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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Commons Confidential: 2006
Nick Assinder
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Highlights of despatches from the House of Commons during 2006

It's nice to know the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in the Palace of Westminster.

Christmas decorations
Authorities ordered removal of decorations
Some of the staff in the bars and restaurants have already started putting up decorations to bring a bit of seasonal cheer into the place.

But that won't do. Officials have sent out a memo demanding that such jollity must not start until next week.

So there we have it, Christmas officially starts on Monday 5 December - and not a day earlier, right!


Disgraced Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten is, at the time of writing, joint editor of the Commons in-house publication, the House magazine.

And he was independent enough to allow himself to be pictured inside the latest edition under the heading "Bad Week" for the collapse of his leadership campaign "amid lack of MPs' support".

This was, clearly, published before the weekend revelations... which gave the magazine's cover story an even more ironic twist.

The headline declares: "Hot pursuit. When the Media Attacks."

It was, needless to say, about education secretary Ruth Kelly's woes. But I'm sure Mr Oaten sympathises.


Now there's something you don't see every day - Tony Blair singing the old socialist anthem the Red Flag.

Even better, he was singing it from the Commons despatch box surrounded by virtually his entire parliamentary party.

And he seemed to know the words - in the past he would almost certainly have feigned not to, for fear of being mistaken as a leftie.

Red Flag
Mr Blair flew the red flag in Commons
It was all done for a celebration to mark the centenary of the Labour Party.

Sadly, not a re-run of the famous occasion in 1976 when then Tory Minister Michael Heseltine grabbed the Commons mace and held it over his head in fury at an outbreak of Red Flag singing by Welsh MPs.

This time it came at the end of Commons business with the full agreement of the powers that be and, unsurprisingly, with not a single Tory or Lib Dem MP in the chamber.


Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone found herself in a tricky situation when faced with a hysterical constituent during her regular surgery.

She explains: "I know theoretically people used to say you are meant to slap someone who is hysterical around the face and the shock is supposed to bring them back to their senses.

"However, I hardly think that a viable or acceptable solution in this day and age!" Quite.

A lesson, perhaps, for John Prescott?


The infamous rivalry between barely-dressed models Jodie Marsh and Jordan will have nothing on this.

Jodie Marsh
Marsh and Willis square up
Celebrity Big Brother contestant Ms Marsh - who was at loggerheads with Respect MP George Galloway, amongst others, on the show - has a new parliamentary hate figure in the shape of former Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis.

Ms Marsh is apparently incensed that Mr Willis has tabled a Commons question demanding she be banned from touring schools as part of an anti-bullying campaign.

"What is it with these old duffers," she declared. "I seem to be tripping over MPs who waste taxpayers' money by having a go at me in a bid for fame and fortune."

Seeking fame and fortune? Hardly. Mr Willis said he had little idea who Ms Marsh was until a school pupil tipped him off about her planned tour and he visited her website.

"It's absolutely appalling," he said. "There is no way she is the right sort of person to be going into our schools," he told me.


All parents know what it's like trying to do ordinary household chores with the kids demanding attention.

And we also all know what a godsend videos (DVDs nowadays) of their favourite cartoons can be.

Labour poster
Dave the Chameleon a hit with kids
Plonk them down in front of Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine and tranquillity reigns.

Conservative leader David Cameron is thanking the Labour party for his latest, soothing film.

He says his children love Dave the Chameleon - the cycle helmet-wearing reptile dreamed up by Labour to lampoon Mr Cameron.

So whenever he wants a bit of peace and quiet, the Tory leader simply sits them in front of Labour's latest political broadcast which features the character.

"What long term psychological effect that will have on my daughter I do not know," he says.

Another victory for Labour's PR team


Tory MPs are demanding a public apology from the Labour Party after it emerged members, including ministers, took part in an auction for a copy of the Hutton report into the death of Dr David Kelly which was autographed by Cherie Blair.

According to a Commons motion tabled by Peterborough's Stewart Jackson, the event took place at the Arts Club in Mayfair last week and raised 400 for party coffers.

The motion says the event was "in appalling bad taste, arrogant and crassly insensitive in seeking to make money, albeit indirectly, through hawking, as a novelty item, an official Government report into the death of a public servant".

It "regrets the distress caused to the family and friends of the late Dr Kelly; and calls on the Labour Party to apologise for such tasteless and offensive conduct and to donate the money raised to an appropriate charity".

A Labour spokesman meanwhile said it had not been a party event. "We know nothing about it," he said.


What is it about the job of foreign secretary that inspires such a sense of shock and/or horror in ministers when they are handed the portfolio?

Margaret Beckett has revealed in a newspaper interview that, when Tony Blair told her she was to be made foreign secretary, the only thing she could think to say in response was a four letter word.

"He told me he wanted me to go on working on climate change issues but to do it from the foreign office. I was stunned," she explained.

Her reaction was "one word and four letters" beginning with an F.

But, I learn, Mrs Beckett is not the only politician to have reacted in such a way to this particular promotion.

Apparently when her predecessor, Jack Straw, was given the job he was also lost for words - apart from one four letter one, this time beginning with an S.

Now what I want to know is what word Mr Straw used when he heard he was being replaced by Mrs Beckett...


Policemen at the Palace of Westminster are notorious for their mischievous sense of humour when it comes to dealing with tourists.

Big Ben
Is Big Ben going digital?
For example, they once nominated a camera-shy constable as the "official" PC to be photographed by visitors eager to be snapped with a British bobby.

But the latest wheeze takes the biscuit.

Apparently when tourists ask why Big Ben has been silenced for work on the famous bell, they are told: "Because it's going digital."


For those who fear politicians believe they are above the law, here are a couple of cases where the law's view that all men are equal (i.e either criminals or potential criminals) has held firm.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is already apparently preparing for a chat with the Met on other matters, fell foul of an eagle eyed officer as he was planning a photocall with racing driver Damon Hill and a formula 1 car in Downing Street to mark the return of the motor show to London.

Damon Hill and Tony Blair
Hill and Blair were banned from roads
The vehicle arrived in sections and was assembled in the Ministry of Defence car park opposite Downing Street.

But as technicians attempted to wheel it the short distance across Whitehall to Downing Street they were informed by the officer that, as the car had no MoT, tax or insurance it could not take to a public road.

So Blair, Hill and entourage had to walk across the road for the picture opportunity before returning to No 10 for a reception to mark the event.

And no, Bernie Ecclestone was nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy discovered those colourful custodians of the Tower of London, the Beefeaters, are more than just tourist attractions.

Mr Kennedy was giving a TV interview near the Tower when he was approached by one of the Yeoman Warders, to give them their real title, and told he was causing an obstruction and should "move along please".


Has trendsetter Tony Blair set a new rule in lunchtime etiquette?

The prime minister attended a swanky lunch with senior journalists on Monday and was presented with a soup first course in a bowl with handles on each side - you know the sort of thing, like a double handled teacup.

Blair sets new etiquette rule
As the other guests followed tradition and reached for their soup spoons, Mr Blair picked up his bowl by its handles and proceeded to drink it down with relish.

The surprised journos weren't exactly sure how to react to this - should they put down their spoons and follow suit or carry on regardless?

They decided to ignore it and carried on slurping. Another sign of the prime minister's waning influence perhaps?


It is sometimes hard for Cabinet ministers to let go when they are sacked or demoted and they all have their own ways of dealing with it.

Former Defence Secretary and Commons Leader Geoff Hoon - demoted to Europe minister in Tony Blair's last re-shuffle - is eager, for example, to remind colleagues he may no longer be a full Cabinet minister but is still allowed to sit in on the weekly meetings, although not vote.

The official plaque on his ministerial office leaves no room for doubt.

It has the usual label declaring that the Rt Hon Geoff Hoon is minister for Europe, but adds "attending cabinet". So there.

Commons Confidential: November 2006
04 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: October 2006
01 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: July 2006
10 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: June 2006
04 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: May 2006
05 Jun 06 |  UK Politics

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