Diary: Bercow calls for root 'n' branch change on trees


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The Independent Online

The 12 fig trees that beautify Portcullis House, the huge extension to the House of Commons on the far side of the road from Big Ben, may soon be uprooted. The trees have been there since the building was opened more than 10 years ago, but are not owned by Parliament. They are rented, at a basic cost of more than £30,000 a year.

An Evening Standard journalist worked out that the cost of nurturing them over a year probably exceeds £400,000. The implication that MPs could not give a fig about the expense was too much for the Speaker, John Bercow. He told the current issue of the in-house magazine for MPs, The House, that he was "horrified" by the news.

He added: "Inevitably and understandably it will cause people out there to think these people are living in another universe.

"The honest answer is I think the contract should absolutely be revisited. If we are going to have trees, they shouldn't be trees that cause us to fleece the taxpayer in this way, and that must change at the earliest opportunity."

Could card answer $15trn question?

The House of Lords was treated to a 10-minute speech last week by Lord James of Blackheath, from whom we have not heard much since he announced in 2010 that he was in touch with Foundation X, a "genuine and sincere" secret organisation that wanted to lend the British government £75bn.

David James was a City businessman commissioned by the Tories, in opposition, to report on ways of eliminating government waste. Last week, the 74-year-old peer was exercised about a story he has picked up that $15trn – that is $15,000,000,000,000 – belonging to "the richest man in the world", Yohannes Riyadi, was deposited in 2009 in the Royal Bank of Scotland. Lord James said he remains baffled after a two-year pursuit of the story, but has all the information on a memory stick, which he is offering to hand over to the Government.

His documents include a letter from the Bank of Indonesia telling him the whole story is a "complete fabrication". He took his concerns to the Treasury minister, Lord Sassoon, who said: "This is rubbish. It is far too much money. It'd stick out like a sore thumb and you can't see it in the RBS accounts."

And an alert Financial Times blogger said that had Lord James googled "Yohannes Riyadi", the first item to come up would be a warning from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that the name is part of an internet scam designed to get money from the gullible. Two agents are trying to trace who is behind it. Perhaps Lord James should offer his memory stick.

Readers well aware of Self dilemma

The writer Will Self is to be congratulated on becoming Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. Most professors emerged from university with first class degrees. Self got a third.

The story goes that after his final exam in philosophy, politics and economics, the dons called him back over the summer for an interview. This is a rare procedure used when they cannot decide what degree to award a student. It was especially rare in 1982, the year Self graduated, because of a rail strike. What made his case almost unique was that, allegedly, he was on the border between a first and a third, because his answers were so way out that his examiners could not decide if he was obscurely brilliant or a bullshitter – a dilemma with which Self's readers have grappled ever since.

Meryl packs 'em in for night on boos

Whether or not Meryl Streep wins an Oscar this weekend for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, she has a fan club of sorts in Argentina.

With the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaching, in Buenos Aires they are "filling the screenings, all the better to boo Maggie on screen", according to the French newspaper, Le Point.

One war veteran said: "If this had been on 30 years ago, I'd have set fire to the cinema."