Lords Diary: Lord Bridges of Headley
Bank of England, London | Adobestock
May has been a month of confusion. I nod along as I hear the priority of the Queen’s Speech is helping ease the cost of living and encouraging growth. But why is the government putting up taxes on people and business?
Ministers argue that a windfall tax would deter the investment in energy we badly need: then they introduce one. Granted, the current economic crisis creates a complex set of problems. Even more the need for a clear strategy, grounded in principles, to address it.
For that strategy, we look to No 10. I was struck by a fact in the Prime Minister’s statement about the parties meetings there. “Hundreds of people are entitled to work” in Downing Street, and “thousands of officials” work in the Cabinet Office. That’s not something to boast about. In any organisation, the fewer the people around the leadership, the better. Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 was much smaller than it is today. One reason: everyone in her government knew what she was trying to achieve – and they didn’t need scores of unelected advisers to instruct them.
Thankfully Michael Gove has a cunning plan: to send the House of Lords to Stoke-on-Trent. How will the State Opening of Parliament work? Will Black Rod helicopter down to London, pick up MPs in a fleet of Chinooks, and whizz back to Stoke? Actually, that’s irrelevant. Mr Gove clearly didn’t get the memo that the relocation of the Lords is a matter for the Lords, not government. From their lordships’ reaction to his proposal, most peers want to send Mr Gove to Coventry.
Last July, the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee warned “if the Bank doesn’t act to curb inflation it will be much more difficult to rein in later”. The answer we got in September was that above-target inflation is likely to be “transitory”. “I told you so” must be the most irritating phrase in the English language. But with independence must come accountability. The Bank does have questions to answer.
A peer points out that ‘Sue Gray Report’ is an anagram for ‘Sure, partygoer'
They’ve shut Albert Bridge, near where I live in Battersea, to film a stunt for a Hollywood blockbuster. (Spoiler alert.) A fugitive is ambushed: surrounded, all seems lost. But he jumps off the bridge, lands on a barge, and is picked up by a helicopter. The film crew was forbidden from telling me the film’s name. So I’ve called it “The Greased Piglet”.
The most difficult moment this month? No, not trying to get an answer from the energy minister about the impact of a windfall tax: Greg Hands was very forthcoming to the Economic Affairs Committee, saying that was a matter for the Treasury. No, the most difficult moment was keeping our whippet still while holding his paw in a bowl of hot water to treat a corn. I got soaked, so if you have any tips on treatment, let me know. (Actually, I may ask the Treasury, as they’ll probably be more forthcoming on tips for whippets’ corns than a full assessment of the impact of the windfall tax.)
A belated farewell drinks party meeting was held for Matt Ridley, who’s retired from the House of Lords. He’s never afraid to speak his mind – and it’s one of the most original and interesting minds I know. Whether it’s on GM crops, Brexit, Covid, regulation – whether you agree or disagree with him – Matt has made a massive contribution to debate. He will be sorely missed.
A peer points out that “Sue Gray Report” is an anagram for what No 10 officials were told when they were offered a drink at one of their parties meetings: “Sure, partygoer”.
There are few things to cheer about right now. But in the last few days we will all have had a chance to celebrate and thank someone for 70 years of commitment and devotion to the nation. Let me get my thanks in now. Thank you, Your Majesty.
Lord Bridges of Headley is a Conservative peer and chair of the Economic Affairs Select Committee
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