Andy McSmith's Diary: A month in the lucrative life of Lord Hanningfield


November 2013 was the last full month that the old jailbird Lord Hanningfield was able to stroll in and out of the House of Lords to record his presence so that he qualified for his £300-a-day allowance, blissfully unaware that the Daily Mirror had photographic evidence of what he was up to. One pair of photographs showed that he spent just 21 minutes on the premises, earning himself a handy £14 a minute.

There were 15 days in November when he could have clocked in, and details of peers’ expenses claims that have just been posted online show that he managed 14, thereby trousering £4,200.

By the end of November, Lord Hanningfield had spoken once in a Lords committee, though not in the debating chamber, and has asked three written questions since returning after serving prison sentence for fiddling his expenses. In those same 18 months, he claimed a total of £60,000 tax-free.

When it comes to shamelessness, you cannot beat a trougher in ermine.

Unconscious coupling

The Tory whips have been unusually busy, telling their MPs that they want a maximum turnout on Wednesday to vote through David Cameron’s pet scheme giving tax breaks for married couples. The Government’s majority will be down from normal because Nick Clegg and the other Liberal Democrat MPs are not going to vote for it. To Labour’s chagrin, they are not voting against either, which means that the measure will probably get through, but only just.

Banquet fit for a birthday

A belated happy birthday to Daniel Mulhall, the Republic of Ireland’s ambassador in London, who turned 59 on the very day that the state visit by the Irish President, Michael D Higgins, began. A banquet at Windsor Castle, with the Queen, the President and a glittering guest list, has got to be the smartest birthday bash ever had by a humble diplomat.

Nasty to Nadine

The Tory MP Nadine Dorries and journalists at The Daily Telegraph have not been best buddies for the past five years, since the newspaper looked into her expenses and she accused them of conducting a McCarthyite witch-hunt. So it fits in the scheme of things that her debut novel, for which she received a six-figure advance, was given a pasting by the Telegraph’s reviewer Christopher Howse: “If the story had begun at page 289, on which something happens, it might have stood a chance… This is the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years.”

It would be out of keeping for Dorries to take these insults quietly. She tweeted: “Daily Telegraph rejected review of my book they commissioned Christina Odone to write and got a bloke to write a spiteful nasty one instead.”

Donetsk and dragons

Donetsk, the steel city in eastern Ukraine that is now much in the news, was not always called Donetsk. It went through a phase of being named after Stalin, and before that, it was named Yuzovka after the engineer who founded its first factory in 1869, to make steel for Tsar Alexander II’s navy.

He had a name that could not be transcribed precisely in the Cyrillic alphabet, which has no letter “h” nor any letter or combination equivalent to our “gh”.

The man the Russians called “Yuz” was actually John Hughes, an iron master from Merthyr Tydfil. Born in 1814, he took 100 Welsh miners and steelworkers with him to build a factory and open coal mines in what was then an under populated corner of the Russian empire.

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