Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trying To Put Howard To Flight

Howard Flight is in trouble again. He just won't follow the autocue.

I once attempted to nail him for raising a question to the then Prime Minister (Tony Blair) relating to an item in his own Declaration of Interests which referred to what was then his deputy chairmanship of Guinness Flight Hambro Asset Management Ltd. I claimed that his question was unparliamentary in that it amounted to advocacy on behalf of that body.

I raised the matter via a written complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards preceded by a couple of points of order to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. But when Howard Flight responded the Commissioner accepted his submission. The Commissioner's response was then accepted by the Commons' Standards and Privileges Committee. This is the link to their report.

In 2005, Flight was secretly recorded stating that if the Conservatives won the coming election they would make more spending cuts than those they had promised to the electorate. It led to a spat with the Tory Leader Michael Howard and the blocking of Flight's re-selection as a candidate. But perhaps it is exactly what Flight then said that appealed to David Cameron who recently recommended him for a Peerage. But then he should have known that Flight can't keep his lip buttoned.

Well I did try to sort this out in 1997.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Constitutional Fix

54 newly appointed peers, 50 fewer democratically elected MPs.

Hat Tip : Bob Piper.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Linking To The Formal Parliamentary Work Of Your MP.

At the end of the "links" section at the right hand column of this blog, I have added four new links to the parliamentary activities of my local MP and parliamentary successor, Natascha Engel.

The first link provides access to the relevant sections of Hansard which provide (a) the oral and written parliamentary questions she asks and (b) her contributions in debates. The second link gives the Early Day Motions which she has both submitted and signed. The third link is to her section at the BBC's "Democracy Live" which includes access to various videos of her parliamentary contributions. The fourth link provides access to the reports of the Back Bench Business Committee which she Chairs.

(Note at 6.40 pm : Although these four links are working at the moment, two of them broke earlier. But others will have better technical skills than mine when adapting what I propose below, mainly via here)

Others in the UK could use these links to then search out the work of their own MPs and then to set up their own links. Areas I have not so far sorted out include links to relevant Hansards for Standing Committees and submissions and support for proposed amendments to Bills. Nor have I links for an MP's own Private Bills.

It should be noted that even in parliament, the above areas only form part of an active MP's work. For most of their parliamentary activities no Hansard writers or Common's Clerks are involved. These additional avenues include formal and informal meetings with Government Ministers and their opposition shadows, their own Party meetings including a wide range of back-bench committees, all-party and other groups on a range of topics, letters/emails to Ministers etc (normally on behalf of constituents) and a whole host of informal links to seek to advance their concerns. Such extra avenues are only possible, of course, because an MP has the normally unspoken threat in the background of raising their concerns via formal parliamentary procedures unless the informal avenues produce results. The hurdle they always need to overcome is the power of the Executive over back-bench MPs. This is why the work of the Backbench Business Committee which Natascha chairs is so important.

It should also be noted that the use of the above formal and informal parliamentary avenues only form part of an active MPs' work. Constituency work, campaigning and fact-finding are as significant and need to be added to the equation.

In my experience it is the MP who is active in parliament who is also active in their constituency.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Passion and Precision

There is an art in an opposition MP using the nooks and crannies of parliamentary procedure to seek to alter practices by the Coalition Government and its officials which are socially harmful.

My local Labour MP Natascha Engel (see photo) led a Westminster Hall debate on 27 October which had exactly this intent. She spoke with passion, understanding and precision.

Her topic was the future of work capacity assessments. These were brought in on April 2010 by the previous government to assess the work capability of people who are long-term claimants of incapacity benefit. However she raised concerns that their increasing use was solely to "bring down the welfare bill" and urged the government to see "people not the benefit". A video of the full half hour debate can be found here.

On this matter Natascha has worked closely with the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres, who are chaired and supported by Graham Baxter who was the subject of this earlier item I posted.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Labour Success Story - Don't Now Upset The Applecart

Graham Baxter (front figure) carrying a Unite banner on the Chesterfield May Day March 2009. He has been an active trade unionist since his first day at work 54 years ago. (Click onto the picture to enlarge it).

There are times when it is appropriate to put forward words of appreciation for those whose actions we too often take for granted.

In what have been difficult times for Local Government, the North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC) has made remarkable progress in recent years under the controlling Labour Team led by Graham Baxter.

In 2008 the NEDDC made local government history by becoming the first council to leap straight from being designated as "weak" to "excellent" in an official national scheme established to judge council performances, known as the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

The Audit Commission also found that the Council had made good progress in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, in supporting economic development via successful infrastructure projects which reversed the decline in local jobs and industry, in meeting housing needs including those of the homeless, in working with neighbouring councils and with its local population, in contributing to progress in health, cleanliness, sustainable waste management and much more.

The Council has also received an impressive list of awards and commendations for its services from bodies such as the National Municipal Journal, the Local Government Association, the Cabinet Office, and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Currently it is also nominated for further recognitions of its services. In fact, it is possible to produce a list of at least 34 awards, nominations and commendations which the Council has received since July 2007.

Graham Baxter has also recently been awarded the MBE in recognitions of decades of public service, culminating in his work as leader of the Council since 2004.

But it is not just officialdom which recognises the Council's achievements; three quarters of those responding to a survey felt that the Council has worked to make the area cleaner, greener and a better place. 80% feel that North East Derbyshire is a good place to live.

The support which the Council gives to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres is also exceptional. Graham Baxter is an active Chair of this key organisation. It provides welfare rights advice and makes representations on all aspects of Welfare Benefits to anyone that requires it. Each year it deals with around 10,000 enquiries and represents some 200 people at tribunals, recovering over £1.5 million for the local economy and thereby preserving jobs. NEDDC's continuing support and involvement with this body is crucial in current circumstances.

The Coalition Government is now proposing to cut the budget of the Department of Communities and Local Government by 36.6% over the next 4 years, whilst capping Council Tax levels as an extra means of cutting local authority access to resources.

In the years ahead, the North East Derbyshire District Council will need to exercise the same forms of creative response which it has recently shown under Graham's leadership. It will also need to link with the wider Labour Movement to push back the Coalition's threat of massive cuts.

It is imperative that Graham and his team have local backing from the electorate to be returned to office in next year's District Council Elections.

In the meantime, it is a big thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Welcome Admission

Here Alan Johnson admits that Labour got its economic priorities wrong under Blair and Brown. It now seems to be accepted that those in the Labour Movement who attempted to save our manufacturing base and to restrain the growth of financial institutions were correct all along, even though they were dismissed at the time as merely being the "usual suspects".

What is now important is how we learn from the mistakes of New Labour and how we change the strategy for the future. But an apology should always be accepted as it offers fresh openings.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Votes For Prisoners - And Many Others

The vote should be available to anyone over 16 who is settled in the United Kingdom, with the exception only of those who have such a serious mental disability that they are unable in any way to understand the process they would be involved in. This is because we are all human beings who are subject to the decisions made by those who are elected.

People should not be excluded from the vote on the grounds that they are in prison or are nationals of a foreign country (in this category at the moment only Commonwealth and Irish citizen can qualify).

Serious action should also be taken to ensure that the missing millions who are entitled to vote (but who are missing from registers) are discovered and added to the registers. Those missing from registers are a significant proportion of the poor, the young, the rootless, the homeless and ethnic minorities.

A major case for giving the vote to 16 year olds is that they could initially be registered via their schools when 15 as "attainers" and it would then be easier to trace them later to ensure they then maintained their voting rights.

I can not understand anyone who otherwise sees themselves as a democrat and a believer in human rights coming up with reasons to exclude any category of people. The vote is not something that one should earn. It is for politicians to seek to earn our votes.

As things stand with criminals, we have the odd position that we keep discovering prisoners who are innocent whilst we know that most criminals are never captured. If there was a justification for excluding prisoners from the vote, (which there isn't) we would need a superior justice system to the one we have - yet it is currently being subject to Government cuts.