Andy McSmith's Diary: You don’t need to rise too early to catch Justine Greening out on geography


When hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered homeless and desperate by one of the most ferocious storms on record, it is an occasion for the Secretary of State for International Development to move into action.

And Justine Greening was up early to be on the prime 8.10 slot on the Today programme, where she began her interview by remarking: “The devastation is huge and is total. It’s why the Prime Minister has offered all our support to the Indonesian people…” Very generous, but the aid is needed in the Philippines. Hopefully, her staff have a better grasp of geography than their boss.


Catching up with Thatcher Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher is a mine of illuminating detail of “a life unexamined by the person who lived it” – to which I admit coming six months late, having been so replete with memories of the Baroness when the book came out in April that I felt I could take no more.

It begins, obviously, with an account of the Grantham upbringing which did so much to shape her character. In the late 1930s, Thatcher’s father, Alf Roberts, decently agreed to give sanctuary to a 17-year-old Jewish girl from Austria. The girl travelled more than a thousand miles, but when she arrived, she found their home so “repressive” that she made a second escape to a more congenial Grantham refuge. One problem was that Margaret’s mother, Beatrice, was described by one of Moore’s interviewees as a “bigoted Methodist”, who was outraged to discover that a teenager used lipstick.

At the Rotary Club, a fellow rotarian shouted at Alf Roberts: “You asked this girl over and you’re not looking after her properly!”

As for Margaret, her “biggest excitement” was staying with a Methodist family in London at the age of 12, and the “high point” of this visit was an evening in Catford Theatre. I have been to Catford Theatre in the pantomime season and, believe me, a childhood in which that emporium stands out as a sanctuary of joy and excitement must have been very austere.

Major’s double standards

Sir John Major finds it “truly shocking” that the upper echelons of society are so full of people who were privately educated. He makes a virtue of his own humble schooling. But no one decides where to go to school, though they do decide how to educate their children. Sir John sent his son, James, to Kimbolton School, Huntingdon, and later to Ratcliffe College, in Leicestershire – both private schools where the full fees currently top £22,000 a year.

Danny’s daddy’s paddy

The most recent available minutes of the board of management of the Lochaber Housing Association, in Fort William, record them taking a painful decision to evict three tenants who were behind with the rent, two of whom had been hit by the bedroom tax.

This might explain the sentiments of the association’s chairman, Di Alexander, in the annual report: “The so-called bedroom tax is particularly unfair in that it penalises both our tenants and ourselves for not being able to magic up a supply of smaller properties, particularly those with only one bedroom…” Di Alexander is the father of Danny, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury.