Village People: Spookily inefficient

The farcical tales we have been reading recently about Russian spies are a reminder that the spooks are always with us.

So, as patriots, we have to hope that our spooks are better than their spooks at doing what spooks do, such as bugging people's conversations. David Cameron went to Spook Central this week to give them a morale-boosting talk. Unfortunately the microphones, er, didn't work. The Prime Minister has expressed the hope that the other electronic equipment these people use is more reliable.

Tories back a winner

When David Cameron is asked privately who he is backing in the never-ending Labour leadership election, his stock answer has been Ed Balls. This is an in-joke, based on the premise that Ed Balls is so associated with all the negative aspects of the Gordon Brown years, and had such a struggle holding his seat in Morley and Outwood, that having him lead the Opposition would be a gift to the Government. This week they are not so certain that the joke is funny. Mr Balls has been running a very efficient operation, and went for the jugular over Michael Gove's error-strewn list of cancelled school building projects, causing Cameron's people to reflect that Mr Balls may not be much loved, but he could be dangerous across the Despatch Box.

Problems shedding pounds

Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, has an unforeseen problem. His department runs the car pool, which leases cars and drivers to government departments to ferry ministers around. In the diary published by the former Labour minister Chris Mullin there is a description of the shocked reaction when he decided he would rather walk. That was a lone stand by an unusual minister, but with departments facing budget cuts of up to 40 per cent, numerous ministers are regretfully deciding that their shoe leather will have to take the strain. This is fine, because the contracts between the departments and the central pool have a three-month break clause, so the money saved soon shows up on the departmental budgets. Mr Hammond's problem is that the car pool does not have a break clause in its contracts with the firms that supply the cars, and the drivers are on the civil service pay roll, so every pound saved by other departments is a pound added to his costs. He is hoping he can do deals with other public bodies to get them to hire ministerial cars – but of course they are all facing budget cuts too.

Lord Whiplash

Lord Laidlaw, the multimillionaire non-dom who gave up his place in the Lords this week to protect his cash mountain, had his uncomfortable moment in the public gaze two years ago after details of an orgy in a Monte Carlo hotel involving male and female prostitutes and cocaine were served up in the tabloids. After that, his fellow Tory peers used to say of him that at least he was someone who really knew how to take the whip.

One size doesn't fit all

When the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, spoke to MPs about his plans for redrawing the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies, reducing the number of MPs by 50, there was a furious shout of protest from the Tory Andrew Turner. His complaint is unusual: Mr Clegg's plans would put him in a position where he is paid the same money to represent fewer voters, and Mr Turner does not want his workload thus reduced.

He is the MP for the Isle of Wight, where there are 100,706 people on the electoral roll. Mr Clegg has laid down that every constituency will have 75,000 voters. There are to be two exceptions – the Western Isles, and Orkney and Shetland – which have tiny electorates, but unique geographical status. The Isle of Wight is also unique. It is too big to be one constituency and too small to be divided in two. About a third of its electorate will therefore have to be represented by an MP whose main base will be across the water in Hampshire. Mr Turner is outraged. "I will be fighting to try to make Mr Clegg see sense," he says.

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