Matthew Norman: A new contender for the title of Most Overwhelmingly Persuasive Excuse Offered for Failure emerges

Tory backbencher Charlotte Leslie is in the running


A contender emerges from beyond the world of sport to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson, darts player Mervyn “the King” King and others for the title of Most Overwhelmingly Persuasive Excuse Offered For Failure. Ferguson famously ascribed a 6-3 Man Utd defeat at Southampton to the unfamiliar grey shirts that prevented his players recognising one another, while Suffolk flinger Mr King cited a defeat on the oche to the air conditioning unit which blew his arrows off course.

Whether either matches last week’s effort from Tory backbencher Charlotte Leslie, you must judge for yourselves. The facts of the case, succinctly put, are these. Miss Leslie, a highly regarded member of the 2010 intake, offered heartfelt apologies to the House of Commons for failing to inform the register of  members’ interests of donations to her Conservative association in Bristol North West. Totalling £17,000, these were from various firms with interests in the Bristol Port Company, which opposed plans concerned with barrage on the Severn. She later asked three written questions on the matter.

No one could seriously suspect her of anything worse than a careless oversight, and a mortified Ms Leslie offered a sincere apology of the sort that lay tantalisingly beyond the oratorical grasp of Maria Miller. “Although I’m registered dyslexic and sought to put in place additional administrative support as a result,” she said, “I take complete responsibility for this.”

She should do no such thing. While the concept of dyslexia affecting the memory is a novelty, and however hard it may be to find a relevant reference to “registered dyslexic” on the internet, the condition must be held accountable for this mistake. It has clearly blighted her life. But for dyslexia, indeed, she might have been able to study one of the more challenging linguistic disciplines at one our finest universities. Sadly, due to the ravages of dyslexia, Charlotte Leslie had to content herself with taking a Classics degree - and is anything in the literary canon easier to master than an Aeschylean chorus? It’s the ancient Greek equivalent of Green Eggs And Ham by what the dyslexic classicist might misread as Dr Zeus - at Balliol College, Oxford.

* Heartrending news from the marathon runner, concert pianist and domestic skivvy who moonlights as shadow chancellor. Ed Balls tells Radio 2 he now regards it as “very, very unlikely” that he will ever become leader of the Labour party and Prime Minister. But he does offer a gleam of hope, adding the thrillingly original thought that “you never say never in politics”.

In domestic affairs, you do say “never”, of course, as in Ed’s recent revelation that his wife Yvette Cooper, the current favourite to succeed Ed Miliband, never cleans the house. But not in politics, and we admirers will feast on that lone crumb of comfort as best we can.

* Congratulations to Nigel Evans on leaving court without a stain on his character come tempered with sadness over the £130,000 bill he must pay in legal bills for defending himself against those slightly absurd charges of rape and sexual assault. It does seem a blatant and ridiculous breach of natural justice that the innocent should be saddled with the costs when a notably weak case is brought against them. Then again, Mr Evans did loyally support the government in every vote to restrict legal aid and slash the budget. So at least some of our sympathy might be better reserved for those bankrupted by fighting child custody cases, who cannot recoup their costs by spending a little time in the Aussie jungle with Ant and Dec.

No one is more enraged about the Evans trial than that wisest of columnists, Louise Mensch. The Athena of the Sun on Sunday accuses the  Director of Public Prosecutions responsible, the Labour supporting Keir Starmer, of being motivated by political partisanship.

“Actual rape victims who aren’t high-profile Tory MPs,” muses the home counties Sarah Palin from her retreat in New York City, “like the white teenagers gang-raped by various Asian gangs in Bradford, could get no justice from the police or CPS.”

Lest anyone mistake that for crude race-baiting, she cunningly finds space elsewhere on her page to lacerate Woody Allen for featuring no black actors in his musical about Harlem’s Cotton Club. No one doubts that Louise is a sublimely gifted thinker. But sometimes you have to wonder if she knows whether it’s New York or Christmas.

* The best of luck to Euan Blair, Cherie and Mr Tony’s first-born in the quest to be adopted as Labour candidate for the safe Merseyside constituency of Bootle. Apparently, elements in the local party want to parachute Euan into the seat, and if so this ambitious young chap seems unlikely demur. Why would he? If one type of candidate seems guaranteed to delight the left-leaning people of Liverpool, it is a 30-year-old self-made man whose mummy recently bought him a £3.6m Georgian townhouse in Marylebone as a wedding present (and registered the property in her name and his, curiously, but not his wife’s). A political marriage made in heaven if ever one was.

* In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens breaks virgin ground by finding something about this hateful modern world to raise his hackles. “Heard for the first time,” writes the lovably Dickensian harrumpher, “‘partner’ as a verb.” These new-fangled usages can be most irksome. The first recorded use of “partner” as a verb, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, was in 1611.

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