The Diary: Just what the Tories need – cheesy national tokenism


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The Independent Online

David Cameron must think that putting Union Jacks on British driving licences is a really good idea. It is an idea the Government is seriously considering, and to make sure the Prime Minister is personally associated with it, the announcement was made via the press corps accompanying the Prime Minister at the G20 summit in Mexico.

Plastic driving licences, first introduced in 1998, bear an EU flag as required by EU law, but there is no legal reason why a second symbol cannot be added. It is just that the Labour government decided not to. But in 2015, the plastic licences are due to be replaced by new ones, containing a microchip, and a Downing Street spokesman said: "There's no reason why the British driving licence should have the EU flag but not the union flag. People in this country are proud of our national symbols. It's time that once again we allowed those symbols on British driving licences."

It will doubtless help in a small way to get the anti-EU wing of the Tory party off Cameron's back, but the former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, thinks it may be at the price of seriously inconveniencing Britons who go driving on the Continent. He thinks that there is a risk that police or rental car firms in other parts of Europe will think the Union Jack symbol means that the licence is valid only in the UK. "It is cheesy tokenism. Most will think the Government has more important things to do," he said.

A Sky party with no politicians in sight

There were so many politicians at the Sky summer party a year ago that you would think they were giving away free duck houses. That was when News Corporation was on the brink of acquiring 100 per cent of the firm. But how things have changed in 12 months. Tuesday evening's bash in the Oxo Tower was virtually politician-free, apart from the presence of the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. Last year's star guests, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, were also nowhere to be seen. And conversation was muted by the number of guests crowded round the television screen at the east end of the room, where the England-Ukraine match was broadcast.

Surely MPs deserve a proper rest

A few years ago, the House of Commons nibbled into their long summer breaks, which used to last from late-July to mid-October, by recalling MPs for a couple of weeks in September. The House of Commons Procedure Committee has been asking MPs what they think. Many, possibly most, complain that it is a waste of time and money being pulled back for just two weeks. The committee recommends a Commons vote on whether to bring back those lazy, hazy days of summer when they were away for 12 full weeks.

Hughes backs Hague for Clegg job

The best moment in yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions, when William Hague stood in for David Cameron and Nick Clegg, came soon after the maverick Tory Peter Bone, who wants an end to coalition and a minority Tory government, provocatively described Hague as his preferred choice for Deputy Prime Minister. This must have registered in the mind of the Lib Dems' deputy leader, Simon Hughes as he stood up and addressed a question to "the Deputy Prime..." then realised that he had dropped a real clanger. Hague wittily responded with a promise that he would not tell Nick Clegg what his deputy had just said. "It's between these four walls," he vowed.

Behind the scenes at the opera house

It is the sort of thing you might expect to happen in some cheap provincial theatre, but not at the Royal Opera House. The lead performers, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghium, met 20 years ago when they appeared together in La Bohème, married, split up, were reunited, and were appearing on stage together for the first time in ages, once again in La Bohème. It was a very big night for opera lovers – but, just when it seemed that nothing could spoil the occasion, the curtains packed up, reputedly for the first time in the building's history. Still, it meant the audience had the rare privilege of being able to watch the scene changes as they happened because, once the curtains were raised, after a half hour's delay, the management did not dare bring them down again.