David Cameron spent three hours in Oldham East and Saddleworth, scene of a by-election where some people suspect the Tories are pulling their punches to avoid hurting the Lib Dems. The Prime Minister's visibility was so low at times that reporters on the scene starting wondering what he might be doing.
I now learn that he spent part of his visit enjoying a quiet beverage with his entourage in the Bower Hotel in Oldham. A man who was in the hotel bar at the time tells me that he and other drinkers were startled when a fleet of cars swept into the hotel car park and the place was suddenly crawling with police.
Then a group of visitors was seen being ushered to a back entrance, which unfortunately was locked. The group came to the front, and the astonished guests spotted the Prime Minister. My spy tells me: "First we thought it was the cops bringing somebody who had grassed up on a drugs deal for a secret debriefing – but it was Mr Cameron, who came in looking like somebody who thought he was appropriately dressed for the area but wasn't. They ordered tea and coffee for about a dozen people."
MP shows how to avoid greedy landlords
Looking back at Hansard for 17 November 1998, I notice that David Chaytor, MP for Bury North, used parliamentary privilege to name seven property companies in the Manchester area which he accused of being extortionate landlords.
He demanded government action on behalf of tenants. In his own life, Mr Chaytor found a foolproof way to avoid dodgy landlords. In London, he was his own landlord. In Bury, he "rented" a house from his mother. And yesterday he began 18 months as a guest of Her Majesty.
Death of a Thatcherite with a whiff of sulphur
People old enough and sufficiently right-wing enough to have cheered when Margaret Thatcher's government broke the miners' strike 25 years ago will be mourning the death this week of David Hart, who scurried around the coalfields on the government's behalf enlisting strikebreakers. He was also a special adviser to Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind in the Ministry of Defence.
David's uncle, Herbert Hart, an eminent Oxford don, worked for MI5 in the war. By contrast, his aunt Jenifer came under suspicion in the 1960s of having been a Soviet spy. She admitted she had been a Communist, and had been approached by a Soviet agent in the 1930s who told her to "go underground" – but denied passing secrets.
Her interrogator, Peter Wright, another weird product of the world of spooks, described her as "a fussy middle-class woman, too old, I thought, for the fashionable short skirt and white net stockings she was wearing".
In Thursday's Daily Telegraph, a laudatory obituary of David remarked that "there were many, notably in the Tory Party, who detected a whiff of sulphur about Hart. His enemies likened him to Rasputin and accused him of being an agent of the CIA, the KGB or Mossad, or all three." Strange guy, but very useful to the Thatcher government.