June 21, 2009
MPs in the running to succeed Michael Martin as House of Commons Speaker on Monday have come under scrutiny in more allegations over expenses claims. Details of tax-funded expenses have been published in The Sunday Telegraph. The paper says Labour’s Margaret Beckett claimed more than £11,000 for gardening and Tory MP John Bercow twice claimed for help with a tax return.
Mr Martin became the first Speaker to be forced from office in 300 years when he stood down last month. MPs are due to choose his replacement on Monday…
Justice secretary Jack Straw told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the new Speaker would have to restore public trust in Parliament. He said: “We’ve got put partisan interests aside and elect a Speaker who is best placed to lead the House of Commons to a restored position of authority and trust.” Mr Straw added that the amount of information about MPs’ expenses which had been blacked out when they were released on Thursday had left a “terrible impression”.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg called for a “people’s Speaker” who would open up Parliament for the 21st century, but warned that whoever landed the job faced a tough task. He said: “Even if we get the best speaker in the world, he or she is really going to have their work cut out. The vested interests at Westminster are already manoevering to water down reform.”
- BBC News
The trouble with putting yourself forward for consideration as the next Speaker of the House of Commons is that unless you’re already whiter than white expenses-wise, it smacks of a last ditch attempt to fill your boots AND save your seat before the next general election.
Michael Martin was the first speaker to be removed from the job in 300 years. Traditionally the £140,000+ per year post is a permanent appointment until you retire, aided by a gentleman’s agreement that other parties won’t field a competing candidate in your constituency (thus guaranteeing your re-election in perpetuity). The all time record of thirty-one years is still held by Arthur Onslow, the “great speaker” from 1728 to 1761.
At the moment the only “clean” MP with any kind of public profile seems to be LibDem Treasury Spokesman Vincent Cable. The former economist has spent most of the last six months as the media’s poster boy for financial probity and would be a popular public choice, but he has refused to join a Labour Government. (He’s probably not the ONLY honest politician in the Commons, but you’d be hard-pressed finding enough of them to make up a bridge party just at the moment).
A Speaker doesn’t have to come from the party of government – strictly speaking he or she is the only really independent MP in the place with responsibility for parliamentary administration rather than national government – but most governments find it ‘convenient’ to have a party loyalist in the chair.
In the current political climate, it would take some very fast and smooth talking to convince the public that the election of another staunch Labourite wouldn’t constitute yet another petty corruption of the institution.
James Purnell the work and pensions secretary, last night dealt a monumental blow to Gordon Brown’s chances of holding onto office when he dramatically announced he was quitting the cabinet and asking Brown “to stand aside to give Labour a fighting chance of winning the next election”.
His statement, in effect declaring Brown unelectable, will further weaken the prime minister’s waning authority and takes the challenge to his leadership to a dangerous level.
Purnell made his sensational move after polls closed in the local and European elections – in which Labour was subsequently decimated across the board, informing Brown by phone last night. It prompted a furious reaction in Number 10 with ministers saying Purnell was profoundly mistaken.
Brown had no inkling that Purnell was going to quit, since the work and pensions secretary shrouded his move in secrecy in order to prevent No 10 mounting a pre-emptive strike against him, or seeking to challenge his motives…
No 10 said it was disappointed Purnell had chosen to tell newspapers before telling the leader of the Labour party.
May 15, 2009
The number of people out of work in the UK rose 244,000 to 2.22 million in the first three months of 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The jobless rate rose from 6.7% to 7.1%. Unemployment benefit claimants in April rose 57,100 to 1.51 million.
The quarterly rises in the jobless rate and number were the biggest since 1981.
The figures were due to be released by the ONS at 0930 BST on Wednesday, but came out at 1400 on Tuesday after an “accidental early release”.
The ONS has launched an inquiry into how the early release happened.
- BBC News
May 14, 2009
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said she hopes that widespread criticism levelled at police following the G20 protests will not dent recruitment. She told the Police Federation of England and Wales there had been “too much police-bashing” in recent weeks.
Three inquiries are under way following the death of Ian Tomlinson and other complaints of police brutality at G20. The head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has voiced “serious concerns” about the event.
IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick has also angered the Police Federation by warning officers to remember they are “servants, not masters” of the people.
- BBC News
May 13, 2009
Remind me not to go on holiday again unless it’s a parliamentary recess, will you?
Gordon Brown has said “mistakes” were made by MPs in their use of House of Commons expenses. The prime minister apologised on behalf of all political parties for some of the claims made and said public trust must be restored “immediately”.
Commons Speaker Michael Martin said “serious change” was needed and that the “spirit” of rules must be followed. An independent body auditing expenses claims would be set up “very soon”, he added…
Plans for an independent auditing body to oversee expenses claims are expected to be approved on Monday, following weeks of damaging stories. Senior Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said this would analyse “every claim that is made”.
The Commons fees office is overseen by a committee made up of MPs and independent people – who in turn are overseen by the National Audit Office. The new body would be entirely independent and cost about £600,000 a year to run.
Millions of receipts backing up all MPs’ expenses claims under the second homes allowance are due to be published in July after a long freedom of information campaign.
But details have been leaked to the Telegraph – which has been publishing selected excerpts over the last few days.
There are concerns that the proposed change to the auditing system would mean MPs’ expenses would no longer have to be made public under the freedom of information ruling.
- BBC News
April 25, 2009
British National Party (BNP) chairman Nick Griffin has defended a party leaflet which says that black Britons and Asian Britons “do not exist”.
The BNP’s “Language and Concepts Discipline Manual” says the term used should be “racial foreigners”.
In a BBC interview, Mr Griffin said to call such people British was a sort of “bloodless genocide” because it denied indigenous people their own identity.
Mr Griffin is standing in the European Parliament elections in June…
The manual describes the BNP’s “ultimate aim” as the “lawful, humane and voluntary repatriation of the resident foreigners of the UK”.
- BBC News
April 23, 2009
Alistair Darling has said the UK will have to borrow a record £175bn as he admitted the economy faces its worst year since the Second World War. The package would steer the UK through to recovery, he said.
The Tories said the economy was in an “utter mess”. Leader David Cameron said not enough had been done to get spending under control and “Britain simply cannot afford another five years of Labour”.
Total government debt will double to 79% of GDP by 2013 – the highest level since the Second World War. The annual budget deficit will rise sharply to £175bn for the next two years.
The Budget received a cool reception in the City with the pound down – and the Confederation of British Industry said it did not set out a “credible and rigorous” path to recovery.
Full coverage and analysis of the budget is available through BBC News
April 21, 2009
First Minister Alex Salmond has written to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith urging her to reverse an immigration tribunal decision.
Swarthick Salins has been told he will be deported with his family because his savings were £78 less than the £800 specified by Home Office rules.
Mr Salins, a 37-year-old Indian, has lived in Scotland for nine years and his three children were born in the UK.
Mr Salmond said the decision was “overly harsh”.
- BBC News
April 19, 2009
The economy is no longer in free fall and a recovery next spring is likely, a renowned economic think tank has said.
Stabilising markets and the easing of credit conditions may well mean that the worst of the recession is over, the Ernst & Young Item Club said. It is forecasting the economy to shrink by 3.5% this year and by 0.1% in 2010.
However, it also said that the backdrop to Wednesday’s Budget is “bleak” and warned that the chancellor has “limited options” in his spending plans.
In the Budget, Alistair Darling is expected to predict economic contraction of about 3% of GDP this year – up from his earlier forecast in November of between 0.75% to 1.25%.
- BBC News
April 15, 2009
China’s one million golfers have been urged to try out the sport at ‘the home of golf’.
First Minister Alex Salmond is in China where he has launched the Scottish Prestige Golf Club.
For an annual fee of about £2,650, Chinese players will get membership of a Scottish course, priority tee times and travel agency services. Venues already signed up include Gleneagles, in Perthshire, Carnoustie, in Angus, and Turnberry, in Ayrshire.
Mr Salmond said: “Golf is the growth sport in China, a country which now boasts well over 200 courses with a further 100 now under construction.
“There are now more than a million golf club members in China who are no different to golfers the world over in wanting to experience their favourite sport in its natural home of Scotland, to test their skills at the ‘home of golf’.
- BBC News