Telegraph Morning Briefing: The Next Big Scandal, 23/02/2015

This political briefing was sent as an email to Telegraph readers, February 23, 2015

THE NEXT BIG SCANDAL

Good morning. There’s only one story in town today. The Telegraph, working with Channel Four, has revealed that Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw discussed using their position as politicians on behalf of a (fictitious) Chinese company, in exchange for money.

It is surprising that two elder statesman of British politics have behaved like this. They should know better, you’d think. Indeed, in 2010, commenting on the exposure of Labour colleagues for saying very similar things, Mr Straw commented: “There’s anger… and incredulity about their stupidity…getting suckered by a sting like this.” You said it, Jack.

As chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee, Sir Malcolm has access to some of Britain’s sensitive secrets, so it’s remarkable that he was so frank with what he believed was a Chinese company.

How will this play with the public? “Just more snouts in the trough” will be the public’s reaction. It doesn’t look particularly good just before an election. The extent to which this will aid the anti-Westminster politics of the Greens and UKIP is unclear. But it certainly can’t do such anti-establishment parties any harm.

Straw is not standing for parliament again. His statement is that he offered his influence for cash after his time as an MP is up – so it remains to be seen whether he has broken parliamentary rules. He and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have both referred themselves to Parliament’s commissioner for standards. A full investigation may take months.

Speaking to the undercover reporter, Straw speculated that he may later be in the House of Lords. “The rules there are different,” Straw said. “Plenty of people have commercial interests there… I’ll be able to help you more.” A new case for Lords reform? Or just for denying him the peerage he clearly expects?

As for Sir Malcolm, he is standing again, but his redrawn seat is not as safe as it once was. And his interview on the Today Programme just now, in which he suggested we cannot expect MPs to “simply accept a salary of £60,000” may well return to haunt him wherever he ends up.

Our leader today concludes the whole affair thus: “David Cameron once said that lobbying was the next great Westminster scandal waiting to happen. But it already has and nothing much has been done to arrest it. In truth, however, the much-touted remedy of a register of lobbyists would probably make little difference, not least when the approach is directly from an interested company rather than through an intermediary.

“Surely what is far more important is for MPs to behave honourably and with total transparency so we can all judge the propriety of their actions for ourselves.”

£1,600-AN-HOUR SECOND JOBS

Our other big scoop today is that MPs have declared earnings of more than £7.4 million from outside work and second jobs in the past year, with some making more than £1,600 per hour. The most notable name in our investigation is former PM, Gordon Brown, who declared an additional income of close to £1million. He was followed by Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP, who declared earnings of £820,000 – 12 times the annual MP wage.

BLUE-RINSE BRIGADE

Pensioners will keep their benefits of a free TV licence and winter fuel allowance so that they can have “dignity and security in retirement”, David Cameron will pledge in the Tory manifesto. In the Times, Sam Coates and Laura Pitel write that Cameron’s move is the latest attempt to halt UKIP and win over the age category with the highest turnout at elections. “This will mean greater cuts from the welfare budget, in a move likely to penalise the working-age poor further.” While Macer Hall in the Daily Express writes, “He [Cameron] will insist that universal benefits are a just reward to ‘those who have worked hard, saved, paid their taxes and done the right thing’.” The announcement sets the stage nicely for a Labour announcement later this week about cutting tuition fees, possibly at the expense of some pensioners. Conservative vs Labour = Old vs Young?

MILIBALLS

Talking of which, there are signs of more tension brewing between Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, as the Labour leader considers taking tighter control of public spending in a move which would clip the wings of the Treasury under a Labour government, reports the Times. The shadow chancellor recently irritated Miliband with his handling of a series of broadcast interviews. Reportedly, there is also friction inside the party over how to fund Balls’ tuition fee policy pledge, which Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, described as “tortuous”. The Daily Mail described the conflict as escalating into “open warfare last night amid fears their relationship in government could be even worse than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s”.

TV DEBATES PULLED

The mainstream broadcasters’ leaders’ debates probably won’t happen after all three main parties criticised the “cack-handed” negotiation of the broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News) handling of it, Peter Dominiczak reports But the Telegraph/Guardian/YouTube Digital Debates are still on the table…

PUTIN THINKS BRITAIN WEAK

Britain will send a signal of weakness to Putin and lose global credibility if the next government fails to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence, The Times reports. Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP and chairman of the defence select committee, warns that “The world has never been so dangerous. There is a real need [for a 2 per cent commitment]. It is of really powerful symbolic importance. It is a very important deterrent to Russia in particular.”

CLEGG’S PORTILLO MOMENT?

Kiran Stacey reports in the FT on Clegg’s campaign trail. In recent weeks, Labour activists have started believing that the 2015 election in May could be defined by the decapitation of Nick Clegg. The deputy prime minister has held his Sheffield Hallam seat for the past decade, but a recent Ashcroft poll suggests the race in Sheffield Hallam is tight, with Labour three points ahead of the Lib Dems – who are confident they can overcome the Labour challenge. “I think Labour have got carried away by their own hype,” Clegg tells Stacey.

LABOUR TO BURY GENDER ABORTION

MPs are likely to vote today against attempts to outlaw abortion on the basis of gender, after the Labour party warned it would have “troubling consequences,” Steven Swinford reports. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has told Labour MPs that sex-selective abortions are already illegal under the Abortion Act so new legislation is not needed and the move could inadvertently outlaw abortion in cases where there are “gender specific abnormalities”. In a letter to The Times – whose signatories include David Richmond, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Louise Silverton, the director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives – experts said the amendment “sets a dangerous precedent for altering the law surrounding access to abortion”. Meanwhile the Daily Mail scathingly report that documents circulated by the Trades Union Congress argued that the bill would “divide communities”.

TWO JAGS BACK

Ed Miliband’s decision to bring back John Prescott as a special advisor on climate change has been dismissed as a “desperate attempt to burnish his working class credentials” by Labour MPs, Steven Swinford reports. While the Sun reports that Tory MP Nigel Mills was equally unimpressed. “This is another dud appointment from weak Ed Miliband. The truth is, Lord ‘Two Jags’ Prescott is just another natural disaster waiting to happen for Labour.” The Times reports that Prescott has been brought in the fold to “shore up support among voters tempted to abandon Labour for either the Green Party or UKIP”. Dan Hodges writes in our pages that this “is a moment to celebrate the return to the political spotlight of one of the great figures of contemporary British politics.”While Daily Express columnist, Leo McKinstry writes that the return of Prescott betrays Miliband’s utter desperation

UKIP: NO REGRETS & SOUR MOODS

During last night’s BBC 2 documentary Meet The Ukippers, the expelled UKIP councillor Rozanne Duncan – who was the party secretary in Thanet South where Farage is running – was filmed saying if a friend invited her for dinner with a black person, she “wouldn’t be there, simple as that.” Insisting she was not racist, the 68-year-old said: “The only people I do have a problem with are negroes. And I don’t know why.” The programme is likely to have been highly embarrassing to Farage and his mood is unlikely to be lifted by the Sun’s exclusive YouGov poll that shows more than half of Brits want Cameron and Miliband to rule out any post-election deal that would bring the anti-EU party into No.10. The Times have investigated Farage’s expenses and found that he claimed nearly £9,000 in EU expenses over six months for utilities, insurance and business rates on a small constituency office, according to new documents.

TOO MANY TWEETS…

@PickardJE: Three certainties: Death, taxes, MPs caught in lobbying stings.
COMMENT

From the Telegraph

The Telegraph – MPs are still not being transparent on interests

Dan Hodges – John Prescott: The bulldog who saved Labour

From elsewhere

Melanie Phillips – A feeble West emboldens the forces of chaos

Anne McElvoy – The clash of two Eds raises the ghost of Labour past

AGENDA
MP’s are returning to Westminster and assembly members are returning to Cardiff Bay after recess

LONDON: The Home Secretary and Justice Secretary are to meet with the EU justice commissioner, Viera Jourova

LONDON 1200: Mayoral question time

TODAY IN PARLIAMENT

COMMONS:

Main Chamber 1430
Oral Questions on Defence

David Cameron statement on European Council

Serious Crime Bill [HL] – Report stage

Serious Crime Bill [HL] – Third reading

Oesophageal cancer – Mike Weatherley

Westminster Hall
1630 – 1930 Debate on an e-petition relating to ending non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare – Mr Philip Hollobone

General Committee 1630
First Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015, Committee Room 9, Palace of Westminster

Second Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Companies Act 2006 (Amendment of Part 17) Regulations 2015 and the Draft Companies Act 2006 (Amendment of Part 18) Regulations 2015, Committee Room 11, Palace of Westminster

Third Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Anti-social Behaviour (Authorised Persons) Order 2015, Committee Room 12, Palace of Westminster

Select Committee
1400 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, Room 5, Palace of Westminster

1515 Public Accounts: Comparing inspectorates, Room 15, Palace of Westminster

1605 Transport: Smaller airports, Room 16, Palace of Westminster

1615 Communities and Local Government: Jay Report into Child Sexual Abuse in Rotherham, The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House

1715 Political and Constitutional Reform: Government formation post-election, Room 8, Palace of Westminster

1900 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, Room 5, Palace of Westminster

LORDS: 1430

Oral Questions

Business rates reform, steps taken to support UK high streets

Effect of VAT on finances of sixth form colleges and non-maintained special schools

Crown Prosecution Service performance following recent budget cuts

Discussions with European Union member states regarding the handling of conflict in Ukraine

Legislation

Modern Slavery Bill – Report stage – Lord Bates

Short Debate

Hotels and facilities for disabled people

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