Our Survey: Mercer wins ‘Parliamentarian of the Year’

His campaigning on behalf of ex-servicemen helped him see off Graham Brady, Tracey Crouch and Dominic Grieve.

Next up in this year’s ConHome awards is ‘Parliamentarian of the Year’, where our readers chose which Conservative MP they felt had been most effective this year.

This year’s nominees highlight how there are many different ways for an MP to make an impact, from single-issue campaigning to procedural warfare.

The candidates were:

Dominic Grieve: For his effective wielding of parliamentary procedure in pursuit of blocking Brexit

Johnny Mercer: For his campaigning on behalf of ex-servicemen

Tracey Crouch: For her stand over fixed-odds betting terminals

Sir Graham Brady: For his handling of the farrago surrounding the effort to no-confidence the Prime Minister

Another category with a clear winner: Johnny Mercer takes 40 per cent of the vote. In addition to his work on behalf of veterans, his decision to oppose the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal presumably won’t have harmed his standing with our panel.

Beyond that Brady took over a quarter of the vote, Crouch another fifth, and Grieve just 14 per cent.

Here are the results in full:

ConservativeHome Awards: Johnson wins Resignation of the Year

Brexiteers take the podium spots, but Tracey Crouch wins an honourable mention for her stand on fixed-odds betting terminals.

As mentioned yesterday, our final survey of the year invited our panel’s views on who should win the various ConHome awards for 2018.

Today it’s time to see who won ‘Resignation of the Year’. Theresa May’s Government has a made a habit of shedding ministers, so our readers were offered a specially-enlarged panel to choose from this year, with no fewer than 12 candidates.

Unsurprisingly, Brexiteers led the pack. Boris Johnson scooped the gold for his stand over Chequers, with fellow travellers David Davis and Dominic Raab taking the other two podium spots.

None of the Remainers scored terribly highly, although once again a Johnson led the field, with Jo Johnson seeing off the likes of Guto Bebb and Dr Philip Lee.

However the real honourable mention must go to Tracey Crouch, who took a very respectable fourth place for her decision to quit the Government over delays to regulations on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Here are the results in full:

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

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So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

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Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

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Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

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Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

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I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Andy Reid: The true test of any Minister for Sport is how they influence other departments

Davies faces an overflowing in-tray, but DCMS does not have the power to address many of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

Andy Reid was the Labour MP for Loughborough until 2010 and is director of the Sports Think Tank.

The arrival of a new minister is always a threat to continuation of a policy agenda – or an opportunity to rip up a failing agenda  and delivery, depending on your position. So this week the sports sector is coming to terms with its next ministerial appointment.

Tracey Crouch was well respected – the sector likes somebody who understands and has a passion for sport. She leaves with her integrity intact.

Sport has generally been an area of policy in Parliament with a large degree of cross-party consensus in my 21 years’ experience, so the there is good will ready to welcome a new minister.

However, there were signs that momentum was slipping and the delivery of a shiny new strategy #SportingFutures was stalling. It is always harder to implement a strategy than the preparation and launch. There had been moments when the sector felt Crouch could have done or said more when other departments made cuts – over the Healthy Schools Capital programme for example.

Over the years the most effective sports ministers have been those who know how to make the Whitehall machinery work for the sector – not those who ‘know and love sport’. You could sense the frustration from Crouch in her interviews that she wasn’t able to influence policy enough, even as the Minister responsible.

So, Mims Davies has a hard act at a personal level. But what will be in her in-tray?

The #SportingFutures strategy signalled a big shift away from sport for its own sake, and called for the sector to take on a much broader role in the eider physical activity agenda. Whilst this was largely welcomed, there has been a feeling amongst many that this may have tipped too far away from supporting the grassroots of sport – the 150,000 amateur sports clubs that make up the backbone of the sports infrastructure.

At the elite end of sport, the 2012 Olympics and cross-party support for Team GB funding has given us unparalleled medal success, which every government enjoys. But it has come at a cost, with mental health and bullying allegations now putting greater emphasis on athlete welfare. The drive to medal success has also meant many team sports have missed out on funding to get to the Olympics (and many non-Olympic sports not being funded at all).

One of Crouch’s last acts was to set up a £3 million Aspiration Fund to allow many sports that missed out an opportunity to compete again. It was a slight opening of the door for a more fundamental look at why we fund elite sport at Olympic level. We hope at the Sports Think Tank that the door is opened even more in the future. It will take political courage to accept we might dip in the medal table, but more sports with a broader impact should be competing at future Olympics

The issue of Safe Standing at sports grounds will continue to rumble this year. There is growing grassroots support amongst fans and the English Football League, and Crouch was softening the policy tone from the Department.

She also led the way on governance and duty of care. The new Governance Code for sports has had a big impact already, and Duty of Care has been embedded across the sector culturally, but still many of the recommendations of the Tanni Grey Thompson report have to yet to be implemented

The growing levels of obesity and lack of physical activity amongst children is probably the biggest issue facing the minister. According the ‘Designed to Move’ campaign, the next generation of children could be the first to see a decline in life expectancy by as much as up to 5 years. The new strategy has extended the remit of Sport England to children from age five and upwards (it was previously 16+) – but only outside of school.

The measure of the strategy is how ‘joined-up’ government is or isn’t working. The current funding methodology of giving primary schools around £16,000 each is largely felt to be ineffective. The investment is at about the right level – it’s the way it gets spent we would like to see changed. Whilst it’s another department’s responsibility, the true test for a minister is how they can affect cross-government working and spending.

Finally, the question of resources won’t go away. Austerity has had a big impact on local government spend on leisure – we estimate spending has fallen from a peak of about a £1.5 billion a year to just under £1 billlion last year. On top of this the squeeze on public health budgets at local level has taken out the ability to fund the physical activity commissioning. The Health Foundation and UKActive claim the Budget last week will take another £1 billion from the public health budget at a time we want to grow the preventive health agenda.

The loss of green spaces and the general public realm also impacts on activity and wellbeing, and the single biggest determinant of activity levels for individuals is their income status. So how a sports minister is able to direct the vast spending of other departments is their biggest test. The DCMS budget still remains tiny in comparison, even for sport.

Sports ministers are buffeted around by events like anybody else, anything from doping allegations and safe standing to the sale or non-sale of Wembley, whether or not these things are actually their direct responsibility. But the sport and physical activity agenda is no longer a nice to do around the edges. Our lifestyles are killing us, and the task of a sports minister, working with colleagues across government to get us all moving again, has never been more important.

Operation Gobble. May promotes Leavers within the Government…with an eye on a coming Brexit vote.

Meanwhile, the Government has quietly been appointing more trade emissaries during the last few months.

Yesterday evening, it was announced that Mims Davies will replace Tracey Crouch at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  Jeremy Quin will be a Government Whip.  (Very able, is Quin: watch him.)  Nigel Adams will be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and an Assistant Government Whip.  And Gareth Johnson will be be an Assistant Government Whip).

All of these appointments are from within the ranks of the Government – and all, bar Davies, are unpaid.  That’s further evidence, were it needed, of how the Ministerial ranks are over the statutory maximum of 109 paid Ministers.  When Henry Hill carried out a check under the Cameron Government, almost half the Conservative Parliamentary Party was on the payroll.

Theresa May has no disincentive to cut the proportion.  Every new MP on it is a MP with a new obligation – namely, to vote, as a member of the Government, for its business.  That will matter if it comes to the most crucial vote of all, both for this administration and for the country – namely, the “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal, and the votes on legislation that would follow.

Downing Street thus has an incentive, as matters stand, to appoint MPs for voted for Brexit to the payroll: the more there are on it, the more will be obliged to support any deal she strikes in the lobbies.  Number Ten will be mindful that Party Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen are in a similar position.

It lost pro-Brexit Ministers, PPS’s and CCHQ appointees last summer in the wake of Chequers – David Davis, Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, Chris Green, Conor Burns, Maria Caulfield, Ben Bradley, Robert Courts, Scott Mann.  (Plus, separately, a pro-Remain Minister: Guto Bebb, over concessions to the ERG, plus Phillip Lee)  So it has ground to make up.

Of the four new appointments, three were on our EU referendum list as supporting Brexit – Davies, Adams and Johnson, a former PPS.  All were previously on the payroll – so to speak – and thus already under an obligation to support the Government.  But the first and last moves are unarguably promotions, and will bind in those concerned more deeply.

Meanwhile, the Government has quietly been appointing more trade emissaries during the last few months.  Though these are not on the payroll, they are also under an obligation to the Prime Minister.  Downing Street has no incentive to publish the appointments, but it is impossible to miss that some pro-Leave MPs have been among them.

So we have Pauline Latham as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya and Andrew Rossindell as the equivalent to Tanzania.  Back in the days of New Labour, Alistair Campbell had a crude but effective term for Conservatives drawn into its Big Tent – “Operation Gobble”. Number Ten might not put it the same way, but it will certainly be looking for the same effect.







Nicky Morgan: The Budget – and a Government that failed to listen to the country over problem gambling

We need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

Yesterday was the Sunday closest to All Saints Day. Since the Loughborough church that I attend is called All Saints (with Holy Trinity), the day and its aftermath assumes greater significance than it might for other churches. And the sermon referenced the work of saints, including Saint Theresa of Avila.

The key message was that being saintly is about doing good things, and our curate acknowledged that this could include doing good things in the world of politics. I believe that most elected politicians enter politics to do good things, though of course we can all argue about how different ways of doing so, and how successful we are in trying.

Now, earlier this year, after much cross-party lobbying, the Government made the right decision, and did a good thing – by agreeing to cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals.  But last week, it appeared to undo much of its good work, and bow to pressure for the cut in the maximum stake to be delayed. These machines have become known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling world, and we know that they can cause addiction, misery and even death.

In its impact assessment last year, the Government said that –

“following further engagement with independent bookmakers at the consultation stage, we have explored a number of options to mitigate any disproportionate impact on small and micro-businesses and will be taking forward the following…we will engage with industry further on an appropriate implementation period, which is initially expected to be 9-12 months, based on consultation responses we received from gaming machine suppliers.”

But I am told that, in reality, implementation actually involves changes to software which can be done speedily.  In any event, “9-12 months” would take us to May 2019 – not October 2019, as Philip Hammond announced in his Budget last week. So why the delay?

Close observers of the Budget announcements would have heard the Chancellor say this last Monday: “From October next year, I can confirm that we will increase Remote Gaming Duty on online games of chance, to 21 per cent…in order to fund the loss of revenue as we reduce FOBT stakes to £2.”

In the future, we may find out why this happened –  but we do know that one Minister has already resigned over it. I hope Tracey Crouch enjoyed her first weekend without a red box for ages.  I can speak from experience in saying that it is a real treat!

But a deeper conclusion is that a good thing that this Government decided to do, in orderto address a known social problem, has been at least partially undone by either the economics of the decision, or by lobbying from vested interests, or perhaps both. And that doesn’t look great. Last year, I wrote on this site, in the context of the number of ‘Dubs’ child refugees the UK that would be offering a home to –

“As a party known for strong economic management, the Conservatives must work doubly hard to avoid appearing to know the price of everything and the value of nothing…The announcement about the Dubs scheme has, so far, sounded as if the costs of the scheme and the perceived capacity of local councils are enough for us to stop giving refuge, and the opportunity of a brighter and more secure future, to some of the most vulnerable children on the planet…”

“…Empathy, tone and explaining our motivations go a long way in politics.  If a tough decision has to be made, then Ministers have to explain why they have made their decision…”

“This announcement will not, on its own, make people decide which party they will or will not support at a future election. But it, and similar decisions, will have a cumulative impact on the future decisions made by constituents like the one who e-mailed me.  It will form the basis of the judgments they make about the motivations of the Conservative Party.”

Seventeen months on, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘nothing has changed’. The Conservative Party still runs the risk of making decisions which stress head at the expense of heart, and which miss hearing the emotional heartbeat of the country.

That is a particular danger in any Budget that decisions can be set beside each other in an unfair way. Labour got into a mess last week with income tax cuts and benefits freezes, but came unstuck when they couldn’t agree between them a policy response to the income tax threshold changes.

The Chancellor set two decisions deliberately beside each other – Remote Gaming Duty vs maximum stakes in FOBTs. At a time when the Conservative Party is putting the rest of the country through its own ideological rabbit hole in the form of Brexit, we need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

WATCH: Brokenshire claims “it’s wrong to say that there’s been a delay” with gambling machine policy

In response to questioning over Crouch’s resignation, the housing secretary says, “We want to see this introduced properly and effectively”.

Adrian Crossley: Crouch was right about Fixed Odd Betting Terminals – and the Government should follow her lead

The Government has been bold on this so far and now it must be bolder still. For some, this pause may have tragic consequences.

Adrian Crossley is Head of the Addiction Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice.

On Thursday, Tracey Crouch resigned from the Government as Minister for Sport and Civil Society because of its delay to changes on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs). The moral question is settled across the House that FOBTs exploit an addiction and cause terrible suffering to individuals, their families and the wider community. With the gross gambling yield from FOBTs for year ending March 2017 reaching £1.8 billion, this form of betting has been compared to crack cocaine, and is destroying families and draining them of much-needed money.

Parliament’s decision to set the maximum bet at £2, pulling it down from £100 every 20 seconds, was a bold assertion which made it clear that any fiscal advantage from taxes enjoyed by the Treasury could not defeat the moral duty to protect the vulnerable.

However, an urgent question on Thursday saw Parliament alive with members from both sides of the house expressing disbelief and frustration at the Government’s position. As matters stand, this change will not now take effect until October next year.  Jeremy Wright was clear that this was no concession to the gambling industry: no care was taken to protect their profits. It was explained that this delay to implementation was intended to help the industry prepare, and therefore reduce the risk of job losses.  The postponement of implementation is not without cause but neither is it without consequence.

Tom Watson left no room for doubt about the gravity of the current problem and the risks involved by waiting when he said: “This is extremely disappointing […]research shows that half of people struggling with problem gambling have had thoughts of suicide.” These concerns have foundation in fact. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has brought this into clear focus, highlighting the case of Wendy Bendal, a lady who tragically lost her partner to suicide after he incurred thousands of pounds in losses through these betting terminals.

Earlier this year, the Guardian explored the case of Martin Paterson, who candidly spoke of the effects of FOBT causing suicidal thoughts brought about, in no small part, by the guilt he often felt for losing money desperately relied upon by his family. I’m confident that the Government will join us all in the sincere hope that no such occurrence takes place between now and October 2019.

It is also a delay and harm that we would not accept in other areas of public policy. As recently as July of this year, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency advised pharmacies immediately to recall valsartan-containing medicines as a precaution. This precaution was in response to reports of an impurity with potential carcinogenic qualities. Yet in the case of FOBTs, the Government is prepared to accept a substantial and widely recognised risk and simply leave the baby by the fire.

The Chancellor has, only days ago, announced £2 billion towards mental health spending and a new 24 hour hotline. It seems completely at odds with this very welcome and compassionate approach to mental health to simply allow the continuance of this clear source of danger. Only immediate cessation of this exploitation can satisfy Parliament, the public, and social justice. The Government has been bold on this so far and now it must be bolder still. For some, this pause may have tragic consequences.

A popular minister resigns

Outside Westminster, Crouch’s resignation will make little impact on a Budget that has gone more or less according to plan. Inside, it may not be quite the same story.

If a Minister resigns, Downing Street and the Whips hope a) that he or she is unpopular with their colleagues – or at least not popular; and b) that she is easy to replace.

Neither of these conditions apply in the case of Tracey Crouch – who has just quit the Government over a delay to a cut in maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines.  The former Sports Minister is liked by most of her colleagues and was rated as a Minister: she knows a lot about sport and is an enthuasiast for it.  These qualities are more rare among Ministers than they might be.

The Treasury will doubtless now be cast as dodgy and duplicitous, stealthily putting back the implementation of a policy that it has never liked.  It will surely claim that the timetable hasn’t slipped and Crouch will argue that it has.  She apparently said publicly that the reduction would come into force in April.  Philip Hammond set the month as next October during the course of the Budget.

Rumours of Crouch’s resignation have been floating about all day, having first appeared in the Daily Telegraph this morning, and we learn more in due course about what will have been a three way exchange between Crouch, the Treasury and Number Ten – or four-way, if you count in her former Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright.

Her resignation letter claims that Downing Street has been asleep on the job, and missed the Treasury reneging on guarantees previously given.  Well, actually, it doesn’t quite say that in terms, but such is the implication of Crouch writing that Theresa May’s “personal support” was “incredibly helpful” and evidence of a real willingess to support “vulnerable people against the power of big business”.

The former Minister attributes the delay to “commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.  Questions will be asked, as they invariably are, about how this political banana skin wasn’t spotted lurking on the floor.  Though maybe the Government will simply gird its collective loins, and press on.

Crouch threw herself heart and soul into the campaign for reduction, and will have taken this week’s news as a breach of trust.  Outside Westminster, the news will make little impact on a Budget, and its aftermath, that has gone more or less according to plan.  Inside, it may not be quite the same story.  The Government has no majority, after all.