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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Commons Confidential: March 2007
Nick Assinder
POLITICAL DIARY
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons
1200 GMT, WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH

With the government locked in a battle with MPs and peers to save its gambling bill it's nice to know ministers have retained their sense of humour over the affair.

Impression of the Manchester super-casino
Only some games will be played at the planned super-casino
One frontbencher has been telling the joke that is apparently doing the rounds of Whitehall about plans for the super-casino in Manchester.

It is being said that roulette, poker and blackjack will all be played in the new casino while the crap games will continue to be played in the stadium next door.

The minister's identity will be protected for his own safety.

1000 GMT, TUESDAY 27 MARCH

Well this is one way of convincing people the government has put security at the top of its agenda.

Security notice
Security check threatened security conference
Tony Blair was revealing the latest of his policy reviews - on crime, security and social justice - at a Westminster conference hall to which the media were cordially invited to attend.

Trouble was, when they got there they couldn't get in - thanks to security.

One reporter turned up in plenty of time to allow for all the usual body searches, iris scanning, DNA testing and so on (only kidding - that's next year) only to be barred from entry by a burly security guard.

Pleas that he was there to cover the prime ministerial event fell on deaf ears.

1230 GMT, MONDAY 26 MARCH

"Black ties; cigar smoke; whiskey in cut glass. Westminster runs the country, but the Whips run Westminster" - so goes the puff for the West End play "Whipping It Up" starring former Blair supporter Richard Wilson.

Richard Wilson
Did the Labour whips pick up a few tips from Richard Wilson?
One Labour MP was so intrigued he decided to take his family to the show and, perhaps, pick up a few tips.

As he settled into his seat he heard familiar voices from behind him and, turning to see who it was, spied a row of eight members of the real Labour whips office.

"It looked like the works do. They must have hired a mini-bus to get them there," he said.

So, if rebellious backbenchers find themselves being subjected to any new and unusual tortures in coming months they know who to blame.

1230 GMT, THURSDAY 22 MARCH

Gordon Brown has never really managed the "Mr Cool" approach to politics - despite his eyebrow-raising suggestion he listened to the Arctic Monkeys.

Kylie Minogue
Gordon Brown recently met Kylie Minogue
So he came over all unnecessary when quizzed on Sky about his recent meeting with pop princess Kylie Minogue.

Asked about the occasion, he said: "I happened to meet her - it was very briefly. I was talking to her and she is a very nice person.

"She was talking about some of the challenges she has had in her career. It was interesting but it was a very short meeting."

So, is Kylie a fan then, he was asked. "That's something you must ask her," he laughed before adding, haltingly, "I certainly think she's, er, a very good person."

Heaven help us if he ever bumps into Marilyn Manson.

1030 GMT, WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH

Gordon Brown is not the only MP fuming at Lord Turnbull's decision to speak out about the chancellor's alleged character failings.

Lord Turnbull at the public administration committee
Lord Turnbull kept his views on Brown to himself
Labour's Gordon Prentice is also fed up that the former cabinet secretary decided to keep his views to himself whenever he gave evidence to the public administration committee of MPs.

He has now tabled a waspish Commons motion declaring he: "regrets that these insights were not disclosed to the committee when he (Lord Armstrong) appeared before it on a number of occasions as cabinet secretary, thereby allowing members to question him on his real views".

And he goes on to repeat his call for all witnesses at such committee meetings to be required to give their evidence on oath.

What is he suggesting?

1530 GMT, MONDAY 19 MARCH

The anybody-but-Gordon group are still casting around for someone willing to launch what would appear to be a kamikaze mission and challenge the chancellor for the Labour leadership.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw is not planning to run for leadership
The latest name to have popped into the headlines is that of Commons leader Jack Straw.

The man himself, however, is less than enthusiastic, to say the least.

Told about a newspaper article tipping him for the contest, he unhesitatingly said he would not be standing.

But, he added, he would like to get the article in question to send to his mum.

Perhaps he slipped it into his Mothers' Day card on Sunday.

1530 GMT, WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH

We've all had them - those moments when you wish the earth would open up and swallow you.

Kim Howells

And so it was for the UK Foreign Office's Middle East minister Kim Howells when he was speaking about the security situation in the region to the Commons foreign affairs committee.

Referring to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for more than a year, he said: "If prime minister Sharon had lived......."

There was a long pause during which he realised something was not quite right.

"He is dead isn't he?" he asked before being corrected.

"If he wasn't incapacitated.....," he began before adding: "It's an easy mistake to make. And I just made it".

Perhaps not the sort of diplomatic approach one would traditionally have expected from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

1300 GMT, MONDAY 12 MARCH

That's a relief - apparently there is not a secret plot to abolish the House of Lords by killing off peers.

House of Lords
Peers have been reassured over asbestos
When Baroness Trumpington asked Lord Brabazon, in his capacity as chairman of committees, if there was any asbestos in the Palace of Westminster, she received the potentially alarming news that there were more than 200 sites where the substance had been discovered.

Much of it is deep within the buildings' fabric and difficult to remove. In any case it is only a threat if it is disturbed, she was told.

If that is the case, persisted the Baroness: "Why did two men tell me that they were going to take up the carpet in the Earl Marshal's Room to see whether there was any asbestos?

"Surely if you take up a carpet that has been tacked down, you are disturbing the asbestos underneath it. Perhaps it is one way to get rid of the noble Lords."

Lord Brabazon reassured her all investigations and removal of asbestos was always carried out in line with regulations and safely and had nothing to do with reform of the upper chamber. Probably.

0930 GMT, FRIDAY 9 MARCH

Tony Blair is asking voters to petition him through the Downing Street website, now Gordon Brown - or whoever else becomes PM after Mr Blair - is being offered similar advice.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown is being offered policy advice
Progress magazine has asked people to use its website to suggest policies or initiatives they would like to see the next prime minister introduce in his first 100days.

There are many suggestions but I suspect the following may fall under the category of satire.

Laban Tall from Dorchester has called on the next premier to: "proactively reach out to broad sections of the community on a multi-agency basis, while empowering a cross-section of service providers with a raft of sustainable initiatives".

That's easy for him to say.

1530 GMT, TUESDAY 6 MARCH

Politicians are always warned never to underestimate audiences of children or youngsters.

Smoking Chimneys in Beijing
Youngsters put environment top of their agenda
That goes double when the teenagers concerned have political ambitions (a touch of the William Hagues in other words).

So Environment Secretary David Miliband knew what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to attend a reception for winners of the parliamentary press gallery's 2007 schools' writing competition.

The theme of this year's project was the environment and there were some impressive entries - one, for example, from 16-year-old Andrew Mason from Auchterarder in Perthshire, studied the consequences of economic growth in India and China on the environment.

And when Mr Mason got the chance to ask Mr Miliband a question he wondered if the government was ready to follow Australia's lead and ban, outright all energy inefficient, filament light bulbs.

The minister spoke about the need to get EU agreements on things like this - leaving the youngster decidedly underwhelmed.

"He dodged the question really. I know this is a difficult situation and there are always going to be people who lose out from what you do, through job losses or lifestyle changes.

"But if things are not done now, the consequences in 100 years time will be huge and require much bigger lifestyle changes," he said later.

And I suddenly realised I was quite likely speaking to a future MP - once he has learned to dodge questions himself, of course.




SEE ALSO
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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