Andy McSmith's Diary: Sting in the tail for Jack Straw, a bridge too far for Malcolm Rifkind


Sir Malcolm Rifkind is an aloof grandee who never took much trouble making friends or remembering names. Jack Straw has spent 35 years in the Commons being friendly and keeping his enemies to a minimum. Both, it is assumed, have destroyed their chances of being elevated to the House of Lords after the latest lobbying scandal, but Straw can take some comfort from the reactions of other MPs when he made a reappearance in Parliament today. As he was speaking in the Commons, the maverick right-wing Tory, Jacob Rees Mogg, interrupted to pay tribute to Straw’s “amazing chairmanship” of a committee set up to sort out the fractious argument over the appointment of a new Clerk of the Commons. “It was amazing to see so sophisticated and capable an operator steer us through... I hope he doesn’t mind me interrupting him to put that on the record,” said Mogg.

Meanwhile, as one of Rifkind’s former Cabinet colleagues, Lord King, was interviewed by the BBC’s World at One, the kindest thing he could find to say was that Rifkind may have been acting out of character because the undercover journalists interviewing him were young women. “I think he’s not the only elderly statesman who actually gets a bit carried away in conversation, egged on, as you could hear, by their invitation to talk about his influence and abilities,” he said.

In politics, as in showbiz, be kind to those you meet on the way up, you may pass them on the way down.

Hounded by the media

One of the funniest recent memories for those of us who watch the political parade is of the day the publisher Iain Dale lost his cool with a homeless protester, Stuart Holmes, who had placed himself in camera shot, disrupting an interview. As Dale wrestled him to the ground, Holmes’s dog took alarm and seemingly tried to bite Dale, but missed and bit his owner instead.

Holmes and his dog were in shot again on Monday when the cameras caught Straw in Whitehall. Once again, the dog took alarm, but this time he sank his teeth into the left leg of an already beleaguered former foreign secretary.

Sir Malcolm got the hump

Scotland’s first Private Finance Initiative project was completed during Rifkind’s time as Scottish secretary. It was the toll bridge linking the Isle of Skye to the mainland, which was the cause of furious protests and more than 100 arrests before the toll was abolished. Rifkind was one of the first to cross the bridge, to stay at the Skye home of the businessman Sir Iain Noble, which could be reached along a single road over a humpback bridge. One protester, a certain “Robbie the Pict” nipped in and erected his own toll booth on the humpback bridge, trapping Sir Malcolm.

End of the peer show

Three years ago, Lord James of Blackheath, a Tory peer ennobled by David Cameron, told the Lords he had evidence that “the world’s richest man” had $15 trillion dollars stashed in the Royal Bank of Scotland. Two years earlier, he claimed he was in touch with a Foundation X, who wanted to lend the British government £75 million. On Monday, the peer, 77, announced that he used to work for the Australian civil service in London, and oversaw the transportation of 2,500 children across the world. “I was accused of being worse than Jimmy Savile,” he announced. “Jimmy Saville might have been quite offended at that because he is being accused in relation to 300 children, whereas I have about 2,500 on my slate.”

He had been talking for about 20 minutes when – very unusually for the House of Lords – another peer interrupted to suggest that he shut up.