Daily Archives: 29 January 2008

Derek Conway: shades of Gray?

Pity those poor Conservatives who seem to be suffering from family breakdown at the moment. I can’t help but think that James Gray, Andrew Pelling and now Nigel Waterson would not be facing the problems they’ve been having if only the government offered all married couples a £20 a week tax bribe.

But I digress. Now that Ditherer Dave has done the decent thing and had Conway put out of his misery, the question must hangs in the air: why not James Gray? Gray, you may recall, dumped his wife while she was recovering from cancer and subsequently found himself in a selection battle. What I had forgotten until being reminded over lunch is that he too was caught out paying his estranged wife from his expenses months after she had ceased working for him.

The compassion Sir Philip Mawer feels for him in his letter (pdf) is admirable. I wonder though if anyone caught out by, for example, the tax credit system has ever received such sympathetic treatment. Fundamentally, he ended the marriage and he fiddled the system. Since Ditherer Dave has taken a hard line on Conway, why is Gray still a Conservative MP?

Secret plot by Tory donor to rewrite UK constitution by the backdoor

The UK, famously, does not have a codified constitution. We have the beginnings of what is vaguely termed a “supreme court” but it explicitly does not have a constitutional role.

How, therefore, does Stuart Wheeler intend to argue the case for his proposal to judicially review the government’s decision not to progress with a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

To do so would not merely overturn a government decision but effectively a Parliament decision (which has not, lest we forget, actually been made yet). That would mean junking, out of a very high window from St Stephen’s tower, the long cherished notion of Parliamentary sovereignty.

I thought Euro-sceptics loved the notion of Parliamentary sovereignty? Of course, their affection for referendums (albeit only on their terms) does somewhat undermine that view, but surely they haven’t let go of their opposition to the idea of codifying the constitution so that it can’t be simply overturned by a parliamentary vote? If they suddenly love judges deciding everything so much, why the opposition for the Human Rights Act?

Wheeler believes he has an “excellent” chance of winning. I don’t, I should emphasise, share his confidence. But if he does, he will succeed in getting the High Court to completely and utterly rewrite the UK constitution from first principles onwards, with no public or Parliamentary debate and at the behest of a millionaire who made his money through the rater morally dubious route of the gambling industry. Isn’t our “flexible” constitution wonderful?

Derek Conway and the passions of Iain Dale

A few points…

Roger Gale describes the Conway incident as a “witch hunt“. One has to wonder why the Standards and Privileges Committee would do such a thing if that were the case, since if Gale is to believed surely all MPs would be liable for the same treatment. Surely mutual interest would prevent such a witch hunt from ever happening? MPs don’t look like they are in the mood to make something out of nothing at the moment, particularly given the daily grind of “sleaze” churning out of the tabloid press on a daily basis. Plus, if Conway is being persecuted, why the apology? Why doesn’t he stand his ground?

Guido is somewhat more on the money by implying that Cameron is dithering here. We’ve had the admission of guilt from Conway; why does he still have the Tory whip?

Over at Iain Dale’s Diary, Iain makes the perfectly valid point that he is not about to rat on a friend. I sympathise – really I do. But given that Iain has always been very quick to point the finger on funding scandals himself – he not only wrote the book on Labour sleaze, he’s published two editions of it – I hope he will accept some responsibility for his friend’s downfall. The reason the outcry has been so great is that unlike most of the current crop of Labour sleaze stories (but like the Abrahams and cash for peerages incidents), this is a genuine scandal. By over emphasising these, Conway’s fate to some extent has been sealed. You can’t brag about your growing influence with one hand (which I don’t question), while denying you helped create the political weather for this with the other, Iain.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve no doubt occasionally crossed the line, I try my best on this blog not to get carried away by ‘sleaze’ – not least of all because I happen to think the general Lib Dem attitude to our own recent funding scandal is a mite complacent. We should be wary of enjoying these too much because we end up creating impossible standards that no-one can live by. People like Wendy Alexander, Alan Johnson and yes, possibly even Peter Hain (haven’t made my mind up fully on that one – as cock ups go, this was a pretty extreme case), ought to be able to pay a fine and move on. The idea that ministerial careers should be destroyed for the misreporting of a few hundred quid is absurd.