POLITICS: The Week In Westminster: Mr Blair likes surprises. So what about an election next year? Tories too busy self-destructing to punish Blair for his failures

PARLIAMENT BEGAN winding down for the Christmas break with Tony Blair on the back foot over his failing to deliver his "Year of Delivery".

An opinion poll yesterday saw 49 per cent of respondents opining that Mr Blair has not delivered. William Hague's spirited attack at question time shows how the Prime Minster skates on thin ice for not keeping his promises.

If there were an effective opposition, Mr Blair's government would be on the rack: this year was characterised by embarrassments over the London mayoral contest, Europe, beef, taxation, class sizes and hospital waiting lists. Yet in most weeks, Mr Hague and his team have been determined to wipe all these issues from the public consciousness by an orgy of near- suicidal self-inflicted wounding. Two brilliant performances by Mr Hague during the Queen's Speech and this week's exchanges with Mr Blair have been utterly squandered. Mr Blair is a truly lucky politician but even his luck must eventually run out. Normally it is governments which need to time to recover from mid-term blues.

The last thing Mr Blair wants is to give time for the Tories to recover. So next year might well be election year. Prime Ministers love to spring surprises - and don't forget, the new Blair babe will look so photogenic next October.

DAVID AMESS, Conservative MP for Southend West, has proved that genuine persistence pays. Using the regular recess adjournment debates which take place before Easter, Whitsun, Summer and Christmas recesses, Mr Amess has spoken on every occasion for two years arguing for funding to re-open the Palace Theatre in Southend - to the point of boring ministers and MPs rigid.

The saga has taken on soap-opera proportions but Mr Amess has won his battle and declared, in triumph, that the theatre opened last Wednesday. Sadly, Mr Amess, was unable to attend the gala performance of A Christmas Carol because he was delivering the glad tidings to the Commons.

ANDREW MACKINLAY, Labour MP for Thurrock, has a long history of opposing the House of Lords, to the point of advocating its complete abolition. But when it comes to Christmas goodies - chocolates, booze and general kitsch - for deserving family, friends and constituents, Mr Mackinlay believes that the Upper House is the winner. He has used the Commons order paper to criticise the stock of the House of Commons souvenir shop, which he derides as "bland, limited in range and in many cases over-priced". His motion, meanwhile, "regrets that this contrasts with the wide and imaginative range of reasonably priced, quality products in the House of Lords shop".

TONY BENN, Labour MP for Chesterfield, is leading the fight to retain the present complement of Commons doorkeepers, whose numbers are under threat from the outgoing Serjeant at Arms. Over 100 MPs have signed a motion tabled by Mr Benn, who raised the matter in the Commons with Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House. The plethora of new MPs with pagers, mobile phones, computer e-mails and faxes has led to a diminution in the demand of the services of the old-fashioned telephone message board. The doorkeepers, dressed in white tie and tails, have historic rights to enter the Commons chamber and committee rooms bearing the messages. Most senior MPs still prefer to receive messages in this way and Mr Benn believes the doorkeepers' services are "incalculable".

MEANWHILE, ALAN Duncan, Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton and the junior Tory spokesman for trade and industry, failed in his own attempt to apply the provisions of the Electronic Communications Bill relating to the conduct of MPs during committee sittings on the Bill.

Anxious to make his own contribution to modernisation, he was pleased to note that, for the first time, the committee clerk was using a lap- top computer and then asked the chairman, John Maxton (Labour, Glasgow Cathcart), if he could do the same. Mr Maxton replied that if the chairman and clerk agreed, the clerk was allowed the use of a lap-top. "However, the ruling of the Speaker in the House, which extends to committees, is that lap-tops cannot be used by Honourary Members," said Mr Maxton.

SPARE A thought for Margaret Beckett on New Year's Day when she will be on ministerial duty as the millennium-bug buster, commanding operations from 1 January until the all clear is sounded on 7 January. Mrs Beckett copped it last summer when she allegedly took a caravan break during the European elections campaign. On this occasion she makes no bones about who is in charge and what her duties are: "I am the fall guy if it all goes wrong."

AFTER LAST year's 17in-long Christmas card from Michael Portillo, recipients were expecting the traditional House of Commons card featuring the Crypt Chapel. But Mr Portillo has once again stuck to his "own brand", sending a splendid colourful print of The Three Kings by Leopold Kupelwieser (courtesy of the Osterreichische Galerie, Belvedere, Vienna). Friends said the cards were ordered before the by-election and he did not wish to tempt providence by ordering Commons cards in advance. In any event, his own card is far grander.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment