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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 15:48 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

As I wandered into the Westminster Arms, a well known political watering hole, on Monday night, I remembered one of my stranger ideas from Newsnight days.

Pub
A couple of after-work drinks had Martha reminiscing

It was the night of a very tight vote and I wanted to show MPs dashing back to the lobbies from the offices, pubs and restaurants which are all within the sound of the division bell.

So at seven o'clock I found myself in the middle of a crowded pub with a small DV camera pointed at a bell on the wall. You can imagine some of the comments from the drinkers.

Monday night was a more sensible occasion.

I had come to speak to a group of bright young civil servants called Women in Whitehall in a room above the pub.

We discussed media coverage of politics - is it too cynical? - and the treatment of female politicians. One civil servant felt that her minister had been the subject of unfair insults about her appearance.

Certainly I have seen women MPs getting abuse in the chamber. Siobhan McDonagh, for instance, has quite a high-pitched voice and one day some Conservative MPs started yapping at her.

Attractiveness

But then the men get a fair amount of flak too.

Remember Kermit, the frog in Iain Duncan Smith's throat, which indicated how nervous he got at PMQs? That certainly wasn't helped by all the Labour MPs coughing whenever IDS got up to speak.

I also told the civil servants about a recent blog which rated political journalists in order of attractiveness. One comment read: "Hmmm, reminds me to buy some Winalot." When I recounted that, the 50 young women in the pub all gasped at the same time.

The sketch writers had a field day about the combined pallor of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling as they told journalists about the proposed nationalisation of Northern Rock.

The prime minister was asked whether he was taking enough time off.

"Well, I was at a football match on Saturday".

"Oh, is that where you were?" remarked the chancellor sardonically, an interesting signal of defiance from a man who is often criticised for being the PM's poodle.

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling faces tricky Budget decisions over alcohol

The World at One on Monday looked into the detail of how Northern Rock would run as a business and in particular whether there would be unfair competition for other banks and building societies.

The British Bankers' Association told us of its concerns.

There is still the question of whether the European Commission will approve of the arrangement, as it could breach state aid rules.

The timing of the announcement was interesting. There is still a month to run for the EU deadline on the temporary support for Northern Rock but that would be uncomfortably close to the Budget on 12 March.

Even though the bill has now been passed it seems unlikely that the government will be able to draw a line under the affair and once again it dominated prime minister's questions.

We were down at Westminster as usual on Wednesday and it was one of those days.

Our main guest pulled out not long before we were due on air and it took some quick-witted production to find a replacement.

As well as discussing PMQs and the government's new rules for citizenship, we explored the issue of the media reporting of suicides in the wake of the Bridgend deaths.

Harmful behaviour

An expert from the World Health Organisation told us that if the method is reported, that can trigger "copycat" deaths.

The government's Director for Mental Health in England said on the programme that it was important to have a national prevention strategy, which has only just been announced in Wales. Scotland and England have both had strategies in place for years.

We continued the theme of the role of government in limiting people's harmful behaviour on Thursday's programme when alcohol was in the headlines.

The British Medical Association accused ministers of failing to take action on alcohol abuse and said they had become too close to the drinks industry.

Former Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt told us she had wanted higher taxes on alcohol but couldn't convince Gordon Brown to impose them.

While in office she had been accused of putting the "nanny" into the "nanny state", so it was a bit of a surprise when Ms Hewitt then started talking about youngsters getting "pissed".

I expect that caused a few splutters over the lunch tables of listeners.

Alcohol is a tricky area for the government and it will be interesting to see what happens to excise duty in the Budget.

With another Scottish chancellor at the dispatch box, is Scotch whisky likely to be protected again? Another subject for the Westminster Arms.

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