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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: I admit I made mistakes over Militant, says Jack Straw


Half a dozen former members of the Blackburn constituency Labour Party, who had the unwanted distinction more than 30 years ago of being the first party members expelled for belonging to the secretive Trotskyite organisation, Militant, have extracted an apology from the town’s long-serving MP, Jack Straw. Not over their expulsion: the former Foreign Secretary has no qualms about that, but in his memoir Last Man Standing, published last year, Mr Straw added a claim that the six were siphoning party funds to give to striking miners. He has now admitted, in a letter to the Lancashire Telegraph, that it cannot be true. These events happened so long ago that they predated the 1984 miners’ strike.

Taliban take it easy, making babies in Doha

It is disturbing that peace talks in Afghanistan have been stalled because President Hamid Karzai has raised objections over the opening of a Taliban “embassy” in Qatar. To be precise, it was not the fact that a Taliban delegation had set up shop in Doha that raised hackles in Kabul: it was television images of the Taliban flag flying above the building, and a banner proclaiming the “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

Afghan officials were expecting the Taliban negotiators to have a neutral address in Qatar from which to conduct talks, and nothing more. Their presence in Doha is nothing new, according to a report in the weekly French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur a month ago. It claimed that they were dropped off there by the Americans in 2010 and had been killing time ever since.

An Afghan diplomat was quoted as saying: “They have spent their time enjoying the air conditioning, driving around in luxury cars and making babies with their wives. It seems the only time they surface is when they have to go to the Afghan embassy to register their kids’ births.”

Baldry waxes lyrical on internships

“One needs walk-on parts to swell a progress, start a scene or two, to be deferential, or glad to be of use,” the Tory MP, Sir Tony Baldry, suggested as MPs discussed internships and low pay in the entertainment industry. The Speaker, John Bercow, thought this an odd thing to say, and asked if Sir Tony was being “autobiographical”. Actually, he was lifting phrases from T S Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, to make the point that that not everyone can play Hamlet. If he had wanted to talk about himself, he could have cited the lines that come afterwards – “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; at times, indeed, almost ridiculous”.

Why size matters when it comes to statutes

The Tory peer Lord Bates of Langbaurgh has been lamenting to fellow members of the House of Lords that Britons are governed by too many laws. All the statutes passed during the reigns of all the monarchs from King John to King George VI filled 26 volumes of that authoritative compendium, Halesbury’s Statutes. The laws passed during the current 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II fill 48 volumes.

Lord Bates said he was first delighted and then disillusioned as he examined evidence that this process may have been briefly reversed under Margaret Thatcher, who had vowed to roll back the frontiers of the state. “One gets a momentary frisson of Thatcherite zeal when one comes to 1986-87 and sees that the tide of legislation momentarily abates, before resuming its upward course,”  he said. “Then one looks at the footnotes and finds that it was in that year that the Queen’s printer moved from using the A5 page size to A4.”

So, Margaret Thatcher’s laws filled fewer pages because  her aides had doubled the page size.