Tag Archives: commissioner

It seems the UK’s Equalities watchdog is a racist organisation. How can we believe its report on Labour?

Chris Williamson: He was subjected to death threats because of the false accusations against him, but the EHRC appears to have attacked him in its report.

A common tactic among right-wingers, when a document is about to be published  or a claim made that attacks them, is to undermine the validity of the issuer of that document in some way beforehand.

We’ve seen that happen many times over the last few years, haven’t we?

Often the critical claims have been proved untrue later. Consider all the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

Now, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission soon to release its report on alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, that organisation is being buried under a flood of bad publicity.

But it seems unlikely that these claims will be quite as easy to dismiss.

Here’s Chris Williamson: he was the victim of a huge vilification campaign by many of his colleagues on the Labour benches after he made perfectly reasonable comments about the party’s attitude to anti-Semitism complaints in a speech.

The EHRC report comments on his case, and this means he has been allowed to see it in advance. From his response, it seems clear that the organisation has drawn a false conclusion:

He is right to start crowdfunding now. By the time the report comes out – hopefully – he will have raised the funds he needs and will be able to launch his proceedings immediately.

Clearly, he’s not making a wild accusation; people don’t take others to court frivolously unless they want to be penalised for vexatious litigation (Rachel Riley take note).

It seems the EHRC has already lost any credibility in claims of racism against other people and organisations, though; it has just been revealed that it removed its only black and Muslim commissioners in what the two people involved consider a clear act of racism:

Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, who at the time was the only Muslim commissioner and Lord Simon Woolley who was the only black commissioner, both lost their positions in November 2012.

At present, it has no black or Muslim members among its board of ten commissioners, which also includes the chair.

It currently stands accused of not standing up for British Muslims and being too close to the ruling Conservative Party, both claims the EHRC firmly denies.

“We were too loud for what the new coalition government wanted,” Lord Woolley told Newsweek.

“Our job as commissioners was to do exactly what they were supposed to do, to raise the fundamental issues of tackling race inequality in education, in health, in employment, within the criminal justice system and I saw that as my central role, but it was made very quickly aware to me that that strong voice was not wanted.

“They [the government] didn’t want the voices that challenge the big structural inequalities, which of course is the raison d’être of the commission, and then to work out plans to use its powers to demand change.”

Baroness Hussein-Ece said that she too feared that being vocal about issues of race worked against her.

She said: “We were the ones who spoke more about race. Race equality generally was put on the back burner during that period.”

She described the decision not to reappoint herself and Lord Woolley at the time as an “appalling” thing to do.

“We were told to apply for the next term because it’s a four-year term, our performance was deemed good, and that we should reapply,” she said.

“When we did reapply, we were told we weren’t even shortlisted.”

She also said that she was told by the Equalities Office at the time that more commissioners from business backgrounds were desirable.

The revelation – take note that it came out into the open this week, not in 2012 – has sparked a wave of outrage on the social media (and silence in the Tory-supporting, racist mainstream media). Judge for yourself if the comments are valid:

Remember this when the usual screamers start baying about Labour being guilty of anti-Semitism, simply because the EHRC is investigating; when the organisation itself is racist, its pronunciations on discrimination mean nothing.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Fracking commissioner resigns – but not because it’s environmentally crippling

This is what fracking is: It has the potential to cause huge harm – but Natascha Engels is upset that she is being prevented from causing such harm.

Here’s another name to add to the list of those responsible for the climate catastrophe and mass extinction we’re all facing: Natascha Engel.

She has resigned after only six months as the UK’s shale gas commissioner – not because fracking is hugely harmful to the environment, but because rules that try to protect that environment are stopping it.

She is upset because she has been prevented from doing harm. Contemptible.

The UK’s shale gas commissioner is resigning after just six months, saying fracking is being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes.

Current government rules mean fracking must be suspended every time a 0.5 magnitude tremor is detected.

But Natascha Engel said this cautious approach to earth tremors had created a de facto ban on fracking.

She claimed campaign groups “were driving policy” – but the groups say fracking damages the environment.

Source: Fracking tsar resigns after six months over ‘ridiculous’ rules – BBC News


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Torygraph Launches Scathing Attack On Commons Standards Commissioner After Rifkind/Straw Ruling

Painful though it is to agree with the Torygraph, the paper is absolutely right to go for Kathryn Hudson’s jugular in its editorial about her ruling on the Rifkind/Straw cases.

It seems that, rather than investigating MPs and uncovering wrongdoing, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is more interested in defending them against any investigation or criticism.

Where the Telegraph editorial questions whether she is fit to hold her post, This Writer would question whether that post should be dissolved altogether and potential wrongdoing by MPs referred to the police – preferably to be investigated by a force not directly connected to the Member in question or Parliament itself.

In her ruling, Kathryn Hudson, criticised the journalists who broke the story, commenting: “The distorted coverage of the actions and words of the Members concerned has itself been the main cause of the damage.

“If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two Members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals.”

But the Telegraph retorted with its own scathing editorial this week, saying the “sorry tale” of both ex-MPs proved “beyond doubt” that those in the Commons could not be trusted to regulate themselves over lobbying.

“Ms Hudson’s credulity towards MPs raises questions about whether she is fit to hold her post,” leader writers wrote, “yet her performance is laudable in comparison with the egregious work of the Standards Committee.

“Far from accepting any error by Sir Malcolm or Mr Straw, or any flaw in the rules they so nimbly stepped around, the committee suggests that the failing here lies with the public for not properly “understanding” the role of MPs.

It continued, saying: “That is bad enough. Worse are the committee’s words on the press. It is only because of investigative journalism that the conduct of Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw became known to the voters they were supposed to serve.

“Yet the committee’s report amounts to a warning to journalists not to carry out such investigations in future, promising to ‘consider further the role of the press in furthering…understanding and detecting wrongdoing’.”

Source: Daily Telegraph Launches Scathing Attack On Commons Standard Commissioner After Rifkind/Straw Ruling

Rifkind and Straw didn’t break lobbying rules – it seems they only offered

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Not the only Tory suspected of wrong-doing.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Not the only Tory suspected of wrong-doing.

Parliament’s standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, has let former MPs Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw off the hook after they were accused of corruption – but is this because they only offered to break the rules, rather than actually breaking them?

Rifkind and Straw were filmed secretly by Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary programme, speaking with an undercover reporter posing as a representative of a fake Hong Kong firm, ‘PMR’.

This representative asked Sir Malcolm if he would be able to provide advance information on HS3 – the mooted high-speed train route linking the northeast of England with the northwest.

He was recorded saying: “I could write to a minister… And I wouldn’t name who was asking… But I would say I’ve been asked to establish what your thinking is on X, Y, Z. Can you tell me what that is?”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said on the programme: “It’s absolutely clear in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament that they have to be open and frank in all communications and yet he was saying on that clip that he would be able to write to ministers, and he wouldn’t have to say who exactly he was representing.

“Well that would be a clear breach of the Code of Conduct and an example of, here, an experienced Member of Parliament rather using their privileged position as a public servant in trying to get access to information which would benefit individuals and this company in a way that I think the public would find totally unacceptable.”

But of course, he didn’t actually do it, because PMR was a fictitious company.

Jack Straw was filmed telling an undercover reporter how he managed to get Ukrainian law changed in order to allow another company to run its business more easily there – a perfectly legal and reasonable activity, according to Dispatches.

But then he said that EU regulations had been hampering the business so he “got in to see the relevant director general and his officials in Brussels” and got the regulations changed. He said: “The best way of doing things is under the radar.”

Sir Alistair Graham pointed out, on the programme: “That’s worrying because that’s saying ‘I can do these things without transparency’ – without the
openness and frankness that the MPs’ Code of Conduct is expecting is the normal behaviour from Members of Parliament.”

But, again, he didn’t actually do anything “under the radar” because PMR was a fictitious company.

So Ms Hudson cleared both former MPs of any wrong-doing – and gave both Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph (with whom the programme had run its investigation as a joint affair) a lashing.

“If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of the House.”

This seems unreasonable as Dispatches actually filmed both these people making their claims, and measured them against the words of Sir Alistair Graham – and there was plenty of qualification in the voice-over, explaining what was permitted by the rules and what was not.

What was she really saying? That Rifkind and Straw had to carry out their suggestions before they could be accused of anything? Wouldn’t that be leaving things a little late? Fixing the barn door after the horse has bolted, to quote a well-known phrase?

Remember, this is the standards commissioner who was reluctant to examine the case of George Osborne, who paid mortgage interest on his paddock with taxpayers’ money before selling it off with a neighbouring farmhouse for around £1 million and pocketing the cash.

She refused to look into it, saying she had already investigated the case – but an examination of her report revealed no mention of the million-pound paddock at all.

Prime Minister David Cameron was said to have welcomed the commissioner’s whitewash, in a BBC report.

But Channel 4 is standing by its story and has asked broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to investigate the programme. Channel 4 says the programme raised legitimate questions and, in all honesty, this is true.

Let’s hope the result of this investigation takes Ms Hudson down a peg or two. She is long overdue for it.

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It’s your conspiracy of silence over benefit deaths that is disgraceful, IDS – not our hugely popular petition against it!

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Iain Duncan Smith has hit a new low this week.

The Gentleman Ranker has labelled the British people as “disgraceful” because they are supporting a petition to force his Department for Work and Pensions to reveal information that should be published routinely.

“Disgraceful”, is it?

To This Writer, it is “disgraceful” that the Secretary of State has lied to his fellow MPs yet again about the facts relating to people who have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits.

The “disgraceful” Duncan Smith said, “The Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance.” In fact, we all know – because I have published it here – that the DWP does hold, and could provide within the cost limit for Freedom of Information requests, figures on the number of claimants who have died. That was said in an email between the DWP and the Information Commissioner’s office on October 21, 2013.

His attitude has been pilloried by the Daily Mirror. Under the headline, “Iain Duncan Smith claims 200,000-strong campaign to reveal Tory benefits deaths is ‘disgraceful'”, reporter Dan Bloom stated: “Iain Duncan Smith has attacked a ‘disgraceful’ campaign to reveal the number of people who died after being declared fit for work.

“The Work and Pensions Secretary lashed out after coming under fire over the figures – which his department is waging a legal battle to keep secret.”

Duncan Smith, who readers of this blog like to describe as RTU (Return To Unit) and SNLR (Services No Longer Required) in acknowledgement of his failed career in the Army, was reacting to questions from Labour MPs Marie Rimmer and Debbie Abrahams, in the House of Commons yesterday (Monday).

Ms Rimmer asked “why the Government are refusing to publish—even though the Information Commissioner has instructed them to do so—the up-to-date statistics”.

His “disgraceful” response was: “I find it absurd that Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens under such schemes. I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who introduced the employment support allowance and the work capability assessment, and at no stage did they say that that led to people committing suicide. People in that situation are often in a very delicate and difficult position, and I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”

Let’s just correct him on that. When Labour introduced ESA and the work capability assessment ‘medical’ test, it was not perfect – This Blog has campaigned for the removal of both and their replacement with a more humane system since it was founded in 2011. However, it was not until Duncan Smith arrived at the DWP and ratcheted up the stress for claimants with the additional of hugely stressful conditions and demands that the deaths started mounting.

He knows perfectly well that 10,600 people died between January and November 2011. Why did his department not publish statistics for the full year? Was it because he and his ministers know that the period leading up to Christmas regularly suffers an increase in suicides and they did not want the figures to be even more calamitous than they were already?

Those numbers are a disaster for the UK’s social security system, yet this man seems to be proud of them. He is certainly determined to defend the regime that created them, and to keep it in place.

Debbie Abrahams – a long-time friend of This Blog due to her actions as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee in the last Parliament – asked: “Given that on 5 June the High Court found the Department’s actions—this time on PIP delays—unlawful, does the Secretary of State think that he and his Department are above the law? Why does he refuse to publish the details of the number of people who have died within six weeks of their claims for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, including those who have been found fit for work?”

Duncan Smith’s “disgraceful” response failed to answer either of these questions. He whined: “I find it unbelievable that she, the hon. Lady and others have spent all their time trying to make allegations about people going about their work. She knows very well that the Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance. It deals with individual cases where things have gone right or gone wrong and reviews them. It is a crying shame that Labour Members want to go out every day scaring and frightening people. It is no wonder they lost the election.”

No – he knows that the statistics he is withholding will terrify people. That is why he is trying to keep them secret. If they had been published, his Conservative Party would undoubtedly have lost the election instead of Labour.

It remains to be seen whether the facts are so abominable that Duncan Smith himself should face criminal proceedings, as many believe.

Is he withholding the evidence simply to save his own scrawny neck?

The petition currently has around 220,000 signatures. Please sign it if you haven’t already, and publicise it widely so we can push it up to 400,000 signatures as soon as possible.

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If you’ll publish an Information Commission decision on fracking, Torygraph, why not one on disability deaths?

Double standards from the press. Shocking? Well, not really. Just annoying.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the Information Commissioner has ordered the government to publish, in full, a government report into the impact of fracking on house prices.

The decision came after campaigners complained that the word “redacted” appeared 63 times in the 13-page document.

That’s all very well, and good on the Torygraph for publishing it.

But the same paper had an opportunity to report on the Information Commissioner’s decision to order the Department for Work and Pensions to publish the number of people who have died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance, after he granted my appeal on April 30 – and didn’t.

We know for a fact that the paper had the opportunity to do so, because I sent a press release to all of the national dailies. Only the Mirror picked up on it.

It seems the Torygraph is happy for evidence to be hidden when it is convenient – and house prices (it is clear) are more important to its editors than the deaths of a few thousand sick and disabled people.

A secret Government report into the impact of fracking on house prices and rural communities must be published in the public interest, the Information Commissioner has ruled.

Ministers last year published a heavily redacted version of the report, commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in response to a request from campaigners.

The word ‘redacted’ appeared 63 times in the 13-page document, which was entitled “shale gas: rural economy impacts”.

Among the deleted parts of the report were several sections on the “impact on housing demand and property prices”, fuelling fears that ministers who are in favour of fracking were hiding evidence about its drawbacks.

Following an appeal by campaigners the Information Commissioner on Thursday ordered the Government to publish the report in full, saying there was “a strong public interest” in the Government’s policy on fracking and research on it.

Source: Fracking: ministers ordered to publish secret report into impact on house prices – Telegraph

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Delay in decision on ESA deaths – to influence the election?

Is the Information Commissioner delaying a decision on my 'ESA deaths' request because it might influence the general election? If so, why delay that decision in the first place? [Image: BBC]

Is the Information Commissioner delaying a decision on my ‘ESA deaths’ request because it might influence the general election? If so, considering the appeal was made in October, why delay that decision so long in the first place? [Image: BBC]

Readers of this blog may recall that This Writer has been in dispute with the Department for Work and Pensions over its refusal to supply information on the number of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance who have died after making their claim.

The most recent Freedom of Information request was made in May 2014 – nearly a year ago – and was turned down after an illegally-long delay, on grounds that were not acceptable. An appeal was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office in October. That was six and a half months ago.

In March, Yr Obdt Srvt was contacted by the ICO and told a Decision Notice was being drafted and should be with me soon. That was seven weeks ago – nearly two months. Three weeks later, the message was that it was on its intended signatory’s desk, and that person would be reminded of it.

Today – in exasperation – I sent another message to the ICO. This time the question was whether there is a political angle to this delay.

Think about it: It seems most likely that the decision has gone in my favour – otherwise there would be no reason to delay it at all; it could be dispatched and the matter closed (until the inevitable appeal to the Information Tribunal).

But we are now in an election period. The release of potentially-sensitive information about the number of people who died while claiming a state benefit could influence the result of that election – especially if the number of deaths was unreasonably high.

Perhaps the ICO is delaying its decision in the belief that it would be better not to risk such influence. Unfortunately, this won’t wash – it is the ICO’s own tardiness that has created this situation. Would the decision have been delayed in November because of the possibility that it would influence an election? No – or at least it shouldn’t.

If this is information that should be in the public domain – as it seems likely the decision will say – then it should be released, whether it affects the election or not.

The clock is ticking. We’re all waiting.

What’s going on?

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Isn’t it interesting how Lib Dems change their policies when there’s an election coming?

Here’s a meme that’s appropriate to the subject. Click on it and you should go to a linked article on Another Angry Voice:

quislings

Here in Brecon and Radnorshire we have a Liberal Democrat MP – Roger Williams – who voted to support the Bedroom Tax (and probably all the others) at first and has now turned his back on it to support the Affordable Housing Bill, put forward by his party colleague Andrew George.

In local newspaper the Brecon and Radnor Express (of which Yr Obdt Srvt used to be the editor), he defended his actions by saying: “We found first of all it doesn’t work and secondly it creates hardship for many tenants. We’re not stupid enough not to amend legislation which has proven to be not fit for purpose.”

Further into the article Mr Williams admitted he initially supported the policy in the belief that it would actually do what the Conservatives said it would, and get people moving into appropriate housing: “My support was on the basis I get so many young people and couples coming to my office about inadequate housing while so many are living in social housing that is bigger than necessary. My support was on the basis we would get some mobility in social housing; that hasn’t happened.”

What utter, dissembling bilge!

We all knew the Bedroom Tax would never succeed in its stated aim of getting social tenants to move into more appropriately-sized accommodation because there simply wasn’t enough available – the Tories had sold off most of it during the 1980s and 1990s, while denying councils the ability to build replacements.

When the Bedroom Tax became law in April last year, only a tiny fraction of the amount of appropriate social housing was available for people affected, who wanted to downsize. The others were captives in their own homes, forced to pay a tax because they had been allocated a home that was larger than the law said they needed. In most cases, this was in turn because it was the only size accommodation available.

The Conservatives all knew that. Vox Political published it. It is unrealistic of Mr Williams to expect us to believe that he and the Liberal Democrats did not know it.

If you can’t believe what they’re saying about what they’ve done in the past, why should you believe what they say they’ll do in the future?

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Tories and the police – it’s like an acrimonious divorce

Confrontational: Theresa May has made an enemy of the police. They'll be taking solace from the thought that one day they might be asked to arrest her. [Image: Daily Telegraph]

Confrontational: Theresa May has made an enemy of the police. They’ll be taking solace from the thought that one day they might be asked to arrest her. [Image: Daily Telegraph]

Does anybody remember when the police were the Conservatives’ best friends? This was back in the days of the Thatcher government, when she needed them as political weapons against the unions.

She gave them generous pay and pension deals, let them move out of the communities they policed (providing a certain amount of anonymity – people no longer knew their local Bobby personally), and put them in patrol cars rather than on the beat. In return, she was able to rely on their loyalty.

The same cannot be said today. Current Home Secretary Theresa May wants you to think the police service is out of control.

In fact, it isn’t. The problem for Ms May, whose position on human rights makes it clear that she wants to be able to use the force as a tool of repression, is that our constables have found better ways of upholding the law.

This is why May’s tough talk on reforming the police rings hollow. She wants to break the power of the Police Federation, our constabularies’ trade union – but her attack is on terms which it is already working to reform.

She has demanded that the Federation must act on the 36 recommendations of the Normington Report on Police Federation Reform in what appears to be a bid to make it seem controversial.

But the report was commissioned by the Federation itself, not by the Home Office. It acknowledges problems with the organisation that may affect the wider role of the police and makes 36 recommendations for reform – whether the Home Secretary demands it or not.

One is left with the feeling that Ms May is desperate to make an impression. She has been very keen to point out that crime has fallen since she became Home Secretary – but this is part of a trend since Labour took office in the mid-1990s. Labour brought in neighbourhood policing, police community support officers, antisocial behaviour laws, improved technology and (more controversially) the DNA database. These resulted from Labour politicians working together with the police, not imposing ideas on them from above; they brought the police back into the community.

Theresa May’s work includes her time-wasting vanity project to elect ‘police and crime commissioners’, and her time-wasting project to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency with the almost-identical National Crime Agency.

She has taken a leaf from the Liberal Democrat book by claiming credit for changes that had nothing to do with her, suggesting that police reform only began when she became Home Secretary in 2010.

Is it this attitude to history that informs Michael Gove’s attempts to revise our attitude towards the First World War, as was reported widely a few months ago? If so, it is an approach that is doomed to failure and derision, as Mr Gove learned to his cost. Ms May deserves no better.

There is much that is wrong with the police service – and most of that is due to interference from Conservative governments.

Thankfully, with the service and the Police Federation already working to resolve these issues, all Ms May can do is grumble from the sidelines where she belongs.

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Lucas, Miller and a law that worked so hard not to treat them equally

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Congratulations are due to Green MP Caroline Lucas, who walked free from court today after criminal charges against her were overturned.

She had been charged with obstructing a public highway and a public order offence, during high-profile anti-fracking protests last summer. Neither offence carries a prison sentence – the maximum penalty for either charge would have been a fine of up to £1,000.

District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.

On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any actual obstruction of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.

It is good for British justice that Ms Lucas was acquitted – but bad for British justice that she was taken to court in the first place, most particularly because the case contrasts so strongly with that of disgraced former cabinet minister Maria Miller.

Miller claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money under false pretences. You can call that fraud, if you like (maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment).

Did she go to court? No.

Because she is a member of Parliament, the financial irregularity was investigated by a Parliamentary body, the Commons Committee on Standards. Rather than take the advice of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who recommended that Miller pay back the full amount, the committee ruled that she should return just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for obstructive behaviour during the investigation.

Surely everybody can see the double-standard here?

The least we can learn from these two stories is that the law absolutely does not treat everybody equally.

Ms Lucas was arrested, detained at Her Majesty’s convenience and now she has faced trial for the offences alleged against her. This MP, who opposes the government in Parliament, was then acquitted after a fair trial and has the support of the general public in this matter.

Miller was accused of a far more serious crime than Ms Lucas but has not been arrested, has not been detained, and has not been tried for the offences alleged against her. The then-government minister was whitewashed by her colleagues and only resigned because of a public outcry against the decision.

What conclusion can the public draw, other than that government MPs are effectively above the law?

David Cameron’s government can only redeem itself with two actions: It must remove Parliament’s right to investigate claims of financial irregularity by MPs and placing this duty firmly where it belongs – with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The other action?

Obvious, really…

Maria Miller must face a criminal trial, charged with fraud.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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