What You Can Get Away With » Parliament

I’m sure when Sinn Fein set out to reshape the way the UK was governed, this wasn’t what they had in mind:

A Sinn Fein spokesman told Newsnight that Adams “wrote to the Speaker’s office on Friday and informed him of his resignation. It’s a non-issue from our perspective. He submitted his resignation and that’s it. He’s stepped down from that position. He certainly didn’t apply for the Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead.”

It seems Mr Adams has found some way of resigning from Parliament without going through these ancient procedures.

Is it just me who thinks Adams has missed a trick here? I can imagine him striding across the North Riding, declaring what he intended to do as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and causing at least mild consternation amongst some people. And as Iris Robinson currently holds that other notable position of profit under the Crown – the Chiltern Hundreds – it would have provided an interesting political balance between the two.

But, if you are now to be able to simply resign from Parliament without taking up the posts and MPs will not be needed to perform these vitally important roles, I would like to inform the Speaker and the Queen that I will take on both or either of the titles to ensure that these parts of the British Constitution are not just swept under the carpet.

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100% organic and cruelty free links, these:

Campaign for the Abolition of Parliament – Richard Kemp questions just what the point of some of the activity within Parliament is
Pish to Progressivism! – “Nowadays politicians are more keen to dub themselves “progressives” than they’d be to assure the world they’re not murderers.”
What I learned in the Arid Zone – An interesting look at Phoenix, Arizona, that poses the question of what might happen to it when the water supply starts drying up?
The terror time machine – Wow, it’s like being back in the early days of blogging as Justin McKeating points out the truth when a Tom Watson MP starts fearmongering about eeevil terrorists
Abandoned Remains of the Russian Space Shuttle Project Buran – More ‘worth looking at’ than ‘reading’, but some fascinating pictures of the remains of the Russian Space Shuttle and launch site, including a look inside one of the orbiters.

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Job security

From Nick Robinson’s blog on Eric Illsley:

If he is imprisoned for more than a year he will be automatically expelled from Parliament. If he is not, MPs can – and look certain to – move to have him thrown out anyway.

The big question here, of course, is whether there’s any other job that would take a similar view of a prison sentence. How many other positions would let you waltz back into them as if nothing had happened just because you were only imprisoned for ten months? While it does seem likely that Illsley is going to be expelled anyway, why is the bar for automatic expulsion set so high? Again, I’m trying to think of employers that might hesitate for more than half a nanosecond before sacking someone who’d plead guilty to embezzling on the job.

(Of course, it’s still better than the House of Lords)

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First thought: it’s interesting that most usage of ‘the Coalition’ are now using the capital C of the proper noun for it, which implies some sort of permanence to it, perhaps. This is helped by official Government documents using the same convention, of course. The implication, though, is that Britain is being run not by two different political parties but by one homogenous organisation. Historians of the future will likely have some long-running, if essentially trivial, arguments over just what political designation to give the Government of the UK from 2010 to whenever it ends.

It seems a hell of a lot longer than last Monday that I was writing about how the best hope for the Liberal Democrats would be to find the least worst option of those being presented to us and go for that. In that vast political time of the eleven days since then, I think we’ve done that. There were three real options open to us – excluding the complete non-starter of the ‘it’s too hard, we’re going to sit on our hands and do nothing’ option – coalition with the Tories; co coalition, but a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Tories; or the supposed ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour, Lib Dems, nationalists and whoever else could be persuaded to jump on board the most rickety political bandwagon since David Owen’s Continuity SDP.

Even if the negotiations had proved fruitful, the Labour option was dead from the moment hardline backbenchers started touring the news studios saying they weren’t interested. While you can afford some dissent in a coalition that has a working majority, it’s the kiss of death to one that would only have a razor-thin one, if it even had one at all. This wouldn’t have been a Government, it would have been a political crisis waiting for the right time for it to happen and trigger a new election which would have given Cameron a majority on a 1930s scale.

And that was the same problem with confidence-and-supply – no one would want to run as a minority Government if they can find a way to avoid it, and given that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are broke after the election campaign, spending 6-to-12 months passing popular legislation (abolishing ID cards etc) and then going to the country with a ‘See? We’re nice, give us a majority’ message might not quite have brought about a Baldwinesque majority, but it’d still leave the Opposition in a pretty desperate state.

There’s also a more fundamental issue behind this – what are the Liberal Democrats for? Surely, if anything, it’s for attempting to get Liberal Democrat policies and priorities passed by the Government, and neither of those options offered much of a prospect of that happening, except for those policies where the Liberal Democrat and Conservative position overlapped. Not only that, both options appeared to present a situation where not only would there be next to no Liberal Democrat priorities delivered in this Parliament, but the likely electoral result would dramatically reduce the prospect of those policies and priorities being delivered at any time in the next few Parliaments. Thus, the choice was effectively between two options that would – or at least, were more likely to – lead to Conservative majority Governments with no Liberal Democrat input and the coalition option in which, yes, some Conservative policy would be delivered, but there’d also be a Liberal Democrat presence in there. While this wouldn’t have been the option anyone would have picked from the available smorgasbord at the start of the election campaign, it was the least worst of the options available after it.

It’s worth noting here that one of the things that made the Coalition a workable option was David Cameron’s enthusiasm for it. He wasn’t forced into talks with the Liberal Democrats, he was the one who proposed them the day after the election. Indeed, one of the things that has sold this to Liberal Democrats has been the antipathy of the Conservative right to the deal – after all, if Simon Heffer is so viscerally against something, it can’t be all bad, can it? This is where Cameron has learnt from Blair and got the opportunity to do something Blair couldn’t – by partnering with Clegg, he can pull his party towards the centre and attempt to marginalise the fringe voices on the right. It’s a risky strategy, relying on the idea that the Tory Right isn’t potentially big enough for a rebellion to wipe out the Governmental majority in the Commons, and with the recent arguments over the 1922 Committee, there’s a question of whether Cameron his pushing his party too far too fast, but I suspect there’ll be no dramatic organised move against him just yet, while he’s still enjoying his honeymoon period.

But what about the Liberal Democrats? The mood I’ve seen in the Party over the last week or so has been interesting. When the deal was first announced there was a lot of panic over the idea that we’d gone into Government with the Tories and a lot of threats of tearing up membership cards. However, as reality set in and people took another look around, a lot of those membership cards were sellotaped back together with the acceptance that this was the least worst option for us, and that now we’d taken it, we should be making it work and taking the opportunity of showing what we can do in Government. One of the reasons the Special Conference was such a success and delivered such a thumping majority for the leadership was people realising that their hopes and fears were shared by the vast majority of the party. There were no ‘Huzzah! We’re all Tories now!’ speeches or people suddenly praising the wonders of Iain Duncan Smith, but an understanding that the party had taken on a very big risk with the potential of a very big reward.

It’s still too early to tell how successful the Coalition will be – this Government is still only ten days old, after all, and yet to face any major challenges or crises – and part of me is braced for another General Election within the next twelve months if it all goes wrong. If it was to fall quickly, then normal political service could be resumed very soon, however, if it does succeed and even make it all the way to 2015, then things could look very different as a slow earthquake rumbles through our political system, changing everything.

Via the Lib Dem Press Office and James Graham on Twitter comes news of an interesting amendment in the House of Commons.

And at the use of the phrase ‘interesting amendment in the House of Commons’, half of you have fallen asleep. The other half are barely keeping awake…and will now slumber too when I announce that it concerns electoral systems.

But if you are still awake and alert, this is interesting – Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski has tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that would remove almost all non-First Past The Post elections in the UK. (You can see the amendment here – just scroll down a little to get to Kawczynski’s amendment) In the unlikely event of his amendment becoming law, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, European Parliament, English mayoral* and Scottish local government elections would all be conducted under First Past The Post – and the Boundary Commissions would suddenly find themselves with a huge amount of extra work drawing up new constituency boundaries outside England.

Leaving aside the huge political firestorm that would be created when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly discover their voting systems have been changed from above (Kawczynski’s amendment puts the power to approve new boundaries into the hands of the Secretaries of State rather than the First Ministers), think about what the effects would be on Northern Ireland.

What Kawczynski is proposing is for Northern Ireland to return to the era of the gerrymander, when the Unionists were able to use their majority control to rewrite boundaries to suit them and limit the number of nationalists who get elected. Even without any gerrymandering, how much political diversity would there be within the two sides under a FPTP system, when the system would be actively encouraging voters to flock to whichever party had just a slight advantage for their side to avoid splitting the vote and letting someone from the other side in. If the current situation in Stormont is bad, imagine how it would be if there was no meaning electoral opposition within their communities to the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Kawczynski is a backbencher and his amendments don’t seem to be reflecting anyone’s views but his own, but it would be interesting to find out just what David Cameron’s views on his proposals are. Of course, it would be interesting to find out what Cameron’s views are on many issues…

* The Mayor of London (and the London Assembly) might be the only elections spared from Kawczynski’s hammer, as he doesn’t seek to amend the 1999 Greater London Authority Act.

Something I discovered while browsing through They Work For You – which current MP’s first recorded speech in Parliament consisted solely of the words ‘the Liberal Democrats’?

You can guess below, and for the answer click here. Should you wish to see the said MP’s actual maiden speech, you can click here.

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It’s not hard to find the Taxpayers Alliance denouncing governmental waste and criticising elected officials who have wasted public money. So, it’s quite easy to guess what they’re going to say when an MP is ordered to repay £60,000 of his expenses, isn’t it?

Come on, have a guess – will it be to demand that he should pay back even more? Perhaps they’ll even call for him to resign immediately and face the music from his constituents? Whatever, I’m sure it will be the usual mix of righteous indignation and moral/financial superiority that characterises most emissions from the TPA. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to be that MP when the chief executive of the TPA has his say about me. After all, they’re a group not known for their equivocation in condemning waste, or accepting any sort of excuse in their quest to stand up for the ordinary taxpayer:

Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliot, whose group has been furiously campaigning for Westminster expenses reform, said he believed Mr Jenkin was “hard-done-by”.

He said: “It seems unfair to pick out people such as Bernard Jenkin, because when he set up the agreement with the fees office and his wife’s sister’s property, they were fully aware of it.

“In fact my understanding is the rent was below the market value, so it wasn’t a bad deal for taxpayers.

“I do think that he’s been slightly hard-done-by when other MPs have done far worse and, frankly, got away with it.”

Oh well, maybe this leopard has changed its spots. Maybe the journalist was hoodwinked by an impostor claiming to Matthew Elliott. Maybe TPA HQ was playing opposite day, and Tom Parkes was the only journalist to call them for a quote while they were doing it. Or maybe all Tory MPs are given a ‘get out of TPA criticism free’ card.

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Many of which may centre around whether they should get a version of the Streisand Effect named after them (the Trafigura Tactic, perhaps, or maybe the internet has a Trafigura Twitter Tendency?)

In short, though, to follow up on last night’s post, Carter-Ruck have now withdrawn their legal proceedings against the Guardian, which now allows the paper to report fully on such matters as Paul Farrelly’s Parliamentary Question on the subject. It’s also turned what might have been a story that was reported solely in the Guardian, Hansard and a few blogs into one that’s exploded across the entire media and has been the main subject of discussion on Twitter and political blogs for the last 18 hours, as well as possibly generating a charge of Contempt of Parliament for Carter-Ruck.

As a (relatively, in internet terms) old saying goes – the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it. Trying to censor something in one place – and, in this case, going spectacularly over the top and asking for an injunction that blows a giant hole in the Bill of Rights as a side-effect – just means it sprouts up in a thousand others. This time yesterday, very few people had heard of Trafigura – and I still don’t know how to pronounce it – but now their name is attached to a little piece of internet and legal history. As lawyers, it seems Carter-Ruck make great PR agents.

And while you have a moment, please go and sign this petition on the 10 Downing Street website.

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If you haven’t read this or seen this, you might never have heard of the oil company Trafigura before. Indeed, they could have stayed nicely below many people’s radars, just they way they like to be, except for the fact they took their desire for secrecy a bit too far.

Apparently, it’s possible to use the law to stop a newspaper from reporting on proceedings in Parliament, which is the sort of revelation that should send chills down the spine of anyone with a commitment to democracy, debate and freedom of speech. Specifically, it would seem that the Guardian is not being allowed to report on a question being asked in Parliament, so if I was working for the Guardian I might not be able to do this (taking a question entirely at random, of course):

61 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

But, the science of internet communications is about to get some fascinating data points, as we discover just how many blog posts one injunction can generate, and just how quickly it takes from obtaining a court ruling to get your company’s name as a trending topic on Twitter.

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I was reading some of the comments on Conservative Home (it was quiet night) about Edward McMillan-Scott being expelled from the Conservative Party and noticed that many were demanding that he should resign as an MEP. The reasoning behind this is that he was elected as a Conservative MEP from the party list, and as he is no longer a member of the Conservative Party he doesn’t have the right to continue as an MEP.

Now, I’ll admit to the usual politician’s bias on this issue – if someone defects to my party, they’re doing it as a matter of principle and are committed to representing the people they represent, if they defect from it, they’re obviously shallow, venal, betraying the voters and should resign forthwith – but I’m not convinced that McMillan-Scott should resign in this case.

I’m going to try and stick to general principles here, rather than getting bogged down in the specifics of the case, but I would agree that when a person is elected on a party list, there’s a strong case that that person should be obliged to stand down should they choose to leave the party they were elected for. Perhaps not in all cases – if the party has genuinely changed from what it was when the election took place, or personal popularity had a strong effect on the vote, for instance – but in general, it would seem to me to be fair that if a person had been elected by the efforts of a party to be the representative of that party, they’re obliged to remain a member of that party if they want to keep their position.

However – and the important question in this case – is someone necessarily obliged to resign their position if their party has rejected them, rather than them rejecting their party, especially if their political position hasn’t changed, as I’m sure McMillan-Scott would argue his hasn’t? (This is assuming the old ‘I didn’t leave the party, the party left me’ to be true for once) Is it fair to allow for the dominance of the party over the individual to such an extent, even if the party list system does assume this to be case? (Is it just another argument against closed-list systems? Especially as McMillan-Scott doesn’t have the option to take this to the voters, should he so choose)

To me, the whole issue of whether defection or deselection should prompt resignation or re-election is a very large grey area regardless of the voting system – though perhaps not in STV – so I’ll throw this one open to any passing commenter for their thoughts, with apologies for any wooliness in mine as it is quite late as I’m finishing this off.

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