Wednesday, 18 March 2009

(Some of) what I've been up to this week

Some days as an MP you end up doing quite a lot of high-visibility stuff in the Chamber that people get to hear about, either because they watch the Parliament channel or have signed up for theyworkforyou alerts or catch sight of you on the news. Monday was such a day - I managed to get called twice at DWP questions despite not being on the order paper. My first question was prompted by an email I'd had from a constituent, protesting at the Government's announcement of a special package to help senior executives who have lost their jobs get back into work. And then I managed to get called during topical Qs too, and took the opportunity to flag up the 10 year anniversary of Labour's pledge to abolish child poverty.

Then we had a statement from Alistair on the G20 finance ministers meeting, and I asked about city regulation. When I was on the Treasury Select Committee I'd asked on several occasions (in committee and on external visits) about the phenomenal growth in derivatives trading and the hedge funds, and whether the Bank of England and FSA and Treasury felt they could properly assess the level of institutional and systemic risk. From what I can recall, the responses often involved them explaining derivatives or hedge funds to me in slow and careful language, as if my concern was only prompted by the fact that I didn't really understand what these scary things were. I did. I do.

Anyway, they insisted they were on top of things, and now it seems that they weren't. (Ditto when Andy Love MP used to ask them about the sub-prime mortgage market. Andy spent most of the Treasury Select Committee's trip to Washington/ New York in 2006 asking economists and politicians and regulators about the sub-prime mortgage market: well ahead of the curve on that one). I digress, as ever: my question to Alistair was how, when financial institutions employ people with Ph.D. in physics and mathematics to conjure up new products and make hugely complicated calculations about market risk, could the FSA ever hope to keep up? Looking forward to the debates on Adair Turner's report on an end to 'light touch' regulation, but that's another topic for another day.

Later on in the day on Monday I spent three hours - interrupted by a meeting with Ed Balls and the rest of the DCSF ministerial team to talk about schools and children's issues in Bristol - in the Chamber for the Youth Parliament motion. When faced with Tory MPs who are doing their best to talk the issue out, and talking complete nonsense in the process, it's a difficult choice: do you sit still, say nothing and hope they will eventually shut up? Or do you rise to the bait and intervene on them to point out just how stupid their arguments are? I went for the middle option - didn't speak in the debate but couldn't resist a few interventions, e.g asking the leader of the old fogey tendency, Christopher Chope MP, how many young people he'd consulted (five, two of whom were gap year students in his office, two of whom were his daughters - and his local youth MP, who didn't agree with him). There was also a completely fatuous thread being pursued at one point by Philip Davies MP, who was trying to argue that allowing UKYP to use the chamber wouldn't play any part in encouraging more young people to become involved in politics. Which I can't be bothered to explain here. Just take it from me, he was wrong. And if you want some hard proof of just how far Cameron has got to go in dragging his backbenchers into the 21st century, have a read of the full debate in Hansard. (And bear in mind, they're trying to talk it out so when they say the Government doesn't want to debate it, they mean the Government doesn't want to spend so long debating it that a decision never gets made).

Anyway, as I was saying, some days you spend a lot of time in the Chamber. Today was the complete opposite. No point going in for Scotland questions (although I had submitted a question about seals being killed by Scottish trawlermen but it didn't get drawn). Then there was statement on the Staffs hospital which, though important, is obviously more a matter for the local MPs. And then there was an opposition day debate on the economy, which would have been worth being in the Chamber for, but we've got another full day debate on the economy on the 31st which I plan to speak in... So, by the end of the day had only spent half an hour in the Chamber, for PMQs.

I did, however, have a really interesting and productive day. For example, I met with the regional head of Barnardo's to talk about the children of prisoners, and to discuss how to take some of these issues forward. We're in the position now that we were with young carers ten years ago; it's simply not on the radar. But Ministers are starting to take an interest, and I'm confident we can really push the agenda over the coming months. Barnardo's in the South West is taking a lead on it, with two pilots - one in Bristol, one in a rural area - which could be really groundbreaking. So, left that meeting feeling very postive and energised, and then had a meeting of the All-Party Group on Poverty, with Sir Richard Tilt of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which was mostly about reform of the social fund. John Battle and Terry Rooney were amongst the other MPs there - both incredibly knowledgeable about welfare issues, and how different elements of the system fits together. Or doesn't fit, which is often the problem. The task now will be to put this information to some use.

Last port of call of the day was the Child Poverty Action Group's event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Government's pledge to abolish child poverty. Good opportunity to catch up with Kate Green from CPAG and some of the other child poverty campaigners. Ed Balls was the guest speaker, and it overran a bit, so we ended up having to race over to the Commons to catch the 7pm vote. Made it with seconds to spare. Very impressed by Ed's ability to leap up three stairs at a time, and even more impressed by his insistence on waiting for me to catch up. Don't know quite what the people in the public gallery would have thought when they saw me sprinting into the chamber as the doors were about to close, clutching my bouquet of flowers. (Won an award, CPAG MP of the Year...)

So, as I started off by saying - some days it's public, some days it's more behind the scenes stuff. But both are equally important. You have to know what you're talking about before you try to stand up and talk about it. Although I'm not entirely sure Messrs Chope and Davies have learnt that lesson yet.


Jim Baxter said...

'And then I managed to get called during topical Qs too, and took the opportunity to flag up the 10 year anniversary of Labour's pledge to abolish child poverty'.

Er, I saw the whole thing. You were about the last Labour MP standing in a mostly empty chamber and Mr Speaker Martin left you to the pretty much the end, fairly, no doubt, if you had spoken already.

'Managed' indeed.

I very much liked the way you put your question to JP though and have added you to my list of 'MPs Who Really Don't Deserve To Be Shot Whatever The Rest Of You Think' which I shall present to the People's Revolutionary Council when the time comes. No doubt they'll shoot me for it.

Kerry said...

Well I wasn't suggesting it required any great skill on my part!

Let me explain the terminology. If you're number one on the order paper, or number two or number three, etc, you don't 'manage' to get called. You're going to get called.

But if you attempt to come in on a supplementary, or on topicals when you're not on the order paper, or if you're a bit too far down the order but the Speaker speeds up a bit and they get to you, that means you 'managed' to get called. Ditto if, as happened on Monday, and again today, the Speaker is very kind and rewards your persistence by allowing the session to run ever so slightly over the allotted time, just so you get your big moment.

Today I was no. 10 on the order paper for BERR questions, but I didn't manage to get called - we only got to about Q7. (Tried to get in on earlier Qs on same topic - Royal Mail - but too much competition, and the Speaker probably remembered I'd had a good week). I did however manage to get called on Qs to the Speaker's Representative to the Electoral Commission.

I have also 'managed' to get an adjournment debate next week. I did this by filling in a form asking for one.

Why am I explaining this to you? Probably because I'm waiting for the kettle to boil and have nothing better to do!

Jim Baxter said...

'Why am I explaining this to you? Probably because I'm waiting for the kettle to boil and have nothing better to do!'

It's because you know I need help.

Thank you.

Kerry said...

Is that Dostoevsky on your profile pic? I'm impressed.

Kerry said...

Of course, on the subject of shooting people and not shooting them, you know about Dostoevsky and the firing squad? Turned him into something of a reactionary in his old age.

Jim Baxter said...

I do indeed know that.

It's merely a good likeness. No other similarity is claimed, implied, or, unfortunately, anywhere in evidence.

Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) seems like an awfully good bloke. I was very impressed by his speech today. Or do you know otherwise?

Kerry said...

I haven't the slightest idea who he is. Just looked at his (rather good) website. Still no idea. I suspect he may be an imposter.

Jim Baxter said...

An imposter speaking in the HoC? Impossible. Ah but wait - casts mind's eye over certain denizens of the Treasury bench -

I see what you mean.