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Commons Confidential: December 2005

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons

The Commons all-party beer club - yes, of course there is such a thing - has just held its Christmas reception at which it laid on a selection of fine ales for the delectation of MPs and guests.

Nestling amongst the pumps of beers with all sorts of exotic names was one brew simply labelled "Jokers".

Was this a brewery having a not-so-subtle pop at our elected representatives? Well, no, it was an error in translation.

The splendid ale was actually the Scottish "Deuchars" brew and had been mis-labelled by a member of staff who had taken down the name over the phone.

Well, just try saying Deuchars in a Scottish accent and you will understand.


There's no shortage of helpful "friends" suggesting jobs for Tony Blair's ex-spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

The latest idea doing the rounds is that Ali's old pal Sir Clive Woodward - with whom he worked during the Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand - might be able to offer him gainful employment.

Sir Clive is currently coaching Southampton FC, which has just lost its manager Harry Redknapp, and might be in a position to bring Ali in as media consultant or some such thing.

Then again, given the losing experience with the Lions, spinning soccer or rugby scores is probably asking rather a lot of even the best in the business.


It's the festive season - apparently - so it's time for the "works do", as Labour MPs call their Christmas party.

David Blunkett
Will Blunkett sign again at Christmas do?
This event is one of the big occasions of the year, where backbenchers get the chance to let their hair down and have a jolly good, traditional bash.

But can tonight's do offer a more bizarre turn than last year when the then buffeted Home Secretary, David Blunkett, turned up and handed out song sheets before taking the stage to sing: "I pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again...."

It was at the height of the allegations about the fast tracking of his lover's nanny's visa application, and he was out of a job shortly after.

Still, having picked himself up, dusted himself off and, well, lost his job a second time, will he be back for an encore?

I'll keep you posted.


He may have looked relaxed, confident and unbothered at his question time debut.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, new Tory leader David Cameron had actually been extremely nervous about his first performance against Tony Blair.

And confirmation came shortly afterwards when, as he returned to his Commons office, he was overheard telling Liam Fox: "Thank goodness that is bloody over."


Who said, just 11 months ago: "I don't know whether I will ever go back on to the frontbench, but don't rush me."

William Hague
Hague is back on frontbench
And asked about the possibility of ever running for the Tory leadership, he added: "No. Definitely not."

Yep, former Tory leader William Hague. Who also looked back on his previous leadership, declaring: "Maybe I wasn't as driven by politics as I thought I was".

Well, 11 months probably just about qualifies as being no rush without breaking the trades description act.

But, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, no one believes a word of the not-as-driven-as-he-thought-he-was stuff.

And, after all, his party has long been missing his clever, witty, thoughtful presence on the frontbench.

There have been any number of calls for him to be brought back in some role or other. And he will definitely qualify as one of the "talents" in David Cameron's new shadow cabinet.

But the lure of that 1 million income he was earning for public speaking, business interests and so on must have been pretty strong.

Certainly the Tory frontbench looks a lot more interesting with him on it and the regular question time sessions against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw should prove entertaining.

It has been a long time since political hacks have rushed into the chamber simply to hear an MP speak - the late Robin Cook was one of the last although Mr Cameron is always worth it. They will do so for Mr Hague.

Meanwhile, what about that "definitely not" to running for the leadership?

It may be a bit premature to start thinking about who will replace the man who has only been in the job 27 hours, but ......


After Tony Blair's little incident with mountaineering Greenpeace demonstrators at Islington's Business Design centre, I was reminded of the puff sent around in February about the CBI's decision to hold their conference there.

Greenpeace protester
Business centre is easy to drop into
Director General Digby Jones enthused: "The BDC is a dynamic venue as well as being perfectly suited for easy access" - you can say that again.

But he added: "It will give the CBI the opportunity to broaden the appeal of the event as delegates will, for the first time, be able to drop in for a couple of hours..."

Thankfully none of the rafter-scaling protesters "dropped in".


It's nice to know the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in the Palace of Westminster.

Some of the staff in the bars and restaurants have already started putting up decorations to bring a bit of seasonal cheer into the place.

But that won't do. Officials have sent out a memo demanding that such jollity must not start until next week.

So there we have it, Christmas officially starts on Monday 5 December - and not a day earlier, right!

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