UK Politics

A Question for John Redwood: Are MPs Representatives or Delegates?

5 Feb 2013 at 15:49

John Redwood is a man of many opinions. Most of them are ones I agree with. He is a man I have immense respect and admiration for. I regard him as a friend. He’s also a superb blogger. So it was with some degree of horror that I read his blogpost on today’s gay marriage vote. This is how his blogpost ends.

My consultation with constituents has been wide ranging. Some have responded to the website request on the blog, where a majority favour the Bill by a margin of 4 to 1. I have also had 96 letters against and 7 in favour in reply. More have responded to my Parliamentary email, where a large majority have opposed the Bill. In the last two days alone I have had 4 emails in favour and 45 against. I am very conscious that I cannot please everyone when the constituency is so split. I will keep my word and vote for the side that wrote in in larger numbers, which means voting No to the Bill.

This is a very odd way to decide how to cast a vote on an issue like this. Indeed, I would argue that it is wrong on this or any issue. Members of Parliament are elected as representatives not delegates. A cursory knowledge of Burkian writing and constitutional precedent tells us that MPs should act according to their judgement after informing themselves of the facts. Of course an MP should be lobbied by constituents and pressure groups. And an MP should listen to all those interests. But it is then the responsibility of an MP to come to his or her own considered judgement. To delegate this responsibility to pressure groups with the power to mobilise a huge letter writing campaign is surely an abrogation of parliamentary responsibility.

Will it end here? Will John use this way of deciding his vote in future? And if so, why not all the time?

I am all in favour of reforming our system to include more direct forms of democracy. But on this occasion I think John Redwood should have come to his own decision and not passed it off on others. He might just as well have said…

There go my people. I must follow them. I am their leader.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Jerry Hayes

5 Feb 2013 at 15:17

Your dad may have hurt you deeply by the way your mother was treated and you have every right to be confused, bitter and angry. But he is still your dad and those texts and letters show that he loves you. In time be at peace with him. If you travel through life full of hatred it will gnaw into your soul and humanity.

Jerry Hayes, Advice to Peter Huhne

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UK Politics

The Trials of Chris Huhne

4 Feb 2013 at 15:17

I’ve sat here for five minutes looking at a blank screen, not quite knowing what to write. You see, when a friend ends up in trouble, the last thing you want to do is stick the boot in. You want to empathise, sympathise and do what friends do. Stick by each other no matter what. I remember when Derek Conway had his troubles, back in 2008, I wrote THIS blogpost. Let me quote from it.

I believe in friendship. I believe that true friends don’t abandon each other in difficult times. I have a track record of standing by my friends when the going gets rough. I’ve done it when I knew it would cost me personally. I went on TV defending the Hamiltons over the rape allegations when people warned me not to as it could damage me politically. I publicly defended Edwina Currie over the publication of her diaries, when it would have been more politically expedient to join the baying throngs. And I have no hesitation in telling you that Derek Conway is a friend of mine. Anything I have to say about his conduct, I will say to his face. I don’t ‘diss’ on my friends in public. End. Of. Story.

I count Chris Huhne as a friend. I did yesterday, and I do today. I cannot imagine the feeling of pain and loss he will be feeling today. He, above anyone else, knows what an idiot he has been and will now have to face the consequences. Resigning from Parliament and facing a jail sentence – well, it doesn’t come a lot worse than that. Of course he was the architect of his own misfortune, and I don’t excuse the offence at all. I suspect quite a few of you reading this blogpost have considered doing what he did – transfer speeding points to your husband or wife. Some of you may have even done it. His first mistake was not to run this through the “how will this look if it gets out?” test. But perhaps his biggest mistake was then to lie about having done it.

Having written THAT blogpost last week about why I am falling out of love with politics, it would be hypocritical of me not to acknowledge that what Chris Huhne has done will further feed growing disillusion with politics among the general public. The fact that Chris Huhne thought he could get away with it, encourages people to believe that all politicians are the same and would have done the same thing. But perhaps those very same people should also ask themselves what they would have done too?

The Eastleigh by-election will be one of the most commented on for years. It’s a big test, not just for the Liberal Democrats, but also for the Conservatives and UKIP. If Nigel Farage doesn’t stand, he will be accused of being ‘frit’. The LibDems have about 90% of the seats on the local council, but they will do well to hold their vote. With the right candidate, it may be possible, but is there such a thing as a ‘right’ candidate for a by-election called in these circumstances? The Conservatives need to put in a heavyweight candidate, ideally a popular personality. An identikit Tory candidate isn’t going to work. It needs someone with a bit of presence and charisma. And someone who is capable of dealing with Nigel Farage.

This is a bitter blow for the LibDems. We all know that had all the ballots been counted, Huhne, not Clegg, would probably have become leader. So I suppose it could have been worse for them. But he was a major talent, a good minister and one of their keenest brains. No doubt he will become persona non grata but his talent will not be easy to replace. Andrew Mitchell once told me that Huhne took to government like a duck to water. If he promised something to a fellow Minister he delivered on it. You could count on his support in Cabinet. There are only three LibDems who will be rejoicing at Huhne’s misfortune – Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Ed Davey. It gives them one fewer opponent in the next LibDem leadership contest, whenever that might be.

Watching Twitter, and one or two blogs, over the last few hours has been a very unedifying experience. There isn’t much milk of human kindness on display. If Twitter were an animal, it would be a wolf – always ready to salivate over and then devour some easy meat. Well, Chris Huhne is easy meat today, but before he is fed to the wolves, think about his state of mind. People sometimes do desperate things in these circumstances.

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Policy

Equal Marriage: An Open Letter to MPs

4 Feb 2013 at 08:53

This is a letter I am emailing to MPs of all parties this morning.

Dear Member of Parliament,

Many of you have already decided to support the Equal Marriage Bill. This letter is addressed to those of you who remain undecided or who intend to oppose it.

Back in 2003 I became the first Conservative candidate to have been selected having already told the selectorate I was gay in advance. The very fact that I was the first inevitably led to a lot of media coverage. I remember a few months later being approached by a 22 year old researcher at the Conservative conference. He walked up to me and said “thank you”. I asked “What for?” He said “For making it easier for the rest of us.” I have never forgotten that.

Constantly being referred to in the media as “the openly gay candidate,” didn’t exactly do me any favours, but there was little I could do about it. So I embraced it, knowing that even if my media profile on this and other issues meant I never made it to the House of Commons I could still do something good, and try to influence debates in a number of areas, You now have the opportunity to do something good for your gay constituents – something which will cost no money to the public purse, and something which will bring joy to many.

The debate about equal marriage has been bogged down in a number of misconceptions and prejudices. First of all, it’s about equal marriage, not gay marriage. Marriage is a very conservative institution and one which Conservatives in particular ought to want to share with everyone. It promotes stability in loving relationships, and gives people more choice. But it is also an evolving institution.

Marriage belongs to us as a civil society. It does not just belong to the church, and while religious institutions have just the same right as anyone else to lobby for or against any change, they cannot be allowed to dictate marriage policy to the rest of us.

Over the years the rules on marriage have changed. Registry office weddings were introduced in 1837. The Peter Bone of his day was no doubt against them, accusing the government of the day of undermining the institution of marriage. In 1994 Gyles Brandreth introduced a Private Members Bill to allow weddings to take place in buildings other than churches. The Paul Murphy of his day accused the Major government of undermining the institution of marriage. The Matrimonial Causes Act changed the law to make divorce easier. The Gordon Birtwhistle of his day accused the Heath government of undermining the institution of marriage. In 2004 the Blair Government enabled same sex couple to enter civil partnerships. Well, you can guess what comes next.

The fact is that none of the then opponents of civil partnerships would now vote to repeal that legislation. Within nine years civil partnerships have become an integral part of our society. Even the then opponents of civil partnerships have come to embrace them. David Davis even shed a tear at mine. He insists he had grit in his eye, but…

Tim Loughton and others insist that equal marriage would undermine the institution of marriage, which has traditionally been between a man and a woman. Er, how exactly? How would me marrying my partner John undermine Tim’s marriage to Mrs Loughton? How would Mrs Bone be undermined by the fact that her husband’s gay constituents might be allowed to commit themselves to each other in a civil marriage? None of the opponents of equal marriage have ever been able to explain this. It may be a good soundbite but it’s a bone with no flesh on.

Yesterday 25 Conservative constituency chairmen (all men, I note), delivered a letter to Number 10 outlining the reasons why they felt that equal marriage should be shelved. Their main arguments appeared to be that it would lose the Conservative Party votes. Their votes, and others. The chairmen argued there was no mandate. Wrong. No one seems to have noticed that it was included in the Tory Equalities Manifesto at the last election.

Sometimes political leaders have to lead, rather than follow, and that is what David Cameron has done here. All the polls I have seen show that a majority of the electorate is actually in favour of equal marriage. It is just a vocal section of the Conservative Party which seems to have an issue with it. Making policy based just on party members’ opinions (in any party) is often a mistake. Policy making needs to be much more nuanced than that.

Some also argue that equal marriage threatens religious freedom. Far from it. Religious freedoms have been protected in the legislation. Indeed, a clause in the bill specifically prohibits the Church of England from conducting civil ceremonies in church. Personally, I think that is wholly wrong, and that they should have allowed the Church the freedom to choose, just like other religions will have. But there you go, you can’t win them all. No religious institution – muslim, jewish, hindu, buddhist, Jedi, whatever – can be forced to conduct gay weddings. It’s. Their. Choice. Ah, say the doubters, but the European Court of Human Rights may say something rather different. Wrong. The Bill has been drafted to ensure that can’t happen.

There is one point where I do agree with the doubters. I see no reason why straight people can’t be offered civil partnerships too. Then we really would have proper equal marriage. I suspect someone is drafting an amendment to that effect, and it would stand a very good chance of passing.

In ten year’s time, when we look back on this debate, I suspect there will be very few people who will want to turn the clock back. Equal marriage has been introduced in many other countries, including Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland. So far as I know it has not undermined straight marriage at all.

Each of you will know someone who is gay. A son or daughter. A work colleague. The guy who owns the shop where you buy your morning paper. Your researcher. Can you really justify saying to any of them: “I am happy to vote to deny you the very same privileges and honour of marriage that I , as a straight man or woman enjoy?” Think on that.

Yours Ever

Iain

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Laura Nyborg-Christiansen

3 Feb 2013 at 21:11

It’s the shit that makes you stronger

Laura Nyborg-Christiansen, Birgitte Nyborg's daghter in Borgen, 3 Feb 2013

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UK Politics

The Question Closet Case Gay MPs Will Have To Answer

2 Feb 2013 at 23:33

I’ve been looking at the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s website, and their list of MPs who intend to vote against allowing gay people to marry on Tuesday. I note with interest the names of several MPs who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet case gays. And I note also the names of two supposedly straight MPs who I know to be conducting gay affairs at the moment. I don’t believe in ‘outing’ anyone, but because of the rank hypocrisy there will be others who will take a different view.

Adam Lake wrote tonight…

If you can’t be honest about who you are that is your problem. If you try to hypocritically defy my equality that is another issue entirely.

How is it possible to be married yourself, and yet at the same time vote to deny that privilege to someone whose pants you have just pulled down?

UPDATE SUNDAY 4.33pm: This post seems to have caused a right stooshie, with some people deliberately misunderstanding what I have written, or just as bad, trying to put words into my mouth. Let me very clear. I wrote above "I don’t believe in “outing” anyone". It seems many people missed it, so i thought I would repeat it. People seemed to interpret the rest as some sort of veiled threat. It isn’t. It is merely pointing out the blindingly obvious that any apparently straight MP having a gay affair could have to defend themselves against charges of hypocrisy. Others, who are less squeamish about outing others may hold those MPs to account. All I was doing was pointing out to those MPs to be prepared for it.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in this issue. We hear plenty from MPs about the brilliance and sanctity of marriage, and then find out they’ve had an affair.

And people point out that there are plenty of gay people who oppose gay marriage. I know of one. Andrew Pierce. I know plenty who couldn’t care less and are totally ambivalent. I do think it’s odd to be gay and be quite happy to live a life unequal in the eyes of the law, but, hey, each to their own.

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Random Thoughts

Red Trousers Are Just Plain Wrong

2 Feb 2013 at 20:50

A few days I ago I tweeted about the fact that I had just seen a man wearing red trousers walking through Leicester Square. I’ve never understood how anyone who isn’t over 60 or Hooray Henry could wear them. But there was this seemingly normal looking thirty year old sauntering though central London wearing a pair and not even looking embarrassed about it. I had a big response to the tweet, with most people agreeing with me and most men denying they had ever worn a pair. Someone then alerted me to a website which celebrates the wearing of red trousers – it’s called LOOK AT MY F***ING RED TROUSERS. Enjoy. Or not.

And no, I would never be seen dead in them. Never. Ever.

Er. Never again.

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Rant

Troughing Councillors Should Be Voted Out of Office

2 Feb 2013 at 15:29

Just when you thought politicians couldn’t get lower in public esteem, Tunbridge Wells councillors are set to vote local Cabinet members a 22% increase in allowances, and the leader of the council is due to get a 15% rise. The proposals have been accepted by the council’s finance committee, go to the Cabinet on Thursday and are due to be voted on by the full council at its next meeting. Because of the Conservative majority on the council the proposal is likely to go through. They are not the only council to be increasing allowances while at the same time making cuts to the budgets of voluntary groups. Labour led Norich City Council has increased councillor allowances by 54% and its leaders rumuneration by a whopping 54%.

As Chris Kamara might say, “Unbelieveable, Jeff”.

I’d like to think that any local councillor who votes to increase allowances in this economic climate will face the wrath of the electorate at the next council elections. But the trouble is, we still have one party states in UK local government. Tunbridge Wells is one of those councils whose political complexion has barely changed in 60 years. And it is unbelievably complacent. It fails to listen, its consultations are a joke and many of the councillors are fully paid up members of the Old Boys Network. There is a group of younger councillors who are trying to change things, but they are resisted at every turn by their older counterparts. This is the makeup of the council…

Conservatives 37
Liberal Democrats 5
Independent 2
Labour 2
UK Independence Party 2

Sadly there are no elections this May for Tunbridge Wells council, as it is the County’s turn. Just as well, for TWBC Conservative councillors. No doubt they are hoping that by May 2014 people will have forgotten their troughing. I won’t.

I’ve never been in favour of PR for general elections, but I am persuadable for local council elections. We need to rid local government of these one party state fiefdoms, whether they are Conservative or Labour. They breed complacency and corruption. Council tax payers deserve better.

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Media

The Sun Replaces Archbishop With Bishop Basher Guido Fawkes

2 Feb 2013 at 12:24

It’s not often I burst out laughing when I read a tweet, but I did just now. The Sun has announced that Guido Fawkes will be writing a column for them each Sunday. What they haven’t announced is that Guido will be replacing the Archbishop of York’s column on the Op Ed page. I can just imagine the comment pieces that move will provoke. Essentially, Dr John Sentamu was blackballed for the Archbishop of Canterbury column because he had the temerity to write for a tabloid newspaper on a Sunday. On a Sunday, I tell ye!

The reason this announcement caused me to laugh is this. I well remember when Guido and I were hugely critical of The Sun’s pisspoor Whip column all those years ago the journalist who ran it accused of us of trying to get her sacked so one of us could take it over. Both us us vehemently denied the accusation on the basis that if we did, it would signal the end of our blogs. Why? Because it would mean we would have to save all the best stuff for The Sun and it would mean an inevitable reduction in interest in the blogs. And that’s the danger now for Guido Fawkes. It will be very interesting to see if The Sun column acts as a spur for his blog and he gets far more readers for it, or if existing readers get the feeling they are being ignored or let down because of the Sun column.

The Guido Fawkes Star on Sunday columns were a very much watered down versions of the blog. They have been very much in the tradition of Sir John Junor’s Backbencher column in the Sunday Express all those years ago – full of gently chidings to politicians and celebs rather than outright viciousness. I guess that’s inevitable. No mentions of Auchtermuchty, though, sadly! My suspicion is that the new Sun column will be much more political, with less concentration on the celebrity world. The Star and Sun are both tabloids, but The Sun has always been much more political than the Star.

I actually think Guido’s Sun column could become a great political column and The Sun clearly see its potential. I absolutely hope it works for both of them. Some will no doubt view Guido’s move as ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ but that’s lazy thinking. You don’t have to be one or the other. The new media can sit quite happily alongside the old media and I suppose over the years I’ve proved that. But it does make it more difficult for Guido to be seen as completely independent in his views on the newspaper world. And that independence is a major reason why he has built up such a readership in the media world, so much so that last year he launched Media Guido. Essentially, you don’t shit on your own doorstep, and he will know that.

A lot of people will be sitting down with the popcorn now. But whatever your view, this announcement makes the world of political diary writing and media commentary all that more fascinating and that has to be a good thing.

I’m not sure why, but I gather there have been several explosions in the Rhondda Valley and in West Bromwich this morning.

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Random Thoughts

Let's Talk About Sex Addiction, Baby

2 Feb 2013 at 09:53

On my LBC show on Wednesday we talked about addictions and how to deal with them. I guess we all know what the most commons addictions are to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. But it goes far more widely than that. A friend of mine is addicted to Skippy peanut butter and reckons she eats a jar of it every two days. A caller on the show told me he was addicted to buying and looking after dangerous snakes. Really.

I’m not sure if you’d class this as an addiction, but I reckon I am addicted to my Blackberry. If I lose it or leave it at home I feel as if a limb has been chopped off. I can’t think of anything else which gives me that feeling of total loss. Perhaps I need to think a bit harder.

I wonder if we should differentiate between physical addictions and psychological ones. We don’t talk about sex addiction much in this country, yet it is a major issue in the United States. I always thought that it just meant that someone just had a bit more sex than average, but I had to change my mind after a friend of mine declared himself a sex addict. He literally has to have sex with a different person every day otherwise he says he gets the shakes. Imagine the pain he caused his wife when he had to admit what he was doing. Unbelievably, she has stuck with him. He goes to Sexaholics Anonymous meetings and is desperate to rid himself of what he regards as a dangerous affliction. The trouble is that anyone who wants casual sex can now get it on tap.

Many so-called ‘dating’websites are in fact nothing other than message boards for people looking for an anonymous, no strings attached, bonk. CraigsList, PlentyofFish.com and in the gay world Gaydar.co.uk and apps like Grindr mean that sex is on tap 24 hours a day. And like with so many other forms of addiction, some people find it very difficult indeed to turn off that tap.

Psychologists reckon that a lot of non physiological additions occur because of stress or because of unhappiness in another area of one’s life. I live a very happy life, albeit quite a stressful one. Who wouldn’t, with two more or less full time jobs? I think I should therefore acquire an addiction. Your suggestions please…

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