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UK Politics

Village People: In bed with Bart

"There is no such country as Belgium," Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's spin doctor, used to say. Now, it is a country with no government, which is under threat from tensions between Flemish-speakers in the north and Walloons, or French-speakers, in the south – made worse by the rise of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which wants Flanders to break off from the rest of the country.

Into these choppy waters, David Cameron has dived, inviting the N-VA leader Bart De Wever over for a half-hour chat in Downing Street followed by a reception in Parliament. This meeting was not reported in the British press, but it was picked up by the Belgian media and caused predictable offence.

Why should Mr Cameron want to alienate Walloons by socialising with Belgium's equivalent of Alex Salmond? The answer is because the Tories have had to scour Europe for allies to join the rump group Cameron created in the European Parliament to appease the Tory right.

Rely on me to stand (down)

The main line of attack from the Lib Dems in the upcoming by-election in Leicester South was to have been directed at the outgoing Labour MP, Sir Peter Soulsby, for changing his mind about what he wanted to do and deciding to run for mayor. The Lib Dem candidate was to be that pillar of consistency, Parmjit Singh Gill, the former MP who wanted his job back.

But on Budget day, Mr Gill quietly pulled out, claiming to have discovered that the campaign would be a strain on his family. Nothing at all to do with details of his expenses and allegations of vote rigging posted by the blogger Guido Fawkes, of course.

Generous to a fault

Den Dover, the former Tory MEP who has been told to repay £345,289 of the expenses he funnelled through a family firm, has fallen back on the excuse that nobody told him it was wrong. Rules that were "far from clear" made him think it was OK, for instance, to charge the taxpayer for three cars costing £101,068. Such sums make the three MPs jailed for fraudulent claims look almost thrifty.

Regrets, he's got a few

In a foreword to a book published this week, The Prime Ministers Who Never Were, Denis Healey writes: "I used to believe that I would rather people wondered why I was not Prime Minister than why I was... Now, however, I feel it is better to be Prime Minister..." But surely not when you're 93?