Tag Archives: derek conway

URGENT – Help us to stop the plot to conceal MPs’ expenses (crosspost)

Defend the right to know about MPs' expensesI have crossposted this message from here and would urge people to do the same. More to the point, I’d urge them to carry out the action – we only have until Thursday!

Dear friend,

Today I had intended to write to you to encourage you to take part in the Convention on Modern Liberty, of which Unlock Democracy is proud to be a partner organisation. I had intended to write about what an inspiring event I hope it will be, the impressive lineup of speakers, the nationwide parallel sessions that Unlock Democracy is organising with NO2ID and its timeliness.

But events, as ever, have overtaken us.

On Thursday, the Government sneaked out the draft of the innocuous sounding “Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order.” This “statutory instrument” (not an act), if passed, will

“…change the scope of the application of the [Freedom of Information] Act in relation to information held by the House of Commons and House of Lords regarding expenditure in respect of Members of both Houses. This includes information held by either House about expenses claimed by and allowances paid to Members. Such information is no longer within the scope of the Act.”

In short, they intend to exempt the expenses of MPs and Lords from the Freedom of Information Act and thereby close them to public scrutiny. This is to be passed almost a year to the day after the Derek Conway scandal erupted, when it emerged that the MP had been paying his sons as research staff while they were at university, despite not being able to demonstrate that they had actually done any work for him. If the Government gets away with this, scandals such as this will be allowed to continue and we will not be permitted to find out about them.

It is completely outrageous that the Government should seek to do this at all, let alone in such an underhand manner. The Government is planning to put us all on a national identity database, force us to carry identity cards, keep the DNA of millions of innocent people on a database and to read all our emails, phone and internet records regardless of whether we are supposed to have done anything wrong. Their argument is always “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Why, then, is it one rule for us and another rule for politicians?

What’s more, when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, one of his first acts was to publish the Governance of Britain Green Paper which asserted that “It is right that Parliament should be covered by the [Freedom of Information] Act.”

This proposal is going to be debated in the House of Commons this Thursday – we don’t have much time. For this reason I am strongly urging you to do the following as a matter of urgency:

  • Write to your MP (use www.writetothem.com) and urge them “to sign the Early Day Motion “Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 (Jo Swinson MP)” – the text of this motion is below for your reference.
  • Phone your MP’s office (the main switchboard is 020 7219 3000) and ask to talk to him or her to ask them to oppose this proposal.
  • If you are on Facebook, join our group and invite all your friends to join – ESPECIALLY the ones not normally interested in politics.
  • Forward this article to everyone you know either by email or any social bookmarking websites you use.

Please, please do this as soon as you can. We can defeat this proposal if we put pressure on MPs this week. In 2007, a group of backbench MPs attempted to get a similar proposal passed. We beat them then and we can beat them again.

With best wishes,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy

PS Katherine Gunderson has written an excellent chapter on Freedom of Information for our book Unlocking Democracy: 20 Years of Charter 88. I would encourage you to buy a copy for yourself – and your MP!

PPS For more information about the Convention for Modern Liberty, please see the website.

TEXT OF EARLY DAY MOTION

Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009
Primary Sponsor: Jo Swinson (LD, East Dunbartonshire)

That this House notes with concern the provisions in the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 to exempt remove the expenses of Members of Parliament and Peers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act’; notes that this order will single out MPs and Peers in a special category as the only paid public officials who will note have to disclose full details of their expenses; notes with concern the regressive effect of this Order on Parliamentary transparency and the detrimental impact it will have on Parliament in the eyes of the public; calls on Ministers to block or repeal the Order in the interest of MPs’ and Peers’ accountability to members of the public.

Tories lose 4 MPs in less than a year – will James Gray be number 5?

Quentin Davies – defected
Andrew Pelling – whip withdrawn over allegations of wife-beating
Derek Conway – whip withdrawn over expenses scandal
Bob Spink – whip withdrawn before he could resign. Now a member of UKIP.

My prediction at the start of the year that Cameron would have a bad year has remained unfulfilled, but this has mainly because Labour are having such a God awful year that Cameron’s problems have faded into the background. But losing 4 MPs – 2% of the total Parliamentary Party – in less than a year suggests a shambles whichever way you look at it.

How long before we see Cameron having to sack number 5? One MP who has survived scandal up until now has been James Gray. But for how long? The Mail reports:

Only last month, MPs of all parties were being urged not to hand out jobs to family members because of the scandal over Conway receiving taxpayers’ cash for his sons when they weren’t actually doing any work.

Now Gray, an ex-shadow defence spokesman, appears to have ridden roughshod over Cameron’s demand by putting Mrs Mayo on the payroll.

It is the latest twist in a sorry tale – and another act of bravado by the 53-year-old MP for North Wiltshire.

Last night he confirmed that mother-of-three Mrs Mayo, 45, was on his staff. “It is true, but I am not prepared to go into detail about my private life,” he told me.

In the wake of his split from Sarah, 53, it was disclosed he continued to pay her £2,400 a month from his staff allowance even though she had stopped work as his secretary two years before in order to undergo cancer treatment.

He secured permission to pay her until the terms of their separation were agreed last April. It is not known how much he is now paying Mrs Mayo.

See also: Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, Derek Conway: Shades of Gray?

A kick in the Gorbals

If MPs do vote to committing themselves to declare it whenever they employ family members, surely this would be effectively a vote of no confidence in Michael Martin? After all, this will pre-empt his own longer term inquiry.

It should be remembered that David Maclean’s Freedom from Information Bill, which with the Labour and Conservative front benches’ initial passive assent very nearly became an act last year, came out of proposals by the Speaker Committee. If these proposals had been passed, the fallout from the Conway affair would have been worse by several degrees. Meanwhile, Maclean is part of the review being conducted by Martin – it doesn’t bode well.

As with Prescott, a lot of the criticisms of Michael Martin smacks of snobbery. Regardless of his accent however, he is a part of an establishment that is clinging desperately to the idea of Parliament being an aloof club. In short, he is emblematic of many of the problems we face in politics today.

As an alternative, how about… Ming Campbell?

Meanwhile, under the category of “MPs do love to take the piss sometimes”, here’s a heartwarming tale of a prodigal son being welcomed back into the fold (hat tip: Duncan Borrowman).

Recoil at recall!

Bad law is often passed when people encounter a problem, seize on a solution and wed themselves to it regardless of the unintended consequences. It’s the sort of kneejerk reaction we see from our Labour and Tory rivals all the time. Sadly, Antony Hook and Duncan Borrowman have done this over the “solution” of recall for MPs to solve the “problem” of Derek Conway fiddling his expenses.

Let me start by adding this caveat: I can see the case for recall where an executive is directly elected, such as in the case of an elected mayor. Directly elected executives are powerful things which are supposed to represent communities as a whole. This would be a valuable check on their power.

An executive is not the same thing as a representative however; both perform radically different functions. The purpose of representative democracy is that elected representatives have leeway to disagree with the people they represent, on condition that they are held to account after a period of time.

Liberal Democrats – and anyone with half a braincell who lacks a vested interest in the status quo – support proportional representation. This would maximise choice and competition within the system and ensure that politicians had to sing more loudly for their support. PR might even have ensured that benchwarmers like Conway had been given the heave-ho a long time ago. Either way, to the best of my knowledge, no-one has designed a system of recall that works with PR and avoids imposing the very majoritarianism that the electoral system is designed to bypass.

A Green MEP supported by 10% of the electorate should not be subject to the indulgence of the majority. Under PR, a system of recall would be outrageously open to abuse. We can have PR, or we can have recall: we cannot have both.

It might be argued that in lieu of PR, recall might be justifiable if under a FPTP system (or AV for that matter). The problem with this is that recall would exacerbate many of the worst aspects of such electoral systems.

An MP with a majority of 30,000 would be much less vulnerable to recall than an MP with a majority of 30. MPs in marginal constituencies would be under constant attack; MPs in safe constituencies would be free to do as they pleased.

We already have a system whereby the swing voters in marginal constituencies have a disproportionate level of influence on our Parliament. Recall would give them even more influence.

I’ve often been criticised for my support of things like citizens’ initiatives and Chris Huhne’s proposed people’s veto on the basis that it would undermine representative democracy. On the contrary, I want to strengthen it and see some forms of direct democracy as a way of doing that. But recall is an example of a system which can only undermine representative democracy. It is a way of exerting the tyranny of the majority onto MPs. Only the most venal, spineless and self-serving politicians could work their way through the political culture it would impose on us.

In summary, recall is incompatible with PR – which we should all support. It is incompatible with the principle of representative democracy – which we should all support. And even as an interim measure it would exacerbate the worst aspects of majoritarianism. If you value pluralistic politics, you should avoid it like the plague.

Thankfully, Parliament is unlikely to adopt recall before hell freezes over. It is even less likely to adopt recall than it is to adopt PR. We’re probably safe.

In the meantime, I’m afraid that unless he resigns (and I think he should), either Mr Conway will have to be with us for another couple of years or he will end up in the slammer for a fraudulent use of public funds. That’s a price I for one am happy to pay.

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?

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.