The Westminster Hour

It is so weird to go out at 9.30pm on a Sunday night to do a live panel discussion. That’s the time of the week when I am normally just relaxing before the onslaught of the week ahead, making sure everything is done and ready.

But last night (Sunday) was the first of the new era of The Westminster Hour with its new presenter Carolyn Quinn. One of the innovations is a live slot with a panel of MPs – myself, Kitty Usher (Labour) and Ed Vaizey (Tory). Some weeks will be the three of us together but more often it will be two of the three in any combination for a chat about what’s coming up in the week ahead, any particular issues of interest to us individually – and as Ed and I are consummate bloggers – what the blogs are saying.

So off I went to Millbank for a 10.15 start. Kitty had been all over the papers as one of those on the Government payroll who was campaigning against closure of health facilities locally while being one of those voting for the cuts on the government whip in the House of Commons. I thought she had a pretty good stab at defending herself.

To my mind, the big problem isn’t whether Labour MPs are being consistent or not, but that MPs from all parties are raising concerns – and Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt isn’t listening. In Hornsey & Wood Green (as I said on air) the local council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee wrote, as did I, to Patricia – and the reply they got was from the equivalent of the Customer Service department in BT or the Royal Mail. Thank you for your letter – but… Being fobbed off with such a junior reply is hardly the Health Secretary listening.

What makes the fob off more galling is that Patricia Hewitt told Parliament that the correct procedure is indeed for council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committees to write to her and she will use her discretion to intervene and takes this most seriously. Not what happened in Haringey’s case!

Then we had a bash at the Home Office – well it’s an open door on a day when the Government is on the run from yet more scandalous incompetence. If the Government stopped trying to make a new law every day (3,000 new offences since 1997), then their staff might have a chance to get on top of their jobs. But the Government just loves headlines that say: we are going to be active – we are doing things. Just as when John Reid said he would work f***ing 18 hours a day to get it sorted – it makes for good headlines, but the results are rather different!