Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Westminster Diary

Welcome to our round-up of snippets from the corridors of power.

Alan Duncan
How many more rejections can Mr Duncan take?
One-sided flirting is never a pleasant spectacle. But Tory frontbencher Alan Duncan's desire for just a soupcon of affection from Commons leader Harriet Harman was once more on display at business questions. The romantic Rutland MP made some sartorial jokes at Ms Harman's expense, commenting on her liking, as expressed in Monday's Mirror "centre-fold", for stilettos and shopping at budget clothes store Primark. "I am more Savile Row, I have to admit," he added. He also noted her reported preference for "men with big brains". The suave Mr Duncan's eyes lit as he inquired: "Could it be that I've finally found favour with her at last?" Attempting strenuously to look unamused, all Ms Harman offered in reply was: "I'm wearing my stilettos today." Did she want to do her opposite number some damage with those pointed heels? Feel the love, Harriet, or risk losing Alan forever.


A new parliamentary compliment is born. It marked the end of a marathon two-hour speech, in which the business minister Pat MacFadden appeared to recite most of UK employment law during a debate on his backbench colleague Lindsay Hoyle's bill on redundancy pay. The minister's increasingly theatrical pauses to down a mouthful of water (we assume) amused his torpid backbench colleagues. And his performance impressed Mr Hoyle, who - after two hours of exquisite tedium - commented: "His prostate must be much better than the rest of the members of this house, he's taken on the water and not managed to go and relieve himself. Well we've now got that pleasure to allow him to do so..." Has he started a new fashion for compliments on the plumbing of parliamentarians? You dread to think where it might lead.

In these straitened times, governments everywhere are doing their best to downplay the effects of the recession. But not HM Revenue and Customs. Employers are being asked to double the size of P45 forms, given to staff leaving their service. The old A5-sized forms are being replaced with an A4 version. An HMRC directive reads: "It is... important to remember that employees may not recognise the new forms. All they need is reassurance that the form P45 has changed in appearance and now includes their date of birth and gender." Yes, that's all the reassurance anyone could ever need.


Speaking of jobs misery, the Public and Commercial Services Union was not best pleased to hear of Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's decision to "outsource" a "helpline for vulnerable workers experiencing employment rights violations". There was no need to spell out the apparent irony of the move in the union's press release.


To the annual Keith Joseph Lecture, a fixture on the calendar of any self-respecting Conservative of a certain age. In the hot-seat this year, the Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne, promising 'a fierce attack on the contemporary political class'. Silver-haired gentlemen and ladies in court shoes gathered in the hallowed surroundings of private establishment, St Stephen's Club. Founded in 1870 by Benjamin Disraeli, the club was once connected by tunnel to the Commons. Its elegant drawing-room was bursting at the seams. The temperature was rising and time was ticking by. Suddenly a hush descended, followed by a hearty round of applause. The audience looked up, expecting to see Mr Oborne mount the podium. Instead a lady with an unmistakable silhouette was being escorted to the front row by Lord Saatchi. She turned and smiled graciously. Her posture was ram-rod perfection, her dark-blonde hair unflinching. Baroness Thatcher took her seat. The applause died away but memories of past triumphs and disasters lingered long after.


Veteran Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Winterton was in full, belligerent, even Churchillian, voice. "I fought long and hard to get into this House," he told colleagues. "There are many people who fought long and hard before I did. I respect them for their determination and commitment to serving this nation." What was his beef? The idea of allowing the UK's Youth Parliament to hold a sitting in the House of Commons. What next? "We will fight them on the benches"?


Who would have thought the UK Youth Parliament could cause such a ruckus? It was back causing controversy again on Friday when Labour MP Graham Allen - who obviously does not share Sir Nicholas's stance - stood up in the Commons to ask why it was not being allowed to use the chamber for one day. He was quickly told off by deputy speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst - for not being properly attired. Mr Allen was wearing a suit - minus the tie and was told it was not appropriate to address the House without one. Afterwards the MP said he had been about to say Parliament was becoming an irrelevant, old-boys club, but the deputy speaker had made his point for him.

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