Poppy pride…or posing?

By DAVID WOODING

REMEMBRANCE Sunday is 17 days away and already politicians seem to be racing each other to be first to wear a poppy.

A host of MPs were proudly – and perhaps a little ostentatiously – sporting one in their lapels during Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons today.

They are sold to honour brave troops killed in action since the First World War – and raise millions for the Royal British Legion’s charitable work.

But in recent years, the well-observed tradition seems to have taken on an unfortunate political edge.

Etiquette dictates that the poppy should be worn in the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday – on November 13 this year.

But Labour MPs today stole a march on the Tories with nothing short of a sea poppies on Opposition benches during Prime Minister’s questions in the Commons.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham chided: “Not a Tory on the front bench with a poppy.”

He tweeted: “They have been on sale in Parliament for days and large numbers have them. Surely wearing them encourages others.”

Isn’t this all a little unseemly? Nobody is forced to wear a poppy yet 26 million are sold every year raising an estimated £35 million for ex-servicemen, women and their families.

I’m sure that David Cameron and his MPs will all have bought and worn one before he lays a wreath at the Cenotaph next month.

Demanding the PM pins one to his jacket now is a bit like complaining he hasn’t sent his Christmas cards out by mid November.

No doubt nervous TV presenters will be pinning on a poppy fast lest they get a dressing down from righteous MPs.

Twisted

Channel 4 News man Jon Snow fiercely refuses to give in to what he calls the “poppy fascists” and appears on screen with bare lapels all year round.

While some may find his stance a little extreme, many believe it is unfair to criticise MPs for being poppy-free in October.

Mr Cunningham’s followers accused him of a “petty partisan attack” and “twisted point-scoring”.

Amy Jackson declared: “My father spent 37 years in the Army and always taught me to start wearing poppies on November 1.”

Blogger Harry Cole added: “You used the war dead to try to score a point against the government.”

So what is poppy etiquette? A quick check in Debrett’s guide to good manners says poppies can be worn from the end of October to Remembrance Sunday – but adds it is acceptable to wear them from November 1 or just the week leading up to that day.

The Royal British Legion would probably settle for that – and scowl at the blatant politicisation of the biggest event in their calendar. Besides, the vets’ organization hasn’t even launched this year’s poppy appeal yet.

What is your view on the “poppy police” and “poppy etiquette?” Please leave your comments below.

EU referendum – a running sore for David Cameron

By DAVID WOODING

DAVID Cameron faced the biggest Tory revolt in modern history tonight in a row that looks set to dog the rest of his Premiership.

Mr Cameron crushed the rebellion thanks to support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but it left wounded and festering backbenchers vowing never to surrender on the issue.

Up to 80 of Mr Cameron’s own troops opposed him in the Commons tonight and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

It was biggest revolt suffered by a Conservative Prime Minister since 41 defied Sir John Major to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted: “This massive Tory rebellion is a humiliation for the Prime Minister.”

Some 111 MPs of all parties backed the referendum call, not enough to clinch victory on the issue. Early estimates suggest that about 80 of them were Tories.

Resentment is now mounting not only over the result, but his handling of the issue, with some claiming they were threatened by heavy-handed government whips.

Costly mistake

Two ministerial aides have quit and one private parliamentary secretary is said to have needed medical attention after he fainted during a stern showdown with the PM.

The rebels were given a further boost by two polls tonight which show voters are overwhelmingly on their side

Two-thirds of the public want a straight “in or out” referendum onBritain’s membership of the European Union, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News.

More than half – 54 per cent – believe that joining the union has been a costly mistake, delivering more problems than advantages.

But they are equally divided on full withdrawal – 37 per cent agree and 37 per cent disagree – but 41 per cent want the government to negotiate better membership terms.

And more than half would support pulling out if striking a better deal was not possible.

More than 130,000 have already signed a petition demanding a say on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

An ICM poll for tomorrow’s Guardian shows 70 per cent want a referendum, with 49 per cent prepared to vote to pull out and only 40 per cent to stay in.

UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage said: “It is fascinating watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over this.

Wrong 

“Polls over the last few days have shown clearly that the general public believe MPs should be able to vote how they like regarding an EU referendum.”

But Mr Cameron insisted voting to leave Europe at a time of financial crisis would be like deserting your neighbours when their houses are on fire when you should be helping and stopping it from spreading to your home.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs a referendum on our future in Europe was the “wrong question at the wrong time”.

With the euro in meltdown, and Britain having to stump up billions to keep it afloat, the row looks set to drag on.

After the economy, it could turn out to be one of the biggest issues to dog Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Liam Fox faces lengthy Cabinet exile after damning report

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox’s hopes of a swift Cabinet comeback have been dealt a heavy blow by an official report into his relationship with his Best Man.

A top-level probe delivered a damning verdict on his conduct – finding him guilty of multiple breaches of the ministerial code.

Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell’s inquiry found Dr Fox ignored warnings from senior officials about his friendship with ex-flatmate Adam Werritty.

He concludes the minister put his own security at risk – and that of senior military aides – by giving his chum access to his diary.

Ignored warnings: Liam Fox

Dr Fox, 50, quit on Friday after admitting a “blurring” of lines between his professional life and personal loyalty to a friend.

Mr Werritty posed as an unofficial adviser, handing out businesss cards and accompanying the minister on 18 overseas trips in 16 months, despite having no MoD clearance.

But today’s report failed to quell demands for answers to a welter of questions about 34-year-old Mr Werritty’s role.

In his report Sir Gus said: “Dr Fox’s actions clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code which Dr Fox has already acknowledged.

“This was a failure of judgment on his part for which he has taken the ultimate responsibility in resigning office.”

Sir Gus clears him of making any money out of the friendship or putting national security at risk but ruled:

–         Dr Fox’s behaviour fell short of the standards of conduct required by the ministerial code.

–         His close links with Mr Werritty, particularly the use of business cards, gave the false impression he represented the British government.

–         The minister had kept MoD officials at bay for two pre-arranged meetings attended by his pal.

He recommended tightening of the rules governing links between ministers and civil servants.

Dr Fox, who will make a Commons statement tomorrow, said: “I am pleased that the report makes clear that the two most serious allegations, namely of any financial gain sought, expected or received by myself and any breach of national security, have no basis.”

But it is unlikely that falling on his sword will kill off the controversy, with Labour still demanding further disclosures.

Murky

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the report only “scratches the surface” of the potential breaches.

He declared: “A ten-page report into 18 months of wrongdoing is a superficial and narrow way for the government to deal with such a deep problem.

“This is a murky business and it has not yet been resolved. Liam Fox apologized in the House of Commons last week, but we still do not know the full truth.”

In the past, talented ministers have returned to government after serving a period of penance on the back benches.

With this row likely to run and run,  Dr Fox could be forced to wait quite some time.

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Justice for the 96 Hillsborough disaster victims is a step closer

By DAVID WOODING

IN the end, it didn’t even need a vote.

After 22  tireless years of fighting for justice, the families of 96 fans killed in Britain’s worst football disaster finally got their way without a murmur of opposition.

In a long-overdue debate, MPs agreed to the full release of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster.

Hillsborough Memorial and eternal flame at Anfield

The historic decision means the grieving relatives – many of them in the public gallery of the Commons tonight – have cleared a final obstacle in their hard and lonely struggle to find the truth.

The debate was triggered when more than 139,000 people signed a government e-petition demanding uncensored publication of 40,000 papers relating to the disaster and its aftermath.

But there was no need for a vote after Home Secretary Theresa May apologized for the anxiety caused to fans in the past and vowed to put everything into the open.

She revealed that all documents had been handed to an independent panel set up by her predecessor Alan Johnson in the last Labour government .

Mrs May told MPs: “I shall do everything in my power to ensure that the families and the public get the truth.

“No government papers will be withheld from the panel, no attempts to suppress publication will be made, no stone will be left unturned.”

Merseyside Labour MP Steve Rotheram, who was at the ill-fated match as a fan, took six minutes to read out the names of all 96 victims to a hushed Commons chamber. When he had finished, MPs and those in the public gallery burst into applause – rarely heard in the chamber.

Pat Joynes, who lost her son Nicholas, 27, in the pre-match crush before the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, was among those who travelled to the Commons to hear him.

Caged

She said: “Twenty-two years is a long time to wait to find out the truth about what happened to our loved ones.

“I am hoping Nicholas and the others are looking down on us and the spirit of the 96 is with us as we hear the debate.”

Ninety-five Liverpool fans were crushed to death in caged pens in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium as crowds were still arriving for the match.

The 96th victim, Tony Bland, was in a coma for three years after the match and died in 1992.

In the immediate aftermath, police “sources” claimed the tragedy was caused by drunken Liverpool fans whom they say arrived late for the match.

A carpet of flowers near the Kop goal at Anfield on the day after the tragedy.

While the allegations were discounted at an inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor, the slur has dogged the club for years.

The long-awaited release of these documents will finally reveal the original source of these vile stories – and why they were given so much credence.

It is also hoped they will disclose what the government of the day was told about the disaster and how journalists were briefed.

The families, the club and their fans will never forget that awful afternoon. It is etched into the very fabric of Liverpool FC, with an eternal flame flickering outside the Shankly Gates.

But perhaps the release of these papers, which is expected next year, will help them find closure.

And allow the 96 to rest in peace.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Why Liam Fox had to go

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox finally quit the Cabinet today after the secret money trail which funded his Best Man’s globe-trotting was exposed.

The Defence Secretary was forced to go as wealthy backers claimed he asked Tory donors to help pay for Adam Werrity’s travels.

Dr Fox (pictured left) had clung on to his job after more than a week of damaging revelations of how his 34-year-old ex-flatmate posed as an unofficial adviser and accompanied him 18 foreign trips in 16 months.

But he was left with no choice but to resign tonight after it emerged he had solicited money to foot the £157,000 bill for Mr Werrity to fly the world with him.

Venture capitalist Jon Moulton, who gave up to £35,000 towards the trips, is said to have claimed that Dr Fox asked for the cash.

All week, political commentators have warned it was the money which could be the minister’s downfall – and so it proved.

The cash revelations left him open to accusations of a conflict of interest and he threw in the towel.

In his resignation letter, Dr Fox said it was in the “national interest” that he should go because he had allowed personal interests and government activities to become “blurred”.

Mr Werrity, who did not work for the government and had not been security vetted, had linked up with his close pal on trips across the world, including to Sri Lanka and Washington.

Dr Fox is the first Tory to quit the coalition Cabinet – the only other casualty was Lib Dem David Laws who resigned last year over revelations he claimed £40,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay rent to his boyfriend.

David Cameron swiftly replaced Dr Fox at the MoD with Philip Hammond, who is seen as a safe pair of hands ripe for a higher profile job.

The PM also took the opportunity to promote two young women.

Justine Greening replaces Mr Hammond at the Department of Transport, swelling the female ranks of the Cabinet.

Chloe Smith, 29, takes Ms Greening’s job as Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Shadow defence secetary Jim Murphy said the resignation was “unavoidable and inevitable”.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Kelvin MacKenzie on Press standards

By DAVID WOODING

KELVIN MacKenzie isn’t one to pull his punches – and was his usual knockabout self when he spoke to the Leveson inquiry on Press standards today.

Love him or loathe him, the former Sun editor knows how to get his point across in concise and often colourful language.

Mr MacKenzie revealed how:

  – HE only checked the source of one story when he was editor of The Sun and it ended up costing him £1 million in libel damages.

– A MOLE hunt launched after a major defence exclusive was chaired by the MI6 colonel  who leaked the story.

– GORDON Brown threatened to “destroy” Rupert Murdoch in a 20-minute phone tirade hours after one of his paper’s endorsed the Tories.

– DAVID Cameron hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson only as a gesture of political friendship to the newspaper tycoon.

Mr MacKenzie (pictured left) didn’t mince his words when asked for his assessment of what should be done to reform the British media.

“Nothing,” he declared bluntly.

He said the only new law needed is one to ban “under-talented” MPs from kissing the a**es of newspaper owners.

In a bravura performance, he gave both barrels to David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove over their “gut-wrenching” crawling to Rupert Murdoch. He even tore into Lord Leveson himself.

Mr MacKenzie told how he had suggested Labour MPs should set their mobile phones ringing every time the PM stood up to talk in the Commons – in a jibe at his “potty” decision to hire ex-News of the World boss Andy Coulson as an aide.

Mr MacKenzie gazed around the room and asked: “Where is our great Prime Minister who ordered this ludicrous inquiry?

“After all, the only reason we are all here is due to one man’s action; Cameron’s obsessive a**e-kissing over the years of Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was pretty good, as was Brown. But Cameron was the Daddy.

“Such was his obsession with what newspapers said about him – and Rupert had three market leaders – that as party leader he issued all his senior colleagues, especially Michael Gove, with knee pads in order to protect their blue trousers when they genuflected in front of the Special Sun.

Gut-wrenching

“Cameron wanted Rupert onside as he believed, quite wrongly in my view, that The Sun’s endorsement would help him to victory. “When the paper did come out for Cameron the Sun’s sale fell by 40,000 copies that day.

“There was never a party, a breakfast, a lunch, a cuppa or a drink that Cameron and Co would not turn up to in force if The Great Man or his handmaiden Rebekah Brooks was there. There was always a queue to kiss their rings. It was gut-wrenching.”

He added: “Cameron had clearly gone quite potty. And the final proof that he was certifiable was his hiring of my friend Andy Coulson.

“I remember telling anybody who would listen that if I were Brown, every time Cameron stood up in the Commons he should arrange for mobile phones to ring on his side of the House.

“It would have killed Cameron. Nobody took me seriously. And then the phone hacking scandal erupted. Not a scandal of Rupert’s making but the order went out from Cameron: stop the a**e kissing and start the a**e kicking.”

Turning to “this bloody inquiry” chaired by Lord Leveson (pictured right), he continued: “God help me that free speech comes down to the thought process of a judge who couldn’t win when prosecuting counsel against Ken Dodd for tax evasion and more recently robbing the Christmas Island veterans of a substantial pay-off for being told simply to turn away from nuclear test blasts in the Fifties. It’s that bad.

“I have been forced by what sounds like the threat of a jail term to give a witness statement to this inquiry.

“The questions not only made me laugh through their ignorance but also that a subject as serious as free speech should be dealt with in this manner.

“Question seven basically wanted to know if an editor knew the sources of many of the stories. To be frank, I didn’t bother during my 13 years with one important exception. With this particular story I got in the news editor, the legal director, the two reporters covering it and the source himself on a Friday afternoon.

“We spent two hours going through the story and I decided that it was true and we should publish it on Monday. It caused a worldwide sensation. And four months later The Sun was forced to pay out a record £1 million libel damages to Elton John for wholly untrue rent boy allegations. So much for checking a story, I never did it again. Basically my view was that if it sounded right it was probably right and therefore we should lob it in.

“How will this inquiry change that? Question six also deals with sources and I disclosed another story that happened during my 13 years as editor of The Sun. That morning we had led on a Ministry of Defence story revealing some kind of secret we felt our readers should know.

“The reporter concerned came in and said there was problem. No 10 had gone nuts and an official inquiry was starting into who had leaked the story with a colonel from MI6 being drafted in to head it. The reporter told me the MoD were determined to get to the bottom of it but it was not all bad news. Why was that I asked.

“Because the colonel heading the inquiry was the bloke who gave us the story in the first place. How will this inquiry change that? Yes there was criminal cancer at the News of The World. Yes, there were editorial and management errors as the extent of the cancer began to be revealed. But why do we need an inquiry of this kind?

Roared

“There are plenty of laws to cover what went on. After all, 16 people have already been arrested and my bet is that the number may well go to 30 once police officers are rounded up. Almost certainly they will face conspiracy laws, corruption laws, false accounting laws. There are plenty of laws that may have been broken. Lord Leveson knows them all by heart.

“Supposing these arrests didn’t come from the newspaper business. Supposing they were baggage handlers at Heathrow nicking from luggage, or staff at Primark carrying out a VAT swindle, or more likely, a bunch or lawyers involved in a mortgage fraud. Would such an inquiry have ever been set up? Of course not.”

Mr MacKenzie said Mr Coulson’s appointment at Number 10 was down to the PM’s personal lack of judgment.

“I don’t blame Andy for taking the job,” he said. “I do blame Cameron for offering it.

“It was clearly a gesture of political friendship aimed over Andy’s head to Rupert Murdoch. If it wasn’t that then Cameron is a bloody idiot. A couple of phone calls from Central Office people would have told him that there was a bad smell hanging around the News of the World.

“Rupert told me an incredible story. He was in his New York office on the day that The Sun decided to endorse Cameron for the next election. That day was important to Brown as his speech to the party faithful at the Labour party conference would have been heavily reported in the papers.

“Of course the endorsement blew Brown’s speech off the front page. That night a furious Brown called Murdoch and in Rupert’s words: ‘Roared at me for 20 minutes’.

“At the end Brown said: ‘You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company.’ That endorsement on that day was a terrible error.

“I can’t believe it was Rupert’s idea. Strangely, he is quite a cautious man. Whoever made that decision should hang their head in shame. I point the finger at a management mixture of Rebekah and James Murdoch.

“The point of my anecdotes is to show that this inquiry should decide there is nothing wrong with the Press, that we should enshrine free speech in Cameron’s planned Bill of Rights and accept the scandal was simply a moment in time when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper.

“If anything, the only recommendation that should be put forward by Leveson is one banning by law over- ambitious and under-talented politicians from giving house room to proprietors who are seeking commercial gain from their contacts. In tabloid terms, a**e kissing will be illegal. Should have an interesting passage through Parliament.

“Do that and you will have my blessing – and I suspect the blessing from Rupert Murdoch, too.”

See also: “Keep taking the Tabloids” – this page, October 6. 2011.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Internet porn crackdown – victory for campaigning Claire Perry

By DAVID WOODING

TOUGH new curbs to protect kids from internet porn were unveiled today in a hard-fought victory for rookie MP Claire Perry.

Mum-of-three Mrs Perry has been battling with ministers since the day she was elected for a change in the law to block all adult material from family computers.

Full marks to the dogged Tory, who  never gave up – even when internet giants convinced officials her idea was impossible.

Perry Power: MP Claire

Four companies have now caved in to Perry power and will force customers to opt IN if they want to view explicit sites in future.

The crackdown comes after a tireless campaign mounted by the Devizes MP. Mrs Perry hounded ministers into forcing  internet providers to adapt the system used to block paedophile material to cover all pornography.

She kept on fighting,  even when an ill-tempered  meeting with web chiefs broke down last May – as I reported at the time in the News of the World.

David Cameron today announced that all porn will be blocked when a customer buys a new internet package from  BT, Sky, Talk Talk or Virgin – unless they opt in.

Mrs Perry should be delighted with her stunning success but has vowed to continue campaigning for even more safeguards.

She said: “I see this as the first step in a long journey. The government is moving along the right lines. Next we need to be protecting all those millions who already have an internet connection.

“I have no desire to ban porn. All I want is to stop children stumbling across graphic images by accident.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding