Andy McSmith's Diary: In office but not in power: curious case of Andrew Mitchell

 

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary, regaled journalists at a press gallery lunch with amusing tales from his days as Lib Dem chief whip. When Andrew Mitchell replaced Patrick McLoughlin as Tory chief whip, he apparently announced: “This place is like a sergeants’ mess. It should be more like an officers’ mess.” Carmichael noted in passing that the Lib Dem whips’ office was always just a plain mess.

Later, when Mitchell hit the headlines after his exchange with a Downing Street copper, Carmichael, as chief whip, sent out a text to Lib Dem MPs telling them to say nothing while the pro- and anti-Mitchell factions in the Tory party fought it out. Moments later, he turned on the television and who should he see holding forth on the Mitchell saga but the party’s president, Tim Farron.

Incidentally, behind the Speaker’s Chair there is a suite of offices reserved for the Prime Minister and senior ministers. Mitchell still has his Commons office there, although he has been out of government for 17 months. It is as if he was always marked for a comeback.

Crow’s pay rise

Congratulations to the Daily Mail for managing a final gratuitous swipe at Bob Crow just hours before his death. “My £145k pay? I’m worth it, insists Crow”, ran today’s headline, inviting the reader to believe that the RMT general secretary was on a £145,000 salary. He was paid well, but not that well: the figure is the total cost of his employment, including national insurance and contributions to the pension he did not live long enough to receive. His salary was around £96,000.

Meanwhile, it was gracious of Boris Johnson to pay tribute to Mr Crow, although a word missing from the original version of his Tweet altered its intended meaning. It said that Bob Crow was “a man of character who fought tirelessly his members”.

For disservices to PR

Lord Laird, the Ulster Unionist peer suspended from the House of Lords after being secretly filmed by Panorama discussing a retainer for asking parliamentary questions, has suffered a second humiliation: he has been expelled from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Quite a come down for the founder of John Laird Public Relations, Northern Ireland’s oldest PR company.

P as in Pompeii

The Northern Echo, in Darlington, reports receiving a charming press notice about an upcoming talk arranged by the Yorkshire Dales National Park at which Dr Barry Hoson will give a talk on The Toilets of Pompeii. The notice includes a number to ring “if you want to go”.

Home and away

A week ago, Stephen Williams, a junior local government minister, was lauding the success of the Government’s house- building programme, talking about the number of affordable homes and the speed at which they are being built.

In the Yorkshire Post I read that over the weekend an off-duty local government minister named Stephen Williams told delegates to the Liberal Democrat spring conference that he was “not a fan” of the Government’s New Homes Bonus. “I don’t think it’s an incentive, necessarily, for local authorities to give planning permission. I don’t think  it’s actually driving decision-making on the ground,” he said.

There is only one Stephen Williams.

The diaspora in action

Frank Cottrell Boyce, the screenwriter behind the triumphant London Olympics opening ceremony, was addressing a conference with the title Dissonant Voices: Faith and the Irish Diaspora at the Camden Irish Centre in north London at the weekend when he was interrupted by the unscripted appearance of five protesters in full red cabin crew attire, wheeling travel bags and ringing a bell. Some thought it was part of the show, but actually they were Irish pro-choice activists. No, the Queen did not parachute in to sort them out.

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