Diary: More VAT, vicar? Is this really what the Chancellor intended?


Ministers are using some interesting arguments to defend George Osborne's decision to slap VAT on alterations to listed buildings.

On Wednesday, David Cameron said the measure was aimed at people who have large swimming pools constructed inside their listed Tudor homes. The Culture Minister, John Penrose, has added in people who put loft extensions or conservatories to listed buildings. None should be allowed to escape VAT, they argue.

But more than 12,000 of the country's buildings are churches. Believe it or not, very few vicars have swimming pools, loft extensions or conservatories installed in places of worship, but an increasing number are having to find money for new roofs because the old ones have been raided by metal thieves.

Metal thefts from church roofs cost the insurance companies £173,000 in 2009, £2.2m in 2010, and £4.4m in 2011 – but that is less than half the story, because the bulk of the loss is absorbed by the Church of England. Amid this epidemic of theft, George Osborne had whacked up the cost of replacing a church roof by 20 per cent.

In a less secular age, he would have been excommunicated.

Don't strip for promotion, Eric

While the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dominates the news, a friendly word to the sub-editors on the Brentwood Gazette. That fine newspaper recently carried an interview with Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, in which it was said – and I quote – "Mr Pickles quashed rumours he has his eye on Teresa May's Home Secretary job." Teresa May is not the Home Secretary. She is a porn star, who strips to her underwear and beyond for the benefit of men who seek gratification from the internet. Eric Pickles doing her job would not be a pretty sight.

Cameron cools on PMQ appearances

David Cameron does not seem to be enjoying Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons. The evidence is not just how uncomfortable and edgy he was on Wednesday, but the speculation that the Commons is about to have yet another mini recess in the first week of May, set off yesterday when the leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, announced a parliamentary timetable that mysteriously ended on 30 April. There are nine Wednesdays between 14 March and the Queen's Speech on 9 May – nine occasions, in other words, when Mr Cameron might have been at the Despatch Box for his weekly joust with Ed Miliband. He has been at only two so far, and even if he turns up again next Wednesday, that will be just three out of nine.

Where Sugar leads, Portillo follows

Hot on the heels of Alan Sugar, a Labour peer, urging people not to vote for Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral election, the former Conservative minister, Michael Portillo, has announced that he is not voting for Boris Johnson. He is, by implication, backing the Independent Siobhan Benita as the only candidate in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. Though Portillo is nowhere near as well known as Lord Sugar, he was once a much more important figure in the Conservative Party than Sugar has ever been in the Labour Party.

Tell us what you really think, Anita

Respect to Anita Romer, a Liberal Democrat member of Northumberland County Council: she opened her big mouth, and spoke the truth. There was outrage in Seaton Delaval after the councillor said the town did not need a new takeaway, because it has 15 already, and its residents are getting too fat. The Newcastle Chronicle has checked, and it is true: more than 30 per cent of Seaton Delaval's reception-age children and 40 per cent of those in year six are classed as overweight or very overweight. Hang on in there, councillor.

Tate accused on Hirst funding

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of The Tate, has received a furious letter accusing him of misusing public funds by exhibiting works by Damien Hirst which "aren't art". People who think that about Hirst are many.

But this letter is signed by Julian Spalding, the former museum curator, whose earlier blast against Hirst's "subprime art" featured in this paper last March. He is demanding to know why the Tate allows "a phoney avant-garde to become the establishment".

The Tate declined to comment.

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