Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Too busy

I confess I don't always get the Wrexham Leader in Westminster, although a contact has e-mailed me a page from tonight's edition.

Headlined 'Too busy' to worry about expense claim, it explains why the North Wales Assembly Member Eleanor Burnham is not terribly concerned by her position as the second highest-claiming AM.

“I’m too busy looking after my constituents to bother about expenses tables," she says.

“I believe I am very good value for money. Perhaps we should now look at the expenses of people working in the higher echelons of the BBC.”

I don't quite see the link, but then I only operate in the lower echelons of the BBC. Perhaps Ms Burnham's claim will kill off the wicked rumour that AMs elected on the regional list system have rather less to do than their colleagues.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Time out

Just occasionally, for good behaviour, I'm allowed out of Westminster. I was recently despatched to see Lord Snowdon, who was happy to share his memories of the 40th anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales.

Lord Snowdon's role as constable of Caernarfon Castle was to organise the ceremony. Whatever you think of the monarchy - or the investiture - it was fascinating to hear the memories of a key player at the time.

You can read and hear more here. Lord Snowdon is a little frail these days but was very generous with his time.

He also find time to have a chat about photography after the interview and sign a book of his photographs for me. I really should get out more.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Planted questions

Another 41 Conservative MPs have signed cheques to repay expenses in David Cameron's latest exercise in transparency - or self-flagellation as some of the MPs might call it.

Among those to have reached for their chequebook, the Tory MP for Monmouth, David Davies, who can fairly claim to be a consistent questioner of the way our taxes are used.

He had the novel idea of setting up his own independent panel to vet his expenses. That panel queried two items - a council tax rebate and a claim for mortgage interest. The Tories' own independent scrutiny committee questioned a £12 invoice for a plant pot.

"I fully accept that these claims should not have been made and repaid them immiediately. To those who will inevitably suggest that I might have tried to do this to gain a financial benefit I think it only fair to point out that both the fees office and the independent panel have seen that I underclaimed on a number of items."

So David Davies will find himself £2,033.87 poorer and could be forgiven if he has second thoughts about setting up his own independent panel.

To add to his woes, he can't recall or trace the plant pot.

DAF or Daft?

There's almost enough jargon in this Welsh Assembly Government press release for a whole board game.....

"The Deprived Area Fund (DAF) was set up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reduce unemployment in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. The fund in Wales is already being delivered by JobCentre Plus and the DWP's City Strategy Pathfinders. For the next two years a portion will also be routed through two new partnerships - the Mon Menai Partnership and South West Wales Spatial Plan Economic Inactivity Partnership. Together the new partnerships will receive £3.4 million of DAF grant from DWP to help people in their most deprived communities to obtain and retain employment."

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Grand plan

Bad news for those of you who had already made travel and accommodation plans, but the Welsh Grand Committee meeting for July 8 has been cancelled.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain announced yesterday that the committee, made up of the 40 MPs from Wales and Cheryl Gillan, would meet to discuss plans to give the National Assembly the power to make laws on the Welsh language.

It would have been the first time that the committee had discussed a Legislative Competence Order (LCO).

The meeting was cancelled on the intervention of the chair of another Welsh committee - the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs - Hywel Francis.

He complained to Mr Hain that the (grand) committee would not have had time to consider his (select) committee's report on the Welsh Language LCO.

That report is said to be "imminent" and should be finalised next week, but will take seven days to print. So the Welsh Grand is postponed for another day.

Dr Francis says: "I have informed him (Peter Hain) that he will need to consult with me and the opposition parties before a Welsh Grand Committee can meet to discuss my Committee's Report."

That's the Secretary of State told, then. Dr Francis says: "Peter accepts it was a mistake for him to choose the date without consulting me."

The Wales Office says it did try to consult Dr Francis but struggled to contact him after he lost his mobile phone.


Jargon is one of the curses of modern life, a view I'd hold even if I wasn't trying to discover what "portrayal targets" are for my own BBC appraisal.

So hats off to Elly Chesterman, who has invented a board game - Jargon! - to help children settle into foster home.

Elly, from Wrexham, has spent 15 years as a foster carer - one of the unsung army who play such important roles helping vunerable youngsters.

Her board game has seen Elly short-listed for British Female Inventor or Innovator of the Year 2009.

She says: "A lot of jargon is used – we talk about respite care, educational needs, placements which can sound like a foreign language. We say a child has a contact visit with her grandmother when as far as the child is concerned she’s seeing her Nan".

Elly's idea has the support of the taxpayer-funded Welsh Innovators Network. I look forward to the spin-off game to explain some of the jargon used by politicians.

It could help the voters understand what they mean by "stakeholders", "task and finish groups", "service delivery", "patient pathway" and all the other impenetrable phrases loved by those who rule over us.

Work-free homes

There may be lies, damned lies and statistics but some figures continue to shock.

The Office for National Statistics revealed today that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of children in London live in homes where no-one works.

In Wales, the comparable figure is 18 per cent. The UK average is 15 per cent.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Bercow takes his bow

He couldn't stop smirking - and who could blame him? John Bercow looked rather pleased with himself as he made his way to the Speaker's chair for the first full day in the job.

Fashion experts will recall that he wore a normal suit and academic-style gown, without the train favoured by his predecessor. I don't recall Michael Martin wearing tights, although others do, but Mr Speaker Bercow went for trousers.

One or two Tory MPs thought his tie was a little bright and will have to go. Sir George Young (who has been more graceful in defeat than some of his supporters) might have chosen a quieter option.

But Mr Speaker Bercow got into his stride, with an early appeal for brevity from Ministers and backbench MPs. He may be a small man, but he has a very tall voice which helps avoid the risk of the Speaker's chair dwarfing his frame.

Another test lies ahead, when Commons leader Harriet Harman makes a statement on the new code of conduct for MPs. Will the Speaker shut her up on the grounds that Gordon Brown has already been touring broadcast studios talking about the same subject?

And tomorrow, he referees his first Prime Minister's Question Time. You can bet he's looking forward to it. As someone once said of another Tory, I have seen the future and it smirks.

ICANN do down under

MPs haven't had a good press of late, but some of them seem to be working too hard to spend their generous allowances.

Alun Michael, the workaholic former cabinet Minister and First Secretary, spent the weekend in Australia, leaving the UK last Thursday, returning Monday at 7am.

Those hoping for some paparrazi photos of the Cardiff South and Penarth MP sunning himself poolside in Sydney will be disappointed.

Mr Michael, who played a key role in the setting up of the UK Internet Governmance Forum, was a guest speaker at the 35th meeting of the jazzily-titled Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

As chair of the judging panel for the UK Internet Best Practice Challenge (a fun job, but someone's got to do it), he was guest speaker at the launch of the "2009 Australia and New Zealand Internet Best Practice Award".

Perhaps next time they could hold the conference and launch online and save on the jetlag.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The votes are being counted

The Radio Wales studio (two picnic chairs and a table) is still going strong on a patch of grass in between Westminster Abbey and the House of Commons.

Luckily, things have warmed up and Good Evening Wales presenter Gareth Lewis has not had to borrow the toe-warming canvas bag used earlier by his colleague Bethan Rhys Roberts (full marks, Peter Black and Tomos Livingstone, who also spotted the legs of Paul Flynn MP).

The Commons clerks are currently counting the votes in the historic first secret ballot for the Speakership.

Speeches from the 10 candidates were mercifully brief, and most added to their reputation.

An enterprising man from Ladbrokes is touring the outside broadcast points with a small blackboard bearing the latest odds. Sir George Young is the current 6/4 favourite.

Mystery Legs Competition

It's a bit cold of an early morning in Westminster and this Radio Wales presenter found a novel way of keeping their legs warm. No prizes, but top marks if you can identify the legs - and those of the more conventionally shod MP in the picture.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Community payback

The House of Commons has published a list of allowances repayments "voluntarily" submitted by MPs. You can read it here.

By my calculations, 14 of the 40 Welsh MPs have repaid some cash - and that doesn't include one or two who told their constituents they would pay back money but whose donations have yet to reach the public purse.

Whisky Galore

The way things have been going for Gordon Brown's Government, you could understand why its Ministers have been driven to drink.

The Ogmore MP Huw Irranca-Davies, a junior Environment Minister, billed us taxpayers £150 for a case of House of Commons whisky.

The whisky was intended as raffle prizes in his constituency. He'll now be paying back the cash after what he calls the indefensible error came to light with the publication of MPs' expenses.

David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, has been explaining how he used a family business to produce leaflets at a cost to the taxpayer of almost £2,000.

He says the work by Newport-based Burrow Heath was done at cost and neither he nor his family profited from the deal.

Other intriguing expense claims include the £100 Justice Minister David Hanson billed us to sponsor a Flint Town United football match. Let's hope local voters don't feel as sick as parrots after that one.

We're still working our way through the receipts. What's striking is how many MPs, having billed us for digital cameras, appear to have charged us hundreds of pounds for PR photos of themselves.

Colonial corner

Most Westminster reporters are spending today working our way through MPs' expenses, or at least the heavily-censored version available on the parliamentar website.

While there, why not drop into Hansard for this written exchange between Plaid Cymru's Adam Price and the new Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant.

Price: "To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek the addition of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to the UN's list of territories in the process of decolonisation."

Bryant: "The arrangements of Chapter XI of the UN Charter (Declaration regarding Non-Self Governing Territories) relate to former colonies for the purposes of domestic and international law. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of the UK.

"As far as the overseas territories are concerned we remain committed to modernising our relationship with them, while fully taking into account the views of the peoples of the Territories."

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tories oppose spending cuts

You may remember the outrage among opposition parties when it emerged that the Wales Office budget was to rise by 80 per cent one year.

There is now similar outrage about plans to cut the same budget by more than half next year.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan says: "At a time of austerity, all departments need to think about how they can save the taxpayer money, but Labour need to come clear about their plans and stop treating people like fools.

"Peter Hain promises that there will be real increases in government departments’ spending, when he must know his own department’s budget is being halved.”

Mrs Gillan also complains that the Wales Office will now bear the full cost of Mr Hain's salary - in his previous incarnation there the bill was picked up by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The amounts involved are relatively insignificant - something like £3.6m in a Welsh settlement of around £16bn (the figures refer to his office costs not the Hain salary!).

The Wales Office points out that it also paid Mr Hain's predecessor, Paul Murphy. A spokesman says: "This was a three-year settlement dating back to the Government's last Comprehensive Spending Review of 2007, which included a substantial increase in the Wales Office budget for the first two years.

"Planned efficiency savings over the first and current financial years were always anticipated to give us the resources necessary for spending needs in the final year, 2010/11. Nothing has changed."

The disputed figures cover the next financial year, by then the Conservatives hope to take power: no news yet on how much the budget would be under a Cameron government.

Demob-happy Speaker

There are two types of leaving speeches: one says "thank you, it's been marvellous, goodbye" and the other hints to varying degrees of bitterness at the real reason for leaving.

Michael Martin blended both types in his valedictory address to the Commons - all 24 minutes of it.

There was plenty of self-justification as he reminded MPs what he had brought to the job, before blaming them for the scandal that brought his downfall.

The Speaker may have been forced out because of his perceived slowness to respond to the issue but he criticised the response of MPs to proposals last year that would have banned them from using public money to buy household goods for their second homes and introduced tighter checks on spending.

"The response from this House was deeply disappointing. Half of the members did not attend to vote, and more than half of those who did vote rejected the proposals. I regretted that then. I deeply regret that now.

"And I suspect that many members of this House share my regret. Of course, the recommendations would not have solved every difficulty, but they would have ended many practices for which members have been attacked in recent weeks."

Having blamed the leaders of the three main parties here for failing to show leadership, it was then time for those three leaders to pay tribute to the first Speaker ousted for more than 300 years.

Nick Clegg faced the trickiest task, having been the only party leader to call on Mr Martin to resign. He confined himself to warm words about the Speaker's human qualities rather than his competence in the job.

After almost two hours basking in the tributes, Mr Martin said it reminded him of a farewell dinner for a long-serving councillor in Glasgow.

"So many good things were said he stood up and said I didn't realise how much you liked me and I think I'll stay on - but I can tell you your Speaker's demob-happy."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Celebrity matters

It's more than two years ago since the end of the Blair era was marked by predictions that a cultural shift away from the age of celebrity was on the way.

Indeed, one of those hoping to take advantage of this shift, told The Guardian:

"I think we're moving from this period when, if you like, celebrity matters, when people have become famous for being famous. I think you can see that in other countries too - people are moving away from that to what lies behind the character and the personality."

People may well be moving away from that, although recent photo-opportunities with footballers and other appointments - Sir Alan Sugar as a business adviser - suggests the Prime Minister is embracing celebrity culture.

This afternoon it was revealed that Martha Lane Fox will become Britain's "digital inclusion champion".

Ms Lane Fox is be a successful businesswoman in her own right. You can hear her for yourself if you book her via Celebrity Speakers.

Perhaps celebrity matters after all.

Missing in action

You may or may not be worried that 31 taxpayer-funded laptops, 10 Blackberries and six mobile phones have gone missing while in the carry of Welsh Assembly Government officials during the next three years.

The Lib Dems are very concerned about the possible loss of sensitive data, although they may be re-assured by an Assembly Government statement, which says no personal or sensitive data has been put at risk by the loss.

The statement comes from a spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government's Director General, (People, Places & Corporate Services).

By the time you've got that job title on your hard drive, there isn't much space left for any personal or sensitive data.

As if he'd never been away.....

It was just like old times at the Wales Office. The "Mandela for President" ANC poster had been restored to its place above the fireplace, although I struggled to spot the Nye Bevan statuette.

Peter Hain had his feet behind the Secretary of State's desk. Staff scurried around with an increased sense of purpose. One civil servant told me Mr Hain did more media interviews in his first week than Paul Murphy did in a year.

The media arrived for what you would have to term a wide-ranging briefing and left, almost an hour later, with notebooks bulging.

Digital Britain? Legislative Competence Orders? the Calman Commission? Labour's Welsh woes? The Neath MP had views on them all.

His views on the latter were rehearsed in today's Western Mail. He argues that Labour is performing worse in Wales than elsewhere - "It's not good enough just to blame it on Westminster and the expenses issue."

I did try to find out who he had in mind, who had been blaming Westminster and the expenses issue? I failed to persuade Mr Hain to name names, although you may have your own ideas.

On the Calman Commission, he suggested the Welsh Assembly could get to keep some tax revenues raised in Wales - the landfill tax and the aggregates levy - if similar powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

On LCOs, he confirmed that the Assembly Government's housing plans were back on the drawing board, but hinted that it could ultimately acquire stronger powers.

As we left, civil servants entered the room carrying platefuls of crisps, nuts and other nibbles.

Had the head of the private office been promoted to butler under the new regime? Alas, not.

Besides the media, the Welsh Secretary was hosting 11 children with cancer and leukaemia from south Wales, for whom the spread was intended.

The children also got the chance to visit the Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, for one of his last engagements before he steps down at the end of this week.

They are currently visiting Downing Street, where the Chancellor's wife, Maggie Darling, is organising a tea party.

The children were marched up Downing Street by Welsh Guards and Queens Dragoon Guards in full ceremonial reds.

Unlike last year the soldiers left their regimental mascot - the goat, Shenkin - behind, sad news for the children although possibly not for the Wales Office cleaners.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Clerical corner

William Hague's suggestion that Lord Mandelson could be made an archbishop met this response from former vicar Chris Bryant: "I am sure that he would not suffice with an archbishopric; after all, archbishops can be fallible."

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Archbishop Mandelson and William Hague's in-laws

Another former Welsh Secretary is turning into the star of the dissolution debate.

William Hague has been making the most of Gordon Brown's recent difficulties and the unstoppable rise of Peter Mandelson.

The Commons filled noticeably as Mr Hague spoke: "The unelected Prime Minister has managed to produce the most powerful unelected deputy since Henry VIII appointed Cardinal Wolsey except Cardinal Wolsey was more sensitive in his handling of colleagues than Lord Mandelson."

Lord Mandelson, said the former Tory leader, had gone around collecting titles and even whole government departments, with eleven Ministers working under him. Mr Hague read out the full list of titles:

"The right honourable the Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Heredfordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, First Secretary of State and and Lord President of the Privy Council and Secretary of State for Business and Secretary of State for Innovation and Skills.

"It would be no surprise to wake up in the morning and find he'dbecome an Archbishop".

Mr Hague also gave another insight into Hague family life, in exchanges with Conwy MP Betty Williams.

"I'm not afraid of any lady from Wales, other than my mother-in-law."

Myra Jenkins's response is not yet known.

Peter's Friends

As comebacks go, it was relatively low key. "It's nice to be back," said Peter Hain, as he spoke from the despatch box for the first time in 17 months.

"Even though my appointment was marked by an earthquake a few miles from my home."

Having spent the past week elsewhere, I was prepared for parliamentary tumult after so many turbulent days.

Then I remembered: nah, it's Welsh Questions. Question Time turned into something of a love-in, with everyone apparently pleased to see Mr Hain back in charge.

Even Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, Elfyn Llwyd, a past critic of the Neath MP, welcomed him back.

His past and present shadow, Cheryl Gillan, found some warm words for the man axed to make way for Mr Hain's return.

"In welcoming the return of the new Secretary of State, I also want to express my admiration for his predecessor.

"I've enjoyed working with Mr Murphy, a decent and straightforward man.

"We will miss his common sense and dedication to Wales, and I wonder what sort
of Prime Minister we have who could so easily dispense with his services."

Lembit Opik told the Commons Mr Hain should not have had to stand down in the first place.

Mr Hain gave every appearance of enjoying his comeback. As I write, he's leading for the Government in a lively debate on Plaid Cymru's attempt to force a general election.

"Low turnout at elections is the clearest sign that the British people are not engaged with the political process: that is our fault and not theirs. We seem obsessed with procedure and tribal party politics and now the public think MPs are all in this for our own ends."

Low turn-out isn't confined to voters: I'd guesstimate that barely 10 per cent of MPs have turned up for the debate.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A volunteer no more

No wonder he's smiling. Having toiled as Harriet Harman's
deputy for the past eight months, Chris Bryant has finally been put on the Government payroll.

The newly-promoted Foreign Office Minister will be around £30,000 a year richer after Gordon Brown completed his reshuffle of junior government posts.

Although once known as an ultra-Blairite, the Rhondda MP was among those involved in the coup against Tony Blair in late 2006.

Others involved in the coup against Blair, such as Wayne David and Mark Tami, have prospered in a Brown Government, although Mr Tami also had to get by on his backbencher's salary for a while.

Another who resigned as an (unpaid) parliamentary aide in the Blair administration, Ian Lucas, was today promoted from assistant whip to junior Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under the unofficial deputy PM Lord Mandelson.

As the Wrexham MP puts it: “It will be very exciting to work with Lord Mandelson and other colleagues in the department."

BNP: at home in Wales?

Now things have quietened down a bit, I'm being sent back to Westminster. Do let me know if I've missed anything important.

The reason for my temporary exile from SW1 can be found here. I've spent some time following the BNP around Wales, which for some reason is home to several figures from the party leadership.

During the last few weeks, we've been accused by anti-BNP campaigners of going soft on the party. A member of the programme's production team received two death threats after his details appeared on a blog published by a member of the BNP's leadership.

Do tune in, or watch the programme online, and make your own mind up.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Right place, right time

A surreal night spent in a tin barn just outside Haverfordwest.

The location of the national Welsh European election count was not perhaps the best advert for 21st century Wales - no broadband and the results read against an anonymous grey backdrop that passed up the opportunity to advertise the delights of Pembrokeshire.

For once, given my recent luck, it felt as if I was in the vicinity of the story. Twelve years ago, when the Tories were wiped off the map in Wales, no-one would have predicted a comeback that would see them as the largest party.

Labour will take some consolation that the low turn-out suggests their voters disproportionately stayed at home, but the Conservatives will also hope to reclaim some Euro-sceptic votes from UKIP at the next general election.

There was a long wait for the results, filled by spin from the political parties. Plaid Cymru, assuming they'd come second, tried to persuade us that this was a significant development as they would be the leading party of the left. They stopped spinning this analysis when the votes came in and they came third.

Labour blamed the expenses scandal for their woes, although tales of duck houses, moats and dog food on the taxpayer don't appear to have damaged the Tories. The silver lining for Labour is that they can more credibly warn voters of a Conservative threat at the general election - the danger for Labour is that the electorate may not longer be scared by that prospect.

UKIP's success appeared to take them by surprise, their winning candidate struggling to give the impression that gaining election to the European Parliament was a lifetime's ambition achieved.

UKIP may have swept up the anti-politician vote after the expenses scandal but it also suggests that not every voter in Wales views politics through a Welsh prism.

But it's the Tories who are wearing the biggest smiles today after the collapse of the Labour vote allowed them to claim victory with only two per cent more of the vote than last time. As I write, David Cameron is heading for Cardiff to join in the party.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Back to the future

With what has become an uncanny gift for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I'm in Cardiff today, working on a documentary about the BNP, rather than in Westminster.

So I'll leave the predictions to my colleagues closer to the action. There is a natural justice in Peter Hain's return after the police investigation into his deputy leadership campaign came to nothing. His Wales Office comeback will certainly raise its profile in the run-up to the general election.

But there will be widespread sympathy among Labour MPs at the sacking of Paul Murphy. He appears to have done nothing wrong, other than replacing his boiler on safety grounds.

The Torfaen MP left government with a typically gracious statement: "I have been very proud to have served in Gordon Brown's Cabinet for the past seventeen months, and I fully support his remaining as our Prime Minister."

It will be left to the newly-reshuffled Cabinet to explain Labour's performance in the European elections when the votes are counted on Sunday.

With an all-Wales turnout of 30.5 per cent, the potential for some interesting results is certainly there (an observation, not a prediction!).

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Question Time

A silver lining amid the gathering storm clouds? Prime Minister's Question Time was not as bad as some Labour MPs feared and no Minister has resigned for, ooh, several hours now.

Gordon Brown was calm throughout his half-hour in the Commons, offering magnanimous words for his departing Ministers despite provocation from the opposition parties.

Hazel Blears' resignation offered David Cameron an open goal. He said what you'd expect him to say. It felt as if Mr Cameron was pulling the odd punch.

Perhaps the most worrying thing for Labour would be for the Tories to go soft on the PM in their desire to keep him in Downing Street rather than a more voter-friendly alternative such as Alan Johnson?

There are reports of MPs being canvassed about a "Gordon Must Go" letter that could be presented to Downing Street as early as tonight.

You'd think Labour MPs would be doing a different sort of canvassing today and I've failed to find a backbencher who's been asked to sign a letter.

That said, there are plenty of Labour MPs who are unhappy with Mr Brown's leadership. Expect more to say so publicly when the polls close tomorrow night,


Hazel Blears timed her resignation to have the greatest political impact, 24 hours before elections that may decide the Prime Minister's future.

Will she now try to stand against Gordon Brown? (It's not easy under Labour Party rules to challenge a leader, but she may gather support from those who want the PM out).

Her resignation statement contains not a single word of support for Mr Brown: "Today I have told the Prime Minister that I am resigning from the Government.

"My politics has always been rooted in the belief that ordinary people are
capable of extraordinary things, given the right support and encouragement.

"The role of a progressive Government should be to pass power to the people.

"I've never sought high office for the sake of it, or for what I can gain, but
for what I can achieve for the people I represent and serve.

"In this next phase of my political life I am redoubling my efforts to speak
up for the people of Salford as their Member of Parliament.

"I am returning to the grassroots (where I began), to political activism, to
the cut and thrust of political debate.

"Most of all I want to help the Labour Party to reconnect with the British
people, to remind them that our values are their values, that their hopes and
dreams are ours too.

"I am glad to be going home to the people who matter the most to me: the
people of Salford.

"Finally, there's an important set of elections tomorrow. My message is
simple: get out and vote Labour."

Business as usual

Business as usual here today......just the one ministerial resignation so far. Hazel Blears has resigned as Communities Secretary.

She may have jumped before Gordon Brown could push her over what he called "totally unacceptable" behaviour, but for a Cabinet Minister to quit 24 hours before the European and English local elections is pretty extraordinary.

Prime Minister's Questions at noon could be fun, for those who enjoy blood sports.

Heaven knows what the departing Ministers will say once the people have voted and the need for party unity is less pressing....

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Election fever

You can't put an opposition MP in front of a camera at the moment without them demanding an immediate general election .

Next week they'll have the chance to vote for one. Plaid Cymru are to use their debating time in the Commons to call for a dissolution of Parliament.

Plaid and the SNP will use the debate to put pressure on Gordon Brown to hold a snap election.

Don't expect a massive turnout but it should be interesting to see how many turn up to vote for another encounter with the electors - particularly if any Labour MPs decide they really, really want an election now.