With his shift to leave the door open to an in/out referendum on Europe — but only if a transfer of new powers to Brussels were proposed — it was inevitable that Ed Miliband would be accused of a fudge by both Eurosceptics and Europhiles.
Ed follows in the footsteps of David Cameron, who also promised a referendum on the EU — but only in 2017 when he probably won’t be prime minister.
If only for amusement purposes, it’s worth revisiting the European travails of Tory MP James Wharton, who warned his party over EU headbanging, only to be forced by whips to adopt a pre-drafted referendum bill when he won the Private Member’s Bill ballot the day later:
After attempts by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers to bring a poll forward to this year, Wharton’s bill was finally killed off by peers at the end of January.
With George Osborne posturing over the revival of a 2017 poll last week, however, Westminster’s EU can-kicking competition looks set to run and run.
Video: BBC interview with Norman Smith
Regular readers will remember a running theme in Tory party literature is the use of increasingly inappropriate stock images. There was the time Grant Shapps used a picture of a ‘hardworking family’ without checking who else had used it.
And then there was the government’s pledge of support for British motorists, which they chose to illustrate with a stock picture of a left hand drive car.
The Tories’ latest photoshambles is brought to you by James Wharton, MP for north eastern constituency Stockton South who is exceptionally keen for his constituents to know that he’s out there helping real people - boasting:
‘Everyone knows someone who’s been helped by James’
With a claim like that, you’d expect Wharton to be able to find a couple of real people to appear in his leaflet pretty easily. After all, he and his office deal with ‘thousands of queries on behalf of local residents.’
But no, you guessed it. The beaming couple atop the honourable member’s leaflet are not from Stockton South. They’re probably not even a couple. No, they’re a pair of models from a Spanish stock photo website. Which for an MP so keen to bring forth a referendum on leaving the EU, is remarkably…international.
The image is offered royalty free, so at least he didn’t waste any taxpayers’ money on his fake ‘real people.’
Opening up Labour’s opposition to the Tories’ EU referendum bill, Douglas Alexander quoted from David Cameron’s 2006 conference speech:
“Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most. While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life – we were banging on about Europe.”
But he could have quoted from another Tory — the, errr, sponsor of the bill, James Wharton! Just one day before hapless Stockton South MP picked up the pre-drafted
“If we’re seen to be talking about Europe to the exclusion of other things.”
“These are the things that people care about. They want to see us talking about them and we are at risk of not being seen to talk about the things that matter because we’re just talking about Europe”
But after winning the private member’s bill ballot, he claimed that the party need to carry on talking about Europe until a referendum in 2017 …
“Because I think it’s about time this issue was tackled head on by Parliament”
He then admitted that he had been “encouraged” by Tory whips to perform this reverse ferret.
Video: BBC interview with Norman Smith
The Tory hijacking of country all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), loose but often influential forums for MPs and peers to discuss issues relating to particular territories, has been under way since at least the summer. Often longstanding APPG officers have found themselves surplus to requirements owing to their awkward questions on human rights abuses.
The victims of a series of mini putsches have made way for Tories who are rather more interested in trade relations, an emollient approach to London-based diplomats — and plenty of free trips abroad.
The Labour chair of the China APPG was ousted in July, replaced with a more on-message Conservative. Chris Bryant then escaped the axe as the convener of its Russian counterpart by just 13 votes this Monday, after Tories at the AGM argued that human rights issues should only be discussed by the official Human Rights APPG.
The officer positions on some groups were already dominated by the Conservatives — notably the Sri Lanka APPG, who appear to have stopped inviting Labour colleagues on delegations to the country (a six-day visit to war-torn areas comprised eight Tories and Ian Paisley Jr).
Having no Sri Lankan community in his north east constituency, James Wharton MP (pictured above with high commissioner Chris Nonis) invoked the familiar “business interests” mantra when recently attempting to justify his four trips in nine months to the human rights-abusing state, claiming:
“I’ve got a number of companies on Teesside that do a lot of work out there.”
When asked to name one, however, he appeared stumped.
His fumbled response has set tongues wagging in Westminster: could there be some other reason why Wharton is so keen on visiting South Asia?
A Tory MP has praised plans to part-fund key NHS services through car boot sales. With a number of NHS trusts thought to be on the brink of bankruptcy, Stockton South MP James Wharton claimed that proposals by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to generate cash in this way were “positive” and “innovative”.
Wharton told the Evening Gazette:
“I think it is a positive thing that the hospital is looking at doing whatever it can to bring more money into the services it can provide. It’s welcome that they are looking at additional and innovative ways of raising more funds.”
With the trust facing £40 million in cuts, Scrapbook wonders what Wharton supposes the £5,000 generated by the sales will achieve. And despite the news that the NHS spending has been slashed — in breach of the government’s pledges on health — the north east MP is still spinning that the Coalition was increasing spending year on year.
“Your heart operation is scheduled for next Tuesday at 3:30pm. Please bring a change of clothes and some bric-a-brac.”