Andy McSmith's Diary: 'Flashy' new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale breaks his radio silence


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John Whittingdale has ventured out of the office in his new guise as Culture Secretary for the first time, showing up at the British Library, which has just received £9.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to preserve the nation’s sounds. There he listened to a fragile lacquer disc recording of a speech Noel Coward gave in 1947 on the first night of his play Peace in Our Time.

Through the crackles, Coward could be heard to say that it was “still a pretty exciting thing to be English”.

Not a brilliant choice, in my view. The last thing this government needs to be encouraged to do is to whip up a sense of English identity, provoking the Scots to break away, but Whittingdale saw the funny side of it, and told the British Library chiefs: “You picked this specially, didn’t you.”

He also reassured his listeners that he does not see the job as a step up to a bigger cabinet role – unlike almost every previous Culture Secretary. This is the only government job he would ever want, he said.

By the way, according to Hansard, his full name is John Flashy Lawrence Whittingdale. Actually it’s Flasby – and he’s not actually very “flashy”, not by parliamentary standards.

Love is blind for Burnham

A question that naturally arises from Andy Burnham’s emergence as frontrunner in the Labour leadership is what became of the man who once went on Blind Date with Mrs Burnham?

Dutch-born Marie-France van Heel was dating Burnham, a fellow student at Cambridge University, when in January 1992, she appeared on the Saturday night television show, hosted by Cilla Black, and was paired off with a tall youth dressed in dungarees and with an unruly mop of blond hair, named Will Harris. They went off to Gibraltar, but nothing came of it. Her relationship with Burnham was undisrupted.

Harris no longer has that fine head of hair: an ambitious forehead has driven his hairline way back. He is co-CEO of the PR company Mission. Previously, he was in charge of marketing for the Conservative Party.

Vaz saved for the nation

Keith Vaz has been on the phone. I misread the rules. He is eligible to carry on as chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, despite having served eight years, because of the technicality that he was not chairman for the whole of the 2005-2010 Parliament. He took over in 2007.

So you need not try to imagine news bulletins in which Keith Vaz makes no appearance: if re-elected, he will be popping up as regularly as ever.

Stand well back

A vitriolic online spat has erupted between two ex-MPs – George Galloway, who recently lost his seat, and Louise Mensch, who abandoned hers to live in Manhattan (hence the “New York” bit of a weird tweet that Galloway posted). Mensch lodged a complaint about Galloway’s parliamentary expenses, prompting him to allege that “a New York-Tel Aviv axis of evil” was out to get him. I ask myself, who would I back in a war between these two?

Galloway’s speciality is spraying nasty allegations about other people while liberally resorting to libel threats to stop others being nasty about him. His politics are ghastly too. But he had enough respect for Parliament to stay in it until the voters turned him out, and his intervention in the Scottish independence referendum was in a class of its own.

Mensch waltzed out of Parliament when it suited her, but considers herself still qualified to intervene in its affairs from 3,000 miles way. Lately she has been using Twitter to denigrate and harangue a 17-year-old Ed Miliband fan.

May they both lose!