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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Commons Confidential June 2004

POLITICAL DIARY
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Despatches from the Nato summit
| 1100 GMT 30 June|
There was great speculation over precisely what President Bush whispered in the prime minister's ear as he shook his hand at the moment sovereignty transferred to Baghdad.

Had he declared something triumphant like "let freedom reign" - as he scribbled on a note to his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice?

Or had it been more along the lines of "thank God we can now get out"?

Well, I can reveal it was rather more prosaic than that.

Apparently the president leaned over to the prime minister and declared: "It's happened."

1000 BST 29 June

If the prime minister is feeling in the least bit concerned about the success of the Nato summit, he need worry no longer.

Turkey's biggest selling daily newspaper "Hurriyet" - which apparently translates, near enough, as The Independent - gives him and George Bush the front page splash.

And over a picture of the two men shaking hands, the reassuring headline declares: "It's OK Tony."

That is precisely what he is hoping.

2230 GMT 28 June

Media facilities at international summits always provide some of the most, shall we say, "interesting" food you are ever likely to find snuggled together on a hot plate.

Local caterers do their best to provide the thousands of hacks with a "taste of Turkey", or wherever.

But Istanbul has, as far as anyone can recall, managed a first by offering the gannets of the press corps buckets full of popcorn.

....Bearing in mind the fact that these events increasingly take place on plasma screens as much as live, in front of you, that is probably not such a bad idea.

2230 GMT 28 June

Bush-Blair press conferences are supposed to be pretty serious affairs and the assembled media are always under strict orders to turn off mobile phones and stop chattering long before the men arrive on stage.

The Americans are particularly sensitive about this, and the need to show their man what they deem to be the appropriate level of respect.

It is not unheard of for mobile phone abusers to be unceremoniously escorted from the premises amid charges of "phone violation".

So it was a source of more than a little joy that the entire Blair-Bush press conference in Istanbul was carried against a background of gentle, yet strangely irritating muzak tinkling from the Hilton hotel's internal audio system.

1230 GMT 28 June

Istanbul is a fabulous city. Unfortunately, because of the unprecedented security surrounding the Nato conference. it's shut.

A visit to the Blue Mosque would be a highlight, for example but entry is barred.

Still, the summit has laid on some of its own spectacle for the thousands of delegates and hacks in attendance.

On the opening day, military jets screamed overhead to welcome the world leaders to the city.

This show of hardware delivered a strangely incongruous message however. Two of the fighter jets used their vapour trails to blaze a pair of perfect love hearts in the blue sky above the conference centre.

Try selling that message to Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac.

1200 GMT 24 June

The British summer time is over - it's official.

It is not just the start of Wimbledon that has led to that conclusion. This has come from the highest possible source - the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Each summer, Michael Martin sends out an order that shirt sleeves can now be worn in the Chamber of the Commons.

Like the first swallow of Spring, it is the clearest possible sign that summer has arrived. And it usually lasts well into September.

As of today, Mr Speaker has rescinded the order and jackets must once more be worn.

It will be snowing before you know it.

1330 GMT 23 June

It's that time of year again - and reshuffle fever is in the air.

Michael Howard has done his - and yes, you probably missed it.

It was basically about undoing the last reshuffle which gave frontbenchers two unmanageable jobs each.

Tony Blair seems likely to want to shuffle a few faces around - but once again, Gordon Brown can probably sleep easy.

But what about Charles Kennedy? Well there will not be a Lib Dem reshuffle before the general election. And that is bad news for one man at least.

Defeated candidate for London mayor, Simon Hughes, retains his shadow cabinet job as London spokesman but any hopes he may harbour of advancement to one of the big jobs - foreign, home, treasury and so on have been dashed.

The fact that he persistently refuses to rule himself out as a future leadership contender can't possibly be a factor can it?

1530 GMT 22 June

With just six weeks to go to decision day, speculation about who will replace Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock as Britain's sole EU Commissioner is reaching fever pitch in Westminster.

Peter Mandelson's name keeps cropping up (see below) but others have suddenly started emerging.

The latest suggestion to reach me is that the prime minister might look to the House of Lords.

And one name in particular has been whispered in my ear - the prime minister's former transport trouble-shooter and pal, Lord Gus Macdonald.

Just one slight potential problem, he is a close friend of Chancellor Gordon Brown who remains carefully, er, careful, about the EU.

But maybe that is just the sort of signal the prime minister needs to send out at this apparently Eurosceptic time.

1100 GMT 21June

Oh dear, I fear there is trouble brewing between the rival women's five-a-side soccer teams in Westminster.

According to the press gallery team, after their 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the MPs' researchers team earlier in the year, the hacks gained what they describe as a "psychological if not actual" victory in the rematch, which ended 6-2 to the researchers.

The hacks also "explain" they had only six in their team compared to the 14 which the researchers kept substituting throughout the game.

However, according to the researchers, they won 6-1. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, the hacks have finally come up with an official name for themselves.

I'm not sure if this is ironic, post-modern or what, but they have decided on the "Polichicks".

1230 GMT 17June

Is there fresh evidence that Tony Blair is set to give his old pal, the twice-disgraced Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson, the plum job as the UK's European Commissioner?

Many Labour MPs are dismayed and, frankly, disbelieving when it is suggested the prime minister is really contemplating bringing Mandy back in from the cold.

Yet whenever the question of who will be the next British Commissioner is raised, Mr Mandelson's name just keeps on cropping up.

Much of the speculation had died down until the local elections, however.

But why was it that Mr Mandelson's Hartlepool constituency bucked the national trend and actually failed to give Labour the kicking it received elsewhere in that poll?

It could, of course, be because Mr Mandelson is a good constituency MP who put lots of work into ensuring his voters came out for Labour.

But one very senior politician has suggested to me it was because the Labour Party had devoted significant resources to boosting the Labour vote in the area - just in time for a by-election.

1230 GMT 16 June

Low level panic struck the Commons on Monday when an "electrical fault" set off automatic annunciators which warned MPs and, in particular, members of the press gallery that there was a fire in their area and they should evacuate the building.

Those of a conspiratorial frame of mind dismissed the notion this was some sort of fault and provided circumstantial evidence - eg the lack of any fire engines racing to the scene - to suggest it was a secret evacuation exercise.

Absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course. And if that is what it was, it proved one thing - the system doesn't work.

Some sections of the press gallery, at least, did not get the tannoyed message and carried on working oblivious to the apparent threat to life and limb.

Is it just a coincidence that the two organisations most affected were the Sun newspaper and, er, the BBC.

1530 GMT 15 June

Security in the House of Commons has, probably understandably, become noticeably tighter since the purple powder attack on Tony Blair.

But I fear it may have started to backfire as MPs get caught up in embarrassing situations.

Probably the most noticeable change is the huge red notice which has been erected at the entrance to the terrace - otherwise known as the most exclusive bar in London.

It reminds MPs, should they need reminding, that they are only allowed to take SIX guests onto the terrace.

It is a rule that has been universally flouted for years, probably decades, but is now being rigorously enforced.

One of the first to be caught out was a backbencher who brought dozens of his constituents into the Commons and, presumably, promised them a Pimms or some such on the famous terrace.

"Sorry sir, six at a time only", insisted the policeman guarding the entrance - and this is one place where the "but do you know who I am" plea carries absolutely no weight whatsoever.

So they were forced to form an orderly queue as the MP in question took small groups out into the sunshine for a very brief visit.

This is dangerous stuff for MPs who are desperate never to upset their constituents.

As one onlooker quipped: "That's his majority he has got lining up there."




SEE ALSO:
Commons Confidential: May 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Election 2005
Commons Confidential: April 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Election 2005
Commons Confidential: March 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Election 2005



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