Diary: Gordon Brown misses the boat on radioactive issue


It has been suggested Gordon Brown has not done much since returning to Parliament as a backbench MP. I am not one to join in this Brown baiting. For the record, he made two speeches in Parliament during 2011 – one, in July, on Rupert Murdoch's bid for BSkyB, and the other in November, on Dalgety Bay , in his constituency, where there is radioactive contamination.

And there is more. He tabled 16 parliamentary questions in 2011, almost one every three weeks. This year his output has increased to three in five weeks, all about Dalgety Bay.

The most recent was to ask the Defence Minister, Andrew Robathan, who was due to visit Fife, whether he would include the contaminated sites in his travel plans. I quote Mr Robathan's reply in full: "I am, at this date, at Dalgety Bay and am visiting these sites. My office notified the Rt Hon Member's office of my visit on 19 January."

Clarkson's ex emerges from his shadow

As if, after yesterday, Westminster has not had enough of dramas arising from marriages gone wrong, they will hear more on Monday. Alex Hall, the ex-wife – and allegedly also ex-post-marital lover – of Jeremy Clarkson, is to give evidence to the Privacy and Injunctions Committee about the super-injunction he took out against her when she decided to write a book about her life in his shadow.

The absurdity of allowances ... part 2

Days after the story emerged of a Tory councillor in Surrey who picked up a £1,133 allowance for attending a single meeting, an even more egregious case involving a Labour councillor in Darlington comes to light. It is worth saying, first, that if local democracy is to work, there has to be an allowances system that recompenses councillors for the hours they put in. Some councils pay per meeting attended, but that is an incentive to invent unnecessary meetings. Others pay a flat rate, which can also produce strange results.

Darlington pays a flat rate. Mark Burton was re-elected as a Labour councillor last May, and turned up to a meeting a few days later, which lasted half hour. That was sufficient for him to claim £6,689.16 in allowances, the Darlington Advertiser reports.

Mr Burton has not been to a meeting since, because days later he was arrested for sexually abusing a schoolgirl. The police then discovered a hoard of child pornography on his computer. He has spent more than half his time as a re-elected councillor under suspicion, but his allowance was not stopped until Wednesday, when he entered a guilty plea in Teesside Crown Court.

The council leader, Bill Dixon, has called on him to pay back the allowances.

A man used to being obeyed?

Nick Clegg is not completely incapable of exerting his personal authority, to judge from the interview he has given to the current issue of The House magazine. Invited to comment on how to be a good parent, the Deputy Prime Minister replied: "I have not got tips to give because I fail on every single argument. I've got quite disciplinarian about no computer games during the week at all. So I kind of won that battle, after weeks of attrition."

He also revealed that he has just finished reading The Somnambulist, by Essie Fox – an interesting disclosure from the man who, some might say, is sleep walking his party to electoral disaster.

The wrong week to be sleeping rough

This cold spell came at a bad moment for Claire Perry, the Tory MP for Devizes with an eye for publicity. She had arranged to spend last night sleeping on the floor of St Mary's church, in Devizes, to help raise money for the church's drop-in centre for the homeless.

"I am digging out the warm sleeping bag," she told the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. As you read this, they are probably chipping the ice off that sleeping bag.

An MP who offers unusual allegiances

John Horam is the only living person who has sat in the House of Commons as a member of three political parties. He arrived in 1970, as Labour MP for West Gateshead; he switched to the short-lived SDP in 1981, and fought and lost the subsequent election as an SDP candidate. In 1992, he popped up again as Conservative MP for Orpington. He stood down last year, aged 70. Yesterday, he re-emerged as a newly appointed commissioner of the Electoral Commission. "He brings a wealth of first-hand political experience," said Jenny Watson, head of the commission. She can say that again.

No hanging for Fawkes yet

If you were hoping to sign the blogger Guido Fawkes's petition on the Downing Street website calling for the restoration of hanging, you can't. The petition closed yesterday, 73,674 signatures short of the 100,000 it needed to have a chance of being debated in the Commons.

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