Actors Of Parliament
The latest gobble from Westminster
Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995, pg. 9
There was much mirth when Robert MacLennan (Lib Dem MP - Caithness and Sutherland) stormed out of the launch of Charter 88’s Citizens’ Enquiry in January.
As Lib-Dem spokesman on Home Affairs at the time of the parliamentary passage of the Criminal Justice Bill, MacLennan had served on the committee stage of the Bill.
On several occasions the chairman was forced into asking him to speak up, so muffled and hesitant were his interjections. At one stage, as he stood up to introduce an amendment he himself had tabled, he muttered: “For the life of me Mr Chairman. I can’t remember why I tabled this amendment.” There were titters and sighs all round from the rest of the committee. Indeed colleagues have actually gone on record in Hansard as referring to him as The Mogodon Man’.
Despite assurances from other members of the Lib-Dems home affairs team, Bob never did speak up in support of squatting as a housing safety net as they had promised. At one stage Bob sidled up to an observer in the public gallery and asked him why he was there. “Because I care,” said the incensed observer much to MacLennan’s bemusement.
So when MacLennan paced up to Helena Kennedy QC at the launch of Charter 88’s Citizen’s Enquiry, no one could quite believe the fury with which he spoke.
“You deliberately ignored me,” fumed Bob. “You saw I had my hand up to make a point but you deliberately ignored me…. Deliberately… You’re all just here to ridicule politicians.” And then, despite Helena Kennedy’s rather amused apologies, he stormed out of the debating room with his entourage of researchers trailing behind him like the flustered dust of an anally-retentive comet.
“Never mind Bob,” called out an assorted itinerant, as the comet passed down the aisle. “You had your turn but for the life of you, you couldn’t remember what to say.”
It was a Citizen’s Enquiry after all; designed as an opportunity for the citizen to air their democratic concerns. Most citizen’s who spoke talked of how politicians rarely listened to people’s genuine concerns, preferring instead to steer the debate along the lines of their own predetermined agenda. Bob, as the only MP present, did his profession no great service by obviously misreading the Citizen’s Enquiry brochure. As for ridiculing politicians, well, it seems we can leave that job to take care of itself - with the Mogodon Man, I think we’re in safe hands on that score.
As Nigel Evans (Con MP - Ribble Valley) will tell you, his constituency is a “beautiful rural constituency”. In fact, he’ll tell you many many times. Thus was the experience of the panel on a two hour live chat show on the Criminal Justice Act, broadcast on Radio 5 at the end of last year.
And of course in his “beautiful rural constituency” he has absolutely no time for travellers and ravers who would wreak the havoc of hell upon his “beautiful rural constituents”.
Placed on the table in front of him during the entire course of the programme, were five sheets of Houses of Parliament paper, bedecked with a green portcullis. Written on each was the party line on the most prominent parts of the Criminal Justice Act and from these he did pour forth a torrent of repetitive bleets. Regardless of the points raised by the other members of the panel (a lawyer, a civil liberties campaigner and an assorted itinerant), the Radio 5 listeners were treated to an unceasing verbage on the “victims of crime” and the” victims of the victims of the victims of crime”, and “the frail grandmothers of the victims of crime” and “the little girl with blonde pigtails who once met a victim of crime.” etc. etc
When the civil rights campaigner asked Nigel how his constituents would feel if a big motorway was about to slice its way through his “beautiful rural constituency”, he replied that the law- abiding citizens of Ribble Valley would all “register their protests through the proper channels”. It was pointed out that the environmentally concerned citizens of the “beautiful rural constituencies” of Hampshire had done exactly that, when the M3 was about to carve it’s way through Twyford Down. However, it didn’t seem to have any affect on the eventual annihilation of two official Sites of Special Scientific Interest and several Archaeological Monuments…. “Iwish just for once these civil liberty people would remember the victims of crime,” replied Nigel.
So it was with some amusement that SQUALL opened a copy of Hansard (29/11/94) to find Nigel Evans on a new crusade for the “victims of crime”.
“I must say that I happen to represent the most beautiful rural constituency (sigh) in the United Kingdom,” he gushed. “Let us think for just a moment about some of the sleepy villages and hamlets around the UK which are invaded invariably on a Sunday, by car boot sales.” Yes - this weeks scourge of the nation is car boot sales.
“Why should they [the villages] be condemned to suffer even further because there are no controls over car boot sales.”
“Gisburn is another area which has suffered greatly because of the sales. The Gisburn car boot sale happens Sunday after Sunday, and heavy traffic is passing through Gisburn on those days.”
Perhaps we missed something here at SQUALL, but as far as we know Gisburn is not a world-renowned car boot sale centre, towards which thousands of articulated car boots gravitate every week.
But for Nigel it seems to be a major problem for which he has a solution.
“We are all crossing our fingers and praying that at some stage in the near future, we will get the Gisburn bypass to relieve that heavy traffic.”
Another road through his “beautiful rural constituency”?
Oh how the countryside gives way to political expediency, particularly with the Government considering to put tolls on main roads, inevitably leading to more traffic coming off those roads and passing through the likes of Gisburn?
Meanwhile back on the Radio 5 programme, the assorted itinerant read out a quote from the The Council for the Protection of Rural England, a response to the Criminal Justice Act that ought to have appealed to Nigel’s rural pretensions. It read:
“We would be concerned about any measures that would restrict opportunities for the public to express their opposition to activities which threaten the environment, such as new roads construction.” [‘Aggravated Trespass’ CJA Section 68&69]
“What about the victims of crime?” replied Nigel.
Accountability, wouldn’t you just love some?
Anyone looking for reasons why the Labour Party put up such a limp opposition to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill would of course have plenty to choose from. Another one became apparent recently after Labour party members received a leaflet marked - ‘Leave Country Sports Alone ~ A Labour Supporter’s Campaign’.
“It is essential that we protect wildlife habitats,” said the leaflet. “But we have to face the fact that 80% of the countryside is in private ownership. The State could not equal the investment or commitment of country sports in nature conservation without massive regulation and a heavy burden on the tax - payer.”
Amongst many other gems claimed by the leaflet, we had:
“Hunting is relatively humane…. The Labour Party is damaged when it is seen to be associated with an extremist movement some of whose members use violence to promote its cause.” And the absolute classic: “Labour must not go down in history as a party anxious to abolish the pleasures of others.”
The fact that a recent opinion poll suggested that 80% of the population are against fox hunting seems to have passed them by. Instead they insist that “The Labour Party needs to win rural seats to win the next General Election. An anti-country sports policy is a vote loser in rural constituencies but wins the Party no votes even in urban and suburban seats”.
So when the right to peaceful protest took its greatest knock for many a while with the ‘aggravated trespass’ clauses of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (billed by the Tory government as designed for Hunt Saboteurs), perhaps it was none too surprising that the opposition proved less than vehement. For the Chairman of the ‘Leave Country Sports Alone’ campaign is none other that Baroness Mallalieu QC, Labour’s Home Affairs spokesperson in the House of Lords.
One of the buzz-phrases in the Labour Party at the moment is “increase the membership”. And so it was that Tony Blair has appointed Peter Kilfoyle (Lab MP - Liverpool Walton) as the new head of the Labour Party’s Youth Task Group.
Peter Kilfoyle appeared in The Independent (8/12/94), with his first bit of media coverage in the new job, saying that would be happy to talk to a range of interested groups including ravers, new-age travellers and environmental campaigners.
“Eco-warriors are a fact of life,” he said. “It’s easy to say that they feel disenfranchised from normal channels of political protest, but we have got to open up lines of communication.”
Many people of course viewed Kilfoyle’s rally cry with cynicism, saying that now the Criminal Justice Bill is an Act, the Labour Party were safe to put their mouths where their votes never were. Hoping that we’d all forget their lack of action when action was called for, the cynics suggest they are now attempting to ‘vote syphon’ the unexpected level of public opposition to the public order sections of the Criminal Justice Act.
Interested in “opening up lines of communication”, as long as they are genuine exchanges of course, SQUALL wrote to Peter Kilfoyle at the beginning of December:
“Should you wish to write a letter putting forward the Labour Party’s position on some of these issues - giving reasons why young people (and older ones!) should not feel disenfranchised - then we would seriously consider publishing it.” By February there had been no reply whatsoever from Kilfoyle. And so we write again:
Dear Labour Party, No thirst was ever quenched by the talk of water, Love SQUALL.
Actors of Parliament - The farce of Labour's effort to oppose the CJB - Squall 8 - Autumn 1994.