Dorset MPs: end of term reports Part II

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Michael Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Mid-Dorset North Poole (Government Whip). By convention, whips don’t speak in parliamentary debates, and so there are no parliamentary interventions to report on for Michael Tomlinson. His name often appears on motions debated in the House and he frequently acts as a teller in votes. Whips also do not give comment in the press, so Michael rarely features in articles.

Michael’s social media platform (Twitter, Facebook and website) has principally disseminated useful information about the coronavirus pandemic during this parliamentary session, without being used as a channel to amplify some of the government’s more cringe-inducing propaganda. This is commendable, as it means the messaging is clearer and so more helpful to local businesses and constituents. Kudos to Allen Lewis, who is Michael’s social media manager.

When he has not acted as a teller, Michael has, of course, voted with the whip. This is the case even when – logically – he would hold an opposing view. Take, for example, the amendment to give the right of reunion to refugee children who have family settled in this country– a measure that would affect a couple of hundred children. There was a huge furore about this when on the 7 January this year the Tories voted against the Dubs amendment to the Brexit Withdrawal Bill. The Tories protested that they weren’t opposed per se, that it remains government policy, but this just wasn’t the right Bill for it. Wait for the Immigration Bill, they said.

The Immigration Bill has been back in parliament during this session. Did the Tories vote for the right of family reunion for refugee children? No. We are singling out Michael Tomlinson for this hypocrisy because he has a page on his website called ‘Helping Refugees’.

REPORT-CARD: Michael whips for some appalling policy decisions. There’s no such thing as ‘no choice’ in politics. He could take a stand. Very disappointing.

Simon Hoare, Conservative MP for North Dorset (Chair, Northern Ireland Committee). Simon Hoare has been the revelation of this session. Having rebelled against the Government by tabling an amendment (sadly defeated) to the Agriculture Bill which would have protected British food standards and farming – in line with the manifesto pledge the government was elected on – he did not hesitate to nail his colours to the mast again and add his name to amendments (sadly, also defeated) to the Trade Bill, with a similar purpose. Those outside the Westminster bubble under-appreciate the courage this takes, especially with a malign maverick like Dominic Cummings in charge. Simon deserves our thanks for trying to defend our food, animal welfare and environmental standards.

With regard to Northern Ireland, Simon essentially called out the Brexit Transition period as an “emperor with no clothes” when he asked the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis exactly what it is Northern Ireland businesses should be preparing for.  Answer with actionable content came there none. Transition periods usually occur AFTER something has been agreed upon, not before. The Brexit Transition is possibly unique in history in that the cart has been put before the horse, so to speak, and perhaps merits an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Simon’s social media reveals he’s a country-boy at heart with a gentle, sparkling wit. As well as political posts, he tweets about local news and such matters as ideas to make British farming more resilient, wild flowers on the verges, and helping ramblers identify butterflies. It is also appreciated that he encourages the use of masks to protect others from coronavirus and lessen the burden on the NHS, in accordance with government guidance (such as it is).

REPORT-CARD: Simon has demonstrated the ability to put country before party. Normally, one would hope a government’s priorities and the national interest would coincide. Where this is not the case, may Simon continue to remember his duty is first and foremost to his country. Promising.

Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset (Member, Defence and European Scrutiny Committees). Richard has made two interventions in parliamentary discussions this session. On 8 July he intervened in the debate on the Economy. It was a speech in two parts. In the first, he advocated radical tax reform, including getting rid of VAT, stamp duty, capital gains tax, and inheritance tax – all  taxes on property, with the exception of VAT, which is a consumer tax. For sure it’s merely a coincidence that Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, to give him his full name, is the largest landowner in Dorset. After briefly giving way to fellow Dorset MP Chris Loder, Richard came back to lament that the armed forces are underfunded… [No comment.]

Richard’s second intervention this session came on 14 July, following the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden’s statement on Huawei: specifically on the UK’s cancellation – due to national security concerns and not a little pressure from the United States – of the agreement to allow Huawei to participate in building our 5G capability. Richard urged the Secretary to encourage other countries to do the same, arguing our move would only be successful if Western countries acted together on this issue. Well, yes. He has a point. Maybe they should have thought of that and put it in place beforehand? Another instance of premature ejaculation by the Tories.

When it comes to voting, Richard is a man who takes the whip, so there’s nothing exciting or even interesting to report. Richard voted for all the draconian laws put forward by the Government, and against every amendment that sought to humanise them in any way, just as unelected bureaucrat and grand vizier Dominic Cummings instructed Tory MPs to do. How prescient of Ian Fleming to give the name of Drax to one of his Bond villains.

REPORT-CARD: Richard looks unlikely ever to amount to much. Luckily for him he’ll never have to, which might explain why he’s on the dull side.

Chris Loder, Conservative MP for West Dorset (Member, Transport Committee). Chris Loder is one of the new MPs elected in the 2019 General Election, but he’s not bashful in coming forward, and speaks in the House more often than most Dorset MPs. Some of his interventions are so choc-a-bloc with the latest Cummings-decreed words and phrases that one suspects Chris is having a cheeky game of buzz-word bingo with his newbie mates on the back benches.

Other comments are content-free Brexity tropes, like his intervention on July 15 when he flannelled, “Leaving the European Union gives us an enormous opportunity to shed some of the shackles, rules and regulations…” Hmm. A bold choice to bang on about all this supposed EU red tape (which usually turns out to be sensible measures to protect workers, consumers or the environment) in the week when Michael Gove announced an eye-watering £7-15bn worth of red tape in UK ports.

Chris dished up more cringes when he intervened in the debate on the UK Internal Market White Paper on 16 July. “This White Paper, in ensuring the seamless internal market within the UK that this Government are delivering, is an excellent thing…” he said, apparently without irony. It’s amazing that Brexiters’ heads don’t explode when they borrow the phrases Remainers used about the EU internal market, to extol that of the UK. Peter Foster of The FT described this as “irony so bitter it makes your eyes bleed.”

However, Chris cannot be faulted for his efforts to get his constituency recognition and resources. Whether it’s the farming community, retailers in market towns, or leisure and hospitality businesses in coastal resorts, Chris is always ready to sing their praises, promote their initiatives and request any help that might be needed. Indeed, following on from Michael Gove’s Ditchley Lecture in which he floated the idea of locating various civil service departments in different areas of the country, Chris has been quick off the mark to write to the Cabinet Office to get some of them relocated to West Dorset.

Chris is also very generous in the praise of his staff, such as when he extolled the heroism of his assistant, James Antell, who ran to the assistance of victims of the Reading terrorist attack; and he speaks out in defence of those who have been wronged, but cannot speak for themselves, such as the Horizon Postmasters. He also occasionally comes up with a very good idea, such as embracing grassroots initiatives, because they are “flexible, kind and neighbourly.”

REPORT-CARD: Chris has big shoes to fill. While he may never reach the heights of Sir Oliver Letwin’s mellifluous oratory, his heart is in the right place. He needs to work on finding and speaking in his own voice. Has potential.