Andy McSmith's Diary: In politician-speak, we’re essentially going to win the Ashes

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Iain Duncan Smith has described his plan to introduce Universal Credit as “essentially on time” – an expression you might find useful the next time you are embarrassingly late without a plausible excuse.

The idea that “essentially” is the new euphemism for “not” did not much impress Labour’s shadow Leader of the House, Angela Eagle. “On that definition, living standards are ‘essentially’ soaring, the badger cull is ‘essentially’ a success and England is ‘essentially’ winning the Ashes,” she said.

The mere suggestion that the England cricket team is not marching to victory in Australia outraged the Tory MP Peter Bone, who accused Ms Eagle of “talking this country down”. “It is outrageous to suggest that we will not win the Ashes,” he exclaimed. The Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, agreed that to make a joke at the expense of the England team was “in very poor taste”.

Of course, when England won the opening match of the Ashes series in July, and David Cameron mocked Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by tweeting “A brilliant match and a brilliant win, don’t you think @KRuddMP?”, that was not “in very poor taste”. You can joke when England win, but not when England lose. Or did I mean “essentially”?

Morally, we’ll take the cash

As the row over the MPs’ proposed 11 per cent pay rise rumbles on, I dare any MP to echo the robust words of Jane Scott, the leader of Wiltshire Council, whose annual allowance has jumped from £37,335 to £52,227. An independent panel noted that by axing several senior management jobs, including the chief executive’s, the council had created more work for councillors, all of whom should be paid more, they ruled. Councillor Scott has told Marlborough News Online that she has a “moral duty” to take the money, for the sake of future council leaders. “The independent panel made their recommendation and I think it’s only right... that we take that recommendation.”

In Rochdale, meanwhile, there was something of a popular uprising after it was announced that the chief executive, Jim Taylor, was to have his salary bumped up from £130,00 to £170,000. The council has now retreated. Mr Taylor will have to get by on a 1 per cent increase,

Less than global briefing

It is a requirement on former ministers who leave government and are thinking of taking up other paid employment that they run it past the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to check for potential conflicts of interest. Since emerging from prison, Chris Huhne has followed this rule on each of his appointments, including his new role as a Guardian columnist. According to the record, “the Committee noted that Mr Huhne had had official dealings with The Guardian while in office, but that these had comprised of briefings, which had also been provided to all other major national newspapers”.

Oh, but were they? In October 2011, Chris Huhne tried to send a direct message by Twitter, but accidentally tweeted it to the world. He was inviting a journalist to write a story damaging to his fellow cabinet minister Theresa May. “I do not want my fingerprints on the story,” he warned. The intended recipient was Patrick Wintour, political editor of The Guardian. That was one briefing that was not “provided to all other major national newspapers”.