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.

Continue reading

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.

Mike Penning, the person more responsible than anyone for IDS’ disastrous election as Tory leader is now his disability minister. That needs no comment, at least.

For Labour, Chris Bryant, something of a cult, has been reprogrammed and is promoting the opposite of devoutly-held pieties he previously professed. He is steadily on course to be one of the Commons’ Nearly Men.

And then Rachel Reeves, cruelly characterised by the BBC-left as “boring-snoring”, set out to put new life into her career.

She is often “tipped to be the next leader of the Labour party”. But the tipsters are Tory optimists looking for someone less inspirational, engaging, in-touch, life-enhancing than the toothsome incumbent. She is a rare candidate.

Hair and makeup – a success. The voice – yet to succeed. Personality – platform announcement.

“We apologise for the delayed arrival of the policy on platform 1. This was due to delays. The policy is in reverse formation. Tory coaches are at the back of the train. We apologise for any inconvenience to your voting intentions.”

IDS suggests that Labour’s new approach to welfare is a horlicks of false intentions and bad faith. Reeves and Bryant say they will out-tough the Tories but have voted against every measure to save a cent.

Frank Field asked how many permanent secretaries IDS would get through before his insane computer program finally crashes/burns/turns into a black hole and sucks the universe in. “It will be on time and within budget,” IDS claimed, heroically. And then demanded an apology for £26bn of failed Labour IT projects.

There is a lesson in there, truth to tell.

It is absolutely inconceivable that he or anyone else can deliver a real-time computer system to track Britain’s beneficiaries. Luckily it’s due in 2017, beyond the political event horizon.

Dangerous statistic: “600,000 unemployed eastern Europeans”. IDS refused to endorse the figure saying it included non-working-age migrants.

Burns v Laing For Deputy Speaker

Seven candidates put themselves in front of the 1922. Three or four emerged as front runners ahead of David Amess, Henry Bellingham, and celebrity MP Nadine Dorries. Simon Burns and Eleanor Laing box and cox for first and second places. Third is Brian Binley or Gary Streeter.

Nadine’s manifesto commitments included an aspiration not to tweet from the chair. This didn’t go over as well as she’d hoped.

The Speaker has been rumoured to be backing Eleanor Laing – but latterly, in his infinite complexity, he is said to be backing Binley as well. Why? Because Binley is standing down, his replacement won’t have time to establish him or herself and challenge Charles Walker, the Speaker’s chosen son in his succession planning. Is the rumour true? It’s true there’s a rumour.

The candidates are presenting themselves to Labour’s PLP meeting on Monday. And it will be Labour votes that will decide the election to the £102,000 a year job. That’s a full house of Speaker office holders decided by Labour.

And her embarrassment factor may be Nadine’s only real electoral appeal.

Where are the Lib Dems? No one has come forward, after Alan Beith has faded from view. They could surely rely on 58 votes from their party…

Non-Leveson-Compliant Sketch (With Topless Counsel and Hot Tubs)

Sir Brian Leveson’s clever strategy with his committee appearance was to stand on the Fifth (see Quote of the Day).

For the first long sequence of answers to Tory questions he confined himself to variations of “Quod dixi, dixi.” In English, “Read the report, you lazy tossers!”

But he was happy to answer Labour’s Ben Bradshaw as though he was being paid by the word.

Labour heads nodded sagely as he repeated his owlish judicialisms, and a chorus of Core Participants in reserved seats (two thirds of the public seating) chuckled supportively.

Tory Conor Burns wished the Inquiry had never been constituted. The criminal law could have cleared up the evils complained of.

Tory Tracey Crouch struck a spark. The three existing media regulators all had a different definition of “public interest”. So, was it possible to design a regulatory regime without a single definition of this important principle?

We had got along for years without such a definition, Sir Brian observed.

Yes, but we’d also got on for years without a Leveson-compliant regulatory regime.

Sir Brian’s decision not to engage in the cage-fight of public debate started to look understandable. He’s not very good at it.

Philip Davies’ audience enjoyed his impression of examining magistrate with his full array of contemptuous insinuations, nasty innuendoes and (best of all) insolent incredulity. Sir Brian didn’t like it one little bit.

The details are too many for this sketch but the general idea was that their Bonking Barrister’s Crafty Counsel’s Plea was for More Sex, We’re Solicitors! And Brian, the innocent old booby was in it up to his apricots.

Sir Brian doesn’t realise how these things work. If politicians are given a stitch they’ll eventually make a net.

As for not adding any kind of gloss on his report: “I should like to think the general public is sufficiently sophisticated to know what the general issues are.”

Of course he’d also like to think the general public reads Le Monde, eats Sartre sandwiches and is saving up for a Chagal.

Important Advice for Terrorists, Drug Dealers, Rich People


The viler, more antisocial elements among the readership may not have been watching Sir Charles Montgomery of the UK Border Force in front of the Public Accounts committee just now.

In short, if you want to evade the UK’s state-of-the-art border control system you can probably risk a walk through.

The chairman Margaret Hodge suggested that no one – or almost no one – had been stopped coming into the country.

This was resisted by the officials. Four people in the last six weeks alone had been stopped or prevented from entering the country. This achievement stood in spite of the block deletion of 650,000 records and “hundreds of thousands” of false positives as the department’s £500m computer system flails around, threshing data.

But back to you degenerates – to be completely sure of getting your illegal self laden with contraband into the country – come by private plane and land at one of hundreds of private airfields. It’s a free pass.

And that’s official.

NB: a small light aircraft consumes about as much fuel as a 3-litre car.

SKETCH: Royal Mail Offer Price – Political or Economic? Vince Cable in Front of Business Innovation and Skills

In view of the offer being so over-subscribed, the question the committee repeatedly asked was: is the Royal Mail offer undervalued?

Vince Cable said that was the sort of observation made by grey-market, fly-by-night, speculating outliers on the fringes of the financial community and his irresponsible opposite number (Chuka Umunna).

He didn’t carry the committee.

Adrian Bailey in the chair said he had been an auctioneer in a previous life. “If I pitched a price and thirty hands went up I’d know I’d underpriced it.”

The minister thought that to float shares wasn’t an auction. In what way he didn’t say.

Labour and Tory members wanted to know how he would judge whether he had underpriced the issue. If the price went up 10, 20, 40, 50 per cent, would that cause him to blush at all? He was going to ignore such froth, he said. He wasn’t going to take a snapshot seriously.

Prices, pah!

But what about the 23 acres of prime London property that might be sold for billions by a clever asset-stripping management in a rocketing market?

The minister said such an outcome would assume a serious error had been made in the valuation. “And I don’t buy that,” he said.

Neither do. I can’t afford it.

SKETCH: How nice to be back among the familiar faces

The same 12-year-old making the same pantomime faces with the same fat dame beside him. She was pursing her lips and exercising her exopthalmia; the little one was dropping his jaw and letting his teeth out for a canter – they were both giving us to understand they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. It’s the commedia del arte school of politics, in which words are not enough. In the case of the Eds that’s both astute and true.

“He has no answer to Labour’s Price Freeze policy! He has no idea!” That and “the cost of living crisis” which “IS an economic policy”.

These are propositions that belong in the playground.

On the other side, the Prime Minister failed to wipe the floor with them. A mysterious failure, considering the resources at hand. He had a Miliband quote when he was Energy minister: “To deal with the problems of climate change, prices will have to rise.”

That powerful point – and others like it, such as economic growth, the IMF upgrade, Ed Balls “being wrong about absolutely everything” – got lost in the noise.

As a student of Blair, Cameron should realise that deadliness comes from quietness. It’s how Blair destroyed Hague – he was there, he will remember.

And one Labour point does need some attention from Tory theologians – why is it wrong to interfere in the mortgage market but not the energy market?

But neither was there the correct answer to “Why are energy prices so high?” (No answer is complete without the word “shale” in it.)

The Tory roar at the end showed the Speaker struggling to keep control. Maybe Simon Burns’ bid for deputy speaker is gaining popularity. It’s inconceivable that the Speaker isn’t working behind the scenes on Eleanor Laing’s behalf. It will be the best joke of the year if the House saddles him with his best – and most bestial – enemy.

Remembering Diane Abbott’s parting shot, Ed Miliband seems to be adding a little anti-immigrant nationalism to his socialist instincts. The balance is important, obviously, but that strategy has been electorally successful in the past, abroad.

Vicious Simon Carr Joins Guido as Sketchwriter

gallery_guido

We are pleased to announce that the Guido team has a new member, Simon Carr. In the Gallery from 2000 until last year Simon was the sketch writer for the Independent. He has lived on both sides of the political fence having written speeches for a prime minister and helped to found a political party that got half a dozen MPs elected. But that was in another country.

He was said to be “the most vicious sketch writer in Britain” (Tony Blair) with “a sensibility exquisitely tuned to the House of Commons” (Peter Oborne) and “a complete ****” (various MPs). There is a minority report which describes him as “a very kind person”. He repudiates this.

Simon will be covering events for the Guido Fawkes Blog in the chamber, select committees, press conferences and any court appearances that do not directly include himself.

He starts today with the first PMQs of the new session.



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Quote of the Day

Andrea Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s Today

“He’s made his views on Brexit on the record, and the problem with that of course is that the chair’s impartiality is absolutely essential. … He’s made his views known on Brexit… it’s a matter for him but nevertheless it’s a challenge and all colleagues need to form their own view of that.”

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