Diary: Lib Dem loss in by-election would be a salutary lesson


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Labour's Seema Malhotra is expected to take her place as Britain's newest MP after the votes have been counted today in the by-election in Feltham and Heston. Malhotra certainly should, because it would bode very badly indeed for Ed Miliband's future if Labour were to lose a seat made vacant by the death of the well-liked Alan Keen.

This is a seat, moreover, which the Tory MP "Bosnia Bob" Stewart visited and told the Tory whips, in a leaked email, "There is absolutely no chance of us winning there", which didn't make campaigning any easier for Mark Bowen, contesting the seat for the Tories for the third time.

What may be more interesting tonight is watching who comes third. A poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft put the Lib Dem candidate, Roger Crouch, on 10 per cent, but also showed that Lib Dem support was very soft, with only three out of five of their supporters saying they were "fairly sure" they would vote, while two out of five said they "may well" switch.

Subsequent events are not likely to have made those switchers any less inclined to switch, opening up the prospect that Mr Crouch could end up in a humiliating fourth place, behind Andrew Charalam-bous an ex-Tory running for the UK Independence Party. That would not make the Lib Dems any happier about being junior partners in a coalition.

What a sweetie lady you are, Anne

Anne Milton, a Tory Health minister was spending money like there was no recession in Parliament's gift shop yesterday.

Her shopping-list was laid on the counter for all to see. My informant noticed that her long list of recipients were divided into three headings "Big Sweets", "Small Sweets" and "Biscuits". Whereas members of staff were marked down for sweets, her fellow Health minister Paul Burstow was relegated to biscuits. But he's a Lib Dem, so he'll be thankful to get anything.

Technically, Andrew, you may be right

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has not had a brilliant year, having produced a hugely complex plan to change the NHS which only enhanced his reputation for being a policy wonk. But he takes some comfort from the developments in the eurozone, telling The Spectator that his own reputation "has the ancillary benefit that if things get really difficult and everybody demands a technocratic government, I might get to keep my job".

Another butterfly on a wheel

Richard Apperley, son of a Tory councillor in Stroud, Gloucestershire, was given an eight-month jail sentence by Cheltenham magistrates yesterday for growing cannabis at his parents' home – without their knowledge.

What was the point of sending him to prison? This is a man in his 20s, who has had a drug problem, illegally but harmlessly growing pot for private consumption. He was no threat to anyone, except himself, and no one is protected by having him locked in an overcrowded prison system.

We'd win, no question

Congratulations to The Sunday Telegraph for winning the Press Gallery annual quiz on Tuesday night. The Times, shamefully, came last, just behind the Financial Times. Independent journalists set and asked the questions, so there was no Independent team. If there had been, of course, The Sunday Telegraph would have had to be content with coming second.

And the femaleof the species...

Charlotte Vere, who ran unsuccessfully as Tory candidate for Brighton Pavilion last year, is furious with the BBC.

Their offence? On Newsnight, they had two female panellists being interviewed by Emily Maitlis, with no men in shot. Ms Vere runs a campaigning group, Women On..., dedicated to putting a stop to concessions such as this to 1970s feminism.

"Our state-run broadcaster decided to take positive discrimination to the extreme," she says. "By concocting a women-only programme, BBC Newsnight once more struck another dagger into the backs of women everywhere who just want to get on in life because they are good at something.

"The all-female line up continues to pander to the meme of segregation so espoused by Harriet Harman and her radical feminist sisterhood and yet, as we all know, if you are segregated, you are not equal."

That's one in the eye for you, Harperson.