Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Should we pay for Alex Salmond's stupidity?

Mr MacNumpty has attacked Lord Foulkes for reporting Alex Salmond to the Standards Commissioner for claiming a proportion of the £14100 paid by a group of MPs for legal advice on whether to attempt to impeaach Tony Blair over the Iraq war out of his office expenses. He argues that Lord Foulkes has asked loads of what he regards as stupid questions of the Scottish Government which have cost far more.

This isn't an issue of relative costs. I think there is a case for MPs being assisted with the costs of holding the government to account and they should have the right to ask whatever questions they like. If their constituents feel that their money is being wasted, then they can contact them and say so, and vote against them if they feel strongly enough.

I also think that there's a case for allowing MPs to claim costs for legal advice as part of the process of holding the Government to account. It's certainly worth looking at.

Now, I was totally opposed to the Iraq war - I think that the damage we have done to our country's international standing is going to take decades to sort out. It cost many, many lives of our soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians. I think it was illegal and immoral and should not have happened, end of story. I find it a quite bizarre irony that Tony Blair, on leaving office, was promptly sent as a peade envoy to the Middle East.

I was so against this war that I took my then 3 year old daughter to Glasgow Green on a freezing cold day in February to protest against the war, along with many thousands of like minded people.

I did, however, think the nationalists' attempts to impeach Tony Blair was a bit of a waste of time. Not because I thought Blair's actions were justifiable. A quick glance as to what is needed to carry out an impeachment makes it pretty obvious that it never had a hope in hell of succeeding. It requires a majority in the House of Commons to get past first base. Now, who has the majority in the House of Commons? This process was doomed to failure from the start. There was no way that Labour MPs were going to go along with a nationalist publicity stunt.

So there, I can see that, and I found that out for free. I didn't have to go and spend the equivalent of some people's annual salaries to work that out. For that reason, I seriously doubt that the taxpayer should have to fund the cost of Alex Salmond's stupidity.

His move to impeach Blair was never going to be anything other than a publicity stunt and he could have done that for a cost of zero to the taxpayer.

There is one way, though, that we could stop injustices like the Iraq War happening again. If the 2001 Parliament had been elected by a fairer system, the Government would not have had such a big majority and the likelihood is that it would have either have lost a vote in Parliament, or would not even have got as far as putting it to a vote in the first place because it would be clear that Parliament, which would have much greater legitimacy, would not back it. If anyone should know what PR can do for a Parliament's powers, it's Alex Salmond, given how many of his Government's dafter ideas have been binned or modified by the Holyrood Parliament.

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9 comments:

Jim said...

I've read some of your link on the impeachment and disagree entirely with you.

You seem to think that a quick glance at the legalities is enough. If that were the case, nothing would ever be uncovered.

The Wiki pages (I know, I know! It's hardly the best point of reference, but it does provide some evidence in terms of quotes, links and MPS positions on the matter) on the campaign to impeach Blair suggests that a pretty serious document was released as a result of the legal advice. Labour took the position of attempting to dismiss the action as a 'stunt', rather than meeting the document straight on, whilst several serious MPs thought that the case had merit.

Some parties may have decided actually that it was too big a can of worms to open, but I certainly believe it was a worthwhile exercise and even if it didn't go ahead in this case, the fact that the preliminaries were instigated might cause some future leader with Blair-like tendencies to think twice about their legacies.

£14k well spent and actually very little in the grand scheme of the moat cleaning, duck island, home flipping extravaganza.

Wardog said...

Caron,

You've got the wrong figures, the some being claimed is £790, Salmond's share of the legal costs that were split between other campaigners, including a number of Conservative, Liberal & Plaid MP's.

The impeachment motion was supported by a wide range of epople at the time, including a number of MP's, a couple of Liberals and others including George Galloway, , the Green party, and a host of celebrities.

A valid question might be why the Liberal democrats didn't support the impeachment. You will recall that Ming was enthralled with Blair and has a visceral hatred of Alec Salmond. Poor old bugger.

Tam Dalyell, then Labour Party MP for Linlithgow said:

“I was sent the document. I read it very carefully. It's easy just to dismiss it and say the whole thing is preposterous. But as a document I think it requires refutation in some detail. What they have produced is a perfectly serious document that makes a coherent case. But if I and other Labour MPs endorsed it, there would be a terrible row about treachery. One would be labelled as a traitor and have to defend oneself. I don't mind being called a traitor, but I don't think it would help much."

“I have been quite open in saying I want the Prime Minister to go because of Iraq. I made a speech during the debate on the Butler Report last month in which I said he should resign. Downing Street is trying to close down the impeachment attempt by dismissing it as a joke.”

Treating it as a 'joke' or 'politically motivated by one single MP is what George Foulkes is trying to do.

I think MacNumpoty is right to ask, what value are we getting from George Foulkes £120,000 of FoI requests?

Is he abusing the FoI system to political ends?
Are his requests creating an unreasonable situation which is delaying other requests for information.

Any Government has limited resources, I can't help thinking that Lord Foulkes is abusing those resources in the labour parties interests.

Anonymous said...

We're paying for Tony Blair's stupidity, and it's costing us a lot more than any amount of money Alex Salmond could ever claim.

Indy said...

Bit of an own goal there Caron.

You may be under the impression that only Alex Salmond was involved in bringing forward the motion to impeach Tony Blair but you are quite wrong.

The cross-party grop of MPs who worked on it included Lib Dems as well as Tory grandees like Douglas Hogg, who drafted the motion, and Boris Johnston.

Caron said...

Indy, Jim, Wardog, Anonymous,

I'm not saying that they shouldn't have looked into impeaching Tony Blair and it's clear that a case could have been made. The simple fact is, though, that a key part of the procedure is obtaining a majority in the House of Commons which would never have happened.

I also think it's too simplistic to blame the whole thing on one person - Brown signed the cheques to pay for it, most of the rest of the Cabinet signed up for it.

I don't see why they paid out for an expensive legal opinion when it was clear from the outset that the case would never actually go anywhere.

Having said that, it's not the worst use of public money we've seen in the last few months.

I suspect John Lyons will not uphold the complaint and I don't necessarily have a problem with that.

My main point, though, is that a fairly elected House of Commons would have put a stop to the whole notion of invading Iraq and maybe it's something that the SNP would like to talk more about and campaign for.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of back-benchers and "opposition parties" is to hold the government to account. I can think of no more appropriate use of expenses than this.

Caron said...

Wardog, have amended to emphasise Salmond himself claimed only a proportion of the total amount.

Indy said...

Caron if your logic is that there is no point doing anything which requires majority support in the HoC then all opposition MPs may as well just go home and play with their moats, as the Government has an inbuilt majority.

If your point is that this was a ‘nationalist publicity stunt’ as you call it, rather than a serious attempt to impeach Blair then you are half right and half wrong. You are right that it had no chance of succeeding because Labour MPs would have been committing political suicide of they had supported it. You are wrong however in thinking it was simply a nationalist publicity stunt. Any act which draws together diverse parties such as Alex Salmond, Boris Johnston and General Sir Michael Rose is rather more than a nationalist stunt (it is not a nationalist anything in fact).

At the very least it means there is a record that not every member of the House of Commons and not every member of the military went along with the lies. A footnote to the whole episode no doubt but at least there is a footnote. It is ironic that a nationalist leader is condemned for doing what he could to uphold the integrity of the British Parliament in the face of Blair’s outrageous behaviour but there is nothing as strange as politics after all.

Caron said...

The opposition can win on occasion in the House of Commons, but not often enough purely because of the way it's elected. On this idea it had no chance. Especially when the only coalition they Nationalists could build was with a few maverick Tories. Spending the best part of 15 grand on a legal opinion was not what I would have chosen to do until I had a wide ranging coalition both inside and outside parliament backing the idea.

I do feel a sense of frustration that Blair essentially got away with it. I mean, who would make him a peace envoy? And now he's running for EU President? And the UK Government is backing him? Well, not in my name, to coin a phrase.

I still say the best way to get better quality government and respect of Parliament is to reform the way you elect that Parliament.

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