Diary: The PM's masterplan to make Gazza the verger
Monday 21 February 2011
You won't believe this when it all looked so clear-cut, but the Cabinet seems bemused by the Big Society. Of the 25 ministers featured in an Independent on Sunday analysis of their efforts to lead from the front, 10 couldn't manage any response, while two (Andrew Mitchell and Jeremy *unt) cited charities they set up in Africa – admirable, but not much use in repairing the broken society here. As for David Cameron, he said, "I am saving my local pub and church hall", though without explaining how. Perhaps he means to install Gazza as the verger?
The best answer, meanwhile, came from Francis "Come Into The Garden" Maude. "I do... golly, what do I do?" We'll come to that below, but have a crack first. "I do a whole load of things." There, see what happens when you try. "I'm involved in my local church." Tremendous. And? "Um, gosh, that's a really unfair question cold." Indeed, indeed. Golly, gosh, though, what does Francis do when he's not slipping a fiver into the collection plate? According to intensive research, he is the minister responsible for selling the BS to the rest of us. And still this flagship policy struggles to leave dry dock. It makes not one whit of sense.
* Even more vulnerable than Francis in any reshuffle, we hear, is Kenneth Clarke. So it was a joy to see the old-timer on BBC1 yesterday doing his bit for the Big Society by helping Andrew Marr justify his £600k stipend. Ken won't be bullied by the right-wing tabloids over penal reform, he assured Andy, and spare his bones for that. However, the test of nerve isn't his, but Mr Cameron's. Will the PM defy The Sun and Mail, or confirm the growing hunch that his heraldic motto, above the push me-pull you suivant, is "U turn if you want to... but have the courtesy to let me complete my daily U-turn first"?
* With the Oscars on Sunday, Colin Firth has six days to fine tune his Best Actor winning speech. Given the 45 seconds allotted, any hilarious faux-stammering seems unlikely. So does any reference to not being first choice for George VI; nor even the second. But if the self-effacing Colin finds himself short of thankees, he could namecheck the dozen actors who, so a director told me the other night, made him lucky 13.
* Also in line for an award is Victoria Derbyshire, who tweaked the heartstrings on Radio 5 Live last week by interviewing "Rachel", an alcoholic GP off to rehab the moment she'd finished her crate of Guinness. It did go on a bit, and the impatient may have found Victoria's empathetic breathiness wearying. But the thought of the control room geniuses whispering, "keep it going, Vic, there's a Sony in this" into her headphones did wonders in defusing the mawkishness. With Esther Rantzen getting on, Victoria stakes her claim to replace her as that beloved national archetype, The Woman Who Cares, If Anything, Too Much.
* Still with awards, Tweet of the Week goes to Norman Lamb, parliamentary bag carrier (PPS) to Nick Clegg, for this. "I wonder, am I the only MP sitting on a bus at 11.20 on a Saturday night, signing constituency casework letters?" No idea, Norman, but you're definitely the only one pious and self-regarding enough to be tweeting about it in the belief that anyone cares. Now do pipe down.
* Sarah Brown's book about life in Downing Street is out today, and the revelatory highlights appear to be these: Gordon liked the X Factor, Berlusconi was a lech, and, um... as for Gordon's failure to provide a photograph to sit beside his predecessors in No 10, he's a busy man, what with popping to the Commons every third month. Since he can't carve an hour from his frantic schedule to sit for a portrait, I offer these time-saving suggestions for a pictorial representation of his days in power. Either a freeze-fame from his keynote YouTube address on MPs' expenses. Or, if there are copyright problems there, a 60cm x 80cm print of Munch's The Scream, available at £12.99 from popartuk.com.
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