Diary: Something in the Reading air makes its politicians go potty


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The Independent Online

There seems to be something in the air in Reading East that turns its politicians funny. Labour took the seat in 1997, but their candidate, Jane Griffiths, went on to be the only sitting Labour MP in about 20 years to be sacked by a local party. The seat reverted to the Conservatives in 2005.

Now the local Tories are at it. They deselected a local councillor, Jamie Chowdhary, who had cancer. He has resigned from the party in Reading East and rejoined in Reading West.

Next in line for the chop is his fellow councillor, Mark Ralph, who wrote to the Reading Post saying that Chowdhary's deselection was "unprecedented and to be deplored". The Reading East party is assembling on Monday to decide whether Councillor Ralph's membership should be "terminated" for "bringing the party into disrepute".

The background seems to be a blame game over last May's council elections, in which Labour took back control from the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition that had run it for only 12 months.

Certain people blamed the defeated council leader, Andrew Cumpsty, who is on the way out. Councillor Chowdhary was dumped for being a friend of Cumpsty; Councillor Ralph faces the sack for being a friend of Chowdhary. Messy.

One is not amused, Sir Peter

With the row about border security exploding all around him, it would be fascinating to know what was said when – to quote Tuesday's court circular – "Sir Peter Ricketts (National Security Advisor) was received by the Queen". But conversations of that kind are top secret.

Home Office takes sting out of little prick

During his days as a Tory MP, Jerry Hayes boldly rugby tackled a man who had just bitten someone's ear off – he claims on his blog on the Dale & Co website – and then described the villain in the local paper as "a nasty little prick".

After getting a warning from the local constabulary that the "little prick", who by now was behind bars, was threatening to kill him, Mr Hayes wrote to the Prisons Minister. A reply came three weeks later saying: "Dear Jerry, thank you for your letter, I fully understand your concern. I have therefore asked a prison psychiatrist to interview Mr X. He assures me that Mr X has no plans to kill you any more. You might be interested to know that we released him a couple of weeks ago. I hope this is helpful?"

Mr Hayes added: "Helpful? In only the way that our beloved Home Office can be."

Doctor is driven to distraction

Vast numbers of teenagers or parents of teenagers will be familiar with the campaign that insurance companies seem to be running to prevent the young from ever getting behind a driving wheel – or to make sure that if they drive, they do it uninsured. Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, is one such person.

"I received a notice saying that I did not need to take any further action to continue my insurance with Tesco," she said, during a debate on the cost of motor insurance. "But the small print indicated that the premium had gone up from £900 to £5,700 as I am the parent of a 17-year-old boy. It would have been very easy to miss the fact that I could have spent very nearly two months salary on insuring my 17 year old."

Given that public transport has all but disappeared from vast parts of the countryside, it would be interesting to know how theses companies expect the young to travel.

What I got dad for Christmas – stoned

The late Sam Wanamaker, in a long and distinguished career, fought the Nazis, was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, inspired the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe on London's South Bank, and appeared in or directed countless films – and never knowingly took illegal substances.

I say "knowingly" because his actress daughter, Zoe, has revealed to Woman & Home magazine how his family once got Sam stoned for Christmas. "It was my mother's idea," she said. "She'd had a good time on some grass in California but knew he'd be resistant to the idea. So I made cookies and put some grass in them.

"We ate them with champagne, then my father went off to do something. Later he came down for dinner in a pair of jogging trousers, sneakers, his DJ and bow tie with his T-shirt. We went on to have a raucous evening."

Sounds fun, but given that Sam Wanamaker was under surveillance by MI5, it was not totally sensible.