Andy McSmith's Diary: MPs should know better than to crack jokes about a colleague’s weight

Our man in Westminster

Will there come a point when Eric Pickles gets bored of hearing the boys at the top end of the Cabinet joke about his weight? The Communities Secretary reacted in his customarily good-natured way as George Osborne praised him for turning his department into a “model of lean government”. And how they laughed at this witticism on the government benches, none more loudly than David Cameron.

The Chancellor has visited this line of humour before. In his speech to the 2011 Conservative Party conference, he said: “Economic adviser to Gordon Brown – I’m not sure I’d put that on my CV if I was Ed Balls. It’s like personal trainer to Eric Pickles.”

But then, he was following the example of the Prime Minister, who raised a snigger at the previous year’s party conference by describing Mr Pickles as “the big man on the side of the people”, just after Nick Clegg had described him at the Liberal Democrat conference as the “only cabinet minister you can spot on Google Earth”.

The best political humour is aimed at an opponent’s actions or public image. Mr Cameron, for example, deflated Ed Miliband, who had been taunting him about Conservative splits over Europe, by retorting: “It’s not that bad, it’s not like we’re brothers or anything.” Cruel, but funny.

But joking about someone’s weight is the idle humour of the school bully, even if the person targeted appears not to mind. Likewise, jokes about  someone’s name, like this gross example from Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions – “It’s not just people at Wimbledon who are saying ‘new balls please’.”

Only one politician has made a good joke about Ed Balls’s surname, and that was right at the start of his political career. In 1994, after Gordon Brown had delivered a speech which referred to “neo-classical endogenous growth theory and the symbiotic relationship between growth and investment”, word went around that the author of these words was his newly recruited young researcher, Ed Balls.

“There you have it!” Michael Heseltine declared at the Conservative Party conference a month later. “The final proof. Labour’s brand new, shining, modernists’ economic dream. But it’s not Brown’s – it’s Balls.”

That was funny. All subsequent jokes about Ed Balls’s name are unfunny. Likewise jokes about Eric Pickles’ waistline.

Oh, for the life of an MP in the Gatsby era

The waves of envy that passed around the Commons chamber were almost palpable, as MPs were reminded of how much easier the lives of their forerunners were, in the days before they were expected to turn out to vote during the week and show up in their constituencies at weekends.

During a Commons debate on the lobbying industry, the Labour MP John Cryer strayed slightly off the point to describe the working life of Colonel Sir Walter de Frece, a theatre impresario best known in his lifetime as the husband of the music hall megastar Vesta Tilley, but who also doubled up as MP for Blackpool between 1924 and 1930.

“Despite the fact that he was the MP for Blackpool, he never went near the place,” said Mr Cryer. “In fact, he could not find it on a map. He struggled to find Britain on a map, because he lived in Monte Carlo. He came to Britain twice a year for the Budget debate and for Ascot.

“While he was here, he would get a pile of House of Commons notepaper and sign the bottom, and then his secretary would fill in the rest. It sounds extraordinary, but because he managed to reply to a few letters, he was regarded as a particularly brilliant constituency MP. Nowadays, not even in the safest seat could an MP from any party get away with such behaviour.”

There was a note of wistful regret in that final observation. How hard the life of an MP is these days.

Spin king Campbell all nostalgic in Oz

It is 10 years to the day since Alastair Campbell turned up on Channel 4 News to be interviewed live about allegations swirling around the suicide of the scientist Dr David Kelly. Tony Blair was not too happy about him doing it and the Tories gleefully put it around that he had gone off the rails.

Today found the old spin-master in Australia, just as Julia Gillard was axed as Prime Minister in favour of her party’s ex-leader, Kevin Rudd. “Watching the Rudd/Gillard fallout makes me positively nostalgic for the kind, warm, loving TB GB days. What a mess,” he tweeted.

The man wasn’t for turning away

David Lewis, a Neath Port Talbot councillor, is immensely upset about being axed from his position as the lead councillor for education.

He has written to fellow councillors claiming that he was “scapegoated” for the way he sat while they were selecting a new Director of Education, which was not his fault: it was because another councillor was smoking  e-cigarettes.

“He blew clouds of smoke throughout the meeting. I disliked the smell intensely. Not wishing to create a fuss, the simplest thing for me to do was to push my chair back and then lean back further and so avoid the smoke,” he wrote.

Odd, because e-cigarettes are supposed to have no smell.

Is it a lord? Is it a plane? No, it’s a car

What is notable about most members of the House of Lords is how slowly they move from place to place – when circumstances compel them to move at all. This cannot be said of Paul Drayson, ennobled by Tony Blair in 2004. The other day, Lord Drayson set a land speed record for a lightweight electric car by hitting a top speed in excess of 204mph at a racetrack at RAF Elvington, in Yorkshire. The previous record was 175 mph.

twitter.com/@andymcsmith; independent.co.uk/mcsmith

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice