What does the “Mongrel Coalition” mean in the House of Lords?

Mayor Boris Johnson has described the new arrangement between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats as the “Mongrel Coalition”.

In the House of Lords there are still 91 hereditary peers sitting and voting on legislation.  (Of these, 47 take the Conservative Whip and make up more than a quarter of the Tory peers.)  I rather suspect they regard themselves as thoroughbreds and take a dim view of mongrels.

More significantly, one of the consequences of the new arrangement is that there will now be 258 members of the House of Lords taking the Government Whip (186 Conservatives and 72 Liberal Democrats).  This is 37% of the House and compares with the 211 Labour peers (30%% of the House) who supported the previous Government prior to the dissolution.  The full arithmetic is here.

This will make it substantially easier for the new Government to get its legislation through the House.

(It will also require a change to the seating arrangements.  At present, the Government occupy two blocks of seats on the right of the Throne with the third block being occupied by the Crossbenchers (who also have a block of seats facing the Throne).  The main opposition party then occupies two blocks of seats to the left of the Throne with the third block on the left being occupied by the Liberal Democrats.  The Conservatives will presumably now occupy the two blocks of seats on the right of the Throne.  Will the LibDems now swap their block of seats with the Crossbenchers, so that both coalition parties will sit next to each other on the right of the Throne?  And even more radically, will LibDem and Tory peers inter-mingle on the three blocks of seats on the right of the Throne? Or is that taking mongrelism and coalitionism a step too far for the House of Lords?  If you really want to follow this, see page 3 here.)

And what of the future?

The coalition agreement (sic) says:

“We agree to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.  The committee will come forward with a draft motions by December 2010. It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

So this sounds – in the short-term – like a proposal to create 96 new Liberal Democrat peers and 77 new Tory peers (assuming no Labour ex-MPs are appointed to the House and the Crossbench numbers remain the same) so as to reflect the votes secured in the election.

No wonder the House authorities are so busy measuring the desk-space in each office and counting the lockers ….

And before you ask I don’t know what “a grandfathering system for current peers” is either.

Google Images has an interesting take on David Cameron and the new coalition government

Apparently, if you go to Google Images and type in “David Cameron side profile”, the first image that comes up tells you all you need to know about the new David Cameron coalition ….

Try it nowUPDATE: It is now the second image.

I wonder how long it will stay like that?

So was this a thwarted terrorist attack and will this increase the number of times we have to take our shoes off in airports?

Associated Press has reported that a man has been detained at Karachi airport after electrical circuits and batteries were found in the soles of his tennis shoes.

The man concerned told investigators he bought the shoes from a market in Karachi and had no idea there were circuits inside the soles.  Ostensibly, the circuitry is for massaging the feet (sic), but batteries and circuits hidden in a shoe are reminiscent of Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe-bomber.  Pakistani police are still examining the shoes, pointing out that similar materials can be used in the construction of bombs.

Whatever the outcome of this particular investigation, it seems likely that the practice of requiring airline passengers to remove their shoes for scanning will continue and perhaps be intensified as a result of this incident.

Why is Gordon Brown still Prime Minister?

There is a certain amount of hysteria in various quarters as to why Gordon Brown is still Prime Minister and is still at Number Ten.

Yes, of course, Labour “lost”  the General Election.  It lost its overall majority in the House of Commons by losing 91 seats.  No-one is arguing about that.

Equally, no Party “won” the General Election.  The Tories gained seats, but not enough to give them an overall majority in the House of Commons.

And just for the record the LibDems lost seats.

So we are now witnessing what happens in most other countries after a General Election – especially those where they have PR-based elections – negotiations between the political Parties to see whether an administration can be formed that can command a majority in Parliament.

But, in the meantime, the Queen’s Government must continue.

So – as is the norm – in every other country where they go through similar processes the out-going Government remains in power on a caretaker basis until they are either confirmed in power or a new administration is agreed.

The Cabinet Office has strict rules as to what Ministers can and cannot do during such a period.

Britain cannot go unrepresented internationally.  There are key meetings in Brussels in the coming week of EU Foreign Ministers and EU Finance Ministers.  Britain will need to play its part in these.  So Ministers will attend, but will keep their counter-parts in the other Parties fully informed throughout.

That is right and proper.  It is not Labour clinging to power.  It is Labour playing its appropriate part in a constitutional process.

Thinking outside the box on terrorism

The recent General Election means that I have only just spotted an item that was in the Daily Mail a week or so back.  This reports that:

“A routine traffic-stop in Switzerland has allegedly thwarted eco-terrorists from blowing up the site of the £55million nano-technology HQ of IBM in Europe.

The three members – two men and a woman – of the Italian terrorist group Il Silvestre were stopped just a few miles from their target with their explosive device primed and ready to go.

Italians Costantino Ragusa and Silvia Guerini, together with Italian-Swiss Luca Bernasconi, were arrested and jailed after a search of their vehicle revealed the bomb.

Guerini and Constantino – the 33-year-old leader of Il Silvestre – already have convictions for eco-terrorism offences and have served jail terms. 

The group describes itself as anarchist and is opposed to all forms of micro-technology as well as nuclear power and weapons.

Swiss police said today that their car was halted on the night of April 15 at Langnau en-route to the technology centre at Rueschlikon, near Zurich. 

The site is due to be opened next year and already has some of the most complex and advanced computer equipment in the world installed in it.

‘A large quantity of explosives was found,’ said a police spokesman.”

The report continues:

“The IBM facility that the Il Silvestre group was targeting is still under construction.  When finished, it will contain the most state-of-the-art facilities in Europe for nano-and-bio-technological research, with the probability of billions of pounds in profit for IBM.

Investigators are quizzing the suspects on whether the planned attack is part of a new co-ordinated wave of terror against such facilities on the continent.

Swiss media reported that the intended bombing was planned to coincide with a secret meeting of European anarchists on April 16 and 17 in the Swiss town of Winterthur.

Some newspapers speculated it was being planned to bring attention to the imprisonment of Il Silvestre member Marco Camenisch, currently in jail for the murder of a Swiss border guard.  Guerini and Constantino were in jail with him in 2006 and joined in a hunger strike.

Il Silvestre was spawned in the Tuscan countryside and is now considered to be one of the rising terror groups in Europe with a rigid cell structure, access to explosives and a membership that has no qualms about killing to achieve its goals.

It is considered as one of the successor groups to the lethal Red Brigades that scorched Italy in 70’s and 80’s.”

This is a timely reminder that – as I have repeatedly argued – the focus of counter-terrorist work must not just be on al Qaeda inspired groups.  There is a need to think outside the box and be aware of a much wider range of potential threats.

Labour sweeps back in London local elections

We now have the (nearly) final results of the London Borough Council elections and Labour has done impressively well.

There are now seventeen Labour majority Councils, eleven Conservative majority Councils, two Liberal Democrat majority Councils and two with no overall control (and in one of these Labour has the largest number of seats).

The Conservatives have been humiliated by losing outright to Labour in Ealing, Enfield, and Harrow.

Labour won Islington outright from the Liberal Democrats.

And the Liberal Democrats’ poor performance was reflected in their outright loss to the Tories in Richmond-upon-Thames and their failure to defeat Labour in Haringey (where Labour’s majority has increased from one to eleven).

Labour won majority control in the following Councils where there had previously been no overall control with various varieties of Tory/LibDem administrations: Brent, Camden, Hounslow and Southwark, and in Waltham Forest which had had a Labour-led minority administration.

Labour also eliminated the British National Party in Barking and Dagenham.

Labour’s three elected Mayors were re-elected: Jules Pipe in Hackney (who will now presumably become Chair of London Councils); Steve Bullock in Lewisham (who will now a majority again on the Council); and Robin Wales in Newham.

All in all, an excellent set of results for Labour – another reason why Mayor Boris Johnson will not run for re-election in 2012.

Boris Johnson fails to deliver for David Cameron in London

The Conservatives must be mightily disappointed with their performance on Thursday in London.  The assumption had been that the “conspicuous benefits” of having a Tory Mayor in the capital would produce substantial gains for the Conservative cause when it came to voting in the General Election.

And what actually happened?  There were, of course, some major  scalps – for example, Martin Linton in Battersea, Tony McNulty in Harrow East and Andrew Dismore in Hendon.  However, the Conservatives were hugely disappointed not to beat Karen Buck in Westminster North, Andy Slaughter in Hammersmith, and Sadiq Khan in Tooting.

Labour still holds more Parliamentary seats in the Capital than all the other Parties combined – so much for the Tory target of forty or more seats in London.

The counts in the local elections are not yet complete (hardly started in some instances), but we already know that Labour has taken control of the Boroughs of Harrow and Enfield that were previously Tory-controlled.  (I make no comment on the huge Labour victory over the Liberal Democrats in Islington or Labour’s increased majority in Haringey, as in both of these the Tories were totally irrelevant.)

Boris Johnson and his Mayorality delivered worse results for David Cameron than almost any other Region of England.  some people are already speculating about a hidden agenda (“It’s all gone tits up, call for Boris” indeed) ….

Voters turned away at 10pm – whose fault was it?

I had always understood that the rule used to be that provided an elector had turned up at the polling station by 10pm they would be allowed to vote.  If the queue stretched outside the polling station, then a presiding officer would go outside and stand at the end of the queue – anyone arriving later would be refused a vote but all those queuing before 10pm would be given ballot papers.

So what went wrong today?

It looks as if the Electoral Commission have taken it upon themselves to tighten up the rules by saying that only those to whom a ballot paper had actually been issued by 10pm would be allowed to vote.  This is demonstrably unfair because if local council election administrators fail to employ enough polling station staff there will be queues and the problems we have seen tonight will occur.

I hate to be partisan but who runs Sheffield City Council (where the problems were first reported)?  The Liberal Democrats.

Sick thought: what if Nigel Farage had been killed – what would this have meant for the election of the Speaker?

The news that Nigel Farage survived a plane crash earlier today prompted a sick thought.  (I should immediately say that I am hugely relieved that Nigel Farage survived and that his pilot may not have been as badly injured as at first feared – I may not like Farage’s politics but he is certainly a lively adornment to political discourse.)

The sick thought was that had he been killed the election in the Buckingham constituency would have been void and would have had to be re-run.  This would have meant that John Bercow would definitely not have been returned to Parliament in time for the first session of the House of Commons on 18th May when the first business will be the election of the Speaker.

I have no idea if the procedural textbooks would have provided a solution allowing Speaker Bercow to be reelected in absentia.  However, I am sure those many Conservative MPs who seem to have an abiding hatred of Speaker Bercow would have not been able to resist the temptation to elect an alternative.

Now they’ll have to wait and see who it is that the electors of Buckingham return tonight.

The Labour vote seems to be holding up in the battleground areas of Wood Green

After voting, I spent the morning campaigning in Wood Green in one of the wards that will be pivotal in determining whether Haringey Council remains Labour and whether LibDem Lynne Featherstone is replaced as MP by Labour’s excellent Karen Jennings.

I  had originally intended to work today in Hornsey Ward – the area I represented for 24 years until 2002.  However, I was told that they already had at least forty committed helpers there alone – a support level never achieved in the six local and seven national elections that I remember in that Ward.

In Wood Green, amongst the electors that I saw, not only was the Labour vote holding up, but also there was an enthusiasm to vote that was extremely encouraging.

Again, there was only a minimal Tory presence – it amounted to a gas-guzzling car parked outside the polling station with a large Conservative poster on its side and the engine running in case the parking attendants came by.