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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Ed Miliband breaches the spin doctors’ rules - he does good on the quiet


Ed Miliband has breached a basic rule of politics, which is that if you do good, make sure people know. For some years he has spent part of each Christmas Day delivering lunches on behalf of a charity, and will do again next Wednesday.

Though his office will not deny that it is on the schedule, they will not give any details, because they do not want any cameras or journalists following him.

It is commendable, but you can imagine that people inside the Labour Party whose minds are exclusively focused on winning the next election must want to scream at him: “If there’s no votes in it: don’t bother. Stay indoors with the family.”

What will Simon say now? 

“I don’t have to say the Government is wonderful because I’m not in the Government,” the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes told The Huffington Post in September 2012.

Today, 62-year-old Mr Hughes was appointed a minister for Justice. So now he will have to say everything in government is wonderful.

No news is bad news

Two years have gone by since Boris Johnson, the former Brussels correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, told The Andrew Marr Show: “I’d be amazed if we were all sitting here next year and the euro had not undergone some sort of change. I think it highly likely that there will be a realignment. We all know who the likely candidates are.” Ouzo, he further predicted, would be “substantially cheaper” within 12 months.

That was on 18 December 2011. A year has passed, and another, the euro has not “undergone some sort of change” and the price of ouzo is much as was. London’s Mayor must have had a year of being “amazed.”

Iron Lady, steely memories

The screenwriter Abi Morgan, whose credits include The Iron Lady, about Margaret Thatcher’s dying days, and The Invisible Woman, about the actress Nelly Ternan, who had an illicit affair with Charles Dickens, was asked in an interview for a forthcoming edition of Total Film magazine whether it was “intimidating” writing about Dickens. She replied: “He’s dead. It really helps. Margaret Thatcher... not so much. That was intimidating.”

Full-dress rehearsal for war

The coming year will be replete with of events commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War. Christmas 1913 was the last festive season of a settled, status-ridden social order that was to be destroyed in the killing fields of Flanders.

There is a taste of how things were in these excerpts from instructions published in The London Gazette of 19 December 1913, for the benefit of ladies who wished to be presented to the court during the following year:

“A lady attending a Court may present one lady, for whom she must be responsible, in addition to her daughter or daughter-in-law… Ladies may be accompanied to Court by their husbands if the latter have been presented, but gentlemen do not pass before The King and Queen… The dress regulations are: Ladies: Full Court Dress with feathers and trains. Trains not to exceed three yards in length from the shoulder. Gentlemen: Full Court Dress.” Those were the days.

Bercow’s law

It was thought to be a cardinal rule that no MP could accuse another of lying. In the Commons, the Labour MP John McDonnell, whose Hayes and Harlington seat abuts Heathrow, shouted “you’ve lied” at David Cameron so audibly that it is in the Hansard record.

Tory MPs expected the Speaker, John Bercow, to shoot him down and started barracking until Bercow ticked them off. “I know what I am doing,” he said. “I do not need any help. A reference was made to the treatment of constituents, not to observations that have been made in respect of MPs. I am clear on that and the procedure is extremely clear as well.”

So, we can call it Bercow’s law: no MP may accuse another MP of lying to MPs, but can accuse him or her of lying to voters – a lesser offence, to be sure.