Another fine Brown mess

OPPOSITION politicians must have been na�ve if they didn't expect the Queen's Speech to be a Labour Party manifesto.Earlier this week, I sided with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg when he called for the remaining months left to this parliament to be used to ensure a root-and-branch reform of MPs' allowances, expenses and pay is in readiness for the new session.

Graham Dines

OPPOSITION politicians must have been na�ve if they didn't expect the Queen's Speech to be a Labour Party manifesto.

Earlier this week, I sided with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg when he called for the remaining months left to this parliament to be used to ensure a root-and-branch reform of MPs' allowances, expenses and pay is in readiness for the new session.

But despite Gordon Brown having said that one of the reasons he would not call an early election was that he wanted to sort out the expenses mess, not one word was uttered in the Queen's Speech about the issue which has dominated British political life since the spring.


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Instead, the Queen set out a legislative programme - most of which won't get beyond second reading stage before parliament is dissolved for the general election - which Gordon Brown hopes will help voters focus on the differences between Labour and the other parties.

I continue to be amazed at how often Brown misjudges the public mood. Having said he'll clean up parliament, he sits back and looks genuinely hurt when he's confronted by his critics.

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All is not well in the parliamentary Labour Party. It's in despair at how its leadership in failing, and there was no better evidence of this than the opening debate on the speech from the throne.

Instead of backbenchers packing the chamber, as is custom, to listen to the opposition's response to the speech and the Prime Minister's defence, most Labour MPs stayed away.

Actions speak louder than words. Those MPs most in danger from the Tory revival just didn't have the stomach to go into battle on behalf of their leader.

Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, says a parliamentary reform bill is needed to ensure 11 measures are in place before the general election.

The bulk of the most dramatic recommendations in the Kelly Report - such as banning the employment of MPs' spouses and ending taxpayer funding for mortgages - can be implemented without further legislation.

But Sir Christopher believes that many of his key proposals must be passed into law by Parliament. These include provisions to bolster the independence of the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, to give it responsibility for setting MPs' pay and to beef up its powers to investigate and punish errant MPs, as well as a requirement for parliamentary candidates to register their interests and a ban on MPs serving in devolved assemblies.

Sir Christopher is clearly disappointed at Brown's backtracking. “The committee believes it is very important that the new prliament starts with a clean sheet. The leaders of all the main political parties have agreed that our recommendations should be implemented in full.

“It is disappointing therefore that the Queen's Speech did not contain measures to address the changes we believe to be necessary affecting the remit, powers and independence of the new body being established to regulate expenses.”

Downing Street insists there is still time to bring forward legislation before the election. So why not mention it in the Speech?

The omission was an open goal for the Conservatives. That's why Labour MPs are so utterly fed up - those who advise the Prime Minister don't have a clue what's going on.

Cameron said the omission would “infuriate the British people whom we are here to represent.”

He added: “Let me make this offer to the Prime Minister: if he brings forward legislation to implement the rest of Kelly we will support it and help him to pass it through this House and the House of Lords.

“I will give way to the Prime Minister so that he can stand up and say that he will bring forward this legislation and together we can take it through Parliament.

“Will he do it? No. No one watching will understand why this vital work is not being done in this parliament. Why do we not show them that we meant what we said?”

Again Cameron challenged Brown, who was busy chatting to Labour's deputy leader and Commons Leader Hattie Harman as the Conservative leader was speaking.

“Let me give the Prime Minister another chance, now that he has finished consulting the Leader of the House. Let him stand up now and tell us that together we can pass the laws to implement Kelly in full.

“He tells us that he is serious about cleaning up politics, but when it comes to the crunch - absolutely nothing. What is the point of this Government? What else has the Prime Minister got to do?”

Of course, Brown didn't take up the invitation. To do so would be to admit he was wrong - and as has been commented on before on several occasions, sorry is not a word the current occupant of Down Street ever utters.

Yesterday, Harman tried to retrieve the Government's latest public relations disaster. “I don't want to convey . . . the idea that we have all gone onto the back foot on this, that we have gone soft on it, that we have swept it back under the carpet.

“The public would not accept that, we wouldn't accept that and we are going to make sure these reforms are all taken through.”

INCIDENTALLY, the Speech was the shortest since 1900, when Queen Victoria travelled to parliament to utter one sentence - that the Government headed by the Marquess of Salisbury wanted more resources for the Boer War.

CONSTABULARY mergers are back on the political agenda as the Home Office looks to slash costs in response to the economic downturn.

The Government is hoping for voluntary mergers - supported by Norfolk, opposed by Suffolk and Essex - and local collaboration, which has already been introduced in the East of England between Suffolk and Norfolk and between Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

It's more than four years since Home Secretary Charles Clarke annoyed the shires by proposing police force link-ups. Suffolk and Norfolk would have been combined, while Essex was to join with Hertfordshire.

Essex was particularly angered because the Kent and Hampshire constabularies - which are of comparable size - would have become stand alone strategic forces while Essex was to be downgraded into relative insignificance.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, this week called for radical reforms of the 44 forces in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to create larger regional units.

Policing in Scotland is a responsibility of the Scottish executive, but even before devolution, giant regional forces were created such as Strathclyde and Lothian & Borders.

Sir Hugh believes that just nine would emerge from the shake-up - if that includes the Met in London, possibly regional forces for the South-West, South-East, East, East and West Midlands, North-West, and North-East, Yorkshire & Humberside

He criticised the lack of political leadership over the issue, saying: “There is no political enthusiasm whatsoever to even raise this at a discussion level.”

In an interview with The Times, he pointed out that the last wholesale review of policing took place more than 40 years ago.

Sir Hugh, who was Chief Constable of Northern Ireland before taking on the ACPO role said: “The last Royal Commission sat in 1962. In 1962 international terrorism wasn't there, the Northern Ireland Troubles weren't there, I don't think Dixon of Dock Green was there - the world was a very different place.

“Logic suggests now might be a good time to ask if the structure is fit for purpose.

“We need an independent, thoughtful, but not long-winded review of what is the best structure to deal with the current threats facing the UK at every level.'

The 2005 plans for police force mergers that would have seen 17 larger police regions created. But this was scrapped following widespread opposition from the forces involved.

HERE WE GO AGAIN - POLICE MERGERS ARE BACK ON THE AGENDA

CONSTABULARY mergers are back on the political agenda as the Home Office looks to slash costs in response to the economic downturn.

The Government is hoping for voluntary mergers - supported by Norfolk, opposed by Suffolk and Essex - and local collaboration, which has already been introduced in the East of England between Suffolk and Norfolk and between Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

It's more than four years since Home Secretary Charles Clarke annoyed the shires by proposing police force link-ups. Suffolk and Norfolk would have been combined, while Essex was to join with Hertfordshire.

Essex was particularly angered because the Kent and Hampshire constabularies - which are of comparable size - would have become stand-alone strategic forces while Essex was to be downgraded into relative insignificance.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, this week called for radical reforms of the 44 forces in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to create larger regional units.

Policing in Scotland is a responsibility of the Scottish executive, but even before devolution, giant regional forces were created such as Strathclyde and Lothian & Borders.

Sir Hugh believes that just nine would emerge from the shake-up - if that includes the Met in London, possibly regional forces for the South-West, South-East, East, East and West Midlands, North-West, and North-East, Yorkshire & Humberside

He criticised the lack of political leadership over the issue, saying: “There is no political enthusiasm whatsoever to even raise this at a discussion level.”

In an interview with The Times, he pointed out that the last wholesale review of policing took place more than 40 years ago.

Sir Hugh, who was Chief Constable of Northern Ireland before taking on the ACPO role said: “The last Royal Commission sat in 1962. In 1962 international terrorism wasn't there, the Northern Ireland Troubles weren't there, I don't think Dixon of Dock Green was there - the world was a very different place.

“Logic suggests now might be a good time to ask if the structure is fit for purpose.

“We need an independent, thoughtful, but not long-winded review of what is the best structure to deal with the current threats facing the UK at every level.”

The 2005 plans for police force mergers would have seen 17 larger police regions created. But this was scrapped following widespread opposition from the forces involved.

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