Diary: Have a researcher on us, Pricewaterhouse tells MPs


Hazel Blears, the former Blairite Cabinet minister, is doing some sterling work trying to make it possible for youngsters who do not have wealthy parents or a place to live in London to work as interns in the House of Commons.

It is a problem worth addressing, since some MPs expect their interns to work for nothing. There are outside bodies which will subsidise interns, but Ms Blears is understandably wary of them. "There is always a danger that if a particular group are paying somebody to work in Parliament there's that sense in the public perception – have they got an axe to grind? Have they got a particular agenda to pursue?" she told the BBC.

A trawl through the current Register of Members' Financial Interests reveals that the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is more than willing to provide parliamentary assistants at no cost to MPs. The shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, for example, is being provided with research assistance for 17 weeks, a facility reckoned to be worth almost £60,000.

A commoner's problem

Princess Anne was also doing good stuff yesterday, visiting Twickenham to help promote the British Olympic Association's "nearest and dearest" campaign, the main purpose of which is to ensure that athletes are spared the worry of having to scramble for tickets for their parents to come and watch them in action. Publicity for the campaign yesterday made a special point of emphasising that the Princess Royal was once an Olympic competitor. You do wonder, though, how much trouble she would have had getting tickets for Mum and Dad.


Talking to the shrubs

Jessica Fellowes, author of The World of Downton Abbey, companion book to the series, regaled guests at yesterday's lunch hosted by The Oldie magazine about the origin of some of the characters her uncle Julian created. Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, pictured, played by Maggie Smith is apparently based on Julian's great aunt Ivy, whose early social training included being made to perambulate the garden and make small talk to each of the shrubs in turn, good practice for making conversation in adult life.


Red faces in the basement

Union officials are none too pleased at finding out what the basement of their London headquarters has been used for this week. The TUC earns good money hiring out the room at their London headquarters to outside bodies. The department in charge of taking bookings accepted one from an innocuous-sounding organisation with a title something like 'Business Partnering in the Police'. Later they learnt that their premises had been been used for talks between Surrey police and bidders for services the police propose to contract out. That is contrary to union policy, but by the time they found out, it was too late to cancel.


A famous day in Liberal history

Liberal Democrats will be gathering tonight for a dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of what they regard as a seismic event in modern politics. On 15 March 1962, the Liberal contingent in the House of Commons expanded by 16.7 per cent in a single evening. There was a by-election, in the safe Tory seat of Orpington, Kent, which the Liberal candidate, Eric Lubbock, won on a 22 per cent swing, pushing the total number of Liberal MPs from six to seven. It was the moment when the Liberals felt they had returned from the dead.

Lubbock, 83, lost his seat in 1970, but inherited his grandfather's title, Lord Avebury, the following year.

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