01 March 2012 12:30 PM

Bad news for Tories on Whitehall bonuses

Civil service bonuses have attracted a lot of anger in recent years, mostly from Tory MPs angry at their explosion during the Labour years.

But they might be less than happy to learn the whole idea was actually brought in on Margaret Thatcher's watch.

As this PQ from Cabinet Office spokesman Baroness Verma sets out, performance-related pay was introduced in 1987 and then extended in 1989 before being passed to individual departments and quangos in 1996.

Latest figures put the cost at more than £100m a year. Wonder what the Iron Lady makes of that?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 February 2012 11:54 AM

Clegg won't block Lib-Dem MPs' health revolt

Amid the widespread anger in his party over Andrew Lansley's health reforms, The Standard understands that Nick Clegg will not force his MPs to overturn Lib-Dem backed amendments made in the Lords to the Health and Social Care Bill.

Baroness Williams predicts that it is "highly unlikely" that Lib-Dem MPs will be whipped to force through key parts of the health shake-up, which are blocked by peers, and says it is "quite a dramatic advance."

Separately, Lib-Dem parliamentarians are drawing up rival plans to Mr Lansley’s health bill in case the Government is forced to ditch it completely.

The moves will infuriate Tory MPs.

Mr Clegg’s aides strongly believe that a deal can be reached between Lib-Dem peers and Mr Lansley which would avoid a Commons showdown over key issues including competition, conflicts of interest and regulation which are being debated in the Lords this week.

But they did not rule out Lib-Dem MPs being given a free vote on changes to the bill made by the Upper Chamber if no compromise can be agreed.

Nicholas Cecil



07 February 2012 5:49 PM

A bad day for Lansley

It was never going to be an easy week for Andrew Lansley, but I'm sure even the Health Secretary wasn't quite expecting to see Downing Street sources saying he should be "taken out and shot" over his controversial NHS reforms when he opened his newspapers this morning.

There is certainly a lot of anger among Tory MPs about the reforms, which face a mauling in the Lords tomorrow. One told me Lansley had "failed to do the pitch rolling" and complained they didn't know what the shake-up was really meant to do. Another complained: "We spent years convincing people that the NHS would be safe in our hands - this bill is destroying that reputation".

Lansley was also faced with a little, erm, local difficulty. First it emerged NHS South West was facing a £370 million black hole which campaigners warned could put vital services at risk. Then it emerged St Helier hospital in Carshalton could be the first victim of plans to hand doctors billions of pounds of the NHS budget.

This is particularly sensitive because the hospital is in Health Minister Paul Burstow's constituency. Neighbouring Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh claims a merger between St Helier and St George's fell through last week in part because GPs in the new clinical commissioning group are planning to reduce dramatically the use of the hospital. Fears have been raised it could close as a result.

Mr Burstow told ESP this was "shameful political scaremongering" and warned people not to be "duped" by it. Certainly there were other considerations for the merger's collapse as well, but Dr Martyn Wake, who is joint chair of Merton CCG, does say that "as GPs we are keen to keep our patients well and out of hospital".

"Whilst Ms McDonagh may not agree with the government's policy to put GPs in charge of commissioning health services we all feel it is most unjust to blame local GPs for the historic financial challenges facing our local hospitals," he said.
"The shift to care out of hospitals and into the community is no different in scale in Sutton and Merton than it is in other parts of south west London and the rest of the country."

But Labour and other campaigners are adamant. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told ESP: “The fact a Health Minister’s own local hospital may be the first major casualty of the Government’s reorganisation might bring home to him how wrong these reforms are.

“This is a glimpse of what is to come if this Bill goes through. Fragmenting decision-making in this way threatens the ongoing viability of hospitals. Paul Burstow has now got the biggest of all reasons to drop the Bill.”

There appears to be little appetite among Tories for the Bill to be dropped entirely, though (as my colleague Nicholas Cecil has reported) some Lib Dems would be delighted if that happens.

While today was a bad day for Lansley, expect a few more ahead.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

02 February 2012 2:05 PM

Top Totty banned from Commons - new details


Labour's Kate Green won the fastest campaign ever today by getting a beer called Top Totty banned from the Commons.

She stood up at 12 to protest at finding the sexist ale on sale in Parliament’s Strangers Bar. By 2pm it was withdrawn from sale.

Amusingly, I gather there was a rush to buy it in the intervening hours - mainly, one should add, from members of the Press Gallery.

I gather that at least half a barrel is left over, which begs the question who will sup it.

A picture of a bunny girl in a bikini featured on the pump alongside the name, which even readers over 80 will guess is slang for an attractive young woman.

Demanding a debate, Green said: “I was disturbed last night to learn that the guest beer in the Stranger’s Bar is called Top Totty and there is a picture of a nearly naked woman on the tap.”

Embarrassingly, I can reveal that the woman who modelled the provocative picture visited the bar yesterday with the brewery’s boss to savour their success in being chosen as a guest beer.

A Commons spokesman said later this afternoon: “We have withdrawn it from sale today. I do not think there is very much left.”

Strangers Bar - aka The Kremlin - has a different guest beer each week.  Top Totty is brewed by Slaters in Stafford and was nominated to be a guest beer by the town’s Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy.

Astonishingly, nobody seemed to realise that it might be controversial.

UPDATE -- #TopTotty is now trending on Twitter.  Slater's Brewery must be be delighted with the plug.

 UPDATE#2  The model is a brunette, I have been told. The blonde hair was added later

Joe Murphy


Follow me at Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



04 July 2011 3:37 PM

Mandy Rice-Davies test for Lords

House of Lords reform is, perhaps unsurprisingly, proving to be a slow burner at the moment.

There have been angry exchanges, with claim and counterclaim, in both the Commons and the Lords in recent weeks.

One consistent message (particularly coming from members of the Upper House) is that reform will undermine the Commons and strip away expertise and independence. Former head of the civil service Lord Armstrong has even predicted the Thames will run with "much blood" because of breakdowns in the relationship between the two chambers.

Now the constitutional experts have stepped in, with one saying opponents are making "greatly exaggerated" claims about the dangers of the planned overhaul (which if you've forgotten will see the House reduced to 300 peers, 80 per cent elected).

A major study by Reading University's Dr Alan Renwick for the Political Studies Association said: “The proposals, if implemented, would not end the primacy of the House of Commons. The reformed second chamber would probably continue to be characterized in significant part by independence, expertise, and experience.” He also says the current arguments are an evidence-free zone.

And Oxford's professor Iain McLean warned against claims made by "vested interests", even suggesting a “Mandy Rice-Davies” test should be applied when peers were praising the expertise of the current make-up - after the former model known for her role in the Profumo affair and famously miqsuoted as saying “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he”.

King's College London's Professor Vernon Bogdanor differs slightly, saying the plans could result in "gridlock" and make Britain more difficult to govern - but suggested the issue could once again by punted into the long grass.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Oona's typical "nice meal" costs £75 a head!

Fresh nuggets from Oona King's embarrassing attempt to pay for her flopped mayoral campaign with a £100 a head thrash at the Ministry of Sound nightclub.

In a new letter to supporters, she offers a discount for chums who book a table of ten for £750. That works out at a mere £75 a ticket which, Onna helpfully tells us, is "more or less what you pay for any nice meal in London".

Er, it must be something in the waters at the House of Lords but that is considerable more than the Evening Standard pays for lunch.  And rather more than Baroness King's former constituents in Bethnall Green & Bow would spend on a typical night out.

For anyone who missed yesterday's Sunday Times, Oona owes £20,000 for her failed bid to succeed Ken Livingstone as Labour's mayoral hopeful in 2012. 

A new fundraising letter discloses more details.

There will be a £150-a-head "VIP area" for guests who don't want to mux with the rifff-raff. There they will brush shoulders with "our star guest" who will be Ed Miliband.

"Ed Miliband will show us some great dance moves, or maybe he'll stick to giving a great speech," promises King - showing just the sort of policy vagueness that undermined her mayoral bid.



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon


30 June 2011 2:48 PM

Osborne paves the way for a girl to be Heir to the Throne

George Osborne just made a historic announcement about the Royal finances.

His reforms, signalled first in his Budget a year ago, pave the way for a first-born daughter of Kate and William to be Heir to the Throne.

The heir is supported by £16 million a year revenues from the Duchy of Cornwall estate. At present the Duke is Prince Charles.  But a girl cannot become a duke, so Osborne is changing the rules.

“We propose to correct this anomaly by making clear that in future the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall will go to the heir whether or not they are the Duke of Cornwall,” said the Chancellor.

On its own this does not abolish the rule of primogeniture, which means a first-born daughter of Kate and Wills would be superseded in the succession by a younger brother. But it shows that ministers are putting the finances in place for the day when the law of succession is brought into the modern age.

Other reforms include propoer scrutiny of the Royal finances for the first time and a real-terms cut in the Queen’s income over the next few years, reflecting the austere times.

Full audits of Royal spending will be undertaken by the National Audit Office.

Best of all, lifelong republican Margaret Hodge and her Public Accounts Committee will be empowered to summon the Keeper of the Privy Purse for questioning.

“This is a big historic extension of parliamentary scrutiny,” said the Chancellor whose reputation as a moderniser will be enhanced.

Joe Murphy






17 June 2011 9:17 AM

Lamont not "singing in the bath" over Greece

Lord Lamont, famed for "singing in the bath" after Britain crashed out of the ERM some twenty years ago, strikes an ominous note over the Greek economic crisis.

The former Chancellor says: "Make no mistake about it, this is a threat to the whole world economy. This could send shockwaves not through just the neighbouring countries of Greece but the whole European monetary system. France, Germany, Italy - they could all be affected."

The warning of another "Lehman Brothers-style" economic shock came as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou ousted his finance minister George Papaconstantinou to try to restore confidence in his battered Government.

The situation is so serious that Tory peer Lord Lamont did not even afford himself a tad of "schadenfreude" over the plight in euroland.

He simply pointed out: "This is the problem, you have a currency without a Government that’s always been one of the arguments about the euro and it makes it difficult to get agreement and if you’re on the road of bailing out what is tended to happen is too little too late."

Nicholas Cecil

20 May 2011 1:22 PM

Exclusive - Keith Vaz burgled in the Commons

It sounds like a joke - the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has been burgled.

But it's not funny when a senior parliamentarian's office in the heart of Westminster is apparently open to thieves to just walk in.

And its deadly serious when it happens on the eve of President Obama's state visit, whcih includes a speech to MPs and Peers in Westminster Hall.

Keith left his office in Norman Shaw North (the real Scotland Yard, before New Scotland Yard was opened) at 7pm to attend some awards in the Commons. He came back at 10pm to find his researcher's laptop and an iPad had been taken.

Worse, it turns out the MP next to him lost a laptop too - and has previously had his passport pinched from the office. Indeed there has been a spate of such thefts all over the Palace of Westminster.

The most shocking thing is that there are no video cameras to show who was prowling these corridors of power. (MPs might be to blame for this omission, as they prize their privacy highly). MPs have a lot of sensitive material on their computers and in their offices - not least a chairman as well connected as the hyperactive Mr Vaz.

An internal security review is surely needed. This thief (or thieves) might stoop to worse crimes. Or might be blackmailed by his underworld contacts into helping somebody of evil intent.

MPs and their files are too important to get anything less than the best protection available.

Joe Murphy

17 May 2011 4:57 PM

Clegg's ordeal

Nick Clegg has had a miserable hour trying to sell his Lords reforms to the Commons. Actually, "sell" is putting it too strongly as he set out the arguements without much passion.

For Labour, Sadiq Khan was savage about the "dog's dinner" proposals. "Let's be frank, Lords reform is not near the top of any of our constituents' priorities," he jeered - drawing loud "hear hears" from the Tory benches opposite.

Then it was the turn of the Tory right - Bernard Jenkin, John Redwood, Bill Cash, who clearly relished a chance to rag their Coalition partner.

The solidly impressive John Thurso was Clegg's best supporter, pointing his finger first at the Labour benches then towards the Other Place. "Those dinosaurs over there are just feathering the nests of the dinausaurs down there!"

Overall, the support for Clegg was muted. Cameron turned up, but what ought to worry the Coalition leadership was the unwillingness of middle ground Tories to help Clegg out.  Goodwill is ebbing away on both sides of the governing partnership.

Joe Murphy

16 May 2011 5:05 PM

Lords reform - Clegg's first headache

Tomorrow Nick Clegg will unveil the latest plank of the Lib-Dem constitutional reform dream when he sets out radical plans to overhaul the House of Lords.

At the heart of the proposals, which will be kicked into the long grass consulted on for a year, will be moves towards making the upper house at least 80 per cent elected.

After the nightmare that was AV, the Deputy Prime Minister already looks to be facing difficulties with his bid to make their Lordships shuffle off into the political wilderness.

Some 40 peers, including former Liberal leader Lord Steel, have written a letter to MPs setting out the case against an elected House of Lords.

The Standard has seen a copy of this opening shot in the battle for the red benches, and it reads as follows:

Dear Colleague,

We write to you as former long-serving Members of the House of Commons who believe passionately in the supremacy of the elected Chamber. We believe that that supremacy and authority would inevitably be challenged if the House of Lords were to be replaced by a wholly, or largely, elected Second Chamber. Not only that. Each individual Member of Parliament would be in the position of having an elected 'Senator' able to claim jurisdiction within his or her constituency. And if that 'Senator' were elected by proportional representation, and for one single fifteen or twenty year term, he/she would certainly seek to claim greater legitimacy, and, being ineligible for re-election, would have no accountability to the electorate.

We are not saying that the House of Lords should not be reformed. It is too big and there are measures that could be taken to make it even more effective than it is at the moment. We believe, however, that an appointed House does have very real merit. It can deliberately reflect the diversity of the nation in a way that Party selection and elections cannot. In the present House of Lords there is a reasonable gender balance. There is a long standing tradition of ethnic diversity, and there are many more disabled Members. Above all, there is a vast reservoir of talent and experience among those people, eminent in the professions and other walks of life, who regularly contribute to our debates, but who would never seek election.

The inevitable consequence of elections would be a greater politicisation of the House of Lords and a reduction in the independent element within it. Please bear in mind that if twenty per cent of the House of Lords were appointed, to preserve something of that independent element there would then be two classes of Members, the elected and the unelected.

We would urge all our colleagues in the House of Commons to bear these important points in mind when proposals for a new Second Chamber are laid before you.

Donald Anderson, Janet Fookes, Jill Knight, John Morris, Paul Boateng, Derek Foster, Norman Lamont, Tony Newton, Betty Boothroyd, George Foulkes, lan Lang, Michael Shaw, Tim Boswell, Peter Fraser, John Lee, Robert Sheldon, Peter Brooke, Archie Hamilton, Geoffrey Lofthouse, Michael Spicer, Patrick Cormack, Terence Higgins, John MacGregor, David Steel, Jean Corston, Alan Howarth, David Maclean (Blencathra), Ann Taylor, Brian Cotter, Geoffrey Howe, John Maples, John Tomlinson, Hugh Dykes, Patrick Jenkin, Patrick Mayhew, Don Touhig, Nicholas Edwards (Crickhowell), Michael Jopling, Tommy McAvoy, Dennis Turner (Bilston)

Here's a PDF: Download Lords letter

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse