Cablegate: Uk Parliament Officials On Preparations for The
DE RUEHLO #0150/01 0221547
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 221547Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4735
INFO RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST PRIORITY 1505
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 000150
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/22/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL UK
SUBJECT: UK PARLIAMENT OFFICIALS ON PREPARATIONS FOR THE
Classified By: Political Counselor Robin Quinville, reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (C/NF) Summary. At a private meeting on Wednesday, 20 January, two of Parliament's most senior officers laid out the contingency plans currently being put in place for the next general election and beyond. With the outcome of the next election still so uncertain, Parliamentary authorities are planning for a variety of scenarios in order to ensure that the new Parliament is up and working as soon as possible after election day. That the election has to be held on or before June 3 is the only certainty at this stage. With predicted outcomes ranging across the spectrum from the Opposition Conservative Party winning power with a 20 seat majority to a Labour Government remaining in power, but forced into coalition with another party, the House of Commons authorities are having to prepare for a number of possibilities. Other factors peculiar to this election are also complicating post-election planning. There may be as many as 300 new MPs elected, all descending on Westminster at once, looking for induction courses and offices; the Speaker must be re-elected - firstly into his parliamentary seat, and then into the position of Speaker - before Parliament can start its formal work. And with Speaker Bercow unpopular among many parliamentary colleagues, neither re-election is assured. Only then can the government of the day prepare for the Official State Opening of Parliament, when the Queen lays out the Government's legislative program for the coming year. End summary.
2. (SBU) Robert Rogers and Philippa Helme are senior officers in Parliament with over 40 years experience of its workings. Rogers is a procedural expert and has written a number of authoritative guides to parliament; Helme, as Head of the Office of the Chief Executive, is in charge of post election planning, and of making sure that new MPs settle into Westminster as quickly as possible. The logistics are complicated: last year's expenses scandal led to a large number of senior MPs unexpectedly announcing their retirements, with the result that there may be an unprecedented number of new MPs elected (perhaps more than 300 new MPs out of a 650 total). All will require office space, induction courses and practical information on how to employ staff. Helme said that she had noted the success of the USG's induction courses for new legislators and hopes to emulate aspects of it.
Election Timetables and Coalition Building ------------------------------------------
3. (C/NF) Rogers explained to Poloffs on January 20 that while it is common knowledge that the Prime Minister alone decides on the date of the next general election, it is less well known that he alone has the power to decide when the new parliament reconvenes after the election. Parliamentary authorities know that a general election will take place at some point on or before June 3 this year, with most political pundits saying that May 6 is the most likely date because it coincides with local elections already taking place around the UK. Presently, though, Parliamentary authorities are unable to plan for the arrival of MPs post-election because the date will not be known until the Prime Minister issues the Royal Proclamation dissolving Parliament and announcing the date of the general election. Within that official document will also be the date on which the House reconvenes. Rogers suggested that it is not in Brown's interest to have Parliament reconvene quickly after the polling day because he may need time to build a coalition with other parties, if Labour wins enough seats to be within striking distance of a forming the next government. Rogers suggested that this could take a couple of weeks. Rogers said that the majority of MPs favor at least two weekends falling between a general election and the meeting of a new Parliament to give them time to recover from what is expected to be an exhausting campaign.
Getting Parliament Up and Running ---------------------------------
4. (C/NF) The first job of a new Parliament, before even the official swearing-in of new MPs takes place, is the re-election of the Speaker. The Speaker is an MP, elected by his or her parliamentary colleagues. The previous Speaker, Michael Martin, resigned from the position in May 2009 - the first ever Speaker to do so in its 300 year history - after the criticisms against him personally over his clumsy handling of a variety of issues, including the uproar over MPs' expenses, made his position untenable. The current Speaker, John Bercow, replaced Martin and was, before his election as Speaker, a Conservative MP. According to many LONDON 00000150 002 OF 002 MPs, Bercow is disliked and not trusted among many in his former party partly because he has moved across the political spectrum from right to left-leaning liberal. He was elected to the position of Speaker because of the support of Labour MPs. By convention, Speakers stand for re-election in their constituencies unopposed by the other parties, which the both Labour and the Lib Dems have agreed to honor. However, Bercow faces a challenge from Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a right wing offshoot of the Conservative Party that argues for the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Farage has announced he will stand against Speaker Bercow at the general election and expected to make it a tight race, according to the UK media and Rogers.
5. (C/NF) Assuming Bercow is re-elected in his constituency, he will then face an uncertain vote in Parliament on his re-election as Speaker. Usually the re-election vote is a formality, but with Bercow disliked by his own party who may well be returning as the new Government, parliamentary authorities are considering the possible complications. If Bercow is ousted, Parliament will have to elect a new Speaker. Rogers said that Bercow, a man drily described as "having a lot of new ideas every day" is probably safe. Parliament was tainted last year by the expenses scandal and the resignation of Speaker Martin. In Rogers' calculation, MPs would be loathe to take the sheen off a new Parliament by sacking the Speaker. Bercow's behavior over the next few months is probably crucial to his survival. He must walk a tightrope in Parliament, and especially in Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) when the election campaign begins and party leaders try to use PMQs to their advantage.
6. (C/NF) At PMQs on 20 January 2010, Rogers, who was present as the senior parliamentary clerk advising the Speaker, advised the Speaker to reign in Prime Minister Brown who was criticizing Conservative policies. The point of PMQs is for the Government of the day to be questioned, not the Opposition, Rogers explained. Conservative MPs will be watching Bercow closely to make sure he holds to that.
Televised Debates -----------------
7. (C/NF) Rogers and Helm both thought that the televised election debates between party leaders would have a positive effect on this election campaign, especially among younger generations. The debates, which have never happened before in UK politics, would engage members of the public who don't watch parliamentary debates, and don't care about Brown arguing with Tory leader David Cameron in PMQs on a weekly basis. For the first time, opposition parties will be forced to defend and explain their policies in a way that has not happened before in UK politics. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX