Diary: A nervous Prime Minister keeps Parliament under control


Following this week's reshuffle, a record number of people are being asked to do a minister's job without a minister's pay.

At least 13 will be unpaid – three in the Commons, who still get their MPs' salaries, and 10 in the Lords, who will claim attendance allowance. Grant Shapps has a new role as party chairman which gives him a seat in the Cabinet, but he has lost his minister's salary. Tom Brake, who is deputy leader of the Commons, and David Evennett, a Tory whip, are also unpaid.

This is not David Cameron's way of cutting costs. Nor is it a sign of political strength. Handing out ministerial jobs is a nervous Prime Minister's way of keeping Parliament under control. There is no limit to the number of ministers he can appoint, but there is a limit to the number of ministerial salaries. By getting 10 peers to serve in government free, he cuts by 10 the number of MPs who are hacked off because they have not got a job.

'I feel Jewish, but I don't know if God exists'

Stephen Hawking has turned his brilliant mind to the question of whether God exists in a series he has made for the Discovery Channel, the first of which will be broadcast on Thursday. We will have to tune in to hear his conclusion, but in the panel discussion at the Royal Society this week some of Britain's finest scientific minds seemed to agree it was not a question to which physics could give the definitive answer.

If they do not know, then I suppose we should not criticise Grant Shapps if he does not know either. He told the Jewish Chronicle: "I feel totally Jewish. I don't eat pork, we buy only kosher meat, and we don't mix meat and milk. I like being Jewish, and I married a Jewish girl. All of that makes me seem as though I am quite observant – but actually ... I don't know if there is a God or not."

An agnostic in charge of Tory party. Times have changed.

A serious insult for a Tory MP

The Government's two most recent job-creating initiatives, credit for house builders and targeted tax breaks for North Sea oil corporations, have not impressed the backbench Tory MP, Douglas Carswell. "It's crony capitalism, dishing out deals and favours. It all favours the big, the well connected … the Heath government tried corporatism," he says on his blog. In Tory circles, "capitalism" is not a bad thing; "crony" is a tad uncomplimentary; but to compare a Prime Minister to Sir Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher's predecessor, who so despised her that he refused to speak to her for more than 20 years – that is a serious insult.

Sir Raymond and the Falkland islands

An obituary of the former Tory MP Sir Raymond Whitney in yesterday's Independent said he favoured a "diplomatic solution" to the Falklands crisis 30 years ago. Though true, that phrase missed the drama of Whitney's intervention. After the Argentinian invasion, the Commons assembled, with MPs on all sides clamouring for war. The loudest noise came from the Tory right. Whitney was a right wing Tory, but as a former diplomat, he knew the Foreign Office was not convinced Britain had a legally sound claim to the islands. He suggested the UK negotiate before anyone was killed, which caused an uproar. Ten weeks and 904 deaths later, even Whitney accepted that a negotiated solution had gone, and he was appointed a Foreign Minister, whose brief covered Argentina and the Falklands.

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