Andy McSmith's Diary: Have you heard the one about the Tory whip and the ambassador? I have


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Indy Politics

The former Tory MP Jerry Hayes has a book out this week, in which he tells a jolly tale: “Sir Spencer Le Marchant was a legendary Tory whip. His job was to ensure that his MPs stayed to vote. One evening, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a Tory MP creeping down the steps to slink out of a vote. This seriously angered the old boy – and he aimed a kick which sent the MP flying, with the shout of ‘and you can fuck off, you lazy bastard’. 

“However, there was a slight problem. The ‘kickee’ wasn’t a Tory at all. Nor an MP. It was the Peruvian ambassador on his way home from a drinks party…”

Compare that with a story previously told in the book, A Long Lunch, by the late, great Simon Hoggart: “Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport was a Tory whip, and had a brusque, no-nonsense approach to his job. Seeing a Conservative MP leaving the Commons when a vote was imminent on a three-line whip, he ordered him to stay. The man refused, so Bromley-Davenport kicked him, hard. Unfortunately, he was not a Tory MP but the Belgian ambassador.”

Same anecdote – different whip, different ambassador. Most people will trust Hoggart as a raconteur more than they will trust Jerry Hayes, but I happen to know that on this they were both wrong. Actually, the offending whip was Sir Tufton Bufton, and the victim was the Ruritanian Ambassador, Don Keeko Miarce.

You’ve got to hand it to Ed

The Tories have carried out a textual comparison between Ed Miliband’s response to this year’s Budget and his speeches of previous years. This year, for example, he said: “It’s a classic Tory con. Give with one hand and take far more away with another.”

Last year, he said: “The Chancellor is giving with one hand and taking far more away with the other.” The year before: “All he is doing for ordinary families is giving with one hand and taking far more away with the other.” And the year before that: “Let me tell you what the Institute for Fiscal Studies told us this morning: ‘there is an awful lot of giving with one hand and taking away with lots and lots of other hands’. It’s the classic Tory con.”

He is becoming what was known in the old days as a stuck record.

Sir Peter’s silent history

Sir Peter Tapsell, the veteran Tory MP, had geeks reaching for back numbers of Hansard when he claimed during the Commons tributes to Tony Benn that he is the only current MP who was there in June 1963 during the passage of the Peerage Act that allowed Benn to renounce his hereditary viscountcy and return to the Commons. He said he “voted” for it, but “supported” would have been the more accurate word, because in the end it passed unopposed.

Tapsell was also there on another day in June 1963 when Harold Macmillan reported to the Commons on the Profumo scandal. According to Hansard, Tapsell rose to speak, there were shouts from other MPs of “sit down”, and down he sat. We shall never know what he was going to say.

Eagle pounds Lib Dems

The proposed new dodecagonal pound that will look like a pre-1971, 12-edged threepenny bit has a fan in Angela Eagle, shadow Leader of the House.

She told MPs: “It was good to see the Liberal Democrats’ role in the coalition memorialised with the new pound coin. It has about as many sides as they have members and it has two faces, just like them.”

Spoof success

The Government website Universal Jobmatch is “hugely successful”, the Work and Pensions minister David Freud felt able to assure the House  of Lords.

“But are you not just a bit embarrassed that it has about a third of a million bogus jobs on it, such as ‘M16 target elimination specialist’ or ‘International courier for Cosa Nostra Holdings’?” Lord Dubs asked.

Not at all, replied Lord Freud. Some of the entries are spoofs, he conceded, but they are fewer than one in 1,000.