Conferences and Confidences

Lord Tyler

I’d rather take advice from my valet than from the Conservative Party Conference“, said Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour at the beginning of the last century.

Most Conservative Peers seem to agree.  I counted a trio of former Tory Chief Whips, and at least a dozen former Cabinet Members, in the Chamber today, and there was no lack of speeches from their benches yesterday.  All their best known characters were in their customary places.  They clearly think they can make a better contribution to the life of the nation here, well away from their party conference.

However, this afternoon a Labour spokesman confessed that a deal had been struck “in the usual channels” (which means, in effect, a fix between the Conservative and Labour whips) that no votes would take place this week in case the balance between the parties was distorted by the absence of conference attenders.  They needn’t have worried.  At that moment I counted many more Conservative Peers in the Chamber than Labour Members. 

There is a curious feeling of disconnection between Parliament and politics this week.  Perhaps Conservative Ministers here don’t think much of the theatrical Human Rights Act-bashing that is taking place 200 miles up the M1.  It’s quite a contrast to our own conference in Birmingham two weeks ago, where Ministers had to be on site, accounting to Liberal Democrat members in numerous policy debates.  I always feel proud that our 6,000-strong assembly (as we used to call it when we were lucky to get 600) still puts decision-making before fanfare.

Meanwhile, some of us are as busy as ever.  I am taking advantage of the time to set about the prosaic task of moving office.  The House authorities took on Number 1 Millbank some years ago, and have been working ever since to merge it with 2 Millbank.  Together they are re-christened Millbank House.  Disgracefully, a considerable sum of public money was wasted in the course of the project.  The House bought the buildings in 2004 and their previous tenants left in 2007 but work wasn’t scheduled to begin until 2009, so there were two years lost.  I exposed all this in a Parliamentary Question in 2008

All of that said, the extra offices – now they are finally open – are a big step-forward since the place never had enough space for every Peer even to have a desk (let alone his or her own room), and that was before the big influx of new Peers in 2010.  I used to share a small room with two other Peers, making it all but impossible to hold meetings there, or to share with staff.  Now, I am in a bit of a bigger room, with just one other colleague, and my Assistant can sit just outside.

It’s one of the mad ways of this place, though, that having invested in the extra space, arrangements are suffering for a haporth of tar.  For example, staff desks have no computers on them, and no phones.  And the new offices have either shelves for books, or cabinets for files; no one, as far as I can see, has both.

I am not complaining.  When I was first elected in 1974, I barely had a space on a table, shared with seven other MPs, and my part-time secretary had no place to put her electric typewriter.  So we are lucky to be well-accommodated now, and I’m sure all the absurdities will sort themselves out with time.  Meanwhile, ringing people up and firing off emails to try and get it all dealt with is a welcome distraction from the endless conference speechifying on our television screens.

9 comments for “Conferences and Confidences

  1. Gar Howell
    04/10/2011 at 4:33 pm

    I’m glad the noble lord Tyler and others now have more space in which to do their thinking.

    theatrical Human Rights Act-bashing that is taking place 200 miles up the M1.

    The notion that the right to family life should
    exclude a man/woman from being deported from these islands for crimes committed either here or in another country, is certainly one that needs to be examined in more detail, possibly by the Law lords when any such case is brought before them in future.

    Mr Cameron evidently thinks they are wrong so far, possibly in view of departmental advice on the subject.

    When nearly all Zimbabweans can stay here once they have got here, on account of contradictory declared UK govt policy, over the years, such things are difficult to decide!

  2. MilesJSD
    04/10/2011 at 7:55 pm

    These 606 words including the title appear to be about a serious lack of egalitarian multi-way communication, and about one’s personal confidence-raising in order to press forward one’s relevant factors despite being tired-out by having to listen to competitive Others’ endlessy speechifying.

    I have begun pre-browsing through Palgrave’s “Critical Thinking Skills” by Stella Cottrell, wherein on page 7 I read “The example indicates that, as well as the words on the page or material being critiqued”
    (i.e. ‘impartially evaluated’, not competitive-debatingly ‘torn to shreds’)
    “there are wider contextual and other considerations to be taken into account”.

    For instance here, what is the point of tweedle-dum-dee battling, over “human rights”, when neither side, nor the adjudicator or supervising-PhD facilitator (is there one such, by the way ?) can show salience of Needs and thereto Affordable and Sustainworthy Hows ? – which surely must be the sine-qua-non before attempting to apportion “legal human right to satisfy or have satisfied on one’s behalf” ?

    When Parliaments, parliamentarians, and British governance in general have such inhibitively “competitive” lack of communicability and of intent thereto, ’tis small wonder we the serious-minded, but beyond the bottom of the democratic-ladder Public, have neither effective vertical nor lateral channels for information-sharing and discussion.

    So good luck, to your new ‘elbow-room’ enablements, up there; and I prithee think of we …

  3. DanFilson
    05/10/2011 at 12:33 am

    The Labour Party Conference is still a conference. The Liberal Party Assembly or Liberal-Democrat Conference may well still be a conference. But the Conservative Party Conference is nothing but a rally. Speeches are not to motions, there are no resolutions, the whole thing is stage-managed (not to say a bit of that does not occur elsewhere). TV clips yesterday showed stalls outside doing manicure and head massage. What kind of bordello is that?

    On the office accommodation side, are more peers genuinely doing more work than 50 years ago (my mother was a peer’s secretary, previously his secretary when an MP)? Have they moved their offices from elsewhere to the Parliamentary estate realising they become claimable there? Why shouldn’t peers hot-desk? After all, as a civil servant across the road in Parliament Street my colleagues and I had to do so.

    Of course there should be a single unified computer system with obviously protection from snooping by powers or individuals that should not do so. But I imagine this would be another super-project that would go wrong and there’s always some munchkin to protest that the kit provided is already out of date and they prefer x supplier to y. Likewise it is not rocket science to provide telephones at each workstation with a separate keying-in code for each peer or MP so that billing can be individualised and itemised.

    But Lord Tyler, you are part of the coalition, Lord Strathclyde leads your house, are you holding him to account for this parsimony? Is it provably penny-wise pound-foolish? I’ll bet his response it to re-argue the case for reducing the House to 300 peers.

  4. maude elwes
    06/10/2011 at 2:32 pm

    The Tory charade takes the cake.

    With all the worries the people of this country have, they sing the song of ‘Gay marriage’ as if that is something to crow about. It sent shivers through the collective party attendants and many left. Meaning, the chair boys had to quickly fill the seats to hide the fact.

    And if they feel the other 98.5% of the public are going to vote for them on that winner, they better think again. And fast.

    I think it’s time we had a government that represents the public sections in its diverse numbers, one for one. True proportional representation.

    This will keep those lobby groups in their place and allow the true society a part in the numbers game. Which presently it isn’t close to, in any respect.

    The people of this country are being outsmarted by those who have nothing else to do but push their weight too heavily.

    Why has this been allowed to happen? Who is gaining from this? Time for the pendulum swing in balance.

    • DanFilson
      07/10/2011 at 1:08 am

      Maude, sometimes the role of a leader is to lead. I thought all three conferences were pretty lacklustre, each in their own way, but I do think David Cameron stood out for his defence of his personal position on the gay marriage issue with these memorable words:
      “To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

      The government proposals are out for consultation on a remarkably long timetable, but I think it is right for the leader to set out what is his position and he did so both ably and eloquently. And personally I think the country will follow his lead, recognising that those who commit to each other in a marriage strengthen rather that weaken that institution and strengthen society also.

      • maude elwes
        07/10/2011 at 3:27 pm

        @Dan Filson:

        Poetically his words were nice. Yes. Very upper class Eton and eloquently thrown.

        However, when the country is in a state of destitution and the kind of financial chaos we have today, not to mention the horror of our institutions unable to cope, we don’t need a leader who is akin to Julian Clairey telling us 1.5% of the population can now have a ceremony of ‘marriage’. Which, to a great number of the 98.5% rest of us, is seen as an insult to their sacred vows taken in the deepest belief of that commitment being sacred between a man and a woman and the almighty. Whatever that almighty is perceived to be.

        Let me tell you what a friend of mine said when she heard him say that. ‘I thought he was going to come out of the closet and tell us he felt that way because ‘he’ was gay’ and the first thing that came to mind was, well, how did you manage four kids ducky.

        If you in your naivety believe this is going to raise his standing at the next general election, then you are way out of touch.

        Nothing has turned people from the plight of the gay rights issue than the hammering given to the Christian couple in Devon. So, dream on.

        Your only solace is in this, has to be, the Labour and Lib Dems are so anti family ‘and commitment’ that unless they vote for an independent they have no choice at all. Do they? And that must be a great relief.for the Tories.

        And by the way, he is my Prime Minister as well as yours. And I believe it is not only my right to say what I think of his actions and intentions, but, it is also my duty to do so.

        Of course it does nothing at all for Democracy and country, but, what the hell, we’ll worry about that tomorrow. As Scarlett O’Hara spouts after Rhett walks out the door, telling her that ‘frankly, he no longer gives a damn.’

        • DanFilson
          08/10/2011 at 12:41 am

          I doubt one in a thousand will remember this speech by the time of the next general election. Really I don’t. I also think the bulk of the British public are much less obsessed by gay rights one way or another than some obsessives on both sides seem to think. For one thing, most people do not think of their marriage as ‘sacred vows taken in the deepest belief of that commitment being sacred between a man and a woman and the almighty’; they think of marriage as a commitment between two people in front of their family and community. Very few people in this country actually have any real sense of a divine being at all. And most people think that it should not be any church system, one that has the support of only a small minority of the population (look at church attendances on a typical Sunday, if you don’t believe me), should rule the roost on who can be married to whom.

          By all means say what you think of Cameron as prime minister or party leader or both. Debate and discussion are healthy.

          But just as you think the Devon case infuriated many, so many others were appalled that a hotelier could exercise their bigotry in such a way. A basic principle of faith and religion should be that your faith and religion should guide you in your actions, but not so as to cause distress in others or to arouse and spread hatred. No words attributed to Jesus in the gospels have any such effect, indeed He subscribed to the view that judgement of others is not for us to make.

  5. maude elwes
    08/10/2011 at 5:47 pm

    @Dan Filson:

    I disagree that only one in a thousand may remember what DC said in his speech at the Tory Party Conference, on this or any other matter. That’s what they are hoping for which is why they broached it early in the term. As they know that this is ‘not,’ as people like you want to play it, a popular idea with the country. Quite the reverse is true.

    This issue has been railroaded through Parliament quickly, making honest debate with the public on the matter, impossible. Very similar to the immigration issue.

    However, a Bishop in Scotland has has the courage to begin a call for it to be heard. And suggests there should be a referendum on it. The way they do in the American States where only a few out of fifty have been able to pass it. Even though this practice of ”gay rights has been around a lot longer in that country than here.

    Now if you believe what you are selling and that the population don’t care one way or the other about it, and, that their marriage vows mean little or nothing to them, and certainly have nothing to do with their belief, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jew or any other branch of the faiths, you should not fear an open debate and subsequent vote from the people throughout the country. Should you?

    You see from my experience people care very much about their marriages and what that commitment means to them. And they see this gay marriage issue as reducing their deeply held sense of the sacredness as an attack on their values. And that disregard is offensive to them.

    Not only that, the disappointment and fear of being unheard by their one hope, the Tory team, to stand by the values of the majority, as a betrayal of our society beyond their wildest imagination.

    And one other point you made about Globalization. How many countries ‘world wide’ have adopted this policy? And more, how many have adopted it in Europe? Do you know?

    This is a lobbyist way of pumping higher than their weight and taking the country further away from its grass roots than it is anywhere near comfortable with.

    • DanFilson
      08/10/2011 at 11:17 pm

      I do not claim or assert that this is a popular idea with the country, but I do feel it is not one which greatly exercises, let alone distresses, the minds of most of the country. They are, putting it simply, not greatly het up about it and are quite possibly moderately inclined to go along with what Mr Cameron is proposing – recognition of marriage in the tax system and for that to include gay marriages. I do not doubt for one moment that several churches – not all – will oppose such measures, and quite possibly make this a substantive campaigning issue, but I sense that they are now pushing the rock uphill (and indeed risk looking as bigoted as some extremist sects in the USA) whereas previously, even as recently as a couple of years ago, the campaigners were in that Sisyphian position.

      To say that anything has been “railroaded through Parliament” – when it is still subject to consultation, when that consultation was not launched until some months after the consultation launched by the Scottish Assembly, and when the England and Wales consultation has a long, long consultation period such that legislation may even not be enacted in the life of the current Parliament – is just a travesty and a denial of the facts. WHAT has been railroaded through Parliament? Laughable, with all due respect.

      I do NOT argue that people’s marriage vows are meaningless or valueless, but I do find it offensive that the view of one set of couples as to the sanctity of the vows they took should be considered by them to entitle them to see barred the right of other couples to declare their commitment in a like form of marriage.

      If people feel betrayed by the Conservative Party, that is not a new experience for millions of people who consider the entire coalition is not simply a compromise between two parties who inevitably had differing policies before the election, but an opportunist essay by both parties to ditch commitments even where there were no conflicts between the two parties on them. The Conservative Party has been ably described by one of its own leaders as an organised hypocrisy, and who am I to disagree!

      My references to globalisation have generally been in connection with the economic sphere where electronic communication and the ability for money to move around the world in micro-seconds means no nation can operate as an island any more, creating economic or fiscal policies in isolation. But if you are referring to gay marriage, the number in the non-muslim world is growing apace, and many in Europe, more western Europe than eastern or south-eastern. I do not have the statistics but you can, I am sure, Google for them if you so desire.

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