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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March 2005, 13:11 GMT
Commons Confidential: March 2005

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Daily despatches from the House of Commons
1230 GMT 24 March

There has been much amusement and speculation concerning the requirement by the Liberal Democrats for all hacks seeking election press conference passes to give their height.

Were there plans to hold the meetings in a room with a particularly low ceiling?

Was it some sort of heightism? Or was it simply an attempt to prove we are all political pygmies?

Well, the real reason is even more bizarre.

I am reliably informed that party managers were told by security advisers that would-be terrorists could easily change their appearance through plastic surgery but it was virtually impossible to alter their height.

Haven't they heard of stack heels or platform shoes?

1530 GMT 23 March

Never mind "order, order" it was the cry "game on" which echoed around the Palace of Westminster when some of the greatest names in darts visited to boost the campaign for the activity to be officially recognised as a sport.

Phil Taylor
Phil 'the power' aiming for gold
Eighteen times world champion Phil "the power" Taylor, Colin "jaws" Lloyd and Bob "the limestone cowboy" Anderson were the guests of Lib Dem MP Bob "the silver fox" Russell who has led the campaign for recognition.

And they won support from their cause from all three major parties, with Sports Minister Dick Caborn adding his personal backing.

Phil Taylor declared it was high time the UK recognised that darts was a proper sport.

"Everybody has taken the Mickey out of the game and this would give it the credibility it deserves," he said.

But where were the gargantuan beer bellies and pints of lager?

"The image has changed. I'm one of the old school but I am not a great drinker," he added.

Neither did he accept that lifting arrows was not quite in the same league as, let's say, throwing the hammer or running the marathon.

"I would like to see darts as an Olympic sport. Why not. I haven't got a gold medal yet".

The event also saw a team of Lords competing with a team of Commoners, just to prove that not everyone in the upper House limits their leisure activities to huntin' shootin' and fishin'.

As probably the most famous of all darts stars, Jim Bowen, might say: "Smashing, lovely, great".

1200 GMT 22 March

The introduction of special badges for visitors to the Palace of Westminster failed after hundreds of the things went missing - presumably taken as souvenirs.

So the authorities came up with a straightforward, low cost alternative in the form of visitor stickers.

Sadly, these colourful stickers don't stick very well to clothing, and keep peeling off.

But the ancient flag stones of the historic Westminster Hall are a different matter. The stickers often end up virtually welded to the floor where they have become near impossible to remove.

Back to the drawing board I suspect.

1215 GMT 21 March

Finally the truth about the government's radical plans to "think the unthinkable" on public services is out - bring back the workhouse.

The prime minister's official spokesman let the secret policy slip during his morning briefing with political journalists.

Health Secretary John Reid, he told us, would this week announce NHS workhouse statistics.

OK, so it was only a slip of the tongue, he meant workforce statistics of course. Didn't he?

0915 GMT 17 March

Security in the Commons in the wake of the invasion of the chamber by pro-hunting demonstrators is understandably tight, but this seems harsh.

The door used by Otis Ferry and his gang to gain access to closed areas of the Commons now has a policeman permanently stationed outside it. (We call it the stable door).

It must be a soul destroying job sitting there for hour on end with, hopefully, nothing to do.

So, taking along a book to read to fill the empty hours must have seemed sensible.

Not for the top cop. When he discovered one of his officers with a book, he banned reading on the job and, as a punishment, removed the officer's seat for three weeks, so he had to stand.

0915 GMT 16 March

The stars of the comedy series Little Britain probably couldn't believe their luck.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams were visiting the House of Lords to watch the debate on the constitutional reform bill (the one which was supposed to do away with the post of Lord Chancellor) when they came face to face with none other than former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Or, as she is rightly known nowadays Lady Thatcher.

They just couldn't help themselves but rushed over and flapped around her declaring "Oh how lovely, three laydees all together".

Alright, so they didn't. They actually stepped aside to let her pass, but don't let that spoil the picture that has just popped into your imagination.

0930 GMT 15 March

The outcome of the general election may be decided to a large extent by Chancellor Gordon Brown's budget.

But one man close to the Treasury also has much riding on the Chancellor's performance.

Mr Brown's spin doctor Ian Austin is bidding to become the Labour candidate for the seat of Dudley North - majority 6,800.

And the selection meeting is set for this weekend, just as the full impact of the budget - particularly the bits the Chancellor does not announce on the floor of the House - sinks in.

Austin's boss had better not botch it then.

0845 GMT 14 March

It wasn't just the government's anti-terror laws that spent last week ping-ponging between different parts of the palace of Westminster.

Demand for sustenance during the gruelling passage of the law was so high in the press bar that it ran out of one of its splendid beers.

So the ever resourceful barman borrowed a barrel from another of the bars - and nearly earned himself a hernia carting it between the two rooms.

Unfortunately, as the row over the anti-terror bill dragged on and on, the other bar also experienced a rush, and the borrowed beer had to be carted all the way back.

Then, needless to say, the press bar had to find an alternative source (or is that sauce).......

0943 GMT 10 March

Forget Die Hard and Dirty Harry, the video that has shot to the top of the Commons viewing schedule is Attack Dog.

Starring Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and Health Secretary John Reid, it has been awarded an "Annie's Oscar" - created by customers in the legendary Commons bar - for its realistic portrayal of the continuing class war in Britain.

The video nasty kicks off with Paxo branding Dr John a government "attack dog" , followed by the minister accusing the presenter of being a patronising sophisticate with a posh accent and a PhD who insulted him because he had a Glaswegian accent.

Blimey! Russell Crowe has nothing on these two. Video copies are now available under the counter in Annie's. Or just click on the link above.

1630 GMT 9 March

Ever wondered how Tony Blair keeps trim in the face of all those official lunches, dinners, banquets and even breakfasts?

Local newspaper editors were given an insight when visiting Downing Street for a lunch with the prime minister on Tuesday and were presented with a large dinner table creaking with grub.

For when their host turned up he wandered into the room clutching an apple and gazed at the feast as if surprised it was there at all.

After demolishing his apple, he then stuffed himself with - a small carrot which he occasionally dipped into some, er, dip.

As for the assembled journalists, they could not wait to tuck in but discovered that, thanks to the enormity of the table, they simply could not reach the food without committing an awful breach of etiquette.

So much of it remained untouched.

1430 GMT 8 March

Backbenchers don't get much opportunity to pass their own laws - so it must be desperately disheartening when they do get a chance and fail through no fault of their own.

For the second Friday running, a backbencher has been piloting his own Bill through the Commons only to be forced to postpone it for lack of support.

This time it was Labour's Stephen Hepburn who was trying to bring in a Bill forcing company directors to be subjected to health a safety legislation in relation to deaths in the workplace.

He spoke passionately about his move and was watched from the public gallery by families who had suffered a bereavement in the workplace and who had visited the Commons for the occasion.

The debate took place and a vote was called but, as with previous private members' bills, he fell short of the 40 MPs required to go through the lobbies and so his Bill failed.

Whether or not there will be time for it to fight another day remains to be seen.

Who says the Commons has become irrelevant.

1330 GMT 7 March

So it's official. Election day WILL be 5 May.

We know this because Grimsby's mischievous Labour MP Austin Mitchell blurted it out at the launch of a Commons exhibition of pictures by the Parliamentary All Party Photographic Group, of which he is chairman.

It was to the embarrassment of minister Tessa Jowell who was standing alongside him when he made his revelation and who went on to say he had given the assembled journalists a far better story than she was about to.

But how far can we trust Mr Mitchell. He went on to reveal that some of the fabulous pictures in the exhibition carrying his name- including one of the winners - had been taken by others!

Apparently a member of his staff had accidentally attached his name to these photographs when sorting through them.

Oh yes, we've heard that one before.

In fact, of the six winning photographs, two were by Mr Mitchell - really.

1230 GMT 3 March

Former Labour leader, now Lord Neil Kinnock, has always had a way with words - usually quite a lot of them.

For example, few who were there will forget the time when, as opposition leader, he was being entertained at a plush reception in Washington - Champagne and canapés, you know the sort of thing - and he opened his speech declaring: "When we get into power everyone will live like this". Tony Blair take note.

Well, he was in good form again during St David's Day celebrations at the Welsh office.

The do was to be entertained by a splendid male voice choir. As they arrived they found themselves alongside the recently elevated Welshman who ushered them towards the food and drink with the words: "Come on in lads, you've already paid for it."

1500 GMT 2 March

A close call for Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin who came near to losing his right hand man Henry Macrory to the ancient lift system in the Commons.

Macrory had been doing his rounds of the press gallery and was returning to Tory HQ when he found himself stuck in the notorious elevator.

Nothing alarming or even unusual about that. We are all used to getting stranded in the infernal contraption and whiling away the following minutes pleading to be rescued by the overworked engineers.

But things took a nasty turn when, this time, the lift jolted into action and, after some ominous rumblings and crashings, started to fall - if not plummet.

Thankfully the security measures kicked in and Macrory and his fellow passenger only plunged half a floor and were quickly rescued.

Shaken but, of course, not stirred.

1300 GMT 1 March

You can tell winter has returned with a vengeance. The "climate control system" in Westminster has been belting out freezing cold air.

This has been a particular problem in the MPs' plush Portcullis House home (you know the one - the most expensive office development in the history of Western civilization).

Despite the no-expense-spared approach to this building, it has suffered a series of problems with everything from the canteen ovens and escalators to the ornamental fig trees.

Now its automatic, high-tech air conditioning system is trying to deep freeze the nation's leaders. And, needless to say, they can't turn it off.

One resourceful assistant came up with a suitably low-tech solution. She resorted to placing copies of the hefty Commons order paper over the grills pushing out the cold air.

Commons Confidential: Feb 2005
28 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: Jan 2005
06 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: Dec 2004
21 Dec 04 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: Nov 2004
07 Dec 04 |  UK Politics
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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