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The Diary: The man who gives a fig for the trees of Portcullis House


The fightback has begun over Parliament's fig trees. The 12 trees that adorn Portcullis House, the building across the road from Big Ben, were exposed by the Taxpayers' Alliance as costing at least £32,000 a year. That is more than £50 per tree per week. When the Speaker John Bercow heard the fig figures, he dropped a heavy hint that the fig trees may have to be uprooted.

But John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP who heads the House of Commons Commission, which has responsibility for issues such as this, is not minded to lose the trees, though his Commission is negotiating in the hope of getting the cost down.

"Removal of the trees would lead to a noticeable increase in noise levels and reduced levels of shade, especially in the summer, where the glass roof would probably lead to a requirement for additional cooling," he said. "The trees also improve air quality."

The fig trees have been in Portcullis House for more than 10 years. If I were minded to place a bet, I'd wager that they will still be there in another 10 years.


A name to play with in the White House

Neither "randy" nor "bum" has quite the slang connotation in the US as it has here. Hence it is possible for someone named Randy Bumgardner to be the White House's Assistant Chief of Protocol without being required to change his name.

The sniggering amusement of the British hacks accompanying David Cameron on his Washington trip when Mr Bumgardner greeted the Prime Minister is perhaps inevitable; but it was in poor taste for the Labour MP Jamie Reed to send a tweet yesterday, purportedly addressed to George Osborne, saying: "Is this someone you and Dave went to school with?"

The number's up for some Tories

The group National Numeracy highlighted research earlier this month into the huge cost to the economy of people's inability to cope with numbers. They would be unreassured to know that the 40 Group, made up of those Tory MPs who hold the most marginal seats, has 41 members.


Timely tantrum by Radio 4's bell-ringers


Nothing is safe from the cutbacks, as this letter from a Hampshire resident, Janet Chatfield, in the current Radio Times illustrates: "As bell-ringers, we record Radio 4's 'Bells on Sunday' at 5.43am. We have noticed that the two minutes allotted has been shrinking – mainly because the news has over-run. This morning we got only 38 seconds. Please can we have our two minutes' worth, at the right time?"


Arresting option for 'good man' Lempik

There is an old saying that "you can't keep a good man down" – on which basis the former Liberal Democrat MP, Lembit Opik, must be a very good man indeed, because his run of setbacks since losing his Montgomeryshire seat in 2010 does not stop him repeatedly trying to get in the public eye.

His latest ambition is to be Liberal Democrat candidate for the new £80,000-a-year post of elected police commissioner for Northumbria. He was a Newcastle city councillor for five years, but his chances of being the region's top cop are remote. Even if the Libral Democrats adopt him, he will then have to persuade the Geordies to abandon their long established practice of voting Labour.