Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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.

In Full: The Damning Bercow Appointment Email

The now infamous email from the Clerk of the Australian Senate makes very clear that the issue’s around Bercow’s choice of Clerk is not one of gender, misogyny, anti-modernisation or xenophobia. The question is, can Carol Mills do the job?

CEO of the Commons? Yes. Possibly. Maybe. Hard to say when a rigged panel, a rigged process and a rigged short list produced a result the Speaker had already decided on. But Clerk? A job that is hers until she retires, as Bercow has made clear? The Times leader this morning does not think so.

Here is that email in full:

Dear Robert

We were utterly taken aback here when we saw a brief press report in early July that Carol Mills had emerged as “frontrunner” to take over from you, and have followed events with increasing disbelief and dismay. It seemed to us impossible that someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience could be under consideration for such a role. I do not usually resort to the second person, but there is not a single individual who has mentioned this to me in the past few weeks, from my most junior procedural officers or senior staff here and senators, to my State colleagues, who has not seen this candidacy as an affront to our profession and the professionalism of us all. “Bizarre” is the word most frequently used to describe the situation. I can only imagine what your staff must be thinking.

(more…)

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.


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