Diary: A free meal with a lobbyist? No such thing


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The Independent Online

What is the collective noun for lobbyists? An inveigle? There will be aninveigle of them around Parliament this morning, when the Labour MP Paul Flynn opens a debate on whether the nation's £2bn lobbying industry should be more regulated.

Mr Flynn is not the sharpest of operators when it comes to looking after himself – he was the only Labour MP to make Ed Miliband his fifth choice out of five in last year's leadership election – but he can be formidably stubborn in pursuit of a cause. On Monday, he pulled off the rare feat of getting the Speaker, John Bercow, to admit that he may have made an incorrect ruling.

Mr Flynn had intervened during questions to the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, to ask why he had not declared a five-star dinner he had enjoyed at the Savoy, paid for by one of the country's biggest lobbying firms, Bell Pottinger. Mr Bercow ruled the question out of order on the technicality that when Mr Pickles registers his interests – or fails to – he is acting as an MP, not a minister, so cannot be questioned about it when he is at the Dispatch box answering questions as a minister.

Ah, but there is also the ministerial code, Mr Flynn retorted. The code says ministers must declare any hospitality they accept in "a ministerial capacity" – and Mr Flynn wants to know why Mr Pickles thinks he got a free dinner off Bell Pottinger if it was not because they want to lobby him in a ministerial capacity. So his question should have been allowed under the rules. "Perhaps it should have been, perhaps the fault was mine," Mr Bercow conceded.

There will be more about that Savoy dinner and the wealth of private contacts between ministers and lobbyists in today's debate. The Inveigle will be there, listening rather than inveigling. And after that, no doubt, lobbyists will be paying for lunches and dinners all over Westminster so that they can explain why Mr Flynn is wrong.

Menacing Denis

A series of photographs went on display in Parliament yesterday, showing a collection of our leading statesmen and stateswomen, past and present, looking solemn – with one exception. In the middle of the row there is a picture of a ferocious looking old man, sticking his tongue out at the camera. It is the former Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey, who was 93 when the picture was taken. Healey used to behave like that towards fellow Labour MPs whose judgement he did not rate, which – some say – is what cost him the party leadership.

Party piece

The UK Independence Party is delighted to report that the former Tory MP Neil Hamilton has been elected to its executive, bringing much-needed political experience to that committee. They might do well now to check that he has in fact joined Ukip. When senior Conservatives wanted to rid the party of this man who had done so much to damage its reputation, he gloatingly retorted that he could not be expelled because, although he had been a Tory MP for more than a decade, he was not a party member.

Cheers, Dave!

When David Cameron traversed the globe last week to join other Commonwealth leaders in Australia, it was noted that he spent as much time airborne as he did at the summit itself, discussing human rights, eradicating polio, and what happens if William and Kate's first child is a girl.

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was asked by an Australian journalist why the British Prime Minister was leaving early, skipping an official dinner and Sunday's programme of events. She replied that there were "a lot of pressures on people's time given issues in the global economy" plus the G20 meeting this week in Cannes.

What went unreported was that during his 38-hour stopover, Mr Cameron found time for something a little more relaxing than the global economy. He gave the press pack the slip, and headed off quietly in a white saloon car to the Sandalford wine estate in the Swan Valley to enjoy a private tour of the vineyards with Sandalford's chief executive, Grant Brinklow, and a spot of wine tasting.

This could all have been kept secret but for the modern social media. Before Mr Cameron's feet had touched British soil again, pictures of his "private" visit were out in cyberspace.