Monday, June 30, 2008

Sack Spelman say Tory members!

61% of the Conservative membership want their chairman to resign/quit/disappear.

Can't fault them there - when will Cameron put her out of our misery?

I thought she'd shuffle off in the aftermath of Henley, but she seems to be hanging on in there. What's Cameron scared of?

UPDATE: Dominic (Praguetory) is quite right - I should tip my hat to the loyal Tory 'Gareth' from the Stirrer, who pointed out the shallowness of his own chairman's support amongst her own.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sack Spelman Say Tory MPs

She's sinking fast.

The next former chairman of the Conservative Party should be celebrating the predicted win for the Tories in Henley in advance of the Conservative parliamentary party awayday this weekend. Instead, she's hanging on for grim death as her own parliamentary colleagues stamp all over her bruised fingers.

At the moment, they are still anonymous, but how long will it be before someone comes out and suggests she should do the decent thing and resign?

Newsnight threw another punch tonight. They've finally tracked down the missing link in the Spelman office chain, her Westminster secretary Sally Hammond. She's been a little hard to identify, because although it was known that the problem with paying the nanny was originally raised by one of Spelman's London staff, the turnover in that office meant that Ms Hammond didn't appear on the registers as she worked for Spelman in between the annual publication dates in 1997 and 1998.

Anyway, it seems that Ms Hammond
could not understand why the MP had so little money available for office expenditure. She was shocked to find that much of the annual Commons allowance was being paid to Mrs Spelman's nanny, Tina Haynes. As far as she knew, Ms Haynes did little or no secretarial work to justify this.
This was backed up by Ms Haynes' father-in-law, who said
It's bloody RIDICULOUS to say she was an MP's secretary. She has no idea how to be a secretary or do secretarial work. She has only ever worked as a nanny since I've known her. That's all she knows.
Anyway, Ms Hammond was concerned and this got to the ear of the Chief Whip, who suggested that Ms Spelman might like to change her childcare arrangements forthwith.

The story has unravelled from the start. First, there was the claim that the arrangement lasted for one year, when it actually lasted nearly two. Then we had the claim that there was no constituency office - a lie highlighted by the fact that the Conservative headquarters in Solihull had handled matters for both Meriden and Solihull constituencies for more than a decade prior to Spelman's election. There was also the implication that the nanny worked in Meriden, when we know that she spent much of her time in Knockholt, the Kent home of the Spelmans until late 1998.

I don't know how long Spelman expects to keep her job as party chairman - Cameron has already promised to sack those who aren't open about their expenses and Derek Conway had the whip withdrawn. Let's just revisit some of the parliamentary commissioner's comments over that case
No records appear to exist of either actual work that FC did for his father, or the work he was required to undertake... no one outside of the Conway family was aware of the work... We note that FC seems to have been all but invisible during the period of his employment... This arrangement was, at the least, an improper use of parliamentary allowances: at worst it was a serious diversion of public funds. Our view is that the reality may well be somewhere between the two...

Sound familiar?

Gone by the weekend, I predict.

Surely the sleazebuster-in-chief has to be held to the same standards - if not higher?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Conservatives In Touch with You

Philip Hammond MP is the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Last week, he accused Labour ministers - the ones who are forgoing a pay rise this year - of

'living on a different planet from ordinary hard-working families struggling with soaring living costs.'
Since 2003, Philip Hammond has received share dividends of £2,741,788 from a company of which he is the sole shareholder.
Philip Hammond isn't living on a different planet. He's in a whole alternate reality. Planet Tory.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Do not forsake me oh Lord Rennard

Oh dear.

We had an ill-founded case staged by the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham over allegations that a Labour candidate lied about his opponent on electoral material. Now it seems that the Liberal Democrats themselves are in trouble over a glossy leaflet masquerading as a local magazine for the county set.

The Conservatives are threatening two separate legal actions against the Lib Dems over the Henley by-election. They have written to the Lib Dems over allegations concerning a local community hospital, which they say their candidate has always supported. Unless they receive a retraction by noon, the Tories say they reserve the right to issue a writ.

High noon approaches.
Although gunslinger Dave Cameron shot off early.
We are suing the Liberal Democrats over this so I think we will be in court
There are two issues at stake - whether the Tory candidate has always supported a local community hospital. The Lib Dems say:
Claims by the Conservative campaign that their candidate assisted in the campaign to save Henley's Townlands Hospital are in tatters having been refuted by independent Townlands Campaigners. BOTH the current and former Chairs of the Townlands Hospital Steering Group have issued statements denying any contribution into the campaign by John Howell, despite Conservative leaflets claiming otherwise
The Tories say - retract or face the consequences.
BoJo is also angry that the same leaflet apparently misuses his image in an attempt to mislead voters.

Is that blood in the water I can smell?

It might well be, as the sharks seem to be circling. The Supernanny saga drags on as the Mirror finds a British expat with a little story to tell about Ms Spelman and her nanny.

Remember this clear and unequivocal statement?
I had advertised my home as my consistency office, as there was no other office that Ian Mills had, nor staff in the constituency.
Well, Janet Parry begs to differ. She was a work experience volunteer who worked out of an apparently non-existent office in 2 Manor Road, Solihull in the summer of 1997.
"I was specifically instructed to report to the office in Solihull - there was never any mention of constituency work taking place at the Spelman family home. At that time there were at least two people doing secretarial work there. I am certain that much of the work being done at that office was for the MP herself. I was doing menial admin work, which wasn't what I had hoped for - a lot of putting letters in envelopes and filing."
But hang on - wasn't that volunteer duplicating work being carried out by Ms Haynes? Caroline said that
Tina would answer the telephone for me and open the post and sort it for me and arrange it into files
Meanwhile, the Torygraph reports that
Caroline Spelman's former nanny may have to prove she has basic secretarial skills before the parliamentary standards watchdog to back up the Conservative Party chairman's claims that she used her as a part-time personal assistant....Miss Haynes faces having to prove her ability to perform such tasks as taking dictation and word processing to support her former boss's defence.
Perhaps the Tories should fund a crash course in those things over the summer recess...

Iain Dale, predictably, jumped to her defence when this all kicked off.
I remember she had an Association which was trying to deselect her. I remember various MPs telling me at the time that she was finding it incredibly difficult balancing her family life with her new life as an MP. Her statement today explains that because her predecessor died six weeks before the 1997 election there was a huge backlog of mail. There was no constituency office. There was no secretary to deal with it. As a new MP she didn't have an office until a couple of months after the election. So she did the best she could. But she was drowning. That's not to plead sympathy for her, it is a statement of fact.
He's swallowed the line completely - the hook and sinker must be choking the poor lamb. What is evident is that Spelman's statement was not factual. If Ian Mills coped without an office, it seems unlikely that six weeks would create a huge backlog of mail, but as we know, the Tories have had their Solihull headquarters at 2 Manor Road in Dorridge - well inside the constituency - since 1986. Is it likely that the staff - dedicated to the Tory cause - would have decided that the death of their MP just prior to an election was a good time to pack up and go home? Or would they have stuck around to help in the election and then support their new MP? Which is more likely - even without the evidence.

I fully accept that being an MP is a tough job to combine with family life. A friend said to me a little while ago that they admired me for being able to do the amount of political work I do and still have a family life, and I don't do a tenth of what an MP does. I also agree that the process for sorting out MPs' offices is ludicrous - the parliamentary estate knows that whatever the result, there will be an MP from a particular constituency to house, so that needs to be done as a priority and two months is ludicrous, but that's not the issue and we mustn't let Iain cloud our thinking. Iain then throws up this defence:
Caroline Spelman had never worked in Parliament before she was elected. She wasn't a career politician who knew the ways of Westminster. It was, of course, up to her to find out what rules she had to follow. The fact that the chief whip had to have a word indicated she had fallen foul of the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules. Remember, this was ten years ago - the Fees Office rules were not as clear and detailed as they are today and were easy to misinterpret..
I don't believe that Caroline Spelman is stupid, so I can't accept that she would have thought it reasonable to pay the nanny out of the public purse. Ignorance is no defence - there are plenty of people from whom she could have sought advice.

A comment from 'narcissa' on Dale's Diary sums up his post nicely
Your defence of your friend is touching, but you have left us (well, me) with the impression that she was selected in the face of opposition by the constituency party, that she was ill-prepared for public office, and that she was so disorganised that she did not think to engage a proper PA, although she did manage to find out about, and claim, the allowance which should have enabled her to employ one. This is not the best recommendation for her position within the party, however nice and well-meaning a person she may be

This still has some distance to run.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How long has she got?

With the news of a formal investigation into Nannygate, despite the age of the story, how long can Caroline Spelman hang on as Conservative chair?

When the last senior Tory resigned, Davey C commented:
Giles Chichester is right to stand down as leader of our MEPs to prepare a full explanation of how his office is funded.... Just as I expect our MPs to adhere to the highest standards, so must our MEPs...The tax-paying public have a right to know how their money is being spent and politicians have a duty to ensure it is spent properly.

He can't hold the party chair to a lower standard, surely?

More to come...

DD gets wired

Someone's given David Davis a website and he's speaking his brains on the 'freedom agenda.'

...those inciting violence get off scot-free. A 15-year-old boy was recently charged on the spot for holding a banner describing scientology as a "dangerous cult", but extremists such as Abu Hamza are left free for years to incite violence and vitriol against this country.

As we know, the 15 year old boy will not face any charges as the CPS backed down on a hastily-issued summons within hours because the City of London Police got it wrong in the first place. Abu Hamza is currently serving a 7 year sentence for assorted charges. Hardly getting off scot-free. And he may well find himself facing extradition to the US as well.

I know that I'd rather live in a country where the judiciary refused to extradite someone like Abu Hamza to Yemen because he may face capital punishment if convicted. Even a man who professes to hate our system can still receive our protection.

Mind you, that champion of liberty, David Davis, doesn't mind the idea of capital punishment - something that then Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten (where is he now, eh?) described as

the most obscene remark made by a senior politician in recent years and signals a shift to the right of terrifying proportions
So, 42 days is a step too far, but lethal injection is just fine and dandy. Still, the Lib Dems love him now. So, back to Mr Davis.

There are now 266 state powers allowing officials to force their way into the home
The Tories seem to have brought a fair few of those in. 62 came in during the 80s and 67 in the 1990s. They are a pretty rum bunch of laws, though: Landmines Act, the Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspection) Act, the Theatres Act, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, the Coast Protection Act, the Diseases of Fish Act, the Explosives Act, the Radioactive Material (Road Transport) Act, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, the Slaughterhouses Act, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act, the British Waterways Act, the Civil Aviation Act, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, the Hypnotism Act, the International Carriage of Perishable Foodstuffs Act, the Milk (Cessation of Production) Act, the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act, the Riding Establishments Act, the Slaughter of Poultry Act, the Hops Certification Regulations, the Haiti (United Nations Sanctions) Order.... (thanks to the Sunday Times for the list)

I'd be amazed if you can find anyone who has been on the wrong end of some of these.

Then there are the officers of HMRC who have truly scary powers - they only need a 'Writ of Assistance' to enter, search and seize, not even a warrant, but then they've had that power for a couple of centuries now. Mind you, they can also get people released from jail, so it isn't all bad. However, those Writs are only used rarely and their use has declined since the 1970s by 80%. Maybe there is a case for streamlining rights of entry, but I hope DD isn't proposing to restrict the rights of a fire fighter to force entry to tackle a fire or the right of Transco to stop a gas leak.

There is a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens - despite growing evidence of their ineffectiveness as deployed

Has someone told Boris - he promised CCTV cameras on buses only a few weeks ago?

Officials in Poole spied for weeks on a family taking their children to school
That's what you get if you elect a Tory/Lib Dem council.

Violent crime has doubled in 10 years
No it hasn't. The British Crime Survey reports a 41% fall since 1995. The number of homicides in 2006/7 was the lowest for eight years and recorded firearms offences fell 13% year on year.

...councils and quangos conduct 1,000 surveillance operations every month, using powers that ought to be the preserve of law enforcement agencies
At least those operations are now regulated under RIPA. They weren't beforehand - which is why we have no idea what those quangos were doing before the law was introduced. That was why the law was brought in.

The Government hoards masses of personal data on insecure databases... also
exposing personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.
Whereas the Tory Party just emails it to a random radio station instead.

I note he's ruled himself out of the leadership - but then he would say that, wouldn't he?

As Bob Piper writes, David Davis

has worked out that his climb up the greasy pole is blocked by a younger man whose instincts and beliefs he doesn't trust, and who has taken a calculated gamble that the younger man may slip up, and when he does the Party will turn to his natural successor, the hard man with a streak of principle

Right now, of course, Cameron looks pretty unassailable at the top, but things can change swiftly in this game. Twelve months ago, Gordon was romping ahead in the polls - look where we are now. Cameron will remain popular as long as he looks like a winner, but if anything were to happen to diminish that shine - well, I'm sure that David would answer the call of a grateful party.

Monday, June 16, 2008

And there's more

Newsnight ran a little more on the next former Tory chairman Caroline Spelman.

They've twigged that she wasn't advertising her palatial Kent home as her Meriden constituency office, although she's let everyone believe that her nanny was working for her in the constituency. Not that she's said that - she's just not disabused them of that view.

Dodds, her campaign literature and her entry in Who's Who 1997 - not to mention her website tonight all list the Manor Road address. Rumour reaches me that the Tories have been spinning the line that she actually moved to Meriden sometime in late 1997, while the truth is that the family company Spelman and Cormack Associates recorded a change of director's address from the 15 December 1998 to an address in Dorridge. Curiously, the company had been parked since June that year at another address in Blackheath, London - not the home address in Kent.
I don't think we've heard the last of this yet.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Whoops-a-daisy. Again.

I started writing this last weekend, but life intruded and I've not had a chance until now to finish it...

While Labour is languishing in the poll doldrums at the moment, the Tories are having a few problems of their own. There's Dishy Dave, rattling along, proclaiming his reformist credentials, when all of a sudden, Giles Chichester, recently appointed to lead the Tory herd of MEPs and sorting out the nightmare of expense claims, appeared not to understand that funnelling payments through a family company wasn't the best example to set. And then their European chief whip gets the bullet for similar shenanigans, with three or four MEPs now under scrutiny.

Then came Friday's Newsnight and the foreign difficulties came home to Westminster as Michael Crick - a name that strikes terror into the hearts of politicians - launched a report claiming that Caroline Spelman had paid her nanny from public funds for a short period after the 1997 election. During the 2005 election, it was frequently said that the five most terrifying words were 'Michael Crick is in reception' and the man is renowned for being terrier like with his political prey - Jeffrey Archer can testify to that.

'My predecessor, Ian Mills, had suffered an untimely death about six weeks before the General Election so there was quite a backlog of correspondence and therefore I accepted the opportunity to have part-time administrative and secretarial help from Tina Hayne because I had advertised my home as constituency office - there was no other constituency office that Ian Mills had, nor staff in the constituency and Tina would answer the telephone for me and open the post and sort it for me and arrange it into files and as a working mother that offered a practical solution as she could deal with the secretarial side while the children were in school and then after school provided childcare for my kids... the Chief Whip made me aware that such a situation could be open to misinterpretation.'

After her conversation with the Chief Whip - we don't know who initiated the discussion - Ms Spelman terminated the agreement. Was this a case of a new MP overstepping the mark and being warned off or was it a simple mistake?

I've been digging around a bit myself and there are a couple of interesting things here.

Firstly, nowhere does Ms Spelman specify where her home was in 1997-98 - she is not going to disabuse you of the thought that it might have been in Meriden itself. Thing is that it wasn't. During 97 and 98 - and possibly for a little longer - Ms Spelman lived with her family in Kent.I've been digging away and discovered that the local Conservative Association in Meriden were furious at her delaying a promised move to the constituency. I believe that she didn't find anywhere in Meriden to live until 1999. The address used for her in Meriden was the Conservative Association constituency secretary (not the same role), Les Kyles and the address given in Who's Who 1997 (published at the end of the year) is the usual Tory address.

A well-placed source has also told me that they have no recollection of the name 'Tina Haynes' or 'Tina Rawlins' (her maiden name) as being anything like a constituency secretary at the time, as she would certainly have appeared on the radar in the constituency.

The Tory chairman confirmed she did this for a few months after she was first elected to the Commons in 1997 because Haynes performed secretarial duties in her Meriden constituency, in the West Midlands, during school hours before looking after her three children later in the day.

Additionally, Spelman's youngest child was not yet three in 1997, so would hardly have attended school at that point. Now, I note that this paragraph is not a direct quote from Ms Spelman, so there might be an error in interpretation over whether Haynes worked in Meriden or in Kent - but one that Caroline has seen no reason to correct. Indeed, throughout, she has not - to my knowledge - discussed where the work was actually undertaken, happy to give the impression that it all took place in the Heart, rather than the Garden, of England.

Then there are the claims that there would have been a backlog of work following the death of her predecessor. This is simply overstating the truth. Most MPs casework is dealing with things like benefit, immigration and housing issues, which usually require detailed knowledge of the legislation. Now Meriden is a constituency of two halves. Firstly, there is the extremely rich, semi-rural end with properties running into seven figures with pools and paddocks for the ponies. Not really much call for benefit queries up there, even at the fag-end of a failed Tory government - they weren't quite down to their last Range Rover Vogues there. The other half is Chelmsley Wood, which is typical Labour territory - council and ex-council housing. In fact, if one ward in Chelmsey Wood had turned out the usual vote for Labour in 1997, then this article would never have been penned, as Brian Seymour-Smith would have won the seat for Labour, remarkably enough. But I digress. Clearly, this would generate far more typical casework, but back in 1997, the residents had the benefit of resident Labour councillors. The local people would no more have taken their problems to the Tory MP than they would crawl across broken glass to vote for him or her.

The final nail in this part of the story is the fact that if there was so much casework to handle, surely Ian Mills would have had a team in place to assist. He didn't.

The other interesting piece for me is the source for the story.

Read a transcript:

Tina Haynes: I did obviously do odd secretarial things for her obviously took phone calls and if obviously if there were any documents that she needed posting things like that I did things like that for her.

Michael Crick: So there was some secretarial work?

Tina Haynes: Yeah, yeah.

Michael Crick: So how many hours a week would that have been?

Tina Haynes: To be honest with you, six years down the line, I can't honestly remember.

Michael Crick: But the vast bulk of the work was nannying work?

Tina Haynes: Yeah, I did nannying, yeah.

These are the most non-committal of answers to quite detailed questions. Did Michael Crick suddenly get interested in the decade-old domestic arrangements of the Tory chief whip - or was he pointed in the right direction by somebody in the know? The latter seems more likely. Ms Haynes hardly seems forthcoming and ready to dish the dirt on her employer - she was willing to provide a statement within a few hours putting the right spin on the situation to coincide with the line taken by Caroline Spelman. So, who grassed up Spelman - and why?

Could it have been an opposition job - Labour or the Lib Dems? Possibly, but why sit on it until now? Surely such a revelation would have been used in the 2001 or 2005 campaigns if we had been aware of it and my sources say that we most certainly weren't. Certainly, the Labour Party have joined in the attacks on Ms Spelman with gusto and the usual round of complaints will go in to the Parliamentary Commissioner - that's to be expected.

Actually, I don't think that the real source is within the Labour Party - although they may have been used as a conduit. I suspect that Caroline has ruffled a few too many feathers as she attempts to follow her leader's instructions to get the drains up and dig out those who aren't playing fair on their expenses. Somebody on her own side has decided that she's vulnerable to criticism and decided to fire a shot across her bows - and by extension across David Cameron's attempts to get the Tory snouts out of the Eurotrough.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What price vanity?

£95,520 at 2005 prices, so it could well push over into six figures this year.

Still, I'm sure that David Davis' ego thinks it is worth it.

Is Andrew Mitchell a lone voice in the Conservative Party concerned at Davis' behaviour?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Real courage

While the Tory party has been trumpeting David Davis' courage in risking his political career to make his political point, there's an example of real courage. On the PM programme yesterday, Ian Pannell interviewed an MDC voter who had been taken with his fellow supporters to a 'meeting.' They were lined up and told that they were going to be taught a lesson for voting for the MDC. They were then badly beaten and the victim reported that some people died as a result. When their attackers left, the people were warned that if the vote went the same way during the run-off, then they would return with bullets.

Even though this man was lying in a hospital bed after sustaining a thorough beating by Mugabe's goons, he was still determined to vote MDC when the election run-off is held later this month.

That is political courage over a point of principle.

More from Ian Pannell.

It will be the Sun wot wins it.

I have to doff my cap to him. This is a high risk strategy, but it could be a political masterstroke.

David Davis has consistently been a strong front bench performer for them as shadow home secretary and has landed some punches when it matters. In a single bound, he's used the pull of the legislation to slingshot his proposal to repeal the Act (if the Tories gain power and the bill passes into law) into official Conservative policy. Initially, spokespeople were rather mealy-mouthed and only promised continued opposition to the bill, but Dominic Grieve has now promised repeal in an interview on Five Live. Cameron has been thoroughly out-manoeuvred over this and there may be further repercussions, but he's made the right move politically by throwing the party behind him. He's paying the price for sidelining Davis over the past couple of years.

Now Davis will have the focus of a campaign on his attempt to win back his seat - he's not realistically at any significant risk of losing, because he had a 5,000 majority over the Lib Dems and a whopping 16,000 over Labour. Regardless of him saying that it is about civil liberties, people won't vote solely on that issue. As I've said elsewhere, politicians can't guarantee control of the criteria that voters use to decide where to put their cross. Some Tory voters will probably vote Labour because of the 42 day legislation and some Labour voters will vote the other way, but most voters will probably vote as they always have done. It will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrat vote divides and also to see how many electors can be bothered to turn out - both potential banana skins for Davis, but neither truly likely to slip him up. I'm not sure that voters will really see the point of a by-election just to return the same candidate to office.

If it works, then DD will come back with a significant boost to his political standing in the party and ready to step in should Cameron fall under a bus or find himself otherwise indisposed with a knife in his back (not that I'm saying that this is a likely scenario, but you never know). If the campaign strikes a chord with the public - 70% of whom currently support the 42 day legislation - then it could take the lead on liberty away from the LibDems and keep the government on the back foot. I don't think that the Liberal Democrats sitting this by election out will damage their chances here in 2010 - the odds on them taking it were slim at best. Besides, there was little else they could do - Davis is fighting this on a single issue where the LDs have common ground. Standing against him would have been pointless in the light of the campaign he's going to fight. It would also draw fire away from Henley, where they might have better hopes of a decent performance.

But it might not work. He MIGHT lose - not that I'm holding out much hope - if the Labour party can drop a candidate with security credentials into the seat - or he might find that the public fail to understand why he's caused an unnecessary and costly by-election. This isn't about principle - he's done nothing to cause him to resign. His party has promised to repeal the Act if they win power at the next election - there's nothing more they can do as an opposition. This is really about political machinations, jostling for internal authority and a desire to give the Labour government a bloody nose.

Overnight, it looks like Labour aren't going to stand a candidate - a wise decision. I don't see the point in throwing money, resources and credibility into an election that we are, frankly, going to lose, one that is unnecessary and that has been called for the sole purpose of having a fight with Labour. If our gang doesn't show up, Davis will be reduced to the level of a drunk fighting with his own reflection.

Even so, it looks like he might face a candidate more terrifying than anyone that Labour could dream up - Kelvin Mackenzie, the former editor of the Sun from the Thatcherite days. The press this morning have given him a hard time and if this continues, the 'brave stand' could well end up as a suicide mission. It looks increasingly as though it will hurt the Tories more than the government.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Be positive

Antonia Bance discovers that loose talk generates column inches - damn these journalists and their printing presses - but her thinking's as sound as ever
We're the progressive option. We're the 'Labour party'. We're going to end child poverty by 2020, so let's go out there and tell the country why we're going to do it, how we're going to do it, how it's going to make a difference ... Let's end some pensioner poverty as well ... That's what it's all about. That's why the Labour party was founded. So let's stop being so bloody timid.