Diary: Labour got terror measures right, May reveals... quietly

There were no fewer than 23 written statements from ministers tabled in the Commons yesterday. This is a device by which ministers make announcements on which they are obliged to keep MPs informed, but which are either too trivial, or too embarrassing, to be delivered out loud.

By far the shortest of these written statements was a four-line announcement by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that a new report was being made available to anyone who thought to ask for it. The report is from David Anderson, QC, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, on the effect of abolishing control orders, introduced by Labour after the London bombings on 7 July 2005.

These orders undeniably caused great distress for the 52 Muslim men who were subjected to them, and to their families. The wife of one said the experience was like "fighting a ghost".

But Mr Anderson concluded that control orders "fulfilled their primary function of disrupting terrorist activity", that they were "enforceable" and that there was "no evidence" that they were counter-productive.

They were abolished by the Coalition in 2011 because of concerns about civil liberties, and replaced by TIPMs (terrorism prevention and investigation measures). Of TIPMs, Mr Anderson concluded: "They are unlikely to further requirements of national security – rather the reverse."

So, the verdict of the official reviewer is that in this case, Labour was weaker on civil rights than the Conservatives, but tougher on preventing terrorism.

You can see why Theresa May's announcement was so short.

An extra helping of food for thought

The story about Cameron, party donors and private dinners in public buildings, wittily encapsulated in yesterday's Daily Mirror headline "Cam dine with me", is not new. Early in 2007, Mr Cameron had to make an unreserved apology to the House of Commons after the Standards Committee upheld a complaint from an MP about leaflets offering free dinners or lunches several times a year with the Conservative leader, in the House of Commons, paid for by the taxpayer, to anyone who put £50,000 into Tory party coffers.

The MP who lodged the complaint was the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, now a junior minister for Transport.

Figure not exactly on the money

I am told the residents of York were shocked to receive a booklet through their doors telling them that their city council planned to spend £354bn in the coming year. That is almost half what central government spends, but, mercifully, it was only a typo. They meant £354m.

Team player held his nerve

There is no mystery about why the self-effacing Tony Newton, whose death was reported yesterday, thrived as a cabinet minister under John Major, or why Mr Major described him as a "fully fledged human being with no sense of self... the ultimate team player". Newton was the only minister who knew the secret of John Major's affair with Edwina Currie, and he never told.

Not so obvious is what he was doing in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet. She did not think much of him, though she acknowledged that he was good at his job and popular in the Commons. The adjectives she applied to him – "stolid" and "left-inclining" – did not feature as compliments in the Thatcher lexicon.

On the day Mrs Thatcher was forced to resign, Newton was last in the line of cabinet ministers who filed into her office to tell her that she had to go. According to her description, he was "nervous" but "just about managed" to say what he wanted to say. Given that Newton was a kindly man who built his career on never saying anything controversial, and given the terror that Mrs Thatcher inspired, you can bet he was "nervous".

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