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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Who needs two seats? MEPs vote to scrap their travelling circus

Our man in Westminster

Nothing happens quickly in the EU, but slowly, slowly common sense is beginning to prevail over the ridiculous costly arrangement under which the European Parliament meets in two different cities, more than 200 miles apart. Most of the functions of the EU are concentrated in Brussels, but Parliament's official seat is more than 200 miles away in Strasbourg, in Alsace, close to the German border, where MEPs are obliged by treaty to meet at least 12 times a year for sessions lasting an average of four days each.

Leaving aside the question of how annoying it is for MEPs to have to traipse from one city to another - for which we can assume minimal sympathy - the whole exercise is a vast waste of money. The estimated cost is between £133 million and £174 million a year.

In a vote this week, on a resolution written in the oblique language of bureaucrats, MEPs voted 507 to 143 to “address the need for a roadmap to a single seat.” In normal language, that means they voted by a bigger majority than ever before to scrap the Strasbourg Parliament.

As would be expected, the biggest contingent to vote against this proposal was from France, and the second biggest from Germany. The only MEPs from the UK among those 143 were the Tories, Vicky Ford and James Elles. In Vicky Ford's case, it would appear to have been a simple mistake, because she changed her vote from no to yes later on, something MEPs are allowed to do.

Clegg picks on wrong pensioner

For some reason, Nick Clegg thought a good way to defend the government's austerity drive would be to query why a pensioner as rich as Alan Sugar should qualify for a free bus pass and free television licence. Lord Sugar was not impressed. “Calamity Clegg is talking rubbish,” he tweeted. “I don't have bus pass and I pay for my TV licence like everyone else.”

He went on to call Clegg an “embarrassment” and to ask: “Why doesn't Cameron silence this idiot Clegg?”

The Deputy Prime Minister attempted a reply on LBC, saying:  “He's slightly sort of thin skinned. He drives around in this great big Bentley on prime-time television, he wafts around the House of Lords in ermine and then he seems to be very offended when I point out he has a bob or two.”

He missed the point of course. Lord Sugar was not objecting to it being said that he is rich. He objected to the inference that he is too mean to pay the fare, were he to travel by bus, and old enough to qualify for a TV licence, for which you have to be at least 75.

It's a quick change

The christening of Prince George took up nearly as many pages in other newspapers as it did words in this. While The Independent gave it 19 words, the Daily Mail gave it 16 pages of glorious colour pictures and detailed reporting, including this gem: “Just three hours after she was seen walking down the street in black skinny jeans and a brown polka dot pussy-bow blouse, Carole Middleton arrived at the Royal christening in style.” This woman can change her clothes in under three hours. Isn't that just amazing?

Naked ambition

Dean Perks, the brash young UKIP activist who hopes to be the next MP for Halesowen, is unembarrassed by the fuss he has caused locally by posting a photograph on Twitter of a naked woman leading a naked man by the genitals. He has posted a link to the Halesowen News story about it to his Twitter followers, he has boasted that they can still see the picture on his Twitter feed, and has told the Labour MP John Spellar, who objected: “Sort your own party out before advising others.”

Mr Perks, a self-employed builder, was previously in the news when he proclaimed that sharia law, and particularly the cutting of thieves' hands “works as a prevention.” He probably will not see this because he does not read newspapers. “Maybe loony lefties do, but not those who think for themselves!” he declared recently.

Speaking of gay marriage

When gay marriage becomes legal next year, one of the first couples to step up will be the deputy editor of PinkNews, Joseph Patrick McCormick and his partner James Hanson, who chose a distinctive location to begin their engagement. McCormick popped the question during a reception in the State Rooms, in the Speaker's House in the Palace of Westminster. John Bercow then announced the engagement to the assembled guests, who included Nick Clegg.

A pigs ear

A mournful email arrives from the media office at Vince Cable’s Business Department: “The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that The English Pig, the venue for our drinks reception on 30th October, has closed down. So we are postponing the Media Reception until the New Year.”