I saw Norma's egg-warmers
Sunday 24 May 1998
THIS is supposed to be a government of tired talents, but exception must be made of the Minister for Consumer Protection, Nigel Griffiths. The industry of this diminutive badminton- playing Scotsman continues to amaze. From DIY safety to the problems of Wendy houses, there is nothing too minor to attract his attention. These days he gets into his office soon after 6am - much too early for his staff. No problem. Hyperactive Nigel simply types his own letters, and drafts press releases for MPs who are supposed to mail them out to local papers.
THE baleful influence of Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio (but With Great Ambitions) should not be underestimated, but the latest example is surely wide of the mark, in every respect. Socialist Cricketer claims that Mandy is set to veto the annual cricket match between the New Statesman and Tribune on the grounds that cricket is Old Labour and soccer is Blair's game. Quite what Mandy's locus standi might be in the matter is not clear, but the Staggers' new editor, Peter Wilby, is pretty robust. "It may be politically incorrect, but the game will go on," he insists. The prize, of course, would be to tempt Wilby himself out on to the field. He was known as a demon bowler when he played for the Fleet Street Education Correspondents. And, since he turns his deaf ear to the umpire, virtually impossible to get out.
WHILE we are on the field of play, old Barbarian and England-capped Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, is rather glum that his kick'n'tell Diary of an Unlikely Lad is unlikely to find a publisher. His agent claims it is too scorching about life as a backbencher, and would rule him out of a place in government, for ever. All the more reason for going public, says Creevey. It is not as if Essex-born Del Boy, author of Rugby Disunion and the game's international almanac, is sitting on a safe seat. He has a majority of less than 2,000, and got that on an unrepeatable 14.5 per cent swing.
ALASTAIR Campbell's grip on the levers of propaganda power is complete with the appointment last week of John "Baldilocks" Williams to deputy head of the Foreign Office news department. Three of the PM's press secretary's old mates on the political staff of the Mirror are now in government: Williams; David "Bradders" Bradshaw, on the ludicrously-titled Strategic Communications Unit at No 10; and Sheree Dodd, number two in the press department at the Northern Ireland Office. "I'm a civil servant," protests Williams, "not a political appointee." And Thomas Creevey is a teetotaller who never misses Evensong.
GEORGE Brown, who, as Foreign Secretary under Harold Wilson, was to gin and tonic what Niagara is to water, once approached MI5 for evidence of Soviet links to Labour MPs believed to be fellow travellers, according to Prawn Cocktail Party, a book by spookwatcher Robin Ramsay. "Five" declined to tell him anything, afraid of revealing their sources within the Parliamentary Labour Party. Since Brown was a garrulous man, this shows sense. But the story prompts a contemporary question: who are the MI5 snouts in the PLP today? "Five" claims not to be interested in subversives anymore, the Cold War being over, and there is no need to spy on our legislators. Repetition displeases Creevey, but he refers you back to the end of the previous paragraph.
THE things they say. Baroness Blackstone, the egghead Education Minister, confessed in the Lords last week that her grandmother played poker every afternoon of her adult life "and made quite a lot of money out of it". But the Baroness thinks it is best not to encourage hoi polloi to follow her nan's example. The former head of Birkbeck College wonders "whether we ought to be introducing poker in schools - but perhaps that would be a little dangerous". Her preference is bridge, "a really good mind game which develops thinking skills and is an enjoyable social activity". Listen, they don't even play bridge at Westminster as much as they used to. There is a Lords-Commons Bridge Club, but Creevey understands that Fiona MacTaggart, Labour MP for Slough, is experiencing some difficulty in organising an All-Party Parliament- ary Bridge Group. A bridge too far?
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