This article is from the July issue of Total Politics
Tony Baldry can think of more worthy winners for MP of the Month. “I think it should be George Osborne, not me,” he insists.
But Baldry, the second church estates commissioner, impressed fellow MPs with his hard work to ensure that churches were not disproportionately hit by the Budget.
Some believe he should be less modest after he helped churches, including 12,500 listed buildings, resolve problems over funding for alterations and repairs.
He convinced chancellor Osborne and the Treasury to give an additional £30m to the church, on top of the £12m already in the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme.
Baldry is adamant that Osborne deserves the praise. “The chancellor could easily have stuck to the original £5m in the Budget that he was going to give by way of compensation,” he explains, “but once he realised there was a problem, he was very keen to try and sort it out.”
The oversight in the Budget was part of a “broader political issue”, Baldry believes. “The chancellor had been very keen in the Budget to raise the tax threshold… To do that, he had to raise some money. I suspect that Treasury officials, for a long time, had in their bottom drawers a list of VAT anomalies.
"When a cry went up through the Treasury, ‘Has anyone got any bright ideas about how we raise money?’, this list came out. But because there was Budget secrecy, there wasn’t the inter-departmental consultation that one would have expected, so no one thought what the consequences would be on groups such as our churches.”
He suggests that the issue could have been foreseen with a “pre-Budget consultation”, where interested parties were consulted before the chancellor delivered his annual statement, but adds hurriedly: “In fairness to the chancellor, once he did understand that issue, he was very keen to sort it out. He did that very promptly.
“Communities, churches and cathedrals countrywide told their own MPs how unhappy they were about this proposal, and MPs told the whips,” he adds simply.
“When the likes of Nicholas Soames and others get up in the Commons and boom at junior Treasury ministers that something has to be done, they start to sit up. They are loyalists to the government, former ministers.”
But others say the change is Baldry’s prize. The chancellor thanked him and the churches “for working with us on delivering what we promised in the Budget”. Labour MP Frank Field praised the Banbury MP’s “superb” role in the negotiations, and the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to the second church estates commissioner for his role in brokering this agreement.”
Baldry remains coy. “Maybe [my role] was to make sure there was a classic lobbying exercise.” He laughs, then adds: “It’s also very important that any minister knows that if they’re going to make concessions, they should stick.
"The chancellor knew that once he’d come to an agreement with the Bishop of London and myself, that concession would stick and we would say thank you.”
In turn, he praised the Bishop of London, his partner in the negotiations: “He is an excellent politician. He’s skilled in the great tradition of political bishops, and a very shrewd negotiator – a good person to have alongside.
"I think it was important for the chancellor, because it’s one thing having Baldry say he’ll be happy about this, but you need to have confidence that when a deal is done, the church will also say, ‘We’re happy with this deal’.”
The MP’s negotiations, however, didn’t end with securing the money. He also changed the management structure: “We are going to be able to agree these sums in the future with the Treasury rather than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It was very good news.”
This means that church commissioners are able to tap right into the source. “DCMS just sees this as money coming off their budget line,” he explains.
Funding is now agreed until the end of this Parliament – and the next election. Baldry seems confident that any future administration would keep to the agreement: “I’m sure that if there was an incoming Labour government, they would do the same.”
From the editor
Whatever your religious views, we can all recognise the importance of maintaining the beauty and tradition of some of the country’s greatest listed buildings.
Tony Baldry is a modest MP, but as someone first elected in 1983, he has had many years in which to understand how the political system works. He was able to maximise this knowledge to fight for something that he not only represents in government but also believes in passionately.
He calls it a “lobbying exercise”, but obtaining his hard-fought funding is much more than that; it’s a collaboration of politicians, churches and – most difficult – the Treasury.
To get such an agreement in these times of austerity shows the true mettle of a good politician. For this, Baldry is our MP of the Month.
Labour MP for Walthamstow
It’s the second time that Creasy has made it into our top four for MP of the Month, showing her tenacity in her long-fought campaign against loan sharks. “Payday loan companies are trying to promote a veneer of respectability,” she said in a January interview, and has given companies like Wonga and The Money Shop a catchy nickname – “legal loan sharks” – for the high rates of interest they charge.
Creasy rallied support among fellow MPs for her amendment to the Financial Services Bill, calling for a cap on the total costs that can be charged for “payday loans”.
And although the government has yet to back her calls meaningfully, she continues to tweet and express her opposition in imaginative ways (including a #savebianca hashtag, after a story in EastEnders about loan sharks).
Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford
MP colleagues believe that Tracey Crouch deserved recognition for her continued work on mesothelioma. It is an incurable form of cancer that often affects the lungs of those previously exposed to asbestos.
The Tory MP forced a government U-turn on a section of the Legal Aid Bill on access to ‘no win, no fee’ agreements for victims of the condition. She argued the changes would mean that sufferers would be spending their final months trying to find lawyers who charged the lowest fees, because the option of a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement would not apply to them.
Those who nominated her say she lobbied ministers and spoke forcefully in the Commons. Crouch says she was inspired to fight the cause as her constituency has the second-highest level of incidences of mesothelioma.
SNP MP for Dundee East
Hosie was nominated by those who noticed his “great cross-party support” for action on the 3p rise in fuel duty due in August. Colleagues say that he has worked exceptionally hard to raise the issue in Parliament, after receiving huge amounts of correspondence from the public and businesses.
One MP wrote: “Stewart has shown leadership on this for several years, since he first brought forward plans for a fuel-duty stabiliser mechanism.” After U-turns on the pasty tax and caravans, he now wants a turnaround from the chancellor on the planned August 3p fuel-duty hike.
Some 38 MPs, from nine political parties and one independent, have already agreed to support a clause to amend the Budget and cancel the rise.