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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 07:53 GMT
Commons Confidential: Nov 2004

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Daily despatches from the House of Commons
|1030 GMT 30 November|
It's hard to tell whether this is good or bad news for Tony Blair.

But he has come sixth in a poll of academics for the most successful prime minister.

Clement Attlee, Lab 1945-51
Winston Churchill, Con 1940-45, 51-55
David Lloyd George, Lib 1916-22
Margaret Thatcher, Con 1979-90
Harold Macmillan, Con 1957-63
Tony Blair, Lab 1997-
Herbert Asquith, Lib 1908-16
Stanley Baldwin, Con 1923-24, 24-29, 35-37
Harold Wilson, Lab 1964-70, 74-76
Lord Salisbury, Con 1895-1902
Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Lib 1906-8
James Callaghan, Lab 1976-79
Edward Heath, Con 1970-74
Ramsay MacDonald, Lab 1924, 1929-31, 31-35
John Major, Con 1990-97
Andrew Bonar Law, Con 1922-23
Neville Chamberlain, Con 1937-40
Arthur Balfour, Con 1902-05
Alec Douglas-Home, Con 1963-64
Anthony Eden, Con 1955-57
Source: Mori poll for the Political Studies Association
The good news is that Mr Blair was beaten by big names including, in top slot, Clement Attlee, whose post-war Labour administration founded the welfare state, Winston Churchill who won the war and radical Liberal David Lloyd George.

The bad news is that he has been beaten by the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, the premier he probably most models himself on and Tory Harold Macmillan who told us we'd never had it so good.

Still, Mr Blair can take further comfort from the fact that he is ahead of other Labour leaders, the wily old operator Harold Wilson and sunny Jim "crisis what crisis" Callaghan.

Anthony Eden, who handled, or mishandled the Suez crisis, depending on your take, came bottom.

The Mori survey was of 139 history and politics experts and academics and was taken between September 27 and November 5 with the results unveiled at the Political Studies Association Awards.

1200 GMT 29 November

Your starter for 10. Who penned the following, and why?

"For the first time ever in the known history of Portcullis House there came before us, unsuspecting Westminster villagers, something of a mirage: the figure of the Rt Hon Baroness Thatcher looking heavenly in a sharp-cut royal (Tory) blue suit.

"Her filigree hairstyle and immaculate chic suit looked more wonderful than anything most of us had ever seen.

"As a distraction to those in the coffee area, she would occasionally emphasise a point by tapping on her ivory knees peeping out from her outfit and stretch out her slender calves as an afterthought".

Blimey, steady on.

The author is none other than Henley's recently sacked Tory Boris Johnson who clearly continues to carry a blazing torch, indeed forest fire, for his former party boss.

He really should get out more. Or, on second thoughts, stay in more.

1000 GMT 23 November

Forget the Queen's speech - the big event in parliament this week was the annual Annie's Bar pool final.

Peter Brooksbank
Brooksbank had his eye on the Annie
Scores of MPs dragged themselves back from their constituencies during a recess day to watch the finals - nothing to do with the fact that one of the semi-finalists, Jim Fitzpatrick is a whip.

And they were treated to a cracking series of frames which saw Mr Fitzpatrick and Telford's David Wright knocked out, leading to a black ball final between Great Yarmouth's Tony Wright and officer of the House Peter Brooksbank, who went on to win.

Sports minister Richard Caborn presented the trophy - the Annie - and large sums were raised for charity.

But why was it that, the winner aside and for the second year running, all the players were Labour MPs. Don't they have pool tables in Conservative clubs around the country?

Sports minister Richard Caborn
Caborn presented the trophy
What also surprised many in the mainly well-behaved crowd was that the players were so proficient.

It may not have been the Crucible, but all four contenders could supplement their incomes hustling around the snooker clubs of the country.

The ultimate irony was the fact that, although no Liberal Democrat won through, the winner had previously agreed to donate his pot to his local MP, Brent East's Lib Dem Sarah Teather, to give to her chosen charity.

And she wasn't even there!

1200 GMT 18 November

The best thing Michael Howard has done since becoming leader was to sack Boris Johnson from his top team.

Says who? Well, the Spectator magazine, edited by Boris Johnson of course.

In his media column for the magazine, Stephen Glover declares: "The really good news - for Boris, a free press and, above all, for the Spectator - is that Michael Howard has sacked him.

"That is by far and away the best thing he has done since becoming Tory leader. Of course, I understand that Boris was about to give up being shadow minister of the arts in any case.

"He had seen the incompatibility of these particular two jobs. But Mr Howard has hastened the process, and now Boris is able to publish what he wants to about the Tory front bench, and not be sent on ridiculous pilgrimages to Liverpool.

"He has been freed from his chains", he writes.

1100 GMT 17 November

If you aren't already confused by the Byzantine Parliamentary procedures suffered by the attempts to settle the hunting issue, try this for size.

This is the pantomime which erupted in the chamber when minister Alun Michael attempted to move one of the amendments to the bill and got it wrong and opponents decided to have some fun at his expense.

Mr Michael: "I beg to move, that this House agrees en bloc to Lords amendments numbers 2 to 43, 45, 46 and 52 to 54".

Mr Speaker: "For clarity, is it 'disagrees'?"

Members: "No, 'agrees'.

Mr Speaker: "Order. I wish that honourable members would calm down. This is not the first time I have tried to assist members on both sides of the House. I must make sure that I heard correctly.

"Perhaps we should do it again".

Mr Michael: "I beg to move that this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendments".

Members: "No 'agrees'".

Mr Speaker: "Order. We must be calm. It was a slip of the tongue.

"The question is that this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendments.....".

The MPs then went on to vote, with 344 agreeing and 173 disagreeing.

Hilarious, eh?

1300 GMT 16 November

Over the years the press gallery in the Commons has managed to get some big names to address its regular lunches.

But George Bush, Tony Blair, Michael Howard and even Doctor Who on the same day!

Thanks to top mimic Jon Culshaw - of Dead Ringers fame - that is precisely what's on offer next month.

The ever-helpful impressionist has even agreed to take questions in character.

But eager hacks should curb their enthusiasm - they will never get away with that on their expenses claims.

1300 GMT 15 November

This isn't a trick question - but which politician would you most want to be stranded on a desert island with?

If recent comments are anything to go by, one contender stands head and shoulders over the rest.

Both top political interviewer Jonathan Dimbleby and former Liberal Democrat president Lord Dholakia have recently found reason to reveal their choice would be Baroness Williams of Crosby.

That is Shirley Williams as was - leading member of the Gang of Four creators of the SDP in 1981 and one of the most highly-regarded politicians of her day.

Reacting to this shock news, Mrs Williams declared: "I can see that when I go to a desert island I shall have an extremely exciting time."

1330 GMT 11 November

Richard Branson certainly knows how to make friends and influence people in high places.

More than 100 transport leaders from Manchester - including council leaders and members of the city's transport authority - were booked on the 10.15 Virgin train to London for a meeting with Transport Minister Tony McNulty when they experienced what can only be described as a Branson moment.

In other words, the train which they had been promised would carry them to Euston failed to turn up, leading to fears they would miss their meeting altogether.

They managed to get onto the next train half an hour later, but that threw their tight schedule into chaos.

Still, all good experience for those involved in sorting out the country's transport system.

1330 GMT 10 November

You may think the class divide no longer exists - but it is alive and thriving in the Commons.

For the third year running, the Annie's bar pool contest has been marked by the noticeable absence of Tory MPs.

Only one brave Conservative entered the competition - Ribble Valley's good sport Nigel Evans - who was quickly despatched.

So once again the contest is dominated by Labour MPs. Perhaps a Bridge tournament next year.

Sadly, though, it has to be reported that sports minister Richard Caborn has been knocked out of the contest after winning through the first round by default after a no-show by one of the contenders.

1530 GMT 9 November

Whatever happened to the famous Downing Street grid which ensured ministerial announcements, speeches and so on were coordinated for maximum impact and never clashed with each other?

It must have been an oversight, but as Chancellor Gordon Brown was making one of his biggest annual speeches - to the CBI - his alleged leadership rival Alan Milburn turned up at the IPPR think-tank to map out his vision for a third Labour term.

And Mr Milburn declared now was not the time to retreat from New Labour - a label Mr Brown is said never to have uttered in fear he might choke on it - but to entrench and deepen it.

Good job they are on the same side though!

0930 GMT 8November

This one can be filed under "too good to be true".

But the rumour is that every 10-year-old's favourite band, Busted, want Tory leader Michael Howard to appear in their next video.

The posher members of the band have already declared their support for the Tory party - but couldn't this be a step too far.

Remember the disastrous and embarrassing performance by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock when he appeared in a Tracey Ullman pop video - before Busted's fans were born?

It was hard to tell whose credibility was most damaged by the stunt, although shortly after, Ms Ullman left the UK for America and has never returned!

Mr Kinnock, of course, went on to lose two general elections.

Anyway, just in case the Tory leader is even considering this idea, he should remember 10-year-olds can't vote and mull over the phrase "Busted flush".

1230 GMT 4November

Portcullis House, the infamously expensive MPs office block opposite Big Ben, has been blighted by, let's say, "teething troubles".

It had cost taxpayers a staggering 234 million by the time it opened four years ago - 28 million more than estimated.

And within the first 12 months had racked up no fewer than 7,500 faults.

The latest is in regard to the high-tech, energy-saving, good-for-the-environment, motion-activated escalators.

These were a great source of amusement in the early days as MPs found themselves taken by surprise when they stepped onto the apparently motionless stairs only to find themselves suddenly jerked into action (so that's how you do it).

Lately, however, the escalators have either been left running permanently or switched off altogether.

The official reason for this, according to the House of Commons Commission, is for "safety and the high traffic rate during working hours."

Neither of which could have been predicted beforehand of course.

1230 BST 3 November

Lib Dem MP Bob Russell is pursuing an admirable campaign to ensure darts is officially recognised as a sport.

Unfortunately, for what may appear the flimsiest of reasons, his efforts seem doomed.

Sports minister Richard Caborn has told him the sports council has decided against the suggestion on the grounds that it is not "physical training and recreation" as defined by the 1937 Act of that name.

What about all the physical energy required lifting pints and carrying around awesome beer bellies?

This one will not be allowed to lie.

1230 BST 2November

The consequences of the US election for Tony Blair are obviously pretty significant.

But there is one question that nobody in Downing Street wants to address.

Whatever the outcome of the poll, when will the prime minister travel to Washington to collect his neglected Congressional Gold Medal?

That was the gong, you will remember, that was awarded to the prime minister in May 2003 for his support in the war on Iraq.

But as anti-war feelings in Britain intensified, it was clearly decided the sight of Mr Blair receiving the medal, with all the razzmatazz that would surround it, would be "unhelpful".

The question now being asked is, irrespective of who wins the Presidency, will Mr Blair ever feel the time is right to collect it?

One senior insider suggested he will not now collect it until after he has left Downing Street.

Well, the first recipient, George Washington, had to wait 14 years to collect his medal.

Then again, that hold up was the result of revolution!

1230 BST 1 November

Security in the Commons has become so tight of late that not even the mice can get in without a pass and a body search.

One of the most obvious changes has been the requirement for all visitors to wear passes around their necks with a large black V on them.

Trouble is, they have become sought-after souvenirs for tourists and other casual visitors.

So much so that it is believed up to half of them never get handed back, but simply go missing.

Surely there must be ways of getting them to self-destruct after a period of time!

Commons Confidential: October 2004
29 Oct 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential
24 Jul 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential June 2004
30 Jun 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: May 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: April 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: March 2004
02 Nov 04 |  UK Politics


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