I hate the Queen's Speech. I don't specifically mean this week's one, although it was a pretty flimsy, cowardly, empty calling card of a thing.
It's the whole concept I dislike. For a start, there's the flummery – all diamonds and no knickers. Granted, there's a certain amount of comedy value with Ken Clarke walking backwards dressed up as an 18th-century Whig (in a powdered periwig), and a little bit of red and gold brocaded pageantry never did anyone any harm. But the ceremonial is all out of kilter with reality.
Black Rod comes to the Commons to "demand" that we attend Her Majesty in the Lords with a peremptoriness that would make anyone think that the House of Lords is the primary chamber. Yes, we slam the door in his face, but the rudeness is returned in kind when we traipse down to the other end of the building. Barely half of us can get in through the door, we stand while their lords and ladyships (and a random sparkling of tiaraed wives of hereditary peers) sit, and Her Majesty starts off long before we get there, so we miss half of it.
But the bigger problem is that this ossified ceremony is nothing but a great big lie. I helped draft the speech a few years ago and was told in no uncertain terms that the Queen would not be using some of the language I had suggested, but broadly speaking it's not her speech at all. More important, it pretends that government is all about legislating, and while all MPs have their private list of tweaks to the law that they would like to bring in, in all honesty we legislate too much. Moreover, boosting and recalibrating the economy, bringing fairness to bear on the Budget and restructuring public expenditure so that it meets the needs of the whole of the country barely get a look-in.
So I would end this ludicrous annual charade, have the monarch attend just once a Parliament and replace the Queen's Speech with an annual State of the Union debate. To top it all, we should give all MPs an equal right to table legislation and get it considered, rather than grant this exclusive right to ministers of the crown. In theory, the Government is committed to this last element and will be handing the parliamentary timetable over to a House Business Committee by next May. So maybe this will have been the last Queen's Speech.
Sometimes, you just have to borrow
Question Time is the biggest gig in politics. MPs will traverse the country to be booed, heckled and abused on the show because it gets the biggest political audience of the week. This week it was my turn to wave the Labour flag, and Caroline Spelman was on for the Tories. She is, as my great aunt would have said, "an awfully nice woman, really", (there was always a slight sting in the "really"), but the moment it came to talking about the economy, Caroline was off with a Thatcher-style lecture about thrift.
Now thrift is undoubtedly a virtue. The ability to eke out sparse resources has saved many a family from financial perdition. Family-hold-back rules when there's a guest at the dinner table and not quite enough to go round have likewise. And taking special care because you know you can't afford a new pair of shoes or a shirt is a standard part of many people's financial battle to remain afloat. It's one of the reasons that pay-as-you-go mobile phones are so popular and why in some countries people prefer to buy individual sachets of shampoo one at a time, even though, in the end, it might prove more expensive.
But the way Tory ministers (especially, seemingly, the extremely wealthy ones) cast these debates you would think they actually know what it is really to tighten their own belts. By which I don't mean deciding to do the weekly shop at Aldi rather than the Food Hall at Harrods. Because just sometimes, even when finances are really tight, you have to borrow. Take any of the thousands of my constituents who cannot get to work without a car, as public transport routes and timetables simply cannot get them there. For them a car is not a luxury, it's an essential. So are they wrong to take out a loan if the car breaks down?
Me, Rebekah, and Ross
Rebekah Brooks stated yesterday that she could not recall saying to me at the Labour conference in 2004, "It's after dark, shouldn't you be out on Clapham Common by now?" She also asserted that her then husband, Ross Kemp, had not told her, "shut up you homophobic cow", even though it was witnessed by two other journalists. She knew the question was coming as it was in my written evidence, so I can only assume that she either persuaded herself that she believed what she knew in her heart of hearts to be untrue or she was quite happy to perjure herself.
Should we forgive and forget, Mitt?
You may have caught up with the hideous story about Mitt Romney's school days. It seems he not only taunted a younger schoolmate, called John Lauber, who had the effrontery to bleach his hair and refuse to conform to the straight strictures of their very preppy school, but once Romney even gathered a posse of like-minded bullies to pin Lauber to the floor whilst Romney chopped away at his offending hair with a pair of scissors.
No surprise there, then. Boys can be hideously brutal. Those who flout convention get the rough end of the stick. And today's social media have found new ways of bullying. But some have suggested that what Romney did as a schoolboy nearly 50 years ago shouldn't colour voters' esteem. I doubt there is a single adult whose childhood bears too much scrutiny, but Romney was 18 when this happened and when recently quizzed about the story, he laughed. Surely one Flashman is enough?