How Prisoner Voting Bill Could Blow Up ECHR Gallery Guido on Human Rights Convention in Peril

The committee looking at this controversial voting-rights-for-prisoners Bill had a state visit from one of Europe’s governing elite.

(Deep breath) The Secretary General of the General Directorate of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe came in this morning to offer his opinion and advice about how we should go about this “impasse” between a European institution and our parliament, judiciary and justice system.

I wanted to know how much the fellow earned, what his pension rights were and how many thousands of others like him there were in his monstrous supra-national regiment multiplying work for themselves as only lawyers can.

The Committee, run with some patriotic asperity by Nick Gibb, got something yet more revolutionary.

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SKETCH: Angry Reserves, Sliding Strikers and a Biased Ref

“He won by a mile,” both sides say.

Which do you prefer? These figures or those figures? The useless or the clueless? The useless clueless or the useless gutless? The one who doesn’t know anything or the one who’s got everything wrong. The one that goes round personally sacking nurses or the one who’s a corrupt mafia-backed mayor?

Or you might prefer the Speaker himself, he called them all, as a whole, “low-grade” and “downmarket”. John Bercow is the Ambassador for Parliament, so that’s quite an assessment from the Chief Outreach Officer.

He put in another cracking anti-Tory performance – and so soon after the one two weeks ago which had the 1922 executive on the point of sending a delegation to him to complain. The delegation idea didn’t work so they were going to send a letter. In the end, they did nothing. The inactivity is something less than masterly.

Emboldened, the Speaker interrupted the Prime Minister again today, as he was winding up for one of his shoutable lines (the PM’s mike gets turned off when the Speaker rises). And Bercow also told him off in a tone of jocular contempt for not answering a question.

The deputy chief whip then tweeted: “PMQs getting like Old Trafford, 5 minutes extra time in the hope that the Reds score a late equaliser.”

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SKETCH: Plebgate recall of unreliable witnesses Apologise AND MEAN IT!

Sergeant Hinton – he’s the vulnerable one with the dry mouth and soft eyes. He started badly and ran to form.

He began by telling the chairman quite firmly: “It’s important I give you a narrative around my explanation around all this.”

Here’s a rule of thumb the police might put in their manuals. Anyone who says he wants to give a narrative around an explanation is lying like a flatfish.

If the suspect uses any variation of the following words – “no intention to mislead”, “honest error” and “I can’t apologise for things I haven’t done” – charge them.

Sergeant Hinton and Sergeant Jones had been recalled by Keith Vaz to correct the record. They’d been told their evidence last time was unconvincing and that they’d misled the committee, so here they were for their right of reply.

You can see the advantage of the right to silence.

Hinton had been caught on tape calling the Home Secretary “that woman”. Apparently this is very offensive. Mrs May has surely been called a good deal worse, but Hinton saw that wasn’t going to fly as a defence.

So he said, variously, he had forgotten her name. He hadn’t remembered saying it. It was a typo. It was an honest error.

As ever, the cover-up is the thing. How desperately dishonest they looked as they talked about their “interpretation of the question.”

Question: Have you had any complaints against you?
Answer: No.
Real Answer: 13. Continue reading

SKETCH: Reeking Toxic Dump in the Public Finances

“It will possibly go up by a handful of billions,” the boss of Sellafield – or the boss of the authority that is the boss of the company that is the boss of Sellafield – told a worn-down Public Accounts Committee.

The committee’s wave of wrath had broken half an hour before on the rock of John Clarke, MD of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. This public servant had just re-let a fat contract to a company called Nuclear Management Partners whose main commercial purpose is to loot the public purse while getting in as much golf as possible.

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SKETCH: He’s Hon Hon Free Schools, Then He’s Off Off Them

He really is gorgeous, any responsible sketch has to deal with that. The hair, the gilded complexion, the easy manner, the complex title. The hon Member for Stoke Central – son of a Lord Hunt – is an hon by birth as well as achievement. He is so posh he’s a double-barreled Hon.

The Hon-Hon Tristram said the Tories were obsessed with him – and who can blame them? I’m reconsidering my heterosexual status even though I’m not a Tory voter – and even though I can’t rely on his being any good at it. He isn’t qualified. He didn’t complete the course. He lacks the certificate.

Could his inspiration, his talent, his passion make up for a lack of professional regularity?

To the debate.

Despite recent publicity given to his own brilliant but unqualified teachers he denounced the principle allowing them to have taught him. “You need more qualifications to work in a burger bar!” he grieved.

A Tory asked whether his inspirational teacher Terry Morris had been qualified, and Hon-Hon replied that Tories were obsessed with him. For some, this was an incomplete answer. He went on. He wanted “to train teachers up, not talk them down.” He want to pursue Finland. And where were they? “Up the value chain”. That’s where he wanted Britain to be. It sounds a frightful place, but that’s Britain doing better under Labour. As for the standing of Terry Morris’ qualifications – Hon-Hon left that to one side in the hope that no one would notice.

However, the question lay at the crux of the argument and the Tories returned to it more than once. Graham Stuart, chair of the Education select committee tore into it. Never had teachers been so overseen, inspected, rated, he said. A headteacher went out on a limb to appoint an unqualified teacher and would make doubly, trebly sure that he or she was performing better than their qualified colleagues.  Tristram’s face when thus chastised does need more careful, more lordly regulation.

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SKETCH: Energy Committee Lacking Energy, Power, Illumination

You’d pay quite a levy or premium on your fuel bill to wipe the smirk off their management faces.

It wasn’t a grilling. Parliament couldn’t afford the fuel. It was a little light poaching. It was coddling.

Wither-ringing quote of the day from Labour’s Ian Lavery: “How can the profits be fair if people can’t afford to pay them!”

Faced with such a confused and under-informed committee (Energy and Climate Change) the energy bosses realised they could say anything they liked.

Transparency. Trust. Fairness. Profoundly regretting putting up any prices at any time. Our passionate people working their fingers to the bone to keep the lights on by investing, yes and re-investing everything they made back into this sceptre’d isle so that the poor, the disabled, the elderly, young people, differently-sexed people, women with skin issues, fish – wouldn’t have to choose between eating and heating.

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SKETCH: Maybe If We Had Polish MPs They’d Turn Up More

For Home Office questions most MPs stayed at home. It was the wind. A tree had fallen down somewhere below the Humber. Maybe if we had Polish MPs they’d turn up more. I withdraw that at once.

Norman Baker presented some scheme, or effort to keep young people out of the reach of criminal gangs. There goes the west Midlands police recruitment drive.

That was followed by a slip of the tongue – perhaps or perhaps not. Theresa May told the House that crime in the Thames Valley Police had fallen by 25 per cent. She then thanked the officers who “contributed to these good crime figures”.

Lying, cheating, bearing false witness, blackmail, fitting up a Government minister, fabricating a police log, a grossly stupid – moronic, even – attempt at entrapment.

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SKETCH: Speaker May Have to Rule on His Own Behaviour

It’s said a delegation from the Tory 1922 committee is being sent to the Speaker, to complain of his bias against them.

Why now? Timing is always mysterious.

For years, Gallery Guido has wearied readers with the observable fact that Bercow lashes Conservative infractions with loathing and contempt – but chides similar Labour flaws with oily approval.

He even documented a late-night occasion which showed active co-operation between Speaker Bercow and the Labour Whips to ambush the Government. There was also the case of allowing his pet Chris Bryant to call the Health Secretary a “liar” – a manoeuvre that took no little procedural preparation.

The Speaker’s behaviour hasn’t changed – so why a delegation now?

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SKETCH: A Pilgrim Stitch-Up

If you have pitchforks and flaming torches, they’ll come in handy. It’s not obvious where Plebgate is going to lead. If this is the level of integrity in the police, there’ll be a Royal Commission at the end of it.

Keith Vaz’s committee has quite excelled itself in arraigning the officers at the sharp end of the Plebgate scandal.

They haven’t been condemned but in the unusual words of the Chair “we have found your evidence unsatisfactory”. In English – “We think you’re lying through your teeth which is why you cover your mouth with your hands, why your mouths are dry, why you mumble furtively, why you want to talk about hindsight and your state of mind at the time, and you keep saying, “Can you repeat the question?”

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PMQs SKETCH: No More Ladies’ Tennis

What very different reactions to PMQs. Some scored it all Miliband’s way, I gave it half and half, sophisticated pollsters registered everything in between and at either end.

It was, we can agree, less like the Ladies’ tennis we’ve been seeing lately.

Shouty Dave? Perhaps – but then the Speaker organises it that way by letting Labour barrack more loudly. Clever Ed’s cunning questions? Possibly – but there’s still no getting past the comedy teeth and the looming lips.

Ed claimed a consensus on the need to recoup cash from energy company profits – his price freeze or John Major’s windfall tax. John Major who had won a majority, unlike the prime minister. Laughter. Labour resurgent.

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SKETCH: Gorgonzolas of the BBC at Culture Committee

Were I a psychiatrist with executive powers I’d be calling in emergency cover for Tony Hall, the new director general of the BBC and candidate for 24-hour supervision. The lack of eye contact, the jerky gesturing driven by little bursts of interior impulses, the things he says! He is a sketch of unfathomable depression.

By contrast, the low-hanging sloth that is Lord Patten gave off such enviable ease you might be drawn into wanting to run the BBC Trust yourself. “I am 69. I am beyond human ambition,” he told the committee. It looks as if it’s true, the cunning old arboreal.

So: Bullying. Helen Boaden. Second jobs.

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SKETCH: Put Another Pickle In, In the Pickleodeon

Watching Eric Pickles’ Local Government Questions, the will to sketch guttered. They may be full of good intentions – and of course they may very well not – but the unintended consequences of social policy clatter away like falling dominoes.

Help to Buy doesn’t encourage house building but certainly increases the price of houses, Help to Buy makes houses Harder to Buy.

The difficulty of getting onto the housing ladder has been greatly increased by tuition fees. Graduates have to pay off debt as well as save up for a deposit.

Kicking single tenants out of two-bed council houses will increase the housing benefit bill when they get re-housed in more expensive one-bed houses.

Freezing the allowable housing benefit pushes private landlords out of the market, putting up the price of accommodation.

Three hundred several-bedroom houses in the Wirral stand empty following their single tenants’ eviction. Empty! Because no one wants to live there!

And should single council tenants in two and three bedroom houses be made to pay extra, or take in a tenant? Or is that a fascist idea, like telling people to wear a jumper when it’s cold, or saying that 70 per cent of IQ is inherited?

As Bart Simpson said when running for class president: “He says there are no easy answers. I say he’s not looking hard enough!”

SKETCH: Nuclear Meltdown of LibDem Principles

The Lib Dem mutant formerly known as Ed Davey stood up to make his announcement. The extra organ he had grown in order to accept and promote the use of nuclear power – he kept that under his shirt. But it’s there and it will surely turn on him and eat him up in time to come (or at least by May 2015).

From the look on Michael Fallon’s face on the bench behind, his was the radioactive toxicity that had reorganised the Lib Dem DNA.

The price the department’s paying sounds mad, the conditions onerous and the job forecasts relate almost solely to foreigners.

The radiation had fired up Davey’s political circuits and made him insist that taxpayers weren’t subsidising the project and that – uniquely among large projects – there would be “gainshare” for the public but no “painshare”. By this, he wants us to believe that the public purse isn’t liable for budget overruns and will be credited if the project comes in under budget.

“IF THE PROJECT WHAT?” I hear you scream from here.

Tom Greatrex answered for Labour. His boss Caroline Flint had been detained by a power failure (arf arf). He mocked the ministerial mutation with the thought that the Government line on Labour’s energy policy had been undermined. While Labour wasn’t allowed to freeze energy prices for 20 months, the Government was freezing them for 35 years. Davey said this was economically illiterate.

Davey also said consumers wouldn’t pay over the odds for new nuclear power. That remark will rank along with “Devaluation will not affect the pound in your pocket” and “out of Afghanistan without a shot being fired.”

In Barry Sheerman’s succinct summary: The technology is French, the finance is Chinese and the humiliation is British.

SKETCH: Hunt is on for Labour Education Policy

The languid, lanky, mop-topped Tristram who now speaks for Labour on Education has just made the single most impressive debut at the despatch box in living memory.

He had spent the weekend on television telling us he supported the idea of free schools – if not exactly Free Schools. He was going to launch Parent Led Academies.

That’s not even the difference between Coke and Pepsi.

So with what surprise did the Commons hear his Urgent Question this morning as he boldly denounced the “dangerous free-for-all” in education, and that this “ideological experiment” had resulted in Al Madinah and dealt a “devastating blow” to the foundations of Free School theory.

His very long legs have allowed him a foot in each far-flung camp but his position is vulnerable in the centre.

David Laws, with a characteristic display of disappointed pessimism replied that the Al Madinah school may certainly be dysfunctional and inadequate across every category – but it’s been dealt with.

Contrary to Labour’s new view of “responsible capitalism”, some individual failure invigorates the success of the species, bankruptcy is an essential fact of business, short sellers and asset strippers perform vital and difficult functions. You need jackals to keep the veldt tidy.

So, some schools will fail, and if they are punished properly, the others will be encouraged.

NB: Under the previous Government, 1,500 schools were rated as “inadequate” (that is, “stinking hell hole”) for years.

SKETCH: Homer’s DWP Odyssey

Lin “Woeful” Homer is in front of the Public Accounts Committee looking humble and helpful. She knows the committee doesn’t have anything fatal for her. Yet.

She and her HMRC have been running a pilot for Iain Duncan Smith’s insane plan to computerise the working population. And it works. Yes, it’s a success, so far. “System integration is going according to plan.” They say.

There are a couple of thousand people on the pilot, and the system serves them wonderfully well. Under questioning though, it was revealed they’re all essentially single men with no children, not in receipt of tax credits. They’re not people at all, in tax terms.

“If you can make it work for one person you can make it work for a million,” Ian Swales said, incorrectly. “We’ve seen so many systems that don’t even work for one person.” That’s more to the point.

A Universal Credit system is never going to work universally, any more than Marxism did. The only historic inevitability is the system crashing round IDS’s career.

The committee asked if the system was ready for the moment Work and Pensions say they have a few multimillion families with multiple spouses, live-in grandparents on a matrix of benefits and an unquantifiable number of children?

We’ll have to wait for the corrected record, but Ms Homer is cautiously confident they will always be ahead of anything the Department of Work and Pensions can throw at them. That’s a good way to bet.

Especially as the target of getting the pilot up to 140,000 taxpayers by April of next year has been abandoned.

So conditioned to failure was everyone that the April target was mildly laughed at. The 50 per cent cost overrun on the original budget generated a gentle melancholy. The assertion that extra costs have “reached a high water mark,” wasn’t howled out of the room.

The committee performed valiantly but perhaps lacked the forensic fury that they – led by Margaret Hodge and Richard Bacon – can generate, at their best. Hodge promised livelier exchanges when they come back next time.

Lin herself has timed things well. She’ll certainly be gone on to her next disaster before this particular cataclysm comes to pass.

PMQs SKETCH: Just Press Record and Replay, Week by Week

They’ve decided it’s not worth preparing all morning for it and decided to do this week what they did last week.

If you think there’s “a cost of living crisis” you will have approved of the Opposition leader’s repetitions. He referred to the long term unemployed, the rise in energy prices, the Tory complicity in legislating for green levies, the energy company that has an “obsession with dividends” without being in any way interested in “getting prices down for consumers”?  But he had no answer to the rebuttal.

Cameron called it “same old Labour” but it may not be. Miliband’s price-defying approach hasn’t come to full maturity but it’s shaping up for something more deluded than Labour has attempted in living memory. Continue reading

SKETCH: Who Regulates the Regulators – and can we give them an axe to do it?

It’s hard to summon the invective to describe the nice young regulator who’s going to head up the NHS’s Monitor.

Pleasant, modest Dominic Dunn (£63,000 a year for three days a week) is there to provide another layer of strategic obfuscation in the multi-billion miasma of the NHS.

That’s not written in to his job description but he is certainly an elusive target.

When asked a direct question – is it your job to promote competition in the NHS? – he answered: “Not to promote competition, but to address anti-competitive behaviour.” Continue reading

Deputy Speaker Media Hustings

The Deputy Speaker candidates just presented themselves to the media in Dining Room A of the House of Commons. Paul Waugh introduced it as “The Dwarf and Seven Snow Whites.”

All made the same speeches as yesterday and had the same sort of reaction.

The late run on the rails from Bellingham, now at 4-1, is interesting. He certainly looks the part. And has all the confidence of his background. “If I’m privileged enough to succeed,” he said. He didn’t quite mean that.

But let’s not dwell on their virtues.

Eleanor Laing pious. Burns, leaden. Binley pleased with himself. Amess engaging but not in it. And Nadine’s prospects must be complicated by her appearance in front of the Standards and Privileges committee this morning. It is said she didn’t declare her earnings from her appearance on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” she replied when asked about it.

Actually, that’s probably true.

This morning, it wasn’t possible to imagine Eleanor losing.

That’s not the case this afternoon.

SKETCH: Deputy Speaker PLP Meeting

The candidates wanted the 1922 format with each of them being the only candidate in the room. This allows personal remarks to be made. Labour practice had them all in it together.

Simon Burns. Joked someone had said this was like a chicken in a fox house: “I think it’s more like a fox in a chicken house.”

Whichever way round, it was the wrong way.

He would cease to be partisan and so forth. Oversee the smooth running of Parliament, “like a football referee.” Brian Binley: “He’s stolen my line! That was my line!” That was better in than out.

Eleanor Laing. Passion for the place, make back benchers matter, executive too powerful, stand up for the rights of backbenchers. Standard fare. “Forgive me, I’m going to be very brief. If you aspire to hear your own voice you shouldn’t sit in the Speaker’s chair.” Brilliant line, well delivered, big round of applause.

Nadine Dorries: Attempted an anti-Tory pitch (it has worked before, but needs years of groundwork). One Labour MP commented: “The more she talked about how she didn’t ever really vote with her Party, the more we didn’t like her.”

“Many of you will remember that I was not John Bercow’s biggest fan before the election. But out of my great respect for the Chair, and realising how admired he was in the House, I went to see him and I apologised. I sought him out and I apologised to him. And since then, John and I have been the best of friends.” Sick bags all round.

Henry Bellingham: “Many of you will be looking at me and thinking that I’m an archetypal, typical Tory. Well, I’m very sorry to disappoint you. That’s exactly what I am.” Big laugh, surprisingly warm feelings. The authenticity principle working strongly.

His competence, his attention to detail, his punctuality, the importance of courtesy to colleagues, that he wouldn’t guard the speaker’s list as though it contained the nuclear codes (laughter). “The reason why Lindsay Hoyle is so popular amongst Tories is because he is courteous.” He said that he will work with the Speaker’s team but that he will stand up to him in private if he has disagreements with him. Surprise contender!

Gary Streeter read the job description from some Procedure Committee report. It had things like “must have a sense of humour” and should serve on the Chairman’s Panel. “I have in the past shadowed the one-and-only Clare Short. Doctors say I will make a full recovery!” (Quiet groans).

His time on the Home Affairs select committee allowed him to learn the dark arts of chairmanship from Keith Vaz. Ouch! No, no, no. Not in front of Labour.

He said he had no ambition to be Speaker, that he was friendly and sympathetic and sat down.

Brian Binley told us that he heard the Prime Minister might vote for him. Didn’t get the laugh he had hoped for and he followed it with “I didn’t expect that. I really didn’t, I can tell you.” Then he turned on Burns for stealing his football joke “Glad you liked it, Simon.” Some glaring.

Time as a Co-op bank manager where he learned the most important skill for a Deputy Speaker and that was man-management. He said it again. “What about women?” a shout from the back. Brian hadn’t heard him and said it again. The room folded its arms.

Then: “No-one has mentioned Nigel. Well, I will because it’s the reason we are all here. And it’s a lesson for all of us. Anyone with a profile is vulnerable and that’s why we all have to defend him. If he’s acquitted, and I pray to the Almighty that he is, I would step aside. Defending Nigel is defending all of us because you never know when something will smack you in the face.” He sat down, campaign slumped.

David Amess. Walked in late. “The last time I was here we were counting a ballot and my candidate got one less vote than there were people on his campaign team.” Good sort of laughter.

“Colleagues, if you want a lady, I can’t help you. They are both excellent and will make excellent Deputy Speakers. But if your mind is open then I could tell you that I have been inundated with phone calls and letters begging me to stand, or I could tell you the truth.” More laughter.

“The fact is, I really fancy this job, I wouldn’t mind the salary and I’d love the prestige that goes with it. And I’d love to sit on that green chair bossing you all around.” (So much laughter he had to pause.)

“Colleagues, I know my limitations. I don’t like pomposity, bullying or cruelty. And for those of you who don’t like me, think of the prize: never to hear me droning on again or making a partisan speech!”

Performance rating: 1. Henry Bellingham 2. Eleanor Laing 3. David Amess .

This is not to say the vote will go that way.

Hustings at 12.45.

SKETCH: Reverse Ferrets Running Labour Welfare Policy

More than one debutante appeared in the Commons at question time for the glamour department that Work and Pensions has become.

Tory TV star Esther McVey moved into a new spotlight. Confident, fluent, blonde. Did I say blonde? I meant attra- I meant professional.[…] Read the rest


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Quote of the Day

Sky’s Faisal Islam on the mood in Parliament at the moment:

“It’s a totally febrile atmosphere here. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets House of Cards – and if you chuck in the Labour Party – Laurel and Hardy too.”


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