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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Commons Confidential: May 2006

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons


Politicians must indeed have magical powers not possessed by mere mortals - there is now indisputable evidence they can create rain.

Ian Pearson
The minister who made it rain
In the great British drought of 1976, West Midlands MP Denis Howell was famously given the task of handling the crisis. He was immediately dubbed the minister for rain - and within days the heavens opened and the country was under water.

Now environment minister Ian Pearson - also spookily from the West Midlands - is being congratulated for pulling off the same rainmaking trick.

Colleague Rob Marris has tabled a Commons motion pointing out that, as soon as he was given responsibility for handling the current water shortages, Mr Pearson succeeded in invoking a deluge.

But there's more. Tory backbencher Peter Bottomley has added another line to the motion pointing out that in 1989 Northern Ireland's environment minister had also "restored rain" to the parched province.

Oh, the minister in question was Peter Bottomley, needless to say.

So we now know beyond doubt that ministers can make it rain.

We might be more impressed if they could also make it stop and create a summer every now and then.


Of all the celebs you might expect to have been invited to Posh and Becks' pre-world cup extravaganza in Hertfordshire, the name John Reid probably would not have been the first to cross your mind.

John Reid and Carine
John Reid and wife Carine are on the celeb circuit
Graham Norton and Kate Moss, yes, but hard man home secretary John Reid?

But according to the man himself, he had to turn down an invitation to the bash so he could give all his attention to knocking his crisis-hit department into shape.

That has left some wondering how on earth Mr Reid - an ardent Celtic fan, by the way - found himself on the celeb circuit.

Might it be anything to do with his glamorous wife, Brazilian-born film maker Carine Adler, whose work includes the 1997 movie "Under the Skin", starring Samantha Morton and Rita Tushingham?


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.

Lord Hutton

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.


Once upon a time celebrities scrambled over each other to be pictured with Tony Blair - the coolest prime minister since Harold Wilson - and his wife Cherie.

David and Samantha Cameron
People to be seen with
But fame is a fickle thing and it appears the Blairs have slipped down the A list to reside somewhere alongside Jordan and Peter Andre.

It appears the hot couple now are the desperately trendy Tory leader David Cameron and wife Samantha.

So, sure enough, the couple were amongst the guests at the Beckham's little pre-World Cup garden party at the weekend (estimated cost 500,000).

But there are already questions over how the Camerons got their invitations to this bash.

One tabloid newspaper suggested the couple were only there after blagging a brace of invitations from the editor of a rival newspaper. (Sounds like somebody in Fleet Street didn't get his invitation).

Such are the dangers of being members of the people-to-be-seen-with club.

But the Camerons shouldn't worry. It won't last.


So, what to expect from a meeting of MPs on the all-party integrated and complementary health group being addressed by Cherie Blair's former confidante and health adviser, Carole Caplin?

Carole Caplin
Caplin addressed group of MPs and practitioners

Would it be all wispy music, new age remedies and exhortations to chill out with a herbal tea and a bit of light channelling?

Or would it be all about power-exercise regimes, punishing body sculpting and revivalist-style commitment.

And, inevitably, would Ms Caplin spill the beans on the Blairs?

As it turned out the answer was none of the above.

Ms Caplin is an engaging, apparently grounded individual whose lifestyle advice - which would once undoubtedly have been branded dotty if not downright dangerous - is nowadays widely accepted, almost mainstream.

So her talk of whole body regimes and an integrated approach to health and fitness is the sort of stuff that would fit pretty happily in any of the thousands of gyms across the country.

She was addressing an audience largely of believers and practitioners of everything from Chinese medicine and osteopathy - now hugely popular - to reiki and chiropractic.

There were the inevitable suggestions - not from Ms Caplin, it has to be said - that some of these more unusual practices had been shown to cure virtually every malady known to humankind.

There were one or two mildly sceptical people who wanted to know, to her clear irritation, whether her regime was "evidence based".

But it all seemed, well, ordinary, rather than freaky. Where were the crystal-strokers, psychic channellers and transcendental meditators?

Perhaps that is a reflection of how society has embraced these alternative medicines. And perhaps it was an attempt to offer the acceptable face of alternative treatment.

So what about the Blairs then? What advice would she give to her old pal Tony Blair now he is going through hell?

And this is where she displayed her political skills (I wonder where she picked those up) turning to her audience with a smile and asking: "How many people here have gone through periods of hell?"

She then gave a long answer about the need for people to help themselves in times of stress by doing exercise, eating healthily, laying off the wine and getting into the "army drill" of doing these things regularly and with a degree of commitment.

So, no meditation or massage then?

Well, she declared, I'm crap at meditation so some massage oil and some rubbish TV might be better.

...Now that's a regime I can buy.


She may be persona non grata in Downing Street nowadays, but Cherie Blair's former "lifestyle guru" Carole Caplin still finds a welcome amongst MPs.

Carole Caplin
Caplin talked about health
The fitness instructor addressed the all-party integrated and complementary health group in the Commons.

But it was not the occasion for a bit of gossip about what Cherie and Tony get up to in the privacy of the gym.

Still, anything that keeps them out of the bars for the evening is, in itself, probably quite good for their health.


So the denuded (job-wise) deputy prime minister will answer Commons questions on his responsibilities tomorrow.

John Prescott
Questions over John Prescott's role
The short session promises to be interesting as many MPs on all sides are dying to know what he now does to earn his salary after losing all his departmental responsibilities.

The Tories are already planning to have some fun at Mr Prescott's expense and, I am told, even considered one highly radical stunt.

"As the deputy prime minister has no job, we thought we might not ask him any questions at all," suggested one


Politicians just love to be associated with celebrity sportsmen and women - so David Cameron must be in seventh heaven at the discovery that there is Tory blood running through the veins of England World Cup wonder kid Theo Walcott.

Theo Walcott
Walcott has true blue blood in his veins

The 17-year-old soccer superstar's grandfather, Joe, is a Tory local councillor.

Not only that, he sits on West Oxfordshire district council which, of course, is in David Cameron's constituency.

And it just gets better. There is believed to be a picture of the Tory leader in the company of Mr Walcott. Tory aides are now desperately trying to track it down.

Could this association (distant though it might be) - along with the selection of former soap star Adam Rickitt for the Tories' A list of election candidates - be the start of David Cameron's version of Cool Britannia?

That should set some warning bells clanging in Tory HQ.


I will leave you to speculate over who passed the following snippet of information to me.

At his press conference on Monday, the prime minister referred thus to the lobby group Compass - which has called for a timetable for his resignation.

"If you read Compass, the stuff that comes out of the Compass organisation, if you advocate that, if you go into the next election with that programme, you lose. I mean it's the surest route to opposition I know."

So who told the group's conference in October 2004 that he believed it stood for "progressive politics, that is built on values, that is driven forward by ideas, that is expressed in a commitment to a Britain with a strong sense of purpose, direction and destiny".

The length of the sentence gives the game away. It's Gordon Brown.


Tony Blair likes to compare himself to football managers, possibly unwisely.

Alan Curbishley
Are there similarities with Tony Blair?

Back at the end of last month when he was struggling to put his latest batch of problems behind him, he likened himself to Arsene Wenger.

He pointed out that the Arsenal manager had been written off before taking his team to the European Champions League final

One mischievous backbencher has suggested a better comparison - outgoing Charlton boss Alan Curbishley who recently announced his decision to quit.

Mr Curbishley explained he still had a year left on his contract and, while announcing he would not go on beyond that by extending his contract, he would serve to the end of his current term.

"But the chairman flagged up all the problems that would bring," he said.

So he decided to go straight away.


Last week saw a number of different headlines greeting Tony Blair over the breakfast table.

Tony Blair
Blair concentrated on the positive
They amounted to claims Labour was in meltdown, that the prime minister had suffered his worst week ever and that it included his own "Black Wednesday".

For his part, the prime minister has insisted this is just the way politics is nowadays and brushed aside the bad news - Charles Clarke's handling of the foreign offenders row, John Prescott's affairs and Patricia Hewitt's monstering by nurses - urging voters to instead concentrate on the big picture.

They are offered some help in that task by Downing Street's own official website under the heading "Look back at the PM's week" which concentrates entirely on just two events.

The first is the prime minister's monthly press conference - you even get the chance to look at his presentation of how well the NHS is doing - and the second, his new keep fit campaign for the nation: Read the No 10's review of week


Commons Confidential: April 2006
02 May 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: March 2006
19 Apr 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: February 2006
01 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: January 2006
01 Feb 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: December 2005
11 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: November 2005
30 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: October 2005
31 Oct 05 |  UK Politics

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