Westminster: May 2009 Archives

liberalgraph.jpgI know there's not much point reblogging something the omnipresent Iain Dale has already covered, but this graph, from a Liberal blogger, is really special. It's a great selling point - "we're 3% less at it than Labour, and a whole 7% less at it than the Tories". Inspirational stuff.

However, as usual with Liberal graphs, the bars are properly dishonest. It's obvious: the 3% between Labour and the Liberals looks significantly wider than the 4% between Labour and the Tories. 

The misleading effect, overall, is to make the Liberals look better, relatively, and the Tories worse. I've redone it in true proportion, with Labour as the arbitrary baseline. Even when they're mocking themselves they can't help fiddling the bar charts, it seems. The faded-out bars are the originals for comparison.

I've also removed the annoying shopkeepers' apostrophe. It's not as bad as "only the Liberals can win here", but it surely does grate.

Note: I haven't checked the original 34%/30%/27% figures, and am just taking his word for that. This will probably prove to be a mistake.

Alan Johnson's bold move.

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alanjohnson.jpgSay what you like about the Health Secretary, but his call for PR is bold, eye-catching and hard to tag as obviously cynical. 

If he wanted to find a policy less well-designed to woo Labour MPs to a leadership campaign it'd be hard to find one. It's therefore a brave move, in the Sir Humphrey sense, for the heir apparent.

The system proposed, Jenkins' AV+, is certainly an improvement on the existing model, although less clear and less democratic than STV. 

It does favour the larger parties, in particular those perceived as the least worst in their constituency. Smarter Labour strategists continue to favour it because they assume that in the long term, Lib Dem votes will transfer to them in larger numbers. The current mood, in which Liberal backers tend to favour working with the Tories, will pass, they think.

There are also problems with holding the referendum on the same day as the General Election. First, if the PR vote passes, the constituency votes would then be counted in the same old undemocratic way on the same day. If the public accepts that first past the post is no longer the right system, surely they'd be reluctant to accept one more Parliament elected under it? Isn't this meant to be an answer to a crisis of legitimacy, rather than a way of revealing its depths?

The other problem with the scheme is that neither the referendum nor the general election would get the attention they deserve. In fact, despite the view that the public don't care one way or another about this issue, the political classes and political journalists certainly do, and any referendum would be likely to become the centrepiece of the whole show.

This could well be the point. The Tories are resolutely against, and although they seem to be coming out the expenses fiasco in better shape, this issue could well put them on the wrong side again. As Johnson just told the World At One:

"The reason [the Tories] don't like it is that it empowers you."

I'm sure he believes in the campaign: once we get fairer votes there's no going back, and no-one would back this purely for short term advantage. It seems pretty likely, though, that he's seeing principle and advantage align. Never a bad place for a politician to be.
On Today this morning there's been a flood of expenses backlash, with the likes of Anne Widdecombe pleading for those who need their boilers fixed. We need somewhere to live, they bleat. How could we possibly live in the constituency and in London without buying a house? Then surely we need money to get our garden path fixed and to buy a 12 inch black and white telly?

Rent, people. 

It's obvious that you need somewhere to live in the constituency and somewhere in London, and taxpayers must (reluctantly, perhaps) help that happen. Do what you like in your constituency with your own money, then rent a furnished flat in London. Charging for a mortgage and you benefit from it. Rent somewhere and your constituents have an MP equipped to do his or her job with no additional profiteering. Why is this so complicated?

blandingscastle.jpgThe next round of expenses disgracefulness has just gone up. It's Tories and their stately homes. Call it the Bertie Wooster round. Castle maintenance, moat cleaning, private swimming pool maintenance and heating, chandelier-hanging, and housekeepers. Oh, and the housekeeper's car.

It all reminds me of the bad blood between Heseltine and Alan Clark, when Clark accused Heseltine of buying his own furniture (i.e. being nouveau), and Heseltine, as I remember it, riposted that Clark had bought his own castle.

I wonder whether we paid for any of that. In fact, what is the total post-war investment by taxpayers into MPs' stately homes? Do we own them yet?

"All parties"?

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browncameronmistakes.jpgGordon Brown apologised on behalf of all parties for the massive abuse of expenses carried out at Westminster (so far by Labour, Tory, SNP & Sinn Fein: the Liberals may yet be squeaky clean). The damned cheek of the man.

Just to be absolutely clear, Greens have no snouts in this particular trough. No bathplugs, no mole removals, no porn, no widescreen TVs, no flipping, no men to screw in one's lightbulbs. 

Admittedly, we've got no MPs yet, but that's no reason for Brown to tar us with his particularly dirty bog-brush. No worries, though: I think the public know where the bad smell's coming from.
salmondcurry.jpgFew people like a good curry more than our nation's glorious leader, and it's therefore no surprise that dining receipts should be the focus of the Telegraph's Salmond exposé

Now, I understand the idea of claiming back expenses when your work sends you away somewhere, and I'm sure most people accept that. 

However, few will regard it as acceptable to claim back £400 a month (including during two months of Westminster recess) for meals out and other food costs. No other regular line of work has perks like that. In the real world, people pay for their dinner from their salary, and politicians should be no different. 

Even when he more or less stopped going to London, except for the odd flying visit to try and restrict abortion rights, the claims continued. 

His quote in the story, disappointingly, is the same tired and indefensible line Labour Ministers have been using all week:

"The claims for food allowances were entirely in accordance with the Green Book rules at the time."

Whatever the rules say, though, if you claim under them you are saying you believe those claims are acceptable ways to use taxpayers' money. If the rules said you could fly daily to the Taj Mahal itself at our expense, would you do it, First Minister? You've been caught taking the Scottish Government car to your favourite curryhouse. Did you then submit a claim for dinner to the Westminster authorities?

Brown's government tonight remains stuck in the headlights of a pair of news stories that simply will not go away: MPs allowances and the Gurkha right of residence. 

Earlier on Phil Woolas fell foul of the Gurkhas' champion Joanna Lumley, and the Telegraph will tomorrow launch Cameron's Euro campaign with the Cabinet's latest allowances embarrassments.

Although the New Labour reputation for ruthlessly efficient media management is exaggerated, it's hard to see the Blair/Campbell team tolerating either of these issues going round and round, getting worse every news cycle. That's almost three weeks since the Gurkha story started off again, and the allowances fiasco has been a dominant narrative for months now.

Neither issue might seem that substantial in policy terms, especially given the gross negligence of the Labour government on matters both economic and environmental. Yet in both instances Brown insists on pointlessly putting himself on the wrong side of the argument, and both stories are extremely easy for his opponents to communicate.

Only a brave soul would rule out the idea that this pair of stories might finally tip the dominos against Brown. Which is more likely? His political career run through with a kukri, or choked on Jacqui Smith's bath plug?
stvposter.jpgAbout three months ago (I know, I know) I went along to a meeting here to discuss the First Past The Post system. The event was organised by the redoubtable Helen Eadie, and featured the unusual Westminster double-act of Brian Donohoe and Daniel Kawczynski. As it wasn't billed as a campaign event in favour of this most unrepresentative of systems, I thought it might be worth going along with one of Scotland's leading campaigners for voting reform.

The meeting was actually pretty interesting, for an anorak, and we found a degree more common ground than I expected. All there were agreed that having too many electoral systems risks confusion, although the first one I'd abolish is the one which keeps their undemocratic bums on the green benches. We further agreed that STV is a better system than closed party lists, and that if First Past The Post was ever abolished, STV would be a better replacement.

Mr Kawczynski was personally pretty impressive, and not just because he's about eight feet tall. He's wrong on hunting, and he's wrong on PR, oblivious to the price paid for all those disenfranchised Tory voters in 1997, but he seems sincere and prepared to take a different line to his own party, including on Royal Mail privatisation.

The most amusing part, though, was when Murdo Fraser, deputy Tory leader, put one of his young colleagues right on STV. Having sat through an anti-STV rant, Murdo agreed PR wasn't right for Westminster, but pointed out what a success it had been for local government. Cue broad smiles from our corner and torn faces everywhere else.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Westminster category from May 2009.

Westminster: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Westminster: June 2009 is the next archive.