When David Cameron was selected as leader of the Conservative Party it worried me a little. I knew a little about him, and found him to be relatively sensible, and feared that he’d be quite appealing to a wide range of voters – a real threat to Labour.
It’s interesting to think back to those times, and the more recent times when the Conservatives have been riding high in the opinion polls, lulling themselves into ever more confidence of a resounding election victory. Interesting because on the evidence of his current performances he appears to be losing his grip, and losing the election.
Today we’re told by various sources that David Cameron attacks Gordon Brown over expenses MPs , and MPs’ expenses: Labour in ‘headlong’ retreat, says David Cameron, and DAVID CAMERON ATTACKS BROWN OVER ‘HUMILIATING’ EXPENSES CLIMBDOWN
You might be forgiven for thinking that the Tory Leader was on the up, if you just went by the headlines. I think otherwise.
The three Labour MP’s that this story relates to and who are facing prosecution for abuse of expenses – David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine – have all, you might recall, been barred by the Labour Party from standing at the next election as Labour candidates – so the Labour Party had already taken some action against these three.
So what ? I hear the baying mob call – they’re still due to retire with golden handshakes !
Well of course, because there’s this really quaint old fashioned old generation principle built into British law – it’s the principle that says a person is “innocent until proven guilty” – so Labour’s / the Government’s actions in not taking rash actions, without fulfilling a legal burden of prof – actually improve the chances of the law taking its course, and a fair trial for them taking place. It’s what one would expect – and the Government have presumably taken legal advice on this issue.
It would appear that Mr Cameron has taken no such legal advice – shooting his mouth off in condemnation of both Gordon Brown and the alleged offenders. So much so, as to provoke warnings from not just Harriet Harman, the Leader of the Commons, (who lets be honest is part of the Labour Party) :
“He’s got to be very careful what he says or his comments might actually jeopardise the trial and none of us wants to see that happen,”;
but also the Speaker of the Commons John Bercow (who despite what some Tories say, is a Conservative with one of the largest majorities anywhere)
“The House will be aware that charges have been made against three members of the House and that therefore the sub judice rule applies to their cases.
“The matter is therefore before the courts and the House and members would not wish to interfere with the judicial process, risk affecting the fairness of a criminal trial or, furthermore, prevent such a trial taking place.”
I confess that I had visions of Stan Laurel standing up behind David Cameron, and shouting “Why don’t you hang ’em !” – it would hardly have been a greater presumption of non-innocence.
Dave’s ire seems to be raised by the rumoured intention of the three accused to invoke Parliamentary privilege as a means of avoiding prosecution. Which would be fair enough – if it were any thing other than pure conjecture. Last time I heard though, solicitors were not in the habit of disclosing what their defence tactics would be ahead of a trial. Also, Alan Johnson – speaking on The Andrew Marr programme yesterday – clearly demonstrated that the Government would have no truck with that.
So anything else he’s bothered about ? Well he doesn’t seem to want the Labour Party funding their solicitors – well the Labour party say that the party
“has not and continues to have absolutely no involvement in the legal arrangements of these MPs, who were barred from standing as Labour candidates last year”.
Seems pretty clear cut to me.
Although let’s be honest, I’m a member of a trades union (the NUT) and as such if I were accused of a crime in relation to my work, I’d probably get my legal representation via them. Innocent until proven guilty remember – and that means entitled to legal representation – so providing they’ve paid their subs (stop it !) then maybe they are entitled to help from the party. But they’re not getting it anyway – so what’s Mr Cameron on about ?
It seems that what’s bothering him most is that the timing of Gordon Brown’s announcement that the three would be suspended from parliamentary activities, beat him to the draw with his planned (and widely trailed) speech about the issue.
So now instead of complaining that Gordon hasn’t withdrawn the whip, he’s now complaining that he has. Well which is it Dave ? because if someone is in “full retreat” in the way you want them to go, you’re hardly in a position to moan about it. If it had taken a long time then perhaps he’d have had a point – but no – the decision to prosecute was announced on Friday – the decision to suspend announced on Monday – that’s the next business day. Seems pretty quick off the mark in my book.
Mr Cameron said today that
“We are a new generation – come of age in the modern world of openness and accountability”.
Well he’s not (he was trying to get into Parliament in 1997 ), and neither is his sidekick William Hague, who’s been like an old man since he sucked up to Margaret Thatcher in 1977. William, viewers of the aforementioned Andrew Marr programme may have noticed, failed quite clearly for instance, to come of age in the modern world of openness and accountability when asked about Lord Ashcroft’s tax arrangements.
So – David Cameron – you’re losing it. Today’s bluster was a load of rubbish. I thought you could do better than that.
This morning, my memories of my experiences in recruiting staff myself prompted me to blogg about the legalities of actually demanding a would be employee to demonstrate that they are not an illegal immigrant. This in relation to Baroness Scotland’s recent faux pas ( Baroness Scotland – Did she look at the passport ?, and why it doesn’t matter ! )
It took only a matter of minutes for another aspect of the same recruitment experiences to be jogged into my memory by a blog which provided me with another insight that the ace journalists didn’t seem to have grasped. In this case it was Adam Boulton blogging (The Pill Question on his SkyNews blog) about Andrew Marr’s questions on his BBC Show on Sunday to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown (The Andrew Marr Show) asking him whether he takes prescription pain killers.
Adam makes quite a song dance about this clearly trying to claim the moral and journalistic high ground over Andrew Marr, but finally deciding that, yes – it was OK to ask this question because it is in the natural interest to find out if the Prime Minister is suffering from a health problem. He says :-
“My own view is that the physical and mental health of the national leader are legitimate areas of inquiry.
The American President publishes the results of his medical examinations and I don’t see why the British Prime Minister shouldn’t. We should know if there is a problem which is specifically affecting the way he or she does his job.”
Can’t quite see the moral high ground myself there Mr Boulton.
Before I get to why I disagree with him, I’d like to point out that the question wasn’t really about health – he wasn’t actually asked about his eye-sight, although Marr talked about it, and that’s also what the PM talked about – he was just asked about medication.
This was straight out of the top drawer of “Have you stopped beating your wife bishop ?” questioning. He might as well have been asked “Do you still do the odd couple of lines of coke Gordy ?” or “Is your erectile disfunction problem still as bad as it used to be ?”. Questions which are impossible to answer without generating a negative headline, and all just like Andrew Marr’s question, thrown apropos of nothing in particular (other than smear campaigns on right wing websites).
It was interesting in fact how within minutes of this interview it was being reported via Twitter that he’d been asked not about pain killers but about anti-depressants. Compounded by the now re-edited piece Should Marr Have Asked THAT Question? – on Ian Dale’s blog. Which seemed to draw on the long running and apparently totally fictitious rumour on several right wing blogs that the Prime Minister is suffering from depression and god knows what other mental illnesses.
How convenient for them to make this error (and whether Iain Dale removed the reference or not, his good friend Guido Fawkes clearly didn’t worry about the smear on the “Prime Mentalist”).
Anyway – how does my experience recruiting staff in schools relate to this issue ? Well clearly sometimes people apply for jobs with illnesses or other medical conditions which make it very difficult to actually do the job in practice. Which is why on recruiting we place a health questionnaire in with the application forms.
Thing is though, I never see those forms – they are placed in a sealed envelope and sent directly to our Occupational Health advisers (if the candidate is appointed). They read the form, they sometimes talk to the person, they some times ask them to go for a medical, rarely they seek permission to speak with their doctor.
After all this they send me a letter which says simply “This person is fit for employment” – or “This person is not fit for employment” or “This person is fit for employment subject to the following guidance …”
If health problems crop up at a later date I can ask about them, but the employee does not have to tell me. I can refer to Occupational Health and they can write to doctors (having gained written permission from the employee) to ask for further information about health problems.
The bottom line is – Yes – health is important to a persons ability to do the job, but unless I have advice that I need to make adjustments due to a persons health, or that they are unfit to do the job, then the patient’s (employee’s) health – including treatment and medication is entirely confidential.
and I really can’t see why that should be any different for a teacher, a classroom assistant, or any other person – including the Prime Minister
So in my book that goes for Adam Boulton, and Andrew Marr as well :
Gordon Brown’s prescriptions from his doctor are confidential.