A new pernicious and – surprise, surprise – anonymous campaign blog in support of scrapping early day motions has been established. Up until now, calls to scrap this system has been restricted to (usually Tory) MPs. Why an ordinary member of the public would want them scrapped is another matter.
If you go and have a peek at the EDM database, you could be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much to defend. But you would be wrong. EDMs are currently one of the few ways in which backbench MPs can raise issues in Parliament – which means they are one of the few ways in which their constituents can raise issues in Parliament.
As a campaign tool, for both parliamentarians and pressure groups, they are invaluable. On an almost monthly basis you read news reports assessing the likelihood of a backbench rebellion succeeding or failing as a result of how many members have signed the accompanying EDM. They are a key tool for backbenchers to arm themselves against the whips, a way of forming strength in numbers. In order to get private members bill legislation through parliament they are absolutely crucial. The Sustainable Communities Act* would never have become law if 338 MPs – a clear majority – had not signed the accompanying EDM.
Could the system be improved? Of course. For one thing, the current paper-based system is a total waste of money. Parliament could – and should – move towards an electronic system. There is also merit in considering some kind of guillotine rule for EDMs which fail to get enough signatories within a week (for example). The biggest abusers of EDMs are MPs themselves who just can’t resist tabling EDMs about their local football or rugby teams, etc. Yet I have never seen a critic of the system call for it to be reformed, merely scrapped.
Who would benefit from scrapping the system? Party whips whose job would suddenly become much easier. MPs more generally – particularly those dinosaurs who have been taken to task over the past couple of months – whose views would be less open to public scrutiny. Multi-client lobbying companies, who would be able to assert a greater monopoly on who has access to Parliament (currently, voluntary sector organisation facing up against a lobbying firm can at least rely on the public record as a way of monitoring progress of their campaigns and ensuring MPs’ opinions’ can’t waver; without EDMs, the lobbying companies would be the only ones with the resources to monitor this).
So we should be wary of this peevish campaign and question why they are hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Come out come out, wherever you are!
* Interest: I work for Unlock Democracy which was – and remains – one of the main backers of the SCA.
How much longer can George Osborne hold on as Shadow Chancellor? Now is not the time for a flyweight to be in charge of the Tory’s economic policy, not least one who thinks that the best way to stop a “house burning down” is to “fix the roof.”
Today’s revelation by Nathaniel Rothschild that Osborne not only attended the legendary dinner with Peter Mandelson and Oleg Deripaska but that he solicited a donation from the man, could just be the final nail in the coffin. At the same time it smacks of poetic justice – it was Osborne who began this whole cycle of events by making indiscreet comments about a private dinner he had had with Mandelson in the first place.
Osborne has form with this sort of thing as well. Pretty much every time he opens his mouth he attempts to lower political debate to the level of the school playground, whether he is whinging about Gordon Brown snubbing him or making snide remarks about Gordon Brown being autistic. This sort of thing gets him headlines but I don’t think earns him much respect. That is probably at least partially why journalists have been so happy to leak him as the Mandelson “source” in the first place.
Osborne deserves a lot of credit for helping to detoxify the Tory brand with Cameron. As a marketing strategy, their’s has been near flawless. The problem has always been with the substance (and I’m not talking about the Class A Cameron may or may not have put up his nose before becoming an MP). The deliberate strategy to be policy-lite has broadly worked, but the wunch crunch changes all that. The Tories need a heavyweight leading their Treasury team, a Letwin or a Willetts, or their current wobble in the polls may start to become a southbound trend.
Let’s not forget about Caroline Spelman either by the way. The Parliamentary investigation about her nanny is still ongoing, and while I was one of the first to defend her, but things seem to have got much murkier since then. If this comes to the surface once again while the Osborne stink is still lingering, the Tories could have a full scale crisis on their hands. The received wisdom seems to be to replace her as quickly as possible with Eric Pickles. If that happens it will be interesting, as Pickles has a big mouth which could cause him all sorts of problems.
And then there is Cameron himself. As this blog has repeatedly noted, he has a tendency to capitulate rather than confront. Blair was a thousand times more ruthless and even he balked at sacking Mandelson. Both times. What all this seems to add up to is the makings of a political storm. That assumption that the next election is already in the bag may yet prove to be premature.
I don’t rate Caroline Spelman as a frontbencher. She has particularly annoyed me in the past by attacking the government for its proposals to revalue council tax (according to the Tories there is something magical about the year 1991 which means that all property taxes should based on the value of homes at that point). I question how someone who believes such nonsense can be said to be qualified to sit on the front benches of any political party. Sadly however, if you follow that logic you would have to get rid of most of all three front benches.
Regarding what will almost certainly be dubbed “nannygate” in all the Sunday papers tomorrow however, I am less inclined to criticise. I have watched both Crick’s totally unbalanced report and Spelman’s defence and am inclined to side with Spelman.
Let’s be clear; there is no doubt that her decision to employ her nanny to do some secretarial work for her after first getting elected in 1997 was in clear breach of the rules. But by all accounts it was an oversight, and one which was quickly corrected within less than a year. We are talking about what looks like a genuine mistake by a new MP, which was then corrected, and which happened over ten years ago.
Compared with, say, Margaret Beckett’s herbacious borders, this is very small fry, no matter what Crick and Guido might say. I’ve seen up close how bewildering and difficult it is for new MPs to get their offices up and running, and even to find out what they are and aren’t allowed to do. 2005 was the first year, as I understand it, that new MPs were given a formal induction. Such initiatives have always been resisted by whips who prefer to control the information their neonates receive so as to make it all the easier to keep them under control. Mistakes happen, and it is a very sorry state of affairs if we now seek to present even the slightest of cock ups by a politician as a sinister conspiracy against the public; not to mention highly delusional.
The biggest joke is Crick pointing out that the ex-nanny doesn’t mention the small bit of secretarial work she did on her Facebook profile. At around the same time I was doing temping work for the Legal Aid Board but I think Crick will struggle to find that on my Facebook profile either; that doesn’t “prove” I’m a liar for admitting I did it. I also like the comedy voice he put on when “quoting” the nanny, by way of demonstrating she must have been lying (as opposed to trying to recall a minor incident in her life ten years ago). I know what those Crick phonecalls are like having been on the receiving end of one myself; if a gobshite like me can be intimated, I’m not surprised she comes across as a little hesitant and nervous.
Of course, if it turns out that Spelman paid this woman for a longer period of time than she both she and Crick appear to agree she did, it might be a different matter. Otherwise it is a non-story and an act of scraping the very bottom of the barrel.
Now a piece on James Gray on the other hand…