‎Champion disappoints with misleading statement on gender pay bill

I have admired Sarah Champion for quite some time. She has always come across as a refreshingly honest and engaged MP. She has also been a tireless advocate for those affected by the awful revelations regarding abuse in Rotherham.

It was with quite some disappointment that I read Champion’s statement on her ten minute rule bill. For someone who has made candid plain-speaking a trademark, it is depressing to see she is very willing to deliberately mislead the public when it suits her politically.

Champion’s bill is an important one, with a single, substantive requirement:

“Require the Secretary of State to make Regulations under Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 to require employers of more than 250 employees to publish information relating to the pay of employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees.”

Champion’s speech is well worth a read. And it is reassuring testimony to progressive politics that both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs voted overwhelmingly for her bill, opposed only by a handful of entitled, dinosaur Tories.

My complaint is not a big thing in the grand scheme of things. It is one for the constitutional nerds among us. It also speaks volumes about honesty in our politics, however.

Champion claims that:

“A second reading had been planned for next week, on the 27th February, but the Government scheduled it as the 16th bill to be read, meaning in reality it would never get called.”

Champion “strongly criticised the Government for kicking her recent motion for gender pay equality into the long grass.”

This is simply not true.

Her bill is a form of private member’s bill known as a ten minute rule bill. They are called this because, unlike other bills, the person hoping to introduce the bill is allowed to make a ten minute speech at the point of introduction, making the case for the proposals. Unlike other bills, it is at the point of introduction that votes are often taken on ten minute rule bills.

After introduction, a day is nominated by the MP in charge for the bill’s second reading (usually a Friday). It will take the first available slot after other bills already nominated. This is done entirely by the MP without any input from government. There are various complex rules which inform the ordering or private members bills, but one thing is very clear: the government has no say in deciding the order bills will be considered. It is not a regular business day.

Champion’s bill was introduced late on in the private member’s bill process and so naturally fell behind bills introduced earlier. The government did not schedule it to come sixteenth on the 27th February. Champion did – by nominating a day on which other bills were already scheduled.

Either Champion has poor understanding of procedure, or else she is deliberately misleading people to manufacture a reason for bashing the government.

If it is the former, I am sure she will be quick to issue a correction. If it is the latter, it is disappointing that someone like Champion would play on the public’s understandable ignorance of arcane parliamentary rules quite so cynically.

The really stupid thing is she has a great point to make about transparency in gender pay and doesn’t need to mislead people in order to make it.

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Mistruths, grotesque insults and the Medical Innovation Bill

The Lib Dems have been the recipients of heavy criticism in recent days from The Telegraph, The Express and, bizarrely, Andy Burnham, for their decision to block Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill. Even the normally sensible Guardian gave more column inches to Lord Saatchi than an explanation of why the Lib Dems vetoed his proposals.

The Telegraph’s position should come as no surprise. They have acted as a mouthpiece for Lord Saatchi throughout. Then, a week ago, the Telegraph reported quite seriously on the complaints by David Tredinnick MP that we should use astrology to reduce pressure on the NHS. At least they had the good grace to admit that his claim that those opposed to astrology were ‘racist’ was ‘bizarre’. Strangely, the Telegraph report didn’t offer any comment from medical professionals as to whether using astrology to reduce pressure on the NHS was a good idea or not. The only criticism came from an unimpressed Liberal Democrat councillor, Michael Mullaney, who is challenging Tredinnick for his seat. Similarly, you would expect a right-wing populist paper like the Express to leap gleefully on another chance to indulge in another round of Clegg-bashing.

Burnham’s criticisms and the Guardian’s less than critical reporting of the bill are not so easily explained and are, frankly, disappointing.

There is no doubting the passion and commitment with which Lord Saatchi has committed himself to this cause. There is also no doubting the grief that has driven him, having lost his wife to cancer. However, the resultant headlines are an insult to the intelligence of most of us, who could all be struck down with these terrible conditions and illnesses (some of us suffering those conditions right now), and distract from the very real threat to patient safety that this bill presents. One might also hope that the Labour Party, and a national newspaper that prides itself on rational, critical journalism, might spend a bit more time scrutinising the details of the bill and, indeed, the processes around it.

First of all, the bill itself.

The Medical Innovation Bill’s innocuous-sounding purpose is to ‘Make provision about innovation in medical treatment.’ Lord Saatchi and his supporters are understandably most concerned about the highly emotive issue of horrendous, often painful, terminal illnesses for which the rate of development of new treatments often seems frustratingly and distressingly slow. Its basic premise is to protect doctors who try experimental treatments where conventional treatments have failed from claims of medical negligence.

And on the surface, it is very appealing.

The bill tries to do this by bringing forward an element of the four-fold test used to establish whether or not medical negligence has occurred to an earlier point. However, that is where the first problem lies. The test component it seeks to emulate is known as the Bolam Test and requires a doctor to find a responsible body of medical opinion to support the fact that another doctor night have made the same decision. The very purpose of the bill means this cannot happen, as the required body of medical opinion doesn’t exist. Instead, whilst misleading comparisons are drawn to Bolam, Lord Saatchi’s Bill actually redefines the test entirely (relying on the opinion of a single other doctor) – and then makes following that advice optional (presumably to protect the second doctor from any liability).

Despite securing passage through the House of Lords, the bill did not receive unanimous acclaim and indeed various amendments were suggested. One of these was for innovations to be registered. This was trumpeted by Lord Saatchi and his supporters as a response to critics and enough to allow the bill to progress. However, the Medical Innovation Bill doesn’t provide that register, doesn’t provide the means for creating it, provides no indication of who should administer it and provides no legal framework for the register’s operation and governance.

The public consultation on the bill conducted in 2014 is also worth reading. Not a single major organisation representing medical professionals or patients, and none of the leading charities, offered unqualified support for the bill. Almost all expressed reservations and some outright opposition, whilst appreciating and expressing sympathy with the motivations for wanting to accelerate innovation.

Surely, when people are at their most vulnerable, they need to be protected from potential treatments that could offer false hope or, worse, place them at increased risk? Reading David Hills writing on the campaign site for those opposed to the bill, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Lord Saatchi’s Bill risks becoming a ‘Quack’s Charter’. As I read it, a doctor with a pet theory (astrology?) could get the nod from a fellow doctor, perhaps who shares the view or who works in the same practise, and that would be deemed to be the required consultation (and which doesn’t even have to be taken into account), all with a view to preventing a future claim of medical negligence.

How can that be right?

Aside from the contents of the bill, it is worth pausing to consider exactly what is going on here in terms of making law.

Lord Saatchi’s bill was a private member’s bill. The Telegraph says that Norman Lamb told Jeremy Hunt that the Lib Dems could not support the bill, but there is scant evidence of Hunt championing the bill. Indeed, on the GOV.UK website, the only recent comment on the bill is from a PM spokesperson in 2014: “When asked about the Medical Innovation Bill, the PMOS said on the basis of a number of amendments to the Bill, the government was minded to support the Private Members Bill as it proceeds through Parliament.” That is not a ringing endorsement. Indeed, Hunt’s statement of 22nd November 2013 used very careful language. In announcing the public consultation that went on to draw out a large number of concerns, he said that “My second commitment is that the government will seek to legislate at the earliest opportunity, subject to the results of the consultation.” He did not commit the government to supporting Saatchi’s private member’s bill. He commited to legislating on the issue of medical innovation and working closely with Lord Saatchi in order to do so. They are not the same thing at all.

As a private member’s bill, the Medical Innovation Bill is one of a large number that was before the House of Commons. The Telegraph says that it was due to be debated 6th March but was pulled at the eleventh hour, presumably because the Lib Dems were blocking it. Interestingly, despite the report of it being pulled, it is still on today’s Agenda under Future Business and hasn’t been withdrawn at all.

But what does that mean?

Anyone who has any knowledge of how private members bills works will know that this is disingenuous. It is rare for the Commons to get past the first three or four private members bills on a sitting Friday. On the Summary Agenda for Thursday 26th February, two days before the Telegraph story, the Medical Innovation Bill was listed at number 45 for 6th March. It was never going to be debated on 6th March. Clearly, Lord Saatchi and his supporters were hoping that it would go through all its stages, on the nod, without any debate at all. Whatever your position on the bill, no-one can seriously believe that it would be good law-making to tackle such a controversial and emotive issue, where there are such strongly held and different views, without proper scrutiny.

All it takes to block a bill at 2.30pm on a Friday is for any member of the House of Commons to shout ‘Object’. The objector isn’t even identified in Hansard. As the Telegraph makes clear, Sarah Wollaston MP, the Tory chair of the Health Select Committee, was also opposed to the bill and so could have blocked the bill. It wouldn’t have to be a Lib Dem.

Rather, reports of blocking suggest that the Lib Dems have blocked some sort of deal inside government to give Lord Saatchi’s bill special treatment. Given that government doesn’t usually interfere in the order in which bills are considered on any given day, special treatment would have been – to use Lord Saatchi’s words – a grotesque insult to the House of Commons. Whilst it is a perfectly worthy bill, why should it take priority over the forty-four bills ahead of it on that day? What reason would government have to justify giving Lord Saatchi’s bill time but not giving time to Norman Baker for women’s refuges or Mark Garnier for road fuel pricing? Interestingly, there is also a footnote on the Agenda against the Medical Innovation Bill to say that “The National Assembly for Wales has not approved a Legislative Consent Motion in respect of this Bill”. This suggests that there may be a dispute between the UK government and the Welsh government as to whether or not the bill applies in Wales.

Lord Saatchi is a very well-connected and influential Conservative peer with access to all the political, scientific and medical advice that an eminent institution like the House of Lords (and being a prominent supporter of the Conservative Party) affords. He also cares passionately about this issue. But none of that justifies special treatment for a bill in the House of Commons and it is a credit to the Liberal Democrats that they have not bent to Tory pressure.

What this also shows is that the Telegraph and the Express are prepared to trade on people’s ignorance of the way that parliament makes law, as well as an understandable fear of serious illness and the suffering of those we love, to engage in appalling party-political attacks using disgusting and grotesque insults about Nick Clegg handing down death sentences. That Burnham joined in this ugly display shows how weak and contemptible the Labour Party is, too fearful to stand up for what is right when it might give rise to public criticism. That the Guardian’s coverage is so poor demonstrates how providing easy ‘balanced’ copy now trumps getting to the truth behind a story.

Disappointingly, none of the concerns about the bill are properly addressed by Saatchi or his supporters. Instead, those who raise concerns are criticised vehemently by those who believe their well-meaning motivation means the bill and its implementation should be taken on trust.

Medical innovation is something that all parties should champion. It is a more than worthy cause. Lord Saatchi is right to highlight the fact that progress is not fast enough. But medical innovation should be discussed in a considered and thorough way. It should not be rushed through in a badly-drafted and flawed private member’s bill on a poorly attended Friday.

Thankfully, in the interests of patient safety, sound science and proper parliamentary scrutiny, the Lib Dems seem to have their heads screwed on.

And if Michael Ellis, the person who is sponsoring the Medical Innovations Bill in the Commons, doesn’t withdraw it, I hope someone is present to shout object.

Supporters of the bill can find more information here.

Opponents of the bill can find more information here.

Bill O’Reilly: Truth as a casualty of war (except he wasn’t in one)

Occasionally I turn on Fox News. There is something about the way it is so brazenly partisan that fascinates me.

To someone who occasionally under appreciates the enforced neutrality of the BBC and the general objectivity of our other broadcast media (yes, even Sky News), Fox News is a useful way to reset my critical compass.

There is no-one as odious, sanctimonious and downright unpleasant as Bill O’Reilly. America is an incredible country of opportunity. It is politically and culturally diverse and its landscapes and cityscapes can be awe-inspiringly beautiful. Its people are a remarkable testament to optimism and hard graft. O’Reilly, however, is the caricature that misinforms so many British and European views of Americans.

His bigoted ignorance and his resort to insult to ‘win’ arguments make for entertaining current affairs television. He also encapsulates the fantasy of that small, but vocal and influential section of the population who are angry, middle-aged, wealthy white men: gun-toting, church-going, apple-pie loving, R&B listening, testosterone-driven conservatives who cloak their prejudices (and insecurities) beneath a trumpeting of values and freedoms that they hate extending to those who are not like them.

Unpleasant as these characteristics are to many, none disqualify you as a journalist. What does destroy your credibility, however, is screwing around with the truth.

Bill O’Reilly has been caught with his metaphorical pants down and it is not a pleasant sight.

Like veteran NBC news anchor Brian Williams, he has apparently lied about his experiences as a ‘war’ reporter, including in El Salvador and the Falklands War. It was this latter assertion that prompted me to write, as his coverage has the potential to influence the views of our closest ally on that conflict and how it was conducted.

This article in Mother Jones started off the furore. Subsequent reports in the Washington Post reveal quite how serious O’Reilly’s position is. More recent reports still are suggesting that Fox has stopped defending O’Reilly.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.

The USA is a liberal democracy and, like Britain, proud of its raucous, chaotic free press. And so it should be. But truth should not be a casualty of war in a liberal democracy, particularly amongst those who claim to uphold the torch of press freedom. We have to be able to have confidence in those who report on what is happening in government and between governments.

If these revelations result in the final dispatch of Bill O’Reilly, both our democracies will be stronger for it.

The Green Party and Natalie Bennett: amateurish disorganisation disguising a dangerous political con

To say that Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has had a catastrophic twenty-four hours somehow doesn’t quite convey how disastrous her performances have been. Were the election TV debates ever likely to happen, the prep teams for the other political party leaders would be rubbing their hands with glee.

February 24th was the day that the Green Party launched their election campaign. No doubt she and her colleagues were looking forward to taking advantage of the publicity they have gained by attempting to convince the media that having one MP in one part of the United Kingdom (and control of a council in the same part of the world that they regularly seem to disown), makes them a national political force to be reckoned with.

Exposure also brings scrutiny, however. Natalie Bennett’s appalling interviews yesterday, combined with the bizarre attempts to prevent reporters asking questions about their policies at yesterday’s campaign launch, should make any sensible, intelligent person think twice before voting for the Green Party – particularly if they care about the environment. For what was exposed yesterday was Bennett and the Green Party’s very cynical and deliberate attempts to mislead the public and deceive voters into giving them their vote.

The morning began with an interview on the Today programme in which Bennett effectively called for Britain to appease a dangerous Russian leader ahead of maintaining its commitments to international law and human rights.

No matter that there is widespread concern that he is seeking to destabilise a sovereign country. No matter that he may have his eyes set on other countries who had to shake off the yoke of Communism in order to exercise the democratic freedoms that Bennett appears to take for granted. Like Farage in the European Election debates with Nick Clegg, Bennett appeared to become an apologist for a regime that abuses human rights, that is supremely intolerant of members of the LGBT+ communities, that has casual and alarming disregard for the rules of international law, and which uses oil and gas as tools to subvert the energy security of other countries.

From the BBC, Bennett went on to LBC and an interview with veteran interviewer Nick Ferrari. This was an opportunity for the Green Party to showcase their central pledge of providing 500,000 homes by 2020. The appeal of this should be obvious to anyone. There is a crisis of availability of affordable homes and any political party seeking to address the concerns of the electorate, and particularly younger voters, needs to have serious and credible policies on housing.

Bennett’s performance is being widely credited as among the worst in political history. If that is an exaggeration it is not much of one, as this excerpt on housing policy reveals.

It is extraordinary that the leader of a political party should go into a major broadcast interview so spectacularly unprepared. It was also a shame the interview wasn’t allowed to run on. Policies on housing, as a key concern of voters, deserves the highest levels of scrutiny to ensure credibility. Having demonstrated that Bennett (and presumably the Green Party) has no clue about the costs of building a house, couldn’t show how their 500,000 houses would be paid for, and couldn’t even manage basic arithmetic, Ferrari asked about how the land would be paid for. The idea that these homes would actually need to be built somewhere clearly hadn’t even occurred to Bennett.

It is not unreasonable for us to ask where the Green Party intends to build these homes. In five years’ time, under a Green Party government, there would be 500,000 new homes. The issue of affordability is greatest in the South, South East and South West of England where land is scarcer and battles often hard fought by local community groups trying to protect small ‘green lungs’ that are threatened by central government directives on housing. Will land be compulsorily purchased and homeowners evicted so that denser housing can be provided (as happened with the New Town developments of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s)? Will councils be made to use environmentally sensitive sites where other supplies of land are exhausted? Will targets to achieve 500,000 homes be set centrally or locally?‎

There are other questions, too, beyond how the Green Party pay for this house-building programme, where they are going to be built and how they acquire the land. How do they intend to mitigate the massive environmental cost of building so rapidly on such a scale? How have they quantified and assessed the likely lorry movements, carbon emissions, materials etc? In so far as anyone can make any sense of Bennett’s figures, the Green Party are not intending to spend much on each house. So what environmental standards are they going to be built to, in terms of materials and emissions?

None of these questions are reasons to not build houses. They are, however, the sorts of questions that voters should feel able to ask of a party that claims to want to protect our environment, whilst promising spectacular house-building figures. They are also the sorts of questions that need answers if a policy is going to have any sort of credibility in a political debate.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the launch of a political party’s general election campaign might be a good place to start asking those questions. However, bizarrely, it seems that the last thing the Green Party want to do is answer questions on their policies. The various newspaper reports reveal either an alarming level of incompetence, which would lead you to ask fundamental questions about the Green Party’s fitness for government, or a determined and deliberate attempt to prevent scrutiny of their policies for fear of voters beginning to understand their real implications. The extraordinary attempts of Jenny Jones to prevent Bennett from answering questions on her radio interviews were bad enough, as if attempting to airbrush them from recent political history like some functionary of a former East European regime. But opening your press conference by saying ‘ You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them’ is frankly insulting. It shows a patronising disregard for the intelligence of voters who deserve more respect and less contempt. ‎

‎Earlier this month, the respected political commentator Phil Cowley published a thought-provoking article entitled What’s more important to voters? Coherent policy or the chance to ‘send a message’. His broad conclusion is that UKIP voters and Green Party voters are more interested in sending a message than coherent policy. That may well be true, but I would appeal to Green Party voters to apply themselves to looking at what they are really voting for.

The events of yesterday suggest that the Green Party is far more dangerous than UKIP. ‎Programmes like Meet The Ukippers leave no room for doubt about the nasty, small-minded politics of UKIP. The Green Party however attempts to present itself as a reasonable political party. They pretend to have a magic wand to wave to address the very real concerns of people who are disenchanted with the three main political parties. Ironically, the way they are conducting themselves they are guilty of more cynical deception than any of them.

February 24th revealed that there is no substance to the Green Party’s policies. Instead, Bennett and co fling promises about like so much political fly paper, hoping voters will stick. Scratch the respectable veneer of environmental concerns and you discover that the Greens are inconsistent and authoritarian fantasists who pay lip service to terms like ‘costed manifesto’ and ‘human rights’. In reality they play fast and loose with the very real concerns of people who are seeking to balance the various demands of their lives with ensuring we live in a world in which we protect our natural environment and use our resources sustainably.

In an election where there is so much uncertainty and so much is at risk, particularly the country’s economic stability and recovery, the cynicism with British voters regard their political classes needs to extend to ensuring the Green Party’s vacuous and potentially dangerous policies receive much-needed scrutiny.

Holding your nose to vote Ukip

Meet the Ukippers revealed the genuinely scary side of this nasty bunch.

aliberallife

What did we learn from the BBC documentary?
That Ukip will deal with racism, if it’s in your face and public. It was clear from the film, however, that if you don’t say it to the press you can expect to get away with it.

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That Ukip is perfectly happy to get rid of you, for being a racist, if you are unimportant and “ordinary”.

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Ukip have hit the dizzying heights of 11% in the latest Ashcroft poll and YouGov have polling that shows the electorate no longer see them as a long term political force.
At a Chatham House debate in March 2014 Nigel Farage said he was “proud” of attracting 1/3 of all BNP voters. He claimed that they were the voters who had been “holding their nose” over the BNPs racist agenda.

It would seem, Mr Farage, that there are parts of the electorate that are unwilling…

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EU supporters need to accentuate the positive

Thoughtful blog piece here that rightly argues that supporters of the European Union need to start making the case for membership in positive terms. The negative effects of withdrawing of course need highlighting, but proponents have spent far too long trying to scare people instead of persuade them of the benefits of working together. At a time of renewed Russian expansionism, when there are fast-growing and volatile global markets emerging, and at a time when environmental concerns are back at the top of the political agenda, it should not be a hard case to make.

In terms of the UKIP documentary, I suspect that most of the complaints were from UKIP supporters. I suspect they don’t like the flashlight of public exposure being shone on a lot of the unpleasantness that is otherwise disguised by trying to use the same political lingua franca of the three main parties.

dpetrieblog

Earlier this week Channel Four screened UKIP – The first 100 days, a mockumentary looking at what might possibly happen in the (somewhat unlikely) event of Nigel Farage  becoming Prime Minister in May.

Not surprisingly, it generated a lot of controversy, although I suspect that many of the complaints will have come from UKIP members. Personally, I was disappointed with the programme. I felt that the odd mix of satire (Neil Hamilton as Deputy PM!) and drama simply didn’t work and that the whole thing felt like it had been thrown together quickly without too much thought.

It does however raise the question of UK membership of the European Union and the fact that we seem destined to have a referendum  on the issue at some point over the next couple of years. Most business and political leaders seem to feel that uncertainty over our EU membership…

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Huff Post’s All-New UKIP Shipping Forecast

Very funny spoof. Though only very funny if you don’t think too much about it and realise how true much of it is true.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

The Huffington Post has published another satirical piece on the Kippers. This time it’s the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, describing the weather as announced by UKIP. It’s called ‘Rain, Moderate Or Gay’: Listen To The All-New Ukip Shipping Forecast, and it’s at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/17/ukip-shipping-forecast_n_6696828.html?utm_hp_ref=tw.

Enjoy!

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