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Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Commons Confidential: May 2007
Nick Assinder
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons

The last time ministers "consulted" over plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations, the courts ruled the process had been less than helpful.

Sizewell nuclear power station
Ministers have launched another consultation into nuclear power
It was found the information given to consultees had been "wholly insufficient for them to make an intelligent response".

So, ministers have been forced to do it all over again. And this is how the Department of Trade's website gets things underway.

After a lengthy explanation of why tackling climate change and ensuring the security of supply are critical challenges for the UK, respondents are asked to answer the following question.

"To what extent do you believe that tackling climate change and ensuring the security of energy supplies are critical challenges for the UK that require significant action in the near term and a sustained strategy between now and 2050? "

I wonder what the right answer might be?


What is it about politicians and facial hair - Maggie Thatcher didn't like beards and moustaches (on her ministers that is) and neither, apparently does Tony Blair.

Alistair Darling
The current trade secretary before he found his razor
One of those to shave off their beards in the early days of the Blair revolution was current Trade Secretary Alistair Darling.

But we have never been furnished with an adequate explanation of this sudden conversion to smoothness. Until now.

And, would you believe it, it had more to do with the Scotsman's frugalness than a wish to please his masters.

Asked in a newspaper interview why he picked up the razor in 1997, he said he had become fed up with it long before.

Alistair Darling
And after - the smooth operator
"It would have come off the year before the 1997 election but I had had my election photographs taken and I was too mean to have them taken again".

So what about those bushy eyebrows, had they been a hindrance in your political career, he was asked.

"I've always been able to see beyond them - and I'm sure others can too," he replied.


Defence Secretary Des Browne seems fairly relaxed about his position under Gordon Brown. At least, relaxed enough to make jokes about it.

Des Browne
There's been speculation about Mr Browne's future
He told journalists in Westminster they had enjoyed a week writing about his imminent sacking after the crisis over the British personnel taken hostage by Iran earlier in the year and then given permission to sell their stories.

Talking about the Labour leadership battle, he added: "Now you can have another week writing about it."

At which point somebody in the audience shouted back: "You mean six weeks!"

He also said he had wondered whether to pull out of the date with the hacks: "But that would have meant I would have to have expressed a degree of regret that might have equated to an apology."

That, of course, is the phrase he used to the Commons when "apologising" for the decision on the sailors' stories.


Voters might be forgiven if they have trouble getting a handle on the half-dozen candidates in Labour's deputy leadership contest.

Harriet Harman
Harman say she is Radio 2 to Brown's Radio 4
So one of those candidates, Harriet Harman, has suggested a way of summing up their character differences - by using radio stations.

She told a campaign hustings that Gordon Brown was Radio 4 while she was Radio 2. Make what you will of that - but perhaps it's John Humphrys to Jonathan Ross.

Interesting, and encouraging that she limited her choices to the BBC.

Still, who wants to own up to being Classic FM, Virgin or even Kerrang?

Fit the names to the stations: Alan Johnson, working class boy made good; Peter Hain, smooth former anti-apartheid activist; Hazel Blears, pint-sized cheerleader; John Cruddas, former Blair aide turned voice of the people and Hilary Benn, "modern" son of New Labour's bete noire.

Well, that request for your ideas brought many replies, for which I am extremely grateful - it cheered up a very busy day so it wasn't just Gordon Brown with a grin on his face. Here are my favourites (that are fit to print) with apologies to the individuals and radio stations named.

From London, Michael Parker suggested: "John Cruddas- Radio 3- Full of good stuff, but nobody listens to it, and Peter Hain - Radio 1 - Was better in the 1970s".

Paul, from London provided the following: "Hilary Benn - Kiss 100 - radical, world famous pirate roots, but gone mainstream and not shining so bright these days; Peter Hain - Smooth Radio;Alan Johnson - Kerrang Radio - looks like he rocks.

Matt from Milton Keynes declared: "Who are they kidding? They're ALL Radio 4!"

I think you are all being very cruel to a well meaning body of men and women. But thanks.


No wonder Hilary Benn is having trouble getting enough MPs to back him as deputy Labour leader - he has what some might call one L of an identity problem.

Hilary Benn
Mr Benn has confused the bookies
Well, the bookies Coral seem to be in some doubt about who - or more importantly, what - the son of Tony really is.

A press release pointed out there had been some serious betting on Benn which had led to them: "Slashing her odds."

"All the money today has been for Hilary Benn to win the Deputy Leader job and we have been forced to slash her odds dramatically", said Coral's representative.

Still with Gordon Brown pledging to have more women in top jobs, perhaps Mr Benn should be delighted that Coral has covered his bets, as it were.


There's much talk about what Tony Blair will do when he leaves office - mostly centering around how many millions he will make.

Anti-G8 protests
Tony Blair says he will picket G8 with a placard
But now, according to the man himself, he may take his Africa campaign to the streets.

In a podcast on the Downing Street website, the prime minister is challenged by Bob Geldof not to forget Africa after his ambitious plans at the Gleneagles G8 summit failed to meet their target.

In his post-Downing Street life: "Will you be engaged in trying to, you know, shake that world?" asks Saint Bob.

"Yes, I want to stay engaged, certainly on Africa but on other things as well" says the prime minister.

"And, you know, at the G8 this year I will spend whatever capital is left trying to get the right result and then be outside the next one with my placard".

That is one promise we will expect to see kept.


Following John Prescott's famous awayday with civil servants - which saw him pictured playing croquet at his grace-and-favour country estate, Dorneywood - the issue of what to do with these opulent ministerial residences has been left unanswered.

Cruddas wouldn't occupy Dorneywood
Apparently nobody wants to appear too eager to move in to these mini-palaces, perhaps preparing for a more hair-shirt style of government under Gordon Brown.

Indeed the chancellor, who had first call on Dorneywood, refused it, leaving it to be handed to Mr Prescott. He has also hinted he may use Chequers less for personal pleasure than did Mr Blair.

So, as the Brownite new Puritans prepare to take over, deputy leadership challenger John Cruddas has been the first to state he is not interested in taking over where Mr Prescott was forced to leave off.

Interviewed in the Independent newspaper, he said: "I'm not interested in Dorneywood, thanks all the same.

"I am told it's a nice place, but I'm happier relaxing at home. I don't want any of the trappings or baubles".

I predict there will now be a queue of would be ministers, deputies and so on echoing that famous phrase of newly-elected prime minister Blair, that they will not be distracted by the "trappings of power".

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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