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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 15:13 GMT
Commons Confidential: February 2007
Nick Assinder
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons

Former ministers Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn must have known they were opening themselves up for attack when they launched their not-the-campaign-against-Gordon-Brown website.

Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke
Milburn and Clarke have denied trying to find a challenger to Gordon Brown
And indeed, they have already been the target of many jibes in Westminster. But now one group of Labour MPs, led by Reading's Martin Salter, have gone so far as to table a Commons motion on their behaviour.

The group point out that, on the day the duo launched their website, a large number of parliamentary and political events were taking place including a meeting of the all party jazz appreciation group and the adjournment debate on maggot debridement therapy.

"However 545 out of the 563 MPs and Peers in the parliamentary Labour Party failed to attend this launch," they claimed before pointing out "the venue for launch was the City Inn Hotel, the same venue chosen by the Hon Member for Winchester to launch his unsuccessful leadership bid for the Liberal Democrat Party".

That MP, by the way, was Mark Oaten who abandoned his leadership bid a few days later due to lack of support.

So, Messrs Clarke and Milburn probably won't be signing up Mr Salter or any of the other signees, including former health secretary Frank Dobson, then.


They all took the mickey out of Montgomeryshire's Lib Dem Lembit Opik when he warned the earth could be destroyed by asteroids - until scientists said he was right and that there was one heading our way in 2019.

Tsunami from the film End Day
Flynn has warned of tsunami threat

Now fellow Welsh MP, Labour's member for Newport Paul Flynn, is risking a similar reaction by warning of the risk of a tsunami hitting the UK some time in the future.

He has tabled a Commons motion pointing out that there is now a "consensus expert view that a tsunami caused the flood of the Gwent and Somerset levels in January 1607".

He warns a similar event now would result in massive destruction and loss of life and has urged the government to create an early warning tsunami watch on British coasts.

They are a cheerful bunch, the Welsh MPs.


Doing impersonations of leading politicians must be the new rock and roll - everybody wants to have a go at it.

Euan Blair
Who best to mimic the father than the son
John Redwood tries to mimic David Cameron (see below), Rory Bremner does such a good Gordon Brown he caught Margaret Beckett on the hop and John Culshaw does a spooky Tony Blair.

Now we learn the prime minister's son, Euan, also does a good job of taking off his dad who, he claims, is not as camp as Mr Culshaw portrays him.

Labour MP Steven Pound has revealed there was an unofficial Blair mimicking contest at last year's Labour party conference.

He told the Today programme that he and Blair junior were at the BBC party (where else) where the Dead Ringers star, Mr Culshaw, was impersonating the prime minister.

According to Mr Pound, Euan declared: "That's not dad, he is not as camp as that".

"It ended up," said Mr Pound, "with Euan Blair doing his Tony Blair, me doing my Tony Blair and John Culshaw doing his Tony Blair and Charles Clarke walking past and saying 'Oh God, I've had too much wine'".


Commons leader Jack Straw was in mid-flow during a speech to journalists at a parliamentary lunch when the division bell started ringing - that is the device which warns MPs they should be in the chamber voting.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw attempted to shout over the division bell
Until you have heard the racket this thing creates it is hard to explain just how it assaults every nerve ending in your body. And Mr Straw already has difficulty with his hearing in one ear.

First he attempted to wait until it had ceased, then gave up and tried to shout over it and finally declared: "Can't anybody turn this thing off, we know there's a division on".

To which the ever-perceptive Labour MP Steven Pound shouted back: "Well, you are the leader of the House".

Clearly his powers are limited.


Thanks to the Bee Gees' famous walkout from his chat show, whenever many people think of Clive Anderson they think "tossers" (he used the phrase jokily but they did not appreciate it).

Pancake race
MPs snatched back the pancake race title

So he was the natural choice to referee the annual charity pancake race between teams of pancake tossers drawn from the Commons, Lords and media this shrove Tuesday.

And he had his work cut out as the competitors - led by MP Lindsay Hoyle, Lord Morris and the BBC's very own Nick Robinson - ignored just about every one of the complex rules of engagement.

They may not have resorted to flinging the ingredients at each other or using their frying pans as weapons - both things specifically banned under the rules. Spoilsports.

But when it came to tossing three times around the relay race course, returning to the start if they dropped their pancakes or not holding their pancakes in place, forget it.

But then, this was a grudge match with the politicians determined to snatch back the trophy seized in a sensational upset by the media team in last year's hotly contested match.

And, despite all the pleas for gentlemanly and gentlewomanly (shouldn't that be gentlepersonly) behaviour, there was plenty of needle.

The MPs' barbs at the journalists, were met by the hacks claiming the MPs had only won the title through underhand means. The peers, needless to say, attempted to rise above it all.

Clive Anderson and MPs team Justine Greening, Betty Williams and Lindsay Hoyle
Clive Anderson presented the trophy

"It's not fair," complained one journalist from a well-known broadcasting organisation. "They had a frying pan each when we only had one between us. So their handovers were much quicker."

There were demands for public inquiries, dope tests and cash-for-frying pans allegations. All involved denied wrong-doing.

This annual event has now become one of the "sporting" highlights of Westminster life and is to support the charity Rehab UK in its work for people with brain injury.


I'm not sure who should be most worried about this revelation, David Cameron or Rory Bremner.

John Redwood
Mr Redwood has a talent as a mimic
But, it appears, John Redwood is attempting to perfect his impression of the Tory leader in order to entertain dinner guests and colleagues.

One of the Conservative MPs' talents is as a mimic and he used to delight friends with his impression of former leader Michael Howard.

However he has revealed in a question and answer session for the Independent newspaper that he is having trouble with Mr Cameron's voice - something Mr Bremner has also confessed in the past.

David Cameron's lookalike from Star Trek
"I haven't yet worked out how to mimic David Cameron. There are other easier voices to do in the current political firmament," he admitted.

It has been suggested before that the best way to get into Mr Cameron's character is to first think of his doppelganger - Data the android from Star Trek, the Next Generation.

And who better than the man dubbed "The Vulcan" after the original Star Trek's Mr Spock?


We've had leaves on the line and the wrong sort of snow - now we can add cold water to the list of weather-related issues that affect services.

Snow in Parliament Square
The weather hit Commons coffee machines
MPs queuing for a cappuccino in the coffee bar at Parliament's Portcullis House were told the machine was working very slowly so their beverages might take a little longer than usual.

One asked why this was the case and was told: "It's the weather. The water is coming through slowly because it's too cold".

Bemused coffee-drinkers remain unsure whether this was a genuine excuse or they were having their legs' pulled.


Leicester's Labour MP Keith Vaz may have enjoyed his moments basking in the radiance of his Bollywood guest, Shilpa Shetty yesterday.

But, as is so often the case, there may be unforeseen and unpleasant consequences.

Mr Vaz found himself on the wrong end of the Commons' authorities ire when he attempted to take Ms Shetty and a huge entourage of media onto the terrace and then, later, a committee room for a press conference.

At one point Mr Vaz was told off by deputy serjeant at arms, Muir Morton, who accused the MP of "abusing his position" and said Parliament was not to be used for publicity purposes.

I now hear, however, that the authorities may not allow the matter to stay there. Further action is being contemplated.

Can I suggest a spell in the Big Brother house.


Hemel's Tory MP Mike Penning has just about sewn up the motorists' vote with a new demand for the scrapping of thousands of speed cameras.

Speed camera
Speed cameras are often seen as cash machines
He has tabled a Commons motion that will delight drivers suspicious that they are being used as a ready supply of cash through fines which are nothing to do with road safety.

Mr Penning points out the number of speed cameras on UK roads has risen dramatically over recent years and that ministers have admitted not all of them are "appropriately placed".

"Motorists are increasingly frustrated that many of them are installed as a cash raising mechanism," he says.

And he has urged the government to launch a thorough review of all speed camera locations leading to the removal of cameras which do not improve road safety.

Now, if he really wants to corner the market, what about "inappropriately placed" traffic wardens?


The high cost of using mobile phones abroad is a source of much irritation to travellers, including Baroness Trumpington.

During a Lords debate on the issue she asked minister Lord Truscott the following question.

"My GP recently gave me her private telephone number and I rang it to ask for some sleeping pills. Her reply was, "I am in Cairo". Who will pay for that call?"

The response as brief and to the point: "I am sorry to tell the noble Baroness that you both will".

Hold on a minute though. Are GPs in the habit of handing out their private phone numbers?

Now that's one improvement in the NHS we would all take advantage of.

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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