I feel sorry for the Youth Czar but not for wingeing Tory backbenchers accusing George young of blackmail

7 Apr 2013 at 10:00

There are two instructive and fascinating stories that grace the Sunday newspapers this morning. The hilarious tale of Paris Brown the seventeen year old £15,000 Kent Youth Czar who has entertained the twitter sphere with her rants about drugs, gays and booze. And the allegation that Chief Whip, Sir George Young has been trying to silence Tory rebels on Europe and gay marriage by hinting that their expense claims might be a little embarrassing. I suspect when George reads this over his muesli this morning he will find it rather amusing as not one of the so called rebels wished to be named.

But back to the youth Czar. What first amazed me was that anyone could be dumb enough to appoint a seventeen year old to speak on behalf of the needs of young people in the criminal justice system. Until I read that it was an appointment of the Police Commissioner for Kent, Ann Barnes. A former teacher from Merseyside who made some interesting remarks before her election which are worthy of repeating. “Electing police commissioners would be naive and disastrous….a wilful waste of money……could lead towards a confrontational model of governance.” A year before she beat the Tory candidate into second place.

I actually feel rather sorry for Paris. She seems a bubbly, full of life seventeen year old with all the angst, issues and uncertainties that comes with that age. And teenagers like to show off. Making daft claims about sex, drugs and booze is pure Inbetweeners and I suspect that she will be ashamed of her remarks about “fags” and “wanting to cut everyone” and be rather embarrassed about bizarre claims about drugs and drunkenness. All well and good if said in a smoke filled bedroom with other kids. The trouble is that the social media puts these youthful indiscretions on the record. Forever. And this morning the Mail on Sunday gave her the full treatment. The pressure and horror of the media in full primal scream is terrifying for even the most hardened politicians. For a seventeen year old kid it must feel that the earth has swallowed her up and vomited her into the depths of hell.

And then its time for the rent a quotes to be put on parade. Keith Vaz the viscous chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee was frothing with outrage and demanding resignations. The Tories so far have kept quiet. But it won’t be long.

I know, I know, Paris is in a quasi public position and deserves everything she gets you might say. Well you might, but I don’t. She is still a seventeen year old kid who has been rather stupid. At that age I would have bitten off anyone’s hand for fifteen grand asking me to represent my peers. I have no doubt that I would have behaved like a total twat.
The real culprit is Commissioner Barnes. What on earth did she think would happen? When she said in 2011 that electing a police Commissioner would be naive and disastrous I doubt whether she thought how prescient she was.

And now to the poor misunderstood flowers on the Tory backbenches. A few weeks ago some were moaning that rather than the whips telling them how to vote they should be sitting them down for a cup of tea and listening to their woes. Yes, I know, it really does make you want to weep. To regard the Whips office as some kindly bunch of church of England vicars on hand with tea and sympathy rather misunderstands their role which is to get the government’s business through the Commons. To be fair if an MP has a serious personal problem they will help. But not at the expense of government business.

So what is the terrible crime dear old George is meant to have committed? Well, according to the Mail on Sunday he had the temerity to mention to a few MPs that they really ought to play ball with IPSA and pay up or face the prospect of loosing their seats. That’s hardly blackmail. Rather some useful advice. But skins are rather thin recently.

Now these kids don’t have the excuse of extreme youth as Paris does. They need to grow up and grow some.

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That MPs should receive a £15 handout for dinner is bonkers. That they should moan about it is insane.

4 Apr 2013 at 09:02

What a bizarre topsy turvey world we live in. At a time when it has just dawned on a complacent nation that the juggernaut of the dependency culture has to be seriously slowed if not stopped our esteemed tribunes of the people have got their finger on the pulse of the mood of the nation. They are moaning about their dinner allowance.

But what shocked me was that there was any sort of food allowance at all. Back in the day the Commons restaurants were subsidised so we could have reasonably cheap meals. Not a cash handout from the taxpayer but from the tourist shop.

I hadn’t a clue until I picked up the Telegraph this morning that MPs are allowed £15 a day towards dinner if the House sits after 7:30. Labour MP Kevan Jones seems incensed at the injustice as some civil servants get £24 a night and “according to one of his colleagues” serving soldiers get £29. The delightful irony here is that Jones didn’t know what soldiers allowances were. And why should he? He is only Shadow Minister for Defence!

I am not one of those who are of the view that MPs should wear hair shirts and swear a vow of poverty. Although chastity and silence is worthy of consideration. However, at a time of national austerity, apart from Premier division footballers, Russian Oligarchs and the directors of Barclays Bank everyone is feeling the pinch. Why should MPs be any different?

Look at it this way. If the House sits after 7:30 Monday till Thursday hungry MPs can claim £55. More than job seekers allowance. What sort of message does that send out?

Being an MP can be hard work and rather tedious. Quite rightly they should have a competent properly paid staff to help them. Quite rightly they should have their accommodation and travel paid for. And reasonable office expenses. Most important of all IPSA should work fairly and properly. It doesn’t and that is a justifiable grievance.

When I was elected in 1983 my salary was £12,000. My secretary was paid for but office equipment apart from stationary was not. I remember buying a second hand Olivetti golf ball typewriter. Travel home and to the constituency was paid for as were housing costs. And that was it. Did we moan? Of course not. Because we were elected to serve our constituents and try and sort out their problems.

Where Parliamentary allowances really took off was at precisely the same time as the dependency culture was booming. Brown rolled over and had his tummy tickled by GPs and consultants who had money and mouthwatering pension deals thrown at them. And did healthcare improve? It was when the Mid Staffs ethos began.

It was also the time when there was the perverse financial incentive to claim rather than work was at its zenith.

MPs do not earn a great deal of money in the great scheme of things. But I always thought you went into politics in this country to improve other people’s lives. Not your own.

And to set an example.

Silly me.

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George Carey and Justin Bieber's pet monkey vie for the front pages for who is the most out of control primate

30 Mar 2013 at 11:16

I suppose there is a delightful irony that a former Archbishop of Canterbury and Justin Bieber’s pet monkey vie for the front pages this morning as to which is the most out of control primate. I think George Carey wins by more than a whisker. And he is far more of a menace than the monkey who is now spending the night in Munich monkeydom.

Carey has got form for being a first class pain in the arse. Anyone who has worked with him (and I know a few) roll their eyes heavenward when the great man’s name is mentioned. The trouble is he got there by some divine joke. He was the guy the Commission put forward who was so utterly hopeless that their preferred choice would shine through and be chosen. The trouble is Thatcher didn’t quite understand these clerical shenanigans and picked the patsy.

And when after a few years of blithering idiocy at the helm of the Anglican Church everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he hung up his mitre and retired to DunPreachin. But oh no. He became the Daily Mail’s clerical rent a gob and has been a thorn in the side of every successor to the See of Canterbury, giving a whole new meaning to a bishopric. Whether it be helpful remarks about gay marriage, women priests or whatever the loons on the Mail backbench dream up, our George will offer an opinion, which is invariably wrong. Which I suppose means that he is at least consistent.

Personally, I have never been one of those politicians who knock the clergy for attacking government social policy. The Church is meant to be the champion of the poor and vulnerable and they have a right to give us their view even if it is often wrong. So I don’t criticise Carey for that. But what really irritated me beyond belief on Stephan Nolan’s show in the early hours of this morning was the MAIL splash that Cameron was persecuting Christians.

Not only is this utterly deluded it is an insult to those men and women who are imprisoned, tortured and killed because of their faith. He then went on to say that two thirds of Christians felt marginalised. Really? This rather mystified that rather sensible guy from the Christian think tank Theos who appeared on the show.

It appears that the Carey angst centres around government lawyers arguing in the European Court in Strasbourg against the absolute right to wear a crucifix at all times. And for once the judges reached a sensible compromise. Faith should always be about thought word and deed. From the heart. Not some physical manifestation.

And then we had the usual rant about gay marriage. The most ludicrous gripe being that the Commons under croft (known as the crypt) will soon host multi faith services opening the door to gay marriage. Well, the under croft has never been exclusively Anglican. Both my children were baptised there by a Roman Catholic bishop in a Roman Catholic service in the 1980s. If Jews, Muslims and Sikhs want to take take part in multi faith ceremonies it is something that should be welcomed. And if a couple of the same sex want to be blessed or married there (provided its not an Anglican ceremony which is forbidden by law) why not?

But to accuse Cameron personally of presiding over the persecutions is quite bonkers. Anyone who goes to his parish church of St Mary Abbots Kensington, will know that the Cameron family have been part of the Anglican community for many years. He once described his faith in a way that would chime with most of us, “It’s like Chiltern Radio. Sometimes you get a very good signal whilst at other times it fades.”

Come off it George. Christians are not being persecuted in Britain and if some feel they are being marginalised it’s because they have been banging on about what to the rest of us see are pretty marginal issues. And not very Christian.

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The departure of David Miliband is a hammer blow for Labour's chances of re election and marks a distinctive lurch to the left

27 Mar 2013 at 10:37

The resignation of David Miliband is a hammer blow to Labour’s chances of re election. There will be whoops of joy from the left, champagne flowing in the trade union bunkers and horror and despair amongst the Blairites.

If anyone is deluded enough to be believe that this will heal the gaping fissure that divides Labour they deserve to be taken into a place of safety. David Miliband represented the electable wing of his party. He no longer is the fantasy figure that will pick up the pieces after the walking catastrophe that his brother represents. It means that Red Ed has returned. And if the Tories have any sense they will milk this for all its worth.

There will now be a period of trauma for the Blairites. Who on earth can be the standard bearer of common sense and electability who is still in the Commons? At the moment nobody springs to mind. Andy Burnham? A busted flush and far too nice. Think Andrex puppy. And the Mid Staffs horror story happened on his watch. Alan Johnson? To old and too lazy. So who is in the running?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see a lot more of Chuka Umunna on our television screens in the next few months. He is close to Ed as he was once his PPS, he is untainted by Brown and is fiercely ambitious. I am not suggesting for one moment that he would replace Miliband before the next election. Even if the party wanted it (which they don’t) the Byzantine election process would stoke the flames of the slow burning civil war that has riven Labour since the fall of Brown.

There must come a time when Miliband must realise that his economic strategy is an electoral disaster and that Ed Balls is pure poison. The the opinion polls published in the Guardian yesterday must have made terrifying reading. The public trust Cameron and Osborne to steer the economy through these troubled times more than the two Eds. Sacking Balls and replacing him with Umunna might just turn the tide. The trouble is the policy would have to change and be Osborne lite. The left would go mad. Balls would mobilise the unions and once again there would be the omnipresent fighting for the soul of the party.

It’s what Ed needs to do. But I would be amazed if he did.

If you think that Cameron has problems on the back benches from his right wing, Miliband’s lefties are just beginning to flex their muscles. That vote on benefits last week saw over forty MPs defy a three line whip. This is just the start. These are the opening shots of a genuine lurch to the left. Lynton Crosby take note.

But the South Sheilds by election is a potential disaster for Labour. The Tories who trail them by about eleven thousand are going to be wiped out. Not because of the unpopularity of the Coalition but because of tactical voting. Remember the BNP racked up nearly two and a half thousand votes in 2010. If Farage has the courage to stand there could be a major upset. In Eastleigh the kippers took votes from Labour too and Farage has made it quite clear that he is now gunning for Labour.

This could be very interesting.

Oh, and prepare for Mandelson to go on manoeuvres again. He and Blair will not stand by and allow their beloved project to end up as a cracked and forgotten monument in a graveyard of expectations.

The next few weeks are going to rather good fun.

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Lin Homer, eat my shorts. Allah UKBA!

25 Mar 2013 at 14:29

I agree with Iain Dale and James Forsyth that yesterday’s Boris car crash is by no means a fatality. Yet.

The trouble is that if you couple it with the documentary screened tonight and the Sonia Purnell hatchet job it means that the journalistic gloves will be off. Her Majesty’s Press have been eying Boris as sharks eye a playful dolphin performing tricks to amuse an adoring public. As a potential meal. But now that blood has been spilt the political sea will be teeming with black dorsal fins eager to move in for the feast. The nearer Boris gets to his goal the more persistent, vicious and unrelenting the questions will become. Expect a daily mail piece from Purnell and a revamp of her book. And that Boris bating will soon become a national sport.

But enough of Boris. The Lin Homer story is a much more interesting tale. The Home affairs Select Committee report of incompetence and dissembling will send shock waves through the the palaces of the Mandarins. In private sector job any whiff of serious incompetence automatically leads to a P.45. And if Parliament is granted the power to veto senior civil servant appointments the comfy, secure, index linked apotheosis of the dilettantes will be shot to pieces.

It will be music to the ears of Michael Gove, Theresa May and in particular Francis Maude. Maude has been arguing for years that the days of the gifted amateur running departments really ought to come to an end. Shock, horror why not have an education expert running DFE or a defence professional administering the MOD?

Expect a fight back from Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Haywood. Prepare for well sourced leaks rubbishing such proposals and how the cream of the crop of academia will desert to the private sector.

It could get very bloody.

But what is even more fascinating is how LIn Homer has soared effortlessly to the Whitehall stratosphere. I first came across her in 2005 and found her perfectly agreeable. She was the Chief Executive of Birmingham Council and I was parachuted in to represent two Labour councillors accused of electoral fraud. It was the first electoral commission in one hundred years. It was as a result of a petition moved by the splendid John Hemming, now a Lib Dem MP.

It was an eye opener. It exposed the corruption of the postal ballot system which according to the Commissioner, Richard Maurey QC “would have disgraced a banana republic”.

Let me set the scene. My chaps were found in a warehouse in the dead of night in front of a table groaning with postal ballot forms, pens and tipex. As we say in the trade this caused one or two evidential problems. Worse, heads of Asian families were hoovering up votes within their households. And (not connected with my clients) there were accusations that postmen laden with postal ballots had been threatened with having their throats cut if they didn’t hand them over.

It didn’t say a lot about British democracy. It spoke volumes.

But most shocking of all was the utter chaos of the count. The Commissioner remarked that the transportation of voting papers via carrier bags was the “direst folly”. And after the Lib Dems had raised an almighty stink it was discovered that Tesco bags of uncounted votes were discovered in council offices. The Commissioner commented that Lin Homer as Chief returning Officer had “thrown away the electoral rule book”.

Not surprisingly she made a hasty retreat to head up UKBA, which became not just the Wild West of government departments but totally dysfunctional and a menace to national security. It was affectionately known as Allah UKBA because of the number of dodgy people who were waved through immigration.

But just before this broke Homer jumped ship to become Permanent Secretary at Transport. I am not sure whether she was in charge of the Virgin train franchise fiasco (Euston we have a problem), but off she scuttled to become Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Customs Excise and Revenue.

This really should have Jeremy Haywood asking three questions.
How?
Why?
What the fuck?

This little tale is going to run and run. If you can hear strange slurping noises in the background it is Francis Maude licking his lips.

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Mandelson is on manoeuvres. His objective is the bullet head of Balls on a spike

22 Mar 2013 at 22:44

Oh joy of joys. It’s not just ice maiden May on manoeuvres. We now have the delight of the Dark Lord (Peter Mandelson) putting the cloven hoof into Balls. Ed’s of course.

By past experience if the old boy raises an exasperated eyebrow in public the poison he must be pouring in the ears of the press, let alone the parliamentary party, must be viscerally toxic.

Of course the bitch fest goes back many years. Mandy’s first choice for party leader was always Brown. But he bottled it. After that he moulded, schooled and fashioned Blair into a formidable winner.

Whatever you might think of Mandelson he is the consummate political operator. Brown recognised this, and despite their mutual loathing, he did his best to present the old Nokia thrower as more of a human being than the psychotic loon howling at the moon.

And for a while it worked.

But Mandy sniffs the political wind like a meerkat. He knew that the Gordon game was up and confided in George Osborne at the famous Taverna lunch when they were both guests of the omnipresent Nat Rothchild in Corfu. Sadly, for once in his life, George’s judgement deserted him. He thought it would be a great wheeze to leak their conversation to the press.

The wrath of Mandelson nearly destroyed him.

I suspect that the truth of the matter was that Peter was tipping his toe into blue waters. Cameron was going to win. What’s in it for me?

But that is all history.

Yet it is instructive.

If there is a political body lying dead in the ditch with eight knives protruding from the back, if it is someone who has upset the Prince of Darkness the gastropodian slime will always lead to Peter.

But there won’t be any fingerprints.

However. Give credit to the man. Whatever you might think of him (discuss) the DNA of the Labour Party courses though his veins.

His gut instinct is that the millstone around the Miliband neck is Balls. The public see him for what he is. A political bully, a chancer and a greasy little opportunist.

And that is why Mandelson wants to destroy him. Not out of spite for past wrongs (although that would be delightfully sweet), but because he wants his party to win.

The delicious irony of all of this is that I suspect that Mandelson rather approves of Cameron. He has had the courage to take on the Chekofian Practices of the NHS, and the monster of welfare spending.

All things that Blair wanted to do but was thwarted by the dark and demented machinations of Brown.

Mandelson knows the awful truth that dare not speak its name on the Labour front bench. Ed Balls is the Tory not so secret weapon

Miliband knows it too. But to have Balls pissing into the tent rather than out is not a risk that the Labour leader can afford to take.

But Mandelson on manoeuvres is a sight to behold.

Dangerous, exotic and deadlier than the Mail.

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The shocking case of the Cardinal who doesn't think paedophilia is a crime.

16 Mar 2013 at 09:12

If you get the chance tune your BBC IPlayer into last night’s Stephen Nolan show on 5 live. It is probably the most extraordinary radio experience I have been part of in nearly thirty years of broadcasting.

It started with a routine interview with Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban South Africa about the election of Pope Francis. After a few minutes of the usual and predictable Nolan slipped in a question about paedophile priests. His response was quite shocking. In the interest of fairness and context I produce the full transcript which I suspect will surprise and shock you.

CARDINAL NAPIER: “Well look what is paedophilia, it’s a condition, its a psychological condition, its a disorder. What do you do with disorders? You got to try and put them right. If I as a normal being chose to break the law, knowing that I am breaking the law, then I think I need to be punished. But if you tell me that that somebody who’s got a psychological condition, from my experience paedophilia is actually an illness. It is not a criminal condition, its an illness. I know of at least two priests who became paedophiles , who had themselves been abused as children. Now don’t tell me that these people are criminally responsible for somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think that you can you can really take the position and say that the person deserves to be punished.”
NOLAN:“Really?”.
NAPIER: “He was himself damaged”.
NOLAN: “Really?”
NAPIER: “Yes”.

The Cardinal then went on to say that if there were cases of child abuse he wasn’t qualified to say whether a criminal offence had been committed.

If these are commonplace views of senior clergy, then poor old Pope Francis has one hell of a problem on his hands.

I have been prosecuting and defending paedophiles for years. It is not an illness, it is an obsession. Whatever programmes are available everyone knows that once they are released they are very likely to strike again. That is why we have the Sexual Offences register whereby they have to report changes of address to the police.

After the Napier interview the switchboard lit up. Middle aged men who had been abused as children sobbing with the guilt, the shame and how their lives had been wrecked. Someone who claimed to be a reformed paedophile and another who has these inclinations and didn’t know how to get help.It was moving and riveting radio.

There is a delightful innocence about Nolan that makes listeners reveal their innermost secrets. They trust him. Last week we had transgender callers ringing in saying they knew that they were in the wrong bodies from the age of three.

But back to the Cardinal. Shame on his ignorance, shame on his lack of compassion for the abused and shame on his lack of Christianity. Some of these people live in another world.

And not one that I would wish to inhabit.

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If we can't rely on the Lib Dems to support a free press then heaven help us

15 Mar 2013 at 10:05

Where politicians tend to go off the rails is when they start playing politics. If it wasn’t so serious I would be quivering with mad hysterical laughter at the latest Leveson Whitehall farce.

Let me set the scene. Guy Black, David Hunt and Michael Macmanus have achieved the almost impossible task of persuading the proprietors of Her Majesty’s press to submit themselves to a system of regulation which can impose eye watering fines, retractions and a range of measures that should stop the disgusting practices that shocked the nation. And trying to persuade proprietors to agree to anything is not unlike herding cats away from a fishmongers.

So what is on the table is a self regulatory body backed by Royal Charter but not underpinned by statute. So it was up to the party leaders to reach a deal to put before Parliament. Cameron has pulled out and will force a vote on Monday simply because Milliband and Clegg are hell bent on statutory regulation.

I find this very confusing. They are perfectly happy to mouth the usual platitudes about the need for a strong yet responsible press, and delighted to wax lyrical about the democratic importance of a free and fearless press, yet want Parliament to stick its grubby little paws into the cess pit. There is even wild and rather scary talk of licensing the press. And in the Lords the usual suspects are dangling amendments onto as many bills as they can to achieve this rather sinister aim. Mr. Putin would be proud of them.

It really is not worth me making the case for why Parliament, ministers and civil servants should have absolutely no role to play in press regulation and why the proprietors should be locked out, because it is such a no brainer. But not to Miliband and Cleggy. What really made me howl at the breakfast table and shriek to be catheterised was when I learned that Ed couldn’t support Cameron because Hugh Grant had been on the phone giving dire warnings of a strongly worded press release. How utterly terrifying. What next, the comfy chairs? A conker duel in Parliament Square? The poor fellow must have been quaking in his boots.

Where Miliband’s problem lies that he has been too much in the pockets of HACKED OFF who have been driving Labour policy on press regulation. And he has made a great play of railing against vested interests. With the exception of the trade unions and HACKED OFF, of course.

With the notable exception of the Mc Canns and the Dowlers who were treated utterly despicably, the figureheads of HACKED OFF are those who have been done over by the press and are out for revenge. I have nothing against Hugh Grant, he is a perfectly adequate actor whose films I rather enjoy. If he choses to swap body fluids with a black tranny in the privacy of his home that must be a matter for them alone. But should he chose to do so in the back of a car in a public place; well, he is going to catch more than a cold. And the other great notables are Ryan (super injunction) Giggs and that great pillar of moral rectitude, The Lord Prescott. What a crew.

But what I find really hard to fathom is Nick Clegg’s position. If the Lib Dems can’t be seen to be the champions of a free press heaven help us. I really am surprised at Cleggy as he has shown himself to be a rather ballsy DPM. He is going to have to think long and hard about his party’s position over the weekend because the real problem is that this hoo ha could destabilise the Coalition. That is why the Tory Taliban are considering rebelling. Think of their logic. Clegg and Cameron at loggerheads, the vote is lost. Cameron humiliated ( I can hear the barbed whispers of “his power is ebbing away” already). An election. Labour wins. A new Tory leader who believes in the absolute purity of his tribe, which now meets in the back of a ford Transit (white, of course) somewhere in estuary Essex.

It is of course quite, quite, insane. I have always wondered why No Turning Back got its name. Probably from the cliff edge that they are all hurtling towards.

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It is not UKIP who are the biggest threat to to the Tories but a small minority of backbenchers who are hell bent on destroying Cameron. It is time the silent majority howled with indignation

12 Mar 2013 at 15:21

If the future of the Conservative party lies with Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Adam Afriyie, would the last person to leave the country please turn off the lights? I don’t wish to be unkind to Hammond, but I was rather amazed to read how ambitious he is. I always regarded him as someone who might aspire to be chairman of his local rotary club and do quite well in freemasonry. But apparently he has set his sights on being Chancellor and perhaps even….( this really is so daft that I can’t bear to finish the sentence).

But ice maiden May is quite a piece of work. Because of 24 hour news we have probably all forgotten the fuss she made about being reported in the Sundays (in particular the MAIL) about her plans to tear up the Human Rights Act. Unfortunately this had not been cleared by Number 10 as it rather put the PM’s post Eastleigh Telegraph piece in the shade. As she had such damp gussetted rave reviews I was rather surprised that her dogs of war were putting it around that this was a plot by her enemies. Until I read her speech to Conservative Home pledging to tear up the Human Rights Act; a week later. I once asked Michael Heseltine why on earth he wasn’t mounting a challenge to Thatcher and if he had lost his ambition. His reply was instructive. “Dear boy, the most important thing in politics is not ambition, but timing”. A week later he threw his hat in the ring.

So what May was most upset about was that she believed that her enemies had got wind of her speech and tried to dampen its impact. Blimey, I don’t think she’s paranoid but have a sneaking suspicion that she thinks everyone is out to get her.

And then there is Chris Grayling, the Goyle to Her Malfoy. He too is committed to tear up the Human Rights Act so he didn’t want to be sidelined so he wittered support. So it looked like an operation when it was really a cock up.

But Grayling as Lord Chancellor (why do I burst into hysterical, maniacal laughter when I write those words matron?) should know how unwise it is to mix with undesirables, was spotted at a Westminster hostelry breaking bread with David Davis, Liam Fox and Bernard Jenkin amongst others who are on Parliamentary ASBOS. What on earth did he think they were going to discuss? The price of fish,The Bill Cash Book of Jokes, great recipes from the Andes air crash cookbook? Or what a total pinko shit that Cameron is and how he should be cast into the seventh circle of hell. Shock, horror it was the latter. So some nifty footwork was required from Grayling. Sadly the poor chap has all the political tap dancing skills of Long John Silver with woodworm. So rather than keep his mouth firmly I shut his hounds put it about that not only was he there, but he told them all to get a grip and vigorously supported the PM. So delightfully incompetent that one does know whether to weep or laugh uproariously. I can guess what Cameron did.

So the Tory Dementors are on manoeuvres. It gives a whole new meaning to mission creep. The rather splendid Nick Boles got it right when he savaged those MPs with safe seats who had their own agendas and didn’t give a stuff about the destabilisation which could lose most of the new intake their seats. Are people so dim that they cannot see that the real threat to the Conservative party is not the Kippers but a small number of vocal backbenchers who are hell bent on destroying Cameron at whatever cost. It is time that the silent majority began to howl with indignation.

To some the election is already lost. Time to regroup. Time to have a leader with real vision. Time to have a leader who will promote those policies that sent the Conservative Party into the political wilderness for a generation.

“The fault, dear Brutus, in not in our stars but in ourselves”. Well the Ides of March aren’t all that far away.

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If the Ministry of Justice gets its way in twenty four months the independent criminal bar will cease to exist and 75% of solicitors firms will disappear forever

8 Mar 2013 at 13:04

This is a story that will never make the front pages. It will not excite the indignation of backbenchers cowed by their constituents. It will not even raise a flicker of concern in the pubs and clubs. But it is of fundamental constitutional importance, threatens the rule of law and places the vulnerable and weak at the mercy of a powerful executive.

If the Ministry of Justice gets its way in twenty four months the independent criminal bar will cease to exist and 75% of solicitors firms will evaporate from the high street. Forever.

As I have written so many times before the MOJ is a nest of vipers and nursery of traitors. Traitors to a criminal justice system that is creaking at the seams and is in danger of total collapse. Sadly, we have a Lord Chancellor (who has never practised in the courts) and a raft of ministers new to the job who are sleep walking into civil servant driven schemes that will make our justice system worthy of Putin’s Russia.

Oh, you may say, these are just the dying gasps of an over paid vested interest biting and scratching like ferrets in a sack to preserve their rich pickings. If only it was.

Let me set the scene. Contrary to what may appear in the papers, criminal legal aid fees have been drastically cut. Uncomfortable as it is for me personally, in this economic climate I can’t really protest. What I do object to is waiting so long for fees for work done. A few years ago we took a pay cut so that we would be paid within twenty eight days. The system of calculation was done by the court clerks in the Crown Court where the case was tried. It cost nothing. But Jack Straw, despite the Justice Committee concluding that the Legal Services Commission was not fit for purpose stripped court clerks of this and handed it over to a new LSC tier of bureaucracy. It is costly, incompetent and takes a good three months to pay us, provided they don’t mess the figures up, which they invariably do. There have been bankruptcies, suicides and a flotilla of repossessions. I am fortunate to have a good practice with high profile cases. I have been paid £1,000 in the last two months.

But that is history, or rather a very unwelcome present.

The real horror which should put the fear of God into everyone who believes in democracy is the MOJ’s plans to introduce competitive tendering into the criminal justice system. This again started under Jack Straw, and put on ice and then resurrected by Ken Clarke, who delayed it. We were promised by Chris Grayling a consultation in the Autumn. This week he has brought it forward to April. For eight weeks. And then in words that would cheer Mr. Mugabe, the first contracts will start rolling out. Like all consultations with the MOJ they are not even window dressing. They know what they want to do and nothing will get in their way.

What competitive tendering means is a race to the bottom. The lowest price wins. Quality is not even a factor. Economies of scale is the answer. Large Corporations will replace family solicitors who will disappear. The chambers system, where specialist and experienced barristers defend and prosecute will end to be replaced by low paid, low grade nine till fivers. Are these sort of people going to put the hours in that we do at weekends (unpaid) to strive to ensure that our clients whether it be the CPS or those accused of a crime are properly represented? Who have the experience and skill to cross examine victims of rape and abuse sensitively? Of course not. Welcome to Wonga Law.

At the bar we have made it clear that we will put forward proposals to make the system cheaper and more efficient. There are unnecessary hearings that can be dealt with by email or video link. We will lose money, but it is sensible. Will anyone listen? Well, Grayling won’t even talk to Michael Turner QC who is the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. Why? Because he is straight talking and tells it as it is. Grayling had told leading politicians that he wants Turner silenced.

Well, we are not going to be silenced. There is going to be a bloody great row. The public have a right to know how their rights are going to be affected and if it means joining with solicitors and taking industrial action then I’ll be the first on the picket line.

This is not about pay, those arguments were lost years ago. This is about access to justice. It is about protecting the weak and the vulnerable. It is about ensuring even the most wicked have a fair trial. It is about preserving the great British tradition of equality before the law.

The mood in the robing rooms has turned from despair to a very real anger. Some of us are prepared to stand up and be counted and fight for our well respected system of justice.

First they came for the lawyers……………..

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