Choc tactics: a Cadbury’s employee protests outside parliament ahead of its takeover by Kraft in 2010. (Photo: Getty)
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: parliament’s soaring chocolate bill

While former cake-hater David Amess MP beggars belief.

The late Bob Crow was as combustible at football matches as he was in pay negotiations. A few years ago, a match at Dagenham was halted while stewards warned the RMT leader that he would be ejected if he continued to abuse the then Morecambe FC boss, Sammy McIlroy. Crow, who was sitting behind the dugouts, described his rants as “lively banter”. McIlroy called him “a total arsehole”. As so often, Crow had the last laugh. He left with the match ball. RIP.

Trouble at t’mill. The TUC’s plans to merge its northern region with Yorkshire and the Humber are going down as badly as any pay cut. The head sister, Frances O’Grady, has her work cut out amid talk of protests, subs’ strikes and even disaffiliation. My informant muttered that the Yorkshire TUC secretary, Bill Adams, had been warned that he would be out of the door if he didn’t move to the West Midlands, the joint job earmarked for the northern TUC’s Beth Farhat.

Keir Starmer’s quest for a Labour seat looks as if it starts and ends in Holborn and St Pancras. The onetime DPP will be guest speaker alongside the retiring MP, Frank Dobson, at a £25-a-head fundraiser, hosted by Labour’s Bloomsbury and King’s Cross branch. Sir Keir never uses his title. It doesn’t go down well with the comrades, apparently.

Rent-a-quote David Amess isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. The Southend West MP fell for a Brass Eye spoof about a drug called “cake”, appearing on the show in the T-shirt of a fictional anti-drugs body, FUKD & BOMBD. Now I hear he wants to know how many beggars appeal against convictions. They don’t have the money, Dave.

I spotted Nick Clegg travelling second class on the train from London to the Yellow Peril’s spring jamboree in York. His cash-strapped party bought the ticket. If it’s considered safe to travel with hoi polloi as Lib Dem leader, why do taxpayers pay for the Deputy PM to go in first class? I hope he isn’t taking us for a ride.

Clegg the self-declared patriot will have enjoyed the Lib Dem conference more than Simon Hughes. The (in)justice minister had a face like thunder when he wasn’t called during a debate, despite repeatedly waving his arms at the chair. The worry might have been that the Bermondsey Bore would stupefy an audience barely conscious at the best of times. Hughes could drone for Britain and frequently does.

Factlet of the week: the Commons authorities spent £39,920 on chocolate last year to stock shops, cafés and restaurants. The £164 cost of answering the parliamentary written question tabled by the Lib Dem John Thurso to find this out could have bought 234 more Mars bars. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 4 years of austerity

Show Hide image

Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital