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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 10:39 GMT
The people's choice?
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

There have been some pretty spectacular political comebacks over the years - Peter Mandelson leaps to mind.

But Wales is now being asked to believe that Ron "Clapham Common" Davies is ready to stage a miraculous recovery.

Even more astonishing, the Welsh are claimed to be in favour of his political rehabilitation.

Former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies
Looking for a comeback
Mr Davies, if any reminder is needed, is the former Welsh Secretary and would-be Assembly leader whose political career came crashing around his ears after he committed a "moment of madness" on Clapham Common nearly three years ago.

But now there are reports that his "friends" - and we all know who that means - are going around saying he is preparing to run for the job as leader of both the Cardiff assembly and the Welsh Labour party.

The reports have been greeted with a mixture of derision and hilarity in Labour headquarters - but less so by Welsh voters.

A recent poll for the Western Mail newspaper showed 68% backing him as the eventual successor to current leader Rhodri Morgan.

There are, however, a couple of minor problems.

Mr Davies is saying - sorry Mr Davies' friends are saying - that he will run for the job if Labour loses next year's assembly elections and Mr Morgan then stands down.

So that's the day after hell freezes over then.

Before he became a whip, Labour MP Fraser Kemp enjoyed taking a refreshing drink with colleagues as much as the next man.

But lately he has been spotted on the soft stuff.

Asked about this healthy new lifestyle the other day he confessed, "Yes I'm drinking less nowadays."

A backbench colleague overheard the remark and replied: "He's a whip now - he only watches other people drink."

Further to the grand re-opening of Annie's bar in the Commons carried out by Barbara Windsor a few days back.

On cue for trouble
The latest attempt to encourage MPs and journalists to start using the place again is to stick in a pool table.

Presumably the idea is to give backbenchers something to do as they while away the hours between votes.

But there is a bad precedent for this.

Many years ago there was a snooker table in one of other bars in the Palace of Westminster.

It had to be removed after some of the drinkers took to admonishing each other with the cues on a regular basis.

Security in the Palace of Westminster has been tightened up so much in the wake of 11 September that even MPs have trouble getting in.

Merseyside MP Peter Kilfoyle found himself in the embarrassing position of being stopped by one of the police officers and asked to display his pass.

The former minister reached into his inside pocket and, without looking, offered the officer his American Express card.

That may work in Liverpool Peter .....

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin is probably the most famous occasional naturist in the Palace of Westminster.

Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin
In the raw
But, I fear, some small minded MPs may allow his hobby to influence their view of him a little too much.

After Wednesday's emergency debate on the extra British troops being sent to Afghanistan, which was opened by Mr Jenkin, one Labour MP was clearly distracted.

"As he was talking at the despatch box all I could picture was him standing there in the buff. I couldn't get the image out of my mind. It made it very difficult to concentrate on what he was saying," he declared.

Cheap shot.

Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble addressed a lunch of political journalists last Wednesday and, as is traditional, kicked off with a couple of ice-breaking quips.

His opening remarks may have amused his audience but they probably did not delight his adviser Sean O'Callaghan, the former IRA man once jailed for the murder of a policeman.

Mr Trimble said he had no idea who had been responsible for last week's security breach at Belfast police headquarters, in which three men entered the building, assaulted a special branch officer and stole documents.

Turning to O'Callaghan who was sitting beside him, he declared with a smile: "I don't know if it was your former colleagues in MI5 or your former, former colleagues in the IRA."

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael has been getting very hot under the collar over suggestions he is looking for a "consensus" over a ban on fox hunting.

The normally unflappable minister has come close to losing his cool with journalists on more than one occasion - insisting he has never used the word consensus but has spoken of seeking "common ground."

And he has angrily suggested he does not know why people keep using the word.

Let me enlighten him. When asked on Monday how Tony Blair intended to vote on the proposed ban, the prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair would vote with the banners.

But, he added, that was only the prime minister's personal position. The government wanted to see a consensus on the issue.

So there you are.

If you have any political gossip or information on what our MPs are up to, e-mail Nick Assinder (all mails will be treated as confidential).

See also:

27 Oct 99 | Wales
Ron Davies' annus horribilis
21 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Hunting decision put on hold
14 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Carry on boozing
21 Mar 02 | UK Politics
MPs question war strategy
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