The Diary: Big Ben boost could banish backbench success story

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The Independent Online

Visitors to the clock tower that contains Big Ben can thank a little known body called the Backbench Business Committee for saving them money. In its two-year existence, this committee has chalked up some small successes in strengthening the influence of the Commons at the expense of party whips.

It was through this committee that relatives of victims of the Hillsborough disaster were able to force a Commons vote on whether all the documents about that event should be released. It was via the same committee that backbench MPs, led by the Tory Robert Halfon, overthrew a proposal yesterday to charge visitors to Big Ben £15 a head.

Neither of these votes was a serious embarrassment for the Government, but there was always a next time, so, inevitably, the party business managers have devised a way to nobble it. This week, they pushed through a change to the way it is elected, so that its Tory members will be elected solely by Tory MPs, Labour members by Labour MPs, etc, thus giving the whips more influence. Some backbench MPs are seriously annoyed about this, including the committee's highly regarded Labour chairman, Natascha Engel.

In the Commons yesterday she protested that most backbench MPs had voted to keep the committee as it is. The Government's proposal got through only because 119 members of the government or opposition front benches turned out to vote as instructed. Ms Engel challenged the Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, to "explain the tortuous logic" of a government that promises more power to the Commons then sends in the payroll vote to take it away. "We have had that debate, and the time has come to move on," Sir George replied. Still, it was good while it lasted.

A coincidence waiting to happen...

The Times yesterday carried a flattering photograph of David and Samantha Cameron and Barack and Michelle Obama lined up in evening dress, while the day before their front page was adorned with another nice picture of Michelle and Samantha. Both were the work of Andrew Parson, Mr Cameron's "vanity photographer", who was briefly put on the civil service payroll. That arrangement was called off after a public outcry. Mr Parsons still works on commission for the Conservative Party, but a spokesman denied yesterday that he is in Washington for them. "We didn't even know in advance that he would be there," he said.

So did Lineker leave a tip?

They say that London taxi drivers are ruder than their counterparts in other capitals.

If so, that's bad, yet I can't help but feel a sneaking respect for the anonymous cabbie featured in this tweet posted yesterday by Gary Lineker: "Taxi driver just said 'never liked you as a player and not really that keen on you on the telly'."

Indeed, and what about those ghastly crisps ads?

Bad news for Labour in Glasgow

The Labour Party is going through a disastrous patch in Scotland. The latest development is that they have technically lost control of Glasgow city council for the first time in 40 years.

What finally tipped it was that a Labour councillor, Shaukat Butt, has been suspended from the party after being accused of assaulting his wife, bringing the Labour contingent down to 39 out of 79. This may not have any practical effect, since Cllr Butt says that he will continue to vote with the Labour group, but he is the ninth Glasgow councillor Labour has lost this year.