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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Why the Tories won’t let sleeping dogs (or rats) lie


Politicians don't like rats, to use an old name for people who jump from one party to another, especially if they hold a seat to which they were elected under their old colours.

This explains the particular contempt Tories have for Roger Helmer, who was elected to the European Parliament as a Conservative in 1999, 2004 and 2009, only to announce a year ago that he was joining Ukip.

His beef was that when he retired he wanted his seat to be taken over by fellow Tory Rupert Matthews. But head office were not having Mr Matthews, because they judged that someone who believes in ghosts and aliens, and who published a book with a picture of a golliwog on the cover, was bad news.

Yesterday, the Tory MEP Julie Girling took revenge on Mr Helmer for ratting by snapping a picture of him and posting it on Twitter with the caption “Ukip MEPs hard at work in the European Parliament.”,

Osborne finds a defender in the Mogg

George Osborne may have been isolated in Brussels, where he was the only EU finance minister speaking out against a proposal to limit bankers' bonuses, but he is not isolated back in the UK. He has the backbench MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg on his side. During Treasury questions in the Commons yesterday, the Mogg remarked: “Although article 153(5) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union may be esoteric to some, it is rather important because it prohibits the European Union from running an incomes policy… will the Chancellor take it to the European Court of Justice?”

What a great court case that would make, with British lawyers trying to convince European judges that the European Parliament was doing what UK governments used to do before Margaret Thatcher came along. “I am delighted to answer your question,” the Treasury minister, Greg Clark, replied. Then, like a true politician, he did not answer.

Huhne (i): Early booking essential

Hansard records in December 2008 that a Home Office minister, answering a question from a Liberal Democrat MP, namely Chris Huhne, disclosed that 2,700 new prison places would be made available in the year to April 2013, but none in 2013-14. So they got them built just in time.

Huhne (ii): the latest unwritten chapter

One of Chris Huhne's last public acts prior to being sentenced was to contribute two chapters to “The Green Book”, the latest set of policy ideas for the Liberal Democrats. Appropriately, it was left to the policy adviser Tim Leunig, known as “the barmy boffin”, to compose the chapter headed “Reducing Emissions from Transport”. You do not need to be a boffin to know that one way to reduce transport emissions is to observe speed limits.

A regal and discerning taste in newspapers

In the new batch of photographs of the Queen's private room in Balmoral, released ahead of Sunday's screening of the new ITV documentary, Our Queen, you can see the range of newspapers she takes. Alongside the Racing Post and a couple of Scottish papers there are some national newspapers. But not all. There is a Daily Mirror, but no Sun, a Daily Mail but no Express, The Times but no Financial Times and – most important of all –The Independent, but no Guardian. What a discerning reader.