Babel and an ivory tower of MPs

THERE seems to be no collective noun for MPs. An internet search came up with all sorts of suitable names - a spin of MPs, an affectation, a bolus, and a gravy-train are among the more repeatable - but in the light of one MP's attempt this week, I've decided to use an Ivory Tower.

Graham Dines

THERE seems to be no collective noun for MPs. An internet search came up with all sorts of suitable names - a spin of MPs, an affectation, a bolus, and a gravy-train are among the more repeatable - but in the light of one MP's attempt this week, I've decided to use an Ivory Tower.

MPs should not have to turn up to the House of Commons in order to vote - that's the almost unbelievable suggestion of the Scottish National Party's Angus MacNeil, MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

Shame on you if you don't know that Na h-Eileanan an Iar is Gaelic for Western Isles (Outer Hebrides), one of the more remote parliamentary constituencies of which Stornoway is the largest town.

He wants consideration given to allowing MPs the chance to vote remotely when they are unable to reach Westminster, claiming the measure would help tackle climate change by saving MPs from travelling thousands of miles to take part in divisions.

What utter nonsense. MPs should be in the Commons to debate as well as vote. Presumably, if he gets his way, MPs will no longer need to claim the mega bucks they're all gleefully trousering for having two homes - no attendance at Westminster equals no need to buy Dolby surround sound plasma televisions from John Lewis's at the expense of you and me.

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In his motion McNeill said “consideration should be given to allowing Members a limited number of opportunities during each parliamentary year to vote remotely on divisions in the House when weather or technical issues associated with transportation effectively curtail the possibilities of attending divisions.”

If he had stopped there, he might have won a few supporters. But by adding “this could help the carbon footprint of Members who on occasions fly many thousands of miles just to return for a division in the House” he destroyed his argument. The Commons is a place of work, not just a voting location.

So far, only six other MPs are backing his campaign - Lynne Jones (Labour, Birmingham Selly Oak), Alan Meale (Labour, Mansfield), Mike Hancock (Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South), Rudi Vis (Labour, London Finchley & Golders Green), John McDonnell (Labour, London Hayes & Harlington) and David Drew (Labour, Stroud). An Ivory Tower of MPs indeed.


Over in the Tower of Babel and David Miliband, who has been a huge disappointment as Foreign Secretary, is complaining that the economic crisis is sparking political convulsions which put governments around the world in danger.

“It is not just banks that are worried about going under �- so are governments and even countries,” said Miliband.

Well I'm sorry matey, but that's just tough luck, otherwise known as democracy.

Miliband moaned that administrations in Iceland, Latvia and Hungary had been toppled by public anger over the downturn, while commodity-exporting nations like Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola and Russia were threatened with reduced public spending because of the fall in oil prices. “The political risks unleashed by the crisis are complex, sometimes contradictory, and imperfectly understood.”

Miliband gives the impression that it would be unfair to vote Labour out of office because of the recession. Perhaps he should go out and talk to ordinary folk - Jo and Josephine Public understand only too well that if they escape redundancy, they may be forced into accepting wage freezes or cuts, putting their annual holidays in jeopardy, their pension pots decimated, and their budgets strained as the price of basic commodities and foodstuffs keeps increasing.

Who is there to blame if not the governing party? It was elected to look after the interests of the voters but all too often, politicians are only interested in looking after themselves, protecting their gold plated pensions, and their expenses and allowances.

An Ivory Tower of MPs, who are unaffected by the downturn just as are public sector workers, seems as good a description as I can invent to describe the part-time inhabitants of the green benches of the House of Commons.

I think I'll claim intellectual copyright on my collective noun and send it to


THE best way to manage the news agenda is to be pro-active rather than being forced on to the back foot to answer negative publicity, which is why Tory Euro MP Christopher Beazley alerted me on Sunday morning that he was about to reopen the festering sore that is the Conservative Party's relations with “Europe.”

In his own words, he knew he would be “ripped to pieces” by the anti-Europeans in his own party and its supporters in Fleet Street. But he was not deterred.

Speaking at length to Beazley the next day, I agreed to co-ordinate publication of the story with his appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The quotes he gave me were lifted by the national papers and rival politicians as he hit out at David Cameron's decision to withdraw the Tories from all links with the European People's Party.

“I cannot watch my country head for the rocks, which it will do if Cameron becomes Prime Minister and has no allies in the major governments of the European Union,” said Beazley. “There is a Conservative pro-European argument and it has to be discussed, not smothered by anti-European hysteria in the party."

Beazley is a member of that rare breed in the Conservative Party which is EU enthusiastic. He knows his views are out of kilter with the bulk of his party which would rather see the UK out of the European Union than become part of a fully integrated federation.

Once again, the Tory Party is running scared of the UK Independence Party, which Hoovers up Tory Eurosceptics at election time. Beazley is not seeking re-election, because he knew that he would never be readopted by activists.

His outburst was fodder to the Tories' enemies in Europe. Labour MEP for the East of England Richard Howitt said: “It shows the chaos and disharmony which David Cameron faces about his decision to leave the biggest group in the European Parliament.

“Throughout the years, I have always known Christopher as a principled politician and he has proven that again today - standing up against what he has rightly called Cameron's `anti European hysteria.'

“The contrast could not be starker. On the same day as Gordon Brown was welcomed to speak in person to the European Parliament about the UK leading in Europe, one of David Cameron's own Euro MPs refuses to follow him towards the EU isolation he has promised.”

Europe Minister Caroline Flint joined in the fun. “Christopher Beazley is right. David Cameron would leave Britain dangerously isolated at a time when international co-operation has never been more central to our national interest.

“Instead of standing up to the right wing of his party, David Cameron is dragging the Conservatives to the fringes of Europe and he would do the same with Britain.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: “There's no way that a Conservative government that refuses even to sit with members of Angela Merkel's party or President Sarkozy's party will have any influence in Europe. This would be hugely damaging to Britain's national interest.”

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