Andy McSmith's Diary: The day Vicky Pryce's wheels of justice broke down

Our man in Westminster

The launch of Vicky Pryce's book, Prisonomics¸ on Tuesday night was a complete contrast with her court appearances. There were no photographers, no placards, no police, almost no journalists, no judge, no jury, nor anyone from high up the political establishments, except for a couple of ex- MPs. Her friends turned up, though, making a crowd big enough to pack the Dulwich bookshop where it was held.

Her two months as a guest of Her Majesty has convinced that far too many people are in prison, their numbers having risen while crime has been falling and public spending overall has been squeezed.

Her most absurd memory is of being transferred with another woman by van laid on by the security firm, Serco, from Holloway to East Sutton Park, an open prison near Maidstone. The van broke down, halted on the hard shoulder of the M20, than which there few locations more dangerous to park a vehicle. The women were not allowed to leave the van for the safety of the grass verge in case - both of being well advance into middle age - they decided to leg it across the open fields, in handcuffs. A replacement van turned up eventually, but its crew consisted of two men. Regulations say that female prisoners must travel accompanied by a woman guard. This caused another delay while the female guard in the broken down van contacted Servo headquarters to get permission to swap vans. At last, they set off, but then got lost in Kent and had to call in at a petrol station to get directions. The journey took four and a half hours.

Maybe Laws isn't so clever with figures...

Some people question why David Laws is back in government after having to repay £56,500 in parliamentary expenses that he had no right to claim, when Eric Illsley, who fiddled £14,000, lost his seat and went to prison. Perhaps it is because David Laws is so outstandingly clever that government could not function without him. Just how outstandingly clever he is was brought home to the Labour MP, Kevin Brennan, during a Commons debate, when he remarked that the schools minister had “a first-class degree from Cambridge.” Mr Laws corrected him: it was a double first. “A double first class degree!” Mr Brennan repeated, reeling in amazement.

A cynic might ask how someone with a double first at Cambridge could get so muddled that he thought it was ok to claim that £56,600.

Lifesaver Gilbert fails to rescue his boss

The Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert has received well deserved accolades for saving a woman's life by throwing a life ring to what looked like a corpse floating down past the House of Commons terrace late on Tuesday evening. Mr Gilbert is parliamentary secretary to the Energy Secretary Ed Davey, who not many hours later had to sit through Prime Minister's Questions listening to David Cameron announce a whole new energy policy, without any consultation with the Lid Dems. Next, he needs to throw Mr Davey a life line.

Valid question that's a load of old bull

Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman and bankroller of the Conservative Party, has a habit of asking questions that nobody else would think to ask. Recently, he asked in writing how much subsidy from the Common Agricultural Policy goes to farms that do nothing else but rear bulls for the bull fighting arena. The short answer, from the government, is that nobody knows.

Knight is feeling the heat yet again

The political backlash against the energy companies has prompted unkind comments about what the former Tory MP and treasury minister Angela Knight does. In 2007, she was appointed Chief Executive of the British Bankers' Association. People thought quite highly of bankers, back then. She quit that job to run Energy UK in 2012, when the energy companies did not have to listen to their behaviour being condemned as unacceptable by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the opposition, and a former Prime Minister. “If you work in whatever sector she's going to speak for next, you should get out quick,” one MP cruelly suggested.

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