Tag Archives: Patrick Mercer

How can we force politicians to do what they say?

One down: Patrick Mercer resigned because the weight of corruption allegations against him was too great. But what are the other 649 MPs hiding?

One down: Patrick Mercer resigned because the weight of corruption allegations against him was too great. But what are the other 649 MPs hiding?

We need to talk about the culture of deception that is festering at the heart of the British political classes.

Every party is guilty of this to some degree – all of them. They have all made promises to the electorate and then, once in positions of power, they have done exactly whatever else they wanted.

On Tuesday, Patrick Mercer resigned as an MP rather than face suspension from the House of Commons over allegations that, rather than carrying out the will of his constituents, he had corruptly set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group to life Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth, after having been offered money to do so by undercover reporters.

His resignation came 11 months after he resigned from the Parliamentary Conservative Party, and this decision was made in the knowledge that a TV documentary was about to present the allegations to the country. Would he have taken these actions otherwise? It’s highly doubtful. Nobody resigns when they think they got away with it.

Nobody seems to be mentioning the fact that this allegedly corrupt MP managed to keep his seat in the Commons for 11 months after the allegations came out – that’s nearly one-fifth of a Parliamentary term when he was still drawing his taxpayer-funded salary. Is that reasonable?

Mercer is, of course, just one individual case. In the lifetime of this Parliament we have seen entire Parliamentary political parties turn on their electors in betrayal. It is to be hoped that nobody has forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the unemployed when it failed to oppose the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act that retrospectively imposed penalties on people who refuse to take part in state-sponsored ‘slave labour’ schemes.

Labour’s front bench claimed it had negotiated important concessions, including an inquiry into the effectiveness of mandatory work activity – and when is that due to report? Around 30 Labour MPs are still entitled to hold their heads high, because they rebelled and voted against the legislation in any case.

Far worse is the behaviour of the Conservative Party, who promised that the National Health Service would be safe under a Tory government and then set in motion the wholesale upheaval that we have witnessed over the past few years, with funding squandered on reorganisation and privatisation of services that is intended to lead to the abolition of the publicly-funded health service in a few years’ time.

Pensions are going the same way; the Workplace Pension discourages employers from participation, meaning they are trying to push their workforces into taking up private schemes instead. Meanwhile the state pension has been ‘simplified’ in a way that means people have to work longer before receiving it. The intention is, eventually, to privatise pension provision altogether and ensure only those on higher pay can afford them.

And the Tories are busy abolishing the rest of the welfare state as well. The harsh regime of sanctions and slave-labour schemes run by the Department for Work and Pensions is intended to soften up the workforce – and potential workforce – for the introduction of privately-run schemes, into which you will be expected to pay to insure against the possibility of becoming jobless – the policies would provide your income during any such period (as long as you didn’t stay out of work for very long) instead of the government.

The problem with such proposals is that, if they are run along the same lines as certain health insurance schemes, they would be scams – as the conditions would be rigged to ensure that the companies running them never had to pay out. This is what we have learned from the fact that the criminal Unum Corporation has been advising the DWP on its policies.

And then, worst of all, we have the so-called Liberal Democrats, who promised to eradicate student fees in the run-up to the 2010 election and betrayed that pledge two months before the poll took place, in a backroom power-sharing deal with the Conservative Party.

The same organisation has gone on to support the Conservatives every step of the way to dismantling the welfare state and reducing the vast majority of the UK’s workforce to conditions we have not seen since the early 20th century at the latest.

Many of us have been dismayed at this apparent betrayal by an organisation that we all hoped would have put a brake on the more excessive Tory policies, but VP Facebook commenter John Elwyn Kimber has cast illumination on the reasons we were mistaken.

“19th-century Whiggery, ‘Orange’ or ‘Manchester’ Liberalism, call it what you like, was about the unfettered power of new money – hence identical to modern ‘Toryism’,” he wrote.

“Just as Eisenhower was the last civilised Republican president, traditional patrician Downton-Abbey-style Conservatism of the more socially-responsible sort finally departed British politics after the MacMillan government. Even the sitting-on-the-fence Heathites, the ‘Tory Wets’, were gleefully kicked out of the cabinet by Margaret Thatcher after the ‘Falklands election’ in 1983, with the exception of Whitelaw who was retained [though sidelined] as a sort of sop to the traditionalists.

“Since when, the political consensus has been for whiggery-pokery all the way up till now. So while the understanding of ‘Liberal’ by Lib Dem grass roots voters is a mid-twentieth-century one, all about tolerance and socially-progressive policies, it seems obvious that Clegg’s cabinet are only too happy to be rabid whigs nuzzled up to another lot of rabid whigs – the only difference is in the mood-music provided for the grass roots in each case.”

The message is that we were all deceived – again.

The problem is that there is almost nothing we can do about it that doesn’t take a lot of time – a commodity that is in short supply.

Historically, the UK does not carry a box on the ballot paper marked “None of the above”. This means there is no direct democratic way of refusing all the candidates for election to a particular constituency and demand better. Nor is there ever likely to be, because our corrupt politicians know that would be equivalent to turkeys voting for Christmas.

Alternatively, we can form new political parties and try to beat the corrupt old parties at their own game. The problem with this is one of traction; it takes new parties many years to gain enough recognition to become a serious force. UKIP is only beginning to gain such recognition now, after more than 20 years – and this is as a protest party against membership of the European Union. If that party’s supporters took a look at its other policies, they’d desert en masse.

Another possibility is similarly time-consuming: You actually join one of the main political parties and try to effect change from within. The problem here is that you would be fighting established members every step of the way. It has been done effectively in the past, though – look at the way Labour was transformed into New Labour by the influence of a few neoliberal infiltrators, and consider the damage that has done to the party’s reputation and effectiveness.

The worst option is the most popular: You do nothing. This is, of course, the wide and easy path to disaster – but so many people are feeling disaffected because of the barriers that the corrupt political classes have put up against democracy, that they honestly can’t see the point of voting.

This of course means our government will be elected by an ever-diminishing group of electors, and makes it all the more possible for our ever-more-elite group of corrupt politicians to argue for those who don’t vote to lose the right to take part in elections. You will be disenfranchised.

Then you really will have no power to change anything at all.

Is that what you want?

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Reasons to be fearful for a warm Summer’s day

Hero of the week: Peter Hain put the record straight about the cause of the UK's current economic woes (bankers) and the Conservatives' attitude to bank regulation (they wanted less of it before the crash). At long last, the facts came out on a national media outlet!

Hero of the week: Peter Hain put the record straight about the cause of the UK’s current economic woes (bankers) and the Conservatives’ attitude to bank regulation (they wanted less of it before the crash). At long last, the facts came out on a national media outlet!

There are a lot of potential topics for discussion but yr obdt srvt (that’s me) is very short of time on this sunny Sunday, so today’s article is going to have to be a quick run through of Things You Need to Know.

First up, following yesterday’s feature on how the Tories are blaming the civil service for the problems they have been creating, here are a couple more examples: The Guardian tells us that housing ministers are ordering councils to help families stay in their homes, rather than re-housing them in expensive bed & breakfasts for longer than the maximum period. Apparently this breaks the law. Minister Mark Prisk said he had created a £2 million fund to help councils currently breaking the rules.

Nice one. Shame it won’t scratch the surface of the £2 billion that has been spent by UK councils on temp accommodation since 2009 – that’s an average of £500 million per year; 250 times the puny amount Mr Prisk is offering, to alleviate problems his government has created with (for example) the Bedroom Tax.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph tells us that Jeremy Hunt has ordered the NHS to find a solution to the crisis in Accident & Emergency departments – that he and other Tory ministers have created – by next April.

These are further examples of the current Conservative ‘Create a Crisis and Blame Someone Else’ strategy we saw outlined in yesterday’s Vox Political article.

The BBC and many others have reported that Tim Yeo has joined the growing ranks of Tory MPs involved in ‘lobbying’ scandals, alongside Patrick Mercer from last week. Unlike Mercer, the allegation does not involve taking money to raise an issue (paid advocacy) – instead it is alleged that he coached an organisation, telling representatives what to say to the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee. It’s still corruption, and it’s staggering that these people are being allowed to continue as MPs while investigations go on, and possibly even afterwards, if they are found guilty. Should we really have people who have been proven to be dishonest, helping to make decisions on the future of our country?

Should we, Mr Cameron? Mr Shapps? Mr… Smith? Mr Hunt?

As some of us predicted long ago, Iain (Duncan) Smith’s benefit cuts (you mustn’t call them ‘reforms’ – that only encourages him) have led to a 40 per cent rise in the number of people seeking help from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

It’s just a shame that funding for the CAB (much of it from the government or statutory authorities) is declining, isn’t it? It’s almost as if somebody planned it that way, to make it even harder for poor people to get any justice. (I write as the vice-chair of a Welsh CAB so, believe me, I know my facts).

On the subject of justice, did anyone hear John Finnemore on The Now Show, laying into inJustice Secretary Chris Grayling’s ‘reform’ (there’s that word again) of the Legal Aid system that will make it impossible for anyone in that system to get justice, unless – you guessed it – they’re rich.

“Legal Aid will have a financial eligibility threshold. To be fair, this doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world,” he said. “And I can be confident about that, because right there next to it – as if deliberately placed there for purposes of comparison – are two of the worst ideas in the world.

“One – defendants will no longer have the right to choose their own lawyer; two – legal aid contracts will be awarded on the basis of price-competitive tender, i.e. who’s cheapest, to private companies – like Tesco and Eddie Stobart. You know, the lorry guy.

“You might almost wonder whether this might affect the quality of the representation in some way but Chris Grayling, Minister of Justice and dispenser of none, assures us it will not… Even though everywhere else, the government is obsessed with getting us to choose… when it comes to poor people who’ve been arrested, suddenly Daddy knows best.

“The bargain-basement Eddie Stobart Legal Aid lawyers will be paid a flat fee, regardless of results and, best of all, regardless of whether the client pleads guilty – which is quick and cheap – or not guilty, which is not. Yes, Chris Grayling has actually created a system where privately-run Legal Aid firms have a direct financial incentive to persuade their clients to plead guilty, while simultaneously being under enormous pressure to slash costs to the bone in order to put in a tender low enough to keep the contract.

“Meanwhile, the career crims… tend to trust their regular solicitor and take their advice if they suggest they’d be better-off pleading guilty, but they’re certainly not going to take that advice from Eddie McTesco in his ‘My First Lawyer’ costume. So they’re going to start pleading not guilty to everything.

“Well done, Mr Grayling, you’ve pulled off the double – innocent people encouraged to plead guilty; guilty people to plead not guilty. What a merry, madcap world of misrule you have created, Mr Grayling, you absolute tit!”

Finally, still on the radio, did everyone hear Peter Hain on Any Questions, putting the record straight on the reasons for the economic crisis and the facts about bank regulation – two subjects about which the Conservatives have been hugely vocal in their lies for many years.

He was talking about the announcements last week by Labour’s leaders, on their future plans for welfare. He’s critical (which is a relief), but he said it would not be right to make promises about things that Labour can’t deliver.

“We can’t deliver because this economic policy of the Tory-Lib Dem government is failing on a spectacular scale,” he said. “They’re doing all these things, all these cuts, in order to bring borrowing down, the deficit down, debt down.

“What’s happening? Borrowing is £245 billion higher than they said it would be in 2010 when they began this cuts programme. The national debt is £309 billion higher – and the deficit is £78 billion higher.

“It’s because cutting and cutting and cutting is a way to putting people out of work, destroying businesses, they don’t pay taxes, you don’t get government revenues and everybody goes on benefit – that’s why this is a spectacular catastrophe and we’re going to have to rescue the country from that, and we’ve got to do it responsibly and honestly.”

Hear, hear.

Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, went on the attack with the usual rubbish about Labour overspending but didn’t get very far before Hain put him straight: “It was the banks that destroyed the economy, not the Labour government – it was the international banking system!”

Uproarious applause from the studio audience in Machynlleth (just up the road from me) where the broadcast was taking place. They – like most of the British population – had clearly been waiting years for someone to come out with that simple fact on a national media outlet: The banks caused the current economic situation, not Labour.

Let’s just repeat it: The banks caused the current economic situation, not Labour.

Anyone suggesting otherwise is just plain wrong.

Paterson riposted weakly, “Because Gordon Brown didn’t regulate them”. But Hain had his answer for that ready, as well.

“You wanted lighter regulation. Come on, remember – you wanted lighter regulation!”

And that was also true.

Paterson went further into idiocy by prattling about breaking the national credit card – the kind of stuff that we all now know is nonsense and that has been disproved irrefutably on this blog and in many other places – and about the private sector creating 1.25 million new jobs, which we know it hasn’t done, for example, because 200,000 were education jobs that the government redefined from public to private, probably in order to create another made-up statistic.

In other words, the Conservatives have no arguments for what they’re doing. No arguments about the economy. No arguments about the cuts they have been making.

I’ve met Peter Hain a couple of times, and I’ve had a few differences of opinion with him – but in this instance he was right on the button and far more effective in putting forward an argument for supporting Labour than anything Ed Miliband said in his “we’re supporting Tory policies because we think pretending to be Tories will win us votes” speech last week.

It was one of the worst speeches a Labour leader could have made, but if it prompts more Labour representatives, like Peter Hain, to stand up for the party and present a proper case for opposition to this hateful, incompetent, evil shower – the Coalition – then it might do some good in spite of itself.

MP resigns as Tory over lobbying claim – it must be time to sign the anti-corruption e-petition

Out of the Party: But would Patrick Mercer have resigned if a major TV documentary wasn't about to reveal allegations against him?

Out of the Party: But would Patrick Mercer have resigned if a major TV documentary wasn’t about to reveal allegations against him?

Tory MP Patrick Mercer has resigned from the Parliamentary Conservative Party to “save … embarrassment” over a BBC Panorama programme alleging he had broken lobbying rules.

Mercer, MP for Newark, will remain as an Independent but will not stand for re-election in 2015.

The coalition government is committed to setting up a statutory register of lobbyists – companies who influence government policy, often by paying current and former MPs for advice and guidance. But, you know, it’s one of those matters that just doesn’t seem to make it onto the legislative programme – like proper bank regulation and measures to make tax avoidance impossible.

Many of you know that I have a strong opinion about this. That is why I started an e-petition to ban MPs from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest. Lobbying would definitely be affected by such a ban.

The text runs as follows:

We call on HM Government for new legislation to ensure that:

i. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest; and

ii. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation which has made – or currently makes – donations to themselves personally or their political party.

We believe this is necessary to prevent corruption. It is also in accord with the spirit of political reform supported by the government.

I’m not saying Mr Mercer has been engaging in unacceptable behaviour; we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

But I am saying that, if the ban I propose had been in place, he would have known not to do it.

Please visit the e-petition’s page and sign, if you haven’t already done so – and, please, tell all your friends.

In fact, tell all your enemies as well – it’ll be in their best interests too!