BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Michael Crick

Archives for November 2010

Expansion of selective education

Michael Crick | 19:49 UK time, Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Many Conservatives (and some others, no doubt) will be disappointed that Michael Gove's White Paper today does nothing to extend grammar schools, or selection in the English education system.

It's often been pointed out that no education secretary abolished more grammar schools than Margaret Thatcher between 1970 and 1974.

And conversely, which government in recent times presided over the biggest expansion of selective education? The answer, Chris Husbands of the Institute for Education has just told me, was Labour between 1997 and 2010.

The reason is simple. Many of the local authorities which still have grammar schools - such as Buckinghamshire, Trafford and Kent - have been areas of population expansion in recent years.

Can Laws be back in government soon?

Michael Crick | 19:38 UK time, Wednesday, 24 November 2010

David Cameron told a lunch today that he wants the former Lib Dem Chief Secretary David Laws back in government "soon".

Mr Laws was in office for just 16 days before resigning over his expenses, and is currently being investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

David Cameron may want him back "soon", but the difficult issue is how.

First, I forecast that ministerial reshuffles under David Cameron will be rather less frequent and extensive than under his predecessors.

First, because he has already shown he values continuity rather than the ridiculous chopping and changing of Blair and Brown years (which saw 12 Europe ministers in 13 years, for example).

The second impediment to Laws' quick return may be the structure of the coalition itself.

The Lib Dems are limited to five Cabinet jobs, and any increase would upset lots of Conservatives.

And it is hard to see how he could move any of the existing Lib Dems in Cabinet - Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander, or Michael Moore.

Alexander is a key player in the spending cuts programme and Laws, an Englishman, could hardly replace Moore at the Scottish Office.

A lower job for Laws would be seen as a demotion, and might also be unfair on the existing Lib Dem who was pushed aside.

So Mr Laws may have to bide his time. Unless Cameron and Clegg can come up with some prestigious government job outside the ministerial structure.

Kettling

Michael Crick | 15:12 UK time, Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It was interesting to see that the demonstrators outside the Liberal Democrat HQ today were the subject of "kettling" by the police. For it was barely a year ago that the Lib Dems decried such tactics.

At the 2009 Lib Dem conference their then Justice spokesman David Howarth said:

"The ugly scenes of police aggression and intimidation witnessed at the G20 protests and the Kingsnorth demonstrations were a national disgrace.

"Tactics like baton charges, the seizure of personal property and the kettling of protestors for hours on end are fundamentally wrong. They are a threat to democratic rights, they cause distress and injury, increase tension, provoke reaction and damage the reputation of the police.

"These tactics must change. The police must recognise the democratic right to protest and put the protection of the public first at all times."

Was Brian Walden the man behind the Coalition?

Michael Crick | 15:14 UK time, Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Conservative MP Rob Wilson has said that the former Labour MP Brian Walden may have been the man who persuaded David Cameron and George Osborne to go for a coalition government, rather than tough it out with a minority government.

Speaking this lunchtime at a seminar organised by the Institute for Government, Wilson revealed that Walden was a guest speaker about four years ago at an internal Conservative Party get-together which discussed the possible problems of a hung Parliament.

Wilson, the author of a new book on how the current coalition was formed - 5 Days to Power - says Walden urged Cameron and Osborne to go for a full-blooded coalition rather than a more unstable Confidence and Supply arrangement, as this would prove a lot more effective and enduring.

Wilson said he thinks Cameron and Osborne were strongly influenced by Walden's advice.

Walden was a Labour MP in the 1960s and 70s, and had a reputation as the best speaker in the House of Commons. He left politics to become presenter of the TV programme Weekend World, and later became a strong admirer of Margaret Thatcher.

Miliband reveals his true feelings on life in opposition

Michael Crick | 19:15 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

Ed Miliband told Labour MPs tonight: "Being in opposition is frankly crap. You see the Tories and Liberal Democrats doing terrible things and it's very frustrating."

Miliband unveils policy reviewers

Michael Crick | 18:13 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

In a few minutes time, Ed Miliband is to introduce to Labour MPs Liam Byrne, who will oversee policy review, and report to the National Policy Forum, and the Party Reform Taskforce under Peter Hain who will report to National Executive by next summer in time for rule changes at next year's party conference.

The policy review will involve smaller reviews over a "handful" of subject areas, plus wider ranging outside commissions.

Loans to Ireland rich ground for rebellion

Michael Crick | 16:58 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

George Osborne told the Commons today that Britain's bilateral loan to help the Irish will require primary legislation.

That has obvious potential for a Conservative, Eurosceptic, back bench rebellion. And presumably the legislation will need to go through within the next few days.

Friendly neighbours

Michael Crick | 12:22 UK time, Saturday, 20 November 2010

The new Labour peer Baroness Bakewell is the second former member of the Newsnight staff to make the House of Lords.

The first was the Liberal Democrat, Jane Bonham-Carter, who was one of my first producers on the programme in the early 90s.

Joan Bakewell was the Newsnight arts correspondent in the 1980s.

But is the new Baroness Bakewell also the first Miliband peer? Until a few years ago both David and Ed Miliband lived in separate flats in the house next to Bakewell's, in Chalcot Square in Primrose.

And, their mother Marion, who now occupies David's old flat, is now a next-door neighbour of Bakewell's instead.

A Coalition pledge that won't ever be fulfilled?

Michael Crick | 19:43 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

After Friday's new peers, the Coalition is almost as far as it was in May from achieving its then stated aim.

The Coalition Agreement said that pending reform of the Lords "appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election".

With the appointment of 10 new Labour peers, Labour's strength in the upper house will be 244, way ahead of its proportion of the vote at the next election (and still some way ahead of the Tories)

By my calculation, to reflect the vote proportions in May, the Lords would need 304 Conservative peers (compared with 220 after today's appointments), and 193 Lib Dems (compared with 94 from today).

So that would require another 84 Conservatives and another 99 Lib Dems - 183 in all.

Which would bring the strength of the Lords to nearly 1,000.

Somehow, methinks that's a Coalition Agreement pledge that won't ever be fulfilled.

Concerns over size and make-up of Lords

Michael Crick | 18:01 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit at University College, London, one of the foremost academic experts on the House of Lords, is very upset about today's new peerages.

In particular, because they make the Lords so big. And now it will be much harder to achieve the Coalition Agreement pledge that the composition of the Lords should be adjusted to reflect party votes at the last election.

She writes: "The problem started with the first post-election round of 56 new appointments, which tipped things even more in Labour's direction, so that now the coalition wants to level things up: but that's 109 new appointments in six months."

And Meg Russell says today's announcement will not bring the parties "proportionality", as promised back in May: "That could only be achieved with a large number more appointments on top of these. What next? A Lords of 900? 1000?"
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What would Michael Dobbs' reaction be?

Michael Crick | 17:41 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

It must have grated with Michael Dobbs that for years people have been making comparisons between him and Jeffrey Archer. Both Conservative novelists etc.

Dobbs, creator of the fictional character Sir Francis Urquhart, is no fan of Archer. He knows too much.

Indeed, on the night the News of the World did their expose on Archer and the prostitute back in 1986, Central Office was desperate to get advance sight of the article. Dobbs was then working as chief-of-staff to the Conservative chairman Norman Tebbit, and was despatched down to Wapping to try and get hold of an early copy of the paper. He succeeded, persuading one of the lorry-drivers to give him one.

Now finally, is Dobbs finally getting his reward for that, and subsequent work and donations to the Conservative cause? I did think of ringing him to ask.

Why bother, I thought. I know the answer right now: "You could say that, Michael, I couldn't possibly comment."

Flight gets peerage in the nick of time

Michael Crick | 17:34 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

Howard Flight gets a peerage at last, and just in the nick of time.

You may recall he was the Conservative MP who was ruthlessly sacked by Michael Howard just before the 2005 election for making some unhelpful comments about the prospects for spending cuts.

He was sacked by Howard not just from the Tory front-bench, but also as a Conservative candidate. Many in politics thought the move was hugely unjust.

Flight thought of standing as an independent for his Arundel seat, but feared that might ensure a Liberal Democrat victory.

He consoled himself with assurances from the Conservative whips that they would be put things right. And he also consoled himself with the knowledge that Howard, as a resident of Pimlico, would have to vote for his wife, Christabel Flight, who is one of the Tory councillors for Pimlico.

So how come my observation that Flight got his peerage in the nick of time?

Little noticed today is that Michael Howard, now Lord Howard, has just been appointed to the Lords Appointments Commission.

New peer Strasburger 'left out of pocket' by Brown

Michael Crick | 15:47 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

The new Liberal Democrat peer Paul Strasburger gave considerable personal help to Michael Brown, the convicted fraudster, fugitive, and notorious major donor to the Liberal Democrats before the 2005 election.

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats confirmed to me today that Mr Strasburger stood bail for Michael Brown at the time of Brown's trial for fraud:

"That's correct, yes," she said when I put it to her. Mr Strasburger referred me to the Lib Dem press office when I rang his home in bath this afternoon.

Presumably, because Mr Brown disappeared, the bail money was forfeited and Mr Strasburger was left considerably out of pocket.

"I would have assumed he did lose," said the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman.

Over the past five years Mr Strasburger and his wife Evelyn have made donations to the Liberal Democrats of more than £765,000.

"I am a donor and I have got a peerage," Mr Strasburger told the Bath Chronicle today. "If people think those things are linked that is up to them. They may or may not be right, I don't know."


ADDITION FROM 1635GMT - STRASBURGER CONFIRMS HE LOST FROM BROWN BAIL

Paul Strasburger has today denied reports from the time of the Michel Brown trial that one of Brown's bail conditions was that he should reside at Paul Strasburger's home.

"Michael Brown never resided at Mr Strasburger's property," his spokeswoman told Newsnight.

On the question of how he came to stand bail for Brown: "He was an acquaintance who had been held on remand for a long period of time and Mr Strasburger was acting in good faith."

"In absolutely no way were the Liberal Democrats involved in Mr Strasburger's decision to stand bail," his spokeswoman added.

So how much did Mr Strasburger lose from standing bail for Brown?

"Without going in to specific figures," the spokeswoman said, "it is true that Mr Strasburger did lose out financially."
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Lords to be over 800 in size

Michael Crick | 13:05 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

Today's list of 53 new peerages will bring the total number in the upper house to 791.

That compares with just 666 members after most of the hereditary peerages were abolished in 1999.

Indeed you could argue that the total is actually 830, as there are also another 39 peers who are entitled to attend the Lords, but who are currently on leave-of-absence.


Could there be a right royal kerfuffle over rules of succession?

Michael Crick | 13:16 UK time, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

So Prince William is getting married to Kate Middleton next year, which means that by the end of 2012 we could well start having another generation of heirs to the throne.

Politicians have long talked about changing the succession rules, which currently operate male preference primogeniture - male heirs getting preference over their older female siblings (which hasn't actually been an issue for many decades).

Lord (Jeffrey) Archer introduced a bill on this in the Lords in 1997 - before he went to jail - which was designed to remove any distinction between sexes in determining the succession to the Crown.

If I remember rightly the Palace and both the Major and Blair governments made sympathetic noises about what Archer was trying to do. And Lord (Alf) Dubs tried the same thing in 2004.

Surely now is the time to resolve this? And if the change was enacted right now, it wouldn't really affect any of the three immediate heirs to the throne - Charles, William and Harry.

But if it's left for another couple of years, and William and Kate have a girl, then there will be a right royal kerfuffle.

And it will be much trickier then since the issue would obviously affect known individuals, which might mean it has to be postponed for another generation.

Update:

A colleague has pointed out that the Labour MP Chris Bryant raised this issue in the Commons on 1 July this year.

The junior minister in charge of constitutional reform, Mark Harper, acknowledged then that "currently the first three members of the royal family in line to the throne are all male and so we have some time until there may be a pressing issue to address".

But Harper also argued that any change in the law would be difficult as the Queen is also "sovereign of a further 15 independent nations and they have a right, with us, to decide on the line of succession. I do not suggest that they would necessarily have any problems with removing outdated provisions, but it is not the substance of the issue that is the problem; the problem is how we go about doing that."

It would not just be a matter of changing the rules in the UK, but also in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia which have federal constitutions.

Will Treasury return to pensioners' free TV licences plan?

Michael Crick | 13:04 UK time, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Did BBC episode suggest some free OAP TV licences could be axed?

The full fascinating story has yet to be told of what happened between 15-19 October, when the BBC's future was effectively decided (and arguably secured) for the next seven years.

The Corporation and its allies furiously tried to stop George Osborne taking a big chunk of licence fee income to help fund other government departments.

In the end the BBC agreed to fund the World Service in future, instead of its budget coming from the Foreign Office. But for much of the five days before the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), starting around Friday 15 October, the chancellor wanted to make the BBC fund the cost of free TV licences for the over 75s.

That idea was resisted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministers Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey, and also by several Liberal Democrats, including Nick Clegg, the Justice minister Lord (Tom) McNally, and the Liberal Democrats' culture spokesman Don Foster.

They all argued that it would be wrong to divert BBC income to fund a government social programme. Nonetheless, over that five day period the plan was on, then off, then on again, and finally defeated on the morning before the CSR announcement.

The pensioners' free TV licence funding would have been hugely costly to the BBC - around 550 million pounds, around twice the cost of the eventual World Service funding.

But at one point the Treasury came up with an interesting compromise which would have halved the cost to the BBC. They suggested that free TV licences should be withdrawn from people over 75 who have a younger adult living with them, on the grounds it's unfair that younger adults should simply benefit when otherwise they would buy a licence.

This, apparently, applies to about half of all current beneficiaries of free licences.

In the end, George Osborne was persuaded to drop the free TV licences plan - but only at the last moment.

But the idea of withdrawing them from over-75s who live with younger adults? That's dropped, too, for now. But don't be surprised if the Treasury returns to the plan at a later date.

How will Adams stand down?

Michael Crick | 19:27 UK time, Sunday, 14 November 2010

So Gerry Adams plans to stand down as a Westminster MP so that he can stand for the constituency of Louth in the Irish Parliament.

I am curious as to how Mr Adams plans to do this, as it is quite tricky to resign as an MP.

The traditional route is a procedural device whereby the resigning MP applies either to be Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds of Buckinghamshire, or of the Manor of Northstead.

Both are deemed to be "offices of profit under the Crown" and holding either post then disqualifies somebody from being an MP.

The jobs are given out alternately, and Northstead is next in line. The appointment has to be conferred by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is just a formality.

All very silly, but that's how it works.

But hang on.

How could a staunch Irish republican like Adams, who has steadfastly refused even to take his seat at Westminster, possibly apply for a job under the British Crown?

Woolas re-run Commons procedural clarification

Michael Crick | 19:01 UK time, Thursday, 11 November 2010

Further to my blog yesterday on the Woolas re-run, here is the House of Commons procedural clarification note I received:

After the decision by the election court concerning Phil Woolas, the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, the Speaker of the House of Commons reported the court's decision to the House in a statement on Monday.

A candidate reported by an election court as personally guilty of an illegal practice is required to vacate their seat in the House of Commons as from the date of the court's decision (Friday 5 November).

As the seat is now vacant, a by-election will be held once the House of Commons has passed a motion for the issue of a writ.

The Speaker can neither initiate nor block the motion to move a writ for a by-election. He has no say in when a Member moves a writ for the by-election.

This is usually done by a member of the party which has previously held the seat. Once the House agrees to a motion for the issue of a writ, the Speaker is required to carry out the House's decision and to issue his warrant for the by-election. He has no discretion about this. A by-election must be held within 19 working days of the issue of the writ.

Mrs Cable slams coalition housing policy

Michael Crick | 18:57 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Rachel Smith, the wife of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable has attacked the coalition's plans to end life-long tenancies in social housing.

They would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare and solve nothing, she says in the new edition of the Liberal Democrat grassroots magazine Liberator.

"It is a seriously bad idea, though it tries to deal with a real problem," she says. "The review process every five years would be a nightmare. If you found yourself threatened with the loss of your home, wouldn't you make sure your household was at its biggest and poorest at the moment of review?"

Mrs Cable, who is the chair of a small rural housing association, says she would however, abolish the right to succeed to a tenancy for the next generation, and limit same-generation automatic transfers to surviving long-term partners.

"The proposal to abolish secure tenancies is not sensible: 'All that glistens is not gold.' But with a bit more thought, strategies to move people on from scarce social housing to less subsidised tenures could be developed.

"It is clear that providing adequate housing for all cannot be left entirely to the private market, but carrots could do more than sticks and cost less, both in terms of human misery and public money."

Delaying election re-run was not Bercow's decision

Michael Crick | 13:21 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010

In my blog two days ago I said that it had been the decision of the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, to delay the re-run election in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

A very senior Commons source has pointed out that I was wrong on this. The calling of by-elections is not the Speaker's decision, but decided by the House of Commons itself.

And in the event on Monday all three main parties - Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - agreed that the election should be delayed pending Phil Woolas' efforts to appeal.

Mr Bercow did not even make a recommendation on the issue.

I wasn't the only journalist to make this error. Lots of others did too, including the Daily Telegraph which yesterday ran a leader item on Mr Bercow's non-decision, arguing that he had clearly been influenced by his wife.

UPDATE REPLYING TO COMMENT BY delarrn

Actually I made that very similar point about it being a re-run in my first blog on Monday, though everyone else keeps calling it a by-election and Woolas's service as an MP since May won't be expunged.

To correct you on two points: 1. the boundaries will stay the same. How could it be otherwise? And 2. The Commons DOES make the decision, not the Speaker. If you doubt me, ask his office.

Shadow Leader of the House Hilary Benn calls for re-run delay

Michael Crick | 17:44 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

In the Commons this afternoon, Hilary Benn, the Shadow Leader of the House, argued no re-run election should be held in Oldham East and Saddleworth until we know the outcome of Phil Woolas' appeal.

Otherwise there might be a danger, he said, of having two MPs for the one seat.

Mr Benn should know a thing or two about disqualified MPs and by-elections. In 1960 his father Tony Benn was famously disqualified as an MP when he inherited his father's peerage.

Tony Benn fought the subsequent by-election, was re-elected, but not allowed to take his seat, on the grounds he was a peer. The law was then changed to let him renounce his peerage, and Benn elected again at a second by-election.

Funding for Oldham East and Saddleworth re-run

Verity Murphy | 17:34 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

The Speaker today postponed the prospect of a juicy election in Oldham East and Saddleworth, giving the disqualified MP Phil Woolas time to mount some kind of appeal.

People keep talking about there being a by-election in the seat, but strictly speaking it would a re-run of the contest held at the general election in May.

Nonetheless, the Electoral Commission tells me that the spending limits which apply will be those for a by-election ie. £100,000 per candidate, rather than the usual limit these days for seats in a general election of around £12,000-£13,000.

That is bad news for Labour and the Lib Dems, who have very little money. And good news for the Tories who are flush with funds and could easily find £100,000.

When a real by-election was held in 1995 in the Littleborough and Saddleworth seat (covering much of the same area) Labour spent about £500,000 pounds on their campaign, about 20 times the-then legal limit.

And their candidate, Phil Woolas, still lost.

This time the parties had better be a lot more careful when (and if) the re-run takes place. After all, parties won't want to be caught breaking the law, and face the embarrassment of a second re-run.
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Liberal Democrats achieve PR

Michael Crick | 10:05 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Coalition seems to be giving the Liberal Democrats some of what they want. And at last Nick Clegg has achieved his party's long-cherished ambition of proportional representation.

The Lib Dems got almost 8.8 per cent of the seats at the last election - 57 MPs out of 650.

And in the latest YouGov poll their support is now down to 9 per cent.

Tories and Lib Dems provide 'jobs for the boys'

Michael Crick | 18:45 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The news that a photographer Andy Parsons, who once worked for the Conservatives, has been put on the civil service payroll, seems to fit a pattern of behaviour over the last few months. Not just by the Conservatives, but the Liberal Democrats too.

This would be a serious issue at the best of times, but is especially so at a time when nearly all parts of the civil service are having to make huge cuts.

In addition to Mr Parsons there are two other Conservative cases:

Nicky Woodhouse, a Conservative film-maker who was responsible for the internet propaganda service Web-Cameron, and who started work this Monday making films for the government.

And Rishi Saha, who worked as head of new media for the Conservatives during the election campaign, and is now deputy director of communications in the Cabinet Office (and effectively head of digital communications, in charge of the websites run by the Cabinet Office and Number 10).

And for the Liberal Democrats, Tim Snowball, who worked as campaign tour organiser for Nick Clegg during the general election, is now a private secretary in Clegg's office. Clegg first met Snowball when he was at Sheffield University in his constituency.

Another Lib Dem to have landed a job in the Cabinet Office is Zena Elmarouki, who worked as Nick Clegg's deputy speech-writer when he was a plain party leader. She seems to be doing pretty much the same job for him now - but as a civil servant.

All of these people are on short term contracts of a year or two. If they were to be given permanent jobs then the selection process would be a lot more stringent, and the post would have to be advertised with proper selection competition.

The Cabinet Office insists making temporary short-term appointments is perfectly normal procedure, and often followed in business and the voluntary sector.

In the past political parties would have retained some of their staff simply by transferring them from the party payroll to the government payroll and appointing them as special advisers.

That's more difficult now, however, as the government has committed itself in the Coalition Agreement to "put a limit on the number on Special Advisers" [sic]. That "limit" was never specified, though the number of special advisers has fallen from 78 under Labour to 68 today (plus one other part-time).

Another problem which both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will have had is the disappearance of Short Money, the state funds which they got in opposition. Both parties had to make redundancies, but may have cushioned the effect by getting their people jobs in government.

I'm sure there must be other examples of party political staff suddenly getting civil service jobs in recent months.

If so, perhaps readers would be kind enough to let me know.

David Cameron's spokeswoman told me tonight that this was "perfectly normal", and that when Labour was in power they, too, frequently employed former party staff on civil service contracts.

"These people have to abide by the Civil Service Code. They can't be political. They can't be partisan. They cannot act politically. They are legitimately employed and went through the proper process."

Perhaps somebody can supply me with some examples from the Labour years.

Old flames clash in commons

Michael Crick | 16:35 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It was amusing to hear the Universities Minister David Willetts being questioned in the Commons today by the former Labour minister Helen Goodman.

How could Willetts have just published a book about the unfair advantages given to the baby-boomer generation, she teased, and then "burden" the next generation with high tuition fees instead of placing the burden on "those of us who had such an excellent free education"?

Thirty years ago, when these two particular baby-boomers were both high-flying young civil servants in the Treasury, Willetts and Goodman were boyfriend and girlfriend.

They had the same party affiliations then as they do now, and very different views.

Indeed it was great fun to have them round to Sunday lunch, as I did more than once, as one was always assured of a great ding-dong round the table.

On another occasion the couple attended a fancy dress party together. David Willetts went as Joseph Chamberlain (a Birmingham hero of his) whilst Helen Goodman dressed as the great socialist intellectual Beatrice Webb.

What made it all the more amusing is that in real life Webb was once Joseph Chamberlain's mistress.

Alas, no photos seem to exist of the fancy-dress party. If I'm wrong, you know where to contact me.

New peers' list on 1 December

Michael Crick | 16:32 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I hear from a well-placed source that the list of peers, with about 55 names from across the party spectrum, will be published on Wednesday 1 December.

Assessing the magnitude of any Lib Dem rebellion

Michael Crick | 11:52 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

There's much speculation today about the potential for rebellion amongst Lib Dem MPs over the big increases in university tuition fees.

And the question is also raised with regard to other current issues.

I have often mentioned that the government can probably rely on 23 of the 57 Lib Dem MPs since they belong to the "pay-roll vote" of ministers and parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs).

One of my correspondents, Hywel Carr, has queried this figure. So let's go through the names.

There are 16 Lib Dem ministers in the Commons - Clegg, Cable, Huhne, Alexander, Moore, Harvey, Webb, Teather, Browne, Burstow, Heath, Lamb, Davey, Stunnell, Baker and Featherstone.

And there are two Lib Dem government whips - Alistair Carmichael and Mark Hunter.

Plus five PPSs - Swinson, Willott, Crockart, Birtwistle and Hames.

Hence my figure of 23.

But the Lib Dems also have three "party whips", appointed by Nick Clegg for internal party management - Bob Smith, Tessa Munt and Stephen Gilbert.

Why it takes five whips to manage a parliamentary party of just 57 MPs is beyond me. But it ties everyone in.

I am told that the conversation over whether these party whips would have to resign if they rebelled "has not yet taken place"!

On top of that the party has five "spokesmen", also appointed by Clegg, to cover those government departments where they have no ministers, such as Tim Farron for International Development and Don Foster for DCMS. Some of these don't call themselves "spokesman" but "co-chair" of the backbench committee on their subject.

So 31 members of the 57-strong party are beneficiaries of Nick Clegg's patronage, leaving only 26 plain backbenchers. And among the 26, I would be surprised if David Laws ever rebelled.
 
The government 23 seem to be more bound to the government than the eight party whips, spokesmen and chairs.

Among the group of eight Tim Farron is likely to rebel over tuition fees, and probably on other issues too. But Nick Clegg has nonetheless built an elaborate network of support which means the potential for Lib Dem revolt is quite limited.

Update at 1201GMT:

‪Further to this item, I am told that some of the "party whips" have already rebelled without being required to resign: Stephen Gilbert on Monday on an amendment on boundary changes, Bob Smith on the London Local Authorities Bill.‬ ‪Party spokespeople have also rebelled and not resigned: Don Foster, Andrew George (frequently) and Roger Williams.‬ ‪Furthermore, Chris Huhne voted both ways on 18 October on extending the vote in the AV referendum to British citizens outside the UK. He didn't resign.‬ ‪ 

Welsh MPs revolt against Gillan

Michael Crick | 20:47 UK time, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Welsh MPs plan on Wednesday morning to revive an ancient Commons committee which hasn't met for almost a quarter of a century.

This move is in protest against the coalition's plans to cut the number of Welsh MPs by around a quarter.

The Welsh Parliamentary Committee was set up in the 1880s, but hasn't met since 1986.

Its past chairmen include Nye Bevan and Leo Abse. It will be convened tomorrow as an act of revolt against the government, and chaired by the Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who qualifies for the post as the longest serving MP in Wales.

"There hasn't been a white paper on the government constitutional plans as they affect Wales," Clwyd told me. "There hasn't been a green paper, and there hasn't been any consultation. We asked the Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan to convene a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee so that we could discuss the plans with her, but she has refused to do so."

Clwyd says there is cross-party support for the move, and that at least one Conservative MP will attend the meeting. But whether the reconstituted Welsh Parliamentary Committee will be able to compel Cheryl Gillan to appear before them is not clear.

It could be a big test of whether MPs really have achieved greater rights in their ability to scrutinise the work of the government.

Paddick denies he is on Lib Dem peers list

Michael Crick | 12:24 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

Further to my recent report about the likely list of Liberal Democrat peers, the party's former London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has contacted me.

He says: "I can tell you definitely that I am NOT on the peers list that is about to be published. All those on that list were telephoned months ago and Nick Clegg told me at Conference that I am not on it."

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