A dramatic day already in the Commons, and the AV debate has only just begun. Theresa May has just been forced to answer an urgent question from Labour’s Tom Watson on the allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.
During that session, Tom Watson made a prety extraordinary claim: that Tony Blair has written to the Met to ask if he was a victim of phone hacking.
In one way, this shouldn’t be surprising – Tony Blair was the highest-profile public figure at the time, and it is only natural that he should at least ask whether he was on as list found by investigators back in 2006 belonging to the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. After all, if John Prescott, his deputy, believes he was hacked, why shouldn’t Blair?
Much has been made in the last few days about Tony Blair’s apparent U-Turn on the Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to access information about the workings of government.
Having passed the act in 2000, Blair has apparently changed his mind on its efficacy, writing in his book:
Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.
Quite a dramatic volte-face, it seems. But Maurice Frankel, the pro-FOI campaigner, points out in a very interesting article for the Campaign for Freedom of Information, that Blair had never been entirely whole-hearted in his support of the reform, and that in fact his concerns nearly derailed it entirely.
Westminster is alive again: the corridors are full, there a queues for the canteens, gossip is being traded. But even though a large chunk of the House is made up of new MPs, fresh faced, and hopefully refreshed after a long summer break, the mood already seems sour.
Lib Dems and Tories alike are still trying to come to terms with the coalition, and the first thing all MPs are being told after the summer is to vote against their own manifestos.
It is a very odd quirk of the bill for a referendum on AV that all parties will now vote against the position they argued for before the election. The Lib Dems believe AV doesn’t go far enough, while the Tories think it goes too far, but both will vote for the referendum as a central part of the coalition agreement. Labour doesn’t like the boundary change that is being bundled in with it and will vote against.