Andy McSmith's Diary: Michael Ashcroft’s apology to Ed Miliband delights an old foe

Over a decade ago, when Baldwin was a political journalist, he wrote a series of pieces for The Times about Michael Ashcroft

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Tom Baldwin, who quit journalism to be Ed Miliband’s strategy adviser, has not looked happy these past weeks, which is not surprising given the way his boss has been put through the mangle. But he certainly perked up today – and all because of a mathematical miscalculation.

Over a decade ago, when Baldwin was a political journalist, he wrote a series of pieces for The Times about Michael Ashcroft, a non-domiciled billionaire who was bankrolling the Tory party. The dispute got personal. Lord Ashcroft – as he now is – threatened to sue, though there was an out-of-court settlement. He retaliated in his memoirs by accusing Baldwin of taking cocaine, and later implied that he had condoned hacking.

Lord Ashcroft caused waves last week when he published a poll from Doncaster North, Miliband’s seat, which put Labour on 40 per cent and Ukip on 28.

But when Anthony Wells, from the polling company YouGov, examined the small print, he found an error which, when corrected, put Labour not 12 but 29 points ahead of Ukip in the constituency. Lord Ashcroft, who takes the integrity of his polls seriously, promptly published a correction, and apologised to Miliband.

Hence Tom Baldwin’s sudden burst of cheeriness. “I knew I would get an apology from him one day,” he was heard to say.

Don’t mention the ‘C’ word

There is a website called theyworkforyou.com, which records all the speeches made in Parliament. Each day, they provide a list of the most popular searches. Today’s included “Penny Mordaunt, News International (cock), Penny Mordaunt, cock, David Cameron.”

How we love it when a woman in a position of authority uses a vulgar word or phrase. And I don’t mean “David Cameron”.

Firefighting for Mordaunt

One of the many surprises Mordaunt sprang recently was her announcement that she “trained as a firefighter” – experience relevant to her role as minister in charge of the fire service.

I tried to find out from her whether she ever fought a fire, but got no reply. However, the Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart has established that Mordaunt was referring to her experience as a Royal Navy reservist, which included training in chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear and damage control.

It is true: the Navy trains all its personnel to deal with disasters aboard ship. An assistant cook on a naval vessel could say: “I have trained as a firefighter.”

Marathon Tory filibustering

Sarah Teather, who is leaving the Commons after 12 years as a north-west London MP, hoped to achieve a modest reform before her time was up.

On Friday, the day when backbench MPs get a chance to introduce legislation, the Lib Dem put forward a Bill that would protect tenants who suffer “revenge evictions” after complaining to, or about, their landlords.

She had done the groundwork: the Government, some landlords, Boris Johnson, and the Labour Party backed her Bill, but two right-wing Tories out of the 70-odd MPs who turned out were against it. Philip Davies spoke for almost an hour until – unusually – the Deputy Speaker told him that he was guilty under Standing Order 42 of “tedious repetition” and made him shut up.

His confederate, Christopher Chope, took over and also spoke for an hour. If there had been 100 MPs backing the Bill, they could have shut Chope up as well by forcing a vote, but their numbers were down to 60, and Chope was still droning on when the session ended. Teather will be able to try again this week, but unless supporters turn out in greater numbers, her Bill is doomed.

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