Government run close on inquiry call

October 31, 2006

An interesting night’s debate in Parliament as the Government was run close on a vote for an inquiry on the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

12 Labour backbenchers voted against the Government. These were: Harry Cohen, Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Fisher, Roger Godsiff, Glenda Jackson, John McDonnell, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Alan Simpson, Peter Soulsby, Gavin Strang, Bob Wareing and Mike Wood.

No big surprises there. Soulsby, Strang and Godsiff aren’t really habitual rebels, but they do have a track record on the issue of Iraq. Only 300 MPs voted for the Government including the two Government tellers, meaning that 52 MPs either voted against the Government, abstained, or were not present for some other reason.

Clearly there will be many more Labour MPs who would have backed an inquiry, but don’t want to give the Nats, upon whose motion the vote was on, a victory in the run up to the Scottish and Welsh elections.

Margret Beckett’s argument that an inquiry “risks appearing to set a deadline for our operations in Iraq which would be politically and militarily damaging.” 

She seemed to shift ground during the debate, as she said: “It is perfectly sensible and legitimate to say that there will come a time when these issues will be explored in the round and in full so that we can learn whatever lessons we can from them.” Appearing to leave the ground open for a future investigation.

However, that said, the motion was a more of a political stunt by the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Alex Salmond even called the motion an attempt to ‘impeach Blair“.

Far more effective than a Privy Council inquiry, which is what the motion called for, would be beefed-up powers for select committees. They should be able to subpoena witnesses and take testimony under oath, as US Congressional committees can.

This would bypass this kind of grandstanding by opposition parties, and give the committees that count – Foreign Affairs and Defence – the power to find out what went wrong and help provide a desperately needed new direction for UK policy on the middle-east. It would also create new centres of power in Parliament outside of the Government, giving Parliament new relevance and strengthening parliamentary democracy.


Fighting from the inside

October 31, 2006

Jon Cruddas had a fascinating interview with the Compass Youth blog yesterday.  Seeing as we were one of Cruddas first backers in the blogosphere, we can only be slightly disappointed we didn’t get the exclusive, but we won’t let out heads drop.  We are, after all, a little bit tabloidesque for Jon.

Anyhow, the interview is well worth reading for a range of reasons.  For a start, Cruddas gives an insight into his time in Downing Street, describing how he opposed the age rates on the National Minimum Wage.  He coyly says, “It is just wrong to have different rates for people doing the same job – I had thought we settled that debate within the movement decades ago, but apparently not.”  It is rare to get a first person insight in to the debates that happen at the top of government, and that would have been interesting even without the deputy leadership in play.

On Iraq, something The Daily team pretty much thought we disagreed with Cruddas over, we were delighted relieved to see him say, “The government needs to admit openly the mistakes it made, and apologise. Looking forward, there can be no question of supporting Bush in any similar interventions.”

More generally, we are interested in the concept of a different kind of campaign, not based in Westminster and the media, nor organised around a personality with a top-down structure, but attempting to galvanise a wider network from the bottom up.  This is a contrast to the Americanised, consumerist approach that some would have us adopt. 

Overall, it is an interesting interview, which clarifies and expands on issues he has previously raised.  We’re obviously biased (see logo in top right corner) but this chat with Compass Youth makes The Daily more comfortable in its endorsement than ever before.

Burning the flag at both ends

October 30, 2006

It seems the Met Police have let anti-terror laws go their heads, and they are now proposing a US-style law banning the burning of the Union Jack.  Presumably, they will want to see the St George Cross, the Red Dragon and the St Andrew’s Cross covered as well. 

The Daily’s office is not – as you might have gathered – full of liberal libertarians, but this is a step too far in cracking down on dissent.  However, we aren’t willing to back Jenny Jones’ reason for opposing this new law: extremists need to “let off steam”…

“Let them burn flags. It is better than burning buildings. It is not desirable, but people have to let off steam somehow.”

Don’t burning flags give off toxic fumes?  Not very green….

Blair backs Benn

October 29, 2006

According to Patrick Hennesey at the Sunday Telegraph, Downing Street played a “played a key strategic role” in Hilary Benn’s decision to stand for deputy.  This fits in with several pieces of the jigsaw which may yet undermine Benn’s claim to be the unity candidate.

According to the Telegraph, Downing Street has now withdrawn its support from Alan Johnson – not hard to believe if you saw how they left Johnson out in the cold over faith schools.  That means Benn will have access to the 50 or so hard core Blairite MPs – easily enough to take him over the 44 threshold.

What is just as interesting as Blair’s backing is the people involved in Benn’s campaign.  Ian McCartney as campaign manager may look good at first site but the union leaderships view him as serially untrustworthy after his years as Blair’s party fixer.   Benn’s apparent use of the Campaign Company will also raise serious questions, especially given reports that controversial ultra-Blairite David Evans is being lined up to direct the campaign.

Downing Street’s backing for Benn as the Blairite candidate leaves the right-wing section of the race seriously crowded.  While Blairite runners (Benn, Straw, Johnson and according to today’s Observer Blears as well) are fighting for that turf, Hain, Harman and Cruddas are going for the arguably larger swathe of MPs on the centre and left. 

Who ends up on the ballot is absolutely crucial to the strategies of the candidates – until the nominations are sorted out, there is all to play for.  But The Daily now feels confident enough to predict that the following will make the ballot: Benn (representing the Blairite wing), Cruddas (representing the grassroots and the unions), and Harman (backed by a mix of female and southern MPs).  At least one and maybe two of Hain, Straw and Blears will fall at the first hurdle.

Tories go on anti-choice rampage

October 29, 2006

The new cuddly Tories are to let the mask slip a little on Tuesday with an attempt to make it significantly harder for woman to have an abortion.  Nadine Dorries, a 2005 intake Tory, is so determined to push the restrictive law through that she has apparently hired a PR firm to help sell the proposals.  Presumably, she hasn’t paid for the PR firm herself, which begs the question where the cash comes from.

Dorries’ Bill – which has no real chance of becoming law – would do two things.  First, it would reduce the term limit at which a foetus can be aborted from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.  Second, it would introduce a compulsory “10 day delay” period, meaning that women would be forced to wait until later in their pregnancy to act on a decision they have already made – a decision which has to be approved by two doctors.

First off – reducing the term limit at which abortions can be carried out.  Less than 1% of abortions happen after 21 weeks, and the argument of Davies (who appeared on the Heaven and Earth show this morning) that these late abortions are carried out for “social reasons”, beggars belief.  Davies has produced no evidence for this claim.  A ten minute rule bill is hardly the sort of place to bring together doctors (90% of whom are pro-choice) and scientists to debate the issues.

Secondly, the cooling off period.  This is a direct import from the anti-choice campaigners in the US.  It is intended to give vocal campaigners and extremists space to initimdate persuade women not to go through with their decision.  The irony of Dorries’ combining of these two initiatives is that the cooling off period will lead to more late abortions, not less.

The Bill is effectively an extension of the “dog whistle” tactics that right-wingers use on race in to the abortion issue.  They won’t openly say that they oppose all abortion, but it is a coded message for anti-abortion activists that the Tories are on their side.

The Bill will be voted on as a free vote, but it will be interesting to see which MPs vote which way, and in fact which MPs make the effort to attend this unwhipped vote.

Breaking news: Benn declares

October 28, 2006

Apparently flushed out early, Hilary Benn has now told his CLP that he will stand, at least for deputy leader, according to the Independent and the Guardian.

Both papers note that Benn is running as a “New Labour” candidate. The Independent‘s Andy McSmith, who seems to be being briefed directly by Benn’s campaign, reports that he will “be competing with the Education Secretary Alan Johnson for the “loyalist” vote from those who want the Labour Party to stick to the formula that has won them three general elections.”

McSmith goes on to suggest that Benn believes that Harman and Hain are more critical of the government’s current direction than him but will find their support shifting to Jon Cruddas. This would leave him perfectly placed to pick up the mantle of “next generation” Blairite.

However, the Guardian correctly reports that Dennis Skinner will back Benn – the left-wing MP is likely to surprise many by supporting a Brown-Benn ticket. Benn will have to resolve the tensions inevitable in any coalition that stretches from Dennis Skinner to Denis MacShane. 

Whatever your opinion, and The Daily has made clear our own, it’s shaping up to be a fascinating race and we will be reporting the latest and analysing the campaigns throughout.

Lib Dem slams Fair Trade

October 27, 2006

The Daily had a lunch outing today to the Terrace Cafeteria – works canteen in the Mother of all Parliaments – and took the chance to idly leaf through their “Comments” book. We recommend to our readers in the Westminster bubble that they do the same should they ever fancy some entertainment, ranging from Bill Olner’s demands for “more tongue” through to Bruce George’s outrage that when he took the Ambassador for lunch there were no saucers for the tea cups.

But first prize goes to a comment from one of Parliament’s most outspoken Liberal Democrat MPs, Bob Russell, who has recently courted controversy with a bizarre outburst in which he accused the government of being racist for using the term “black economy”.

He had this to say:

Why is there so much fair trade food?  I’m all for helping the poor, but it’s more expensive and it crumbles in the mouth.  We want more Mars Bars.

Always good to see a glimpse of the true Nestlé-munching face behind the Lib Dems’ cuddly image!