Real Labour – progressives are relatively thin on the ground

Interesting news via Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice:

Labour MPs yesterday split three ways in a Commons vote on one of the government’s key environmental proposals

The committee vote came in the House of Commons on the statutory instrument (SI) for the fourth carbon budget, on whether or not to accept to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations that total emissions in 2023-27 should be set at 1950 MtCO2 (a 50% reduction from 1990 levels).

Labour MPs Dennis Skinner and Geoffrey Robinson voted against, Nic Dakin and Ian Mearns abstained and the other Labour MPs voted in favour, as did all the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Aside from the oddity of the three-way split, the vote also shows once again how even on topics where Labour official policy is in line with the Liberal Democrats, it is Conservative parliamentarians (even if only reluctantly following coalition agreements) who are regularly a more reliable source of support than Labour ones. As on electoral reform, the progressives in Labour are frequently very thin on the ground.

PMQs: Since when is the NHS a "micro" issue?

Cross posted from Liberal Democrat Voice:

A bit of a surprise at Prime MInister’s Questions. I expected Ed Miliband to ask about public sector pensions and the strike tomorrow. It was a bit odd when he asked about the NHS. Cameron later said that Miliband couldn’t fire off questions on the strikes subject “because he is in the pocket of the unions.” He also rather cheaply accused Miliband of fighting shy of Greece “because his plan is to make Britain like Greece.”

Then, Cameron reach his climax with a line which must have been honed over much midnight oil in Downing Street:

He has to talk about the micro because he can’t talk about the macro.

Slam. Dunk. Not.

Somehow I don’t think that’ll be appearing in the same collected quotes’ volume as “I have a dream” or “We shall fight them on the beaches” or even “I will announce the results in reverse order”. (Or indeed “Now wash your hands”). Perhaps someone should have added a note to this pre-prepared quote: “Don’t say this if Miliband asks about a big issue”

However, Miliband’s questioning on the NHS was reasonably sharp. We learnt all sorts of facts and figures. There are 163 organisations in the NHS now. After the government reforms there will be 521. Miliband said this was the opposite of Cameron’s “bonfire of the quangoes”. It hardly seems like an attack on bureaucracy.

Miliband’s other point was that the government is spending £852 million on NHS redudancies but many of the people being made redundant will be re-hired by the many new quangoes. Cameron could not deny this.

When you look at it like that, the reorganisation is a bit of a mess.

Other snippets were:

Trivia quiz answer alert: Sir Peter Tapsell is Father of the House.
MPs will have to pay 5% increased pension contributions – the top figure for public sector workers.
Dr Julian Huppert (LibDem) asked:

Does the Prime Minister believe that drugs policy has been failing for decades as he said in 2005 and does he agree that the Government should initiate a discussion of alternative ways, including the possibility of legalisation and regulation, to tackle the global drugs dilemma, as he voted for in 2002?

Cameron replied that he does not agree with the legalisation of drugs, focussed on the role of education and treatment.

The legendary Melanie

I have belatedly realised that my heroine, Melanie, was at Glastonbury. Here’s a rather shaky clip which shows her on the Spirit of ’71 stage with her son Beau-Jarred on guitar beside her.

She’s a legend. Of course, the song that she is singing here, “What have they done to my song, Ma” turned out to be profoundly prophetic when, a few years later, The Wurzels murdered her beautiful “Brand New Key” and sold the dead body as a recording known as “The Combine Harvester”.

The strike: trying to hold back the inevitable

Of late, I have found much to disapprove in the government’s performance. Michael Gove would be one quick example. The man drives me nuts.

But on public sector pensions I believe the government has got it right. It has been clear for years that a government would have to, sooner or later, bite the bullet on pensions. Private companies have been scaling back pension costs for years. It’s a fact of life.

Channel 4 News Factcheck have looked into this claim by Cameron yesterday:

I can look you in the eye and say public service pensions will remain among the very best… much better, indeed, than for many private sector workers.

Their analyst, Patrick Worral and writer Cathy Newman, find that Cameron is right on this – firmly in the “fact” area of their checking indicator. They conclude:

Private sector employees are now so much worse off in their retirement – and on average their salaries are no longer any higher.

You can read the copious details behind Channel 4 News’ conclusions here.

So the strike tomorrow is ludicrous. OK, I support the right to strike. But these folks are on a hiding to nothing. They won’t get much support from the rest of us. Why should they? When the proposals take effect, their pensions will still be better than the private sector, and their pay levels are higher.

Baron Teverson on House of Lords reform

Here is a comment from Robin Teverson, member of the House of Lords, in response to my post here on the recent Commons debate on the subject. I am reproducing it here to give it a tad more prominence that it would get beneath my original post.

Though most of this is true the area I do disagree with is that it is so obvious that the reformed Lords would not challenge the Commons for supremacy. I suspect it would, just like in the EU the Parliament more and more challenges the Council of Ministers (which has historically been the more powerful ‘house’ of EU legislation). But why do we need to worry about this? The new reformed Lords will be more representative and the people that get elected to it will see themselves as having at least equal legitimacy as the Commons – so lets have a bit of competition. Without a written constitution with division of powers, and an unrepresentative first past the post system in the Commons, this challenge in reality is inevitable – so lets celebrate it. If anything forces the Commons to go for PR it will be challenge of a more legitimate second chamber.

But all this misses the real point. The House of Lords at the moment, as a primarily revising chamber, simply allows the Commons to get away with doing a lousy job at legislation and calling the Government of the day to account. If there was no second chamber the Commons would have to do the job its supposed to do in the first place itself. In the business world there is a phrase – get it ‘right first time’, and we should apply that lesson in Parliament too. So instead of messing around the real answer is to have one chamber only and abolish the second. But of course to do that and avoid electoral dictatorship we would have to have a proportional system of election for what is now the Commons- but of course that option has now been lost for at least a decade, probably more unless competition from a reformed Lords really does lead to that challenge of legitimacy.

Robin Teverson
Member of the House of Lords

Lords reform: Three reasons for optimism from the Commons debate last night

The girls were out last night, so I could watch BBC Parliament without stinting. It just happened be the Lords Reform debate on. A golden back of the net moment.

Ok, there was the normal procession of dinosuars from both sides of the chamber: Laing, Jenkin, Pound, Bell etc. And the normal element of Clegg-bashing.

But amongst all that, there were three reasons for optimism for Lords reformists:

1. Chris Bryant, Labour’s spokesman on these matters, is full square behind reform. His bookend, Sadiq Khan, is rather anti. But Bryant, to give him his due, is full on in support:

I hope that everyone unites to improve the proposals, because they certainly need improvement. If the Government are too intractable, the measures will die. However, let us not lose sight of the unsustainability of the present arrangements. Surely, if one wants to tell other people how to live their lives, which is in essence what a Member of a legislature does, the least one can do is to put oneself up for election. (my bolding)

His speech was music to my ears. As was David Miliband’s. So it’s a tick in the box for Labour support, notwithstanding the Bells and Pounds.

2. The main thrust of opposition to the proposals was around the Commons losing supremacy to a strengthened Lords. This argument was repeated endlessly. But it was rebutted very soundly by a Tory. Yes. A Tory. Step forward Laura Sandys. A breath of fresh air:

Obviously Parliament is not just this House, but it appears that this House, the legitimate House, is the House that lacks confidence in itself. The big fear is that giving more legitimacy to the House of Lords will diminish powers here, but the reforms that we are discussing, which will mean greater legitimacy for the other place, give us an opportunity collectively to hold the Government to greater account: to examine, cajole, petition and more effectively, not less effectively, ensure that there is greater scrutiny of Government. We need to claim back more powers collectively, and with a legitimate other place we can add to Parliament’s powers without any erosion of the powers in this Chamber.

3. One of the things I have most feared about this reform initiative, is that it has, so far, got terribly mixed up with Clegg-bashing. Fortunately, last night, that changed. David Miliband emphasised, albeit patronisingly, that Labour should not concentrate on “small fry” (Clegg). But more significantly, Mark Harper, the Tory at the Cabinet Office, did an excellent job at winding up the debate. There was no sneering, booing or hissing while he talked. And he is a Tory. He re-iterated the government’s commitment to introducing the reforms in time for the first elections in 2015. It was very reassuring to hear an unhissed Tory saying this.