Andy McSmith's Diary: Another schoolboy error corrected by the Eton boys


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Indy Politics

After the Conservative Party put an end to 40 years of being led by former grammar school pupils by choosing David Cameron as their leader, his fellow Old Etonian  Nicholas Soames is reputed to have remarked jubilantly that the “natural order” was reasserting itself.

Well, the good old natural order was back in business today as MPs trooped into an upstairs committee room to elect a new chairman of the Commons Defence Committee. With eight  candidates arranged in an embarrassed line in the corridor, the MPs settled on Rory Stewart, former diplomat, adventurer who walked 6,000 miles from Iran to Nepal, and Old Etonian.

The person with most reason to be disappointed was Julian Lewis, a lifelong and almost fanatical believer in a nuclear-armed Britain, who had high hopes of becoming a defence minister in 2010, but was bumped off the list to make way for a Lib Dem.

He was expected to win, because it was rumoured that he had the covert backing of the Speaker, John Bercow, and Labour support. In fact, after seven counts, he was beaten in the final by 226 votes to 212.

He went to a state school, by the way.

Don’t mention the Germans

With Ukip on the rampage and Euro elections only a week away, it might not be the optimum time to be reminded of when England was taken over by a German.

It happened in May 1714, after Queen Anne died childless, and rather than have a Catholic on the throne, Parliament sent for the Elector of Hanover to come over and be crowned George I.

To mark the tercentenary, an 18th-century Postkutsche set out from Hanover on Saturday, and on Friday, an 18th-century coach will proceed along Birdcage Walk to St James’s Palace, and then on to Kensington Palace, replicating George’s long journey from his homeland to his new kingdom.

His coronation went down badly in Scotland, and set off the First Jacobite rebellion – another good reason for keeping a bit quiet about the whole business.

Don’t cry for me, Gary Barlow

In the wake of Gary Barlow’s brush with HM Revenue and Customs, Andrew Lloyd Webber has revealed that he too tried out a tax avoidance scheme in the 1970s, under Labour, when the top rate was 98 per cent. It involved buying a forest.

Speaking after being presented with an Honorary Doctorate by the Prince of Wales at the Royal College of Music annual awards, he said: “Forestry was a tremendous thing and I was very pleased with my forest in Glamorgan somewhere. Then I got a call – and we were in the middle of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – and it was the Army. Why do I want to talk to the Army? There was silence, then they said, ‘Your forest is on fire.’ After that I thought I’d be better off just paying the tax.”

Hanningfield’s missing £300

An unusual story of self-denial by Parliament’s most renowned expenses fiddler has come to light.

Lord Hanningfield, the former Tory leader of Essex council, is currently suspended from the House of Lords after being exposed by the Daily Mirror last December clocking in and out to claim his £300 tax-free attendance allowance without actually doing any work.

It is a little known fact that there are two daily rates a peer can claim. If they believe they have done a full day’s work, they claim £300; but if they think that have only done half a day, they can accept £150.

Since doing time in prison for fiddling his expenses, Lord Hanningfield unfailingly claimed the full £300 every time he showed up in the building, though there is no record of him doing any work there – until December. The latest figures show that in December, he clocked in on 10 separate days, but instead of trousering the full £3,000, he settled for £2,700.

Could it be that exposure on the front page of a tabloid made him think twice about being greedy?