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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Jeremy Hunt(s) for answers to all the right questions (if they’re sent in beforehand)


There is little spontaneity in Question Time in the House of Commons. MPs arrive with their pre-prepared questions, quite often supplied for them by the business managers.

Even when questions are not planted, a minister usually knows in advance what he or she is going to be asked by those on the government side.

Though all this is known, hard evidence is usually difficult to find.

However, I have on my screen a copy of an email sent to selected Tory MPs by the executive assistant to the special advisers at the Department of Health five days before Jeremy Hunt and other Health ministers were due to face the Commons.

“Good Morning,” it says, “I have received notice that you will be posing a question at the upcoming session of Health Orals. If it would be helpful for you to send the supplementary question that you intend to ask beforehand, then please send them over to me.

“This will, of course, ensure that the answer given in the House is as substantive as possible. With thanks and very best wishes…” 

The first supplementary question that Hunt had to answer came from a Tory MP, Alec Shelbrooke.

“I thank you for highlighting this important issue,” Hunt replied.

He added that so concerned was he about this very issue that just the other day ordered the NHS director of patient safety to look into it. What a coincidence!

Blair’s lost chance for war

South Africa’s Thabo  Mbeki has revived an old and odd story that Tony Blair once had visions of British and South Africans marching shoulder to shoulder to overthrow Robert Mugabe.

In an interview with Al Jazeera over the weekend, Mbeki cited a retired  “chief of the British forces” who had to ward off pressure from Blair to start planning an invasion of Zimbabwe.

That tale, often retold in the African press, originated with an interview that General Sir Charles Guthrie gave The Independent on Sunday in November 2007, in which Lord Guthrie said that “people were always trying to get me to look at” military action in southern Africa, but he advised them to “hold hard, you’ll make it worse”.

Mbeki now claims that he also told Blair where to get off. “We said no… Why does it become a British responsibility to decide who leads Zimbabwe?”

There is no doubt that after British troops successfully intervened in Sierra Leone, in 2000, people in government hoped that it would serve as a warning to Mugabe. It didn’t.

The rest was probably chatter.

Abominable namesake

Commiserations to Ian H Watkins, the Welsh singer who formed part of the 1990s group Steps, who  has had to come off  Twitter to avoid drawing any more abuse from  people who mix him up with that vile pervert, Ian Watkins, formerly of Lostprophets.

A faraway country...

It is good to see that the World Bank is not there  just to help the big boys.

Tuvalu, far away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is the smallest country on the World Bank’s books  and the fourth-smallest in the world, being just  slightly bigger than  Monaco.

The islands have suffered badly from the recession, and the Bank has granted them $3m (£1.8m) to put their economy back together.

The Queen is Tuvalu’s head of state. She has not been there for more than  30 years, and although Prince William and Mrs Kate Windsor made a  well-received visit last year, I do wonder how closely Her Majesty’s office is following the affairs of  this little corner  of her dominion.

On Her Majesty’s official website, it states that the Governor General of  Tuvalu is the Rev Filomeia Telito.

According to the Tuvalu Newsletter of 25 July 2011, Telito retired in March 2010, died on 11 July 2011 and received a state funeral on 14 July.

Ma’am’s website is nearly four years out of date.