London Mayor rewards his friends while knifing his Leader

As Boris Johnson prepares to use the platform of the London Government dinner at the Mansion House tonight to try and upstage David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Europe tomorrow, unsubstantiated gossip reaches me that the Mayor is moving to reward another of those associated with the Evening Standard’s campaign in 2008 to unseat Ken Livingstone and as a result help him to win the election as London Mayor.

Veronica Wadley (then the Standard’s editor) is now the Mayor’s (paid)appointee as chair of the London Arts Council.

A little bird tells me that now the Mayor is poised to appoint Andrew Gilligan (then the Evening Standard journalist who wrote some of the articles in the Standard most damaging to Ken Livingstone) as his new (paid) advisor on cycling in London.

Interesting, if true…..

I have now had it confirmed.

The Andrew Mitchell I knew twenty years ago

I got through four Opposition Leaders in my time as Leader of Haringey Council.  One subsequently stood unsuccessfully for the London Assembly, another became an Alderman of the City of London Corporation, and the third lapsed into obscurity as a junior LibDem minister in the Coalition government.

The fourth was Andrew Mitchell.After he stood down from Haringey Council, he went on to have a glittering career as a barrister, becoming a QC and head of his own Chambers. I understand he is now the leading legal expert on asset confiscation and forfeiture.  He was an effective and challenging (from my point of view) Leader of the Opposition and could usually be relied on to highlight substantive policy issues and (painfully) any – and it did happen sometimes – weaknesses there might be in the argument I was putting forward.

He was also unfailingly courteous and polite.

From which you will gather he is not the same Andrew Mitchell as the new Government Chief Whip and star of PlebGate

However, it might have been easy to get confused.

And so – a little bird tells me – twenty years ago, Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell summoned Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell to see him in the House of Commons to tell him that the Conservative Party was too small for there to be two Andrew Mitchell’s in it.

The solution was straightforward said Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell, you (ie Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell) must change your name to avoid this confusion.

So Pleb’s arrogance was there even then.  It is not something he has acquired with high office – he was always like that.

Has the Leader of the House of Lords lost it – or is he just in need of a holiday?

Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, is Leader of the House of Lords.  This afternoon he lost his temper with the venerable Lord Joel Barnett.  His asperity was in contrast to what is normally expected of the peer who is supposed to be Leader of the whole House and not just of his particular faction in the Government.

As you know, I am not one to gossip, but privately his colleagues are whispering that he is under stress.  Downing Street has been questioning his performance and, in particular, his failure to deliver his not-so-merry band of Conservative peers in support of House of Lords reform.  There are even rumours that he might be replaced in David Cameron’s Government reshuffle – should it ever happen.

Moreover, so I am told, no less a personage – if such a thing were possible – than the Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Government Chief Whip and Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentleman-at-Arms, has let it be known that she is ready to take on the burden of the Leadership were it to fall on her shoulders.  (It is not, of course, immediately apparent why Baroness Anelay – aka “The Steel Magnolia” – would have more success than the hapless – and grumpy – Lord Strathclyde in keeping the rebellious Tory peers in line.)  This is all in private: publicly she says her only ambition is to play golf again at Woking Golf Club.

So Lord Strathclyde’s extraordinary rebuke of Lord Joel Barnett (who first entered Parliament when Lord Strathclyde was four years old) is seen as a sign of stress and the only question on the lips of Tory peers is whether a summer holiday will be sufficient or whether an urgent course of anger management lessons is going to be necessary.

Rt. Hon. the Lord Strathclyde with Theresa May

Lord Strathclyde works his charms on a clearly fascinated Home Secretary

Lady Anelay’s steely look

Lord Strathclyde is on manoeuvres: a strange telephone call

Telephone message received: “Please call Geoff in Lord Strathclyde’s office as soon as possible. He would like to have a meeting with you before the Christmas break if at all possible.”

I have to admit to being intrigued.  This would be the first time that Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, Leader of the House of Lords, has ever asked to see me. And before Christmas …..??!!

I dial and speak to Geoff:

“Hello, this is Lord Toby Harris.  I had a message to ring.”

“Oh yes. Thank you Lord Harris.  Tom Strathclyde was keen to have a meeting with you and Lord Kirkham  in the next week or two before the Recess.”

This was even more intriguing: I have never even spoken to Lord Kirkham, the South Yorkshire billionaire, founder of the DFS Furniture Company and Chairman of the Conservative Party Treasurers.

“Are you sure you’ve got the right Lord Harris?  What’s the meeting about?”

“Oh, fundraising, I think.”

“What sort of fund-raising?”

“I guess, it is for the elections next May.”

“I think you have got the wrong Lord Harris.”

“Oh, err, are you sure?”

“Yes, I think you want Lord Harris of Peckham.”

Of course, Lord Harris of Peckham is not quite in the same league as Lord Kirkham: he is only worth £285 million and he only does carpets.

Still, it is good to hear that the Leader of the House of Lords and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is doing his bit for the Conservative Party coffers from his Parliamentary office with the support of his civil servants ….

Lynne Featherstone to get a Theresa May bollocking?

Talking to your local newspaper is clearly the way members of the Coalition Government have of dissenting from the Number Ten approved line.

First, we had Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, putting the boot in to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and her Human Rights Act deportation cat story.

But now Lynne Featherstone, a (very) junior Minister in the Home Office, has followed suit in an article for her local paper, saying:

In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. …

As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.”

So we now know what she thinks of her Home Office boss and what she said about the Human Rights Act and the cat and the deportation story.

And she goes on to assert that changes to the Human Rights Act are:

just not going to happen”.

My contacts in the Home Office tell me that the Home Secretary “gives a pretty good bollocking”.  Lynne Featherstone has already been the recipient of at least one when Theresa May told her to tone down what she said in her blog.

I would love to be a fly on the wall at Monday’s Ministerial meeting in the Home Office when the Home Secretary has a few words with her LibDem Parliamentary Under Secretary who called her cynical, lazy and ignorant.

Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 4: Nick Ross to be a Tory-backed candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

Blair Gibbs is the Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, the Tory-leaning think tank.  He is also a former Chief of Staff to Nick Herbert MP, the Policing and Justice Minister.  He is at the Labour Party Conference trying to sell the policy of directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to delegates (or, if not sell, at least get a grudging acquiescence that they are going to happen and will be elected in November 2012).  In a meeting this afternoon he acknowledged that the Conservative Party was looking for “capable and charismatic” individuals to stand as Police and Crime Commissioners as “Independents with Conservative support”.

I asked him what sort of people he had in mind who were “capable and charismatic” and might fulfil the role.  Quick as a flash, he suggested Nick “I’ve never worked with a minger” Ross for Thames Valley.

I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned it to him ……

Blair Gibbs wants Nick Ross as a PCC.

Home Office to perform U-Turn on Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

I understand that Home Office Ministers in the House of Commons will tomorrow table eleventh hour amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Having spent the last few months arguing that no changes were possible, I am told that the changes will be major and that they will involve postponing the first elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners outside London until November 2012.

This is a major u-turn by Ministers and an expensive one.  Elections in November will cost a lot more than holding them in May 2012 or May 2013 when they would at least coincide with some other local elections.  And, of course,  turnout in a potentially wintry Autumn is likely to be much lower…..

It is not yet clear whether there are to be any other concessions, in particular, to require PCCs to act in a more collegiate fashion with a Board holding them in check.

Nor is it clear what this means for the timing of the changes in London, where the Mayoral elections are in May 2012 – just weeks before the Olympics – and where there were originally plans to implement the changes and create the new MOPC this autumn.

Either way this is an indication that the many long hours of debate in the House of Lords DID have an impact ….

Total Politics 2011 Blog Awards

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

So when did Eric Pickles grow a beard?

Yesterday was the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Government’s large and sprawling Localism Bill.  My colleague, Lord Jeremy Beecham, made a characteristically witty speech during which he made the following comment about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

“The Government’s approach seems in many respects to be driven by a belief in an apparently inexhaustible appetite on the part of citizens to vote-for elected mayors or police commissioners, or in referendums called by a fraction of the electorate, a neighbourhood forum, or a handful of councillors. This assumed insatiable thirst for Athenian-style democracy-and Mr Pickles is, after all, only two letters short of Pericles-is matched in ministerial minds by a demand on the part of the public directly to manage local services.”

A few minutes after his speech a Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, bounded up to me in the Peers’ Lobby and said that Jeremy Beecham had just made a rather fine joke about me in the Chamber.  When I looked baffled, he repeated it, saying my “name was only two letters short of Pericles”.  Leaving me puzzled, he wandered off. 

Slowly the awful truth dawned……

Two lessons: Eric Pickles is so boring that Liberal Democrat peers can’t remember whether he has facial hair or not … and perhaps I might usefully lose a few pounds in weight.

Was William Hague having a “Don’t you know who I am?” moment?

I have just passed the back entrance of Downing Street on Horseguards Road, where a rather peeved-looking (not to say hot and be-suited-looking) William Hague was standing with a few assorted protection officers and aides trying to get through the gates.  The security guards were clearly dubious about letting him in.  He did not look best-pleased.