Wakeford should resign and fight a by-election in Bury South

23 Jan

This week, Guido Fawkes reminded us that Christian Wakeford, the Labour MP for Bury South, co-sponsored and voted for a private members bill in 2020 that would “enable the recall of Members of the House of Commons who voluntarily change their political party affiliation; and for connected purposes.” Wakeford’s Law would have caused a by-election to be triggered if, in a relevant constituency, a petition demanding it, gathered ten per cent of the eligible electors over a period of eight weeks.

Steve Baker, the Conservative MP for Wycombe, spoke against the proposal – as he felt it didn’t go far enough:

“I am in favour of full recall—I prefer to avoid total recall—albeit on a threshold that must be high enough to avoid vexatious political activity. However, I would like to have full recall, by which I mean recall without conditions.”

Anyway, surely in the circumstances that have arisen, Wakeford should resign and fight a by-election. An opinion poll shows a big majority believing this should take place. I haven’t heard any BBC interviewers raise this interesting but unhelpful question with Wakeford or any of his fellow Labour politicians.

Yet surely it’s a subject that must have been discussed by Wakeford during the weeks of clandestine meetings with Labour representatives while plotting his defection. With the current climate, Labour should be well placed to win a by-election in Bury South.

So why do they not seem to relish the challenge? By-election campaigns cost money and Labour is reported to be “on the verge of bankruptcy.” Would the Bury South Constituency Labour Party select Wakeford as their candidate? By-elections, under Labour’s rules, do give power to Labour’s National Executive: “in the case of an emergency, it shall take whatever action that may be necessary to meet the situation.” Would imposing Wakeford be justified as an “emergency” on the basis that the CLP would not acquiesce otherwise? One for the lawyers to ponder, I suppose.

If such hurdles were overcome the by-election campaign might still prove problematic. Bury South has a large Jewish community.  Angela Epstein, one of its members, has written powerfully in the Independent about her sense of betrayal:

“As our new MP, Wakeford swiftly established himself as a sensitive and understanding supporter of a Jewish community still reeling from the Corbyn years. He understood what we had suffered. It makes his willingness to cross the floor even more unpalatable. Yes, Keir Starmer has shown credible and declared intent to stamp out antisemitism within his party. But equally this was a man who campaigned for Corbyn in 2019 and would have worked with him had he become prime minister. During his own leadership campaign Starmer was also reluctant to criticise his predecessor, since he remained popular among the party membership…

“Of course Wakeford’s defection isn’t just a stinging act of disloyalty for his Jewish constituents. Many residents of Bury South will have voted for the 38-year-old candidate as part of the Boris boom – keen to ensure that Labour, with its chaotic agenda of stirring class conflict, ruinous big state ideas and quasi Marxist politics, didn’t have a chance. And yet it hurts so much for Jewish people because we looked to Wakeford as our protector. An assured parliamentary voice who could stand up for this community.”

Labour’s continuing failure to deal with anti-semitism is demonstrated not far from Bury with the disturbing situation in Blackburn.

By signing up as a Labour Party member, Wakeford has undertaken to “accept and conform” to the Party’s principles – including that it is a “socialist” party. Thus far Wakeford has explained his switch to the Labour Party as being prompted by his antipathy to Dominic Cummings, Owen Paterson, and Downing Street drinks parties. But when did Wakeford convert to socialism? Presumably, it took place within the last year – as on January 18th 2021, he wrote:

“Labour – bunch of c****.”

Another puzzle is that a month ago Wakeford was among the 99 Conservative MPs who voted against the Plan B restrictions. Is it not a bit odd that he’s now switched to Labour, who complained the measures did not go far enough and imposed tighter restrictions in Wales? Wakeford might also face disobliging queries about his expenses with the revelation that he was in the top ten MPs for spending on travel and food costs charging the taxpayer £13,899 for this in the last financial year.

So one can see why Wakeford has evidently decided against a by-election. The question is whether it should be his decision. It is a wider question of political accountability. If MPs are sentenced to be imprisoned for more than 12 months they automatically have to stand down. That is reasonable. But in other cases, a recall mechanism should apply. (I would like to see it for Police and Crime Commissioners as well.) I suppose we could still have various standards committees and commissioners to carry out investigations and publish their findings. However, the power would be with the electorate.

Our politics is drifting towards politicians being too beholden to officialdom. The Electoral Commission imposes bureaucratic burdens on political parties while failing to robustly and impartially uphold the democratic process. Peers complained this week of a “sinister” threat to freedom of speech by the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards. Supposedly we are eagerly waiting for a civil servant called Sue Gray to decide if the Prime Minister should be sacked.  Of course, she has no authority to do anything of the kind. She may give a verdict on whether the “gatherings” in the Downing Street gardens were within the official definition of work events allowed under the regulations – or were parties and broke the rules. Ministers and Shadow Ministers continuously take to the airwaves to speak of Gray with great reverence and assure us of their “high regard” for her. But it is the MPs who decide who is Prime Minister. We decide who the MPs are. Those fundamentals should be reasserted and strengthened. The retreat into the prissy obfuscation of politicians relying on officials for moral authority has gone too far. We need to take back control. Giving the people of Bury South their say would be a good start.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: A grievous blow to Johnson, struck by a member of his own side

19 Jan

Stabbed in the back by David Davis! Until this moment, near the end of PMQs, Boris Johnson had just about kept his end up.

Davis told him: “You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.”

Johnson affected not to recognise the reference, but these were, as he well knows, the words used by Leo Amery in 1940 to tell Neville Chamberlain the time had come to get out of Downing Street.

Chamberlain, whose reputation never recovered! Chamberlain, who was forced to make way for Winston Churchill!

There is no Churchill waiting in the wings to take over from Johnson. But for a senior Conservative backbencher, and former Cabinet colleague, to denounce him at this moment of greatest danger was a grievous blow.

Chamberlain still won the vote in 1940, but with a majority so reduced he was no longer credible, and was obliged to recognise that having until recently dominated the Conservative Party, and commanded wide support from the public for his policy of appeasement, he could not now carry on.

Immediately after PMQs, Johnson delivered a statement in which he said the Government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks. His policy, as he repeatedly pointed out, is succeeding.

And Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough), a backbencher of long service, told him, “to paraphrase Leo Amery, for God’s sake, keep going”.

To which Johnson replied: “I haven’t sat here quite long enough, indeed nothing like long enough, in my view.”

That was more like the old Johnson. Perhaps he will start once more to play his natural game of ridiculing his opponents as a bunch of prigs.

The difficulty he found as he exchanged blows at PMQs with Sir Keir Starmer is that he, Johnson, had to adopt a sombre, contrite, somewhat priggish tone in order to show he feels the pain of those who obeyed the Covid rules while their loved ones died.

At the start of PMQs, Christian Wakeford, until a few minutes earlier Conservative MP for Bury South, took his place on the Labour benches.

Sir Keir started by “warmly welcoming” his new recruit, and then joined in the ancient British blood sport, engaged in with particular enthusiasm by the feral beasts of the media, of hunting down the Prime Minister.

As one of North London’s most distinguished human rights lawyers, the  Leader of the Opposition is not really a blood sports man. He is willing, however, to make an exception in the case of Johnson, and began by making a joke about the Conservatives who were heckling him: “I’m sure the Chief Whip has told them to bring their own booze.”

Drink is indeed a feature of the hunting field. Sir Keir laughed at his own joke, cantered off in as natural a manner as he could manage in pursuit of Johnson, and directed several cutting if rather legalistic jabs at him.

Johnson showed flashes of the fighting spirit which a hard-pressed Prime Minister simply must show on an occasion like this, declaring in a trenchant tone that “we will win again in Bury South at the next election under this Prime Minister.”

Then came Davis. Not good for the PM. On the other hand, although Johnson announced a medal for the evacuation of Kabul, at least we are not about to evacuate Dunkirk.

Wakeford defects to Labour

19 Jan

In another dramatic turn of events for the Government, Christian Wakeford, the Conservative MP for Bury South, has defected to the Labour Party. The news comes shortly after he submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson, following the revelations of lockdown parties at Downing Street.

No doubt we will find the ins and outs of Wakeford’s departure in due course. Labour has clearly timed the announcement (above) before PMQs for maximum effect.

Although it is another blow for Johnson, it’s worth adding that with an intake as big as the last Tory one, you’re more likely to get candidates who are swept in on the margins. Will there be more defections to come? The next few days will be tense to say the least.

The 33 Conservative MPs who rebelled over the Genocide Amendment

19 Jan
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Blackman, Bob
  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bridgen, Andrew

 

  • Crouch, Tracey
  • Davis, David
  • Djanogly, Jonathan
  • Duncan Smith, Iain
  • Ellwood, Tobias

 

  • Francois, Mark
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Gillan, Cheryl
  • Gray, James
  • Green, Damian

 

  • Hart, Sally-Anne (pictured)
  • Hoare, Simon
  • Hollobone, Philip
  • Jenkin, Bernard
  • Latham, Pauline

 

  • Lewer, Andrew
  • Lewis, Julian
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mackinlay, Craig
  • Nokes, Caroline

 

  • Richards, Nicola
  • Rossindell, Andrew
  • Seely, Bob
  • Tugendhat, Tom
  • Wakeford, Christian

 

  • Walker, Charles
  • Warburton, David
  • Wragg, William

Today’s genocide amendment had no relation whatsoever to recent votes on Covid – or other major rebellions that this site has been chronicling.

But there is considerable overlap between the rebels on those lists and on this one.  And even newcomers to our records such as Sally-Ann Hart and Nicola Richards have voted against the Government previously (though rarely).

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the amendment, lists of those defying the whips now have a certain predictability.

The forty-two Conservative MPs who voted against the Government on the 10pm curfew

13 Oct
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Baker, Steve
  • Baldwin, Harriett
  • Blackman, Bob

 

  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bone, Peter
  • Brady, Graham
  • Chope, Christopher
  • Clifton-Brown, Sir Geoffrey

 

  • Daly, James
  • Davies, Philip
  • Davis, David
  • Davison, Dehenna
  • Doyle-Price, Jackie

 

  • Drax, Richard
  • Fysh, Marcus
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Green, Chris (pictured)
  • Hunt, Tom

 

  • Latham, Mrs Pauline
  • Loder, Chris
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mangnall, Anthony
  • McCartney, Karl

 

  • McVey, Esther
  • Merriman, Huw
  • Morris, Anne Marie
  • Redwood, rh John
  • Rosindell, Andrew

 

  • Sambrook, Gary
  • Seely, Bob
  • Smith, Henry
  • Swayne, rh Sir Desmond
  • Syms, Sir Robert

 

  • Thomas, Derek
  • Tracey, Craig
  • Vickers, Matt
  • Wakeford, Christian
  • Walker, Sir Charles

 

  • Watling, Giles
  • Wragg, William

Plus two tellers – Philip Hollobone and Craig Mackinlay.

– – –

  • Seven Tory MPs voted against the Government on renewing the Coronavirus Act.
  • Twelve voted against the Government over the rule of six.
  • Now we have 42 this evening – enough to imperil the Government’s majority in the event of all opposition parties that attend Westminster voting against it too.
  • Fifty-six signed the Brady amendment, but it was never voted on, and wasn’t a measure related directly to Government policy on the virus.
  • We wrote last week that Conservative backbench protests would gain “volume and velocity”, and so it is proving.
  • There’s a strong though not total overlap between these lockdown sceptics and Eurosceptics.
  • We count eight members from the 2019 intake – and a big tranche from pre-2010 intakes.
  • Chris Green resigned as a PPS to vote against the measure.
  • He’s a Bolton MP and there’s clearly unhappiness there about these latest restrictions.

John Bald: Ofqual’s evidence at a Select Committee this week demonstrated why it should be wound up

4 Sep

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Ofqual’s appearance at the Education Select Committee on Wednesday showed more clearly than anything to date just how far the organisation’s faith in statistical modelling and lack of understanding of education led it into error – and the education system into chaos.

Roger Taylor, its Chairman, started confidently, saying that Ofqual had wanted examinations to continue, but had been overruled by the Secretary of State. A second option had been to delay the examinations, and the third to find “some form of calculated grades.”

Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual on March 31 to say that students should receive “calculated results based on their exam centres’ judgements of their ability in the relevant subjects, supplemented by a range of other evidence.”

He went on to say that the approach should be “standardised across centres”, and that steps should be taken to maintain a similar grade profile to previous years. Ofqual then used “statistics and teachers’ rankings” to produce something which, said Taylor, was as fair as it could be.

The first error was to advise that examinations continue. This was impossible because some schools, following trade union advice, stopped direct online teaching as soon as lockdown started, while others – only a handful in the state sector – did not.

Stopping teaching when it would have been perfectly possible to continue it for A level classes would have put the affected pupils at a serious disadvantage. The same issue would have affected delayed examinations.

Ofqual’s statisticians could not have been expected to understand these considerations, but ministers did. Ofqual’s Board, which has highly experienced and expert practitioners, would have been able to explain the position but,  according to its official records, did not meet between 26th September 2019 and a late-night session on 15th August, when it put its collective foot down over the botched appeals process. Why not?

What seems to have happened instead is the delegation of the work to a technical group, which did not standardise teachers’ assessments, as instructed, but ignored them completely by applying a statistical model to their rankings. Michelle Meadows, Ofqal’s “Executive director, strategy, risk and research”, justified this by saying that teachers’ grades were not accurate, but that their rankings were.

There is some research evidence to support this view, notably from Daisy Christodoulou, but to ignore teachers’ grades completely was a victory for statistics over reality. Dr Meadows told the committee that 0.2 per cent of grades were “potentially anomalous” and that the statistical model – which I will not flatter with the term “algorithm” – was fair and unbiased.

Furthermore, as teachers were often unsure whether to enter candidates for lower or higher tiers in some subjects, Ofqual had removed any limitation on grades for foundation candidates. That sounds fair – until we see pupils with very limited skills awarded grade 9 on the basis of work they’d never even seen.

Conservative committee members Jonathan Gullis and Christian Wakeford made the case for reality, Gullis pointing to the unfairness of the model to large entries from FE colleges, and Wakeford echoing a pupil’s lament, “I’ve got somebody else’s D”.

The consequences of not applying the model to entries of fewer than five candidates, which favoured private schools and some subjects had clearly blind-sided Ofqual, as did the question why they did not run this year’s results, which they had had since June, through the model to see how far it worked.

Dr Meadows evaded this question, saying they had done all sorts of trials. The point is: why not this one, which would have allowed problems to be identified in advance? It is hard to see how a system that only claimed 60 per cent accuracy could result in only 0.2 per cent of potential anomalies, but Dr Meadows was undaunted. Analysis did not show any bias in the system.

Robert Halfon concluded by asking whether Ofqual was fit for purpose, to which the witnesses, all of them Ofqual officials, predictably replied in the affirmative.

I do not agree with them. Assigning children’s futures to a statistical model, without considering the quality of their work, or even looking at it, is not the action of a reasonable body, acting reasonably, and would have brought a well-deserved hammering on judicial review.

If Ofqual had moderated teachers assessments sensibly, perhaps, as suggested by Bob3142 in response to my previous article, by requiring schools to justify any overall change from past performance, we could have had a fair outcome. As it is, we have had to swallow the grade inflation, and leave schools and universities to sort out the mess. Ofqual should be wound up.