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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Commons Confidential: April 2006

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons


All parents know what it's like trying to do ordinary household chores with the kids demanding attention.

Cameron's kids love the chameleon
And we also all know what a godsend videos (DVDs nowadays) of their favourite cartoons can be.

Plonk them down in front of Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine and tranquillity reigns.

Conservative leader David Cameron is thanking the Labour party for his latest, soothing film.

He says his children love Dave the Chameleon - the cycle helmet-wearing reptile dreamed up by Labour to lampoon Mr Cameron.

So whenever he wants a bit of peace and quiet, the Tory leader simply sits them in front of Labour's latest political broadcast which features the character.

"What long term psychological effect that will have on my daughter I do not know," he says.

Another victory for Labour's PR team...


Labour's independent minded backbencher Gordon Prentice has a radical idea on how to make the work of the Commons' select committees easier and more effective.

These, by the way, are the powerful groups of MPs who shadow government departments and hold inquiries into just about anything that takes their fancy and can call to give evidence just about anyone they want.

Although it is difficult to compel individuals to attend, Tony Blair voluntarily gives evidence to the liaison committee twice a year and ministers, senior figures from the private and public sectors, trades unionists, European Commissioners, former ambassadors and heads of the civil service, police chiefs and military top brass, amongst others, have all been called upon in the past.

The committees have held inquires into issues such as the Westland affair, which nearly did for Margaret Thatcher, and the war on Iraq.

Former witnesses have included, famously, Dr David Kelly and most recently, in front of Mr Prentice's own committee, the prime minister's ex-blue sky thinker Lord John Birt.

And two of the committees are about to hold inquiries into aspects of the cash-for-peerages row which has so embarrassed the government.

So what is the radical idea Mr Prentice is demanding through a Commons motion?

Simply that all witnesses called before the committees should be "required to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".


So exactly how much did Tony Blair and his ministers chip in when the hat went round for the Queen's birthday present?

The Queen
A present fit for a Queen
The rumour in Westminster is that the Cabinet each pitched just 30 into the pot.

That, however, has now been denied by the prime minister's official spokesman who insisted: "We have co-ordinated this with the palace. The Queen wanted this to be marked in a low-key way.

"The present was entirely appropriate and in line with the Queen's wishes."

And what was it? Downing Street aren't saying for fear of spoiling the surprise!


Peugeot's decision to shut down its Ryton car plant has undoubtedly done little to boost Tony Blair's standing with trade unionists.

Brown has faced attacks over Ryton
But it has not gone unnoticed that two of the Cabinet's allegedly most union-friendly members have found themselves in the front line over the battle over the workers' futures.

Chancellor Gordon Brown and Trade Secretary Alan Johnson - a former postie and the first ex-union leader in the Cabinet for more than 40 years - have both found themselves facing flak over the government's "it's the market" response to the decision.

Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson was particularly scathing about the Chancellor's oft-repeated demands for a flexible, barrier free Europe as the best way of securing jobs and the economy.

"Well, he is wrong. And I tell him he is wrong each time I meet him," he told the BBC's Today programme.

When presented with some of Mr Brown's recent comments on the need for flexibility in the workforce, he added: "Unfortunately, all those people who have lost well-paid, secure jobs and will end up in temporary, part-time jobs will no doubt reflect on those words."

So government-union relations under prime minister Gordon Brown - assuming that ever happens - have got off to a good start then.

Commons Confidential: March 2006
19 Apr 06 |  Politics
Commons Confidential: January 2006
01 Feb 06 |  Politics
Commons Confidential: October 2005
31 Oct 05 |  Politics


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