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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 10:19 GMT
Commons Confidential: November 2007
Nick Assinder
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons

I know they have other things on their minds at the moment, but members of the government whips office really should pay more attention to security.

Gates to Downing Street
Most people have to pass through Downing Street security

Chief Whip Geoff Hoon and his entourage swept into Downing Street this morning, presumably for the latest crisis meeting on the dodgy donations crisis, but forgot to go through the niceties of a security check.

Apparently Mr Hoon is senior enough to be excused such a delay - but not some of the other individuals who failed to stop to for a body scan and to have their bags and pockets turned out.

The security officers on the gates were, I am reliably informed, less than amused.


The words "British jobs for British workers" clearly slip more easily from some lips than others.

Peter Hain
Mr Hain seems to have coined a new slogan
Gordon Brown has been bandying the phrase about while the Tories love pointing out it was a slogan used by far-right groups including the National Front and British National Party.

As a result, some Labour MPs simply find the words stick in their throats.

Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain has, however, come up with his own formulation.

In his Commons statement on welfare reform he declared: "Our mission is to get British benefits claimants into British jobs to become British workers."

So, is the new government slogan now "Every worker is a British worker".

I'm not sure that is quite what Gordon Brown has in mind.


Our MPs are not known for hiding their lights under a bushel, but a new survey has revealed some formerly unknown (at least by me) sporting achievements.

Helen Goodman
Ms Goodman is revealed as a good sport
Gisela Stuart, for example, fenced in the British team (Ladies foil) at the Birmingham international fencing tournament in the late 1970s.

Derek Wyatt's list of achievements includes once being the UK's leading long jumper at youth and junior levels, gaining a trial for the English rugby team then winning a cap at senior level before gaining a Blue at Oxford and playing for the Barbarians.

"I scored 147 tries for Bedford in 155 games and that record, set between 1973 and 1978, still stands," he told the House magazine.

Helen Goodman is my new sporting hero, though.

"At school I was third reserve in the hockey team and my worst moment was meeting Roger Bannister, who asked me 'what's your sport'," she revealed.

That's more like it.


Spare a thought for Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell who had to ease the transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown.

Sir Gus O'Donnell and Gordon Brown
The prime minister set a punishing pace for Sir Gus
It was pointed out to him during a hearing of the Commons administration committee that Mr Brown had hit the ground running with a relentless programme of ministerial statements on fresh policy initiatives - often several coming on the same day.

Things appeared to have settled down to a more sedate pace now, it was suggested.

"Thank God. I would have been dead by now if we had carried on at that rate," he exclaimed with some passion.


Foreign secretary David Miliband clearly has a bit of a recognition problem - at least amongst primary school children.

David Miliband
Children forgot who their VIP visitor was
He told political journalists of a visit he made to a local school when the headmistress introduced him to the children with the fatal phrase: "Our guest needs no introduction".

She then asked the youngsters to put up their hands if they knew who the tall dark man standing in their midst was. Blank looks all around.

"Come along children," chivvied the teacher, "we practiced this yesterday".

Despite the ego-popping reminder, still no hand shot up. "Oh do come on, he is a very important person for the school."

Suddenly, and to everyone's relief, that jogged one little lad's memory.

"Ooh miss, miss - is it the man who has come to fix the electricity?"

Not THAT important.


Iain Duncan Smith has welcomed former Tory minister and ex-jailbird Jonathan Aitken into his Centre For Social Justice saying he will bring with him exactly the first hand experience of prison life he is looking for.

Jonathan Aitken
Mr Aitken has insisted he is not returning to politics
Mr Duncan Smith went on to say that rehabilitation must lie at the heart of any criminal justice system, but stressed how hard it was to prevent re-offending.

All too often ex-prisoners found old friends "crowding around them" encouraging them back into their bad old ways.

What on earth could he have meant? After all, Mr Aitken has already insisted his appointment is not a stepping stone back into a political career as a Tory MP.


Brent South's Dawn Butler made quite an impression with her speech opening Commons proceedings before the Queen's speech on Tuesday.

Dawn Butler
Ms Butler might regret her kind words about whip
Tradition has it that the day's proceedings are kicked off with short, hopefully witty speeches by an older member and a new MP. Former sports minister Dick Caborn certainly rose to the challenge - while also revealing Gordon Brown has a nasty habit of forgetting to wash out his coffee cups.

Ms Butler also proved she is one to watch in future with a speech focusing on the need not to demonise all youths - listen to the voice behind the hood, she insisted.

She went on to propose the controversial idea that honours should be re-named Order of British Excellence and Merit Of British Excellence because dropping the word Empire would be modern and "sum up the people around the country and in my constituency beautifully".

However, she may regret her attempt to flatter chief whip Geoff Hoon who she claimed had "such a nice way of putting things that, even if he asked me to sit on the Crossrail Bill (parliament's version of the dripping water torture) I would probably be inclined to say yes".

She may not have spotted it, but at that point Mr Hoon took out a notebook and pen from his pocket and appeared to scribble something down.


The Downing Street website e-petitions page is littered with requests for entertainers, sportsmen, actors and so on to be awarded honours. But one seems to have done the trick.

Cbeebies logo
Presenter seems to be on a promise
The call to "put forward Cbeebies presenter Justin Fletcher for a OBE" has attracted 3,575 signatures.

Mr Fletcher's work helping children with learning and language difficulties through signing, specifically on the popular "Something Special" programme, is well respected and popular - but the petition is still short of the support given for the "make Jeremy Clarkson prime minister" one.

Still, it has prompted a response from the prime minister's office, stating: "Justin Fletcher's achievements in broadcasting are well known and respected.

"It is easy to see why so many people want to see his record formally recognised. This is underlined by the hundreds of people who have signed the e-petition on the No 10 website calling for him to be granted an OBE.

"The Government can assure you that your support for this suggestion will be taken fully into account."

Looks like a promising sign!


MPs demanding the right to queue jump in Commons bars, cafes and shops have been landed with a bit of a quandary.

Bottles of wine
A bit of a dilemma for MPs
The Commons' Administration Committee decided to impose the rule after complaints that, for example, members running to vote sometimes found their lifts blocked by staff wheeling trollies about.

There is one lift in particular that is reserved for MPs only and which gives easy access to the voting lobbies.

However, it has now been pointed out by staff that there is a potential conflict of interest involved.

The lift in question is the only one that travels all the way to the basement - where the wine cellar is.

The trollies that have been blocking the MPs' path have more often than not been ferrying drink to their restaurants and bars.

Well, politics is all about making choices after all.

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