House of commons

The endless tiny errors of the NHS

I wrote recently elsewhere about Jeremy Hunt’s good new book examining unnecessary deaths in the NHS. Someone should write a companion volume about the other end of the scale of seriousness – the literally millions of small mistakes and obstructions effected by ‘the envy of the world’. Since 2014, I have found myself in hospitals many times, though never as a patient. Four close family relations or in-laws have died in hospital in that time, and several living members of my family have received various treatments. This has involved, I think, eight NHS hospitals and dozens of visits. In only one case has a major misdiagnosis contributed to otherwise avoidable

Revealed: the hidden costs of John Bercow

John Bercow may be gone but his legacy still lives on. The former Speaker of the House of Commons quit the role back in November 2019 but new costs from his tenure at the helm are still being uncovered more than two years on. Steerpike has done some digging and it seems the scandal-hit Speaker felt the need to call in the services of an expert PR adviser, despite him having access to both his own press secretary and the Commons media team. A Freedom of Information request has found that Bercow spent between £65,000 to £70,000 on the services of former journalist Tim Hames between 2015 and 2019. Who he,

Commons chiefs buy half-a-million masks

Labour has been making much hay out of the government’s £8.7 billion spend on personal protective equipment (PPE), much of it bought at the height of the Covid pandemic. The shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden claimed the figure would be ‘galling to hard-working households’ while his colleagues have made much of the government’s VIP lane to secure kit that was in desperately short supply throughout much of 2020 and 2021.  Mr S abhors waste as much as the next man. But it’s worth asking as to what Labour’s own alternatives would have been if they were running the country when millions of items were suddenly required for frontline NHS staff.

Commons’ staffers in bonus boost

Inflation, fuel prices and a looming cost of living crisis: it’s a grim economic outlook for many out there. Fortunately, MPs are doing their bit to help, namely by giving extra cash handouts to the staffers in the offices. Steerpike has spotted that almost a million pounds – £951,000 – was shelled out in ‘reward and recognition’ payments last year, according to the 2020/21 figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). A follow up request from Mr S has established the identity of the most generous bosses in parliament, with Sir Keir Starmer in the top ten of the 352 MPs who sanctioned such payments last year. Top of the

Could the Commons have Covid passes?

Today is the big day. MPs are set to vote on the ‘Plan B’ package of restrictions by 6:30 p.m tonight with many Tories publicly denouncing the winter restrictions as a step too far in a society protected by what Boris Johnson once called the ‘huge wall of immunity’ from vaccines.  The big question of course is how big the rebellion will be – 82 Tories are currently named on the Spectator’s list of self-declared rebels. If all were to vote against, it would be the biggest rebellion of Johnson’s premiership, comfortably beating the 55 who voted against a new Covid-19 tier system for England last December, with another 16 abstentions. Labour votes

Rayner nails Boris at PMQs

Angela Rayner is formidable. Until today, that adjective never suited Labour’s deputy leader. She can be combative, authentic, eye-catching and crowd-pleasing — and quite annoying. Clearly she’s as tough as a vintage Land Rover. But at PMQs, she added statesmanship to her roster of qualities. The session was sparsely attended. The press are in Glasgow covering the Frequent Flyers Summit, aka COP26. Boris came south, by jet of course, to put in a stint at Westminster. He was met by Rayner, soberly dressed and steely-eyed. Her tactics were well prepared in advance. She used feints and misdirection to keep Boris guessing and she varied long rhetorical assaults with punchy killer-blows.

Chips Channon’s judgment was abysmal, but the diaries are a great work of literature

It is often said that the best political diaries are written by those who dwell in the foothills of power. Henry Channon’s political career peaked at parliamentary private secretary to the deputy foreign secretary Rab Butler, so he was well-placed to document, and sometimes actively to participate in, the intrigues of those who inhabited the Olympian heights. Channon’s other great advantage was that he entertained — on an awesome scale. Scarcely an evening passed when he was not either hosting or attending a party in one of the capital’s grand salons: ‘All London,’ as he put it — by which he meant the great and the fashionable — flowed through

Our moral obligation to the Afghans who took us at our word

The speed of the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan is remarkable. Even those who thought that the Trump / Biden policy of withdrawal was a folly, did not expect that Kabul would be surrounded before the end of August. Their only mistake was to believe our assurances about having an enduring commitment to the country What makes the whole situation, with all the suffering that ordinary Afghans will endure and the damage being done to the US’s reputation for being a reliable ally, so exasperating is that after years of failure the US and Nato had found a relatively low cost way of maintaining a form of stability in the country. This

The lockdown delay has triggered a constitutional crisis

It is not the Battle of Marston Moor, but it strikes me that we are now in something of a constitutional crisis following the Speaker’s dramatic outburst this afternoon. In response to points of order about the fact Boris Johnson is announcing lockdown changes in a press conference rather than to parliament, Hoyle said that he had been told no decisions had been taken only to find out that there was an embargoed document setting out what changes were coming. A visibly furious Hoyle declared from the chair that: ‘This House is being misled’. Considering that misleading the House is a resigning matter, this is a remarkably serious accusation for

Rishi Sunak’s New Labour pretensions

The House welcomed the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as he announced his spending commitments for the coming year. Rish the Dish delivered all kinds of goals and priorities for the UK but he left his personal plans in obscurity. Or did he? The Chancellor’s naked ambition may be sheathed in a Jermyn Street suit but his strategy is easy to read: knife the Honey Monster and evict him from his lair. Today he was addressing himself to his colleagues in cabinet, and in the wider party, and he wanted to show political intelligence and presentational shrewdness. His critics have already accused him of betraying the NHS by freezing pay settlements for

How MPs lost their pay rise

When Rishi Sunak gets up at the despatch box tomorrow to announce his spending review, the Chancellor is expected to commit to a public sector pay freeze — with NHS workers exempt. Ever since this was first reported in the media, the idea has met heavy opposition from Labour while Tory politicians have had to get used to being asked on air why their own pay is set to go up at a time when the bulk of public sector workers’ pay is not. That well-trodden answer tends to go along the lines of ‘it’s a matter out of our control as Ipsa (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) sets MPs’ salaries’.

Bitter memories: my craving for a pint

It is enough to drive a man to drink. The most glorious weather, so suitable for white Burgundy on a picnic in a meadow-full of wild flowers, for rosé almost anywhere: above all, for beer. A few weeks ago, I wrote longingly about the thought of a pint of beer. Time has passed; the craving has intensified. Nor am I alone. Chatting to a friend about fine vintages being used as palliatives — these bottles I have shored against my lockdown — we agreed that there are moments when a foaming beaker of English wallop would hit the spot more satisfyingly than the most awe-inspiring bottle from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Tories rebel over Huawei – meet the new ‘awkward squad’

This afternoon Boris Johnson came close to losing a Commons vote for the first time since the election. Over 30 Tory MPs broke a three-line whip in order to protest over the government’s decision to allow the Chinese company Huawei to be involved in the UK’s 5G network. The government saw off the rebellion by Tory MPs over an amendment calling for Huawei to be removed from the 5G network in two years time if it is still deemed ‘high risk’ by British cybersecurity experts by 306 votes to 282. This means that the government’s working majority of 87 was cut to 24. The rebellion was spearheaded by Iain Duncan

James Kirkup

In praise of the MPs who spoke out in the trans debate

There is an old Westminster joke that says if you want to keep something secret, say it on the floor of the House of Commons. Day-to-day parliamentary business doesn’t often get the attention of national media outlets and thus the wider country. This is understandable but also a pity because we often end up missing our elected representatives doing the things we expect of them: debating important things, discussing subjects that concern voters, even sometimes showing thoughtful leadership. I’ve spent most of my career around MPs. Maybe I’ve been captured, but I often think they deserve a bit more respect than they get. Most work very hard (and much harder

Leadsom delivers a parting shot at Bercow

Andrea Leadsom has just given a rather long and very comprehensive personal statement in the Commons following her sacking in last month’s reshuffle. She took no parting shots at Boris Johnson at all, preferring instead to focus any anger on former Speaker John Bercow, with whom she had a very long-running feud. Why did she bother giving a personal statement at all if it was just to look back on the past few years at work? Someone with very little knowledge of what has happened in Westminster in the past few years might have been forgiven for thinking that Bercow was the one responsible for her leaving government, rather than

Can the next Speaker put parliament back together again?

MPs who aren’t in the process of defecting to the Liberal Democrats are using their conference recess to phone around their colleagues canvassing for the next Commons Speaker. Lindsay Hoyle is, according to YouGov, the favourite to win, but Harriet Harman and Chris Bryant are also running strong campaigns, along with Meg Hillier. Then there are the Tory candidates: Eleanor Laing, Sir Henry Bellingham, Shailesh Vara and Sir Edward Leigh. All of them are promising to stand up for parliament, albeit in rather different ways. Leigh, for instance, promises to ‘seek by my conduct and dress to submerge my personality into the office and keep business flowing’ (which if nothing

There’s nothing wrong with Jacob Rees-Mogg lying down in the Commons

If you are a journalist covering politics this year, every moment is a bad moment to take a holiday. I took a short one last week in search of grouse and arrived at Hunthill, the proud Scottish fastness of our host Henry Keswick, to find that Boris Johnson had promised to prorogue parliament. Since the party included a cabinet minister, another Member of Parliament etc, it all felt a bit like a John Buchan novel. As I watched the beaters approach us across the moor, I imagined it as the sort of scene Buchan describes so well in which the appearance of seemingly innocent sport on the hill is in

John Bercow picks his favourite parliamentarian of all time: himself

John Bercow addressed a packed crowd at the Edinburgh festival yesterday. He was gently quizzed by Susan Morrison who hailed him as ‘a grown-up in charge of the nursery’ at Parliament. She asked why he decided to swap the Speaker’s ‘full wig, stockings and buckled shoes’ for a business suit and a plain academic gown. ‘Out of date and passe’, said Bercow. He claimed that ‘young people’ had expressed keen support for his ‘approachable’ new costume. The togs may be modern but Bercow’s language belongs to the 18th century. ‘Nay’ is a favourite. ‘The Speaker is asked, nay, instructed to assume the chair.’ He calls debates ‘contestations’. He talks of

Why a leaky Commons and a Brexit crisis are symptoms of the same problem

Oh look, there’s water coming through the roof of the House of Commons! What a gift to those starved of metaphors for the mess that has been made of Brexit. The problem is that the water coming through the roof, which the House authorities are insisting is not a sewage leak (in a blow to fans of particularly crap metaphors), is far more than some kind of coincidental symbol of what’s going on. It’s actually just a different manifestation of the same problem afflicting British politics as the one that’s led us into the Brexit crisis. The House of Commons Chamber is the bit of Parliament that the public notice

The unbearable pointlessness of Parliament

Christmas books pages usually invite columnists to nominate their publishing event of the year. Well, here’s a corker: The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, published by the House of Lords Citizenship and Civic Engagement committee. That obscure body has 12 members and takes itself seriously. The Ties that Bind was the fruit of hearings it held into ‘civic engagement through the prism of the civic journey each one of us who lives in Britain will undertake’. Its 168 luxuriant pages of red and black print, published ‘by the Authority of the House of Lords’, has nine chapters, bullet points, footnotes, boxes, appendices and a