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Andy McSmith's Diary: Labour MP Phil Wilson, Hitachi, and the Tory stunt that backfired


Phil Wilson, the Labour MP who took over Tony Blair's former Sedgefield seat, has been negotiating with Hitachi to make sure nothing stands in the way of their plan to open a new factory that will bring 750 much- needed jobs to the unemployment-ridden North-east.

He spoke about it in the Commons on 31 January. Eight days before that, he had recorded in the Register of Member's Interest that Hitachi Rail Europe had donated £5,700 to Sedgefield Labour Party.

What he failed to do was mention this entry in the published register during his speech.

That omission was spotted by a bright spark in Conservative Central Office, who thought he saw an easy way to get a “sleaze” story up and running.

All it needed was a patsy Tory MP to sign a letter of complaint to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, and a compliant journalist to run a story that Wilson was being “investigated”.

Since Ms Hudson cannot refuse to look at a complaint from an MP, and investigations take time, the vague implication that Wilson was somehow linked to sleaze would hang around unchallenged until her report came out.

I am told that the Tory official drafted a letter and asked the Tory MP John Glen – who was not answering queries about this matter – to pose as its author. He agreed to look at it.

Taking that answer as a yes, the official passed the letter to the ever-helpful Guido Fawkes blog, where it was published, with Mr Glen's name on it.

Four weeks have gone by since that letter went up on the web. No such letter has reached the Commissioner's office.

Apparently, when Mr Glen saw the letter, he wanted no part in it, and has apologised to Mr Wilson. The Northern Echo is reporting that the Conservative high command is worried that the stunt could damage their relations with Hitachi.

A barracking that Bercow deserved

The Commons got a bit noisy yesterday as the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, defended the withdrawal of the spare bedroom subsidy – otherwise known as the Bedroom Tax. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he felt for him as he was being barracked by the Labour MP Ian Austin, because “his noisy heckling... is worse than when he was heckling me at the University of Essex 30 years ago”. Given how right wing Bercow was in his Thatcherite youth, he probably needed barracking.

Archer opts to be the chosen one

Jeffrey Archer, thriller writer, failed politician and ex-jailbird, is an ambitious as ever, to judge by his comments at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, as reported in the Khaleej Times. “I have applied to be the Pope. If the Lord wants a sinner, I certainly want that. I would also like to be the manager of the Chelsea Football Club,” he said.