Andy McSmith's Diary: Sir Bob Geldof’s strange claim to common cause with plebs


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Indy Politics

“I came from a poor Irish, not particularly well educated background… I am in fact ‘a pleb’,” Bob Geldof said in evidence in the Old Bailey libel trial on behalf of his friend, former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell.

Not particularly well educated? A strange claim from an alumnus of Blackrock College, Dublin. Other old boys of that school, though not Sir Bob, are locked in battle with Ireland’s education minister, Jan O’Sullivan, who has threatened to legislate to force Ireland’s elite schools to widen the social mix of their intake, to give more children from poor Irish backgrounds a better chance of getting to university.

This threatened assault by the state on the private school system has outraged Shane Murphy a “Rockman”, who says: “Any threat to the ethos and traditions of Blackrock College should be resisted. A concentrated effort on the part of all past students and their families will likely be required to ensure that the current proposal is defeated.”

Fees at Blackrock College range up to €17,250 (£13,810) a year – not the sort of money your average pleb can afford to spend.

‘Only if it’s illegal’

A highlight of the evening event in the Commons held in memory of that courageous Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison five years ago, was a private exchange between the Tory MP John Whittingdale and Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of punk rock trio Pussy Riot, who endured 22 months in prison for her anti-Putin antics. Mr Whittingdale formally invited Pussy Riot to perform in Parliament. The answer was a polite “no”. She explained: “We only perform when it’s illegal.”

Blank expression

“What is the Russian for Pussy Riot?” the Labour MP Chris Bryant asked Masha Alekhina, who also survived 22 months in the gulag. The answer left him looking blank, so he asked: “Why did you choose the English phrase ‘Pussy Riot’?”

“Because you can pronounce it,” she replied.

Extraordinary strength

The courage of these people. Evgenia Chirikova is an environmental campaigner, not a popular cause in a country whose main export is fossil fuel.

She said Russia has four major exports – coal, gas, oil and corruption. She rebuked the UK, calling it the main repository of choice for money stolen by the Russian kleptocracy, but apologised for sounding emotional as she related that all the friends who had campaigned with her are “either killed, or died, or left the country or are in prison”.

There were some Russians who took notes but never applauded, so no doubt her remarks have been reported back. The following morning, Chirikova returned to her young family in Moscow.

Preventive support

David Cameron was very positive in his reply to the Tory MP John Baron at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Baron, a persistent Tory rebel, has been trying to get the Government to make a one-off payment of £25m to veterans of nuclear tests. Having previously got nowhere, he heard the Prime Minister say he has listened “very carefully,” that it is a “very important cause,” hinting something will be done soon.

His reply, of course, is no way connected to fears that if Ukip wins today’s Rochester and Strood by-election, the next Tory to defect might be John Baron.

Naming places isn’t easy

Nick Clegg conceded on his LBC show that his party is “not going to sweep to victory” in Rochester and Strood but the contest was on his mind. He took a call from a listener, Sue, from Stroud, in Gloucestershire. “You’ve got an election there tomorrow,” said Clegg. Stroud, Strood – easily confused.