Diary: Police chief poll battle hots up as Labour fields heavies


Though the idea of elected police commissioners came from David Cameron, it is Labour which has been putting up the heavyweight candidates for the first round of elections in November. There is John Prescott in Hull, Alun Michael in Wales, and Tony Lloyd in Manchester – former ministers all. The Tories had one big name in the form of the Iraq war hero Tim Collins, but he dropped out.

Five thousand Labour Party members on Merseyside will receive ballot papers this week, so they can select their candidate from a choice of two former ministers and the current chairman of the police authority – but the contest threatens to get personal.

The shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, who was brought up in Aintree but is now MP for Leigh, has urged supporters to vote for Peter Kilfoyle, a frequent critic of Tony Blair and New Labour.

But there is a history of friction between Kilfoyle and Liverpool's newly elected mayor, Joe Anderson, who is backing the Blairite former minister Jane Kennedy. Anderson sent an email to party members in Liverpool, reported in the Liverpool Echo, with the sarcastic retort: "I am sure we are all deeply grateful he has taken the time to tell us what we need in Merseyside and who he is backing (if only he had a vote)."

'Dismal Des' Humphrys?

John Humphrys, whose grasp of detail makes him so formidable an interviewer, has revealed a hitherto unknown detail about himself – he started life not as John, but as Desmond, Humphrys.

"Dismal Des" was the subject of a summer interview at Chelsea's Cadogan Hall, and told his interviewer Rob McGibbon: "I was actually christened Desmond, but I got whooping cough when I was a toddler and was in a terrible state. My mum was worried other children would start calling me 'Dismal Desmond' because I was so sickly, so she changed my name to John. To this day, no one has ever called me Desmond – and lived!"

Opik's opponent: Callous by nature?

Lembit Opik, the attention-loving former Lib Dem MP, is still nursing a set of bruises after he rashly entered the wrestling ring with a professional named Kade Callous, whom he had previously accused of cheating.

Mr Callous makes no apology for the fact that his protagonist had to be carried out on a stretcher. He said: "I don't know what Lembit thought he was doing getting in the ring with me... I showed the world what Kade Callous can do and that I am not to be messed with."

No need to apologise, Nick

It is a curious habit of people who have benefited from a good education that they are embarrassed to admit to enjoying good literature. This is not the way with people who had a rougher start in life.

Jimmy Boyle, the reformed Glaswegian gangster, was not in the least embarrassed to record in his memoirs the impact that reading Crime and Punishment had on him when he was in solitary confinement as the most violent prisoner in Scotland. Brendan Behan likewise recorded the powerful impression the novel made on him while he was imprisoned in a borstal.

On another page we report that Nick Clegg also read Crime and Punishment while locked away in an institution – in his case Westminster School. But he feels the need to add, apologetically: "This book hit me at an impressionable point. It sounds a bit pretentious [and] makes me sound like a rather joyless teenager..." No it doesn't, Mr Clegg – it puts you in the same place as the most intelligent men who have ever written about the British penal system from the inside.

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