Category Archives: Politics

Burglars, human rights and David Cameron being a vote-hungry tool

I’m getting a bit rubbish aren’t I? I’ll start posting properly again soon. Promise.

Anyroad – David ‘I’m Dave Cameron’ Cameron has said that burglars “leave human rights outside” when they break into a property.

A pretty bold statement, I think you’d agree. It’s also wrong, I believe, but that’s a lengthy discussion for another time.

The fact that it is such a lengthy, debatable issue makes it all the more sad that it is being used as a political football. I can understand, for instance, why Munir Hussain set after an intruder who attacked him and his family, tying them up. I can also understand however, why the Court saw fit to jail Mr Hussain after he chased him down a street, attacked him with a cricket bat and left him with permanent brain damage. It is a delicate issue, one with no clear answers, and one which undoubtedly will be debated through the years to come.

Which is why it is so annoying to hear Cameron come out with these three statements in the same interview:

The reason for changing the law is people I think do find it rather unclear what the current framework of reasonable force actually means.

Fair enough…

The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside

Well, at least that’s clear what you think…

Mr Cameron said that, under the Conservative proposals, householders would only face prosecution if they used “grossly disproportionate” force against a burglar.

Oh.

If burglars have no human rights when intruding on someone elses property, then force of any proportion would seem acceptable. Yet by saying householders can face prosecution in extreme circumstances is almost like adding a safety net to a soundbite, as well as being grossly contradictory. “THIS MAN HAS NO HUMAN RIGHTS…except when you hit him a bit too hard.” Either one or the other, Dave. I don’t mind which, as you surely must have an opinion, just stop trying to please everyone in the run up to an election.

As I’ve said, this is a tough and emotional subject to cover, and I’ve not attempted to cover all of it.. I just tried to say that I hate the idea of Cameron trying to satisfy all with contradictory statements, advocating a policy he will find impossible to carry out. In trying to please everyone, he’ll end up just pleasing no one.

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New Order – The Speaker is nudged out

So, for the first time in over 300 years, the Speaker of The House of Commons has been forced out of his chair.

Oi, Hoey! You slaaaaaaaaaaaaaag!

Oi, Hoey! You slaaaaaaaaaaaaaag!

Will tears be shed? I doubt it. At the best of times, Martin was competent and showed himself to be a passionate man (his warm welcome of to the late Patsy Calton after she regained her seat in 2005 sticks in the mind). Yet he ruffled more feathers than a non-partisan representative should.

It was an uneasy relationship from the start. From the get-go, Martin broke from tradition. A former Clydeside sheet-metal worker, he was the first Roman-Catholic Speaker since the Reformation, and did away with traditional trousers and buckled shoes in favour of his own. Opposition backbenchers were disgruntled at the length of time he gave them to speak in debates, but this is hardly groundbreaking stuff.

The Damian Green affair was the tipping point. Allowing police to arrest an MP was seen badly in the House. As the current expenses row heated up, signs of his fraying temper came to the fore, with slap-downs from the chair to Kate Hoey and Norman Baker. His focus on fixing the leak rather than addressing the expenses issue saw him percieved as someone against reform. As the signatures on the motion of no-confidence piled up, his position became untenable.

Now, enough of this political obituary nonsense, let’s get stuck in.

It’s quite easy to see the resignation of the Speaker as some kind of blood offering from the MPs to the baying public. Hopi Sen makes his point:

“It does strike me as very obvious that Michael Martin has become a convenient scapegoat for others sins, alongside his own…

…In adopting a delay and deflect strategy on expenses and allowances, Martin reflected the frequently stated will of the house. While MPs of all parties may wish to hang him out to dry now, they sheltered under his decisions for a long time…

…While Martin has not covered himself in glory, neither do the MPs who only now emerge to cast ordure at him. As a burnt offering, his deposition would only appease public anger for a little while.”

Well quite, and to an extent I do agree with him. Effectively, MPs have been waiting to see who will err first in this scandal. Martin blinked, and the attack dogs pounced on him, hoping this would satisfy the people. As Hopi says, Martin has/had flaws, but taking the flak for 645 other MPs is a bit much. It is slightly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s comments recently over the Damien McBride scandal:

I have already taken responsibility for acting on this – first by accepting Mr McBride’s resignation and by making it clear to all concerned that such actions have no part to play in the public life of our country.

Taking responsibility doesn’t equate to letting someone else take the bullet in this case, and it still doesn’t with regards to the Commons and the Speaker.

However, he was correct to go.

Let it not be lost in translation that the Speaker is somehow separate from the people he oversees in the House. Although he has no party alligment, he is still an MP. On top of his Members’ salary of £63,291, he is also entitled to a salary of £78,575. This is on equal footing to a Cabinet Minister and Government Chief Whip, and second only to income of the Prime Minister.

A look at his expenses also shows questionable things. The Speaker has a residence situated in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster, literally next door to the House of Commons. It has been reported he used air miles gained on business trips to fund private breaks, taxis for shopping trips – even go and watch the football at Celtic Park. He has claimed over £87,500 on the second home allowance since 2001/02, which considering his proximity to the House anyway seems a bit untoward. But to make him go on these grounds would be a pot, kettle, black situation.

The main reason is his stubborness and actions. He has resisted change and parliamentary openness for some time, even trying to block details of MPs’ £5m-a-year travel expenses being published under the Freedom of Information Act. In the latest expenses scandal, he has shown resistance to change and a desire to confront those who suggest so (see Kate Hoey). He is also, lest we forget, the chief officer of the House of Commons, meaning he is responsible for the Fees’ Office’s actions as well. Unlike Brown, he can say he knows what responsibilty is.

In the end, I do think the Speaker should have gone for this, but it isn’t an ending that satisfies me entirely. It is similar to chopping the head off of a weed – if you only get rid of what is visible, the deeper workings of it still flourish and will regrow. Uprooting Parliament via a General Election may work, but hoping a new crop of MPs won’t contain one self-servant is naive at best. Make no mistake, it will take years for Parliament to recover its pride after this. Reform, election, reform…it will take a lot of this before the public will be able to trust its oarliamentarians again.

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Speaker to step down at 2.30pm today

As reported by Paul Waugh, STV and now the BBC. The latest update from Waugh on his Twitter suggests that the Speaker will be gone before the summer recess.

Bloody times in the Commons. I will have a full look at this later today or this week.

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FAO: MPs who respond to the flak about expenses by saying it was in the rules

Shut up.

But it was in the rules. It isn’t the fault of MPs it is the fault of the system.

Again, shut up.

But how can it be my fault if I was allowed to claim £xxxx on this?

Jesus wept, do you need this explaining to you?

Go on then…

Gladly.

I have no problem with MPs claiming expenses, at all. I don’t think many people would begrudge MPs who live far away some way of claiming expenses when on business in Westminster. That I can understand.

So why are you claiming on moat upkeep, kit kat chunkies and mortgages that don’t exist?

Because the system lets us do tha….

The system? Oh f*ck off will you? You damn well know that some of the claims are not directly helping your parliamentary business, which is what the allowance system should do. The system doesn’t claim on your behalf, it is YOU that do the claiming, sign the forms etc.

Yes, the system stinks. The only thing smelling any worse at the minute is the fact that you are milking that inanimate system, then have the cheek to deflect all blame to it.

I must say, it is quite surreal watching you all make frivilous apologies. It is akin to watching someone who has been taking a few quid from the supermarket till he works on every week get busted. It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but after a while it becomes second nature. ‘Need twenty quid for some shopping, I’ll get it out of here, balance the tills. It isn’t much, no one will notice, no one needs to know.’.

Eventually, the situation snowballs until your manager confronts you about it, saying they’re down on profit. Saying the current economic situation means they will have to cut hours. Saying that they have found out you have taken thousands of pounds from them over a few months/years. Saying that they think it might be best if you payback and/or go.

And then the realisation happens. The realisation that, what you have been doing is not down to the system of having access to ready cash, but down to you taking the money offered when it wasn’t yours by right. An overwhelming sense of regret, guilt and shame overcomes you, and you look back on what you did trying to hold back the tears. You say you’re sorry over and over, and by all accounts you probably mean it – I mean, you’re not a terrible person. You work hard enough, do your job well and seem a decent bloke. But how can I ever trust you again with the money? In your case, the taxpayers money? I just can’t.

I’m afraid, we’ll have to let you go.

But what if the system changes?

Oh just go away will you?

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How much did it cost Parliament to answer questions in 2007-08?

Answer = £12,253,115

F*cking hell. I hope they were thorough answers.

Number of questions is available in the sessional returns. Cost of questions is in a House of Commons Information Office Factsheet.

I have info about the costs for this year but I believe I am not at liberty to publish it…oh well.

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Expenses, blogs and the real agenda setters

I’ve not posted for about two weeks now, and yet still the first thing I see in the news today is the stories of the expenses of Members of Parliament.

After the Telegraph got hold of the data, rumoured to have cost them £150,000, they have released snippets of it into the public domain.

Cabinet Ministers felt the force first, with Hazel Blears at the head. The revelation that she claimed allowances on three separate properties in the space of a year has made her position, to some, untenable. In response, Hazel Blears has denied breaking any rules whilst dressed like an extra from Easy Rider.

Sinn Fein MPs got their cages rattled on Saturday. The party’s five representatives in Parliament don’t actually, er, represent their constituencies in Parliament. In fact, they don’t actually sit in Parliament in protest. Yet they still managed to procure over £105,000 in second home expenses. Before we go overboard here, it is worth noting that due to their absenteeism they do not get paid a salary. Fair enough – but what business would they have in London then that requires a second home? I would like to know, because to reject with one hand and take with the other seems a bit hypocritical. It is quite the dagger in Sinn Fein’s legitimacy.

Over the course of the last two days, the Conservatives have also had their dirty laundry aired out in the pages of the Telegraph. Changing lightbulbs, dog food, gardening…all the necessaries for parliamentary duty.

Now I apologise as I’ve got a tendency to go all Charlie Brooker here, but anywho…

On the face of it, the whole exposé seems like an excellent piece of journalism, blowing open the bubble around Westminster, and opening the frivolous consumption of taxpayer sterling by honourable Members (LOL) to public scrutiny. For too long our constituency representatives have got away with this, and now we can bring this sorry mess to an end. A modern day Watergate.

Except you’d be wrong.

The Telegraph have been quick to lap-up the praise in the wake of them ‘breaking’ the story – taking plaudits from the Observer, a former Guardian editor and Alistair Campbell. Bless em.

Yet if having a spare £150k to blow on some scans (see top of page) is what is classed as investigative these days then god help us all. In fact, it shows the lengths to which papers are willing to go in order to set the news agenda. Why is this?

Well a long, long time ago, before the Internet, Government and the media were rather intertwined (as Peter Oborne reminds us). One wanted power, the other wanted good circulation figures. As the best-selling stories uniformally relate to scandal, this meant tacit agreements were in place which scripted the whats, whens and hows of a story and the Government’s reaction. Soap opera-ish.

Then the Internet came, and instead of reading about stories in the paper, people set up blogs and blew a gasket about them. Recessmonkey, Guido, everyone else with a voice and a keyboard decided they had something to say, and nobody could stop them. The whole thing has got to the stage now where we have bloggers appearing on TV, and in the case of the recent Mcbride scandal, directly effecting politics.

Guido made a £10,000 offer last month to the receipts-holder, who had approached The Times for the sum of £300k. Since then the Telegraph has had to stump up an astronomical sum of money to be able to become the agenda setter…for the time being. From a media perspective, it just shows that with the introduction of free-for-all internet blogging, the cost of setting the agenda for newspapers has, ironically, gone up and up.

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Brown says sorry…er, no.

It’s been reported in the papers and various other news outlets today that Gordon Brown has apologised for the Smeargate affair.

Dont forget to leave the keys behind when youre down, Gordon.

Don't forget to leave the keys behind when you're down, Gordon.

So, let’s have a look at what he said then in his apology.

Making a fresh attempt to close down the row, Mr Brown said: “I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.

Sorry, Gordon?

Making a fresh attempt to close down the row, Mr Brown said: “I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.

Are you kidding me? THAT’S an apology? Saying you take full responsibility in one breath, and in the next putting the responsibility on someone else is not saying sorry, nor is it taking responsibilty.

In fact, it is pretty much a rehash of the third paragraph in the letter you wrote to the affected parties. Repeating it via your mouth does not make it an apology.

Some people are just too proud for their own good, because make no mistake, this is getting terminal for GB and the Labour Party if they want any chance of getting a fourth successive term in Government.

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