Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SPEAKER WATCH: Bercow Kneels Before the House

Leonard Cohen on his bankruptcy tour sang whole concerts on one knee, hand extended to the audience. He really needed the money.

So it was with John Bercow yesterday evening. He knelt. He extended his palm to the Commons. “I am in the hands of and ready to be guided by the House.” He really needed the support.

How well he plays that great organ of democracy!

“My responsibility is to hear and heed them,” he said of its members.

They just didn’t have the heart to give the kneeling supplicant a jolly good beating.

That will happen – and it is still more likely to happen than not – today, the day after and next week.

It is still more likely than not he will lose the Speakership.

Jesse Norman asked gently whether he was going to withdraw the letter of appointment. He was told, “It isn’t for me to withdraw a letter but for the panel.”

Is it? Is it for the Panel? Wasn’t the Panel’s function to advise the Speaker? Whose name was on the letter of recommendation – the Panel’s or the Speaker’s?

(more…)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Speaker Watch: Uncompromising “Compromise”
Bercow Close to Getting What He Wants

The accusation that Ms Mills’ department used CCTV footage to breach parliamentary privilege was raised by MPs on the panel but they were told there wasn’t time to go into it and that it wasn’t relevant. If John Bercow endorsed that view, or was the source of it, he may find himself carried by an uncontrollable stream of events. That would count as lying to colleagues.

In the meantime, it’s reported he has offered a compromise – to split the role of Clerk into two, hiving off the chief executive function so that Carol Mills can credibly fill the position. But that’s not a compromise, or retreat or backdown. It’s what he wanted all along. It’s Plan A.

An outside chief executive with no prior loyalties and no experience of the difficult environment of Westminster answering only to him. With a £2 billion parliamentary renovation project coming up, this is one of the big appointments of the decade. If the new role doesn’t require clerking experience or procedural knowledge it should be re-advertised. The pool of potential candidates will be very much larger than the one from which Carol Mills was mysteriously fished. If the role is split, the selection process should start again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Betty Boothroyd Says Carol Mills Not Up To Job

Rich’s Monday Mid-Morning View

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bercow’s £1,300 MP Funeral Bill on Expenses

Guido couldn’t help but feel the taxpayer had been short-changed when he read in today’s Sun that John Bercow claimed £1,300 on expenses to go to Paul Goggins’ funeral. A worthwhile trip perhaps, but could he not have done it cheaper? Guido decided to find out.

The Speaker charged us £45 for a car from parliament to Euston station and £67.50 for the return journey the following day. A quick browse of Guido’s Uber app (other free market-supporting smartphone-friendly cheap car travel services are also available) shows we could do the journey for a tenner each way.

Bercow did much better on his train journey. He billed £239.10 for him and two staffers to get up to Manchester, the standard fare. Though when he got to Manchester, the Speaker inexplicably blew £500 on cars across the city. Since the trip was only meant to be for a church service and then the funeral, Guido struggles to see why he spent so much on taxis. We reckon we’d have spent £50 at the absolute maximum.

Finally, Bercow put himself and his staffers up at the posh Park Inn by Radisson hotel at a cost to the taxpayer of a cool £364. There are plenty of budget hotels well situated in Manchester. Guido chose the Ibis Budget, which would have given us three rooms for £96.

Bercow total: £1,290

Guido total: £405

Every little helps…

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bercow Fails to Clear Up Pass Row at Second Time of Asking

The Speaker has finally replied to Rob Wilson’s detailed questions about the probity of his pass-for-donor arrangement, and once again he is choosing his words very carefully. The question of what access Farah Sassoon has to the parliamentary estate is particularly troublesome for Bercow. He claims that “this pass has restrictions on it which are tailored to the circumstances for which the pass is required and will not activate proximity readers inside the Palace.” As anyone familiar with parliament will know, a free run from an entrance all the way through to Speaker’s House would give the passholder significant access to wider parts of the estate. 

Bercow has now had two opportunities to explain himself, and still he has failed to do so. If Farah Sassoon has no commercial relationship with Sally, why is she going around parliament telling MPs she does? How is it possible for her pass to only grant her access to Speaker’s House and not the wider parliamentary estate? And does he think it is appropriate to award special access to parliament to a woman who is funding his re-election campaign? His evasive answers hardly set an example fitting for the Speaker…

UPDATE: The Telegraph have yet more questions for Bercow:

Questions Mount Over Speaker’s Choice for Commons Clerk

“Bercow appears to have won his battle  for an outsider to run the Commons,” the Guardian’s political editor tweets.

No, no. The battle is very far from won.

Questions around the selection of Australian Carol Mills as Clerk of the House are multiplying.

Did John Bercow fly to the e-democracy conference in South Korea this May to meet her? Is it proper for the chair of the selection panel to meet candidates privately?  Did he give her information that would help her in the interview process?

Were there other irregularities in the interview process?

Was the fact that Carol Mills is the subject of an Australian parliamentary inquiry (for covert surveillance of staff and parliamentarians) disclosed to the selection panel?

Why was Margaret Hodge put on the panel? What is her relationship with the senior clerk David Natzler? Was she chosen because she was not favourably disposed towards him owing to a prior dispute?

Where is the letter nominating Carol Mills? It went to Downing Street a week ago. Has it gone to the Queen?

Sir Robert’s resignation takes effect at the end of this month. What happens if the nomination is not confirmed before the Commons returns at the beginning of September, will Natzler, as the highest-ranking clerk fill the role?

Who will be sitting in the Clerk’s chair when the Commons reconvenes?

It’s not a done deal yet.

PS: Will Carol Mills get a work visa? There are other able women who are British citizens who are better qualified for the job. Will she get the visa in time? Has the visa application been conducted properly, without undue influence from the Speaker’s office?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Speaker’s Choice for Commons Clerk Faces Oz Spying Scandal

Carol Mills, the Speaker’s choice for the new Chief Clerk of the Commons (salary £190,000 pa), has good reason to want an escape route from her current job down under. The Australian parliament’s Department for Parliamentary Services, run by Mills, has just been placed under investigation by the authorities in Oz. Earlier this year Mills confessed that her department may have used CCTV cameras to spy on a whistleblower and a Labor senator. The report into the scandal is due early next year, by which time Mills should have settled in at Westminster…

There’s something fishy about this entire selection process. If the Speaker particularly wanted the job to go to a woman, why did female clerk Phillipa Helm not even get on the long list? Bercow may have thought she didn’t have enough experience to clerk the Commons – but then he arranged the appointment of someone who has no experience of Commons clerking at all.

How did Carol Mills surface? Was she approached directly by the Speaker? There are rumours that the outside candidates were given improper information about their chances. And how will MPs react to a foreign administrative functionary with no experience of the Commons sitting in the Clerk of Clerks chair? If this is reform, the reforming Speaker may find himself increasingly isolated.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Speaker Slips Into Paranoia

John Bercow has responded to increased scrutiny by briefing against his imaginary enemies to the Observer. An “ally” – in all liklihood himself or his spokesman – says he is being targeted because he is a “reforming Speaker, and some people don’t like that”, while “sources close to him” say asking for a simple explanation constitutes a “rightwing hatchet job”. He doth protest too much…

This has nothing to do with Bercow’s “reforms”, it is a simple question of why he lets a businesswoman funding his re-election campaign use parliament as a playground. The claim that his critics are all “rightwing” is patently untrue, you can read about the story in the Mirror and Tory MP Rob Wilson, who has been keeping the pressure on, is hardly a standard bearer for the right.

Bercow’s grubby mitts are all over the Telegraph today as well:

“Parliamentary passes grant the holders the right to mingle freely with ministers and MPs in Commons corridors and cafeterias, making them highly sought-after by ex-politicians who now work as lobbyists. It is understood that Mrs Sassoon’s pass does not grant her such privileges, and she can only access the wing of Palace of Westminster occupied by the Bercows.”

Officially, that may well be the case, but Sassoon has been spotted talking to ministers and MPs on the terrace on countless occasions. As Guido reported last week, she even pretended at one point to be a Labour adviser whist talking to one Tory MP and claimed to have a business relationship with Speaker’s wife to another.

What it really comes down to is that the Speaker is meant to be setting an example. The first commoner is meant to embody the rules, not wriggle above them. The example he appears happy to be setting at the moment is one where anyone can loiter around the Commons pretending to be a Labour adviser if they are your wife’s chum and they write you a cheque. So much for a ‘reforming Speaker’…

Friday, August 1, 2014

SPEAKER WATCH: Bercow’s Choice for New Clerk of Commons

The new Clerk of the Commons has been selected but not appointed, Guido understands. The letter is at No. 10, and David Cameron will now decide whether to pass the Speaker’s recommendation to the Queen.

And who is John Bercow’s choice for the £190,000-a-year guardian of Commons propriety? Who will be sitting at the table in the chair vacated by the abused and brutalised Sir Robert Rogers?

Not the senior clerk David Natzler, his encyclopaedic knowledge of parliamentary procedure is not required. No, the nomination for the next Clerk of Clerks has gone to an Australian with no experience whatsoever of clerking.

Carol Mills is the administrator of the Canberra parliament. She represents the latest example of the Speaker’s strategy of Diminish and Rule. She won’t have the knowledge or authority to resist Bercow’s procedural innovations in the House, nor will she know enough about the Gormenghastly complexities of Westminster to act as an independent-minded chief executive (the other part of the job).

She can only aspire to be Bercow’s tool.

Guido’s advice? Cameron shouldn’t reject the nomination. Seeing a ludicrously unqualified person sitting in Sir Robert’s place may cause MPs to realise how far gone the Speaker now is.


Seen Elsewhere

Why Are Radicals Like Carswell Leaving Tories? | BBC
Danczuk: Rotherham Abuse Imported From Pakistan | Telegraph
Ashya King Case Shows How Authorities Get it Wrong | ConHome
The Carswell Show | Jon Craig
Cops Seized Journalist’s Phone to Out Whistleblower | Press Gazette
Chuka’s £2,500 Tax Avoidance Donation | Times
Another BBC Stitch Up? | David Keighley
Divided, Pessimistic Tories Expect Defeat | Alex Wickham
Labour Suspends Rotherham Council Members | Sky
PM Used Terror Crisis to Deflect From Carswell | Rachel Sylvester
Scotland Surges for Freedom | Times


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We also need Zil lanes.


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