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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 16:37 GMT
Thursday 6 December

Hoist by their own petard
posted by Nick | 1208GMT | Add comment
The Commons went into "secret session" on Tuesday night for the first time since the war - not because of the secret nature of the business to be discussed, you understand but as a tactic by the Lib Dems to stop the government driving through their business.

This inspired tactic was somewhat scuppered by the expulsion of all journalists and Hansard (which records Commons business). The last words audible on the Commons sound recording are apparently "What are we going to do now?" as the smug MPs realised that they'd ejected all those who might report their great stunt!


Wednesday 5 December

Which finder?
posted by Nick | 1630GMT | Add comment
Parliament's sleazebuster accuses Speaker & government of neutering her and her role. Their response? A Glasgow kiss from Speaker Martin and "Nuffin to do with me, guv" from the prime minister.

Westminster's still a club and the woman they call the "witchfinder general" has offended members on all sides who feel that her apparently endless run of investigations has undermined the standing of many decent individuals and Parliament as a whole.

Others think - and I am tempted to agree - that MPs set up the rules and they can hardly complain if someone paid to enforce them does just that. (More details here...)

Keep taking the tablets
posted by Nick | 1730GMT | Add comment
The Tory leader's resorting to sucking before Question Time in the hope of eradicating the frog that lurks constantly in his throat. All to no avail though - the frog just keeps on craoking. He should talk to Michael Portillo who found his voice breaking like a pubescent child on his return to frontline politics. Any tips anyone?


Tuesday 4 December

It's riddle time
posted by Nick | 1540GMT | Add comment
Far be it from New Labour to let their little personality squabbles interfere with policy. Surely Gordon Brown wouldn't have announced his conversion to tax and spend to get in with the unions?

(The GMB thanked him today with a full page ad with the headline "Nice one Gordon")

Surely Alan Milburn wouldn't have brought forward an announcement that BUPA is to run an NHS hospital as a way of reasserting his control over policy? Surely not! Shocking to report that that's not how Gordon and Alan's people see it.

Here's a Westminster riddle for you. How do you aim for something you can't even describe? In the past week the prime minister's "commitment" to match average European heath spending by 2005 has been re-branded as

  • a target,
  • an ambition, and
  • a broad goal.
But the Treasury's top official in charge of public spending has just told MPs that he had no idea what that figure was now, let alone what it would be then. Reassuring, isn't it?

What a difference a month makes
posted by Nick | 1526GMT | Add comment
Just four weeks ago I travelled with Tony Blair to the Middle East. After meetings with Ariel Sharon and later Yasser Arafat, the prime minister declared his confidence that all understood what was required to bring peace to the Middle East.

On the plane back he told us that he could see what was needed - a message he then took to George Bush.

What a long long time ago that seems. You may recall that that trip began in Damascus with President Assad praising the suicide bombers who maim and kill Israelis and declaring that they were following in the tradition of General de Gaulle. I can't help feeling he's the man with most reason to smile during these black days.

Then Blair's brilliance - a judgement shared by people across the political spectrum - convinced many that Britain were crucial players in what George's Dad once called "the new world order". Now - ignored in the Middle East and of marginal significance in Afghanistan - it all looks rather different.

---------------------------------------- Monday 3 December

Revision time
posted by Nick | 1715GMT | Add comment
Downing Street were, however, able to clear one vital question up. Had Cherie Booth asked the Ministry of Defence to help Euan do his homework her husband's official spokesman was asked. No, came the reply, she'd asked someone at number ten and they'd asked the MOD. Oh, that's all right then. (More details here...)

Eye to eye?
posted by Nick | 1700GMT | Add comment
Stand shoulder to shoulder for too long and you generate friction. It also gets harder and harder to see eye to eye. Those new found friends Tony & George aren't looking as matey as they once were. I've just returned from a Downing Street briefing dominated by questions about Israel's latest extension of the hand of friendship to Yasser Arafat. The White House are clear : "Obviously Israel has the right to defend itself". Downing Street rather less so : "The British government regrets all violence". So much for the Prime Minister's success in persuading the President of the vital importance of reviving the Middle east peace process.

Hello, hello, it's good to be back
posted by Nick | 1315GMT | Add comment
It's good to be back with my meanderings from Westminster's front line which first saw light of day during the election. This will be my instant political diary - much less work than waiting till I retire but then, of course, I miss out on the fat fee and the book tour. All donations, contributions and questions gratefully received.


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