Former MP ANDREW PELLING on how our local MPs chose to vote on the controversial Lords Reform Bill last night
No gumption in evidence last night from four of our local MPs in resisting the flawed options for reform of the House of Lords.
High-profile Conservative MPs such as Angie Bray, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Jesse Norman and Louise Mensch rebelled against their party whip and voted against the government’s House of Lords Reform Bill. Their message to the government was: come back with a better bill.
Meanwhile, Croydon’s Conservatives – Gavin Barwell and Richard Ottaway – dutifully filed into the Aye lobby to vote for the Bill with its awful 15-year terms and lists to be dominated by party patronage. Baron Ottaway of Bletchingley in Surrey (not in Croydon), anyone?
Sutton’s LibDem MPs Tom Brake and Paul Burstow also went into the Aye lobby at second reading.
Labour’s Malcolm Wicks, who is fighting cancer, did not vote. However, he has been outspoken on the subject, attacking the Labour party leadership for indulging in “petty politics”.
Writing to The Guardian, Wicks says: “Labour has campaigned for reform for over 100 years and we should now seize the day to make it a reality. If instead Labour is tempted by short-termism to ‘give Clegg another bloody nose’ it would represent the triumph of petty politics over radical principle.”
Wicks might have sympathy with the berating that the PM gave Ed Miliband today at PMQs for coming to the House intending to vote yes and no on Lords reform.
It would have been a surprise if junior health minister Burstow had bucked the trend and voted against.
Brake’s occasional non-conformism was absent last night, as the Carshalton and Wallington MP – and possible LibDem candidate for the new Croydon Central and St Helier seat at the next election – followed his party leader Nick Clegg this time.
Barwell, as a “PPS”, or a parliamentary private secretary, has made his first move up Westminster’s greasy pole, and with 91 Tory MPs ruling themselves out of immediate preferment from finger-wagging “Call Me Dave” Cameron by voting against the government, we’ll likely see a promotion for Barwell in any upcoming reshuffle as a reward for his unflinching loyalty.
Barwell’s actions look weak compared to the resolution of Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray, who put her judgement above personal ambition. Bray was summarily sacked from her PPS role in the Cabinet Office.
Hereford MP Jesse Norman, who dared to speak out against the Bill from the floor of the House, received the full Flashman treatment from Cameron just outside the lobby – clearly voting against bad Bills is not the sort of thing expected among Old Etonians.
Norman’s Bullingdon boy treatment from Cameron was highlighted at PMQs this lunchtime with the PM described by Ed Miliband as “losing control of his party and his temper”.
In typically misleading style, last night Barwell Tweeted that “some” colleagues were voting against the Bill. In fact “a lot” of his colleagues were voting against.
As well as the 91 Conservative rebels, a further 19 abstained, including ex-Croydon Central MP Sir Paul Beresford. That makes 110 Tory backbenchers who abstained or voted against, and just 80 who voted for.
Conor Burns, another Conservative MP who sacrificed his own career and position as PPS in order to oppose the Bill, said, “I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I voted for this Bill at Second Reading.”
Did our local MPs look themselves in the mirror when they got up this morning?
That so many Tories were unconvinced by the dog’s breakfast that is the current proposal for Lords reform is partly explained by the weak arguments being put forward for the awkward compromise offered up, created from the weaknesses inherent in coalition horse-trading. It was the same last year with the failed referendum on AV: many people might be in favour of electoral reform, but not with the flawed system on offer.
Barwell, a former employee of billionaire Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft, writing on the Lord Ashcroft-owned Conservative Home website, offered an article, “Why Conservative MPs should vote for Lords Reform Bill”. Given the final 110-80 result, it was hardly the most persuasive of articles, though doubtless Barwell will claim credit for swaying all 80 staunch party-liners.
Barwell’s commentary tended to be more a discussion of tactics and an attack on the motives of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tory rebels, pausing to slap himself on the back for “giving free political advice to the Deputy Prime Minister”. There was little mention of principle, democracy, accountability or better government. The people of Croydon are becoming familiar with his style. It’s all about political calculation and party strategy.
Barwell’s attack on other MPs’ motivations may also reflect the poisoned atmosphere in Parliament that will have been the precursor to the Norman/Cameron confrontation and four Tory party whips chasing down Norman to “advise” him to leave the Palace of Westminster for his own safety, because they did not want to be accountable for the actions of one of their colleagues after drink had been taken.
It would be interesting to hear how the MP explains all that to keen Croydon pupils – drawn from Archbishop Tenison’s, Coloma and two Whitgift Foundation private schools, Old Palace and Barwell’s alma mater Trinity – on a tour of the House today.
The government clearly hopes that the long summer recess will let the ill-will clear but the Conservative whips office, despite its best intentions, has a habit of misunderstanding the mood.
Which does suggests one appointment. Send Barwell to the whips’ office, he’s loyal to a fault.
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- MP Barwell admits: it’ll be Croydon East for me in 2015 (insidecroydon.com)
- Cameron in angry confrontation with leader of Tory revolt on Lords reform (guardian.co.uk)
- Government retreats on House of Lords reform – Scotsman (scotsman.com)