His Diary: Novel way of getting even with Archer

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You can take the woman out of Liverpool, but you can't take the Scouse out of the woman. Edwina Currie is setting her next lid-off blockbuster in Merseyside of the Eighties, when Militant Tendency was in its heyday.

It will be fun to play Hunt-the-Hatton among her characters, and interesting to see if she plagiarises Neil Kinnock's greatest line about the city council sending redundancy notices to its staff in a taxi. No, of course it isn't plagiarism, merely research.

One Westminster-watcher commented that she might just make it as a serious writer - "like Jeffrey Archer". Groan.

n ABOUT that pounds 60m new Royal Yacht. The Opposition won't say yes, and it won't say no to the burning question "will you spend taxpayers' money on a new Britannia?". However, the usual senior sources insist that they will allow sponsors to contribute to the cost of building the thing.

Who? Ahem, some donors will be less welcome than others. Indeed, some will not be allowed to bid at all. Who can they mean?

AS Creevey observed last week, all this stuff about guerrilla warfare at Westminster is just so much hogwash. To recap: Labour and the Liberal Democrats have withdrawn from all co-operation with the Government, ending the agreeable practice of "pairing" which allows MPs to bunk off if a member from the other side does the same.

But human nature being what it is, private deals have taken the place of formal arrangements. So it was that the sleep of Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham and loudmouth Europhile, was disturbed the other night. He had gone to bed very early, but was woken by his pair, Nicholas Soames, the Armed Services Minister and Chief Baiter of John Prescott. "Can I go home now?" bellowed the great man down the telephone. "Of course, dear boy," assented the dazed MacShameless.

n A nasty little row is developing over who pays the ambulance that brought in the bedridden MP for Wimbledon (Wimbledon, Field Sports Party) for a vote on the NHS one night last week. He was driven the best part of a hundred miles from Wiltshire, and the House Fees Office has decreed that the taxpayer can stump up no more than the parliamentary mileage rate, which yields around pounds 150. It costs three times that to hire an ambulance for the night, so some one will have to fork out the balance. Not us, says his secretary. And not us, yells Conservative Central Office. Then who?

THE choice of Alan Clark to become the new Conservative Member for Kensington and Chelsea has delighted the Labour Party hierarchy. It sends all the wrong signals to the voters, they argue: rich aristocrat who lives in a castle, and one who never passes up an opportunity to point out the manifest failings of his party leader. A veritable own goal.

Hang on a minute, said one Labour stalwart. Maybe there's a hidden agenda. Our women's spokesperson, Janet Anderson, opera-loving, piano- playing MP for Rossendale and Darwen (Indiscreet Tendency), has said that under a Tony Blair administration, promiscuity will be obligatory. Or words to that general effect. By choosing the most self-publicising philanderer on offer, the Tories could be trying to overtake Labour as the Adulterer's Party.

n NICE place to slag off your staff, the terrace of a maharajah's palace in Jodphur. So it was not surprising to hear that John Birt was less than flattering about journalists working for BBC World Service television while holidaying in India recently.

His travelling companions were whingeing about the quality of the programming on the set in their room - the palace is now a very expensive hotel - and the director-general was heard to sympathise. Trouble is, it seems, too many of them are "refugees".

What does he mean? Bush House has a fine record of employing people who are genuine refugees from oppression in their own country. They bring a distinctive edge to the station. Perhaps the term is Birtspeak for television people who couldn't make it in the private sector.

IT'S not every day the diary gets a letter from a real earl, even if it is a mildly snotty one. The Earl of Cranbrook writes to complain about being taken to task for speaking "Malaysian". Creevey maintains this is a nationality, not a language. Oh no, says his lordship:"Your assertion is out of date. The language I claim to speak is the language of Malaysia, which the nation and the speakers in that tongue call the Malaysian language and have done so for three decades."

Let's ask the experts, in this case the London School of Oriental and African Studies. They side with Creevey. The language is Malay. That's what the language textbooks say. "But he may be right, pedantically speaking," they add. No wonder so many lecturers become politicians.

The earl is not above a bit of salesmanship, supplying with his letter an order form for his latest book, Wonders of Nature in South-East Asia. Enterprising fellow. Creevey met quite a few like him while on station in Singapore, where he failed miserably to learn Malay. Or Malaysian, for that matter.

n HATS off to William Hague, the Welsh Secretary. In sharp contrast to John Redwood, his sybaritic predecessor who only spent one night in the principality, t'likely lad from Yorkshire (the Tories have run out of Welshmen to do these jobs) stays much of the week in a spartan garret in the Cardiff Welsh Office. How he must envy the style in which the Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, lives, whose official Edinburgh residence is a palace.

There's something ruthlessly down-market about dear William. To the chagrin of his media minders, he has taken to staying in modest lodgings during visits to far-flung parts of his kingdom, where he entertains the local press over soda bread at breakfast. What next? A pointy Welsh hat for his pointy head?

THE PICTURE? A homage to Barry Field, the well-heeled, sailing, skiing, theatre-loving Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, whose decision to quit at the general election means he will miss out on his peerage. Westminster wags had already chosen his title: Lord Field of Cowes.

Paul Routledge

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