Diary: Our caller has a question for Ed 'laughing stock' Miliband...

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair called it the "masochism" strategy when in the run up to the Iraq war he put himself around studios and newspaper offices, coming face to face with the anti-war lobby, hoping that he could at least soften their hostility.

For Ed Miliband, masochism takes the form of going on air and inviting questions and comments from the public, at any time, on any subject. Yesterday, he soldiered through a gruelling phone-in on BBC Radio 5 live. "You're not going to be Prime Minister by any stretch of the imagination," one caller predicted. Another called him a "laughing stock." And Dave, a Labour voter, sorrowfully informed him: "You fail to inspire. It's really bad what you're doing. You're not inspiring anybody. People need to be inspired by their leader. You have never done it, you're not doing it now and I can't ever see you doing it in the future. I don't mean to be cruel but it's so important."

In a less grim moment, Miliband was asked what advice, if any, he had received from Tony Blair, and said that the old leader had urged him to "be himself". Sadly, most of the rest of the country seems right now to want him to be anyone but himself.

Hilton barefoot's run for Mayor

Joe Murphy, Political Editor of the Evening Standard, set an interesting hare running yesterday by posting a blog on the internet on the number of times David Cameron's favourite adviser, Steve Hilton, has been seen around Boris Johnson's headquarters on the south bank of the Thames.

The rumour is that Hilton – famous for padding barefoot into meetings in Downing Street – has his eyes on being the next Conservative Mayor, after Boris has moved on, and was having discussions about whether he would work with the Mayor in the interim.

If so, nothing came of it. Hilton is off in the summer for a year's sabbatical in California, where his wife, Rachel Whetstone, is Google's global head of communications. The impossibility of getting anything done quickly in Whitehall is said to have got to him.

But is it right that he was sounding out the possibility of working with Boris? "He is round there a lot," a reliable source tells me. "They certainly get on very well."

Big Ben strikes it rich

Guided tours of the clock tower that houses Big Ben, are so popular that visitors are advised to book four months in advance. They cost £15 a head. I see from a note in Hansard that the cost to Parliament of laying on tours is expected to come to under £120,000 next year, when they are expecting between 9,400 and 10,400 paying visitors. According to my maths, they could make enough profit to cover the £32,000 a year it costs to rent the 12 fig trees that adorn the atrium of Portcullis House just across the road.

The local councillor living in... California

Lucky Neil Fitzgerald, a Southampton Conservative councillor, is still receiving his £650 a month council allowance although he has moved away to take up a new job, in Los Angeles.

The council leader, Royston Smith, argues that it is cheaper to keep paying him until his term of office runs out in May than to have a by-election. The leader of the Labour group on Southampton Council, Richard Williams, suggests they stop paying him, declare the seat vacant, and forget the by-election, because the vacancy will be filled in May anyway.

Cathy dreams of coming a cropper

Channel 4's Cathy Newman has given the Radio Times a glimpse of her schoolgirl dreams. "At school, I had my heart set on being Kate Adie," she said. "And then I watched BBC1's political thriller House of Cards. The heroine Mattie Storin is a young journalist reporting on a power struggle in the Conservative Party... That gave me the idea that Westminster was a place of intrigue, excitement, power..."

It is also a place where you can come a terrible cropper. Mattie Storin was pushed off the roof of Parliament to her death, but happily young Cathy was not put off by that.