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Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 20:23 GMT
The Week in Politics


Government whip Graham Allen looks back at the week in politics for BBC News Online.

Highlight of the week

One of the highlights of the week was being held hostage at Buckingham Palace during the Queen's Speech.

As a government whip, I am vice chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household and I have three responsibilities.

The Queen's Speech
One is to look after the Treasury and Gordon Brown and the Finance Bill, the second is to look after East Midlands MPs and I am also the link to Buckingham Palace.

I write a daily letter to the Queen to say what is happening in Parliament which is full of jokes and anecdotes.

I am also held hostage once a year when the Queen opens Parliament pending her safe return. If by some chance she is executed or spirited away by MPs, I have my head removed from the rest of my body.

Fortunately, the two times I've been held hostage it hasn't happened.

It is very onerous, I sit in a comfortable chair, drink a gin and tonic and eat sausages on sticks. I sit with the Queen's private secretary, the Duke of Edinburgh's private secretary and the Princess Royal's private secretary and various ladies in waiting and watch the Queen's Speech on television.

Having worked for Tony Blair in the shadow home affairs team and worked on a modernising agenda, it's quite peculiar doing something which is so traditional.

If anyone suggests Tony Blair hasn't got a sense of humour see what he's done to Graham Allen.

Of the other government announcements, I think the more money for the Sure Start scheme to help kids grow is another highlight of the week.

So many kids get off to a really bad start. Parents love them but can't teach them the right things, they can't get the right health care or right assistance. The way forward is to give them a good start, that's my number one spending priority.

When a doctor gives you the good news you are pregnant you should get proper assistance. Imagine if you're a single mother in that situation.

My ambition is to create the good parents of tomorrow - that's a big personal priority.

Winner of the week

The winner of the week is Ivan Lewis, who seconded the loyal address after the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.

Jack Cunningham was put in the shadows by Ivan who gave a very funny and interesting speech in what must be one of the most daunting experiences for an MP. You have to entertain the whole House and put aside partisanship.

Loser of the week

Francis Maude is my loser of the week after he failed in his mauling of Gordon Brown.

He has tried to defend a lot of unreconcilable differences in Conservative policy.

I have been there when Labour was in opposition and I know how tough it is to defend policies you haven't got a chance of putting into action.

And it is going to get worse for him now that Michael Portillo is coming back.

Issue of the week

For me, this is e-democracy. There have been several good developments to help people access our democracy.

One is the public affairs select committee is taking evidence on how to improve access to our democracy and I hope everybody will contribute to that.

Secondly, Stephen Clift, whose website Web, White and Blue has been a pioneer of democracy and access, came to see me. He's a facilitator, he's not partisan and he's done a lot of innovate things, such as in Jesse Ventura, the wrestler, becoming governor of Minnesota.

We chatted about improving the government's access, the Labour Party's access and the way parliamentarians can use the net.

The downside is the Labour Party has obliterated my webpage. I had the first stand alone page. Now it's been eliminated through their spring cleaning.

Another aspect of this is pre-legislative scrutiny, looking at bills before they go in to committee.

A number of bills have been proposed which will have pre-legislative scrutiny which means people will have their say on bills before they get too congealed and I hope the e-commerce bill will be one of them.

I also hope that the pre-legislative scrutiny inquiries will be broadcast on the net as people give their evidence so people can email in their own questions.

The prime minister did a computer course and we had a reception at No 10 with him. The prime minister told us he was sitting in this room doing his training course and they were being asked some questions when one guy started looking at him strangely.

The prime minister reassured him saying, "don't feel overawed" to which the man replied, "I'm not overawed but I've just scored higher than you on all the test questions and I've been unemployed for the last 18 months and you're the prime minister".

I think that shows the prime minister was very courageous to do a course and also shows he has got a good sense of humour.

Quote of the week

It has to be William Hague saying that Frank Dobson should by Tony Blair's "day mayor" and Ken Livingstone should be his "nightmare".

In the Postbag

The funniest letter I've received was a lengthy tirade against the Labour government which got into hysterical, abusive language, so I replied to the person: "Dear Mr so and so, you will be disturbed when I tell you that a clearly hysterical lunatic has taken your name in vain and pretended to write letters to your local MP. I am sure you will wish to report this to the police."

I am awaiting the next letter.

On the horizon

The most important bill in the House of Commons is the Finance Bill which gives life to the Budget so I'm looking forward to being in committees although it's going to involve many late night sessions.

But what appears to be a very dry bill is the life blood of the expansion of our schools and hospital and the dynamic economy we want to create.

In the House

As a whip, I'm in the chamber countless times. I perform a formal bench duty once a day but I'm in and out for key points and crises as they arise

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15 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
What a performance

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