2015 General Election Day 23: A swing to the Nostalgia Party

pg-14-hague-ride-paWe’ve had privatisations and the right to buy, but today the Tory campaign finally moved into the 90s with John Major warning us of the dangers of a Tory government with a small majority paralysed by its extremist backbenchers a Labour government working with the SNP. With any luck, the Tory nostalgia strategy will carry on moving forward through the years and the old Hague baseball caps will be pulled out of storage for one last moment in the spotlight.

Back in 2001, the Tory campaign was centred around ‘X Days To Save The Pound’, but I’m not quite sure what we’d be exhorted to save this time, aside from Cameron and Osborne’s political careers. ‘Save the Union’ would once have been a natural Tory rallying cry, but this time it seems that the Union be damned, a Tory victory is all that’s important no matter how much it might put the future of the country under threat. Here’s my question: let’s say you’re the Prime Minister and you’d actually quite like to get rid of Scotland, but you can’t say that in public or do anything that would too obviously give away your plan. What would you have done differently from what David Cameron has done since the morning of September 19th (the day after the referendum)?

Yet again, it seems that the democratic will of the British people is all-important, but only as long as they vote in the right way. I can remember the Major government, and the constant speculation over which MPs might rebel over what issue, and how the various concessions that were made to the right of the party slowly forced sensible and moderate Tories to jump ship and defect. But apparently that sort of pandering to nationalists who only cared about their pet issue was and would be perfectly all right, it’s only where they’re Scottish that they’re suddenly beyond the pale. I really don’t have much time for nationalism in any form outside sport but the absolute panic the SNP appear to be inciting in the British establishment is quite fun to watch.

Of course, if this election was being conducted using the sort of sane and sensible voting system you’d see elsewhere in Europe, we wouldn’t be having this problem. Yes, the SNP might be about to get a majority of the vote in Scotland, but that would only translate to a majority of seats, not a landslide that scours the ground clean of anything else. Also, we’d likely have two parties, neither of which looks like getting very far past having one-third of the electorate support it, accepting that neither of them had anything like the sort of mandate to govern alone. I have seen some discussion of just how silly our electoral system is becoming in an era that’s a long way from two-party politics, so there’s maybe a chance that common sense will dawn.

Anyway, if you need something to make you both smile and weep, here’s the latest tale of Grant Shapps being caught out by the internet. Smile as you read of his comedic exploits, then weep as you realise he’s considerably richer than you and MP for a safe seat, so this won’t affect his chances of re-election.

It has prompted one of the great press releases of the election, though:

Not likely to be creating any safe seats, today’s move down the list of parties standing in the election finds us at the National Health Action Party with twelve candidates standing around the country. Unlike most single issue parties, they probably won’t lose all their deposits as one of their candidates is Richard Taylor, formerly the independent MP for Wyre Forest, and one would expect that there’s some lingering support there for him given he got 16,170 votes there last time after two terms as MP. I don’t know if this will take him back to Parliament, but his 2001 win in Wyre Forest was pretty unexpected at the time as well – and one of the few interesting points in a very dull election night.

As you might expect, the party’s manifesto is very detailed on health issues with lots of plans for the NHS, and very general on others where they mainly call for everything to be fair. Aside from Taylor and his personal vote, I wouldn’t expect huge things from the party, as they only managed 1% of the vote in the one region they stood in for the European elections last year. European elections are ones where people tend to vote much more expressively than in others, and if only 1% of them then thought the NHAP were worth backing, I can’t see them making big breakthroughs this time.

Finally, today’s dive into Election Leaflets finds a non-party candidate who is very likely to be elected to the Commons – John Bercow, the Speaker. After the attempt to get him in the Commons failed, I did wonder if he might face some opposition from a suspiciously well-funded independent, but the Tories weren’t organised enough to arrange that so Buckingham is the only constituency in the country with just three candidates, and he’ll likely sail to victory over the Greens and UKIP.

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bercowlookIf you haven’t yet heard, the Government’s hastily introduced motion to change the way the Speaker is re-elected was defeated in the Commons by 228 votes to 202 after a debate of around an hour.It was quite an extraordinary debate to watch as one watched William Hague floundering to explain why the Government had suddenly decided that this matter had to be discussed at short notice while a range of MPs from all parties stood up to query the process. When Hague looks back on his Parliamentary career, he may be tempted to pretend that it finished on Wednesday 25th March rather than today, as it really wasn’t a good note to leave on.

The most impressive speech, however, was one that was delivered with typical Parliamentary bombast or bluster and showed that great oratory can be delivered quietly to devastating effect. Charles Walker, chair of the Commons’ procedure committee, whose recommendations Hague was ostensibly proposing to the House, showed just what skullduggery had been played out behind the scenes, with people who knew what they were about to do telling him nothing of the way they were about to use him:

It does suggest that some people in Parliament have been watching too much House of Cards and decided playing silly games is more important than getting on with governing. This is likely the last Parliamentary day of Michael Gove as Chief Whip too, after managing to end the Parliamentary session by getting the Government defeated on a vote they didn’t need to force while angering many of the more influential backbenchers with the manner in which they attempted it.

What did this mean for the Liberal Democrats? Well, Tom Brake sat alongside Hague throughout the debate playing the loyal deputy (and was mentioned as one of Walker’s ‘clever men’) but the only Lib Dem MPs to speak in the debate – Duncan Hames and David Heath – were both clearly going to vote against, and another MP told me privately that the announcement of this vote came as a surprise to them, but they were allowed a free vote, as MPs usually are on procedural matters of the House. How individuals voted we’ll have to wait and see for a few hours until the results of the vote are published on Hansard.

However, one thought did occur to me – was allowing this motion to be brought today the price exacted by the Tories for allowing the ‘Yellow Budget‘ to be presented in the House last week? There were some suggestions floating around earlier that Bercow’s complaints about using the House for a purely party political announcement had angered the party leadership enough to make them want to get rid of him. Sadly, it’s all too plausible that both party leaderships would be so enamoured of their respective clever wheezes that they neglected to think how they would look to their own backbenchers, let alone the public, and so we got the mess we had today. It’s a fitting capstone to stick on the end of this Parliament.

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What do the Lib Dems gain from stabbing Bercow in the back?

Yes, John Bercow and I have studied in the same department.

Yes, John Bercow and I have studied in the same department.

Like the last day of school, the last day of a Parliament is usually quite a relaxed place with plenty of time given over for retiring members to give valedictory speeches, while the last bits of business are cleared up. Given that we now have a fixed term Parliament and everyone has known for a long time when it would be prorogued, there isn’t even much of a rush to get legislation through as the Prime Minister heads to the Palace.

Which is what makes last night’s news that MPs would suddenly be asked to vote on a change to the procedures for re-electing a Speaker all the more odd. It’s quite clear that this is a surprise move and has been brought in an attempt to catch the Opposition on the hop and slip through a change without any proper consultation, discussion or debate. I can’t imagine that William Hague imagined he would end his Parliamentary career in this way, but this will be the last thing he gets to do as Leader of the House before heading into retirement.

The change would come into effect in a new Parliament, when the question of re-electing a sitting Speaker has traditionally been a simple one of asking if there are any objections and then a regular division of the House. This would replace that procedure with a secret ballot. Now, there may be arguments in favour of that change though we’re unlikely to hear them explored and scrutinised in depth during the one hour allocated for debate, but I can’t help but notice that it gives an incoming Government the power to remove a potentially troublesome Speaker with none of the ministers being seen to be voting in public for it. We know that David Cameron and other members of this Government don’t like the way the Speaker feels they should be regularly summoned before the Commons to face Urgent Questions, and now if Cameron is still Prime Minister after the election he has a way to remove John Bercow without having to cast a public vote to do so.

So, it’s a grubby move being brought in in a pretty underhand way, which is the sort of thing we’d expect from the Tories, who obviously haven’t exercised their pantomime villain muscles enough during this Parliament and felt the need to remind people at the end of it of how nasty they could be. What I don’t understand is why the Liberal Democrats are allowing this to happen – all the stories I’ve seen suggest this is a Government move with support from both parties, and no one from the Liberal Democrats has as yet popped up to distance the party from this move. Over the last few years, there have been several things the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party have voted for that you wouldn’t expect them to, so this isn’t a first but it doesn’t come with the usual excuses as to what they’re doing it. No one’s yet been wheeled out to talk about concessions achieved elsewhere in the Bill, how this is part of the Coalition Agreement if you squint hard enough or how it’s a necessary part of having a stronger economy and a fairer society. Instead, the Parliamentary Party appears to have meekly agreed to this stitch up and is hoping their acquiescence won’t be noticed.

What I can’t understand is why – what gain is there from dropping this poison pill right at the end of a Parliament? The anti-Bercow movement appears to consist solely of Tory MPs and ministers who’ve been out to get him since he became Speaker in 2009, and I’ve never heard any significant grumbling about him from Liberal Democrats. A party that believes in accountability and democracy shouldn’t be supporting underhand moves to change the rules without any notice, and a party that might be looking for friends across the House of Commons after the election shouldn’t be angering a large chunk of it right now.

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David Sanders’ inaugural Regius Professorship lecture now available to watch online

wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegA couple of months ago, I wrote about Reluctant Europeans?, David Sanders’ inaugural Regius Professorship lecture at the University of Essex. The lecture, and the panel discussion chaired by John Bercow that followed it, are now available online for you to watch. I think a lot of you will find both parts of it interesting.

The lecture is about an hour long and it’s a very good look at how British people think about European issues. It uses some quite recent academic research but isn’t aimed at a purely academic audience and Professor Sanders is a very good lecturer, so everyone should be able to understand the points he’s making.

The discussion that follows features Sanders, John Bercow (a graduate of the Department of Government at Essex), Professor Dame Helen Wallace, Baroness Shirley Williams and Professor Anthony King. It’s very wide-ranging around the points Sanders raised and has some interesting questions and comments from the audience.

Professor David Sanders’ Regius Professorship Lecture 2014 – Part 1: Lecture from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Professor David Sanders’ Regius Professorship Lecture 2014 – Part 2: Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A from University of Essex on Vimeo.

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Customer service in the House of Commons

One of those little things that’s crept into our internet usage over the last few years is the customer satisfaction query. There’s probably another name for it, but what I’m referring to is the little question you often get asked when you’ve queried an FAQ, a support database or help system. Did this answer your query? they’ll ask at the end of your reading, checking to see if they’ve understood what you were asking and have provided the answers you require.

Why I’m thinking about this is because I was watching David Cameron’s appearance in the House of Commons yesterday. And what I was thinking is ‘how much would it change the way Parliament works if the Speaker could ask that to MPs when they’ve asked questions?’ Of course, part of that would be the fun of seeing John Bercow regularly popping up to ask ‘did that answer the Honourable Member’s question? Yes/No/Partially’ but more fundamentally, it would be interesting if an MP could have some reaction, however minimal, to the non-answer that’s been prevalent in the Commons for years. Just a chance to say ‘I’m sorry, but that wasn’t even an attempt an answer’ might make people wonder just what they’re supposed to be doing there other than braying like idiots.

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