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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 08:56 GMT
Commons Confidential: May 2004

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Daily despatches from the House of Commons
| 1100 GMT 27May|
There was much debate and some irritation in Westminster that the TV cameras were left rolling as the Commons chamber was emptied after the purple powder attack on the prime minister.

It may have been embarrassment at the fact that MPs and their whips had broken every rule in the book - they should have stayed in the chamber rather than risked spreading anything nasty.

Or is it because they know that, if this happens again and the rules are followed, they will be contained in the chamber and stripped naked for decontamination?

That's not something anyone would like to see broadcast to the nation.

So there is a move afoot to ensure that in any future such event, the cameras will be ordered to shut down.

However, I understand the security services may have something to say about that. They are likely to want the cameras to keep running so the footage can be used in their subsequent inquiries.

1100 GMT 26 May

I know John Prescott used to be a seaman, but he really is going to have to get a grip on his obsession with all things fishy.

The first signs of his condition came during the last parliament when he declared the Thames crab he was displaying for photographers was called Peter (Mandelson).

Now he is at it again, telling the BBC that, despite demands for a government crackdown on obesity, he cannot give up his fish and chip diet.

He then went on to insist the only thing he said to Gordon Brown in the car park outside the now famous Scottish oyster bar (seafood again) was: "Do you want two pairs or one - and I meant kippers."

And, turning to his pet hate figure, the prime minister's former spin chief, he added: "Anyway, the real story has come out now because Alastair Campbell has eaten them."

Sorry John, that's enough fish jokes.

1100 GMT 25 May

The prime minister's former spin chief Alastair Campbell took his one man show, "An Audience with...." to London's Old Vic theatre at the weekend.

But beforehand, the deputy general secretary of the Labour Party, Chris Lennie, emailed the faithful offering them an unmissable two-for-one deal on the tickets.

All party members had to do was ring the theatre, buy a ticket - reasonably priced at 19.50, 17.50 or 15.00 - and give the passwords "Labour Party offer" and they would get a second ticket for free.

Isn't that known as BOGOF.

1215 GMT 24 May

It was Tony Blair's Diana moment.

During his visit to Turkey for an EU summit, the prime minister was left sitting at the head of the dinner table in splendid isolation.

Rather like the Princess of Wales in front of the Taj Mahal shortly before her separation from her husband.

Understandably, he is said to be unhappy that at least one photograph of this event was taken, although it has yet to see the light of day.

Suggestions that Gordon Brown's supporters are desperately attempting to get hold of it are, I am reassured, untrue.

1230 GMT 120 May

Thanks to the purple powder attack on the prime minister, one of the more "helpful" question time interventions was overlooked.

The Wrekin's Labour MP Peter Bradley leapt to his feet, apparently eager to offer the prime minister his personal backing after all the reports that senior Labour figures are debating his future, or lack of one.

"Having read the papers all week, I am relieved to see that the Prime Minister is still here."

Now that is really helpful. Don't hold you breath for promotion any time soon Mr Bradley.

As an aside, it is fascinating to see how the official record of the Commons proceedings, Hansard, covered the attack.

It duly reported Michael Howard's question to the prime minister and continued:

The Prime Minister: "It is interesting how the right hon. and learned Gentleman never wants to discuss the issues. I wonder why" [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: "Order. The House is suspended."

Hansard is not, of course, allowed to report the interruption so future historians will have to look elsewhere for the full drama.

1200 GMT 19 May

Some fascinating quotes from staff at the famous Loch Fyne oyster bar where John Prescott and Gordon Brown are said to have held a 90 minute "summit" in the car park, because they failed to get a table.

Apparently, the two men entered the restaurant separately to be told: "sorry, we're fully booked."

This conjures up the image of Prezza going in first, failing to get a table and then sending Gordon in to have another go.

"It's no good Gordon, they didn't ******* recognise me perhaps you might have more luck."

Fantasy, of course.

1000 GMT 18 May

Tory candidate for North Norfolk, Iain Dale, has found a unique selling point.

He has announced a "personal integrity pledge" in an attempt to combat voter cynicism about politicians.

He promises, amongst other things, to publish all expenses claims for parliamentary duties, never to employ any member of his family in his parliamentary office, to live in his constituency and to never solicit or accept company directorships while serving as an MP.

That should win him plenty of friends in the Commons!

Slightly more problematic, however, might be his pledge never to promise what he knows he cannot deliver.

Wasn't that Tony Blair's manifesto?

1530 GMT 17 May

With all the gossip about Tony Blair's leadership, political hacks are understandably eager to get the "official" Downing Street line on it all.

But no luck. Every time the question is asked, the prime minister's spokesmen insist any question about his future "would be a party matter" and, as civil servants, they are banned from pronouncing on such things.

But is this right. Surely the future of the prime minister, as opposed to the Labour leader, is more than a matter simply for the party.

Still, it is nice to see that they are now scrupulous about the division in their roles.

1500 GMT 13 May

I don't know what this says about the class system, or how politicians mis-spent their youth.

But of the 50 MPs and Commons staff who have entered the Annie's bar pool contest only one is a Tory.

Step forward Ribble Valley's man of the people, Nigel Evans.

Unless Nigel manages to battle through to the final it looks like it's going to be another case of Labour MPs fighting amongst themselves.

1200 GMT 12 May

Those members of the political press corps who are opposed to Downing Streets plans to televise a version of the daily lobby briefings have found an unlikely ally.

Tony Blair's former spin doctor in chief, Alastair Campbell, has expressed his reservations about the proposal.

However, he does not appear to share the concerns of the hacks - that the proposals as currently suggested would pretty effectively neuter the daily briefings.

He fears they would be hijacked by preening journalists themselves.

Still, for the anti-televising group, all support is welcome and Ali joins an illustrious group that also includes the current head of the Press Complaints Commission and former press secretary to John Major, Sir Christopher Meyer.

Well they should know.

1230 GMT 11 May

There was great confusion over Tony Blair's Iraq apology during an interview with French TV at the weekend.

The interview was not widely touted beforehand by Downing Street, and when journalists did eventually get wind of the fact that the prime minister had said something significant it was virtually denied by spokesmen.

In some cases, it was only when the full transcript of the interview was seen that matters became clear.

That left some asking whether the prime minister had really meant to apologise - which he certainly did - or whether anyone in Downing Street had any idea what he planned to do.

Either way, confusion reigned. It wouldn't have happened in Alastair Campbell's day.

1315 GMT 10 May

Tony Blair's union troubles continue - this time with the firefighters.

The FBU conference will this week debate calls for it to disaffiliate from the Labour party.

After the long running dispute there appears to be little love left for New Labour amongst members.

The executive, however, is eager not to cut its links with the party and has come up with a compromise.

The bad news for the prime minister, however, is that it has suggested cutting the amount donated to Labour from 50,000 to 20,000.

Just in time for the general election campaign.

1530 GMT 6 May

Who was the woman Tory leader Michael Howard made a point of embracing and air-kissing as he left a lunch with political hacks, declaring: "I just couldn't leave without saying hello"?

None other than Tony Blair's former gatekeeper, the formidable Anji Hunter.

The two political opponents go back a long way - to the time Ms Hunter's ex-boss shadowed Mr Howard as employment secretary over a decade ago.

Ain't Westminster cosy.

1130 GMT 5 May

There is a guaranteed double take for anyone logging on to the Tory party web site.

Click on the "special offers for party supporters" and the reader is taken to a page which starts: "Specially negotiated 5% discount on all new policies......"

What's this. Are 5% of Michael Howard's policies really to be discounted.

But keep reading. This is all about special deals on insurance.

1300 GMT 4 May

There is a lesson here for Labour MPs tempted by offers of ermine by their political masters.

When former St Helens South MP Gerry Bermingham stood down and made way for Tory defector Shaun Woodward to take over the safe Labour seat, it was said he had been promised a seat in the Lords as reward.

Nothing, however, happened. And his name was once again absent from last weekend's list of new peers. No doubt an oversight.

Some cynics, however, insist that if such an offer had ever been made to Mr Bermingham it had been done so by the then general secretary of the Labour Party Margaret McDonagh.

She is no longer in post, so the deal - if there was one - falls.

That should stand as a pretty good warning to others.

Ms McDonagh's name, needless to say, was on the prime minister's list.

Commons Confidential: April 2004
02 Nov 04 |  Politics
Commons Confidential: March 2004
02 Nov 04 |  Politics


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