The shadow of John Wilkes

The Commons did not want John Wilkes amongst them, but the people had a disreputable habit of electing him. In 1769, the Commons expelled Wilkes three times, and he was re-elected. Never since has the House of Commons tried to pick and choose its own members, until recent years.

The ‘recall’ of members is a recently innovation, and it has generally had public support. It is a limited remedy, unlike its equivalents in America: in places with a ‘recall’ system, no elected official can feel safe to get on with the job when any disgruntled group of residents can call for a vote to remove them, and cause all the personal expense of a new, untimely election campaign. No reason need be given over there.  Here, it is applied only where a Member has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a year or more in prison, or of a false expenses claim, or if he or she has been suspended from sitting for 10 days upon a judgment of the Orwellian-sounding Committee on Standards.

This is a constitutional problem. A crime, judged by due process of law, by rules of evidence and procedure and heard by an impartial judge and jury is cut and dried. It is understandable that a lawmaker should not be a proven lawbreaker in a serious degree. However just breaking an internal rule, made by politicians, judged by politicians, and with a miniscule sanction; that allows the Commons to pick and choose its own members.

John Wilkes may be stirring in his grave.

The recall procedure, it may be objected, is not so simple: after the Speaker certifies that the condition is met, it still needs a petition by 10% of the constituency electorate to trigger a by-election, and the cast-out MP can stand again, as Wilkes did. That is form though, not reality. Any party organisation worth its salt can arrange a 10% petition against their opponent, stopping people in the street with lurid tales if necessary, so the by-election should be considered a foregone conclusion. Then if the recalled MP stands again, he or she is damaged goods, trailing accusations and a proven conviction. The initial trigger then is as good as expelling the MP.

The pettiness of what can topple an MP is astounding, in constitutional terms: a year in prison is fair enough, but misclaiming expenses?  This came from the manufactured scandal current at the time, and should pass away as that enthusiasm has. I have never been in the happy position of having an expense account to  play with, but it begs one to push it to the limit and beyond. Judging right and wrong and convicting by so much as a hair’s breadth should not topple an MP. If it is theft, then let him or her be tried and meet the barrier of one-year of imprisonment, and if the judge will not judge it so harshly, let the accused resume his constituency duties.

Suspension  from sitting should never trigger the procedure. It is to put an MP’s position at the mercy of internal rules and an internally appointed committee of politically opposing members.

When the Recall of MPs Act was passed, it was condemned as a constitutional outrage by some Members, and they showed foresight in this. There is talk of expanding its scope – that would be  real outrage.

The focus now is Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn in Flintshire.  I will not say he is a pleasant man, and in private I will say much worse. John Wilkes too was a most disreputable scoundrel. If one is not willing though to defend those who disgust, one is not willing to defend any principle, as principles are impartial.

Wilkes was a libertine, a member of the Hellfire Club, a slanderer, a writer and publisher of obscenities – and he was hailed in his time as a beacon of liberty: “Wilkes and Liberty!” was a popular cry. Sometimes it is the worst of men who are the best champions for mankind.

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The silence; the shock

There are no adequate words for such a deed. A family weeps, a community weeps. That someone should strike in such a way against a husband and father, against the community and against democracy itself: it is not who we are.

Back in the different world that was 1983, Margaret Thatcher’s future was in the balance – the catastrophic economic conditions of her first years in office were not forgiven by many, but the J-curve had been passed, the economy was beginning to soar, and the euphoria of the Falklands victory was glowing in a newly confident nation, but still a nation with problems. The General Election held the future of the nation in balance, and no one knew what would happen.  Then as the first results came in, it was Basildon, working-class Basildon, and they elected a Conservative, which signalled the landslide that was coming. The harbinger of that landslide, Basildon’s fresh-faced young, smiling MP, was David Amess. He became a symbol of that night and of the new breed of Conservatives.

A face of the confident 1980s, David Amess served in Parliament long past that decade, never being appointed to ministerial office, being too much the backbencher, principled, keeping governments in line and speaking as a Member of Parliament should but as few do. He drew praise from all who knew him, frustration from his opponents, and worked hard, very hard, for all the causes, local and national, he turned his hand to.

That he should be struck down like this, in the course of his service, is too unspeakable. Ours is not  land where this can happen – but the wounds from the murder of Jo Cox six years ago are still raw, and Stephen Timms still bears the scars of an attempted murder that echoes yesterday’s. These murders and that attack were an attack upon democracy, utterly alien to all our nation has stood for. Since the creation of the United Kingdom, only nine MPs have been murdered in office: one yesterday, for motives we can guess, one five years ago by a nationalist, one two hundred years before by a mad bankrupt, and six by Irish nationalists. It is rare, very rare, and still too common.

Perhaps there is no way to predict when a solipsistic mania will seize a man and drive him to murder. One thing is certain – if it ever happens again, it must never cease to be less than utter outrage.

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Books

Lashings of a wounded tiger

Hark, hark the dogs do bark; the beggars are coming to town –
Some on commissions and some with petitions,
And all with an earnest frown

Clearing out the Augean stables of Whitehall is no mean task, so embedded are those who foul them. Eleven years of Conservative government, and nothing visible has been done about it, until recently. There must be a change, because the beggars are fighting back.

Until Boris came along, it was understood that the head of Harriet Harman’s Equality and Human Rights Commission would be a self-selected social justice warrior with the unique take on equality and rights that the left have, but no – it now has a level-headed chairman who actual believes in the brief, about equal treatment, and respecting diversity, not suppressing it.

Other posts too have started to fill with either conservatives or politically neutral nominees with brains and determination to do their jobs for the benefit of all, not to push specious philosophies, and not with non-entities who will fold before threats from social justice warriors in their teams. No wonder the embedded lefties are furious. No wonder they are working hard to reshape the landscape while they can.

Yesterday, the Home Office cancelled a series of training seminars run by a notorious race-hustler who has personally insulted the Home Secretary and belittled her family’s race. Naturally, she had been hired to talk about racial equality in the workplace. It is a bit like hiring Al Capone as an expert in avoiding police corruption. This cancellation was only after the lecture series was exposed by the eminent blogger Guido Fawkes – otherwise we have every reason the think it would have gone ahead, along with many others from worse hustlers than this one. The cancellation is a start, but how many more such seminars are still on the calendar.

I have met enough civil servants to have some sympathy with their position. They know that they do not understand all the things that are put in their hands and they need external expertise. Sharks are circling as they reach out. If you advertise ‘We need to borrow some cash’, it is not Barclays who will knock first but Micky ‘The Razor’ Fraser.

Who then is hiring people like Afula Hirsch in spite of her appalling reputation? It might be a junior clerk with Google as his expert. It might be a determined, embedded wokeist seeing an opportunity. They might just submit the name with an innocent face, or threaten accusations in the familiar way. Threats of denunciation should be regarded as bullying; a sackable offence.

The tide of wokery is intensifying, not because it is on a roll but because its position is under threat. The Spanish Inquisition was started not when Rome had a secure monopoly on ideas, but when it was threatened.

We must expect therefore a greater push for Critical Race Theory and Gender Awareness propaganda for years, and if it is not met with a forceful pushback, it will seize the narrative, and the appointments process. Minsters are in charge of every aspect of their departments, and must make their authority felt.

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Books

What do we make of Boris now?

A conference speech is just a PR exercise, a rally-rouser, but it signals something of an approach, perhaps, even if it just shows how the speaker perceived what the grass-roots members of the party want to hear as their priorities.

Boris is a stand-up comedian – the only one to reach such high office since Disraeli- and he can speak.  It was another virtuoso stream-of-consciousness performance with jokes, roasting of colleagues’ foibles, plenty of classical references and populist touches, woven seamlessly around disparate themes.  The paean to the NHS makes the teeth grind a bit, but it is the religion of the people so it has to be said, just as the candidates in the Roman Forum threw in praise for Jupiter and whoever was the favourite goddess of the day. This has been a very medical two years.

The theme of opportunity is a key Conservative theme, and sound money – though reconciling sound money and elimination of debt  with the big spending he also announced is a head-scratcher to be sure. he hinted that tax revenues are going to be bigger – but shall we see tax cuts, a month after a manifesto-breaking tax rise?  It sounds unlikely, yet, but that is what the grass roots and the Old Red Wall want to see.

Yes, the levelling up is good, and long overdue, but there has been a Conservative PM in office for eleven years and progress has been invisible. Admittedly Michael Gove was not put on the case before.  Yes, he railed with force against left-wing wokery, but that rubbish is being spewed out of Whitehall with ever greater intensity: even the Army this week were handed a leaflet telling soldiers about preferred pronouns and multitudinous genders – is the Government not in charge?

It was a good speech, full of triumph, patriotism and hope. It will sour though without action. Action is possible and imperative. Let us see what the months ahead bring.

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Books

Sir Keir Kneeler: speech in full

‘Conference, I look about me and ask the same thing you do: What am I doing here?

Never underestimate the challenges this party faces but also its successes: once we looked down at the Liberal Democrats as weirdoes but now we have bested them in that.

What I want to say to you is this: short sentences. Just a few words. Not even a verb.

I’ll start by some unconvincing populism by cheering the football results: Arsenal 3 – 1 Tottenham – and I know how you all hate Spurs fans.

We all have failings. I have a confession to make: after 14 years of marriage, I still don’t know what a woman is.

Now fill in random personal details here to make me sound human, with unnatural emphasis in places to sound angry.  It might be as interesting as your cousin’s slide-show last Christmas, but we have a long time slot to fill in and nothing to say. Then sound humble. Was I meant to say that out loud?

We will not always see eye-to-eye. I know I stand here as leader looking out over a different party:  I’m not a raging, hate-filled communist like most of you; I don’t beat up journalists in corridors like most of you; I don’t hate Jews like most of you. Even so, there are things that we in this movement share – we all agree our policies should target ordinary working people, and I am ready to pull the trigger.

We have all enjoyed the lettuce, gherkin, bacon and tomato sandwiches at lunch, the only sort we agreed.

I have worked in public service for most of my life. Baroness Scotland appointed me as DPP, and although I never prosecuted her, as head of the Crown Prosecution Service I learned the significance of those three those three words that appeared on my desk: ‘Complete’ emphasises that we must finish what we set out to do; ‘Utter’ shows the need to pursue things to the furthermost; ‘Pillock’ is me.

If we are who we say we are, we believe the government is magic, so we can blame Boris for everything from the weather to Tottenham’s fluke goal. If our party believes any principle, it is that the Tories are to blame. When we get power in our hands, we will ensure, as many of you have affirmed, there will be everything in the state, nothing outside the state, and nothing against the state – that is the Labour way.

So far I have not laid down any actual policy nor any practical way to achieve anything Conference has demanded. Let us keep it that way.  My watchwords will be Work, Care, Equality, Security – all values which we have done our utmost to extinguish.

I think of these values as my heirloom. The word ‘loom’, from which that idea comes, is another word for ‘tool’; and that is what I am.