Andy McSmith's Diary: Nick Clegg – and the meeting with the Chinese ambassador that never was


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Indy Politics

More than two weeks have passed since Nick Clegg made a highly publicised announcement that he was summoning the Chinese ambassador to convey the British Government’s “dismay and alarm” over the treatment of demonstrators in Hong Kong.

On that day, David Cameron was in Birmingham for the Conservative Party conference, so the Deputy PM was minding the shop in London.

Normally, when an ambassador is summoned, he drops everything to make himself available. But this time, all that followed the Clegg announcement were days of silence.

Today, I rang the Foreign Office to ask what happened. Not a question for them, I was told: one for the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office.

So I asked the DPM’s office and, after less than four hours, a spokesman rang back to confirm that the ambassador and the Deputy Prime Minister never met. Having made his announcement, Clegg had to be in Glasgow for the Liberal Democrat conference, which caused a “clash of diaries”, I was told.

However, one day after Clegg had left town, the ambassador was available to visit the Foreign Office for a meeting with the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, which – in stark contrast to Mr Clegg’s announcement – received no publicity at all.

Very strange. I do hope there isn’t some inter-departmental turf war going on between the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister.

No one’s asked Austin

With Westminster watchers feverishly on the look-out for any Labour MP who might be thinking of defecting to Ukip, Simon Danczuk turned up in the Commons wearing a tie whose colour can only be described as Ukip purple. It signified nothing, he said: he is not defecting. Anyway he is not the prime suspect.

Austin Mitchell, the 80-year-old for Great Grimsby, is the name most often in the frame, but he says he is not defecting either. “No one from Ukip has even spoken to me,” he said ruefully. “Perhaps I’m not worth speaking to.”

Ed has the right Karma

Just when it seemed that Ed Miliband had no admirers left anywhere, that 1980s cultural icon Boy George has met the Labour leader at an awards ceremony and tweeted: “Ed Miliband, totally cool, no attitude, not creepy in any way. Very genuine and the nicest politician I have met. Period!” Perhaps he didn’t really want to hurt him.

Feeling the peer pressure

There is a by-election under way, and another pending, and both are getting less attention than those in Clacton or Rochester. The first is caused by the death of Lord Methuen, great-great grandson of an eminent Whig, the other by the death of Viscount Allenby, whose grandfather commanded the British forces in Palestine in 1917.

They were among 92 hereditary peers who kept their seats when the other hereditaries were removed from the House of Lords in 1999. Their deaths create two vacancies to be filled by elections in which only peers can vote, and the only candidates are men who hold titles.

“It’s completely ridiculous,” said Lord Foulkes, a former Labour MP, when I asked him how the by-election was going. “There are all these candidates I don’t know anything about who have written statements that make me want to vote for them. I voted for Wayland Kennet. He’s the only one I’ve heard of.”

Sorry, my lord, but you didn’t. Wayland Young, the second Lord Kennet, was a politician and journalist who, during the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960, was the first correspondent to get the word “f***” into a national newspaper – but he has been dead for five years. You have voted for his son.