Diary: Stop bashing trade unions? They still won't vote Tory


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The Independent Online

Robert Halfon, one of the more impressive of the new bunch of Tory MPs, has delivered a homily on why Conservatives should be less negative about trade unions.

He suggests union members should be enticed to join the party by offering them a cut-rate membership at 50p a month, as well as getting "friendly" unions and trade associations to affiliate.

"Trade unions are still the largest membership associations in Britain and have far more members than all the political parties combined," Halfon, argues in a pamphlet entitled Stop the Union Bashing, published yesterday by the think-tank Demos.

"They matter first and foremost to British workers as a source of collective bargaining, but they matter also to the Conservative Party as a source of electoral support."

This follows hard on the heels of a similar warning from Lancaster's Tory MP, Eric Ollerenshaw, that the party is too southern and middle class.

But it is difficult to see what David Cameron can do about it. Even if he imposed a rule that every Tory candidate north of Watford had to be a union member who spoke with a regional accent, there is no guarantee the locals would be persuaded to vote for them.

Road rage in the Lords

There is nothing agitating the House of Lords more than the recent alterations to their car-parking arrangements. This week, Joel Barnett, the 88-year-old former Labour Cabinet minister, forced a half-hour debate on them – an act which scandalised Lord Brabazon, the peer in charge of administration, who said the official known as Black Rod had introduced the new parking regime to protect their lordships from terrorist attacks, and it should not therefore be spoken of in public.

Maurice Peston, father of the BBC's Robert Peston, retorted: "In my 25 years here, I have never known any attempt compared with that of the powers-that-be at present to stop a member of this House airing his views on a matter of major importance."

Parking? A matter of major importance? If that seems odd, try wrapping your mind around this, from Lord Barnett: "We have had a Black Rod since 1361 and it is very insulting to all of them to be told that they have left us in danger of possible terrorist attack."

Are we to conclude that parking arrangements in 1361 left the Lords vulnerable to a car bomb? Was King Edward III informed?

Soames, Thatcher and a 'resignation' to remember

There is a lovely insight into the euphemistic language of civil servants in the papers being released by the Thatcher archive on Monday. One of the bloodiest days of her regime was in July 1981, when she sacked three experienced Cabinet ministers. A schedule was drawn up for the day by a civil servant, including an entry that at 11am prompt, the Leader of the House of Commons, the late Christopher Soames, son-in-law of Winston Churchill, would come to her office to "resign".

Thatcher's biographer Hugo Young, writing while she was still prime minister, described the climax of Soames's 20 minute "resignation" thus: "He had never been spoken to by a woman, he told her, in the abusive way she had spoken to him then. His thunderous curtain lines could be heard out of the open window half way across Horse Guards Parade."

One wonders how Soames would have reacted if she had sacked him.

Baggs bags half a million bonus as water bills rise

Two weeks tomorrow, water bills in England and Wales will jump, on average, by an inflation-busting 5.7 per cent. In France, even bigger rises are threatened, prompting Le Parisien to compare prices in various European countries. The figures, in euros per cubic metre, are UK 3.79, Belgium 3.51, France 3.09, Spain 2.11 and Italy 0.88.

Well, the £500,000 bonus that Martin Baggs, head of Thames Water, reportedly received, to top up his £1.1m salary, has got to be paid for somehow.