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Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

Wednesday
Jul 11,2012

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just published a report criticising the Government for failing to take seriously the concerns that it expresses in its First Review of the Strategy.

In particular, the report points out that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the Committee’s concerns about the implications for the National Security Strategy of major shifts in US strategy, of the Eurozone crisis and the potential impact of Scottish independence.

The Joint Committee had urged the Government to press ahead with planning the next national Security Strategy, allowing sufficient time to involve academics and experts external to the Government in the process and to allow the next Comprehensive Spending Review and the Strategic Defence Review to be properly integrated in the process. The 2010 National Security Strategy was rushed and weaker as a result.

The Government has acknowledged that it is “important to start thinking about the work plan” for the next National Security Strategy “well in advance of 2015″.  However, there is no indication that any effort has been made to start drawing up plans to ensure that the next Strategy is a more candid and more explicit document that properly addresses difficult questions.

Even more disturbing is the absence from the Government of any indication that it intends to draw up the next Strategy in a way that achieves a broad national consensus on the foundations necessary to plan for our nation’s security in the longer -term.

Failure to build such a consensus will be a wasted opportunity – without such a consensus any future Strategy will not have abroad enough basis of buy-in and consent and that in turn will weaken the Strategy and also National Security itself.

 

Monday
May 14,2012

I know that some of my readers may find this difficult to believe, but I think I should make it clear that I am not – nor have I ever been – a very athletic person.

Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the Toby Harris who is bearing the Olympic Torch through Walkerburn on the 14th June is not me.

He is clearly a very worthy torch-bearer.  However, if any one wants to catch sight of me in a tracksuit running or jogging or even walking slowly, they will be disappointed….

However, I wish my namesake (and indeed all the other Torch-bearers) my best wishes.

Thursday
Mar 8,2012

The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just been published.

Its key findings are that:

  • There is no evidence that the NSS has influenced decisions made since the Strategic Defence and Security Review. If the current strategy is not guiding choices then it needs to be revised.
  • There should be an “overarching strategy”, a document designed to guide government decision-making and crisis management both at home and on the international stage.
  • The Government’s assertion that there will be no reduction in the UK’s influence on the world stage is “wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term” and the UK needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership-dependent, role in the world.

The Committee also expressed concern about the operation of the National Security Council concluding that it did not operate always at an appropriately “broad and strategic” level.  For example, it became deeply involved in essentially operational issues during the operations in Libya.  Moreover, it failed to consider the national security implications of the Eurozone crisis or the possibility of Scottish independence.

Monday
Aug 8,2011

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.

Monday
Jun 20,2011

Last Thursday, the sweetly formidable Government Chief Whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay of St Johns announced last Thursday that the House of Lords would be returning to work on 3rd October rather than 10th October this year after the Summer recess (ignoring the two week September sitting that will interrupt the recess).  This will mean that Conservative Peers will have to make the choice between attending Parliament or the Tory Party Conference.  She blamed this on the slow scrutiny of legislation by the House and, in particular, the particularly thorough process (led by many Labour Peers) of consideration given to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill or as she put it:

“This is a self-regulating House, with the implication that scrutiny of legislation cannot be curtailed except by the House itself. That is only right; it is one of the aspects of our work of which we have every reason to be proud. The corollary is that when the House chooses to dwell on a particular Bill, as it did on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill-on which we spent 17 days in Committee, which is more than double the usual maximum for the largest Bills-more time must then be found elsewhere if the scrutiny of the other Bills in a Government’s legislative programme is not to suffer as a consequence.”

But it is not just the extra days.  The House is sitting longer – often way beyond the normal 10pm cut off on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Indeed, she also announced that the House would sit four hours earlier than normal on one of the days this week to accommodate the number of Peers who wish to speak on the Government’s draft Bill on House of Lords abolition (106 at last count).  And as it turned out the House sat from 11am until 10pm (three hours later than normal on a Thursday) on the day she made her announcement, so as to complete its sixth day of Committee Stage consideration of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Labour’s Chief Whip, Lord Steve Bassam, pointed out that, in fact, there was a “chaotic logjam” of Government Bills:

“The truth is-in saying this I apportion no blame to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay-that the Government are trying to force through a programme that is overlong, overprogrammed and overblown. In short, it is too long and they know it, and the House and the process of scrutiny are the sufferers. This is a crisis of timetabling, caused not by your Lordships’ rightful desire to scrutinise Bills but by political mismanagement, emanating from No. 10. This House has already had the farce of badly drafted Bills, such as the Public Bodies Bill, and still to come are the Armed Forces Bill, the Scotland Bill and the Office for Budget Responsibility Bill. We have been waiting for a health Bill that was promised to the House in May but will not be here until October or November at the earliest. We also have such complex Bills as the Welfare Reform Bill and the Protection of Freedoms Bill to come.

What assurances can the House have that, even with this extra week, we will complete our work without further incursions into Recess dates, longer nights and earlier starts? I also ask the noble Baroness to reconfirm all existing Recess dates, including those in February, and to do so with certainty. Will she also tell the House when it is intended that we shall have another Queen’s Speech, and when this Session-the longest any of us can remember-will end? How many more Bills do the Government expect to force through this House before the Session concludes? At my last count, we still had 16 in progress and another 12 or 13 to come, and had done only 16 so far. Just how many more Bills do the Government expect to bring?

May I perhaps give the Government a little advice before they embark on their next political programme? Will they ensure that, next time around, they have coherent, well worked-out Bills, and do not have more Bills in their programme than both Houses of Parliament can realistically manage and effectively scrutinise?

This a programme of legislation that has been poorly thought through, badly managed from the centre and forced on an increasingly reluctant Parliament in a timeframe that is wholly unrealistic. I urge the Government to think again about their programme, and to consult the House properly about their timetable and what they put in for the rest of the Session.”

Today, it emerged that the Government’s own coalition partners, the LibDems, are also keen on thorough scrutiny of legislation with the first day of the Committee Stage of the Localism Bill: the first six groups of amendments have all been put down by LibDem peers – the first of which being debated for an hour and a half trying to pin down what the Government’s definition of “localism” actually amounts to.

The reality is that the House of Lords is doing its job.  The Government is trying to push through too much legislation and what is worse the Bills that are being put forward or are emerging from the House of Commons are badly-drafted, full of unintended consequences and frequently fail to do what it says on the tin.

Tuesday
Jun 14,2011

An interesting piece by Darryl Chamberlain in the Scoop at Snipe argues that the time may be coming when there should be greater indepence for London from the rest of the country.  With the devolution settlement being reviewed in Wales and Scotland, why not London as well?  The piece points out:

“A question: why can’t London have a bit of what they’re having? Isn’t it time for us to break away too?

London is a wildly different place to the rest of England, never mind the rest of the UK. We’re more socially liberal than the rest of the country, we live in communities that are far more mixed. We’re less likely to drive, and more likely to spend huge amounts of time stuck on public transport. We’ve more in common with New York or Paris than Newcastle or Portsmouth.  …

In London, we’re different.  …

Look at the two men we’ve elected to run the place. A newt-loving man with a raspy voice who loves winding up American diplomats on one hand, a floppy-haired fop on a bike with a bizarre line in Latin anecdotes on the other.

Both, in their own ways, engaging ambassadors for the capital. And seen as dangerous threats by their own party leaders. Because that is how many in the rest of England see London—as a threat. Read below the line on any comment piece on the possibility of an English parliament, and within the ?rst few comments someone will sound off about how London leeches off the rest of England, takes all the jobs and investment and produces nothing in return.

Yet if London kept the tax revenue earned within its borders—or at least had more control over raising its own budget – we’d be able to make a much better job of running our transport network, for example.

The Tube’s current woes can be traced back to the last government trying to sell off its maintenance — bitterly resisted by Ken Livingstone before he rejoined the Labour Party. He was right, Gordon Brown was wrong – but London had to pick up the bill.

In the old days, Ken used to taunt the Tories with unemployment figures on the roof of the old County Hall. But Labour wouldn?t even give him the power to empty London?s bins, so we still have 33 different recycling policies. And the Conservatives won?t even give Boris Johnson the Royal Parks, so keen is the UK government to hang onto the prestige of chasing dogs out of flower gardens.

So if they don’t trust us, why don’t we just go it alone?”

I have long pointed out the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the UK.  Irrespective of the present incumbent of the Mayor’s office, there is a strong case for London having more autonomy and being able to invest its revenues in its own infrastructure and its people.  And because London is the engine of the UK economy, this would be good for the rest of the country too.

Friday
Oct 29,2010

It is, of course, a fact universally acknowledged that no Londoner can fully understand the nuances of Scottish politics.  The converse is usually true that no Scot can fully appreciate London politics.

Tom Harris (just for the record, no relation – although I do get a lot of his Parliamentary emails) has today, however, proved he at least understands the way in which the mind of Mayor Boris Johnson works with this post which I quote in its entirety:

“STATEMENT issued by the office of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London:

Comments I made in an interview this morning to BBC London radio have been entirely taken out of context. When I said that I would rather share a cell with Slobodan Milosovic than be in the same room as David Cameron, I meant, of course that the Prime Minister has my full and unambiguous support.

It was deliberately misleading of journalists to report my comment about George Osborne being “an incompetent oik” entirely out of context, then ignoring my tribute to George as “one of the best Chancellors the country has had since May.”

As for my reported comments about the entirely reasonable, fair and welcome changes to the proles’ rent handouts, it should be patently clear to anyone with a First in Literae Humaniores from Balliol that my comparison of the reforms with “ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the collapse of the Yugoslavian Tourist Board” was simply an endorsement of Iain Duncan Smith’s critical faculties.

So, gosh, well, I hope that clears that up, what?”

Monday
Aug 9,2010

From 25th September 2009:

The Parliament Education Service runs an annual Discover Parliament Programme aimed at 16-18 year olds studying higher level politics, citizenship and general studies.  This afternoon I met 80 students taking part in the Programme.  They were from three schools in Pinner, Chelmsford and Bristol.

As ever on such occasions, the questioning was lively, sometimes challenging and extremely wide-ranging.  We covered – amongst other things – such topics as:

  • aren’t MPs too old (I’d explained that the average age of members of the House of Lords is 69);
  • why aren’t 16 year olds allowed to vote or to sit in Parliament;
  • what did I think of Gordon Brown;
  • should taxes be put up in the current economic situation;
  • should the age for getting a driving licence change;
  • what were my views about David Cameron, Lord Mandelson and the BNP (interesting grouping);
  • what should be done about knife crime and gangs;
  • was “kettling” of G20 protesters fair (from a teacher);
  • should children be taught more about current affairs;
  • did the LibDems have a better record on MPs’ expenses;
  • is the threat of terrorism rising;
  • should there be limits on immigration;
  • was the war in Iraq right; and
  • did I think Labour would win the next General Election and when would it be?

As I said, a lively hour – and an exhilarating one too.

Effectively, these Discover Parliament programmes can only take place during school term time and when Parliament is not sitting.  In practice that means they are only possible for about four weeks a year from the early part of September.  A by-product of Speaker John Bercow’s proposal to shorten Parliament’s summer recess might well be to end these programmes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Parliament sitting in September (something I personally would favour), it would be a retrograde step to lose this outreach work with young people.

Friday
Jul 30,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……