Andy McSmith's Diary: End of a Hungarian era? It's enough to Magyar weep


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If you walk along Greek Street in London on Monday night, you will hear a hubbub coming from the Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant. Every table will be filled with people apparently celebrating, though frankly they have not much reason to celebrate. The Gay Hussar in Soho has been famous for years as the watering hole where left-wing politicians gathered to plot, and journalists came to earwig.

Its walls are decorated with cartoons by Martin Rowson of its better-known customers. Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot, George Brown, Barbara Castle and Charles Clarke were among the many who came for goulash and intrigue.

A year ago, 160 loyal customers formed the Goulash Co-operative and offered to buy the business for £225,000. The owner, Corus Hotels, accepted the bid, only to have its main board, in Malaysia, demand a higher price, which the co-operative refused to pay. Monday’s “eat-in”, which the ex-Labour leader Lord Kinnock will attend, marks the anniversary of the Goulash Co-operative.

Organisers have invited Pauline Chai, a former Miss Malaysia and estranged wife of Dr Khoo Kay Peng, the billionaire Corus director, whom she is suing for a £500m divorce. She lives in the UK but whether she will turn up is another matter.

The poor men of politics

Labour MPs struggling on annual salaries of £67,060 will be heartened to know their old leader, Tony Blair, is thinking of them.

Writing in The New York Times, the former Prime Minister laments: “Politicians are not really well paid by the standards of those who are successful in the private sector. This restricts the attractions of a political career, at exactly the time when we most need the gene pool of our politicians to be varied, vibrant and vigorous.” He adds that “only an ex-politician can say this”.

Blair has been able to generate vast sums since he left office – £13m in a good year, though he also has an office to run and staff to pay, so he reckons his personal wealth is no more than £20m. Still, he must look back on his days in politics and wonder how he and Cherie got by on so little.

Has Bercow bitten back?

Journalists were surprised today about the manner in which the arrest of the Conservative MP Mark Pritchard became public knowledge.

Every morning when the Commons is sitting, MPs are issued with a document called the Order Paper, setting out that day’s business. In another document, Votes and Proceedings, is an appendix headed “Papers presented or laid upon the table”. In that section today, there was a brief note saying that the Speaker, John Bercow, had received a letter from the Metropolitan Police “relating to the arrest of Mark Pritchard”.

The fact that the Speaker’s Office put this news into the public domain set off speculation that Bercow was exacting revenge for an occasion almost four years ago when Pritchard shouted at him: “You’re not f***ing royalty!”

What makes this case unusual is that, for a whole day no one in the Met leaked news of Pritchard’s arrest, and that somebody actually read the appendix to the Votes and Proceedings. It is used to be said that the best way to keep a secret was to publish it in an official document. Not this time.

To dangle, or not to dangle…

Before news emerged of his arrest, Pritchard quibbled by email with my colleague Donald Macintyre, who had accused him of ending a sentence with a “hanging participle”. “What are hanging participles – surely ‘dangling’?” Pritchard asked. Macintyre conceded that he might be right, to which Pritchard responded: “In my advanced years – sadly everything dangles.”