Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tories Very Publicly Break Cover in Speaker Row
MP Demands Delay in Appointment of New Clerk

He’s at it again. Tory MP Rob Wilson has written to the Leader of the House, the PM and the Speaker to very publicly blow up the row over the appointment of the new Clerk of the House:

“Media reports suggest, as does the Australian Senate website, that Ms Mill’s Department of Parliamentary Services oversaw the CCTV ‘spying’ on a senior Labor Senator’s office for the purpose of unmasking a whistle-blower and also recorded a Senator’s movements. The Senate Privileges Committee has a significant investigation underway which apparently will report early next year, March 2015.

In these circumstances, how can we possibly appoint a Clerk of the House of Commons who is under investigation for a serious breach of parliamentary privilege? Should we not await the investigation being carried out by the highly respected cross-party Australian Senate Committee?

Likewise, it is reported today that the Speaker (as a compromise to critics) is now considering a split in this historic role. I seriously doubt the merit of this proposal and agree with Sir Robert Rogers when he said: “I can’t think of more than half a dozen chief executive-type decisions that I have had to take over the last three years that haven’t had to be very closely informed by a profound knowledge of the house and what the house will take. So the two roles are inextricably intertwined.” Furthermore it would not overcome the concerns outlined above regarding Senate Committee investigation into Ms Mills.

I therefore urge you and the Prime Minister to use your good offices to find a way to block the appointment of Mrs Mills, at least until such time that matters become clearer. It could prove extremely damaging to both Parliament, and to all concerned with Ms Mills’s appointment to do otherwise.”

The Speaker will take great pleasure in swiftly replying, no doubt.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Speaker Watch: How Bercow Will Spin the Canberra Criticism

An astonishing intervention from the Clerk of the Australian parliament has put a cat – or a tiger – among the pigeons.

The selection of Carol Mills for the £190,000 job of presiding over parliamentary procedure was described by the highest officer in the Australin parliament as bizarre. An affront. An embarrassment.

You need a peculiarly corkscrew vision to see into the Speaker’s ways. His appointment of a chief clerk who knows nothing about clerking is a fine example of his twistiness.

Australian Carol Mills, director of facilities in Canberra parliament, was appointed to the £190,000 job by a panel selected – unprecedentedly – by the Speaker.

The appointment has been gathering controversy over the summer recess for more reasons than one. It’s a power grab. The process was improperly managed. It’s an example of his policy of Diminish and Rule. It’s effectively abolishing the position of Chief Clerk. It has astonished the Commons.

Opposition is gathering on all sides. Labour, Tory, male, female, legal and parliamentary.

But let us look ahead. The Speaker wants to present this row as Tory men opposing any attempt to modernise the House of Commons.

Criticism of Carol Mills will be spun by him as evidence of misogyny and conservative reaction. He wants it to be seen as a battle between Labour women and Tory men.

Yesterday’s story in the Mail on Sunday undermines this cunning plan. The testimony of the clerk of the Australian Senate attacks the appointment on grounds of professionalism and experience.

Clerk Rosemary Laing wrote:

“We were utterly taken aback when we heard Carol Mills was front-runner to replace Sir Robert Rogers and have followed events with disbelief and dismay.

“It seems impossible someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience could be under consideration for such a role. It is bizarre and an affront.”

This is not a battle for female equality. This is a display of the Speaker’s increasingly erratic campaign against his ancestral enemies, the ones who snubbed and snobbed him in his youth.

Leave his pathology to one side.

Has he considered the effect of this appointment on Carol Mills herself?

She will have been lured out of her depth. Tempted out of her circumference. Brought in to operate in an intensely alien environment by the Speaker’s assurances, his guarantees and under his protection.

Australian women have particular qualities of gutsiness, plain speaking and focusing on outcomes, unconstrained by precedent and convention. She may survive this.

But if she fails, she will serve the Speaker’s purposes just as well. Her martyrdom will help the Speaker’s long war against his enemies.

He has destroyed the career of more than one official. And Carol Mills wouldn’t’t be the first woman to be properly damaged by him, either.

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:

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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tory MP: This Isn’t About Getting Bercow

Tory MP David Morris, who revealed that Bercow’s financial backer Farah Sassoon posed as a Labour adviser while drinking on the Commons terrace, rejects the Speaker’s paranoid accusations that this is all a mean right-wing plot to get him:

“I think he’s a marvellous Speaker and a great bloke, but I worry about why we have someone purporting to be a Labour aide roaming the estate. She told me that she advised Miliband on ‘media issues’.”

Meanwhile, Bercow is taking his time to reply to the latest series of questions about that donation and that pass. Choosing his words carefully?

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 Probed on Sally Pal’s ‘Agent’ Boast

John Bercow will be delighted to have been given another chance to explain himself after he dodged questions about his pass-for-donor mystery. Rob Wilson has this afternoon also asked the Speaker to comment on why Farah Sassoon has been going around telling people she is Sally’s agent:

“I do note however, that you did not answer my final question fully and it would be helpful for you to do so. Therefore, in the interests of full transparency I ask again; who was consulted regarding the propriety of accepting a donation from someone who has been issued a pass?

I also note that there have been several more articles regarding the nature of your wife’s relationship with Ms Sassoon. Could you please confirm that she is not, as she has reported, your wife’s agent? Likewise could you confirm or deny whether there is any kind of commercial relationship between Ms Sassoon and your wife?”

At the very least, the Speaker sorted out security clearance for a woman funding his election campaign, who according to witnesses also claims to have some sort of commercial relationship with his wife. Let’s hope he can do a bit better with his answers next week…

Speaker Responds… Sort Of
Bercow Answers Raise More Pass-for-Donor Questions

John Bercow has replied to Rob Wilson’s letter, and once again the Speaker’s response raises more questions than it answers. Bercow has largely rehashed the statement his spokesperson gave to the press on Wednesday, failing to giving any explanation for why he gave a pass to a woman who is funding his re-election campaign:

Bercow says the pass only permits Sassoon access to Speaker’s House, so why is she so often seen elsewhere on the parliamentary estate, most obviously on the terrace? The Speaker admits she is security cleared, so why has he eased access to parliament for one of his donors? Bercow has as yet given no explanation. Note also that he dodges the last question – “Did you consult with any of the Parliamentary authorities” – failing to confirm whom he spoke with about the arrangement.

Crucially, the key question remains unanswered: Does the Speaker think it is appropriate to award special access to parliament to a woman who is funding his re-election campaign?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tory Secretary of State Ups Ante in Bercow Pass Row
++ Grayling: “Passes Should Not Be Given Out Lightly” ++
++ Justice Secretary Says Right That Speaker Faces Questions ++

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has weighed into the row over why John Bercow gave a parliamentary pass to a woman funding his re-election campaign. Responding to a question from Guido at his press conference this morning, Grayling warned:

“It’s certainly the case that passes to the House of Commons should not be given out lightly. They can only be given out to people who have a proper reason to be there. Any Member of Parliament, and obviously the Speaker of the House of Commons is a Member of Parliament like the rest of us, who has issued a pass to a third party, must have a good reason for doing so. And if they don’t have a good reason for doing so they will undoubtedly face questions from a great number of people as to why that is the case.”

Bercow has until tomorrow to reply to Rob Wilson’s letter, but this looks to Guido like it is heading for the Standards Commissioner…


Seen Elsewhere

Yes Side Emphatically Won Campaign | Speccie
Joyce Thacker on Sick Leave | Doncaster Free Press
Claire Perry Slams ‘Goodies’ for Scots | Sun
Westminster Truce Shatters | Times
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


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