My good friend Pendle MP, Gordon Prentice must be hopping mad. He has every right to be angry with Jack Straw.
Writing in The Independent, Jack Straw predicts the Tory campaign will be the most lavish in political history and denounces Mr Cameron for relying heavily on cash supplied by the party's deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, who has extensive business interests in Belize.
Surprise! Surprise! Where have you been Jack? Gordon Prentice lodged a Freedom of Information request with the Information Commissioner 20 months ago to find out the nature of the undertaking Michael Ashcroft gave when he was being considered for a life peerage and to whom that undertaking was given.
The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has now said he hopes to decide the matter by the end of January. Last week Gordon Prentice said, “ Until the Zac Goldsmith revelations I thought it inconceivable that an MP or someone seeking election to the Commons could be a non dom. There have always been suggestions that some peers were non doms."
Jack Straw fought to deny Prentice’s energetic attempts to outlaw non-doms. Gordon has tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to force disclosure of the names of Members of Parliament who are not UK residents for tax purposes. There has been speculation ever since his ennoblement nine years ago that Lord Ashcroft is, or has been in one or more tax years since 2000, a non-domiciled person enjoying favourable tax treatment.
Jack Straw could and should have acted earlier. Already up to £100,000 of Ashcroft gold has been spent in individual marginal constituencies. The horse has bolted Jack. EDM 466
Taxation Status of Hon Members
This House believes that members of both Houses of Parliament should be domiciled and ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom; notes that the Government is to bring forward a draft House of Lords Bill which will include provisions to exclude peers who are non domiciled from sitting in that Chamber; nevertheless believes that this timetable is too leisurely and deals only with the Lords and takes the view that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which has already had its Commons second reading, provides a better vehicle for making an early change to the law in this respect and calls on the Government to table its own amendments which would prevent non domiciled persons from serving in Parliament and require existing Members to certify that they have been resident in the UK for tax purposes in each year since 2000
Gordon Prentice MP David Taylor MP Paul Flynn MP
Why trust pundits?
Crawling all the media has been a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He said that next year would be better for jobs than 2009 had been, but that the jobless total would continue to rise at least until the summer, peaking at 2.8m. The latest available figures showed that unemploymenthit 2.49m in October.
None of the interviewers I saw asked the spokesman why he forecast earlier in the year that unemployment now would be £.2 million. How inaccurate to these forecasts have to be , before the pundit is discredited?
Soon, we may again be grateful that Obama is President.
George Bush would not resist the Neo-Cons' urging that he should use military force in the Yemen. The Right Wing American 'think-tanks' still believe in bombing and shooting their way to peace - in spite of Iraq and Afghanistan. The provocation of the failed bomber trained in the Yemen has put them into war-hawk mode.
In an interview today Yemen's Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said the conflict with al-Qaeda was a priority for his government despite wars with Shia rebels in the north and with separatists in the south.
"We need more training. We have to expand our counter terrorism units. The United States can do a lot, Britain can do a lot, the European Union can do a lot in that regard."
The Yemeni Government is fighting three internal enemies. They would love our soldiers to fight their wars for them. This time al-Qaeda would be a side-show compared with the challenge from the Shias and the separatists. It's anyone's guess whether the Government is a better bet than either the separatists or the Shias.
The other most alarming news of the day slipped off the main news agenda on the BBC tonight. Another Nato soldier has been shot dead by an Afghan soldier and two have been wounded. This is same Afghan army which Nato is training to defend democracy and the rule of law. It's the simplest strategy for the Taliban to feed their assassins into an Afghan Army that is recruiting tens of thousands of fresh mercenaries.
There is a precedent for our training our future enemies. It was the Americans who trained the Mujahaddin who now call themselves the Taliban.
As we have no independent Foreign policy, our best hope is that the American President will act to justify his Nobel Prize for Peace.
Total number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan = 244
It was a relief today to be asked to write an obituary of David Taylor.
Those who knew him well are disappointed by the wholly misleading inadequate accounts of his work and character that were published today. Inevitably there is a prurient interest in a possible by-election embarrassment. There was once a universally respected practise that speculation on an MP’s successor would be delayed until after the funeral. We now live in different times.
While all the tributes were well intentioned, few captured the unique essence of David’s pioneering work. Yes he was certainly ‘hard-working’. So are many MPs. But David’s work was splendidly unique. He added wit, bite and originality to his campaigns and speeches. He used language in daring ways that no other MP would dare to imitate. I look forward to trawling thorough hundreds of his questions to find examples of the audacious use of words that made me gasp when I heard them in the Chamber for the first time.
It was his fellow MPs who voted him the Backbencher of the Year in 2007. There is no higher accolade than that given by our fellow workers in the craft of political change. They recognised his purity of purpose. He was never what Tony Wright called a ‘When?’ politician, seeking when he was going to get a job, get promotion or a prized favour. David was a ‘Why?’ MP, asking why is that happening? Why can’t it be improved? Why are we repeating errors?
Ambition or ministerial office never captured his interest. He pursued the higher aims of reform. He earned the gratitude of animal welfare and anti-smoking groups for his parliamentary leadership of their campaigns. He never sought self-aggrandisement or empty publicity but drew satisfaction from worthwhile reforms.
He was hurt in the last twelve months by off-target grotesquely unfair criticism. To counter the debased image of MPs, there is no finer example than David Taylor as a model parliamentarian. A number of friends contacted me yesterday. It was good to share our shock, disbelief and grief at the loss of valued friend and comrade. I want to do David’s memory justice in the obituary. I would greatly appreciate comments on aspects of his life that I may otherwise overlook.
HolfordWatch thanked me for the post about Dore. It was his complaint which led to the ASA's decision that exposed the Dore deceit. He writes, "It's hard to know what to do when programmes such as Dore can be resurrected like this (and continue to get much positive media coverage). I wonder if giving ASA, PCC and Trading Standards more teeth might help?"
Certainly exposing the large number of news media who promoted Dore, did not seem to embarass the sloppy journalists who believed and passed on Dore's unscientific claims. I wrote to a long list of them asking them to correct the false and dangerous impressions that they had helped to create. I believe 'You and Yours' did an item that confessed their past gullibility. As far as I know, none of the others did their penance. Perhaps they will be more careful next time.
If not, more powers should be given to the ASA, PCC and Trading Standards.
The tragic news of the sudden death of David Taylor MP for North West Leicestershire is a great shock. My condolences to his wife and family. He collapsed on a Boxing Bay walk with his family.
He showed no signs of illness in the meal that I, and half a dozen of his closest friends, had with him on the last day of the parliamentary session a fortnight ago. He was in good spirits and, as always, he had asked sharp questions in the Commons Chamber on Monday and Tuesday afternoons (See below).
In my forthcoming book, I have an item on Parliamentary Icons and Knaves. David was one of the most accomplished parliamentary icons and a great friend.
David described himself as a traditional mushy-peas rather than an avocado Labourite.
A David Taylor vote is the only way of registering an abstention. There are issues where the advantages and disadvantages are evenly balanced. In these situations David voted in both the No and the Aye lobbies. It can be difficult to explain to voters but it makes good sense, until Parliament come up with another way to register an abstention.
He scored highly in the value for money league table of those who MPs work the hardest for the lowest unit cost. He came equal 7th out of 592. He spent 154,277 in 2007/8 (75% of which on staff and office) during which time he had an attendance rate in the House of 87%, spoke in 225 debates and tabled 197 written questions..
David Taylor was tireless, ever present in the chamber with a gift for words and an indefatigable campaigner. He was splendidly independent. He fearlessly flaunted alliteration, 'Will you say what protections, for instance, the Manchester City supporters have against the attentions of the unsavoury Thaksin Shinawatra or is it forever the fate of football fans to be fleeced by flaky foreign financiers?'
David used his impressive accountancy skills to create a practical alternative to the shaming 10p tax cock-up. He was the MPs' MP. In 2007 he won the award of the Backbencher of the Year. He was an undiscovered Commons polymath and a unique parliamentary treasure.
Parliament is bereaved.
David was parliament's most prolific and skilled questioner. The oral questions he asked in what was his final three days of parliament illustrate his command of his craft and his breadth of interests.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Last month, a black rock band from Brixton who were playing at The Oak public house in Burntwood, Staffordshire, were wrongfully arrested after their gig-vehicles, dogs and a helicopter were used-because of a false alarm with good intent. The chief constable of Staffordshire rightly withdrew their DNA samples because no offence had been committed. Is the Minister happy with the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines, and is he confident that other police officers in other circumstances would be able to respond as rapidly and rightly as the chief constable did in that case?
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The number of procedures under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 continues to rise, with 4 million sentient beings the target that we see each year. Is the Home Secretary happy with the effectiveness of the legislation? The policy of reduction, refinement and replacement is clearly not working. What alternatives might there be?
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier this year, the Chancellor was thinking aloud about the potential of an independent macro-prudential early warning system linking the Bank of England to European central banks, and a single micro-prudential rule-making body. Can the Minister say what the state of play is in terms of those developments?
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Despite the cheaper pound and rising house prices, stalled industrial output is still holding the economy back. Will the Chancellor tell the House what progress has been made on his plan to diversify the economy away from the financial services sector?
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The counties of Rutland and Leicestershire will be alarmed at the proposed closure of RAF Cottesmore, which is, inter alia, a significant contributor to the local economy. Will the Secretary of State, as a well-regarded trade unionist in a former life, indicate to the House what plans he has to consult the local work force and, indeed, the wider local community about the impact of this suggested closure?
David Taylor: I thank my right hon. Friend, as I shall call him, for giving way. He has been an excellent Chair of the EFRA Committee. Like him, I am standing down at the election and the last few years on his Committee have been very rewarding indeed. Does he recall the visit that the Committee paid to Lyons to look at the integrated approach taken there to flood prevention and management? Is he concerned that one possible flaw in this welcome Bill is that the local authorities that will take on a great deal of the local responsibility for these matters will have inadequate resources, skills or knowledge to be able to do so effectively?
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Many newspapers, having seen the disillusion, distaste and disgust with MPs among the wider electorate, have suggested a substantial trimming in the number of Members. There may be something in that, but it can be done only in parallel with a substantial extension and improvement of services such as citizens advice and community law services, as they will be needed to pick up the casework. Four hundred Members simply could not handle the work load that we are experiencing now. We have to find some way to satisfactorily transfer that work.
David Taylor: While I welcome the new "Safer Ageing" strategy, is it not the case that the recent spate of burglaries and attacks on older people in Northern Ireland has had a devastating impact on the individuals affected, and will it not in turn have created a deeper fear of crime across the older population? What practical measures are there in the new plan to reduce that corrosive level of fear.
David Taylor(North West Leicestershire, Labour)I am listening very carefully to what the Minister has to say. Does he agree that the bigger polyclinics that are
envisaged-where a patient may go and, in a sense, be allocated at
random a doctor from a very large panel-will make it very difficult
indeed to build a relationship of the type that has been the foundation
of our health service since 1948, which is that between a patient and a
David Taylor (conclusion of speech on GP Practices) By 2018, when the NHS reaches its biblical span of three score years and 10, we shall have seen GPs metamorphose from the avuncular community leaders of "Dr. Finlay's Casebook" to profit-generating assets in a Dr. Foster's cost centre. The NHS was not created to serve a minority who shout loud enough to see a doctor whenever they want, wherever they are. This proposal is designed to satisfy the few, not the many. To abolish practice boundaries is to hasten the demise of the family doctor.
How will they incorporate the Detroit event into the fiction that justifies the continuing impossibilist war in Afghanistan?
Why wasn't the alleged Al Qaeda bomber deterred by the NATO's war in Afghanistan? Isn't that why we are there?
Will NATO now invade the Yemen where the alleged bomber was trained?
Was he more or less motivated to kill because of Britain's presence in Helmand Province?
Why did the UK spend £3.5 billion last year and sacrifice 106 lives to deter the crumbling Al Qaeda organisation that has twice proved it lacks the skill to construct a working bomb?
How will the war fantasists invent a link between the would-be alleged bomber and the Taliban?
Whatever the answers to these qusetions, it is certain that more propaganda will be spun by the infinitely inventive war apologists. Top politicians of all parties will carry on lying. Our soldiers will carry on dying.
Still-born conspiracy theory
The Redtops have conditioned the weak brained into neurotic gullibility.
Tiny non-typical instances of slights to Christianity are magnified into conspiracies of cataclysmic significance. The Daily Mail is the most hysterical. But still some of their readers treat them seriously and believe what they write. I hope I have managed to destroy one Newport incipient conspiracy fantasy at source.
Last year. Newport's Christmas decoration included the words 'Nadolig Llawen - Merry Christmas' in a street wide banner of lights in the High Street. One excited constituent detected a plot because the words are not visible this year in the High Street. The myth makers have invented a new martyrdom for Christianity as an explanation.
It's all cobblers, of course. The same banner has been moved a few hundred yards to more prominent site near the railway station.
The highly questionable Dore 'cure' for dyslexia appeared to have sunk into bankruptcy. It has been resurrected.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told the Dore Programme to remove a Google-sponsored link which read: “The DORE Programme... Need help with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia or Asperger’s?” following a complaint. The ASA said evidence used to back up the advert’s offer of help was not “sufficiently robust”.
In its adjudication, the ASA said evidence offered to back up the company’s claims was not “robust” because the research did not contain a control group to compare with the group receiving treatment from the programme. It said: “We considered that it was not possible to determine whether any reported improvements resulted from the DORE programme itself, or were a consequence of other factors, such as the development of the children over time or the results of other support they may have been receiving at school and at home.”
It also pointed out that neither study had followed anyone being treated for Asperger’s and only one had seen someone treated for dyspraxia.
This is a past EDM I put down about Dore.
That this House is appalled at the gullible uncritical promotion by the media of Dore, a claimed miracle cure for dyslexia, in the absence of scientific proof of its value; notes that there were five resignations from the editorial board of the journal Dyslexia in protest at false claims published in that journal on the efficacy of Dore; welcomes Ofcom’s finding that Dore’s television advertisement was in breach of its rules on evidence,; calls on the Jeremy Vine Show, Channel Five News, Radio Five Live, BBC London, ITV Central, ITV Yorkshire, the Daily Mail, the Daily Record, Scotland on Sunday, Tonight with Trevor McDonald and You and Yours to correct the false impressions they broadcast on an unproven treatment; and congratulates the bloggers and journalist Ben Goldacre for exposing this bad science and other exploitative snake oil salespeople.
The worst reason to enact new laws is in response to grief.
In the inevitable vacuum that follows a tragic death, predictable emotions include the need to create some beneficial change as a result of the loss. The wave of sympathy that was aroused by one ecstasy death resulted in an expensive campaign against the drug in 1992. There was no beneficial effect. Nothing was ‘sorted’. The drug became more fashionable and its use increased.
A family’s response to a death associated with one of the legal highs persuaded the Government et al to impose new prohibition. The reasoning is based on the myth that prohibiting drugs reduces harm. The UK’s major 1971 act of prohibition was followed by a continuing increase in addicts from 1,000 to 300,000. There is very little evidence of harm from the newly banned life style drugs. If there are bad consequences, they are now likely to multiplied. Increased use is likely now the drugs are elevated to the status of ‘forbidden fruit.’
The murder rate in the USA was level until alcohol was prohibited. It stayed at its highest rate under the 13 years of prohibition, and then returned to its previous level. It rose again when illegal drug use became prevalent. The carnard believed by all the UK’s political parties is that prohibition reduces use and harm. Where is the evidence? Use varies according to fashion. Prohibition lubricates the process with a little frisson.
There is proof that de-penalisation and decriminalization does work. The best recent one was in Portugal in 2001. Drug deaths halved and use declined in all known sectors as this proves: -
Total number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan = 243
Dr David Nutt was not the first Government Scientific Adviser to be told to button up for having an intelligent thought.
The previous Chief Scientist Dr David King has confirmed that Tony Blair gagged him. I recall his giving evidence to PASC about four years. He was more alarming than anyone else on Global Warming. An image that shocked was the height of the Thames would rise up Big Ben if the Greenland ice fields melted. We pressed him about Blair’s reaction to his entirely sensible statement that Global warming was a greater threat than terrorism. 52 British lives had been destroyed by terrorism in the previous decade. 7 billion humans were under threat from the melting ice.
He evaded our questions then. This morning on Radio Four he confessed that when Bush complained about the comparison, our British lapdog PM bit our Chief Scientist. Science was mugged.
If only we could become an independent nation with our own foreign policy.
If you thought our House of Commons Foreign Affairs ministers were lack lustre, have a look at the war slaughter apologists in the House of Lords. A lumbering giant named Lord Brett burbled and bumbled his way through questions on Afghanistan on BBC Parliament today. Not once did he approach adequacy in his answers. Asked how much of the fertilizers supplied to Afghans have been used to make I.E.D. bombs, he answered ‘None’. How can he know that?
Fertilizers are the raw materials for these home-made bombs that are killing our soldiers. We are giving away lorry loads of the stuff to persuade Afghans to grow wheat not poppies. It is certain that we are the main source of supply. In trying to solve the drug problem, we are feeding the home bomb making factories.
This abysmal reply left the Lords and Ladies gasping in dis-belief. They should have been relieved. It was his only answer that could be fully understood.
A ‘Back the Ban’ campaign is being launched on Boxing Day – the old centre of the fox hunting calendar - by Hilary Benn and a host of celebrities including Tony Robinson and Patrick Stewart.
This Boxing Day is the fifth since the Bill to ban hunting with dogs was passed. The ban has already resulted in dozens of prosecutions. None of the forecast dire effects on rural communities has happened
But the Hunting Act is under threat as pro-hunt activists prepare to spend thousands of pounds in backing Tory candidates committed to bringing back the cruel sport.
The Tory’s animal welfare spokesperson has made it clear that if elected they will bring back hunting with dogs. And they have said they will do it soon after being elected if they win the General Election.
The Tory stance is in spite of both overwhelming public support for the ban and the many other priorities of the British public. According to a recent Ipsos Mori poll, three quarters of the population do not want hunting with dogs to be made legal again. The same poll showed that 72% of the rural population wants to keep the ban in place. I have told my local press:
For David Cameron, getting the Act repealed is a top priority. He used to hunt, until his PR advisers told him not to; he talked about hunting in his first ever speech to Parliament; and he has said that if he becomes Prime Minister he will get rid of the hunting ban as soon as possible.
Like the vast majority of people in Newport I think that barbaric act of letting dogs tear foxes to pieces with their teeth shouldn’t return to our countryside.
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
“If you think the Tories have changed, their views on fox hunting with dogs make it absolutely clear that their priorities haven’t. They know the public doesn’t agree with them on this, but they are determined to go ahead if they are given the chance. That’s why we need to continue to campaign to stop this barbaric ‘sport’ from returning to our land and to join www.backtheban.com “.
1. David Cameron’s maiden speech is Hansard, 28 June 2001, Col. 869: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/vo010628/debtext/10628-30.htm
2. For more information on the Ipsos Mori poll published 5 October 2009 http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2479
Total number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan = 242
It was one of the oddest requests I have ever had. ‘Would I expect the Queen of England to stand in a queue for a passport? If not, why should His Royal Highness the King of Baluchistan suffer such an indignity?’ I rang the Home Office and asked to speak to their department dealing with asylum-seeking kings. They do not have one. They did agree to a private meeting with him, but he would have to go to Lunar House like all other potential refugees.
Until three years ago, Khan Suleman’s house was a sumptuous desert palace on a windswept ridge in Baluchistan – the mountainous and mineral-rich Pakistani province where separatists have waged an insurgency to carve out their own independent state for much of the past 60 years. He was living in an anonymous semi-detached in Newport. Now he has moved to Cardiff.
Whenever the Khan left his palace in his two armour-plated, gold Humvees, he would be accompanied by dozens of armed bodyguards. One of western Pakistan’s most influential tribal leaders, he commanded the loyalty and respect of thousands of Baluchi tribesmen and had long angered Pakistan’s military establishment by campaigning for independence, though he opposes armed resistance.
The most distinguishing feature of his kingdom is the largest mud volcano in the world. The Baluch people also inhabit large tracts of Afghanistan and Iran.
President Karzai sent 12 emissaries to demand that they obey his rule. Local Baluchi beheaded them. This is another one of the local difficulties that the Utopian plan for an Afghan peace conveniently disregards.
Toffs versus the workers
A fascinating poll today challenges the assumption of a Cameron victory.
A ComRes poll for The Independent found that people disagree with the statement that "The Conservative Party offers an appealing alternative to the Labour Party", by a margin of 49 to 45 per cent. Meanwhile, by 52 to 44 per cent, the public agrees with the statement "a Conservative Government would mainly represent the interests of the well-off rather than ordinary people".
The survey gives the Tories a nine-point lead over Labour, down one point on last month. If repeated at a general election, the figures would leave the Tories five seats short of an overall majority in a hung parliament. According to ComRes, the Tories are on 38 per cent (up one point on last month), Labour 29 per cent (up two points), the Liberal Democrats 19 per cent (down one point) and others 14 per cent (down two points).
I try not to obsess about these polls but it would be comfortable to know what my future will be in six months time. Do I plan my life as a continuing full-time politician and a part-time writer or as a full-time writer and part-time politician? Labour won Newport West in 1987 and 1991 in spite of national victories for the Tories.
Six months before the Labour landslide of 1997, Labour had a 50% poll rating. The news of the television debates will be welcome by Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. As front-runner and the darling of the press, Cameron has most to lose. Voters still have greater faith in what they see on television than what they papers tell them to think. Labour and the LibDems will profit from exposure on an open and fair basis. LibDems will block the Tories plans to win back their seats. The loyal Labour vote will be shored up by good performances by Brown.
The public has not warmed to Cameron in the way that they fell in love with Tony Blair.