Andy McSmith's Diary: Cockerell's crowing ruffles feathers in Parliament


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Indy Politics

Parliament’s senior staff are not altogether pleased with Michael Cockerell, the journalist whose four-part television series on how the place works begins tonight.

They love the programme, but say he has sexed up a true story to get publicity for it. Or, as one of them put it, they accuse him of being a “typical fucking journalist”.

Last week, Cockerell told fellow journalists – including me – about what he believed was a plot by Tories to sabotage his programme. Supposedly the plan was to knock over the camera operator who was getting footage from the floor of the debating chamber, causing a break in proceedings which could then be blamed on the BBC. It was a great tale, but one that had somewhat improved with the telling.

Some Tory MPs did indeed object vehemently to the unique presence of a camera operator on the floor of the Commons and intended to obstruct the programme – but not by using physical force, I am firmly told. They planned to park themselves in front of the lens, preventing the camera from getting shots of anything but the backs of their heads. But word reached the Serjeant-at-Arms and the camera was moved. “I was not involved in any plot,” Alec Shelbrooke, the sturdily built Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, tells me. “However, I did not see the need for cameras as we are already filmed. I made it clear that I had no intention of changing my usual standing position at PMQs.”

The waiting game

An anniversary came and went yesterday. On 2 February 2011, the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw appeared in front of the Chilcot inquiry. He was their last witness. Once his testimony was done, all that remained was to write Lord Chilcot’s report.

A career resurrected?

David Silvester is running for office again. He is the 74-year-old independent councillor from Henley who was thrown out of Ukip for suggesting that last year’s floods were God’s punishment for a country that legalised gay marriage. A council investigation ruled that he had done nothing wrong. After all, he had only expressed an opinion – a somewhat Jurassic opinion, but that is what he believes. He told the Henley Standard: “I apologised if I had hurt any of the gay community and made it quite clear my wife and I have friends in the gay community and we bear them no malice at all. It was the Government who tried to change the law of God.”

Johnson’s family duel

“It’s bollocks,” Boris Johnson once said in reply to those claiming to have environmental objections to the planned HS2 rail link. “What they care about is their house prices.” In last week’s New Statesman diary, a resident of Camden, where house prices are in danger of being affected by construction work at Euston station, argued that the link should not extend into central London, but should end further west in Hammersmith and Fulham. That is the sort of thing Johnson was referring to, presumably, when he deployed that anatomical metaphor. The New Statesman’s guest diarist was Stanley Johnson, Boris’s father.

Enigma Coad

Diana Coad was reckoned to be the best-known Conservative in Labour-dominated Slough. She ran for Parliament three times, getting within 407 votes of taking Stourbridge off Labour in 2005, but two years ago, to her fury, she was removed from the candidates’ list. Approached by Ukip, she told them back then: “No, I’m a Conservative. I just can’t stand David Cameron.” Now she has changed her mind – not about Cameron: she still can’t stand him, but about being a Conservative. She has joined Ukip.