Diary: Millionaire MP's hosepipe mystery will run and run

  • @andymcsmith

When the public are being subjected to an inconvenience like a hosepipe ban, there is nothing to beat a tabloid story proving that there is one law for ministers another for the rest of us. So one can imagine the delight in the news room of The People when their reporter returned from a visit to Englefield House, the £125m, 20,000-acre spread that is home to the Tory MP and junior environment Minister, Richard Benyon, having seen water gushing from a garden hose.

But it could be the newspaper that ends up in hot water, because Mr Benyon vehemently denies that he or his wife or anyone working for them turned on the water supply through that hose. He is suggesting that maybe somebody from The People did, and has contacted the police and the Press Complaints Commission. Like the water in that hose, this will run and run.

You bet it's bad for Ken Livingstone

None of the commentators called the result correctly in the run up to the Bradford West by-election, but the punters did. One leading bookie closed the book on a George Galloway victory because so much money was being bet on it.

After that humbling exercise, perhaps we should take shifts in betting patterns more seriously. That is bad news for Ken Livingstone because Ladbrokes reported yesterday that no one had put money on him for a week, and for the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick whom the bookies expect to be beaten by a previously unknown independent, Siobhan Benita.

The Green candidate, Jenny Jones, may also be in with a chance of beating Paddick – but not if her press team make many more mistakes like the one in a press release they issued yesterday in which she was quoted as saying: "London owes the elderly a better dead." It was followed by a hasty correction.

'Influential' Spicer damned by his own faint praise

Before you fork out cash for a politician's memoirs, you need to know whether the author was close enough to the centre of power to write a true insiders' account, or else you want to read a Chris Mullin or Alan Clark, whose sharp observations and concise writing compensate for their outsider status.

Michael Spicer, who was a lower middle ranking Tory MP for 36 years, was not a power broker and is not a great writer, but in The Spicer Diaries, published recently by Biteback, there is a degree of modesty rare among politicians.

He was a Thatcherite who served the lady loyally for 15 years and yet, he wrote, "my personal relationship with her was a difficult one... I was simply one of her foot soldiers".

He sometimes met John Major during his six-and-a-half year premiership, and yet - "how seriously did he take the several on the whole friendly meetings with me? The answer, I suspect, is 'Not very'."

After Major's fall, Spicer briefly assumed an important role as campaign manager for one of the leadership candidates, Michael Howard, but at their first campaign meeting – "MH overrules me on almost everything". Midway through "as usual in this campaign, my view does not prevail". In a field of six, Howard came sixth. David Cameron is absent from the diaries until he emerges as a candidate in another leadership election, in 2005. Five years later, he and Spicer speak, as this entry records: "Eve of poll. Cameron rings me. 'David here.' 'David who?' 'David Cameron. Would you be prepared to go into the Lords?' 'Yes please'."

According to the accompanying blurb Lord Spicer was "one of the most influential Conservative politicians of his generation."

Sweet nothings at NUT conference

As the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers drew to a close yesterday, the President, Marilyn Harrop, ticked off two miscreants sitting at the back who were engaged in "behaviour in a manner not becoming to the union". They were not threatening to strike or mouthing revolutionary marxist slogans – conduct not at all unbecoming of NUT members. Neither were they contemplating voting Conservative. No, according to my spy: "They were basically snogging. They weren't doing any more than that." But of course they should do that behind the bike shed, not up in the gallery during an NUT conference.