Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
Much has been made of the decision by the Electoral Commission to find Vote Leave for overspending during the referendum campaign. Most of the reports have, of course, ignored the fact that it has previously fined both the Remain campaign and the Liberal Democrats for doing the very same thing.
That’s not to excuse breaking the rules at all, assuming that is really what happened. I suspect this is going to end up in court – not because of any police investigation, but due to error on the part of the Electoral Commission.
There is a phrase often used in these circumstances that ‘deputy heads must roll’. And the one who seems to have very unfairly copped it is Darren Grimes, the former head of BeLeave.
At the time of the referendum he was only 22 years old. Since then, he has been working for Brexit Central, and he recently moved to the IEA. The Electoral Commission has fined him £20,000. I’ve only met Darren once, but have been really impressed by his work. I haven’t spoken about this with him, but can’t imagine he has that kind of money.
I hope someone steps forward and helps him pay this fine, or that a crowdfunding site is set up. Whatever the rights and wrong of this whole episode, those who worked with him at the time should feel an immense responsibility to ensure that he is OK.
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Were I Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party Chairman, I’d be spitting feathers, and most of them would be projected in the direction of the Chief Whip, Julian Smith, whose actions this week are coming under increasing scrutiny.
For those who haven’t been following this part of the Commons Brexit story, Lewis was paired with Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, during the crucial Trade Bill votes on Tuesday, yet he voted in the main division on a customs union which the Fovernment won by six votes. He was told to vote in the division by the whips – so he did.
He is now being accusing of deliberately breaking a pairing arrangement, but the truth, I understand, is that he knew nothing of what had gone on, and was furious about it when he found out. Just imagine the fallout for him personally if the government had one by only one vote.
It now turns out, according to The Times, that the Chief Whip urged that two other pairing arrangements be broken on that particular vote. The question to which we don’t know the answer is whether the various MPs were told anything about what was happening or, as in the case of Lewis, were told nothing at all. Pretty shabby stuff either way, to be honest. Things are difficult enough in Parliament for the government without the ‘usual channels’ being abused.
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Stewart Jackson is not a happy man, and one can understand why. He lost his Peterborough seat at the 2017 general election, and last Monday lost his job as Special Advisor to David Davis, when the latter resigned from the Cabinet. Dominic Raab asked him to stay on, only for the appointment to be vetoed by Number Ten. Too Brexity for their tastes, apparently. As a new Cabinet minister, I guess Raab didn’t feel that this was a fight he could win.
A few days later it was announced that another former Conservative MP, Nick de Bois is to fill the position. This will be a very popular appointment and Brexiteers will certainly be reassured by his presence.
However, given that Olly Robbins has quickly moved to defenestrate DexEU of many of its functions, you just wonder whether there is a job to do, both for de Bois and Raab. Apparently, all the negotiations are being taken over by Downing Street, and it will be Theresa May sitting across from Michel Barnier rather than Raab. That’s a shame, because Raab has great quality in staring someone out – he’s almost unembarrassable.
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I’d love to know which idiot in the Whips Office or Number Ten thought up the wheeze of Parliament breaking up five days early. The idea that it wouldn’t have become “a story” is risible. Some people have the political foresight of a whelk.
Naturally, given the reaction not just in the media but from Conservative MPs, the idiotic proposal was withdrawn. If things really are that desperate that someone thought the Prime Minister’s leadership could be saved if only MPs were sent away early, we really have come to a pretty pass.
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The one thing all broadcasters dread is an Ofcom complaint against them. Actually, it gets worse if Ofcom then find against them, as they did in the case of Alex Salmond this week.
Salmond now presents a little noticed show on the Russian propaganda channel, RT. In the first episode he read out a series of tweets from people who turned out not to be ordinary members of the public, but staff members at RT. His excuse was that as it was the first programme they didn’t have any viewers, so they had to get the tweets from somewhere.
The thing is, little has changed. Salmond still has next to no viewers. No politician in their right mind will appear on the show, and he’s reliant on pulling in favours, mainly from old SNP colleagues. The odd useful idiot of a Tory or Labour MP is suckered in from time to time, but he’s generally devoid of any big name guests who might at least make it watchable. How the mighty have fallen.