Have passport, will travel, won’t legislate

I’m no fan of Nadine Dorries, the Mid Bedfordshire MP whose time in the Australian jungle on prime-time ITV was meant to teach the basics of abortion law to an audience ignorant of politics via the processes of eating an ostrich anus. (I could at this point say ‘she was lying with cockroaches rather than sitting on the backbenches with them, but let’s not go there….)

Her inappropriate trip abroad rightly saw her punished and stripped of the Party Whip, the significance of which might filter down to her when she’s stopped catching up with her constituent’s emails whilst lazying in a luxury hotel.

And then, from the other side of the Commons, along comes a man to usurp the scourge of abortion clinics and horny teenagers everywhere in the pursuit of passport-stamping.

Hendrick has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons by way of the hitherto obscure “All Party Parliamentary China Group”, who seem to promote on their website press-releases from other government departments whilst not doing anything themselves. The MP for Preston is called “an officer” of the Group, but one seemingly without portfolio.

Well, the former MEP for Lancashire Central has found something to do without a portfolio, and has found it to the great cost of £43,211. He has spent four months  – FOUR, count them Nadine, you amateur! – away from his Preston constituency, presumably acceptable to his Labour colleagues on Preston Council because they’ve chosen not to say anything against him in public. (At least Nadine’s party colleagues grumbled to the press; Preston’s Labour Group have been silent.)

Oh wait a minute, maybe they have said something about his conduct. Earlier this year they had to grumble and groan because he’d forgotten that his constituency has something called a Guild once-every-twenty-years, calling his decision to wander back to Preston on a whim an embarrassment. An MP since the year 2000, he should by now have been told that it’s tradition for Prestonians to mark the Guild from the start.

There’s nothing on his personal website or the APPCG site which explains why Hendrick has to take so much time away from being an MP for Preston. It’s reminiscent of the worst days of arrogance from parliamentarians, who considered a safe seat (majority 7,733 in 2010, down from 12,268 in 2001) to be a platform from which they launched a totally separate career. At least Nadine said she was leaving her constituency duties to talk about politics (or at least try to, good job ITV editors). What does Mark Hendrick say? Well, from what I can see, nothing.

His predecessor as Labour MP was Audrey Wise, for whom the term ‘firebrand’ might as well have been her given first name. The difference between them is beyond comprehension. From being the MEP for the area, Mark has now become the MP for jollies and junkets, so distant from the Ribble that he almost forgot about the Guild. Is it any wonder that his share of the vote has plummeted in the ten years between first election and the most recent? Voters are aware of his jet-set lifestyle even if he isn’t aware of them.

Even if the ‘zombie review’ does get voted through, Preston’s constituency boundaries give any Labour candidates a headstart. Hendrick could spend four weeks out of every five drinking at Ambassador’s parties without suffering much at all. It’s this complacency and arrogance which marks him out the most. There’s no justification for his absence or the connected costs. There’s no justification for his jetting off to China without any reason or result published on-line. Preston already has very strong relations with China and elsewhere in Eastern Asia through the University of Central Lancashire and from their website it appears Mark Hendrick’s jet-setting adventures have no place in their achievements.

Safe seats foster ‘ownership issues’, and boy does Holidaying Hendrick come across as having those. Preston is not supposed to be the hotel he checks into every quarter whilst clocking up the airmiles. But it seems to be, and that can’t be something on which the local CLP can be silent on for much longer….can it?

a third way

Earlier this year I likened the constitutional argument between Nick Clegg (House of Lords) and David Cameron (reducing the size of the House of Commons) to the horror film Saw, insofar as whatever one man achieves the other suffers personal/professional injury. I concluded that it would be better for the Liberal Democrats in the long term to play down House of Lords reform; the amount of damage done to the LibDems if they’re seen as obsessed with the issue will only benefit Cameron and his stirring backbenchers.

(Incidentally, Labour are now against House of Lords reform, which might come as a surprise to people).

Somewhere from the long grass is another constitutional tinkering that could be about to whack the Coalition in the face like Sideshow Bob and garden rakes. That’s the ‘right to recall’ issue, something Cameron said he supported at the height (or depth, depending on how you see it) of the expenses scandal.

Although it has been spoken of as early as April by the Leader of the House, ‘right to recall’ remains the reform that dare not speak its name. MPs were reticent to scrap 50 of their colleagues in the boundary review process so it’s not surprising that handing electors such power is down the list of priorities. It’s not as though other countries which use recall mechanisms make it easy – there’s petition chasing across the US on an almost daily basis as people rush to find millions of valid signatures. In the UK, a smaller population with smaller constituencies makes recall potentially easier to manipulate, handing the profession awkward squads (the Newspaper Comment Section Corps.) the power to play merry Hell for the sake of it.

“We should have the power to sack MPs!” is a populist move, which might persuade people to rush for a pen at the earliest opportunity. Remember, though, that the e-petition to bring back the death penalty barely registered much support at all, which dampens fears that the green ink parade will be orchestrated to chuck out any Cabinet Minister which looks at them funny.

If the push-me/pull-me games over House of Lords reform verses Reduction in the Number of MPs ends up with both defeated, ‘right to recall’ could be the compromise choice. It may have something of the gesture about it, though it’s easier to trail at either devolved assembly before being introduced at Westminster, and should see a genuine change in the attitude of MPs who think the expenses farrago has died down. Forcing a by-election in cases of criminal behaviour makes as much sense to me as chucking out of parliament lawmakers whose seat exists by virtue of a great-great-great grandfather getting into an emotional clinch with a washer-woman. General elections can be easily ‘ducked’ by MPs who don’t fancy having to face the music (as we saw with record numbers of retirements prior to 2010). The ‘right to recall’ would be almost unavoidable.

Constitutional reform is long overdue in the UK, in part because the mere mention of the administrative wheels behind the whole charade tend to make people glaze over (not just their eyes). The lack of will by any government, of any colour, is in stark contrast to the manner with which this Coalition has tried to get into the workings with spanners and hammers aloft (“spanners” is not a derogatory term meaning ‘Clegg and Cameron’, honest). That Labour, of all parties, stands against constitutional reform is jaw-slapping. That a party ‘of the workers’ chose to stand against modernising the voting system (which would give members of the public more say in who represented them in parliament, one of Labour’s founding principles) staggers me still today. The AV referendum would have been won had Labour chose to kick FPTP rather than Nick Clegg.

Lords reform may well be defeated by a bizarre combination of the now anti-reform Labour Party and backbench Conservative dinosaurs, in much the same way that reducing the size of the Commons was almost chucked out by the same tag-team of old school grumps and new breed professional politicians in Burton’s suits and safe northern constituencies. I warned the LibDems against looking like obsessives over issues like this, just in case the passion overflows. No party would lose face if, as an alternative to the bickering over the most serious reforms to our country’s governance, they helped ‘right to recall’ onto the statute books. Cameron once called for all parties to follow him in supporting the change: I wonder if he’ll now use this as his price for peace across the Cabinet table.

Everything to fear

Back in 2008, Labour’s Jacqui Smith explained why it was ‘vital’ to monitor email, internet and other communication use. That plan was eventually dumped, though its ghost has been hanging around Westminster and GCHQ for some time. Somebody called ‘Chris Huhne’ (where he now?) slammed the plans as being “incompatible” with living in a free country. Back in 2009, Jo Swinson   rightly criticised plans to snoop on social media users.

But what now for these Liberal Democrat MPs, and others, who are not in Opposition any more, as time has moved on and plans to create databases of everything typed, texted and crammed into 140 characters is drawn up by Coalition partners? To what extent has the dynamic changed between the instinctive liberal belief in civil liberties and the responsibilities inherent in being the junior partner in a Government? One hopes the dynamic has not changed at all: all Liberal Democrat MPs, regardless of proximity to the Cabinet table, must reject these proposals outright.

Labour have little wiggle room with this. The party who came up with the plans in the first place have an embarrassing record on civil liberties and freedom of speech, regarding these as optional extras. Under Blair and Brown, Labour were amongst the most authoritarian government this country has ever seen – ID Cards, DNA database, locking up children without charge and driving tanks onto the tarmac of Heathrow airport in the name of ‘counter terrorism’. Successive Home Secretaries attempted to outdo each other in their ‘tough stance’ on civil liberties, out-Torying each other as they went. John Reid relished becoming more of a Conservative Home Secretary than any of his predecessors, concluding that the ‘not fit for purpose’ Home Office should be beefed up, toughened out. Labour were enemies of civil liberties, making the decision by Theresa May to scrap controversial stop and search laws  and control orders within months of coming into power all the more remarkable – when the Conservatives are in charge relaxing civil liberty laws, you should be worried about the extent to which you were extreme.

This snooping law proposal is obscene, a return to the dark Labour days, and must be resisted. The ‘internet community’ showed how dangerous SOPA laws would be for intellectual properties;  it must now do the same for freedom of expression. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is an obscene parody of the danger inherent in these plans. GCHQ is unaccountable, unreachable, yet Ministers feel it right to allow the tentacles of that agency to reach out of your phones, laptops and tablet devices like so many scenes from 1980s horror movies: licking your ears, sewing up your mouths, stealing the words from your fingers as you type. This is not “safeguarding freedom”,  this is theft of your thoughts, your ideas, your opinions. There can be nothing more idiotic than this concept of ‘safeguarding’ by way of making freedom less certain, less secure. Remember the lie “if we change our way of life, the terrorists win?”.  This would be the terrorists “winning”.

The words of George Orwell are so often invoked in cases like that so as to lessen the impact. Make no mistake about the lessons from history, especially those written not solely as fiction but as a warning.

I am liberal by instinct (you wouldn’t want to choose being liberal, it’s like consciously choosing to be gay or an Aston Villa supporter).  My suspicion about Governments of all colours comes from their actions – as their words are often blocked by FOI requests and firewalls. Labour were rightly beaten by good sense and reason as they continued their assault on freedom of speech, but the Hydra in Westminster tends to have skin which is coloured red and blue: one hopes, beyond all hope, that there’s no orange. Liberal Democrat MPs must ensure these proposals are voted down and out at every opportunity. Not just on the broad brush “freedom of expression” motion but from each and every angle – legitimacy, cost, reason, sense, achievement. How can this forever morphing ‘war on terror’ have shaped itself into an attack on the millions of innocent British people using email, chat rooms, message boards, Twitter? What justification can there be  to ‘root out’ the bad guys by having everyone clicked ‘suspicious’ like so many Minesweeper boxes flagged for uncertainty?

This has not been a good few weeks for the Coalition, so anything which manages to knock down the reputation yet further must be a hum-dinger of a plan. This stinks to the highest heavens from the lowest sewers of the Big Brother tendencies within the Home Office. We’ve been here too many times recently, the shadow of ‘terrorism’ seeping into proposals like so much bonfire smoke in the eyes. We cannot allow this plan to happen – it’s disproportionate, it’s alien to British values and it’s just plain old damned wrong. Real time monitoring of conversations – just read that phrase out loud! – is not the act of a Government that respects its people. It’s the act of a Government out of control. We are a better people than that. Resistance must start now.

AVin’ a larf

Those of you with difficulty sleeping may have already noticed how long the House of Lords has held onto the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Having started before Christmas, it’s still there and they’re still at it.

One look at the amount of amendments lodged should give a clue as to what is holding back the Bill .

Essentially this Bill is in two halves, and reflects the compromise which ultimately brought the Coalition together. Reducing the number of MPs from the Cameron camp, removing the skewed and failed First Past the Post coming from Clegg. The one Bill – I’ll call it “PVSaC”, which sounds like a minor player in the first post-Communist elections in Transnistria – has joined a whole swathe of constitutional reform coming from the Conservative-led Government, and heaven knows we’ve been waiting for the Tories to flood the Commons with reform (voting change, fixed-term Parliaments, directly elected police chiefs, referendums on proposed council tax rises, what a time to be alive, etc.)

Labour’s foot-dragging has been an affront to democracy. They daren’t even put the door of reform ajar; they would rather lock it shut. Labour’s dinosaurs (“they’re off the leash, as Clegg put it, somewhat muddled) have not “scrutinised” the Bill, they have torn it to shreds. They patronise the electorate – (“People aren’t used to referendums” they say, “They might not know how to cope with multiple ballot papers on the same day”, treating voters as fools for the basis of a strawman argument made not from common-sense but spit and string.)

Make no mistake – this Bill is in serious danger of being talked out. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday is all it has left to have any chance to survive. Labour’s wrecking amendments have already pushed back polling day from May to October, and have promised to talk out the constituency boundary review section until they drop dead rather than hand the Conservatives with constitutional victory. The AV referendum may be suffocated before it is given to the people to decide. How offensive that Labour will be the Party who deny the people a right to say how parliamentarians are voted.

I have been a passionate (and doubtlessly boring) advocate for constitutional reform all my life. It is one of the rare passions I have left. It frustrates and angers me that Labour, of all parties!, are now those standing against reform whilst the Conservatives, of all parties!, are left making the case for change. The decision to talk out the Bill will ultimately kill any chance of future reform for my life time, if not forever.

Between today and Wednesday the future of democratic reform will be drawn. To borrow a phrase; “the Bill has been torn to shreds, the pieces are in flux, what happens when they rest is up to us. Let’s reshape the country.”


Hazel Blears verses Andrew Neil. I think one of my favourite quotes has to be ;

I didn’t give you that answer because you didn’t tell me you were going to ask me….

Interesting, too, that Blears talks and acts in the manner of many of the Blairite/social democratic wing of Labour bruised and bitter by the more left-wing Ed Milliband’s leadership success…



Reform agenda

If you have often been confused by the phrase “cutting off the nose to spite the face”, may I point you to the news that the parliamentary Labour Party are to vote against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill not for reasons of principle but for misguided and misunderstood ignorance.

Labour are all for voting reform, we’ve heard many a Labour MP (including Gordon Brown during the leaders debates) say as much. Tony Blair wasn’t so much of a fan, kicking Roy Jenkins’ “AV+” model into the long grass without barely having enough time to dog-ear the report’s index page. Most MPs agree that the UK needs to replace First Past The Post, the “winner takes all” system whereby an MP can have 5 years on the Green Benches on the back of being LESS popular than all the other candidates on the ballot paper combined.

Labour fought the 2010 election on a manifesto pledge to support AV. To turn away, as they have announced they will do, gives the impression that they would rather oppose for the sake of opposition, a truly pathetic reaction.

Their reasoning draws from the fact that the Bill also puts into place boundary changes to lower the number of MPs in Parliament from 650 to 600. It goes without saying, surely, that the UK is too small a country to have 650 MPs? An ever greater reduction would be welcome in the long-term, not least because India (with over a BILLION PEOPLE) has 545 members in its Lower House. We know now, then, that Labour support spending millions more on maintaining the House of Commons as the most bloated Chamber in the democratic world. Good that we have that sorted.

One of the most amusing – down right laughable – parts of Labour’s opposition is their use of the word “gerrymander”. If only they could use their insults correctly! How can it be fair that Labour can “stack up” smaller, compact urban seats with fewer electors while all other parties – not just LibDem – are forced to fight larger, mostly rural constituencies, often for less votes?

Some critics on Facebook and Twitter seem to be ignorant to the existence of the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales, three organisations who have been doing this sort of thing independent of Government since the Second World War. “Tories want to gerrymander the country!!” is the kind of ignorant headline grabbing whinging I’d expect from less well tendered Student Unions, not the Labour Party. They know, as most of us know, that the Boundary Commission process is at arm’s-reach from Government. Opposing these changes for the sake of being anti-Tory is utter dribble.

What this means, of course, is another flip-flop in the known facts of British politics. Labour are not only the party against police accountability and now against progressive political reform, too.

To be against the AV referendum because of some misguided understanding of the boundary review process, as if it is some newly invented system never before seen under the eyes of God, is the most cynical and child-like ploy in modern politics.

Just what exactly is the current Labour Party in favour of?

Cross in the Box

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour MPs bopped up and down like hyperactive children during the announcement on constitutional reform. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had walked into the Chamber with the kind of reform for which the Labour Party was once known. Following 13 years of virtual inactivity from Labour on voting reform and constitutional renewal, the Party now seem to be going around cutting off their noses to spite their supporters.

Remember the Labour Party promise to change the voting system? It was first written in 1996, fought on in the 1997 election, and then dumped in the long grass for fear of handing the Conservatives a majority. Now they act like spoiled children, afraid of the improvements which are proposed as they sit still stunned by their election defeat. It’s like having an argument with a teenager; confident by their stance for a few stubborn months before changing their mind without notice a week or so later on.

Labour are afraid of change. Suddendly the Coalition government are talking their language; reform, renewal, progression, the Conservative Party speaking with a liberal accent. For 13 years, Labour barely touched constituentional reform, stuffing the House of Lords with more unelected members than ever before, and making changes to the postal vote rules which one election court judge described as “being akin to a banana republic”.

Labour are frightened of the Equal Constituency size plans because they sit pretty in undersized urban seats. They fear AV – after losing an election promising AV in their manifesto – because it may mean working in coalition with other parties after 2015. And they cannot stand the idea of fixed term Parliaments – another promise – because it takes control out of their hands.

Nick Clegg is holding another winning hand. Labour are sitting in the mud of their own contradictions and stubborn opposition for the sake of it. Renewal should be at the centre of our broken, tired, outdated constitution. Labour was once the Party which stood against the establishment, wanting equality for all, demanding the changes to renew the nation. Now Labour stick to the old routine, dumping their newest and freshest members into opposing these worthwhile changes like so many young men dumped into Occupied France.

Labour was the future, once. When it learns how to be an effective Opposition, maybe there will be some hope. For now, every Labour MP who stands against AV, fixed term Parliaments, and constituency shape reform, simply looks petulant and provocotive.

Barbed-wire Budget

Given “Brown’s legacy”, the first coalition government Budget sure could have been much worse. I am very concerned about the housing benefit cuts, but for most of the Budget I was very pleased at the credible alternative to Labour’s “spend spend spend”

As I said yesterday the VAT increase is unfortunate. One perspective I would like to run with – however uncomfortable I am with the increase for the long-term – is the hope of economic stimulus between now and January 4th. Will the big-ticket items be purchased now in such volumes to keep consumer confidence high and High Streets moving? Will increasing concern about the rise affect Christmas sales?

Increasing Capital Gains Tax to 28% is another hit, although those who can afford to pay tax on their capital gains should remember the “holiday” they have enjoyed since Gordon Brown reduced the rate while he was Chancellor. As put far more professionally by the Millennium Elephant some time ago, the increase will put right a lot of the unintended consequences of Brown’s reduction. Paying more on earnings than the woman who cleans your office? Not fair.

The increase in personal allowance to just shy of £7,500 is one step towards the LibDem policy of £10,000 before the end of the Parliament. The country could not afford the £10,000 in one leap – you bet your last dime Gordon Brown would have made that leap and charged us for it – so the increase is a welcome move. It certainly helps the 800,000 who will not be in the income tax bracket at all. Who would have expected that under a Conservative government?

Taking the income increase as one of the stand-out achievements of Liberal Democrat influence, I hope this encourages a culture of saving the money which is not taken in tax. God knows I need to put some more money away. It’s encouraging to see that the Budget retains support for ISAs.

Contention comes in the benefit cuts. Child Tax Credits are to be withdrawn from couples whose income is deemed ‘too high’, perhaps to reconfigure the system towards those who need the benefit most. Remember that middle-income earners were never supposed to reap the reward of the Tax Credit policy; this could go some way to redress the balance in a fairer way. Freezing Child Benefit – effectively a cut – could be redressed by the increase of the child element of CTC. If this is the quid pro quo I would like further information on it.

Where the biggest issue of contention seems to currently lie is housing benefit. The new regime of “maximum limits” on claims is supposed to run down the massive total amount spent nationally. If Channel 4’s “Fact Check” is right, there could be some horrific unexpected consequences;

the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed today the new cap will apply nationally. Labour MPs warn of a housing crisis in London and the South East, where rents are higher. For example, in parts of Hackney, the maximum housing benefit is £1,000 a week for a four bedroom house. Losing £600 a week would mean families currently claiming housing benefit would have to move to cheaper parts of London

The consequences of this policy make the liberal hairs on my neck stand on end. I fully accept that the cost of housing benefits is excessive, and a maximum limit could well help deal with those who are genuinely messing with the system, those who are genuinely claiming more than they are entitled…But as we know from Council Tax, “one size fits all” just does not work across the nation. In some parts of the north of England, this policy change could be a terrible idea.

(And, lest I forget, the cider increase is reversed. Good touch)

In conclusion, then…

Is this a Budget of “teh evil Toriez” as some elements within Labour would have it? No. This is the best that could have been done with the sort of cards which would have made Victoria Coren panic. Labour are responsible for massive national debt, repayment of which will soon cost more than the English education budget. What else could the Coalition do but to decrease spending and increase taxes?

Labour need to advise exactly what they would have done with a country on the edge of a Greece-style meltdown. The Coalition have been as fair as the economics allow – higher personal allowance, fairer rules for CTC, decreased Corporation Tax…There’s a lot which could have happened which has not. This is the Conservatives talking with a Liberal accent. The Budget is tough. The times are tight. I would rather live in this age of responsibility than Labour’s time of plenty.

Fall of Gordon

Peter Hennessy’s “Prime Ministers – the Job and its Holders” is one of my most well-thumbed reference books. Each post-war PM is treated with care and consideration, with a chapter heading as concise as they are cutting. John Major is the “solo-coalitionist”, Tony Blair introduced by “command and control”.

So what if Hennessy updates his book to include Gordon Brown? What chapter heading then, what treatment given through the window of recent history? “Flawed by design, floored by events”, perhaps?

It was always clear before the relaunched Observer gave up its pages to the newest allegations that Gordon Brown is a man of short-temper and bullying tactics. It’s how he got the job of Prime Minister in the first place; influential blogger Guido Fawkes has been detailing these allegations for years.

That Brown has mental instabilities is not the sole reason behind wanting him to lose the next election. Pick any of the disastrous policies of this Government from 1997 to the present day for more than enough – from the billions wasted on Trident renewal to decrease in civil liberties through the continued scandal of child poverty levels, lack of funding for public transport, and of course the £800bn national debt. Every failure of the Labour “regime” has Brown’s fingerprints all over them.

The “clunking fist” can barely keep a grip on the ramshackle, tumbledown caboose that is the current Government, of which he has been the over-controlling keeper of the purse for too long.

That Downing Street has been in smear mode for most of today should come as no surprise, either. This Government has run a parallel news agenda to the rest of the media since Tony Blair became its leader; there is the news, and there is the New Labour Reality Information Service, and occasionally the latter will force the hand of the former while rarely vice versa.

Brown, as a leader, is finished after the events of this weekend. He has been lucky to have lost so many Blairites from his Cabinet, so as to dampen the blow of any backbench rebellion, but regardless of this quirk of history, the man has very few friends left to rely on. The allegations of bullying have been around for too long for them to be so easily dismissed by Harman and Mandleson; and events from the “election that never was” and the 10p tax shambles prove Brown can not be trusted to make a single decision without flapping around in a haze of indecision.

Were he a good leader with a short-fuse, very little of this mud would stick. But he is far from a good leader. He has dragged this country to about as low as it can possibly get. Nation-changing, life defining general elections rarely come around very often – after 1979, and 1997, this forthcoming 2010 vote is one of those rare moments.

Show Labour that you cannot afford to trust their policies or unreliable leader any more. Use your vote in 2010 to remove them from power.

The picture comes from this entry in Iain Dale’s blog

Mark Hendrick goes fishing

0.1% growth. The country is a sneezing fit away from flat-lining. Little wonder our dear leaders were not doing much vox-pop yesterday, given the last three months has seen the end of the longest, deepest recession in modern times marked by the slightest possible increase. Well, not even an increase, all told. If the ONS revise the figure downwards later in the year Gordon’s legacy will surely be complete.

If Labour MPs struggling to find anything positive to say about their 12 years in power – what with the aforementioned recession, the increasing deficit, out of control public spending, ID cards, illegal invasion of Iraq, growing gap between rich and poor no better than it was in the 1970s, and so on – they could do worse than to take a leaf out of the book of Preston MP, Mark Hendrick.

One time MEP for the former European constituency of Lancashire Central, Hendrick won the 2000 Preston by-election by a comfortable(ish) margin. He has certainly fostered some kind of reputation, largely for not once voting against the Government line (in a University town he voted for tuition fees, smart enough. Then voted for the Iraq war. Good man. And the DNA database. Everything in fact. Yes-man to the core. Loyalist to a T.)

Well now Hendrick has really taken the proverbial biscuit. Not able to reach for something positive to come from the disastrous calamity that has been Labour in power, he has taken to flooding middle-ranking Ministers with questions that should be prefixed “Could you ensure the answers are easy to copy and paste into my next election leaflet?”. These are such blatant electioneering questions it’s amazing they’re even allowed. Hendrick is wasting our money trying to find content for his election addresses. A scandal by any other name…

But, hang on! Is he actually getting anywhere with this fishing expedition? It seems not. For the good folk in the foothills of Government are not giving Hendrick the kind of answers he’d prefer for his next issue of “The Rose”.

For example…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many women resident in Preston have been awarded the Sure Start Maternity Grant since its introduction.

To which comes the answer…

Helen Goodman (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Bishop Auckland, Labour)

The information is not available

Okay, what about…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many and what percentage of suspected cancer patients resident in Preston saw an NHS consultant within two weeks of referral in each year since 1997.

Nope, not quite got a good enough answer for his press release here neither…

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The two week wait for all cancers was introduced from 2000 (HSC1999/205).

Data for the period 1997-2002 is not available.

There then follows a table detailing the information for Lancashire’s Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Try again, Mr Hendrick! Try again!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much funding his Department has allocated for the treatment of heart disease and cancer care in Preston in each year since 1997.

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The information requested is not collected centrally.

And again, Mark, come on, you know you can do it!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Transport how many miles of priority bus lanes have been introduced in Preston since 1997.

Sadiq Khan (Minister of State, Department for Transport; Tooting, Labour)

This information is not collected centrally.

Oh dear! Will an answer ever come?

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the percentage change in numbers of (a) overall recorded crimes, (b) recorded violent crimes, (c) burglaries and (d) vehicle thefts in Preston has been since 1997.

Alan Campbell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Tynemouth, Labour)

Information is not available in the form requested.

Oh fail! Oh shame!

The disgraceful behaviour of Mark Hendrick should really not go unreported. This man is clearly not asking questions for the people of Preston; he is dealing with his own re-election. It’s a total waste of time, effort, and money. But clearly it is alright for the man whose expenses claims included quite a lot of cash for a comfier bed. I do hope he can sleep well at night…