It’s official (well not quite) that Mayor Boris Johnson will be losing another Deputy Mayor

I have been predicting for some time that Sir Simon Milton, one of Mayor Boris Johnson’s remaining Deputy Mayors and now in the pivotal position of being the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, will be leaving City Hall next summer in the (unlikely, of course) event of a Cameron Government.  I have heard that he will be given a peerage and offered a (junior) ministerial role.

Now there is confirmation.  Admittedly, not from an official Conservative Party source – but I suspect they must have heard something.

Today’s Lords Questions 2 – haggling with veterans

The third Lords Question this afternoon related to what Lord Alf Morris described as the haggling going on over the payment of compensation to some Gulf War veterans.  This is a subject I feel quite strongly about.  It was down to Baroness Ann Taylor to defend the Ministry of Defence stance.

This is the full exchange (in which I intervened – not having intended to when I entered the Chamber):

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the total cost in the last five years of the Ministry of Defence contesting war pensions tribunal awards which were later confirmed on appeal.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, data on costs in closed cases are not held centrally in respect of war pension scheme and Armed Forces compensation scheme cases where we have appealed first-tier tribunal decisions to the upper-tier tribunal, and which were later confirmed on appeal. Therefore, it is not possible to separate out the costs of cases where our challenge was unsuccessful without examining each individual case and incurring disproportionate costs. A first-tier tribunal decision is challenged only in cases where it is considered that there has been an error of law.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, as ever, but is it not disquieting that, while haggling with Gulf War veterans and bereaved families over pensions still drags on, Parliament cannot yet be told even how much the MoD spent contesting the case of the late Terry Walker who, as my noble friend knows, had his war pension cut from 100 per cent to 40 per cent shortly before he died, leaving his two orphaned children in poverty? Again, how much has been spent on trying to reduce the compensation awarded to Corporal Andrew Duncan of the Light Dragoons from £46,000 to £9,250? Will the MoD continue to contest the award to this brave young soldier, who has undergone 11 operations since being hit in the leg by a bullet in Iraq?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with my noble friend’s use of the word “haggling” in regard to these cases. We do not wish to take money away from any individual, we are trying to make a system which is robust and fair and gives most compensation to those who are most severely injured. My noble friend takes issue with the case of Corporal Duncan and Marine McWilliams that on Monday was adjudicated on. I point out to him that the judge in that case, Lord Justice Carnwath, said in his judgment:

“The Secretary of State was, in my view, entirely justified in bringing the appeal … It seeks to clarify some important and difficult issues relating to construction of the scheme”.

Therefore, I think that the case was worth bringing. It is important that in all these things we ensure that those who are most severely injured and most need help get the most benefit.

Lord Addington: My Lords, when many of these cases are brought to public attention it always appears that the law is, at least to some extent, an ass. Will the Government undertake to ensure that everybody knows exactly why these decisions have been made, and that this is put into the general media so that we can at least understand what the Government say, even if we still disagree with it?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I agree that there is a great deal of misconception and misunderstanding about the nature of those cases and, indeed, about the Armed Forces compensation scheme itself. Whatever its deficiencies, it is a new scheme introduced only in 2005. For the first time it gives tax-free lump-sum payments to serving servicemen. We have doubled the basic lump sums. For the first time there is a guaranteed income for those who are most severely injured, so we have made significant progress. There will always be complex and difficult individual cases but the basic principle behind what we are doing—namely, that those who are most severely injured should get the most help—is one on which the whole House should agree.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in the case cited by my noble friend, is not the issue at stake the complications that arose during medical treatment? While I understand why there is an important argument to be had about whether that is properly the liability of the compensation scheme, is there not also an issue about the duty of care of the Government towards Armed Forces personnel? Was it not possible to separate out the two issues in this case?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is exactly what the judge was referring to when he said that there was a need for clarification. This was a complex case and additional factors came in at a later stage which were not part of the original decision. That is why it was right to seek further clarification. The case will now be remitted back to the independent tribunal, which I hope will come to a decision very quickly. Of course, whatever the decision of that tribunal, the MoD will pay whatever funds and whatever money is recommended.”

I do understand the principle at stake here: the MoD argument is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment.  However, it is not right that the appearance is given that the MoD is quibbling about paying compensation.  The MoD has a duty of care towards members of the armed forces.  In cases like this, that fact seems to be being forgotten.

The only other contribution on this matter was from Lord Addington, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chief Whip.  The Conservative benches remained silent.

Today’s Lords Questions 1 – Squelch!

Lord Paul Myners, the Treasury Minister, demonstrated how he has become an adroit House of Lords performer when he administered a devastating put-down of Cross-bencher Lord Bilimoria in the second Lords Question this afternoon.

He was answering a question originally posed by Lord Joel Barnett (the question was actually asked by Lord Robert Sheldon on his behalf as he was absent today – on his 86th birthday – having suffered a mild stroke in the Chamber on Monday) about what specific policies have been imposed on the banks over which the Government has effective control.

The second supplementary came from Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer which has recently faced some insolvency problems with creditors losing £75 million.  The exchange – which drew gasps from the House – was as follows:

“Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, given what the Minister has just said, why is it that—I know this through bitter experience—everyone from whom I hear in the SME community continues to feel that they cannot get lending from the banks? Why have the Government saved the banks while not doing enough to save the businesses that those banks are there to serve?

Lord Myners: The experience that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, describes is not one that completely accords with what we hear from the banks. Yesterday afternoon, my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch and I met the heads of small business lending of every major UK bank, together with representatives of the CBI, the Engineering Employers’ Federation and the Federation of Small Businesses. It was quite clear from that meeting that the primary issue in terms of lending to creditworthy, well managed and solvent businesses is demand. I cannot speak to personal experiences in which those definitions of business may not necessarily apply.”

Squelch!  Who can he have had in mind when he referred to businesses that were not creditworthy, well managed and solvent?

Does the Commissioner’s edict on single patrolling apply to police horses?

I am a supporter of the edict from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson (SPS to his private office) that under normal circumstances police officers should patrol singly when on foot.  Two (or more) police walking along together tend to be looking at each other and chatting rather than looking around and engaging with the public.  Senior officers (who tend to be driven around) are now encouraged to bring their cars to a screeching halt if they see two officers walking along together and ask them why they are not patrolling singly (and presumably to produce any risk assessment that tells them not to).

This morning I happened to see two police officers patrolling on horseback sedately in central London.  Very picturesque.  Good for tourism and all that.  However, they were riding along side by side and talking to each other (the officers not the horses).  There was a queue of traffic following along behind (slowly).

If I had been a senior officer (and I am sure that it’s a good thing that I’m not), would I have been expected to stop and confront the officers and tell them to patrol separately?

I don’t know.  It is just idle speculation.  I’m not that bothered ….

John Horam’s retirement creates another vacancy for the ambitious members of Mayor Boris Johnson’s team

John Horam has announced that he is retiring as MP for Orpington at the next General Election.

John Horam is said to be unique – the only person to have sat in the House of Commons representing three different political parties (Labour 1970-81; SDP 1981-83; Conservative 1992-date).  I had met him once when he was a Labour MP, but I had dealings with him when he was a junior (Conservative) health minister and also on policing matters as MP for Orpington – I always found him very courteous and conscientious.

His retirement, however, creates another vacancy amongst London Tory MPs and his seat will be being eyed hungrily by ambitious members of Mayor Boris Johnson’s team.  I have already commented that Mayor Boris Johnson may find himself running London on his own by next summer.

So who will be after the Orpington vacancy?  The seat falls within the Assembly Division represented by James Cleverly AM.  He is in the enviable position of having two Parliamentary vacancies opening up within his patch – the other is Beckenham where Jacqui Lait is retiring.  However, one of his colleagues, Gareth Bacon MP (who is also a Bexley Councillor) is said to be interested as well.

Nobel Peace Prize for Barack Obama – premature but will it encourage other world leaders to be bold

In many ways the decision to award President Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize is a strange decision.

I am an enormous admirer of the new US President and delighted with many of the changes in the US stance on a wide range of topics that have been initiated in his first few months in office.  But so far these are all changes of stance.  They have yet to be translated into solid achievements.  I hope they will be.

However, to quote former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”  Obama is of course now governing, but his foreign policy initiatives are still by and large at the campaign stage.  Making things happen is genuinely difficult; wishing for them is easier.

Thus, the Nobel citation stresses his “vision”, the “new climate” he is creating whereby “dialogue and negotiation” are the preferred instruments for resolving conflicts, and the “more constructive role” that the USA is taking on climate change.  The citation is right that all of these are a breath of fresh air and potentially set a new direction with a values-based approach to global issues.

Capitalising on this new direction and achieving sustainable solutions to these global issues, however, necessarily remains a long way off.  Normally, the Nobel Prize is awarded for a “result” or at the very least tangible progress – for example, US President Woodrow Wilson’s award in 1919 celebrated the achievements that had led to the formation of the League of Nations (even if the US Congress then declined to allow the USA to join).

Presumably, the intention of the award to Obama is to encourage other World Leaders to follow his lead.  I hope it succeeds, but I am not sure that that is the proper purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mayor Boris Johnson perfects his Harry Enfield impersonation

I see that Mayor Boris Johnson has perfected his impersonation of the Harry Enfield character, Tim-Nice-But-Dim.

Just look at the last 45 seconds of his “encounter” with Jeremy Paxman (‘David? He’s a thoroughly nice guy.’).

And, of course, given Tim-Nice-But-Dim’s position on the Euro will the next outing for the impersonation be this:

Andrew Lansley has Stephen Dorrell breathing down his neck – which one is a more plausible Health Secretary?

I am told that the top echelons of the Conservative Party and large numbers of Tory backbenchers think that Andrew Lansley has “gone native” in his time as Shadow Health Secretary.  He is regarded as having got “too close” to the NHS and is not seen as the man who would deliver the sort of root-and-branch “reforms”surgery that the Conservatives really want to embark upon should they become the Government after the next General Election.

Now the Health Service Journal reports that Stephen Dorrell, who was the last Conservative to hold the post of Secretary of State for Health, has attacked Lansley’s vision for NHS “reform” and implying that Lansley would be too timid in making changes to the way in which the NHS works.  Dorrell’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference failed to include the usual ritualistic praise for the relevant Shadow Minister and he didn’t once mention Lansley by name.  Only afterwards – when questioned – did he mouth that Andrew Lansley had his “full support”.  Then, when asked about Lansley’s “vision”, he damned it with faint praise saying “We want to see not so much a new idea but a clear view” and that it needed “filling out”.  Finally, he played right into the speculation about Lansley being too close to the NHS saying:

“The guy has done it for six years; he does understand the service. Andrew is respected in the service, he does know what he’s talking about and he has a clear idea of what he is trying to do.  But right across the public services, what we’ve got to have is a bit of sunlight.”

With friends like that Lansley should feel nervous.

Allegedly, David Cameron “will not hear” of moving Lansley out of the health brief.  Not hearing advice to do something, doesn’t 0f course mean that you won’t do it.  If he offers Lansley 1000% support, I guess we know that Dorrell’s got a new job …..

Michael Gove and I are both reactionary old f*rts when it comes to history teaching – and that doesn’t mean we’re wrong

My regular readers – both of you – will be aware that I have reactionary old f*rt tendencies when it comes to history teaching in schools, particularly when I meet children who believe that Nelson’s Column commemorates Nelson Mandela and that Waterloo is posh slang for toilet.

However, it turns out that I am not alone in my views: they are shared by (may even have been copied by) the Shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove.  Alerted by Paul Waugh’s blog – one of my must-reads each day – I have now read Gove’s full speech and in it (almost lost amongst a lot of tendentious nonsense) he says:

“There is no better way of building a modern, inclusive, patriotism than by teaching all British citizens to take pride in this country’s historic achievements.

Which is why the next Conservative government will ensure the curriculum teaches the proper narrative of British History – so that every Briton can take pride in this nation.”

On this at least he is right, although I would take issue with some of the omissions from Gove’s list of “essential items” in the core history curriculum that Paul Waugh got him to provide.  I don’t see that any account of Britain’s history can be complete without addressing the British Empire and its legacy, nor any study of the UK in the twentieth century without covering the social revolution brought about by the post-War Attlee Government.

New Tory split opens up on airport policy in London

Consecutive days’ editions of the Evening Standard have highlighted a split in the Tory party on airport policy in London.

Yesterday, the Tories said no more runways for London airports.  Indeed, a manifesto commitment was promised to scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow with an added pledge that there would be no expansion at Gatwick or Stansted.

This sparked cynical remarks that  (perish the thought) the Conservatives were eying Labour-held marginals on the Heathrow flightpath.

Today, we hear (from the same reporter) that, in fact, billions of pounds have been pledged by oil-rich countries and China to build a brand-new additional airport in the Thames Estuary.

I understand there are no relevant marginals in the flightpath of the proposed new airport.

So yesterday’s arguments were nothing about climate change or high principle: it was just about votes.