Parliament: How an Old Etonian triumphed over an anti Establishment right winger

The election victory of Rory Stewart, over Julian Lewis  by 14 votes for the chairmanship of the Commons defence committee had all the hallmarks of  a well  orchestrated  Conservative Establishment manoeuvre. The full result is here.

It meant that one Old Etonian replaced another. James Arbuthnot, as  Tory chair of the defence committee, stood down. Rory Stewart. replaced him. It also blocked a troublesome Tory who helped humiliate Cameron by stopping  him arming the rebels in Syria, which could have let jihadists obtaining chemical weapons. 

The voting – using the single transferable vote- among the most sophisticated electorate in the country – allowed loyalist Tories two stabs at the post.

 The first choice was probably ” safe pair of hands” Keith Simpson, Mp for Broadland, but when it became clear that Lewis had garnered enough support  from Labour to overtake Simpson.they had another figure up their sleeve, Rory Stewart.

Stewart, who had military experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been a tutor to Princes William and Harry and is regarded as a rising star. He attended recently along with George Osborne the influential Bilderberg Group. And significantly a very busy Chancellor took time out yesterday to vote. David Cameron himself did not have time.

Lewis who has encyclopaedic knowledge of defence matters  might not be so good as  Rory as a TV presenter but he would have been trouble.It will be very interesting to see how Rory handles the chairmanship of the committee and whether he makes waves or even wants to make waves.

 One fascinating fact: We have a new chair of defence who has tabled only one question on defence to the government in the last year. He’ll have to ask a lot more now to make an impact.





Housing development where Osborne gave his speech will have separate entrances for rich and poor

The true nature of Osborne’s recovery: £1.4m front door homes for the rich ( marketed overseas) and 70 back door homes for London’s poor. ( the rich will need servants to live somewhere near). See Jules Birch’s blog on the marketing and history of the development. Those living in social housing are actually BANNED from using the posh front. entrance. A new apartheid?

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s George Osborne!)

George Osborne chose a new housing development in London yesterday to give his speech on how the economy is ‘turning the corner’.

The chancellor said the development – One Commercial Street – was “a physical reminder” of what has been happening to the economy.

Well, he’s certainly right about that.

Because the cheapest private apartments for sale at One Commercial Street start at £750,000 with penthouse suites costing millions.

And the 70 units which have been sold to a housing association  – included because of Section 106 affordable housing requirements – will be in a separate part of the building and will have a completely separate entrance round the corner and well out of sight of the exclusive entrance used by the well-heeled, mainly foreign private tenants.

Yes – Osborne’s absolutely right about One Commercial Street being a physical reminder of the economy.

A rich minority living lives…

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Four Cabinet Ministers and a Tory special relationship “charity” get off lightly

Henry Kissinger- a star speaker at Atlantic Bridge's uncharitable events- picture courtesy UPI

Any political activist knows that party politics and charitable status don’t mix. And if they do and someone complains the effects can be toxic for the organisation and any leading figures involved.

The Smith Institute found this to its cost when it was torn apart by a Charity Commission investigation two years ago accusing its trustees and organisers of appearing to be too party political and too close to Gordon Brown. The damage to Labour was enormous and the Commission used its powers to hold a full inquiry and directed its trustees to reform the organisation or else.

This week it was the turn of the Tories – or did you notice it?

 Atlantic Bridge- patron Margaret Thatcher  and an advisory board composed of four prominent Tory Cabinet ministers, Liam Fox, George Osborne, William Hague and Michael Gove – was given a year to change its act- after facing exactly the same allegations as Labour. The charity which promotes the “special relationship” with the US – was found in a damning report to be little more than a promotion for Thatcherite party political beliefs and neo-Cons in the US.

But one reason why it may not have hit the headlines is that the Charity Commission was far softer on the offending Tory charity. For a start its press officer advised after they received the initial complaint from Labour activist Stephen Newton that the word investigate could not be used as they had not launched a formal investigation. Instead the phrase “engaging with the charity to address concerns” through a regulatory compliance case was used instead.

Now nine months later the report has been issued with the almost same findings against The Smith Institute. The key phrase is the finding that the charity is “promoting a policy which is closely associated with the Conservative Party.”

But instead of a six month direction the charity has been given a year to change and only then is there a threat against the charity’s trustees of further action.

But more significantly while it is clear that the charity had broken the rules for at least seven years nothing is being done about its tax free position.

These are not minor sums. This was the charity that was charging £700 a seat for VIPs and £400 a seat for ordinary mortals to hear Henry Kissinger speak at a luxury London hotel last year and see him presented with a Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom. The commission’s report discloses that the charity admits this event was part of a tax free fund raising drive. The donors – probably mainly higher rate taxpayers – could claim the money against their tax returns. And it is now clear that Atlantic Bridge can’t claim the same charitable status as the National Trust.

So why hasn’t this been referred to Revenue and Customs?  Why aren’t more searching questions not being asked of the advisory panel of Cabinet ministers who presided over an organisation that clearly broke charity rules?

Atlantic Bridge is not actually being repentant either. In a statement they reluctantly promised to follow the Commission’s ruling and have taken down their website for “updating”. But it expressed its  “ disappointment” at the Commission’s ruling  and refused to answer any questions about the role of their trustees or advisory panel.

 The Charity Commission is being a little too careful in handling this scandal. I wonder why.

A similar version of this blog has now appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.

Has Cameron blown it?

Cameron- what's going wrong: Picture courtesy Greenpeace

In an election that began competing with the Icelandic volcano for volatility and unpredictability, it is probably tempting fate to write any epitaph for David Cameron midway through the campaign.

 Yet what has become clear is that Dave has not “sealed the deal” with the electorate and has squandered a ten point plus lead which should have ensured that he easily formed a government on May 7, albeit with a small majority.

If he fails he faces a damning post mortem by his party but the seeds of his own potential destruction have been around before the campaign even started. They lie in the weakest links in his own shadow cabinet- George Osborne, his chancellor, and Chris Grayling, his shadow home secretary.

The  rise in Liberal Democrat support following the first debate is not so surprising when you compare the quality of the two key spokesmen backing Clegg with their Tory counterparts-Vince Cable dominates Osborne and Chris Huhne, a former leadership contender, outsmarts Grayling. The weakest link in the Liberal Democrats was until then Clegg who? Then came his first performance on our TV screens, reinforced by the second.

Osborne has been tainted ever since a Parliamentary investigation into the undeclared funding for his office during the last session (Tenth report  Standards and Privileges Committee. Conduct of Mr George Osborne HC 560) revealed that it had received some £487,000 of donors’ cash to fund his office from high fliers in the city and a scion of the Rothschild family.

What is extraordinary is that these huge sums to fund research and the access he had to brains in the City have failed to produce an economic policy to challenge Labour. Instead there seems to have been a combination of policies that would particularly benefit the donors (the big hike in the threshold for inheritance tax), a rush to introduce public spending cuts and a claim that a £6 billion jobs tax would snuff out the entire economic recovery..

The latter appeared to be holed last week when Sir Terry Leahy, the head of Tesco’s, announced he was not supporting a Tory co-ordinated call to cut the job tax – but was creating 9000 new jobs in the UK despite it. No explanation from Mr Osborne on that one.

Grayling has been effectively marginalised by Cameron during the campaign. He is symbolic of the fault line dividing the attempt by the leader to present a new “green blue” caring Tory agenda and the traditional Tory “ slash and cut taxes” backwoodsman – still the majority of old Tory voters. Expected to toe the new party line on gay tolerance, his mask slipped when he defended a Christian B&B owner turning away a gay couple.

Grayling is an Old Tory in New Conservative clothing – and the electorate are rumbling this. They don’t know where the Tory party really stands or if they are traditional Tories, what they stand for. This made the vacuous “Time for Change” slogan open to easy hijack from Nick Clegg.

Of course, Cameron might just bounce back to squeeze a minute majority by polling day, but time is now against him. Votes can be cast by post from this week so by the time the third debate takes place  it will be too late to sway millions.

The right wing press attack on the Liberal Democrats also had a fatal flaw – the majority of the new voters attracted to Clegg are the internet savvy under 35 generation.They don’t buy the papers anyway, so it would have zilch influence.

Whatever happens in this election – short of a miracle doubling of the Tory lead- Cameron has thrown away the Tories best chance for 13 years.

This blog is also on the Progress website.