Diary: Penniless Labour decides that cuts must start at home
Under Tony Blair, the Labour Party used to attract the backing of people who could afford to donate the odd £1m without noticing it had gone off their accounts. Those billionaire backers have gone away. There is a plan being worked on in the party's new headquarters to effect a large increase in the number of small donors, but they are not coming fast enough to keep the party in the black. Costs exceeded income by £1.7m last year.
In Tony Blair's day a gap like that could be bridged simply by asking the ever-generous Lord Sainsbury to get his chequebook out, but he stopped giving when Ed Miliband defeated his brother in the 2010 leadership election. So yesterday Iain McNicol, the party's general secretary, sent an email to staff seeking volunteers for redundancy. It included this strange non sequitur: "If we are to show people we are serious about cutting the debts of the country then we must also cut the debts of the Labour Party." The party is saying they want to shed only "a handful" of staff from a complement of around 300.
Raking it in on the council
Serving on a local council generally means surrendering a great deal of time for minimal reward, but for Sara Cliff, a Conservative councillor, the reward for public service has been bountiful. Between June 2009 and January 2012, she turned up at 19 out of 52 meetings of Lincolnshire County Council, and claimed £23,000 in councillors' allowances. That is more than £1,200 per meeting. The ward she represents, Lincoln East, is one of the most deprived in the county.
The reason for her scant attendances is doubtless the time it takes to travel, because soon after she was elected in 2009 she took up a post as a Methodist minister in Soham, in Cambridgeshire, 119 miles from county hall. Martin Hill, Tory leader of the county council, told the Lincolnshire Echo that Ms Cliff's attendance record was "not good at all". Comments from the Labour side were less restrained.
Farewell to honest Lord Archer
I was sorry to learn yesterday of the death of the amiable Lord Archer of Sandwell because I was one of the few who knew that there was a peer of that name. There is not much to be said of him except that he was an honest, competent Labour Solicitor General, who for 20 years had been confused with that other Lord Archer, whose first name is Jeffrey, who was not Labour and who, on one notorious occasion, was not honest.
Inside the mind of Chris Mullin
The most entertaining set of political diaries to emerge from the Tony Blair era was written by Chris Mullin, former Labour MP for Sunderland South. This is not because they tell you anything about the pinnacles of political power, which Mullin never reached. The dairies describe the frustrations of being alternately a prominent backbench MP and an obscure junior minister struggling to make a difference.
Michael Chaplin, a northern playwright, turned the memoirs into a stage play, which attracted rave reviews at its first production, in Newcastle last May. It is now heading south to open this month in London's Soho Theatre, with John Hodgkinson again in the lead role.
At 6ft 4in, Hodgkinson is too big to be mistaken for Mullin, which could be a problem on stage, because what makes the diaries delightful are the many examples of Mullin being outmanoeuvred or taken for granted by people with more of an appetite for power, so it would not do for the person playing him to tower over everyone else. But those who saw the Newcastle production say Hodgkinson does a pretty good job of hunching himself up in a Mullin-ish sort of way.
"It's delightful to be inside the mind of Chris Mullin," he told me. "I love and admire him. I was a fan of his before this play was thought about, having read his diaries. I'm pleased to say he's every bit as delightful as he comes across in the books."
"I attempt to do a vague physical impersonation of him, but it wouldn't fool anybody. He is very much a small man in a world of big beasts, like John Prescott and Gordon Brown. There is intense frustration in the play, which comes across in self-deprecating humour."
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