`Queen Yacht' looms over Westminster horizon

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Indy Politics
Five days on, and there's still only one game in town. For once the focus groups, consulted by the party HQs on all policies, seem to disagree about something. The Tories' groups of key voters are aching for a new royal yacht. Labour's (doubtless watched by Peter Mandelson through a one-way mirror), seem to be saying that such extravagance, at a time of dying patients and illiterate children, is unjustifiable.

Twickenham Tory Toby Jessel told the House that "pounds 60m divided amongst a population of 50 million comes to pounds 1 per head and - over five years - to 20 pee". It was "unbelievably small-minded" of Labour to oppose it. I began thinking about all the things that I would rather do with pounds 1, and reached 100 in five minutes. But my mind is unbelievably small.

Labour and the Lib Dems, meanwhile, wept copious crocodile tears over the fact that the Royal Family had become "embroiled in controversy" by a vote-hungry government. One, Paul Flynn - his voice quivering in sympathy for our wronged royals - quoted the dusty Bible of Commons procedure (Erskine May) in support. All this from an MP who would quite like to see our royals embroiled in oil.

One "embroiler", the Lib Dems' Alan Beith, suggested commercial involvement in funding the successor to Britannia. Minister Roger Freeman was robust in rejecting any such vulgarity. "Business sponsorship of the royal yacht is not appropriate," he said primly. But why not? If Richard Branson were to plough a bit of much-needed dosh into the monarchy, we could once more be ruled by the Virgin Queen.

The pounds 60m thus saved could be better spent, according to the Opposition - practically anywhere. George Foulkes, Labour's aid spokesthing, stymied by the Brownian Blanket (thrown over all spending commitments) suggested - from a sedentary position, as they say down here - that it might help meet Labour's pledge on beginning to restore the aid budget. I have a suspicion that Mr Foulkes thought no one was listening. Meanwhile, Dafydd Wigley (Plaid Cymru) wanted it spent on a new hospital for Portmadog. In Wales.

John Prescott, goading Hezza over the lack of consultation, called the offending vessel the "Queen Yacht". This makes sense - if her Mum is the Queen Mum (rather than the Queen's Mum), we should have the Queen Yacht. As ever, it is not Prescott who is wrong, but the daft convention that he so cleverly satirises.

But even he could not deal with the claim that a royal yacht is good for diplomacy - or, (as Mr Freeman called it), a "statement about our nation". If true, may I suggest three MPs to sail on board? Number one is John Marshall, who asked whether the minister would "remind our colleagues in Europe that this country has had much greater success in job creation than they have?" That should go down very well.

Or how about Tony Marlow (once again wearing the black shirt, that provoked a colleague to ask when he was planning to march on Rome), who asked about "Brussel's own Josef Goebbels, Geoffrey Martin [head of the commission's office in London] who seeks to involve himself in the British election". The man is a credit to us.

Then there's Cleethorpes Conservative, Michael Brown, who casually asserted that a "large number of vicars are unable to remember more than two or three of the Ten Commandments". Michael himself can recall most of them, beginning with not coveting your neighbour's ass. So how about not bearing false witness?