The Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: November 3, 2016 Last modified: November 3, 2016

Masters of war
The Labour MPs who abstained on their own Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry’s rather mild motion to distance the UK from Saudi atrocities in Yemen, revealed a somewhat twisted concept of loyalty in their haste to put their receipt of arms trade largesse ahead of their Party. Trident junkie John Woodcock, one of those who led opposition to the motion, regularly sups at the table of BAE Systems, a company heavily involved in the renewal of the pricey and useless missile system, and has enthusiastically endorsed the company’s attempts to inveigle its way into the education system by sponsoring academy schools. Among the other abstainers, a number attended last year’s Annual Defence Dinner as a guest of arms companies, including Margaret Beckett (Rolls Royce), Vernon  Coaker and Chi Onwurah(ADS), Brian Donahoe (Airbus), Kevan Jones (Marshall ADC), Ivan Lewis (Bombardier), Ian Lucas and Madeleine Moon (Finmeccanica), Andrew Miller (SAFRAN),  Alison Seabeck (Babcock), John Spellar (GKN) and Gemma Doyle (BAE, along with Woodcock, of course). Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson was not there, but he abstained on the motion anyway, if only to demonstrate that sometimes he clearly doesn’t “get the memo” either.

All in the game
On a quite different motion, MPs across the political spectrum, quite rightly, competed with each other to insult ‘Sir Spiv’ Philip Green, the former BHS boss, in the Commons debate which voted unanimously to strip him of his title. Winner was Iain Wright who said that the bloated one “took the rings from BHS’s fingers, beat it black and blue, starved it of food and water and put it one life support, and then he wanted credit for keeping it alive.” Closely followed by David Winnick, who called him a “billionaire spiv who has shamed British capitalism”. But perhaps the most telling quote, not funny but immensely pertinent, came from shadow business secretary Clive Lewis: “The most extraordinary thing is that legally Sir Phillip has done nothing wrong. The system is bent and we know in whose favour. The rules of the game need changing.”
The owl and the pussycat
The Times parliamentary sketchwriter Patrick Kidd, fast overtaking all the others as the wittiest and most pernicious practitioners of that narrow trade, composed a no-nonsense ditty that Lewis Carrol would have approved of: “The owl and the pussycat weren’t too pleased with the ludicrous P Green’s yacht/ He took some honey and plenty of money, as much as the firm had got…” They finally grilled Sir Phil, saying: “Dear pig, were you willing to sell for a shilling your store? Said the piggy, ‘I was’/ So he gave it away to be wound down in days by a bankrupt with multiple flaws.”

Permanent free zone
News of an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into pay rates for delivery drivers at courier company Hermes means a spotlight will be turned on the grey area surrounding employment status and statutory minimum wage rates. The company is facing an investigation into allegations that it pays drivers less than the National Living Wage, by classifying them as self-employed rather than employees. It has also been claimed that drivers do not receive benefits, such as a holiday allowance or sick pay, and risk losing their jobs if
they are unable to come to work for any reason. The allegations echo recent media coverage of delivery company Deliveroo, and a case involving a number of cycle courier businesses that is expected to be heard at an employment tribunal shortly. An employment tribunal case involving 19 drivers working for the taxi-hailing app Uber over their employment status
found in the driver’s favour, though Uber is appealing. But HMRC’s intervention in the issue of self-employment has been seen as particularly significant. The investigation into Hermes coincides with a separate announcement from HMRC that it would scrutinise employment arrangements relating to freelance workers who were being used to fill what would otherwise have been permanent roles.

Park life
The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee receive a petition signed by more than 273,000 people during an evidence session of its inquiry into the future of public parks. Representatives of online petition website 38 Degrees presented the petition to the committee which has also received nearly 400 formal written evidence submissions and more
than 13,000 surveys completed online or face to face in parks since launching its inquiry in July. The desire to protect urban green spaces is clearly growing after decades of government neglect and constant onslaughts by developers.
Les bourgeois
The sheer scale of internal Tory bile in the aftermath of David Cameron’s post-Brexit resignation is, bit by bit, being uncovered, not least by Tim Shipman’s memoir. He described how, after Boris Johnson was “betrayed” by Michal Gove in the subsequent Leadership bids, Cameron texted Boris: “You should have stuck with me, mate.” And to think it all happened to such lovely people.

Hell is for children
Refugees champion Lord Dubs cut through the crap of the manufactured row over the ages of a handful of child migrants in a Radio 4 interview: “Both the French authorities and the British authorities vetted and assessed all of them. Secondly it’s not always easy to judge the age of people who have been on the run, who have been sleeping rough and so on, who may have been aged by the experiences they’ve had.  And thirdly, quite honestly, provided that the majority are children, if somebody who is over 18 has slipped through the net that’s not the end of the world.”

Safety first
The government will be advertising a new seat for a worker’s representative on the Health and Safety Executive board, according to TUC health and safety officer Hugh Robertson. The government caused an uproar in September when it appointed an employer to represent workers on the HSE board. This, says Robertson on the Stronger Unions blog, totally undermined the principle of an equal voice for employers and workers on the board that is enshrined in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act. That decision was widely condemned and there was even an emergency motion at TUC Congress. After a meeting with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, work and pensions secretary Damian Green has now said that he will be advertising a new seat for a workers representative, and will “welcome the active engagement” of the TUC in the recruitment process. Nevertheless, Robertson said of the U-turn: “It does not change the fact that the original appointment of an employer to represent workers interests should never have been made and, at the time, it showed that the government just does not understand the importance of unions, or worker involvement. So, while this is a very welcome move, it has to be only the start of the process of getting back to allowing unions to do the job they are there to do which is represent and support workers. That means that the government and HSE have to ensure that we have proper joint structures that allow us to do that.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.