WILKES'S DIARY

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Rupert Allason, aka the spy writer Nigel West, is likely to be a lone voice raised during the forthcoming Second Reading of the MI5 Bill. The Home Secretary is trying to give MI5 a wider role in combating crime, shoulder to shoulder with the police. Wilkes's old Cambridge friends in MI6 - the classic James Bond organisation - are aghast at the way MI5 is expanding its empire, even to the point of openly advertising for recruits, while MI6 has been forced to cut its agents overseas.

So 007 is no longer able to afford the cost of living in Russia, and lavish beach apartments in the Caribbean are no longer allowed on MI6 expenses. But that is not Rupe's main objection. Nor is it even that he will have less material for his books; after all, the potential "turf wars" between MI5 and the police will provide pure gold for novels.

No, the spy writer is privately warning chums around the tearoom that turning MI5 into an undercover branch of the police is wholly unsatisfactory because MI5 officers - who need to protect their anonymity - will not be able to give evidence in open court. Allason reckons MI5 is not really up to taking evidence and statements and all the fiddlesome paperwork that policemen on the beat have to deal with on a routine basis. Why should the MP bother about this? In his spare time, he has also acted as a special constable, m'lud. I rest my case.

The Home Secretary is robustly supporting the Government's line on the safety of beef, in spite of the scare stories. Wilkes spied Michael Howard tucking into a hearty serving of calf's liver at the Soho House in Greek Street. The traditional preference in the Commons for beef may explain the past behaviour of some of Wilkes's backbench colleagues. Nevertheless, Wilkes would like to see more ministers following Howard's example.

Stephen Dorrell, the wimpish Health Secretary, should set the standard by ordering beef sandwiches for the whole Cabinet at next Thursday's meeting. With a liberal helping of beef dripping.

At least the Department of Health's employees are doing their bit to combat BSE scaremongering. The departmental canteen menu has been boasting minced beef and onion pie for pounds 1.50. It has been outselling the vegetable lasagne two to one.

An exclusive leaked document has fallen into Wilkes's hands: the proposed ministerial Christmas message by Michael Heseltine, Deputy Prime Minister, drawn up by the private public relations consultancy Sweet F Associates, says seasonal objectives include a "shift of the organisational dynamic to achieve a system-wide delivery of the core mission statement ... " (ie, Happy Christmas). The methodology recommended by Sweet FA is "a whole systems approach enabling recipients to tailor throughput of the message within their own organisational matrix" (ie, they might send a card).

To evaluate the outcome, Sweet FA says: "Ministers are aware of the concern of DPM [Deputy Prime Minister] and EDCP [the Cabinet committee that he chairs on the Government's self-promotion] to ensure interdepartmental co-ordination and presentational cohesion, and to identify a lead Department responsible for ensuring that duty ministers are available to take media bids on the day.

"If ministers are content to proceed on this basis it is their wish that officials roll the pitch with key players before close of play on D-Day minus one to ensure a level playing field."

The whole thing is a spoof sent out as a Christmas card by the Department of Health's press office. It was written by Romola Christopherson, the redoubtable chief press officer who was once under the wing of Bernard Ingham at Number 10, to poke fun at the PR consultancies invading Whitehall at the invitation of the First Secretary. Wilkes trusts that Hezza will see the funny side.

Less than seasonal cheer has broken out around Westminster. After the incident at the Reform Club when the Prime Minister's biographer Bruce "the brute" Anderson was cut over the eye by a glass of wine hurled by a journalist's wife, there were unseemly scenes in Annie's Bar in the Commons, where a team of MPs behaved disgracefully after they were beaten by lobby journalists in the annual News Quiz. The MPs accused the journalists of cheating and refused to buy them a round of drinks. Annie's Bar rules oblige Wilkes to withhold the names of the MPs, but suffice to say that the quizmaster, Sir Harold Walker, a former Deputy Speaker of the Commons, made his excuses and left before the end of the game.

Labour MPs are all talking about one scene from The Wilderness Years, the excellent BBC documentary accounting for Labour's long years in opposition (which can be summed up as: Thatcher, Foot, Owen and General Galtieri).

The scene is not Denis Healey squeezing into his mini, or Tony Benn trouncing the leadership in a conference vote, it is the footage of a young, permed Patricia Hewitt at the 1980 conference berating the Callaghan government for betraying the working classes (rallying cry: "We have a right to be angry ..."). The firebrand is now a respectable management consultant at Arthur Andersen.

Not all the Shadow Cabinet were watching on Sunday evening. Frank Dobson confessed to Wilkes that he was glued to The Beatles Anthology on the other side.

Wilkes's left-wing pin-up, Dawn Primarolo, who took over from Tony Benn as MP for Bristol South, has been backsliding from the Bennite cause. As a frontbencher in Gordon Brown's Treasury team and a member of the left-wing Campaign Group, Red Dawn has walked a careful tightrope and did not take part in the vote by some Campaign Group members against the 1p tax cut at the end of the Budget debate. Now Wilkes hears she has allowed her membership of the Campaign Group to lapse.

More evidence, sadly, that Hezza's touch is slipping. The First Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister got the thumbs down at a meeting of businessmen organised by Pro-Share, which promotes wider share ownership. His Labour- bashing speech prompted an immediate invitation to Alistair Darling, Labour's spokesman, to come and be their guest speaker next year.

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