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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 13:27 GMT
Commons Confidential: October 2007
Nick Assinder
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons

Parliamentary "sleaze buster" Sir Philip Mawer published his fifth and final report, declaring it was a good point at which to look back at some of the "highlights" of his years keeping a beady eye on our legislators.

George Galloway
Galloway rejected report into his appeal
By highlights he undoubtedly means his success in restoring confidence in the way parliament regulates the conduct of MPs.

However, the highlights most of us remember were the complaints against former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Respect MP George Galloway.

Mr Duncan Smith was cleared by Sir Philip of charges his wife, Betsy, did not do enough to justify her salary as her husband's diary secretary.

But the affair helped further rock his already wobbly leadership of the Tory party.

Mr Galloway was suspended from the Commons for 18 days after Sir Philip said it was likely the MP knew a charity appeal by him was partly financed through Saddam Hussein.

It led to a barnstorming I've-been-stitched-up style press conference from the MP which certainly brought a bit of colour and drama to the day's proceedings.

But whether either of these two MPs would consider the incidents were "highlights" is another matter.


You almost have to believe David Cameron when he says he wanted that snap general election Gordon "bottler" Brown delayed.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron said he had been planning to campaign
He told his regular press conference that in nine days time he had been planning to be on the stump in Bury or Wigan but, thanks to Gordon's last-minute panic, had been denied the opportunity.

He went on to announce that in the coming months he would be revealing more of the party's future policies in the areas of education, welfare and security.

"Big crunchy areas for the Conservative Party," he declared.

Crunchy? If he is thinking of chocolate shouldn't the image be more Yorkie, all tough and straight talking rather than light and bubbly. Still.

Mr Cameron also said there was a Conservative manifesto locked away in a drawer ready to come out when the prime minister does eventually call that election (shouldn't he be updating it between now and then?)

The thought of a manifesto locked in a drawer in Tory central office immediately provoked thoughts of Watergate-style break-in, until we all remembered Chancellor Alistair Darling had already done that.


Will former Tory leader Sir John Major ever throw off the "grey-man-who-likes-peas" image?

Bust of Sir John Major
Grey man image haunts Sir John
Probably not. And the recent unveiling of a bust of the ex-prime minister to be displayed in the members' lobby of the Commons will do nothing to stop it.

The sculpture is of similar material and colour to that of Margaret Thatcher, recently placed in the lobby.

But when MPs look at Baroness Thatcher's likeness they see the Iron Lady.

When they gaze on Sir John, as one declared, they just see greyness.

Oh dear.


What have Monica Lewinsky and Blair biographer Anthony Seldon got in common?

Consider this. President Clinton once famously declared: "I did not have sexual relations with THAT woman."

Gordon Brown's official spokesman, when asked by journalists to comment on Mr Seldon's book which sets out in gory detail the rows between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, declared: "I am not going to make any comment on THAT book."

OK, tenuous I know.


The prime minister was quick to offer his support for his friend Sir Menzies Campbell after his resignation as Liberal Democrat leader, declaring: "I'm sure he will continue to make a major contribution to public life."

Speaker Martin
Speaker Martin was elected by MPs in 2000
But what might that role be? How about Speaker of the Commons?

Sir Menzies was widely tipped as a possible successor to Betty Boothroyd when she stood down and was eventually replaced after an unprecedented election - some said shambles - by Michael Martin in 2000.

Ming was defeated on that occasion - along with 10 others - but, with some mutterings that Speaker Martin must be nearing the end of his tenure (it is entirely up to him when he goes but he has now served virtually as long as his recent predecessors) his name has started circulating again.

He certainly has the weight, experience and - dare I say it, age - for the job and would without doubt command the respect of all parties and MPs, essential qualities in the post.

No one, of course, has yet asked Sir Menzies or, perhaps more importantly, Speaker Martin, what they think of the idea.


MPs really should have learned the dangers of linking their own websites to external ones without checking first.

So, anyone logging onto possible Lib Dem leadership contender Chris Huhne's website is invited to browse "what I am saying now".

On click through to Google news instantly displays a long list of stories quoting Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock saying the treatment of Sir Menzies by some of his colleagues had been "absolutely despicable".

The stories continue: "Mr Hancock did not name names, but reports claimed that Sir Menzies' allies have been pointing the finger at supporters of environment spokesman Chris Huhne."

That should get him off to a good start.


European leaders hoping the Lisbon summit this week will not descend into one of those lengthy, when-will-it-end, redeye specials have been offered a glimmer of hope.

England rugby team
Mr Brown is eager to support England
Gordon Brown, at least, fully intends to be at the big match in Paris on Saturday evening.

So, if the prime minister has to battle to maintain his opt-outs and the talks over the "not the constitution" treaty drag on, there may be more than one reason for him to storm out in a huff.

The Scottish premier has already announced that, now his home team has been knocked out, he is supporting England all the way.

How on earth would he have managed if it had all ended in an England-Scotland final?


Throughout Parliament's long summer recess, a large black motor car was regularly parked in one of the back alleys of the Palace of Westminster.

Nothing unusual there, except for the number plate which ominously declared: "OMEN."

Now who would drive a personalised limo like that. And did he, or she, have a message for Gordon Brown whose promising summer took a very nasty turn for the worse during the recess?

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