Wednesday, 30 July 2008
The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.
Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
This led to me musing on the sociology of everyday life in Parliament.MPs are constantly on the move around the Palace of Westminster and its offices trooping off for votes and meetings- so your paths cross all the time. Most people - visitors and researchers excepted- know who people are, often what their names are and sometimes a fair deal about them. However if whenever you encounter anyone you know you greet them, smile at them or engage them in pleasantries you wouldn't timely get to your destination or would be constantly engaged in reciprocal greetings. So people select- walk past some, greet others, smile diffidently or nod at many - but on what basis?
Generally if you are regularly on a committees with people you greet as you pass them; most though not all party colleagues get a cheery wave or small talk. Spokespeople greet their opposite numbers and gregarious jolly people talk to all and sundry. MPs in neighbouring constituencies chat about the folks back home. However there is the 'grandee rule'.
Top ministers and former ministers of eminence or that club of MPs who by virtue of longevity or pomposity feel they have stature qualify as 'grandees' even if they don't all act like them.
Grandees blank most people but do greet fullsomely other grandees as they pass them hence mutually reinforcing their status- reciprocal preening. Some top press corps chaps have grandee status and act according to the same rules and etiquette. Some ministers to be fair (Jack Straw is a good example) act like anyone else in a lift. Others can change on demotion and gladly reclaim ordinary bloke status or prowl round the place in meaningful isolation like Alan Milburn. John Reid jovially approached Ken Clark and Malcolm Rifkind while we all stood waiting the other night for the voting to finish "Ah the young Turks, is it ?" he said with an ironic chuckle
Grandee talk with a hint of wistfulness.
Sunday, 22 June 2008
I must admit to a slight sense of disappointment that Kelvin McKenzie will not stand as the Sun Newspaper candidate for David Davies’ seat as I have long held the belief that the media if not actually running the country, would like to – and it would be good to make that transparent to all.
Many journalists become MPs but Davies-(politician) versus McKenzie-(media pundit and Murdoch proxy ) could have been fascinating.There is a very interesting account of a previous Media Moghul v Politician by –election in Jonathan Calder’s House Points http://liberalengland.blogspot.com/2008/06/house-points-press-barons-by-elections.html
Davies’ resignation took us all by surprise. The news of his resignation broke while I was in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill Committee. The whisper went round the room and people (including whips) kept leaving the room to find out just what the heck was going on.
We do though live in strange times.We have just had a journalist, Boris Johnston with no previous government experience elected Mayor of London ,vigorously backed on a daily basis by other journalists on Associated Newspaper’s Evening Standard. They had a special “get Ken” unit.
So Kelvin could have been optimistic. I doubt very much though if Boris has a coherent programme for government but he’s entertaining and good copy. It all fits Jay Leno’s famous description of politics as ‘ show business for ugly people '. Since it is ‘ celebrity’ and ‘personality’ that nowadays gets people reading papers, tuning in etc, reducing politics to show biz for ugly people makes business sense to the media– either that or abandoning covering politics altogether.
Monday, 28 April 2008
John Pugh has explored the possibility of using robots for home help.
The Liberal Democrat MP attended an Intelligent Robots in Science and Society seminar at the House of Commons, quizzing top scientists on how robots are playing an increasing role in human life.
The event took place to make politicians aware of how robots can help with people's daily chores, as well as with medical uses.
Expressing an interest in artificial intelligence - machines that think - for some time, Mr Pugh said: "What I discovered is that those people trying to build robots that help with chores are programming in human characteristics.
"They don't need to have faces or nod their head when receiving instructions but apparently people want that so they are developing human features for machines. They are grappling with the task of teaching robots good manners- not to invade our body space etc.
"It's all very exciting stuff. I am not sure that we're ready yet for a robot home help but the ones I met seemed friendly enough."
Monday, 31 March 2008
See it HERE
Monday, 17 March 2008
Last week Graham Allen ,the Labour MP. for Nottingham East got hold off and sent round to us all the ill famed John Lewis list of price limits for furnishings.
It was the first time I and most MP.s had seen this though if you have followed the media coverage you would have thought we were using it as a shopping catalogue on a weekly basis.
Watching Nick Robinson on BBC describe it all with a Cheshire cat like grin you could'nt help thinking there's some kind of war going on between the media and the politicians and he had just found a fresh arms cache. Were all M.Ps buying themselves exotic kitchens,£750 T.Vs ?
Putting aside the glaringly obvious fact that BBC pundits like our Nick are also paid from the public purse and don't publish any of their expenses, there are issues here. The Westminster system is sloppy, not effectively monitored and can allow individual MP.s without breaking any rules to act in ways not foreseen at the time the rules were made.
The rules badly need changing.
You don't need to go back very far in history to find an age when most MP.s had to be independently wealthy men with their own house in London who visited their constituencies only at election time like Viceroys.
In fact one of my predecessors as Southport's MP became an actual Viceroy of India with a wife,Lady Curzon, who described Southport as a "4th Rate Brighton" and its inhabitants as an "idle,ignorant,impossible lot of ruffians".
Nowadays MP.s tend to live in their constituencies but spend half their week in London where they stay most mights in the Commons til 10.00. In consequence they need accommodation in central London which has the highest property values on God's earth.
To prevent us joining those other poor souls sleeping on the embankment, parliament allows us an annual sum which can cover renting a furnished flat, renting and furnishing an unfurnished flat or paying towards a mortgage on a property.
The average price of a one bedroom flat in central London is now around £300,000 to buy and around £1800 per month to rent-so you will not be surprised to learn that once most M.P.s have paid their rent, council tax and rates- their allowance is largely spent. Its a fixed sum that's been published and limited every year.
All the rented flats not surprisingly have kitchens and MP.s are not so generous as to buy their landlord a new one. It therefore is entirely possible that no M.P. has claimed for a new kitchen though the '£10,000 kitchen' was the main strap line of the story.
Only an MP. who has been in parliament for a decades-and probably finished paying a mortgage could even dream of one. For most of us ordinary MP.s making any but the most modest use of the John Lewis list -even if we knew about it- would result in us going short on the rent and risking eviction- the embankment beckons !
As for top notch TVs ... well you're welcome to watch my London TV. but you might prefer your own. Some sixth sense or the instincts of a Japanese tourist must have persuaded me to photograph it as its two years older than this photo now.
Monday, 10 March 2008
I awoke on Thursday to find I was listed on the Daily Mail Roll of Honour. I had voted for a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. I think I have publicised my reasons sufficiently.
However being a hero in the eyes of the Mail was new – as I have sharp disagreements with their editorial line on other occasions and the loaded way they treat some subjects , though I admire enormously the way its laid out .
Whenever I get a constituent who angrily cuts up a newspaper cutting and sends it to me to comment, its invariably the Mail inside the envelope .
I seriously wonder if people with high blood pressure should buy the Mail as often it seems designed to make people splutter with rage over their cornflakes.
Anyway on Friday at the Nick Clegg Rally in the new dockside Echo Conference Centre I was stood next to Brenda Carlin, a London journalist I know who worked for the Daily Telegraph.
He wryly asked what horrible punishment had been meted out to me for ignoring the three line whip.
I responded in equally jovial mode.
“I’m on the Daily Mail Roll of Honour”, I said. “Given my take on the Mail- its like being on the Gestapo Christmas Card List. “
“Oh no”, said Brendan “Its much worse than that!”.
He then handed me his new business card .
It read ‘Brendan Carlin -Mail on Sunday’
He had moved papers !
Despite that it was a good conference in Liverpool .Nick’s speech excellent.
We had a stall promoting Southport there and sold raffle tickets to the most unlikely people. We even had Michael Crick of Newsnight weakening to the teams sales pitch until scruples of journalistic independence restrained him.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
A few days before the balloon went up I kept running across him first at an informal sandwich lunch in a tiny room in the Commons where we in the parliamentary Life Group briefed him on the Embryology Bill and later in the huge grand Anglican Cathedral at the Liverpool Capital of Culture lecture.
He's a very pleasant, gentle man and he looks wise, sounds wise ( with elegant ways of phrasing his points) ...but the jury is out on whether he actually is wise. Certainly not 'worldy wise' or media savvy though he actually has a very intelligent press officer. Listening to his lecture on culture in the Anglican Cathedral I had the feeling that lofty sentiments were being expressed but the core of his message remained a little elusive.
That's OK if you're talking about culture but if you are going to talk about such an emotive.press sensitive topic as Sharia Law best make your thoughts crystal clear...and he clearly didn't or perhaps his thoughts weren't actually totally clear in the first place.
Currently with the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government we are doing an enquiry into the delicate matter of Community cohesion and went to Peterborough an area where migrant population figures run into five figures. We met the migrant workers who told us what an excellent job the council was doing in integrating them and residents who told us what a rotten job the council was doing. The most vocal resident complaining about the newcomers was incidentally a second generation immigrant.
In my picture you can see us talking to selected migrants (from right to left) a Roma Czech policeman, a Lithuanian girl, a man from Somaliland, a lady from Portugal and a Kurdish refugee from Iraq.
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
This week promises to be a bad week for M.P.s as the media pore over the details of the new pay deal and expense arrangements for M.Ps. to be voted on on Thursday.
For me its very simple I made the decision when I first got elected to a public office never to vote on my own terms and conditions and so far have never knowingly done so and actually resent being put in the position of being able to do. I’ve just signed a Commons motion on that very point. It doesn’t stop people telling you that you have just voted for your own huge, pay rise etc or the brickbats being thrown.
There are two extreme schools of thought found amongst elected politicians on this sensitive subject- one is the hair shirt school arguing that elected representatives are in such low repute that heroic acts of self denial are the only path to atonement and the other is the ‘vote and be damned school’ who argue that since the public don’t give you much credit whatever you vote for so you might as well vote as you see fit. Most politicians fall somewhere between these extremes- and dream of the day when politicians terms and conditions are tied to some agreed national scale and taken out of politics!
I think one of the suggestions up before the house endeavours to do that.
Anyway looking at the recommendations we will see some changes. My staff salaries will hopefully be no longer classified as ‘my expenses’ and receipts will be necessary for all expense claims over £50 (not £250 as at present) – though personally because I never knew any different- I have sent receipts in for every paper-clip since I was elected.
Expenses of course cover your travel back and forth to London every week which is thought of as less than an indulgence. I asked last week Brian Iddon the genial and principled Labour M.P. for Bolton who is retiring next election what was the thing he would miss least.
“The travel” he said.
If like me you have sat around eleven o clock at night on the sluggish Northern Line to Southport on Thursday nights in Winter week after week after the long haul from London and just wanted to get home and have a bath and go to sleep you will know what I mean. Or worse still got to the