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…)

Monday, September 1, 2014

ConHome Calls for Bercow’s Head

John Bercow is facing growing calls to resign, with Conservative Home calling for his head in a blistering criticism of his failings his afternoon. The party’s in house journal argues “the Speaker ought to resign, for the good of the Commons”, that today’s “imitation of a u-turn… isn’t sufficient to save him”, and that following his statement today “Bercow’s position has become untenable”.

“His authority over the House as a whole has evaporated. In his statement this afternoon he was openly heckled by various MPs. His declaration that “a number of colleagues have expressed disquiet” about Ms Mills, when in reality at least 84 MPs are in open revolt on the matter, elicited a loud “Ha!” from Michael Fabricant. His proposal of a “modest pause” has been met by rebel demands for a full debate on his conduct of the affair. It’s no use suggesting this is a group of usual suspects who dislike him personally – the objectors have visibly multiplied in proportion to his misbehaviour. This is an unsustainable state of affairs, and his failure (or refusal) to satisfy his critics now threatens to disrupt the running of parliament.”

The damning piece concludes:

“He ought to go of his own accord or be made to go by MPs. We need a new Speaker who can live up to the job and restore the role to its former standing.”

If this were to snowball…

SKETCH: Bercow Does Bashful

The Speaker made his statement (of course). There was barking throughout. Never has a Speaker’s statement been heckled. Scoffing, scornful laughter on “A number of colleagues expressed disquiet.”

He said as little as possible, played it straight, modestly, firmly, with a self-deprecation mild enough to sound plausible. “My preference did not meet with sufficient support,” he said to explain why the combined post was advertised.

The management challenge was larger than it ever has been. The move out of the building and the refurbishment of the buildings was, he implied, beyond the capacity of clerks.

So, the panel chose the candidate to be both chief adviser to parliament and chief executive.

As to separating the roles “Any change would require the consent of the House.”

On the pre-appointment hearing he says he wants to hear views.

He is offering “a modest pause in the recruitment process while views are solicited in detail.”

This is the first stage of what he hopes will be an orderly retreat.

(more…)

Bercow Clerk Statement: Full Text

Bercow has given way and delayed the Mills appointment:

“Order! Order! I wish to make a statement concerning the clerk and chief executive of the house. Currently these two roles are combined in a single post, despite their very different nature. Over the years, Parliament’s affairs have become more complex, its budget has risen and decisions such as on a potential refurbishment of the House have become unavoidable.

Thus highly skilled management is now vital as much as expertise in procedure.

My preference for separating the two aspects of the Post did not meet with sufficient support before the recruitment process and in consequence the combined position of Clark and chief executive was openly advertised.

A range of candidates were considered by an interview panel consisting of five honourable members and a lay member, Dame Julie Mellor.  

[Interruption "no deputy speaker!"]

Two rounds of interviews were conducted and at each stage the panel source to select one person who could meet the demanding twin roles both of procedural adviser to the house and of its chief executive officer. The panel reached its decision on July 30, however a number of colleagues have since expressed disquiet…

[Interruption: "HA!"]

…their concerns fall into two categories. The first, helpfully raised by the honourable member for Rutland and Melton, is whether the panel should have recommended separating the roles. I was advised that the panel could not adopt this approach without prior legislation.

As I have said, there is a compelling case for such a separation but any change would, of course, require the support of the House.

The second concern is for free appointment scrutiny and was initially put forward by the honourable member for North East Somerset. A strong case can be made for it and on this point also I wish to hear colleagues’s views. In the circumstances, and having discussed the matter with the leader and shadow leader of the House, I believe that a modest pause in the recruitment process is desirable while such issues are explored and the views of members solicited in detail. In the meantime, the functions of the clerk and chief executive will be distributed between members of the management board. I am sure the whole House will wish them well in the discharge of these important duties while the matter is resolved with good will and by consensus.”

Vid via @liarpoliticians.

UPDATE:

Bercow Statement: Will He or Won’t He?

If he does not make a statement, Bercow might as well just say ‘I resign’.

12:26pm:

He can run but he can’t hide…

2:12pm:

This is being handled about as well as the Clerk job process itself…

 

Gallery Guido: Bercow Sticking to His Line

The Speaker’s position is deteriorating fast. Reports say he is sticking to his line that the recruitment process was fair, modern and followed best practice. “Previously, the outgoing Clerks handed in a piece of paper with three names on it,” as he says. Leave aside the fact that his process has created an unprecedented shambles. He now has to avoid lying to the House.

For either Saxton Bampfylde are the most incompetent head hunters in the history of head hunting or John Bercow refused to pass on their warnings about Ms Mills’ comic lack of suitability.

For, what was Ms Mills doing on the long list at all? Saxton Bampfylde, charged with finding a new Commons Clerk presents a facilities manager presiding over “the worst-run department in the Commonwealth” according to one Australian Senator, a manager with no procedural knowledge, and with two separate Inquiries against her. “Just the ticket!” they think, and put her up for consideration. Really? When are they going to spill the beans?

The Commons Commission is FoI-able. Whether the oddly-established Panel of Selection is – that’s a moot point. It needs a clerk to rule on that one. But what did Saxton Bampfylde tell them? Their reputation is at risk. The truth will out – and sooner rather than later.

Kick off at 2.30. Guido will be posting as report shortly after the Speaker sits down. Points of Order will be around 5pm.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gallery Guido: The Questions Bercow Must Answer on Monday

The Speaker will stand up at 2.30 on Monday and make an announcement on the new Clerk. Because it could be the end of John Bercow’s Commons career he will make the speech of his life.

It will be a parliamentary masterpiece of apology, mild defiance, injured dignity and ostentatious consensus-seeking.

Players of Oratorical Bingo should look out for:

The timetable was dictated by the outgoing Clerk’s resignation. Process better than we had before. Advertised. Open competition. So necessary to meet the extraordinary challenges we face. All worked hard, interviewed many candidates, acted in good faith as servants of the House. I am the servant of the House. I am referring the matter back to the House in the form of the House of Commons Commission. They will report their recommendations back to the House.

Then, expect:

MP: Point of order!

Speaker: “First there are questions, then a statement by the Prime Minister. Points of order always come after the statement.” (He will want the Prime Minister first to paint a picture of global collapse, jihad, party defection, Euro-turmoil in order to make procedural points seem petty.)

MP: “But it IS after the statement. You’ve just made a statement!”

Speaker confers with Interim Clerk Natzler. Then, sensationally, “It was an announcement, not a statement.”

If MPs lose this argument, Points of Order may begin around 4.30 or 5pm, if the Speaker can drag proceedings out.

The Speaker will answer each point, some at filibustering length, some with the holding answer: “This is a matter for the House of Commons Commission. Let them do their work and report to the House.”

There are many questions outstanding. Here are some of the most important, as raised by Guido over the summer…

(more…)

Bercow Backtracking Fast: Showdown Coming, Monday

Later Gallery Guido will predict what the Speaker will say, the attitude he will take, the apology he will deploy, the blocking technique he will use, and the Points of Order storm that will follow (under the general heading Not So Fast, Mate).

John Bercow fighting for his position will be a most  impressive experience for all concerned, and the parliamentary event of the year.

Quentin Letts also has more:

Respected backbenchers Jesse Norman (Con) and Natascha Engel (Lab) have assembled an impressive force of parliamentary supporters for a move to debate the appointment of Carol Mills in the House. If that happens, Mr Bercow may have to resign.

Bercow is in a hole. Although there is no shortage of personal opprobrium for him — he is the most uncongenial of men — this rumpus is about principle. Who runs the Commons: its Members or their biased Speaker? And that, surely, is a matter for us all. It is our Parliament, not his. It is now embarrassingly obvious that he fixed the committee that selected Ms Mills and that he did so with the assistance of the Shadow Leader of the Commons, Angela Eagle, and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge.

Monday is going to be fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gallery Guido:This is Not the First Job Bercow Has Stitched Up

Will a pre-appointment hearing for Carol Mills examine the murky appointment process run by the Speaker?

Investigators will be interested how the Speaker got what he wanted in the appointment of his Chaplain in 2010.

An eye-witness to the events spoke to Guido today and disclosed the following.

A Speaker has no formal role in the selection of the Speaker’s Chaplain, it is a Church appointment with two roles – one in the Commons, the other across the road in the Abbey.

John Bercow insisted that half the short list of six be female. He pre-determined the winning candidate would be female. “A female is going to do that job. It has to be a female,” he is quoted as saying.

Although he had no right, he insisted on speaking to all the candidates himself.

He rang up the selection board and lobbied them.

He continued to operate in the general election period when he had no official standing as an MP.

(more…)

Gallery Guido: What Was Margaret Hodge Thinking?

Considering Margaret Hodge’s titles – Protector of the Public Purse, Scourge of the Quangocracy, Chair of the Public Accounts committee – you have to wonder what she was doing agreeing to Carol Mills’ appointment.

As Guido reported, Carol Mills’ delinquencies and profligacies would have earned her the withering criticism of Hodge’s PAC.

Every Parliament, Mills replaced the entire Australian parliamentary crockery stock at a cost of $80,000.

She couldn’t cut $400,000 out of the pool and gym budget so she took it out of security.

She refurbished her office at a cost of $1m.

She presided over criminal misappropriations without informing the police.

But these are mere hors d’ouevres prior to the 500-course feast that the Senate inquiry into her department will serve up when it gets underway.

Who Ms Mills’ referees were, and whether Mrs Hodge gave them due diligence is something that will doubtless emerge as events grind them out. Saxton Bampfylde (sic) the head hunters will also need to explain how they weren’t to blame for anything.

But finally – and most obvious of all, to someone of Hodge’s experience, Ms Mills discourse gives her away. She talks in the obscene Esperanto that international bureaucrats use to bamboozle politicians

” . . . we established a fostering inclusion and respect framework to guide the implementation of measures to promote ethical behaviour across all levels of DPS.”

Hodge on committee would insist on that sort of rubbish being translated into English.

So what was she up to?

If anyone could be counted on to vote against an Old Etonian, it would have been the former leader of Islington Council at its institutional looniest.

Guido suspects that would have been her primary qualification for what Bercow wanted.

Remember, Bercow’s main purpose in this comically unprofessional fiasco was to diminish the standing of the Clerk, to eliminate other interpretations of parliamentary procedure. That way he’d enjoy ever-greater freedom for his princely rule.

That power-mania is what underlies the whole shambles.


Seen Elsewhere

Boris: Prime Minister By Monday | James Ford
Tories Say Don’t Bribe the Scots | Times
Dave Can’t Stay if Scots Go | Laura Perrins
BBC Crew Attacked in Russia | BBC
English Parliament Would Rescue Cameron | Tim Montgomerie
Hodge Confesses to Second Bike Crash | Standard
Hodge Biker Smash | Telegraph
Hodge in Collision With Biker | Barking and Dagenham Post
What the Final Polls Tell Us | UK Polling Report
David Cameron’s Draft Resignation Letter | Speccie
Labour HQ to Be Demolished | Asa Bennett


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