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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Commons Confidential: June 2007
Nick Assinder
POLITICAL DIARY
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons
1200 GMT, TUESDAY 26 JUNE

So, it is all over and Tony Blair spends his last night in Downing Street tonight before leaving to hand in his resignation to the Queen on Wednesday.

Tony Blair leaving Downing Street
The prime minister will spend his last night in Downing Street tonight
According to his official spokesman, Mr Blair will have a "normal breakfast" before leaving for the Commons and Prime Ministers' Questions at noon.

Following that 30 minute session he will return to Downing Street to say his farewells to members of staff before leaving, with his wife, for Buckingham Palace.

This is the point at which the assembled media will be hoping the PM delivers a farewell message to the nation, or at least says a few words.

When he arrives at the palace, he will tender his resignation to the Queen in what is described as "just a conversation", before leaving to an undisclosed destination - widely believed to be Chequers.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown will be travelling to Buckingham Palace to be invited by the Queen to form a government.

The prime minister's official spokesman, who I am sure will not mind being identified as civil servant Tom Kelly, was asked at the morning press briefing who would be running the country in the brief period between Mr Blair going and Mr Brown taking over.

He waved his own briefing note in the air and said he had prepared for that question and the answer, which he said was in black and white, was: "Don't be so silly."

(For those interested, it is thought that any really big decisions during the few minutes of the handover, would still be the responsibility of Tony Blair).

1200 GMT, MONDAY 25 JUNE

Just when they thought it was safe to go onto the Terrace - smokers are facing a battle to keep on puffing.

No smoking sign
A battle is looming over Terrace smoking ban
The rather draconian smoking ban to be implemented in Westminster on 1 July has already led to the authorities designating the Commons Terrace one of the few outdoor areas where puffing will be permitted (see below).

But just as the fag-addicted were wheezing a sigh of relief, up pops Labour MP Lynne Jones to spoil their fun by demanding the ban extends even to that area.

She has written to the Speaker Michael Martin asking him to overturn the previous decision.

"We will just be pushing people outside to smoke and non-smokers who want to enjoy outside spaces will end up breathing in other people's smoke as smokers congregate.

"Many people will have breathed in other people's smoke at a bus stop or in a pub garden. Passive smoking is still an issue in outside spaces where people gather," she told Gallery News, the parliamentary e-mail news service.

This, I am reliably informed, will not be the end of the matter, a full scale smoking war is on the cards.

1530 GMT, THURSDAY 21 JUNE

The things our poor, overburdened MPs have to do to please. For example, visiting as pub.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies is backing pubs
That is what 80 of them, including Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, have signed up to do as part of Proud of Pubs week, run by the Publican newspaper.

Sir Menzies, who will be visiting the Westpark Tavern in Cupar, Fife, on July 13, told the journal: "A good local pub can often be the hub of the local community, a great place to meet old friends. Publicans and bar staff do a fantastic job and should be rightly proud of the work that they do."

Quite right. And after his recent troubles, he probably needs a drink.

1000 GMT, WEDNESDAY 20 JUNE

Commons leader Jack Straw thinks the time has come to allow MPs to use handheld computers and phones in the chamber in order to collect their email.

A handheld computer
MPs may be allowed to use handhelds in chamber
Apparently many MPs believe sitting for hours on end listening to debates is not the most efficient use of their time and they could, instead, be working on constituency business and so on.

Well, a little warning may be in order. Members of the Welsh assembly have full-blown computers installed at their workstations in the chamber - for exactly the same reason.

But in an interesting bit of design, members of the public can look down on the assembly floor and clearly see what their elected representatives are viewing on their computer screens.

And trust me, it is not always work-related as I discovered on a recent trip to the assembly.

1000 GMT, TUESDAY 19 JUNE

MPs who enjoy the evil weed (that's tobacco, not the stuff they often admit to having tried but which had no effect on them), are breathing a fuggy sigh of relief.

Cigarette stub
MPs who smoke will not have to stub out everywhere

Smoking is already banned in most parts of the Palace of Westminster, including many outside areas, and one or two of the more persistent puffers were starting to have panic attacks at the prospect of the outright ban which comes into effect on 1 July.

From then, lighting up will be banned in all internal areas, including bars and private offices, and all external areas unless otherwise designated.

But our legislators - who brought in the ban in the first place, after all - really shouldn't have worried.

One of the designated areas where the authorities will allow smoking is "the best private members club in Britain", the Commons Terrace.

Now, that will be lovely in the summer - but the depths of winter?

Tourists on the Thames cruises which regularly glide past the Terrace will, presumably, have a new attraction to divert them - the sight of little groups of MPs and staff huddled together for warmth puffing away like naughty schoolboys behind the bike sheds.

Mind you, I would still like to be a fly on the wall when a security guard tries to discipline any rebellious MP who decides to light up in his or her own office.

1000 GMT, MONDAY 18 JUNE

After a year being described as the "heir to Blair" - with or without his encouragement - Tory leader David Cameron has launched a concerted attempt to throw off the label in the face of an apparent backlash from party members and not a few MPs.

David Cameron and slogan
Mr Cameron insists he is not copying New Labour
So, Mr Cameron and shadow ministers such as David Davis and William Hague are out and about stressing that the idea they are copying New Labour is patent nonsense.

They are, they insist, simply learning from New Labour's mistakes.

They would never, for example, find themselves stealing slogans such as "traditional values in a modern setting", would they?

Of course not. In fact, according to their latest press release, they have a shiny new slogan all of their own.

"Conservatives are applying our traditional values to new challenges," it declares.

So, look out for "tough on crime, equally robust on the causes of crime", perhaps.

1030 GMT, THURSDAY 14 JUNE

One of Tony Blair's innovations on the Downing Street website was to allow people to post petitions urging the government to do/not do something.

Council tax bill
A petition calls for rise for over 65s
It all got a bit embarrassing when one such petition opposing road pricing won 1.7 million signatures which had to be ignored. Although, to be fair, the prime minister's official spokesman said the petitions did "sensitise the government" to people's views.

Now there has been a new petition posted that I am prepared to bet a small fortune on also being ignored.

It urges the government to double the council tax for the over 65s.

According to the petition: "Over 65's own huge houses worth 100 times more than they paid for them. They also tend to stay home all day consuming a disproportionate amount of resources.

"Double the council tax for this group and pass the savings on to people who are trying to get on the housing ladder."

Over to you prime minister.

1530 GMT, MONDAY 11 JUNE

Labour backbencher Derek Wyatt's web site is acknowledged as one of the best in the business.

Derek Wyatt's website
Mr Wyatt has one of the best web sites in the business
But is he going a bit over the top with the information he believes his constituents and other readers need to know?

The latest addition to his "National News" section simply states: "PM in-waiting, Gordon Brown has drooped a note to MP Derek Wyatt thanking him for his support."

Mr Wyatt was clearly so excited by this piece of breaking news that he forgot to use his spell checker (we've all done it). Mind you, the word "droop" and Gordon Brown do somehow seem to go together.

Still, Mr Wyatt's constituents will be delighted to know he has a hot line to the next prime minister.

1530 GMT, MONDAY 11 JUNE

Downing Street has a flashy new website with all sorts of bells and whistles - including a particularly impressive area detailing restoration work being carried out on pieces of furniture.

A rabbit
Rabbits are very useful for making glue

And it is reassuring to know that traditional craftsmanship is alive and well.

In particular, it was enlightening to learn how a number of chairs made by renowned architect William Kent around 1740 were brought back to their original glory after years of being sat upon by visitors to the PM's home.

The craftsmen involved undertook highly detailed and painstaking work restoring the wood-worm damaged chairs, replacing gold leaf and so on - all of which was then covered in yellow ochre and rabbit-skin glue.

Now if you have never heard of rabbit-skin glue (join the club) the site informs you it is made of refined rabbit collagen which, apparently, is not just for injecting into vain pop stars and Hollywood actresses.

We are told that rabbit collagen makes a particularly good adhesive - although how anyone ever discovered that fact is a mystery.

You can find out more at the Downing Street website:

1230 GMT, MONDAY 11 JUNE

We all know that curry is now one of Britain's national dishes - and quite right too.

A curry
The great British curry
But could the UK become the curry capital of the world, beating India to the title? Absolutely, if Labour MP Keith Vaz gets his way.

Earlier this year, the Leicester MP brought the Commons to a near standstill by welcoming Bollywood and Big Brother star Shilpa Shetty to parliament

Now he is banging the drum for his constituency city, congratulating it on becoming the curry capital of Britain and putting down a Commons motion saying the award demonstrates Leicester's culinary diversity and quality.

But he then goes on to confidently predict that Leicester will become the curry capital of the world.

So that is the Indian restaurant vote sewn up then.

1000 GMT, THURSDAY 7 JUNE

There was a running joke in the great 1970s TV show, the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Leonard Rossiter as Reginald Perrin
Perrin was routinely summoned to meetings with his boss
Perrin's boss (CJ) would phone the character, played brilliantly by Leonard Rossiter, to set up a meeting between them.

"Hello CJ, I can do two o'clock on Wednesday afternoon?"

"Right, nine o'clock Monday morning. Bye."

Am I the only one to have recalled this scene when hearing that President Vladimir Putin had "re-scheduled" his meeting with Tony Blair after hearing he was to be the recipient of some "frank" talking from the prime minister?

"Hello VP, I can do two o'clock Thursday afternoon?"

"Right, three o'clock Friday afternoon. Bye."

President Putin didn't get where he is today..........etc.

1000 GMT, TUESDAY 5 JUNE

As we all know - because they keep telling us - MPs work very hard and often late into the night.

A lighter
MPs have claimed they are being left in dark
What we don't know is exactly what they are doing in their Commons offices in the evenings (although it is not unheard of for overly tired and emotional members to use their offices for a sleepover).

But it appears, whatever they are doing, they aren't moving about enough and, as a result, get pitched into darkness by the energy-efficient lighting systems which automatically turn off if they fail to detect movement.

This irritating issue was raised in the Commons by MPs while debating the need for more green initiatives in parliament, to set an example.

Tory MP Andrew Robathan lamented the lack of such measures, declaring: "The waste of energy in this building is appalling. Anybody who has walked its corridors at night knows that it is like the Mary Celeste-all the lights on and nobody here. In May, when it was hot, the heating was on."

He asked the Commons Commission spokesman, Nick Harvey, to investigate the use of motion-sensor lighting.

Mr Harvey had to point out: "Such devices have existed in parts of the estate, notably in Portcullis House, where there were many complaints from members working late in the evening that they were plunged into darkness sitting at their desks because they had not moved sufficiently to trigger the infra-red light sensors."

But Mr Harvey also had some other, cheaper ideas up his sleeve.

"A variety of high-tech methods of dealing with that have been explored and, where appropriate, they will be fitted, but nothing beats the responsibility of members for turning off lights when they leave the room."

But it is that image of a House of Commons where the lights are on but nobody's at home will be hard to dispel.

1230 GMT, MONDAY 4 JUNE

You almost have to feel sorry for the prime minister.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair says he's not short of job offers
While he is doing his best to pretend it's "business as usual", nobody else is.

Wherever he goes and whatever he does, people want to know what he will be doing in a few weeks' time - and one or two even have some career advice.

For example, he turned up to launch a conference on "Islam and Muslims in the World Today" only to be urged by one delegate to carry on his good work on Africa and the like after he has left office.

Was there just a note of resignation, as it were, in the prime minister's reply?

"Thank you for the job offer," he sighed. " That tends to happen to me a lot at the moment."

Still, nice to know you are wanted, eh.




SEE ALSO
Commons Confidential: May 2007
04 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: April 2007
19 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: March 2007
17 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: February 2007
06 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: January 2007
05 Feb 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: December 2006
21 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
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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