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Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Party conferences Paxmanned
Jeremy Paxman, the interviewer most feared by politicians, has denounced political party conferences as "a fraud on the public".

Writing in The Spectator magazine, Mr Paxman said his chief objection to attending the conferences as a journalist "is a sense that we have become participants in a fraud on the public.

"The extensive coverage is built on the belief that the political conferences matter, because they make party policy. This is just not true."

He added: "I don't blame the party bosses for using gavel-to-gavel coverage as a form of advertising. But I wonder whether there is any need for journalists to collaborate with them."

'Blair downgrading Cabinet'

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has downgraded Cabinet government, according to new research.

The research, by Professor Dennis Kavanagh of Liverpool University and Dr Anthony Seldon of Brighton College, accuses Mr Blair of "continuing the downgrading of Cabinet as a decision-making body".

One unnamed insider interviewed for the report, released by the Economic and Social Research Council said: "Cabinet died years ago. It hardly works anywhere else in the world today.

"It us now a matter of strong leadership at the centre and creating structures and having people to do it.

"I suppose we want to replace the departmental barons with a Bonapartist system."

Blair wanted me out, says Whelan

Chancellor Gordon Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan has said Prime Minister Tony Blair wished him to leave his position.

Speaking in a Channel 4 documentary due to be broadcast on Saturday Mr Whelan said that from May 1997 "Tony felt my position was no longer sustainable".

The chancellor's former spin doctor was often unpopular with some members of the government as he had a reputation for leaking stories to the media which showed Mr Brown in good light, regardless of how they affected other ministers.

Mr Whelan eventually lost his job after he was believed to have been responsible for leaks against the former Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson and the loan of money from fellow MP Geoffrey Robinson.

Unions for better conditions at Westminster

The Transport and General Workers Union is calling for a proper pay scale and better working conditions for MPs' staff.

The union's parliamentary branch say that as much as 15% of those employed by MPs earn less than 12,000 a year.

The union blames poor conditions and low pay on the size of MPs Office Cost Allowance which at 50,264 is not enough to pay for the wages and national insurance contributions of two or more employees.

As a result they say MPs often rely on the help of unpaid volunteers.

The union hopes the ad hoc system will be replaced by proper pay scales administered by a personal department.

Pro-hunters call for independent inquiry

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to set up an independent inquiry into hunting with dogs.

The call by the Countryside Alliance came ahead of next week's protest against the government's planned foxhunting ban at the Labour Party annual conference in Bournemouth.

In an open letter to Mr Blair, Alliance chairman John Jackson warned that imposing a ban on the basis of emotion or political expediency would be seen by rural communities as a betrayal of trust.

Mr Jackson asked for a meeting with the prime minister to put the case for an inquiry.

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