The Diary: When will Laws be rewarded for his loyalty?


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The Independent Online

We all notice when there is a rebellion in the Tory ranks, such when 81 Conservative MPs – a quarter of the parliamentary party – defied the whip to vote for a referendum on EU membership.

But those assiduous Commons watchers, Phil Cowley and Mark Stuart, of Nottingham University, point out that when an equally sizeable proportion of the Liberal Democrats defy Nick Clegg, no one seems to notice.

They have counted 86 Liberal Democrat rebellions since the Coalition was formed, 18 months ago. Early this month, 14 Lib Dem MPs – again, a quarter of the total – rebelled over various aspects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. There is only one backbench Liberal Democrat MP who has a completely clean record as far as the whips are concerned. It is David Laws, still hankering after his old seat in the Cabinet.

Don't read too much into this

Yvette Cooper, Labour's talented shadow Home Secretary, sent an interesting message on Twitter addressed to The Independent on Sunday's political commentator, John Rentoul. This is what it said: @JohnRentoulhhhhghhghhhhhhghghghghhghghhwghghwghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghghhghghghgggghggg .

This cryptic tweet set the political twitterati wondering whether it was a coded message (note the mysterious appearance of a couple of Ws amid all the Hs and Gs) or a late entry for Rentoul's recent book, The Banned List; A manifesto against jargon and cliché.

The prosaic truth is that Cooper was hurrying to get off a train and stuffed her unlocked BlackBerry into her bag.

The MP tasked with testing the water

Despite the large number of rebels on the Tory backbenches, there is at least one whose loyalty to the government is almost total, namely Harriet Baldwin, the MP for West Worcestershire. Like a canary down a mineshaft, she is the kind of loyalist who could be trusted to put out a controversial idea on the Government's behalf, just to test the reaction.

Writing on the Conservative Home website yesterday, Ms Baldwin floated the possibility of a "cap" on child-tax credit. The state would allow unemployed parents to have four children and claim for them, but if they have a fifth, they get nothing extra. "If those who are in a workless household were told that they would not receive additional benefits for any new babies until such time as the household has a wage-earner, work incentives would be stronger," she wrote. She also suggested another "sensible step" would be local variations to universal credit, with higher benefits for those who live in places like Chelsea, where median earnings are high, than in Jarrow, where they are low, so the gap between benefits and earnings is roughly the same everywhere. Don't laugh. It could happen.

High turnover for Libya posting

There has been a dizzying turnover of UK ambassadors to Libya this year. At the start of this year, Our Recently Appointed Man in Tripoli was Richard Northern. He was pulled out in March after 10 months in the job, when the Government washed its hands of Muammar Gaddafi.

One of Northern's last duties was to ring a rebel leader in Benghazi to apologise for the scare caused when British observers suddenly descended on the town by helicopter. His call was bugged by the Libyan government, who broadcast it on state television.

In April, a former ambassador to Iraq, Sir John Jenkins, was dispatched to Benghazi to establish formal relations with the National Transitional Council. In October, he was officially accredited as the UK's ambassador to Libya. One month on, he has been called back to London to be replaced by Dominic Asquith, another experienced diplomat and great-grandson of the former Liberal Prime Minister.

"Sir John was only ever meant to do a six-month tour of duty. This is normal in a war zone, because it is very stressful," said the man from the Foreign Office. This is odd, because in Afghanistan, there have been just six UK Ambassadors in 10 years of war.

There’s already nostalgia for Silvio

“Under Silvio, it was Carnival every day; under Mario, it’s going to be Lent forever” – an unnamed Italian Senator, quoted in Le Monde, yearns for the good old days.