Chris Bryant: Tory backbenchers vouch loyalty to Hunt but there's an earthquake rumbling

 

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The mushroom cloud that is Rupert Murdoch is still hanging eerily over Westminster. The bit I don't understand is why on earth Jeremy Hunt was ever asked to adjudicate on the BSkyB bid.

He had a well-known preference to allow the takeover. He told me so once when we were about to go on Any Questions? in 2010. And any local councillor knows that if you're on the planning committee, you have to be scrupulously cleaner than Florence Nightingale. It's not just that you can't tip the wink to one side or the other when a planning application comes up. If you have taken a view before the meeting, even before you were elected, or if you are a relative or friend of the applicant, you are legally barred from taking part. Which is why David Cameron should never have asked Hunt to take over the decision when Vince Cable was ditched and why Hunt himself should never have agreed to it. He was every bit as parti pris as I am – and I would never have accepted adjudicating on this.

Amid the "will Hunt follow Fox" shenanigans, one thing really depressed me; the serried ranks of new Tory MPs whose questions were just preposterously obsequious. Messrs Javid, Coffey, Lewis, Ellis and Gyimah – all of them supposedly intelligent new-intake members – almost tripped one another up in the rush to praise the Culture Secretary for his saintliness and general all-round goodness. Two lawyerly Tories fondled their cufflinks as they pompously condemned us Labourites for adopting a "sentence first, verdict after" approach, but busily declared Hunt completely innocent of absolutely any wrongdoing.

All I can say is I used to be a government backbencher, and I just hope to God I wasn't like that. If I was, I apologise profusely. Yes, it is just human to support a colleague. But blind loyalty doesn't enhance anyone's reputation.

Mind you, if you talk to Tory MPs away from the glare of the cameras, you can just detect a slow submarine earthquake occurring. For several are saying not only that this whole affair has shown a tawdry side to the Prime Minister, but that the real culprit is the Chancellor. He lobbied for Andy Coulson to be brought into the fold and he argued that Hunt had to take over the file – all as part of the attempt to get and keep the strategically vital Murdoch support. What with the multi-faceted fiasco of the Budget, the double-dip recession and the growing debt burden, the temperature is getting distinctly icy for George Osborne. As one Tory told me, "George just has far too much to do. No wonder he's messing everything up." When you add in the distaste many feel for the bully-boy hauteur of both Cameron and Osborne, it feels as if the submarine earthquake may yet deliver a tsunami.

Why still stuck in the 11th century?

It seems the Queen will prorogue Parliament on Tuesday. As with many parliamentary rituals, this will involve lots of doffing of very large caps, some silly costumes, clerks in wigs, a bit of walking backwards – and a smattering of 11th-century Norman French. It all takes place in the Lords, with five commissioners seated in an ermine-clad row. Some of the "ancient" customs have been modernised, though. Women commissioners wear different hats from their male colleagues – and, instead of doffing them, give a sort of baronial nod. But we still have to have the list of outstanding bills recited followed by the words "La Reyne remercie ses bons sujets, accepte leurs benevolences et ainsi le veult", said in a very ponderous English accent, as no bill is legal without the Queen's assent expressed in French. But nine centuries after the Conquest, isn't it time we loosened the Norman yoke?

Getting ready for my close-up

One strange aspect of politics is the fact that TV interviews nearly always require make-up, which I don't normally wear (honestly). Sometimes it's just a bit of powder. For the Alan Titchmarsh show, you get spray-painted with foundation. When I used to appear on The Wright Stuff (they stopped having me on because I don't have children), it would take nearly 20 minutes. And, for ITV Daybreak on Tuesday, I ended up looking as pale as Jeremy Hunt reading the Fred Michel emails, so the charming make-up artist ended up taking half of it off again. As my mother was a BBC make-up artist who, among other things, looked after Shirley Bassey's wigs on the Six-Five Special, I always like chatting to make-up artists. It turned out that this lady knew my mother's bridesmaid, the legendary doyenne of make-up, Dawn Alcock, who apparently impressed all her new trainees with a large selection of clear bottles, all labelled "white spirits". Everyone presumed these were for removing fake beards. Just a few were let into the secret that they were actually full of gin.

Voices of angels, lyrics of sin

Thursday night was the Redfields Community Choir charity concert at the LLwynypia College, led by the extremely talented 17-year-old Connor Fogel, who not only gave us a preview of his new musical Triptych, but conducted the choir of 20 women (the oldest of whom is 83) and two men (one of whom is blind) through everything from "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to "Let It Be" and a Carpenters medley. The only point at which the mixed nature of the choir raised an eyebrow was for "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar. Oddly, I remember our choirmaster at school deciding we would sing this same song in chapel. I don't know what he was thinking but he suddenly changed his mind during the rehearsal as he heard 20 teenage boys warble the line "I've had so many men before; he's just one more."

twitter@ChrisBryantMP

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