Telephone message received: “Please call Geoff in Lord Strathclyde’s office as soon as possible. He would like to have a meeting with you before the Christmas break if at all possible.”
I have to admit to being intrigued. This would be the first time that Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, Leader of the House of Lords, has ever asked to see me. And before Christmas …..??!!
I dial and speak to Geoff:
“Hello, this is Lord Toby Harris. I had a message to ring.”
“Oh yes. Thank you Lord Harris. Tom Strathclyde was keen to have a meeting with you and Lord Kirkham in the next week or two before the Recess.”
This was even more intriguing: I have never even spoken to Lord Kirkham, the South Yorkshire billionaire, founder of the DFS Furniture Company and Chairman of the Conservative Party Treasurers.
“Are you sure you’ve got the right Lord Harris? What’s the meeting about?”
“Oh, fundraising, I think.”
“What sort of fund-raising?”
“I guess, it is for the elections next May.”
“I think you have got the wrong Lord Harris.”
“Oh, err, are you sure?”
“Yes, I think you want Lord Harris of Peckham.”
Of course, Lord Harris of Peckham is not quite in the same league as Lord Kirkham: he is only worth £285 million and he only does carpets.
Still, it is good to hear that the Leader of the House of Lords and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is doing his bit for the Conservative Party coffers from his Parliamentary office with the support of his civil servants ….
Talking to your local newspaper is clearly the way members of the Coalition Government have of dissenting from the Number Ten approved line.
First, we had Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, putting the boot in to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and her Human Rights Act deportation cat story.
But now Lynne Featherstone, a (very) junior Minister in the Home Office, has followed suit in an article for her local paper, saying:
“In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. …
As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.”
So we now know what she thinks of her Home Office boss and what she said about the Human Rights Act and the cat and the deportation story.
And she goes on to assert that changes to the Human Rights Act are:
“just not going to happen”.
My contacts in the Home Office tell me that the Home Secretary “gives a pretty good bollocking”. Lynne Featherstone has already been the recipient of at least one when Theresa May told her to tone down what she said in her blog.
I would love to be a fly on the wall at Monday’s Ministerial meeting in the Home Office when the Home Secretary has a few words with her LibDem Parliamentary Under Secretary who called her cynical, lazy and ignorant.
Blair Gibbs is the Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, the Tory-leaning think tank. He is also a former Chief of Staff to Nick Herbert MP, the Policing and Justice Minister. He is at the Labour Party Conference trying to sell the policy of directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to delegates (or, if not sell, at least get a grudging acquiescence that they are going to happen and will be elected in November 2012). In a meeting this afternoon he acknowledged that the Conservative Party was looking for “capable and charismatic” individuals to stand as Police and Crime Commissioners as “Independents with Conservative support”.
I asked him what sort of people he had in mind who were “capable and charismatic” and might fulfil the role. Quick as a flash, he suggested Nick “I’ve never worked with a minger” Ross for Thames Valley.
I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned it to him ……
Blair Gibbs wants Nick Ross as a PCC.
I understand that Home Office Ministers in the House of Commons will tomorrow table eleventh hour amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.
Having spent the last few months arguing that no changes were possible, I am told that the changes will be major and that they will involve postponing the first elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners outside London until November 2012.
This is a major u-turn by Ministers and an expensive one. Elections in November will cost a lot more than holding them in May 2012 or May 2013 when they would at least coincide with some other local elections. And, of course, turnout in a potentially wintry Autumn is likely to be much lower…..
It is not yet clear whether there are to be any other concessions, in particular, to require PCCs to act in a more collegiate fashion with a Board holding them in check.
Nor is it clear what this means for the timing of the changes in London, where the Mayoral elections are in May 2012 – just weeks before the Olympics – and where there were originally plans to implement the changes and create the new MOPC this autumn.
Either way this is an indication that the many long hours of debate in the House of Lords DID have an impact ….
I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress. I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.
Yesterday was the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Government’s large and sprawling Localism Bill. My colleague, Lord Jeremy Beecham, made a characteristically witty speech during which he made the following comment about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
“The Government’s approach seems in many respects to be driven by a belief in an apparently inexhaustible appetite on the part of citizens to vote-for elected mayors or police commissioners, or in referendums called by a fraction of the electorate, a neighbourhood forum, or a handful of councillors. This assumed insatiable thirst for Athenian-style democracy-and Mr Pickles is, after all, only two letters short of Pericles-is matched in ministerial minds by a demand on the part of the public directly to manage local services.”
A few minutes after his speech a Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, bounded up to me in the Peers’ Lobby and said that Jeremy Beecham had just made a rather fine joke about me in the Chamber. When I looked baffled, he repeated it, saying my “name was only two letters short of Pericles”. Leaving me puzzled, he wandered off.
Slowly the awful truth dawned……
Two lessons: Eric Pickles is so boring that Liberal Democrat peers can’t remember whether he has facial hair or not … and perhaps I might usefully lose a few pounds in weight.
I have just passed the back entrance of Downing Street on Horseguards Road, where a rather peeved-looking (not to say hot and be-suited-looking) William Hague was standing with a few assorted protection officers and aides trying to get through the gates. The security guards were clearly dubious about letting him in. He did not look best-pleased.
Peter Bingle is the Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and is widely regarded as someone both close to and with a wide understanding of what makes the Conservative Party tick.
That is why his blogpost, “A musing about the politics of policing in modern Britain…”, is so interesting. He makes the point that the Conservative Party of today is taking a rather different approach to policing from its predecessors:
“These are difficult days indeed for the police service. There is no longer a Michael Howard as Home Secretary. Howard believed that being a policeman was special. He respected the Office of Constable and successfully fought off attempts (initiated by his predecessor Ken Clarke!) to fundamentally alter the structure, pay and conditions of the police service. Ironically one of special advisers at the time of the Sheehy Inquiry was a certain David Cameron.
There was a time when the police service was special for the Tory Party. Law and Order was their issue. It was one of the things that differentiated the Tory Party from its political opponents. Tory Home Secretaries such as Willie Whitelaw, Douglas Hurd, Leon Brittan and even David Waddington understood the importance of the police in civil society. It took that old bruiser Ken Clarke to decide to take them on. He saw the Police Federation as an over powerful trade union which needed to be tamed and the police service as inefficient, expensive and non-productive. The saviour of both the Federation and the service was Michael Howard. ….
We are now at a moment in time when the coalition is able to reduce the number of police officers and alter pay and conditions with apparent ease. Nobody appears to be speaking for up for the police service.
Policemen are being treated in the same way as cleaners in schools and hospitals. They are part of a public sector which is too large. It must therefore be cut. The police are no longer seen as special. When did you last hear a politician talking about the Office of Constable? Does it not follow that if the police are the same as everybody else in the public sector that they too should have the right to strike? I don’t think they should but it is possible to make a pretty cogent argument in support.
The politics of this are interesting. In the years ahead as the spending cuts start to bite there is the possibility (I put it no higher than that) of civil disorder in certain parts of the country. The police will be called upon to protect the peace and maintain the rule of law. It is therefore essential that the police service is well funded with high levels of morale. Otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.
There was a time when Tory ministers used to boast about increasing the number of police officers. That is no longer the case. Nowadays Tory ministers talk about how it is perfectly possible to reduce the number of police officers whilst protecting the front line. There was a time when The Sun and other newspapers used to talk about protecting the thin blue line. They do so no more.”
An intriguing warning, but it is also noticeable that the police service has yet to wake up fully to the fact that, as one Home Office civil servant put it to me a few months ago:
“ACPO don’t seem to realise that for the first time for over thirty years they have a Government that does not only not respect them but in many ways holds them in contempt.”
And it reminds me of what I once heard David Davis MP say:
“If I was Home Secretary, there is not a single Chief Constable I would want to keep.”
When I was a member of the London Assembly from 2000 to 2004, the membership included three life peers (apart from myself, LibDems Baroness Hamwee and Lord Tope). Then when I lost my seat, the number fell to two from 2004 to 2008. However, since 2008 there has been no cross-representation between the House of Lords and the London Assembly.
I understand now (from three separate sources) that next month this will change when Dee Doocey is made a Baroness as part of the massive Upper House packing operation that the Conservative Coalition is about to embark upon.
I gather she will will be one of fifteen or so new LibDem peers who will be appointed along with an additional thirty odd Tory peers to give the Conservative Coalition an effective majority in the Upper House of around seventy and bring the total membership of the House to well over eight hundred.
The “touch of class” (note the irony) she will bring to the London Assembly will be short-lived, as she is standing down from the GLA in 2012.
I gather a lot of people are looking with interest at the late change in the betting odds offered on which Miliband would win the Leadership. I am told that large sums were placed backing Ed Miliband after the count was completed by the Electoral Reform Society but before anyone in the Labour Party was told the result.
Some people are asking whether some of those counting cashed in with their privileged information by placing bets on what they by then knew was a certainty.
And as one person said to me: ‘What do you expect? Isn’t the Electoral Reform Society entirely populated by unreconstructed pre-Clegg Liberal Democrats?’