The idiocy of Jonathan May-Bowles

There will be yet more "security" at the House of Commons.

Yesterday an idiot made it worse for many other people, and without any gain for anyone but "security" officials. The "pie" gesture was not even funny on its own terms; and an attack on any eighty-year old man is that of either an imbecile or a bully. The immediate consequence was that all the public, many of whom had waited up to eight hours, were cleared from the committee room.

But there will perhaps be another longer-lasting effect. Those charged with security at the Houses of Parliament hardly need any more excuse to add to their grand theatre of anti-terrorism. When I first visited the Palace of Westminster in the late 1980s, there was relatively little security, even though there was the clear and present danger of Irish republican attacks. And once you were in, you could walk around reasonably freely.

Now, there is as much ceremony getting into Parliament as when the Queen actually opens it. There are queues, photographs, machine guns, elaborate bag-searches, and very serious faces. The uniformed officials seem to revel in taking even trivial items from frightened visitors and exercising their moment of power. By the time you get through all this you are highly conscious of the power of Parliament's officials, and also the lack of your own.

And thanks to the idiot Jonathan May-Bowles this will undoubtedly get worse. It may well be that the public will be excluded from certain hearings, or partitioned off. Those seeking to legitimately lobby their Members of Parliament will be subjected to more intense searches and, indeed, humiliations by "security" officials.

One has no idea what he was hoping to achieve with his stunt; but we can be fairly certain what "security" officials will try to achieve off the back of it.


Jonathan May-Bowles has now set out his account of the incident here.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is the author of the Jack of Kent blog and can be followed on Twitter and on Facebook.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.