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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 08:45 GMT
Commons Confidential: January 2007
Nick Assinder
POLITICAL DIARY
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons
1000 GMT, WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY

Now here is an offer water polo playing Prince William may not be able to refuse - a place in the UK's 2012 Olympics squad.

Prince William
Prince William is a keen water polo player
During Commons questions, Labour's Gavin Strang asked sports minister Dick Caborn to throw his support behind Edinburgh's Portobello water polo club.

Mr Caborn reminded the MP this was a matter for the Scottish parliament, before adding: "But I hope that Scotland will join the water polo team that will compete in the 2012 Olympics.

"I hope that we will have an excellent water polo team for 2012. If Prince William wants to play, we are more than likely to recruit him as well."

We will await the prince's reply with interest.

0900 GMT, TUESDAY 30 JANUARY

As previously reported, jolly coppers at the Commons recently enjoyed telling tourists that work being done on the Big Ben clock face was to turn it digital.

The Clock Tower at Westminster
The famous landmark nearly went electronic
Well, believe it or not, the idea of replacing the famous clock with a more modern, electronic version was once seriously considered.

In an interview for the Parliament web site, Terry Eiss - the guide to the great Westminster clock and verger to the chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the palace of Westminster, to give him his full title - reveals such a scheme was on the cards 30 years ago.

"In 1976 when there was a major failure of the clock, there was talk of completely replacing it with some electronic piece of wizardry but they went ahead and rebuilt. I'm sure as long as it's possible to keep this clock going it will be kept going," he said.

That may mean continuing to place old, pre-decimalisation pennies on the mechanism to regulate it from time to time - apparently it is the height of the old coins not the weight that makes them just right to adjust the clock by two fifths of a second a day.

But just imagine what we might have ended up with if the clock had been replaced by a 1970s-style digital face.

That famous final scene from the 1978 film version of The 39 Steps, in which Richard Hannay (played by Robert Powell) dangled off the minute hand as he tried to avert world war, just wouldn't have worked.

1030 GMT, WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY

There is absolutely no shame in losing to Roger Federer at tennis, Brazil at football - or to MP Shahid Malik at pool.

Shahid Malik
Shahid Malik defended the title he won last year
I will keep telling myself that as I ponder the result of last night's Annie's bar charity pool contest which saw Shahid successfully (easily) defending his title against an upstart challenger.

After tightly-contested semi-finals, which for the first time saw a brace of journalists competing with MPs for the coveted Annie trophy - a cross between an Oscar and the Bullseye Bully - it came as no surprise to anyone that Shahid won through to the last round.

Indeed the MC for the evening, Lewisham West's Jim Dowd - the Jim Bowen of Annies Bar - opened the event setting out how the games were to be played before declaring: "And then sports minister Dick Caborn will present the trophy to Shahid Malik."

The fact that no one took exception to this prediction said it all. Indeed, as Mr Dowd later observed, we could all have saved ourselves a lot of time if we had skipped the games and just gone straight to the trophy presentation.

But that would have denied a packed room on the Commons terrace of the heady mix of thrills, laughter, disappointment and free beer that is finals night.

More to the point, it would have denied charities thousands of pounds in prize money, and a pool table provided by the sponsors, Rileys, which the winner can donate to the club/organisation of his or her choice.

Kevin Brennan, Shahid Malik, Richard Caborn, Eva Linn Fossheim (referee) Nick Assinder, Rob Merrick
Mr Caborn presented prizes to the finalists
The semi-finals saw journalist Rob Merrick, the dark horse of the contest, beaten by Shahid, while last year's other finalist, Cardiff West's Kevin Brennan, was beaten by the other journalist.

The final saw Shahid take control from the first frame before going on to hammer his opponent - who had to all intents and purposes joined the ranks of the spectators - three nil.

As one observer told the defeated hack: "Not so much Rocky Balboa as Crocky Balboa then."

I put a brave face on it, picked up my splendid semi-finalists' pool cue and charity prize money and walked off into the night dreaming about what might have been.

1630 GMT, TUESDAY 23 JANUARY

You would think Home Secretary John Reid has enough on his plate - but he has a particularly busy week.

John Reid
Mr Reid has a busy schedule meeting journalists
Today he had lunch with regional newspaper editors and was happy to field questions on, amongst other things, his future (without giving anything away, of course).

Then, on Thursday he is the guest speaker at a lunch hosted by members of the press gallery in the Commons, where he will also take questions which are bound to feature cunning traps aimed at getting him to let something slip about his future intentions.

His plate must really be overflowing at the moment because he refused any food whatsoever at the first event.

Perhaps he is in training for something. Like a campaign, maybe?

1630 GMT, THURSDAY 18 JANUARY

Environment Secretary David Miliband is the latest government heavyweight to jump into the Big Brother row.

David Miliband
Miliband is joining the "Jade out" campaign
He has used his blog to declare "Shilpa in, Jade out" - a sentiment which seems to be gaining ground in Westminster, as elsewhere.

So, the minister is a fan of the programme then? Well, no, apparently not.

"OK, so I don't watch Big Brother, but we are all entitled to an opinion," he declares.

Now that's the way to approach policy.

0930 GMT, WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY

Downing Street has a new website specifically aimed at children and young people - but I wonder how long this one will last once Tony Blair reads it.

Downing Street website
Spot the omission in Downing Street website
One of the featured items is a piece which has "picked out eight outstanding prime ministers who made their impact on the UK in one way or another".

They are Robert Walpole, the Duke of Wellington, Spencer Perceval, Robert Peel, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

All very good and well - but spot the obvious omissions?

Not only is there no mention of the current prime minister, which can probably be excused on the grounds the list is meant to be of past premiers, but not a single Labour PM is included.

Even the Tories recently acknowledged Clement Attlee for introducing the welfare state in his 1945-51 Labour government, widely regarded as the most politically successful ever.

I would not like to be in the shoes of the Downing Street webmaster or civil servant who selected this list when Tony Blair finds out how to use a computer and read his own website.

1000 GMT, TUESDAY 16 JANUARY

The creation of a new group of far-right Euro MPs - including the likes of Mussolini's granddaughter, Alessandra, and France's National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen - is causing consternation in Brussels.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
French National Front are part of new Euro group

However, inventive opponents have already found one way to take the mickey out of the new alliance - by abbreviating its name.

Those who join The Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty group may live to regret choosing that particular label.

Or maybe it loses something in translation.

1300 GMT, MONDAY 15 JANUARY

Tony Blair is NOT looking for a Jeeves to his Wooster.

Tony Blair drinking tea
Blair takes regular cups of tea
The prime minister's official spokesman was eager to tell political journalists at their morning meeting that suggestions a job being advertised in Downing Street was for a butler were "tosh".

It is, we were reassured, simply for the ages-old post of house manager that had nothing to do with the Blairs' family life.

So who brings the British prime minister his regular cups of tea then?

That, we were told, will be Vera and Monica.

These two stalwarts are long-serving messengers in Downing Street and have their moments of TV fame when one of them hands the prime minister his cuppa during his monthly press conferences, as anyone watching the televised event will be able to see on Tuesday.

But will it be Vera or Monica - perhaps Mr Blair would like to introduce her to the press. Or maybe not.

1000 GMT, THURSDAY 11 JANUARY

It was once said the rule for elections in Northern Ireland was "vote early, vote often" - so make what you will of this.

Stormont
Questions asked over voting by the dead

Lord Laird has tabled a question at Westminster asking: "Whether it is possible for the vote of a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who has died to be exercised - if so, how, and since when has this been possible?"

The answer from minister Lord Rooker states: "Section 17 of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act of 2006 provides that the standing orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly may include provision enabling a right to vote in the assembly which could have been exercised but for a vacancy in the membership of the assembly to be exercisable in such a manner as is so provided.

"In relation to the transitional assembly established by section 1 of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, standing order 17 (h) of the transitional assembly standing orders, provides that where a right to vote could have been exercised but for a vacancy in the membership of the transitional assembly, the nominating officer (as defined in standing order 22 (a)) of the party of the member that held the seat on the vacancy occurring shall be entitled to exercise that vote."

That sounds like "yes" to me.

1200 GMT, WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY

Tony Blair's invitation for internet users to petition him through the Downing Street website on policies they would like to see introduced, or abolished has been a runaway success.

Traffic congestion
Road pricing tops petition list
Current top of the list, with a massive 178,000 signatures is a demand for any government plans to introduce road pricing to be abandoned.

The prime minister's official spokesman has now declared such petitions would be placed into "the overall context" of policy making - and that, he insisted, was not a euphemism for "the bin".

So, suggestions that MPs should be forced to justify their business expenses or that Mr Blair should ban bull fighting (is this a new British sport I've missed) or sell Downing Street and "endure a hellish commute like the rest of us" will get a fair hearing. I'm sure.

1000 GMT, TUESDAY 9 JANUARY

Commons chef Terry Wiggins is a well-known face around the Palace of Westminster, where he has been serving up great grub to MPs and staff alike for the best part of 30 years.

Plate of food
Commons chef rewarded with a gong
Now his efforts have been rewarded with an MBE. And quite right too.

Terry has helped "modernise" the menu around the palace and is always ready to chat to his customers and listen to their concerns.

And he must be largely responsible for changing the nature of the food on offer which, as one MP declared, at one time was of such a quality that it was those eating it who deserved a medal.




SEE ALSO
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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