Talk about Newsnight

A blog and forum.

Monday, 28 January, 2008

  • Newsnight
  • 28 Jan 08, 05:53 PM

Dear Reader,

kenya203_28jan.jpgTonight we have a report from the BBC's correspondent in Nairobi, Karen Allen. Last week we asked her to report for us on how Kenya, seemingly such a stable country, could face such violence after December's troubled elections. Karen was filming at the weekend just as the violence flared again. It makes a depressing, but we think important film to watch.
( Watch Paul Mason's recent Newsnight reports from Nairobi)

Secret trials
Author Allan Chappelow was murdered just over a year ago - found dead in his own home underneath copies of one his own books about George Bernard Shaw. This week a man will stand trial for his murder. But much of the evidence will be held in secret for issues of national security. It is a very unusual thing to happen - and a very odd case too - we'll debate whether it is ever right for trials to be held in secret in this way.

State of the Union
Odd to think it but tonight George Bush will give his last State of the Union speech to the American people. Matt Frei has his assessment of the president and prediction of what he will say.

Fiscal prudence
We all suspect George Bush will tee-up a spending package to buy the US out of recession. Surprisingly the new boss of the IMF has given him the green light to do so. But Stephanie Flanders will explain why most EU countries also have the fiscal resources to buy their way out of recession but that, despite all Gordon Brown's talk of prudence, Alistair Darling does not.

NHS wards
Finally it has been a major commitment of Labour Party manifesto's since even before Tony Blair was elected - an end to mixed sex wards. Today in the Lords, the surgeon and health minister Lord Darzi admitted that single sex wards in the NHS is "an aspiration that cannot be met". We'll be asking why the government's given up on such a long held commitment.

Simon Enright

Family favourites

  • Michael Crick
  • 28 Jan 08, 01:31 PM

The case of Derek Conway, the Conservative MP who has been reprimanded by the Commons Standards Committee for employing his son from the MP’s Parliamentary staffing allowance, highlights a problem I’ve been banging on about for several years.

When I last checked about three years ago, there were around 60 MPs - almost ten per cent of the total - who employed staff with the same surname. Now they won’t all have been family members and there would have been the odd coincidence of name, but the vast majority of them would have been wives, sons, sisters and so on. On top of that there will be many other MPs who employ members of their families with different surnames.

heffer203.jpgNow I’m not saying all these MPs are corrupt. Far from it. There are many MPs spouses who do a good job for them, and deserve every penny they are paid from public funds (and probably a lot more). The late Eric Heffer MP was always shadowed by his wife and parliamentary secretary Doris Heffer. According to the diaries of Giles Radice, Doris Heffer would sit in the front row of the audience when Heffer was speaking, saying "nonsense, Eric" if he said something with which she disagreed. A similar supporting role was provided to Brian Sedgemore, who late in his career defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. In his case, it wasn't 'the wife' who worked for him, but rather, 'the ex-wife', continuing her duties even after they had divorced.

But almost everyone at Westminster knows there is significant abuse of the system. They know there are many MPs who pay staffing allowances to relatives in return for little or no work, as seems to have happened with Derek Conway and his son. And the big increases in MPs staffing allowances in recent years have probably made the abuse more prevalent, enabling MPs to have enough funds to employ a genuine secretary and/or researcher at the same time as also funnelling money to a relative who does little or no work for their money.

I’m not saying MPs should be banned from employing relatives, a rule they have in the German Parliament, and the US Senate. In many cases it makes a lot of sense, and given MPs gruelling schedules, it may do a lot to keep some of their marriages going. But at the very least there should be a public record of which MPs employ relatives from public funds. But attempts I’ve made to secure such information through Freedom of Information requests have met with the response from the Westminster authorities that it can’t be provided to me for reasons of privacy and security reasons. Oh yeah!

Overall, British politics may be dogged by regular sleaze stories, but in reality there are few examples where I can think of British politicians abusing their positions for personal financial gain (as opposed to political gain). The employment by certain MPs of relatives who do little or no work is one big exception to this. The Parliamentary authorities should be more vigilant in putting a stop to it. An additional section in the Register of Members Interests on the employment of family members might help, causing MPs to think twice about whom they employ.

Prospects - Monday, 28 January, 2008

  • Newsnight
  • 28 Jan 08, 10:33 AM

Today's prgramme producer is Simon Enright - here is his early email to the production team. What would you like to see on the programme?

Hi all

There are lots of stories around today.

kenya203_28jan.jpgMore violence in Kenya over the weekend. We have a film from Karen Allen about how Kenya has descended into this "hell".

Robert Peston has new book out asking questions about those who run our economies - the unelected bankers. As French police decide whether to charge or release Jerome Kerviel and markets take another tumble should we not debate this?

We have a State of Union speech preview from Matt Frei.

And Peter Marshall is looking into the case of Allan Chappelow - an 86 year old murdered in his home. Parts of the case will be heard in secret - we're told by the judge for "compelling" reasons. National Security is raised as an issue. But what damage to justice is there from such an order? We hope to debate.

There are other stories around. Do let me know what you think…

- Welfare reform - what really are the plans from the government?
- Afghanistan - what happened with Paddy?

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