Andy McSmith's Diary: Low-paid Commons staff a redemptive cause for Jim Sheridan


The Labour MP Jim Sheridan made a monumental ass of himself over press regulation, when he suggested that Parliament amend the decision made in 1803 to allow journalists onto the premises, to exclude those he does not like. However, to give the man credit, he is battling valiantly on behalf of Parliament's low paid staff, who are having their working week lengthened and their overtime and anti social hours payments cut.

What has exercised Mr Sheridan is that while 561 staff are getting a five per cent pay rise, or more, another 716 are expected to settle for 2 per cent or less. He claims that the biggest percentage rises are going to those who are already the highest paid. The Lib Dem MP John Thurso, who chairs the House of Commons Commission, says that is not quite right,  because negotiations do not include the staff right at the top, who have had their pay frozen for three years. He doesn't deny, though, that is a substantial number of staff being paid £400 or thereabouts for whom the pay offer is worth less than £5 a week.

Alastair Campbell in press office at No 10

Downing Street has a new senior press officer drawn from another part of the civil service. His name, I kid you not, is Alastair Campbell. This will cause confusion.

No replacement bus for PM when trains stop

It was no fault of David Cameron that his arrival in Ipswich yesterday did not quite go according to plan. A power cable came down on the track somewhere east of Ipswich, causing chaos on the rails. The Prime Minister's train ground to a halt in Manningtree, between Ipswich and Colchester, and his party had to disembark and continue by car - to the great disappointment of hacks waiting at his destination, who were very much hoping they would see him and staff arrive in a replacement bus.

Huhne’s great escape from Lembit

Now that Chris Huhne has been transferred to an open prison, the threat no longer hangs over him that he might be visited in Wansworth by Lembit Opik. The self-publicising walking Lib Dem disaster zone that is Lembit has told a friend: "Judging by the now highly lenient conditions of Chris's incarceration, I'm presuming it's more likely he'll be able to visit me than me visit him."

Groucho Club becomes grouchy about privacy

The Groucho Club, a London watering hole for the rich, famous and successful, plus a lot of media types, has issued a stern tho those who darken its doors: "The Groucho Club is a refuge and inner sanctum. No matter who you are outside, once you cross our threshold you're treated the same as every other member.

"Recently a guest approached a member and badgered them for a photograph. The member who brought in the guest did nothing to intervene, which resulted in their permanent suspension. We expect our members to appreciate the circumstances and supervise their guests appropriately."

So, all you rich and famous types, behave yourselves.

Mr President gets call from Oxford

The Oxford University Debating Union has drawn hundreds of famous or prestigious speakers to take part in its debates over the decades, ranging from prime ministers to Cheeky Girls. This year, they are aiming higher than ever. They have issued an invitation to Barack Obama, who will be in the UK in June for the G8 summit. I am also reliably informed that they have invited Beyonce, who will also in the UK during the summer term, as part of a world tour. 

But if Obama accepts, I wonder what motion they will ask him to debate, and who will they find to speak against him? Come to that, who would speak against Beyonce?

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