate may have been smeared on his face, but his eyes were surrounded by red and swollen tissue.
No laughs, no smiles, no chuckles. Just red, swollen, painful, eyes.
So let's have no more talk of social services being fooled by smeared chocolate hiding bruises.
They say eyes are the window onto the soul. If a social worker had taken a few seconds to look into Baby P's eyes, they would have seen all they needed to know.
The misdiagnosis of broken bones and the sixty home visits aside, did no one ever ask "Why does this baby have such red rimmed eyes?"
Haringey social services need to be taken into special measures. If there is one Baby P who has died, how many babies are out there waiting for someone to notice before sad red rimmed eyes become a broken bone or worse?
Posted Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 18:28
The Spectator Awards
Posted Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 09:59
I'm going the The Spectator Awards which take place at lunchtime in Claridges Hotel.
Attending such events always overpowers me slightly. Actually, just being in Claridges does that all on its own, without the accompanying pomp and circumstance of the event.
I've been nominated for the readers' choice Parliamentarian of the Year award, which of course I won't win - but I'm not sure how many times I need telling that!
For the past week or so some of the biggest names in Parliament have come up to me and congratulated me for being nominated, and then said "but of course you know you won't get it, impossible in your first term". Well of course I know that, but I can dream can't I?!
I think they have been kindly managing my expectations, which is lovely; but I would have liked to have walked into Claridges today with just a hint of expectation.
Never mind, the lunch is bound to be good and it is always interesting to observe the great and good at play - as I will be doing, from behind an oversized potted plant!
In The Never Regions?
Posted Wednesday, 12 November 2008 at 17:08
The House is sitting today to vote on the establishment of ten new regional parliamentary select committees.
These committees are a continuation of the John Prescott legacy. I am firmly committed to abolishing regional development agencies, so I will not be voting for this, especially because it will cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, at at time when we all know it could be much better spent for greater benefit.
The Conservative Party has just won a vote, which means the Chairmen of these Committees will not be paid the £12,000 as proposed, so hopefully the idea may die a natural death.
Making The Personal Political
Posted Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 14:40
A short while ago I gave this interview to the PA regarding political women and fashion - rarely does almost every word I uttered in an interview get printed!
Making The Personal Political (c) 2008, The Press Association.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has apparently spent more than £90,000 to look the part during the campaign. We look at image and why women are still judged on their appearance.
By Kate Hodal.
Whether it's a pair of leopard-print stilettos, a blue double-breasted jacket or a polar bear badge, there's not much in the wardrobe of female politicians that goes unnoticed.
Leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman might get blasted for her dowdy dressing style, and Labour MP Hazel Blears condemned for looking dated, but not much has been said for the terrible fashion antics of John Prescott - nor have whole style spreads been dedicated to male politicians' favourite designers or colour patterns.
Now that American Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's recent shopping spree has clocked in at a whopping 150,000 dollars, we have to ask what it is that makes us focus so much on a woman's - and not a man's - look.
In just a few short months, the Alaska Governor's style has inspired a host of Primark knock-offs and reportedly set a standard for a brand-new line of Orthodox Jew wigs. To top it all off, she's even managed to be the motivation behind an adult erotic film.
Like Hilary Clinton, Theresa May or Tessa Jowell, what Sarah Palin wears often seems to make a greater impression than what she says. But just what goes into making a female politician look the 'part'? And why do they have to bother anyway?
DRESSING UP, DRESSING DOWN
"The pressure to look good as a female politician is quite intense," says Nadine Dorries , Tory MP for mid-Bedfordshire, who calls her own look "clean" and "well-tailored".
"Not a single week passes without one of my constituents commenting on my clothes - whether they've seen me on TV or in the office - so what I wear is, irritatingly, important."
While male politicians can get away with rotating a few good suits, a handful of ties and a couple pairs of shoes, their female counterparts are expected to vamp up the fashion stakes, says Angela Marshall, an image and style consultant to MPs and City workers.
"Women get far more noticed than men," explains the founder of Appearance Management.
"In part it's because there are fewer women in office, so they stand out more."
Perhaps women get noticed more than men in society anyway - but in politics, all that attention isn't necessarily warranted, counters Dorries.
"It's so irritating that what we wear and how we look is commented on and dissected to bits when nothing is said about men," laments the former BUPA director.
"When the sun begins to shine in the spring and male MPs don those ridiculous safari suits like they're in the bush in Africa, no one bats an eyelash. But the minute we put on summer dresses the tabloids say, 'Spring is here!'.
"We might not be used to having women in high profile positions, but come on."
As representatives of the public, politicians - female or not - are arguably expected to mirror the aspirations, motives and standards of their constituents. Hence the shock that a 150,000 shopping spree of a so-called hockey mom can inspire when voters are struggling to pay their mortgage, says Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan.
"If you've got a candidate whose persona centres on small-town America, Joe Six-Pack, and lots and lots of 'you betcha'," she wrote this week, "what business do you have connecting her to Neiman [Marcus], Saks [Fifth Avenue] and Barneys, specialty stores... that epitomise upscale, rarefied, luxury consumption?"
While she is quick to say she "wouldn't spend anything like that on clothes", Dorries finds Palin's shop-til-you-drop at the US equivalents of Harrods and Harvey Nichols understandable.
"Personally, I don't think that 150,000 dollars is that extortionate a sum to spend for someone running as vice-presidential candidate in the American elections: it's the equivalent of a UK megastar going out on tour."
But stylist consultant Marshall doesn't agree.
"They didn't need to spend so much money on her," she counters.
"People expect her to look smart - but 150,000 is quite a lot.
"Still, a lot of female politicians seem to have gone to uni, come out, and been concerned about showing off their intelligence to do the job - to the detriment of their appearance," argues the former banker.
Dorries, who has made recent headlines for her stance on late-term abortions, argues that much of 'dressing the part' means 'feeling the part' - and that just because she's a hockey mom, Sarah Palin shouldn't have to dress a certain way.
"Ok, so she's a hockey mom - but what does that mean? That she should dress in dowdy clothes?
"I'm a mum and at this moment I'm reading a climate change bill I have to speak on later, cooking hotdogs for my daughter and her three friends before they play a match of tennis - and I'm wearing a high-end designer suit with a leather collar.
"It's not so much about what you wear but how you feel when you're wearing it, so you feel comfortable in yourself when you stand up there on a podium addressing the public."
Levels of comfort depend on person to person, however, as exemplified by Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Theresa May, who made headlines in 2002 when she addressed a Tory conference in leopard-print stilettos (and was slated by the Guardian's Hadley Freeman, who called the shoes "outdated, a little bonkers, intrinsically associated with the late 70s and somehow redolent of very tacky and somewhat distasteful sex").
In comparison, Labour women Tessa Jowell, Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman have all come under the scrupulous eye of unimpressed fashion columnists and editors. Sarah Mower of the Daily Telegraph called their apparent collective "hatred of fashion" a "national embarrassment, lagging as they do so humiliatingly behind international standards".
But who sets those standards? Hilary Clinton has certainly won herself no fashion awards with her orange trousers and bad haircuts ("her stylist should be taken out and shot," Dorries says), whereas French leading lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy seems to have set the bar so high with her former-model figure and fashion sense that very few women, politicians or not, could compare.
"Count on the French to know how to do it right," says Dorries.
"I'd like to take a leaf out of Segolene Royal's book, the contender against Sarkozy for the French presidency.
"She always looks very Prussian, sleek and chic - she is definitely my [wardrobe] role model."
Perhaps the role model who helped get so many women into the political limelight should be given a closer look, however - because would Margaret Thatcher, with her blue suits and pearl necklaces, cut it now in the style stakes?
"Margaret Thatcher was a stylish, classic dresser and liked to be feminine," says Marshall.
"She'd wear skirts instead of trousers, and she had some colour in her wardrobe and liked to wear a bit of make up - which a lot of women these days seem to go without."
But Dorries isn't so convinced.
"She is the embodiment of strength and she represented that message for the times she was in," she says.
"But now we're in a severe economic meltdown and will be for the next few years, and I think someone looking as severe as Thatcher just wouldn't cut it.
"Just like everyone else, I want someone I can relate to."
Guest Blogger For Cornerstone
Posted Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 12:41
This week I am also a guest blogger for Cornerstone - click on the link below to see.
Today In The House.
A Puddle Be Upon You
Posted Monday, 10 November 2008 at 14:22
I couldn't believe my eyes or ears when I got to the station this morning, only to discover that train after train was either delayed or cancelled.
It's "slippy trains" said the station master - "Excuse me" said I, as a vision of trains wriggling out of a human grip, filled my mind.
"Slippy trains, it's the rain, buggers everything up".
The last time I looked, I lived in Northern Europe in a wet country. How on earth are we ever to become competitive again, if we can't even run a train in the rain?
A quick call to my office confirmed that the tubes were in a similar precarious state and one friend couldn't enter her tube station because of puddles on the platform 'ealth and safety' she was told - she might slip.
A preferable situation to that of a poor London Transport worker, having to endure the trauma of watching her melt in rage I would have thought.
As I ran into the corridors of mischievous and unsubstantiated gossip, I passed two Labour MPs, chunntering to each other about new ways to mess up the country "There must be more we can do on 'ealth and safety" said one to the other.
I've decided that there is something else you can count on after a sustained period of a Labour government other than high levels of public borrowing with economic chaos, and that is a transport system reduced to catastrophe via over zealous 'ealth and safety regulations.
Boy did I glare and splutter as I passed those two MPs, calling upon all my strength of character not to bang their heads together. I did do something awful though, I wished a puddle upon them - ten Hail Marys to follow!
Two Little Boys
Posted Monday, 10 November 2008 at 10:29
Yesterday - along with all other MPs across the country - I performed my most important duty of the year as I laid a wreath during the Remembrance Sunday service at Shefford in my constituency.
There was a strong military presence, as you would expect with the Chicksands base being only just up the road, and the service was organised with the level of precision you would expect from such an occasion.
It was a moving service which halted at exactly one church bell chime into eleven as the Shefford Band bugler played the last post.
I was delighted and surprised at the crowds who attended and lined the streets. They were huge in number and it was a very cold morning. Whilst they watched I did nearly have a couple of mishaps!
The first was that I was told to stay at the left shoulder of the DCOS and 'fall in' to the front of the parade when it stopped in front of me.
I was so shocked at how loud and officially the Parade Sergeant shouted right in front of me that I was stunned rigid for a second and was one step behind 'falling in' .
I hope Shefford Royal British Legion invite me back as I'll be ready for that Parade Sergeant next year!
On my way home 'Two Little Boys' was playing on the Radio.
I was immediately transported via a childhood memory from the car into the centre of a leafy wood.
I could see in front of me the image of a little girl, an otherwise 'tom boy' dressed in her customary trousers with holey knees and a cute little boy, his chin still raw from a dramatic over- the- handlebars fall from a bicycle; they were pulling the branches off a huge fallen tree, turning them into two imaginary horses, and singing 'Two Little Boys' as they charged noisily around a massive bomb crater left in the woods during war time. Both laughing loudly pretending to be soldiers using smaller twigs as imaginary guns and whips.
Yesterday the grown-up little girl laid her wreath in memory of the fallen.
On the drive home, on a day of remembrance, touched by the solemnity of the occasion, she couldn't stop the quiet tear; and she wondered at how that little boy had also come back to be remembered, through a song on the radio, bringing with him the gift of a beautiful memory, which had up until that moment unlike those fallen during war time or indeed the little boy himself, been long since forgotten.
Goodnight Mr Baker...
Posted Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 20:36
My daughter and the politics class from Bedford Modern are sat in the Question Time audience texting me, asking for questions.
It’s the youngest, noisiest, cheekiest, funniest, live wire daughter and I’ve just had a chat to a very brave politics teacher, Mr Baker, via her phone. I told him I think he’s a bit of a hero, which he is. All the girls in his class must be the youngest sibling as they all appear to have the same characteristics as mine!
He commented that there was no Conservative MP on the platform – he has one in his own ear talking to him right now in real time– what more does he want!!?
I'm more worried about the fact that a QT researcher might click the name and chuck her out. All my pleas to wear a hat and keep quiet are falling onto a cacophony of teenage squeals. I can understand this - Jack straw is on the panel - oh be still their beating hearts!
In my day it took Marc Bolan to make me squeal.
Tomorrow I will be blogging about our lovely intern, Annie, and about a very special visit we had to Parliament today.
I am also in Chelmsford speaking at a lunch and then heading back to open early Christmas fairs, attend an exhibition and then on Sunday its Remembrance Day service and parade - this year I’m in Shefford.
It’s all over… they have just rang me as they left the studio enraged at the way some people in the audience were shouting at Jack before the filming started.
My daughter said that her and her friends wanted to run up and hug him because some of the audience were being so horrible to him…I’m sure most of that will be edited.
“Will you tell him how great we thought he was” she asked.
I won’t have to.. as we know from his days as Leader of the House, Jack's a regular reader of this blog. And besides, just which side is she on?
Hunny, Hunny How I’ll Miss Ya!
Posted Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 17:12
This afternoon I met with beekeepers from Bedfordshire who had just been to 10 Downing Street to present a petition. They are angry people.
40% of our bee population was wiped out last winter by a parasite. This winter looks set to be even worse. There are treatments and chemicals available, however, due to health and safety legislation you can’t use them.
Some beekeepers travel to France and other European countries to buy the chemical - Apivar - and bring it back; but this goes against the grain for decent law-abiding people.
I suppose you are thinking, well this isn’t a major crisis, we can live without honey and you would be right. We can live without honey, but we can't live without bees.
Without the small beekeeper nurturing our hives, we won't have the cross-pollination, which is the real job of the worker bees.
There won't be any berries or fruit on the hedgerows to feed the birds, and the farmers will suffer as vegetable crops fall back.
Einstein said that man would only last ten years after the bee disappeared.
I don’t know whether or not he was right, but I do know this – we depend upon government to take sensible decisions. I want this government to provide all our beekeepers, big and small, with access to Apivar; and I would like to see funding for research into the parasite that is causing all the problems.
Not too much to ask is it? Well you wouldn’t think so, but the response of DEFRA is to blame the beekeepers themselves which is unbelievable. Or is it?
Not so surprising I suppose from a government comprised of people who loath the rural way of life.
This is one of those issues which I believe is so ridiculously unfair, that I am going to take it up at every opportunity that I get. There are bee hives in gardens all over my constituency and long may that bee the case!
America In The World
Posted Tuesday, 4 November 2008 at 17:12
The launch of America In The World last night was a huge success. Maybe the atmosphere had something to do with the American election being so close, as in the following day.
Everyone in attendance was in agreement that anti-American prejudice has gone too far and is almost entirely based upon false premise.
Maybe it’s written in the stars - as in those sat next to the stripes; but it is surely fortuitous that America in the World, flew its first flag the day before America elects its first ever black president, and alters the political landscape in a way few would have thought possible, only a very short time ago.
The election of Obama will ricochet across the world and there will be much praise for a meritocratic USA which can truly embrace equality. I have only one small doubt. Hearing Obama speak of his grandmother's death at a rally, his parting words were "We will change America, we will change the world".
He better had, because when you use your rhetoric to raise expectations to that incredibly high level and then fail to deliver, you have that much further to fall.
It would make the objectives of those who love and defend America, and organisations like America In The World, that much more difficult to achieve at a time when both are looking forward to riding the crest of the Obama wave and achieving a great deal in a the happy honeymoon period ahead.
God Bless America
Posted Monday, 3 November 2008 at 13:33
Oh I know, it’s all American hype everywhere at the moment due to a fairly unimportant little election taking place somewhere tomorrow; however, something pretty big is happening in Westminster tonight.
America In The World, an online centre for combating anti American prejudice is being launched tonight by David Cameron at a Westminster Hotel on behalf of Stephan Shakespeare and Tim Montgomerie. AITW is the brainchild of Tim Montgomerie, also editor of Conservative Home ,and it aims to do what it says on the tin.
The first AITW lecture will be delivered by Justin Webb the BBC's North American correspondent, who many of us have listened to on the Today Programme, giving frequent updates from the US election campaigns.
Yesterday, Tim read me an extract from something Justin had written, and I have to admit, it brought a tear to my eye…
I do not think Barack Obama will win or lose because of his race, but if he does win, the real moment you will know that America has changed is not when he takes the oath, but when we see pictures of tiny people padding along the White House corridors - a black First Family - representing America and American-ness.
True, Americans tire of their presidents, but in their early years they hold huge sway, they set the style. Americans will look in the mirror, metaphorically speaking, and black faces will look back.
I wonder if the Obama children have ever asked the question: "Are we nearly there?" The answer, at last, is: Yes, we are nearly there."
What a long distance America has travelled since the Kennedy days.
Attended by MPs from all political parties as well as many CEOs from the business world, there will be an address by Stephan Shakespeare, publisher of AITW, and then the star of the evening David Cameron.
But of course we all know the real star will be in the crowd, shunning the limelight and enjoying the huge success we all know this evening will be.