Bercow crisis

It’s all going a bit Michael Martin for John Bercow: a Tory and Lib Dem ambush has thrown his speakership into question with the threat of a secret ballot to unseat him after the election.

Into the breach, however, steps Bercow ally (and Tory MP) Julian Lewis, who has emailed the whole of parliament to declare Hague’s ruse an “unworthy manoeuvre” [his emphasis]:

From: “LEWIS, Julian” <>
Date: 26 March 2015 00:09:46 GMT
Subject: An Unworthy Manoeuvre by the Leader of the House

Dear Colleague,

At the start of this Parliament, the Procedure Committee undertook an investigation into elections for positions in the House. As part of this, the Committee looked at methods for electing the Speaker and identified two routes: (i) an open ballot as at present, or (ii) a secret ballot.

It was the view of the Committee, in bringing forward its recommendations, that NO CHANGE be made. However, it recognised that there might be an appetite in the House to debate this. Consequently, it made it clear – in two letters to the Leader of the House, on 7 February 2013 and on 3 February 2015 – that any such debate should take place in prime time “and should not be tucked away on a Thursday”.

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Grant Shapps Pinocchio

The already threadbare reputation of Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps was further damaged today — with claims made to defend against initial questions over his honesty being exposed as utter bunkum.

Grant Shapps’ lawyers’ letter to this website, 29 October 2014:

“Our client has written business books under his pen name (Mr Green); but was studious in publishing his full name and biography alongside.”

Tory HQ statement 15 March 2015:

“Like many authors and journalists, Grant wrote with a pen name. This was completely transparent: his full name and biographical details were permanently published on the company’s main website.

So why has a forensic analysis of 700 archival pages from his website by the Guardian — including a ‘Michael Green’ biography — failed to find a single mention of his real name?

Tory HQ have now rowed back to their only safe territory, his declaration of a directorship and interest in How To Corp Ltd — though not the Michael Green pseudonym or his ongoing work for the firm — on the Register of Members’ Interests:

“The party chairman was open and transparent about his interests in his family business, not least through declarations to parliament.”

Stay tuned to Scrapbook for more on Shapps in the coming days.

Nelson Mandela

After comparing Scotland to Apartheid-era South Africa and trying to hitch a lift to Mandela’s funeral with Prince Charles, guess who Alex Salmond has told the New Statesman editor he “identifies with”:

Jason Cowley: Historical figure you identify with?
Alex Salmond: Nelson Mandela. Everybody of my generation would say that.

Surely “admire” — not “identify with”?

Embattled Tory chairman Grant Shapps has become such a liability that his party have pulled him from a high-profile media appearance. Shapps was billed to appear on BBC Three’s youth discussion programme Free Speech, which promised an “unscripted hour of tough and uncensored questions”.

Grant Shapps billed to appear on Free Speech programme

The programme listing was updated this morning to show that Shapps has been replaced by junior minister Sam Gyimah. And while CCHQ claim they raised “diary problems” with the BBC on 13 March, this happened to be one day after Guardian hack Randeep Ramesh put allegations to Shapps that he had repeatedly lied about his second job as an internet marketer.

Ironically enough, the strapline for the edition was “I’m a Conservative, ask me anything”.

Esther McVey and Iain Duncan SMith

With their new report published today, the Work and Pensions Committee have called for an independent inquiry to examine whether benefits sanctions have been applied “appropriately, fairly and proportionately” — so why did they largely ignore key evidence provided on the arbitrary targets driving those sanctions?

Esthery McVey told the committee:

“Categorically, there are no targets for benefits sanctions.”

So, errrr, why were the union for DWP staff able to provide the committee with a series of redacted internal documents referring to targets and other euphemisms such as “requirements”. PCS claims it has been “inundated … with evidence about the pressure put on staff and the existence of targets”.

Here is an email from a team manager questioning a low level of referrals for sanctions (DMA referrals) by their team. Notably, the message was sent at out of the office at 10:30pm — when then manager would not even have access to claimant records:

PCS evidence on sanctions targets

‘Claimants are complying with their commitments? Impossible!’ 1,578 interviews with job seekers at one centre found that 96% “did everything that was required of them to satisfy their obligations for claiming JSA”. But this news is welcomed with dismay:

PCS evidence sanctions benefits savings

The following email not only re-emphasises the targets for sanction referals, but suggests moving the goalposts in order to trip up their own claimants:

PCS evidence on sanctions targets

The emails above refer to sanctions referrals. So what actually happens when those reach staff who determine who will actually have their benefits suspended? Well, they have an 80% target:

PCS evidence on sanctions targets

To top it off, staff have been subject to formal ‘Performance Improvement Plans’ and seen their pay awards cut for not making enough sanctions referrals — all while the department denies the existence of targets.

It could only happen at the DWP.

Nick Clegg paper bag

Scrapbook reported in January on the complete absence of Nick Clegg in one particular leaflet going out in his own constituency — and it seems his Lib Dem colleagues aren’t enthused either.

With the crowd-sourced website re-launched for the short campaign, a trawl of new Lib Dem leaflets conducted by the site’s operators failed to uncover a single one which “featured or mentioned their party leader”. Lib Dem leaflets were also the least likely to feature their own party logo.

Five years ago they had a bus with his face on the side.