Belfast Telegraph

No rest for the wicked as MPs look forward to summer of discontent

... with Chris Moncrieff

Britain's political leaders can look forward to a minimum of rest and recuperation as the holiday season descends on Westminster.

The turmoil in the Labour Party over anti-Semitism will not conveniently disappear during August and the Conservative Party will continue to tear itself apart, while Brexit will remain the obdurate elephant in the room.

Outsiders wonder why this anti-Semitism dispute in Labour cannot be easily resolved.

But there is no sign of that happening, with many Labour MPs deeply upset by leader Jeremy Corbyn's attitude to the problem. There could even be calls for his replacement.

Two MPs face disciplinary action - possibly suspension from the party - over this issue. Dame Margaret Hodge orally attacked Corbyn to his face and Ian Austin has described Labour as a "sewer" so long as the row continues.

Both these MPs lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, Tory malcontents over Brexit continue to make Theresa May's already difficult position even worse, while Boris Johnson, the ex-Foreign Secretary, is already showing signs of becoming a serious threat on the backbenches.

At the same time Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, appears to be planning a new party, although he denies this.

Well, he would, wouldn't he?

That would cause yet more ructions in the Lib Dems, leaving him little time for building sandcastles.

What a happy band of campers they all are.

- A major crackdown on bullies - and worse - who frighten, threaten physical and sexual violence and generally intimidate candidates at elections, as well as their campaigners and supporters, is to be introduced by the Government. And not before time.

There is now plain evidence that people who fought the last general election had to tolerate outrageous threats during the campaign.

This disgraceful behaviour even continues against sitting MPs, mostly female ones - and is getting worse.

Much of this vicious conduct comes from sadistic trolls on social media. And not only does it put the frighteners on citizens who want to serve the public, but it also, understandably, discourages many people from doing so.

It is far worse than the corruption of the rotten boroughs in centuries gone by, or the barefaced bribery as described by Charles Dickens in the notorious Eatanswill election in The Pickwick Papers.

One sanction proposed is that those guilty of this offence would themselves be barred from holding public office.

And when the legislation comes before Parliament, presumably in the autumn, I hope it will contain much more severe punishments than that.

The country must not be besmirched by this kind of cruelty. After all, we are not a tin-pot, banana republic and I hope we never become one.

- Just another £170m of public money down the drain.

Who cares?

Well, thousands - if not millions - of taxpayers do care, as the Government forks out their money to end the utter shambles of the British probation service.

Private companies now running parts of the system are having their contracts cut short by the Government because of what one MP has described as the "mess" into which the service has run.

You get the impression the Government is merely shrugging its shoulders at the cost, £170m of rowing back on a botched and ill-thought-out plan.

But just look at the areas where this kind of money would have been beneficial - the tottering National Health Service for starters.

I wonder whether Chancellor Philip Hammond managed to keep his cool when he heard about this shambolic waste of money.

It is bad enough when MPs squander taxpayers' money, with their cavalier and ludicrous expenses claims, but it is that much worse when the Government is guilty of the same extravagance.

- Will John Bercow, the hugely irritating Speaker of the House of Commons, never leave the chair? He has already broken his pledge to hold the office for just nine years - yet he shows no sign of departing.

If he eventually does so, whether he is dragged from the chair or leaves it voluntarily, there are at least two candidates (probably more) who would be a vast improvement on Bercow.

One is Lindsay Hoyle, a Deputy Speaker, who has demonstrated his firmness and natural ability for the job when he has taken charge, particularly on Budget day.

And the other is Harriet Harman, the former deputy leader of the Labour Party, who has given wonderful service to the party and the nation over the years. She, too, would be admirable in the chair.

If I was an MP I would have great difficulty in choosing between these two. But it could, alas, be some time yet before MPs have to make that choice.

It all depends on how soon Bercow can be lured away - or removed from the chair.

Belfast Telegraph

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