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Archives for July 2010

Lib Dems and smaller government

Martyn Oates | 19:26 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

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Nick Clegg and David Cameron

Tory backbenchers have now started to join their Liberal Democrat partners in laying into various aspects of government policy.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have set up a string of separate "policy committees" to demonstrate a degree of independence within the coalition.

This is good news for Andrew George (St Ives) and Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) who both get to chair one.

There are no fewer than 15 such committee chairmen, representing just under a third of the party's MPs.

That much is clear. What - or whom - all these chairmen will be presiding over is less so.

Presumably Lib Dem ministers won't have much free time to contribute to these fora.

According to my - admittedly limited - arithmetical skills, this will leave the party struggling to drum up a membership of two for each one.

The party's press office points out that peers will sit on them as well (there is a Lords co-chair for each one) but admits that it remains to be seen how membership will "logistically work out".

"Expressions of interest" have been invited from MPs - but the press office says it's not yet known whether this could see them sitting on more than one committee.

All more evidence, perhaps, that the coalition has a real commitment to smaller government.

Dorset, Draxes and dinosaurs

Martyn Oates | 17:13 UK time, Thursday, 8 July 2010

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Richard Drax

Maiden speeches present a challenge to the debuting MP.

These things roll off the parliamentary conveyor belt in seemingly endless succession for weeks and, indeed, months into a new Parliament.

How do you come up with something that sets you apart from all the other fellows eulogising their constituencies and pledging years of unstinting service?

In these circumstances a chap with a quadruple-barrelled name and an eccentric ancestor up his sleeve has a head start.

Such was the case for Richard (Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-) Drax, the new Conservative MP for South Dorset:

"My foray into politics ends a slight drought of Draxes here in the Commons. In an earlier deluge, six ancestors graced this place between 1679 and 1880 - all representing the long-lost seat of Wareham. One, John Sawbridge Erle-Drax MP, spoke only once during the entire 32 years of his parliamentary career, and that was to ask the Speaker of the House to open the window. Unsurprisingly, he was known as the "Silent MP". After his death, he arranged for The Times to be delivered daily to his mausoleum through a specially built-in letterbox; mine is under construction. In view of his Trappist tendencies, for his descendent to be making his maiden speech a mere eight weeks into the parliamentary session must seem like indecent haste."

Richard Drax's ancestry - and the fact that he owns a large chunk of Dorset - inevitably attracted claims that he was too posh for Parliament from political opponents.

This, too, was touched on during his maiden speech:

"The entire constituency is dominated by our Jurassic Coast, now a world heritage site. Dinosaurs once roamed the constituency-there is proof of it. Judging by comments made by opponents during the election campaign, people might think one was still out there. Maybe that is the case, but a strong Conservative heart beats underneath these scales, tempered for a moment with a dash of liberalism. I shall represent my constituents according to my conscience, without fear or favour."

Here, too, he's taking a rather different tack from his ancestor.

Immediately before the polls opened in Wareham on one occasion, John Sawbridge Erle-Drax had this message for his future constituents:

"I understand that some evil-disposed person has been circulating a report that I wish my tenants, and other persons dependent upon me, to vote according to their conscience. This is a dastardly lie, calculated to injure me. I have no wish of the sort. I wish and intend that these people should vote for me."

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