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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Westminster Diary: David Cameron’s legal objection to 'third-party harassment' would make an old racist comic smile

If Silvester is right about the floods, the Almighty must be very cross

If that notoriously racist nightclub comic Bernard Manning were still alive, he would have experienced a glow of satisfaction in listening to David Cameron yesterday. The phrase in the Prime Minister’s speech that would have struck a chord with the old rogue was: “You can sue your employer if one of your customers is rude to you – that is a regulation that needs to go.”

The concept of “third-party harassment”, which requires employers to protect employees from abusive customers, was singled out as a needless burden for business by the venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who was commissioned by the Government in 2012 to report on ways to reduce red tape. The Prime Minister has taken his cue from the Beecroft report.

Third-party harassment entered into law in 1996, courtesy of Mr Manning. He was performing a stand-up routine in a packed hotel room when he spotted two black waitresses serving customers and proceeded to deliver a string of jokes in graphic language about the sexual organs and sexuality of black men and women.

The waitresses not only had to listen to this as they were trying to work; they also had to cope with the behaviour of drink-fuelled customers inspired by Manning’s example. A court subsequently found that the management was liable for the humiliation its two employees had endured.

If Manning were alive now, he could return to that hotel, spew racist jokes at the staff, winding up the customers to behave in a disgusting manner, knowing that he won’t land the hotel management in trouble, because David Cameron backs business.

Reach of Clegg’s impotence

As if the Lord Rennard affair hadn’t done enough to demonstrate how little control Nick Clegg has over his party, Lib Dem councillors in Portsmouth are demonstrating that they alone run the city council.

After the party’s HQ had seen a QC’s report into allegations that Portsmouth’s long-serving councillor and MP Mike Hancock had sexually harassed a vulnerable female constituent, they suspended his membership.

That means he is not now a Lib Dem councillor. Yet last Friday night, the council’s Lib Dem leadership resolved that he can retain his place on the city council cabinet. One of his colleagues, Eleanor Scott, promptly resigned. “We need to run a city, not a game show,” she said.

Almighty bill for floods

There is an interesting statistic in Hansard that tells a story about the scale of the damage done by recent flooding. Under a procedure called the Bellwin Scheme, the Government awards one-off grants to councils which have to handle major emergencies. In the years 2009-13, just over £3.5m was paid out under it.

Since last April, Devon County Council alone has been paid more than £3m, while more than £2m has gone to Herefordshire. If David Silvester, the Ukip councillor from Henley, is right about the cause of flooding, I can only conclude that gay marriage has made the Almighty very, very cross.