Thursday, August 28, 2014

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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About the Bercow Row
Leaked Memo From Speaker’s Opponents Explains All

Been away? Well this memo prepared by the cross-party alliance who have hamstrung the Speaker – tells you everything you need to know about the row over who will be the new Clerk of the House of Commons and whether the job will be split:

Bercow will face scrutiny about what looks remarkably like dirty tricks in his attempt to install his preferred external candidate into the role:

“The internal candidates were given less notice of the presentation required and of its subject than the external candidates (the former on the Monday before interview, the latter the previous Friday). The external candidates were offered a briefing meeting with the Speaker as Chair of the Board; the Clerk candidates were not. Some of the questioning appears not to have accorded with best practice. It is also reported that the Speaker gave the panel the benefit of his personal views of the Clerk candidates. All this may be explored in Tribunal proceedings.”

Just ten days after twisting arms on the selection panel, he has backed down and realised just how much trouble he is in. It would appear he greatly underestimated his opponents…

Gallery Guido: Disaster Strikes Retreating Speaker

The retreating Speaker is now offering to split Robert Rogers’ role (which he always wanted) but have the new administrative position answer to the Clerk (which he never wanted).

This is a disaster for John Bercow – to save his job he has significantly strengthened the Clerk and created an alternative power base backstage.

But this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end.

The current legal and procedural shambles is the end of the beginning.

Carol Mills will be doing half the job at twice the salary. At the moment she still has the grace and favour grandeur of 3 Parliament St.

This is clearly untenable.

The process needs to start again.

Without the need for procedural knowledge a multitude of candidates will present themselves for one of the most prestigious jobs in the public service.

Carol Mills’ employment lawyer is going to make a fortune.

Bercow Blinks

In the middle of the August recess, Bercow quietly slipped the name of his preferred choice of Common’s Clerk to No 10 for them to send to the Palace. As the BBC reported on 19 August:

“Speaker John Bercow’s choice to take over as Parliament’s most senior official is almost certain to get the job…

…a spokesman for House of Commons leader William Hague said it would be “pretty extraordinary” if Downing Street were to reject the panel’s chosen candidate.

A source close to Mr Bercow called the recruitment process, which included two interviews, “fair and transparent”.”

After sitting on it for 9 days, Downing Street have now made clear they are not happy. Bercow has woken up to the crisis, despite still standing by his choice for Clerk late last week. A source tells the Times Red Box:

“He realises there are big problems here and he does not want to do something to which the House is opposed. As far as we know he wants to be re-elected as Speaker in 2015. And neither would John want to embarrass the Queen.”

Bercow is now signalling he would be happy to look again at splitting the role – something opposed by Tory backbenchers, but the current Clerk has fired a missile at that idea too. Again the BBC:

“Sir Robert Rogers – the most senior official in the House of Commons – says a suggestion his role could be split to create two posts of equal seniority is the ‘wrong answer’. Adding ‘the buck must stop somewhere, and it needs to stop with the official who is responsible to the House, not to a Chief Executive responsible to the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission’.”

Bercow has blinked, but this will rumble on yet. Either way, is it not about time the ‘listening speaker’ consulted those  he was elected to serve – the MPs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Almost 10% of MPs Already Backing Stop Mills Motion
Major Shift From No.10 on Bercow’s Appointment

According to sources close to Jesse Norman’s tally sheet, more than 50 MPs from across the House are backing plan to delay the appointment of Carol Mills and set up a proper pre-appointment hearing – currently 8% of all MPs. The Speccie have the wording of said motion:

‘That this House believes that the recommendation of Ms Carol Mills to be Clerk of this House should be subject to, and contingent upon, a pre-appointment hearing and report by a select committee.’

Sources have let it be known to Guido that this is no old guard operation:

“It’s not the usual suspects but very much younger Members, new Members, Modernisers, etc. And the numbers are building steadily despite the issues of reaching people during recess/Bank Holiday etc. We’ve had people calling in from their holidays to add their names. There is real concern and anger about this. So there’s a head of steam building strongly for the Commons to have its say.”

There is no cross party support for Mills, and No. 10 have woken up to this.

A significant moment in this row.

‘Canberra Caterer’ Missed Catering Scandal on Her Watch
Expensive Scandals on CV of Potential Commons Chief Exec

The limited defenders of Carol Mills, who go under the name ‘friends of Bercow’ in the press, point to her experience running the Department for Parliamentary Services of the Australian parliament, as well as the enormity of the ‘Chief Executive’ role of the Common’s clerk – who essentially runs the parliamentary estate. Leaving aside allegations of spying on both politicians and hacks alike, apparently Mills would make an excellent Chief Executive if the role was split. Yet, does her track record really back up that claim?

In February of this year Mills was forced to admit that the DPS had missed an ongoing catering fraud. She told a Senate hearing it “was likely” that “inappropriate practice” had been going on for two years through a $550,000-a-year contract. It was found that W Catering had been using parliamentary facilities to cater for other events they were running, outside of parliament. There was political consternation over the fact that instead of calling in the cops, Mills took the decision to bring in “an external organisation look at all the material that I could find in terms of the accounts, the proceedings, etc.” At a cost to the taxpayer, natch.

Nor was this the first time that Mills had reached for the expensive outside consultants instead of dealing with matters through traditional internal channels and the law. Back in 2012, after a major security breach on her watch that saw an intruder enter the Parliament and get within touching distance of the Aussie PM, Mills shifted the blame by commissioning a $30,000 report by an external bureaucrat. Again, it turned out to be a matter for the police to deal with, but not before the money was wasted. 

Missed fraud scandals and security breaches don’t look great on Mills’ CV, but how she ultimately dealt with these problems – expensively – will really irritate MPs. Lots to discuss at a pre-selection hearing…

Monday, August 25, 2014

Gallery Guido: The Bercow Remedy

The House feels it is being bounced into accepting a split role of Clerk and chief executive. MPs are complaining.

They feel that the split, if desirable, needs thought.

Whether the chief executive should answer to the Clerk of the House or to the Speaker is one important consideration.

The remedy is in their hands.

If the Backbench Business committee grants a debate with a votable Motion – and the Motion is carried – then the decision will be implemented forthwith. It is House business.

The Motion would say something along the lines of . . . A pre-appointment process should enquire into the splitting of the roles of Clerk and chief executive of the Commons in the first place and only once that principle has been established should the candidacy of Carol Mills for Clerk and chief executive be subject to a pre-appointment hearing with the power to reject her.

It needs a clerk to write the Motion, obviously. Someone who knows what they are doing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Charges Against Bercow Puppet More Serious Than Reported
Facing Possible Six Months Imprisonment for Contempt

“She may not be much of a clerk, as she knows nothing about procedure, but I’m happy to accept the panel’s assessment that she’s a first rate chief executive.”

That’s what generous people say about the clerical candidate Carol Mills.

But what evidence is there that she is this high-calibre, fair-minded apostle of the Nolan Principles of Public Life?

An admission she made in a committee hearing in May this year caused an astonished senator to call for, and to be granted, an emergency debate in the Senate followed by an Inquiry (yet to report).

President of the Senate John Hogg described Ms Mills’ admission as “a very serious matter”, saying:

“It is fundamental to the law of parliamentary privilege that any act that has the effect or tendency of constituting improper interference with the free performance by a senator of the senator’s duties as a senator may be treated as a contempt.”

The maximum sentence for contempt includes six months in jail.

Carol Mills took over Canberra’s dysfunctional Department of Parliamentary Services in 2012. Whistleblowers were still releasing information to Senator Faulkner two years later.

Ms Mills’ management response had a dash of Stasi in it: she monitored the comings and goings of the senator’s office by the use of CCTV.

Second, and separately, there is an inquiry – unanimously agreed and sponsored by all parties and Independents in the Senate – into the performance of Ms Mills’ DPS.

This is not a routine appraisal.

The terms of reference are very wide-ranging and will scrutinise every level of this riven department – still considered by some to be the worst-administered department in the Commonwealth, even after two years of Ms Mills ‘ world-class leadership.

Guido repeats the question asked before. Was the panel of selection informed of these inquiries? Was the seriousness of the charges revealed?   And if so, what was the panel thinking?

The Clerk is the highest guarantor of parliamentary privilege – they had sitting in front of them someone being investigated for breaching it.

Were they told? And if not , why not?

UPDATE: Looks like we will be getting some movement:

Meanwhile government sentiment seems to be hardening: “Discontent rising,” says one source. “Consulting parliament was supposed to be his USP in the role, after all.”

The ‘Canberra Caterer’ Breaks Her Silence Over Spying Row


As former Labour Ministers join the outcry over Bercow’s choice of Commons Clerk, Carol Mills has told the Guardian Australia:

“I was disappointed to read an email reportedly from the clerk of the Senate, one of my peers at the Parliament of Australia, in the media. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further in a personal capacity at this time. As a senior parliamentary officer, I take seriously my responsibilities to promote and uphold the values and code of conduct articulated in the Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Service Act 1999.

I take this opportunity to thank the many people in Australia and the United Kingdom, including senior parliamentarians and parliamentary officers, who have supported me in my current role as secretary of the department of parliamentary services (DPS) as well as encouraging me to be considered for the role in the UK parliament.”

Mills said her Department of Parliamentary Services “looks forward to the opportunity to explain to the [privileges] committee the basis of its view that use of the CCTV footage was in fact authorised, and wholly consistent with parliamentary privilege.” Australian politicians have accused Mills of spying on them.

“Until such a time as the committee completes its inquiry and report, it would not be appropriate for DPS to make any public statement on this incident beyond noting that the department does not accept the accuracy of some reports on this matter,” she adds. Even if Mills had all the experience of parliamentary procedure in the world, it would be bizarre to appoint someone with this much baggage.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forgetful Bercow Trashes Former Clerk

Steve Richards has become the preferred conduit for the Speaker’s spin in the ‘Canberra caterer’ row. Having taken copy, Richard’s regurgitated it for the Guardian:

“In small ways he has attempted to move the buildings closer to the real world. There is even a creche now. Each move is met with resistance. One of the forces of conservatism was the outgoing chief clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who had worked in the house since 1972. Rogers had an admirable commitment to the Commons in an era when it was more fashionable to view the place with casual contempt, but he resisted most of Bercow’s innovations. To give a small example, when Bercow asked for some of the younger clerks to perform the senior role of sitting in front of him in the Commons, Rogers suggested that such an elevation would be appropriate in another 10 or 15 years. Bercow did not want to wait 15 years.”

The Speaker, and thus Richards, conveniently forget though that almost everything praiseworthy Bercow has done – greater use of Urgent Questions, an increase in Standing Order 24 emergency debates and indeed splitting the role of clerk and chief executive – were all proposed by Mister Whiskers himself. For Bercow to be trashing the reputation of his erstwhile mentor shows just how dirty the cornered Speaker is willing to play.


Seen Elsewhere

Ed Balls’ Speech Was Pointless | Dan Hodges
Media Movements: James Lyons to Sunday Times | Media Guido
Rebekah Brooks in Line for £7 Million Payout | Times
A Different Sort of Class War | Telegraph
Labour Candidate’s Links to Ex-BNP Member | Breitbart
McVey Dodges White Dee Debate | Speccie
Labour Candidate: Churchill Was a White Supremacist | Mail
LibDems Stand By Disgraced Sex Offender-Linked Mayor | MK
Has Carol Mills Given Up on Westminster? | Canberra Times
Labour Consider Banning Uber | Asa Bennett
Did LibDems Make Up Hancock Disciplinary Meeting? | Scrapbook


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Eddie Izzard, in his thirteenth year involved in politics, says he’s not cursed because it took Sir Alex Ferguson “seven years to win the premiership so it doesn’t really matter.”



cynic says:

Can anyone help me? I went on holiday a week ago and returned to find someone has pulled out the stake and Gordon Brown is back and acting as Prime Minister. What did I miss? Has there been a snap election?


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