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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Iain Duncan Smith’s unwanted army of jobless memorial cleaners

It would warm Tory hearts to see the unemployed preserve our heritage

Before David Cameron announced at the weekend that the long-term unemployed are to be set to work cleaning war memorials, it would have been a good idea for someone to ask the War Memorials Trust whether they wanted help from this particular source of unpaid labour. But the Trust did not even know the announcement was coming until it was all over the news.

The politics were tempting for the Tories. I am sure it would warm the heart of many a Tory to see the unemployed being made to work for benefits, helping to preserve our heritage when we mark the centenary of the Great War – but the complications could be more than officials bargained for.

“The War Memorials Trust could not engage with this programme as it does not commission any work,” they say. “With an estimated 100,000 war memorials in the UK there are almost as many custodians, and for any war memorial to be cleaned the permission of the custodian should be established.”

Okay, so suppose they have obtained individual permission from as many of the 100,000 custodians as they can – does the Trust think the idea is fundamentally sound?

“War memorials are an important part of our historic environment and shared cultural heritage,” they say. “It is important that they are treated appropriately. The War Memorials Trust often deals with cases where inappropriate cleaning has been undertaken which has caused a significant amount of damage.”

Another triumph for Iain Duncan-Smith’s Work and Pensions Department.

Pat calling the kettle black

Patrick Mercer, the ex-Tory MP, was gone before Parliament saw the full version of the report into his behaviour by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, including the things he said about some of his fellow MPs. He had a difficult time explaining his description of the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs committee, Keith Vaz, as “a crook of the first order”. What that meant, he told Ms Hudson, was that Mr Vaz is “a man who is extremely well connected”.

In his day, Mr Mercer had some pretty good connections himself, so I think it would be fair to say that he is “a crook of the second order”.

Sunny side up

News that Nigel Farage is the latest politician to be hit by an egg is an excuse to retell the story of Harold Wilson, who was hit in the face by an egg thrown by a Young Conservative named Richard Ware during the 1970 election campaign. The then Prime Minister’s reaction was to say: “Obviously eggs must be cheap enough to throw about. If the Tories get in, in five years no one will be able to afford to buy an egg.”

A hostage to fortune

Janet Anderson, who was third in seniority in the Labour government whip’s office in 1997, with the title of Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, had the daily task of writing privately to the Queen to tell her what had been going on in Parliament. This morning, extracts from her gossipy letters will be read out on BBC Radio 4, including one in which she reported that there had been “a rather bawdy exchange” about the Salford Health Action Group “and acronyms”. I wonder if the monarch understood the joke, or did a courtier have to explain it?

Another of the Comptroller’s duties is to remain in Buckingham Palace as a hostage during the state opening of Parliament, an understandable precaution on royalty’s part given what happened to Charles I. Prince Philip helpfully explained to Ms Anderson: “If we don’t come back safely, you’ll be shot.”