Hague mocks “Archbishop” Mandelson during no confidence debate

June 11, 2009 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

mandelson

by Tony Grew

MPs discussed the possibility of an immediate general election yesterday after the SNP and Plaid Cymru tabled a motion calling on the Prime Minister to seek a dissolution of the present Parliament.

Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, told MPs:

“The case for the dissolution of the House of Commons is urgent, compelling and of greater importance than any party political interest.

“It is clear that the public believe that this Parliament is without legitimacy, credibility or trust.

“The expenses scandal is the most recent cause of this public concern, but there are other causes that have undermined faith in the political process, including the decision taking us into an illegal and immoral war in Iraq that was based on a lie.

“We in the SNP and Plaid Cymru believe it is only by demonstrating our trust in the people through an immediate general election that we can begin to rebuild trust in parliamentary democracy.”

Mr Robertson said that the SNP/Plaid motion is not one of no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Government.

“That is why I appeal to Members from all parts of the House to support it,” he said.

“In truth, the Government’s case against an election has nothing to do with the need to pursue parliamentary reform or manage the economy.

“It is pure, naked self-preservation in the wake of the worst electoral showing by the Labour party in 90 years.”

Peter Hain, the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Wales, responded for the government.

“I thank the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for praising the Prime Minister—we can do much more of that in the debate,” he said.

“I also thank the leader of Plaid Cymru for his earlier welcome of my reinstatement as Secretary of State—I am grateful. I apologise to him and the House for having to rush off after I have spoken to get my seals of office.

“I have to stand the hon. Gentleman up for the Queen.”

Mr Hain started by asking why David Cameron had not tabled the motion as Leader of the Opposition.

“He calls for an immediate general election every time he gets out of bed and every time he goes on television,” he said.

“He has said virtually nothing for the past few weeks, except to demand an early election.

“So why does not he table the motion instead of trooping dutifully behind the nationalists? Is he just playing to the media gallery, as usual, because he knows that the House of Commons will not back him? Is it a case of bravery before the cameras, cowardice before Parliament?”

The Deputy Speaker asked him to withdraw his remark about cowardice, as it is unparliamentary language.

“I happily do so—it was said in jest,” Mr Hain said.

“The leader of the Conservative party is allowing the nationalists to do his work for him.”

He later branded Plaid Cymru and the SNP as “the Tories’ little helpers.”

“In 1979, the SNP voted to destroy a Labour Government and usher in 18 years of miserable Tory rule,” he said.

“In the European elections, voting Plaid Cymru allowed the Tories to top the poll in Wales—albeit on a pitiful vote of just over 6 per cent. of the electorate. Voting SNP will allow the Tories to get in at Westminster.”

Mr Hain said an immediate election would be nothing more than a referendum on the MPs’ expenses scandal.

“When the time comes to call an election, we will indeed get a renewed mandate to take the country forward and to meet the challenges of the future,” he told the House.

“That will be the choice that is put before the British people at that point. They would not forgive us, however, for abandoning the job of implementing parliamentary reform and economic recovery now. ”

Mr Hain then turned his attention to Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, who had been chosen to speak for the opposition on the motion.

“It is good to see that the right hon. Member for Richmond has found time from his millionaire speaking and consultancy contracts to be with us today,” he said.

“He has a vivacious Welsh wife, but sadly she has not managed to educate him politically. He opposed the minimum wage, which has benefited millions of workers throughout Britain.”

Mr Hain concluded:

“Let me make this plain: the Tories and the nationalists would turn their backs on the British people and walk away together. They would dissolve this Parliament because they hope it would suit their short-term political ends.

“Only Labour will stay the course to do the hard work, to reform, and to give real help to the British people. They can dissolve if they want to; this Government are not for dissolving. We are standing firm, and I urge the House to reject the motion.”

Mr Hague congratulated Mr Hain on his appointment as Secretary of State for Wales, a post Mr Hague held under John Major and Mr Hain held from 2002 to 2008.

“To hold that office is one of the greatest honours that life can bring, and to hold it twice is a piece of great good fortune,” he said.

“The question before us is whether these tasks and challenges are best faced for the next 10 or 11 months by the current Parliament, now in its twilight year, with a large and growing number of hon. and right hon. Members leaving its ranks, burdened with a serious loss of its reputation, with a minimal and diminishing opportunity to pass fresh legislation, with many decisions on hold and with a visibly divided Government, or whether they are better faced by a new Parliament, with new Members and renewed energy, with the expectation of several years of work before it, with a mandate approved by the people of the country, and with the authority that comes from demonstrable popular approval in a democracy—something that the current Government have forfeited and the Government of the current Prime Minister have neither sought nor ever received.

“One only has to ask the question to see that to most people in this country there is a clear and emphatic answer.”

Mr Hague said the voters “have been watching a bitter battle take place within the governing party about whether one unelected Prime Minister should be replaced with another one.

“It is not surprising that they should feel that the question of who leads our country is not the private preserve of a dysfunctional Government at the tail end of a Parliament, but a matter for the collective judgment of the nation.”

Mr Hague said the the Prime Minister feared chaos at the ballot box, “presumably in place of the well-ordered conduct of government that we have witnessed in recent weeks.

“The Home Secretary resigned on Tuesday, the Communities and Local Government Secretary on Wednesday, and the Work and Pensions Secretary on Thursday. Downing Street worked for 48 hours, through the night, to save the Prime Minister from being overthrown by his Cabinet. What a relief it is that there was no chaos in this country in the last couple of weeks.”

He mocked Lord Mandelson’s new title of First Secretary of State.

“In mentioning Lord Mandelson, I did not mean to send a chill down the spine of Ministers, but it is now impossible to discuss the operation of government or Parliament without reference to his opinions,” Mr Hague told MPs.

“The unelected Prime Minister has managed to produce the most powerful unelected deputy since Henry VIII appointed Cardinal Wolsey—except that Cardinal Wolsey was more sensitive in his handling of colleagues than the noble Lord Mandelson is.

“His personal retinue of 11 Ministers, six of whom attend on him in the House of Lords, is the largest in the Government.

“The growth of the unelected portion of Her Majesty’s Government is further evidence of the need for the dissolution of Parliament.

“We also need the fresh air of electoral competition to blow through the dark recesses of several departments.

“The Prime Minister who lectures us all on democratic renewal is appointing peers to positions of power on a scale unknown for decades.

“There are now more peers attending the Cabinet than at any time since the days of Harold Macmillan.

“Half the Ministers in the Foreign Office now sit in the House of Lords or are about to do so, including no less a figure than the new Minister for Europe.

“So after years in which hon. Members in all parts of the House have called for better democratic scrutiny of EU decision making, we have arrived at a situation where elected Members of Parliament will be unable to question the Minister for Europe at all and where, a week before an important EU summit, the Minister is not available to either House of Parliament.

“That is not democratic renewal, but democratic reversal by the Prime Minister.

“The Lord Mandelson, denied the opportunity to become Foreign Secretary by the sad combination of a Prime Minister too weak to remove his Foreign Secretary and, equally, a Foreign Secretary too weak to challenge the Prime Minister, has gone around instead collecting titles and even whole departments to add to his name.

“His title now adds up to, “The right hon. the Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Privy Council and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills”.

“It would be no surprise to wake up in the morning and find that he had become an archbishop— [Laughter]. That is exactly what happened with Cardinal Wolsey.”

Mr Hague then bantered with Labour MPs. Denis McShane said:

“He can tell wonderful jokes about Lord Mandelson—I wish he could tell more, because we all love laughing at them—but what is the point of this speech? Why have the Opposition not tabled this motion? Why are they coming in on the coat tails of the Scottish nationalists?”

Mr Hague replied:

“First, I think that the right hon. Gentleman was not just laughing at my joke about Lord Mandelson; he was laughing with it.

“That is sad news for him, because it means what has in fact already been reflected in the reshuffle: however desperate the Government have been to find new Ministers, they have sadly not turned to him. That is most unfortunate.”

Betty Williams, MP for Conwy, said she was worried “for a moment” that Mr Hague was afraid of her.

“Does he agree with the boys’ club chorus from the nationalists?” she asked.

“If we call a general election and there is a change of Government, do they think that Wales and Scotland will be immune from the global economic situation in which the UK finds itself? Could he comment on that single policy?”

Mr Hague said:

“I assure the hon. Lady that I am not afraid of any lady from Wales except my mother-in-law, so she need not worry about that. Secondly, I have not indulged in any character assassination; Lord Mandelson will be most flattered by what I have said about him today—I am simply helping to build him up.”

Lib Dem frontbencher David Heath later referred to “a kind of zombie Government—deceased but not yet interred, stumbling on, uncomprehending and without vision.”

Despite Tory support the motion was defeated by 340 votes to 268.

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