Village People: Off the map
Saturday 28 May 2011
Nick Clegg is said to be furious about the appointment of Lord Ashcroft, that immensely generous contributor to Conservative Party funds, as the Government's new adviser on defence matters.
I do not want to get embroiled in the argument over whether his lordship's collection of old military medals makes him a suitable appointment, but I do hope that he will not be distracted from his mission to question ministers about parts of the world none of us have ever been to.
It is only through Lord Ashcroft's questioning that we learnt this week that three places in the world have never been visited by a British minister, ever – the Chagos Islands, Nauru and Tuvali. Nauru and Tuvali are the world's smallest countries (unless you count The Vatican). Chagos is the least populated, because its people were scandalously deported to make way for a US military base. It used to be thought Lord Ashcroft's enduring interest in remote corners of the old British Empire was part of a restless search for places where he could sink his money, safe from the British taxman. But now he is officially domiciled in the UK, that can no longer be true.
UKIP is not a happy ship. This week, they lost an MEP, David Campbell Bannerman, who used to be a Tory, ratted to UKIP, and has re-ratted back to the Tories. And the amazing row between their two MEPs from the South East, Nigel Farage and Marta Andreasen, gathers pace. It started with her call for a new leader to replace Farage after a disappointing showing in the local elections. He retaliated by telling the BBC that she had not even set foot in the UK "for several months". She fired off a letter telling him that his was "a blatant lie", and yesterday she issued a warning that "I cannot and will not tolerate such an untruth. I am now considering other avenues of redress." Never mind independence from Europe. What Farage needs is to avoid fiery Spaniards.
The cameras cut away from Barack Obama's speech in Parliament to catch a shot of Ken Clarke snoozing, but, quite rightly, they did not broadcast a more alarming interruption to the President's speech, when the MP, Jeremy Lefroy, collapsed and was taken to hospital. He had become dehydrated, through food poisoning. He was out of hospital the same evening, and his office said yesterday that he was back at work in his Stafford constituency.
David Cameron's press conference in the garden of Downing Street at Barack Obama's side contrasts with an attack of shyness which seems to have come between him and political journalists. Tony Blair used to hold monthly press conferences which went on and on, giving dozens of journalists the chance to ask a range of questions. Later these events were infected by the curse of Gordon Brown, because every time he was due to hold one, a bad news story sudenly broke, taking attention away from whatever Brown hoped to say.
Now these events have been quietly brought to a close. David Cameron has not held one since October. There was one announced in February, but it was called off when the PM added Egypt to a tour of the Gulf. There are no plans for another in the near future.
"He likes to keep it more flexible," one No 10 insider said, pointing out that Mr Cameron regularly takes questions from the media when he makes speeches, meets foreign leaders or is at international summits such as the G8 meeting in Deauville which ended yesterday. But this allows him to restrict questions to a handful, much less of an ordeal than those hour-long sessions.
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