Andy McSmith's Diary: Norman Baker and the strange case of passing the buck with the joint


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Norman Baker has been making use of the freedom of Parliament’s backbenches since he resigned his old job as a Home Office minister. Today, the Lib Dem MP took advantage of health questions in the Commons to put the case for legalising the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Before he was a minister, Mr Baker was a persistent champion of causes other MPs feared to touch. He wrote a book, The Strange Death of David Kelly, about the scientist found dead in a wood in 2003 after being caught in the crossfire of a row between Downing Street and the BBC over the integrity of the case the government had made for going to war in Iraq.

As the discussion about the medicinal qualities of cannabis moved along, the Labour MP Ian Austin asked: “Has the minister assessed whether the use of cannabis can result in paranoid and deluded behaviour, leading people to believe… that it is possible in this country to mount a huge conspiracy to pervert the course of justice involving the police, the ambulance services, the security services, the Government of the day and the media, and to pretend that someone who had killed themselves had actually been murdered?”

The minister, George Freeman, replied that the answer did not fall within his ministerial responsibilities.

Words of wisdom

David Mellor, the former Cabinet minister, may be feeling that the world does not love him after his charmless remarks to a London cabbie filled the front page of The Sun. He felt the same in 1992, when he was forced to resign from the Cabinet after a run of bad publicity that began with a story of extra-marital nookie. At least, back then, he had his friendship with the broadcaster Sir David Frost to console him. “I feel everyone in the world hates me,” he told Sir David. To which Frost responded: “That’s not true, David. You haven’t met everyone yet.”

Scottish closet disclosures

Pink News seemed pleased with the ministerial team appointed this week by Scotland’s new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. It pointed out that Scotland now has three openly gay ministers – though all are junior ministers: there are no “out” gays in the Scottish Cabinet.

That was just not good enough for Gregor Murray, an SNP councillor from Dundee, who tweeted: “Cabinet 10 per cent homophobic and 0 per cent LGBTI.” Prominent SNP members are very annoyed with him. But is there a homophobe in Ms Sturgeon’s Cabinet? Absolutely not, says the SNP.

Hack attack on the PM

A startling message popped up today on Rachel Johnson’s Twitter feed. The Mayor of London’s younger sister appeared to have tweeted: “@David_Cameron why are you such an egg-faced c***?” Another message, minutes later, confirmed that her account had been hacked. But was it Boris who hacked it, one wag asked.

No rules for the wicked?

No member of the House of Lords can ever be stripped of that privileged title, no matter what. Lord Taylor of Warwick, who has been to prison for expenses fiddling, regularly claims his daily tax-free attendance allowance. In June alone, he claimed £4,500.

The Lords is drawing up legislation to enable it to expel the most egregious offenders, but has decided that it will not be retrospective. The Tory peer Lord Finkelstein thinks that is a problem. He cited what he called “an entirely hypothetical example”. Suppose that a peer had committed perjury, but no one knew he had until years later, and when he was found out, it emerged that the offence predated the passing of the Act; so the liar could not be stripped of his title?

Danny Finkelstein had his fingers burnt when he was advisor to the then Tory leader, William Hague, who allowed Jeffrey Archer to be Tory candidate for London mayor. That decision blew up in their faces when it emerged that Lord Archer had committed perjury in a libel trial. He spent two years in jail, which in no way affects his right to turn up at the Lords and claim the £300 a day allowance, should he choose to.