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Tuesday
Oct 2,2012

Ed Miliband’s brilliant bravura performance this afternoon at the Labour Party Conference – seventy minutes without a note (beat that Cameron) – proves that the Labour Party is six months ahead of the schedule necessary to prepare for the next General Election.

Before then, the Labour Party needs to articulate the philosophical themes that will underpin the next Labour Government and crystallise those down to a (small) number of symbolic policy commitments.

The next General Election is in May 2015 – two and a half years away. The equivalent point before Labour’s 1997 General Election landslide was the Labour Party Conference in 1994.  That was the Party Conference when Tony Blair in his Leader’s speech proposed that the content and wording of Clause Four be reviewed and reformulated for new times and New Labour.

The themes which underpinned Labour’s 1997 election manifesto (“The future not the past”; “The many not the few” etc) were not fully articulated until the new Clause Four was approved in the Spring of 1995 – two years before the Election.  And the policy commitments (The Pledge Card”) were not finalised until July 1996 – ten months before the Election.

And today Ed Miliband set out the philosophical basis on which “One Nation Labour” will appeal to the electorate in 2015.  The themes he set out today will resonate, not only with the Labour Party in the hall in Manchester and amongst Labour supporters across the country, but they will strike a chord amongst the rest of the public who can see how Cameron’s Government is out-of-touch and leading the country further and further into an economic quagmire, whilst dividing a nation and a people who will only flourish when united.

Sunday
Sep 23,2012

Don’t get too excited but the LibDem Conference sometimes passes halfway sensible motions.

Earlier today in fact the Conference called for a strengthening of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In particular, the motion calls for the powers of the IPCC to cover explicitly the role of contractors to police services and their employees. Given the current debate about getting private firms to provide some police functions, this is an issue that must be addressed.

The motion also called for an end to the IPCC practice of allowing some investigations into alleged police malpractice to be investigated by the police themselves (subject to supervision by an IPCC Commissioner) and the motion called for the IPCC to be given the resources to employ enough of their own independent investigators to enable this to happen.

Strange then that this sensible proposal should come just after Nick Clegg has surrendered all LibDem influence over the Home Office by making it a LibDem-free zone following a reshuffle that left the Home Office without a single LibDem voice in the ministerial team.

 

UPDATE: I am reminded that Jeremy Browne is a LibDem and is also the new Minister for Crime Reduction. My only excuse is that I always thought he was a Tory …..

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what progress he makes in strengthening the IPCC over the next few months.  I wish him well with that one.

Sunday
Sep 23,2012

I got through four Opposition Leaders in my time as Leader of Haringey Council.  One subsequently stood unsuccessfully for the London Assembly, another became an Alderman of the City of London Corporation, and the third lapsed into obscurity as a junior LibDem minister in the Coalition government.

The fourth was Andrew Mitchell.After he stood down from Haringey Council, he went on to have a glittering career as a barrister, becoming a QC and head of his own Chambers. I understand he is now the leading legal expert on asset confiscation and forfeiture.  He was an effective and challenging (from my point of view) Leader of the Opposition and could usually be relied on to highlight substantive policy issues and (painfully) any – and it did happen sometimes – weaknesses there might be in the argument I was putting forward.

He was also unfailingly courteous and polite.

From which you will gather he is not the same Andrew Mitchell as the new Government Chief Whip and star of PlebGate

However, it might have been easy to get confused.

And so – a little bird tells me – twenty years ago, Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell summoned Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell to see him in the House of Commons to tell him that the Conservative Party was too small for there to be two Andrew Mitchell’s in it.

The solution was straightforward said Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell, you (ie Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell) must change your name to avoid this confusion.

So Pleb’s arrogance was there even then.  It is not something he has acquired with high office – he was always like that.

Friday
Aug 31,2012

The Garter King of Arms is, as I am sure you know, the senior of the three English Kings of Arms. The office takes its name from the Order of the Garter. Henry V instituted the office of Garter in 1415 just before sailing for France.

My experience of his office is recounted here when he argued with me about the correct spelling of Haringey given the way it was done in the Domesday Book.

However, the College of Arms keeps itself up-to-date and in these straitened times is always on the look out for new sources of income.

A little bird tells me that he has written to all Chief Constables to remind them the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act abolishes police authorities and transfers their powers to elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

You may wonder why this is of concern to the Garter King of Arms (Chief Constables haave their own concerns about this).

The answer, of course, is straightforward: the Armorial Bearings used by most police forces on cap badges, letterheads, websites etc were granted to Police Authorities.

And, if Police Authorities disappear, the right to bear the Coat of Arms lapses with them.

This would potentially make the cap badges on police helmets illegal.  I am sure many police officers – and certainly their Chief Constables – would find this a deeply discomforting situation.

Fortunately, the Garter King of Arms has a solution and says in his letter:

“The Kings of Arms think that it would be appropriate for a Royal License to be issued transferring the Armorial Bearings to the office of Chief Constable for use by the Constabulary.”

And just in case elected Police and Crime Commissioners feel hurt he has a solution for them as well:

“In such cases, the Kings of Arms would also be prepared to grant a variation of the Shield alone to the office of Police and Crime Commissioners for each authority.”

A wise compromise you may feel.  However, such matters cannot be done on a shoe-string as Garter goes on to make clear:

“If you are interested in pursuing this I should be happy to give you particulars of the procedure and cost.”

And please form an orderly* queue outside the College of Arms …..

 

*Any disorderly behaviour will be dealt with the City of London Police – as the College of Arms lies within their territory – and of course they are one of the few forces not affected by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act and will not have an elected Police and Crime Commissioner.

Tuesday
Aug 28,2012

No doubt I will be told that I don’t understand the nuances of American politics, but I can’t help feeling that Tropical Storm Isaac’s disruption of the Republican Party Convention at Tampa in Florida is not the problem for Mitt Romney’s strategists that they are suggesting it is.

Conventional wisdom is it that a Presidential candidate – particularly one that is already securely nominated – gains a political boost from his Party’s Convention and the TV exposure that it brings.  In this case, the Republican Party was hoping to relaunch/repackage their Presidential candidate and demonstrate to/bamboozle an excited American electorate that  Mitt Romney was Presidential in timbre, had the vision thing, and was an-all-round nice decent guy (oh and that his Mormonism is OK really).

Now that some of the Convention has already had to be cancelled because of Tropical Storm Isaac this plan is in disarray.

However, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is also determined to use the Convention to write into the Party’s platform their particularly weird mix of ideology, including such gems as:

  • no exemptions on abortion being illegal for rape or incest, or where the mother’s life is at risk;
  • no legal recognition of same-sex couples including civil unions;
  • tough immigration laws, including a huge Berlin-style wall along the USA/Mexico border;
  • a return to the Gold standard and a ban on any tax increases, except for war and national emergencies; and
  • the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency and a big increase in the use of fossil fuels.

This, of course, would be on top of Mitt Romney’s own platform of massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax increases for other Americans (sounds familiar).

Maybe I am naive but wouldn’t TV exposure of all this stuff strengthen the Democrats?

So perhaps Tropical Storm Isaac is actually a boon to the Republican Party and will in fact boost the chances of the rest of the world having to come to terms with President Romney in a few months time.

Tuesday
Jul 31,2012

I have just returned from a powerful adaptation of Jack Mapanje‘s prison memoir “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” at the Africa Centre.  The memoir tells the story of the arrest and imprisonment without charge of Jack Mapanje, an academic and poet, in the dying days of Hasting Banda’s Malawi.  The arrest, probably generated by academic jealousy, led to incarceration for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days and had a profound effect not only on Jack but on his family.  His release followed a lengthy campaign by Amnesty International and PEN International.

The production presented by Bilimankhwe Arts (of which I am a trustee) has an impressive central performance by Misheck Mzumara as the poet, but the entire ensemble are highly effective – particularly in showing the interplay of the prisoners sharing a single cell and their relationship with their guards.

The play runs to 18th August and tickets can be obtained here.

Monday
Jul 23,2012

The House of Lords, unlike the House of Commons, is still sitting and this afternoon Baroness Jan Royall, Leader of the Opposition, asked a Private Notice Question of the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, about the position of the Trade Minister, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint.

 

As the Daily Telegraph has pointed out, allegations that HSBC, while Lord Green was its Chairman, allowed money laundering on a huge scale to take place are now casting a cloud over his current role as a Trade Minister.  Their report says:

 

“The US Senate has launched a coruscating attack on HSBC for its slapdash approach to money-laundering regulations. The bank could face a $1 billion fine.

 

According to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “the culture at HSBC was pervasively polluted for a long time.” Just how polluted was revealed in the Senate report into the scandal. For example, between 2007 and 2008, HSBC’s Mexican operations moved $7bn into the bank’s US operations. According to the report, both Mexican and US authorities warned HSBC that the amount of money could only have reached such a level if it was tied to illegal narcotics proceeds.”

 

The Government’s answer boils down to saying that there is nothing that casts doubt on Lord Green’s integrity and that there is no reason that he should be held responsible for everything that the organisation of which he was chairman was doing.

 

However, what was he doing as Chairman of the Bank during this time? If the Bank were warned by both the Mexican and US authorities that transactions of $7 billion were tied to the illegal drugs trade, shouldn’t he have been told of the warnings.  If he wasn’t, why wasn’t he and what sort of system of corporate governance was he presiding over if it was not felt that such warnings should be conveyed to the Board? Is $7 billion too small a sum for him to worry about?  And if he was told, what did he do about it?

 

I tried unsuccessfully to get in and put a this question to the Leader of the House:

 

“How bad does the stench of money laundering have to be around its Trade Minister before it impacts on the reputation of the United Kingdom?  And why – if his integrity is as great as we are told it is – are they so reluctant to have him come to the House and dispel that stench by setting the record straight?”

 

The BBC captures the full exchange here and the Hansard test is as follows:

HSBC

Private Notice Question

3.07 pm

Tabled By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the allegations about HSBC made by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the ability of Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint to fulfil his ministerial duties.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde):My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have every confidence in my noble friend Lord Green’s ability to fulfil his ministerial duties. His experience, expertise and enthusiasm provide great benefit to the UK’s international profile and to the support that UK Trade and Investment provides to British businesses.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that Answer. However, as the noble Lord will be aware, questions have been asked about the present ministerial role of the noble Lord, Lord Green, following the US Senate committee’s findings.

Paragraph 1.2 of the Ministerial Code, which sets out the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, says that:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.

Given that obligation, will the Leader of the House ask the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, to come to your Lordships’ House to place on record what he knew and when about the matters investigated by the US Senate committee, including what steps he took to deal with them? Would such a move not give the noble Lord, Lord Green, the opportunity to dispel once and for all the questions being asked about his present ministerial role?

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition. I know that she has been trying to find a PNQ to put to the House and she has managed to do so. I am very glad to be able to respond on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.

There is no urgency in this matter. The investigation started more than two years ago. The report in question was published two weeks ago. There was no evidence of personal wrongdoing of my noble friend; indeed, there was no personal criticism whatever of my noble friend. The investigation is ongoing. As for ministerial accountability, my noble friend Lord Green is accountable to this House—to Parliament—for the work he does as a Minister. However, many Ministers have had previous careers. No Minister needs to be accountable to Parliament for their previous career, only for what they are doing as a Minister.

Lord Butler of Brockwell:My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of HSBC during the time when the noble Lord, Lord Green, was chief executive officer and chairman. Is the Leader aware that when I was advising the Prime Minister on calls for ministerial resignations, I drew a distinction—which I think is widely accepted—between accountability and responsibility? While it may be the case that the chairman and chief executive officer of a major international company is accountable for everything that happens in that company, there is no possible way in which they can be responsible for everything that happens in a worldwide group of the size of HSBC.

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, with all his experience and knowledge—not just as head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary but having had a more commercial career since he left—the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, has brought a lot of wisdom and good sense to this debate, on which we should all reflect.

Lord Kinnock:My Lords, since the Leader of the House has told us that the work of the noble Lord, Lord Green, is of benefit to the United Kingdom’s profile—the words he just used—does he think that the accountability of an individual in a very senior position in Government or business ceases when that individual changes post? Does he not think that it would benefit the UK’s profile to ensure that a Minister rigorously adheres to the wording of the Ministerial Code, as just spelt out by my noble friend? Further, does he not think that the ethics of business require that a Minister who has the opportunity and the right to come to this House to explain themselves should do so?

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, I do not disagree at all with what the noble Lord says about the ethics of the industry in which my noble friend was involved. In fact, only last week, this House set up a special Joint Select Committee to look at ethics and many other practices in the banking industry. Surely that is the point. If a Select Committee of this House or another place wishes to ask my noble friend questions, it should do so. My purpose is to reflect on my noble friend’s role in government and to answer on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.

Lord Cormack:My Lords, does my noble friend agree that anyone who knows the noble Lord, Lord Green, could not doubt his total integrity for a moment?

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, I agree with that but I wholly accept that questions need to be asked—and are habitually asked—of a Minister to make sure that he is accountable to Parliament. As I said in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, if a committee of Parliament wishes to put questions to my noble friend, it is entirely free to do so.

Lord Grocott:My Lords, perhaps I can remind the Leader of the House of a report with which he will be, no doubt, almost word perfect: the report of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, which made a number of recommendations. Of course, the group was established by the Leader for the Leader. Recommendation 3 of that report—which, I remind him again, was published more than a year ago in April last year—said:

“We … recommend that there should be a monthly question time dedicated to questions on House of Lords matters addressed to the Leader of the House”.

Perhaps I may helpfully suggest that both today’s Question and indeed the very important one raised last week by my noble friend Lord Barnett could be handled were the Leader to accept that simple, unanimous recommendation by a committee that was set up at his instigation. I urge him to act on that recommendation as soon as possible.

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, from memory, I do not think that there has been a single Question put to me in my capacity as Leader of the House in the past 12 months. That rather leads me to believe that there is no great demand for a monthly Question Time session for the Leader. There are perfectly good methods for asking me questions and noble Lords should use them if they wish to.

Lord Hughes of Woodside:My Lords, from a rather different view, perhaps, I query what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. Surely accountability and responsibility cannot simply be divided one from the other—it is not as sharp as that. Accountability and responsibility go hand in hand and no one should doubt it.

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cormack said that no one should challenge the integrity of my noble friend Lord Green, and I agree with him. But if it comes to a choice between the noble Lord’s view of what is responsibility and accountability and that of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, I will go with the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall:My Lords, I personally—along with most of the House, I feel—am in no position and would not wish to challenge the integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Green. However, does the Leader of the House agree that perhaps there would be less question about his conduct over the issue of HSBC were the House to see him more often answering questions that relate to his ministerial responsibilities? It may have something to do with his relative unfamiliarity to Members of the House that they are perhaps more sceptical than they should be.

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, as a Minister for trade, my noble friend of course spends a great deal of time overseas. Since he was appointed, he has travelled to 42 countries and visited 73 cities. In his role as Minister of State for Trade and Investment, he has answered a total of 72 Parliamentary Questions, including two Oral Questions out of three that he could have answered. The response to the point raised by the noble Baroness is that if more Questions on trade and investment were put down, I am sure that my noble friend would be very happy to come and answer them.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his answers, but perhaps I may say that I found his initial response to my Question slightly patronising, albeit not in terms of the substance. I table PNQs when I believe that there is a matter of accountability which is of interest to this Parliament as a whole—we are the only House of Parliament sitting at the moment—and when I believe that it is of importance to this nation. I do not do so for personal gratification.

Lord Strathclyde:My Lords, if the noble Baroness felt that I was in any way seeking to patronise her, I apologise fully.

 

 

 

Friday
Jul 20,2012

Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, is Leader of the House of Lords.  This afternoon he lost his temper with the venerable Lord Joel Barnett.  His asperity was in contrast to what is normally expected of the peer who is supposed to be Leader of the whole House and not just of his particular faction in the Government.

As you know, I am not one to gossip, but privately his colleagues are whispering that he is under stress.  Downing Street has been questioning his performance and, in particular, his failure to deliver his not-so-merry band of Conservative peers in support of House of Lords reform.  There are even rumours that he might be replaced in David Cameron’s Government reshuffle – should it ever happen.

Moreover, so I am told, no less a personage – if such a thing were possible – than the Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Government Chief Whip and Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentleman-at-Arms, has let it be known that she is ready to take on the burden of the Leadership were it to fall on her shoulders.  (It is not, of course, immediately apparent why Baroness Anelay – aka “The Steel Magnolia” – would have more success than the hapless – and grumpy – Lord Strathclyde in keeping the rebellious Tory peers in line.)  This is all in private: publicly she says her only ambition is to play golf again at Woking Golf Club.

So Lord Strathclyde’s extraordinary rebuke of Lord Joel Barnett (who first entered Parliament when Lord Strathclyde was four years old) is seen as a sign of stress and the only question on the lips of Tory peers is whether a summer holiday will be sufficient or whether an urgent course of anger management lessons is going to be necessary.

Rt. Hon. the Lord Strathclyde with Theresa May

Lord Strathclyde works his charms on a clearly fascinated Home Secretary

Baroness Anelay of St John-4862

Lady Anelay’s steely look
Monday
Jul 16,2012

My attention has been drawn to a statement from the National Association of Retired Police Officers saying that many of their members could have been available to G4S as security staff for the Olympics but there has been no approach to their Association for help.

Eric Evans, the President of the National Association, has said:

‘ At a time when unemployment is so high and many police officers are retiring earlier than planned because of Government cut backs, it is difficult to understand how G4S have failed to recruit the required number of security staff. I am sure that many of those of our members, who have recently retired would have been glad of an opportunity to get some employment at the Olympic Games not only for the money but also to be involved in such a major ‘lifetime’ event. I am frankly very surprised that G4S have not sought our assistance in recruitment.’

He goes on to comment:

“It is however the case that we at the national office of NARPO have not at any stage been approached by G4S to assist in recruiting security staff for the Olympics and certainly have not received any memorandum from G4S this week or at any other time requesting such assistance.”

How serious were G4S to get themselves out of the mess in which they have got themselves and why haven’t the Home Office told them to use retired police officers in this way?

Saturday
Jul 14,2012

According to the BBC senior managers at G4S only realised “eight or nine days ago”, that they could not provide enough security guards for the London Olympics.

The BBC says that the company’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, told them that:

“problems in the recruitment and deployment process were only recently identified.  …

the company accepted it had “underestimated the task of supplying staff to the Olympics”.

“We deeply regret that… and we are deeply disappointed. It was a daunting task to supply that number of staff in a short time scale.

“I began to know it was going wrong eight or nine days ago… Basically we are recruiting a large number of people and they are all working through a process of interview, two or three different degrees of training, licensing and accreditation.

“It is only when you get closer to the Games, you realise that the number is not as high as you expect,” Mr Buckles added.”

Pardon?

This is staggering.  I remember sitting in meetings three or four YEARS ago when the problems of recruiting sufficient accredited security guards were raised.  It was foreseen then that, given the nature of the security industry, that it would be difficult to get enough suitable individuals to commit to the (comparatively short) Games period and have them trained and vetted in time.

In the intervening period I and many others raised the issue and heard reassurances that the security companies involved and in particular G4S were confident that they would have no difficulty managing the situation.

Now to be told that the senior people in G4S only woke up to the problem the week before last is staggering.

G4S is supposed to be the largest private security company in the world.

Logistics is supposed to be their business.

Quite clearly their management information systems leave a lot to be desired.

How could they have not seen this coming?  If an organisation knows that it needs, say, 1000 security guards fully trained and vetted by a certain date, if it knows how long the recruitment, training and vetting are likely to take, and if it has its world-wide and UK experience to tell them how many recruits will drop out or turn out not to be suitable, it is not a difficult or complex task to know when you need to start the process.  And that time was not eight or nine days ago.

Mr Buckles has also said that he cannot guarantee all the security staff will speak fluent English.  Now that’s a surprise too.

So what’s the slogan going to be:

“Come to the London Olympics and you’ll be bossed around in the queue to get into the venue by some ill-trained half-vetted lout but – if you are lucky and not English speaking – there is just a chance he will speak your language.”

G4S will charge Olympic organisers Locog £280m, but (are we supposed to feel sorry for them?) they say they will lose up to £50m on the contract.