I used to think that the Australians were coarser, tougher and not so refined as us Brits, but I am beginning to wonder. Not only is there is the extraordinary furore around John McTernan, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Political Secretary, and one of Tony Blair’s former political advisers who was known in this country as a relatively diffident pleasant fellow but is seen over there as the High Priest of Negativity, a veritable Malcolm Tucker made flesh. It makes you wonder how the Aussies would cope with one of the really rough customers, like Alastair Campbell.
Now I read of uproar in the Victoria state legislature because one of its MPs is alleged to described his opponents with a word that rhymes with bankers. He claims that he actually said “whackers” – though video evidence of his accompanying hand gesture suggests otherwise. The point is that it caused a scandal, and he apologised. Meanwhile, in yesterday’s edition of the House of Lords Hansard, the former Defence Minister John Gilbert is recorded as having said that the A440M military airbus is “a complete, absolute banking disaster…” only he did not quite say ‘banking’, if you get my drift. And nobody reacted. Imagine if he had said that in Australia! Of course, it is possible that their lordships are all so deaf that no one but the Hansard shorthand writer heard him.
A countryside not in alliance
Challenged in the Commons yesterday to defend the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, the Liberal Democrat environment minister David Heath replied: “The national minimum wage is doing a good job of putting a floor under wages in this country, and I see no reason to have extra bureaucracy.” That completely misses the point. The AWB is not a costly bureaucracy, but it sets minimum rates for farmworkers well above the national minimum wage - £9.40 an hour at the top end of the scale, compared with £6.19. Scrapping the AWB will not reduce the cost of the government, but it will give employers the legal right to depress rural wages. And Mr Heath has more than 1,000 farm workers in his Somerton and Frome constituency.
The MP who put paid to Thatcher
Whomever the Labour MP Tom Watson had in mind when he referred to a “senior aide to a former Prime Minister” being implicated in a paedophile ring, we know now that it was not the late Peter Morrison. His name was bandied around because of a reference to him in the latest book by the former Tory MP Edwina Currie. Morrison came from a very Conservative family. His father and brother were Tory MPs, as he was. It was widely known in Westminster in the 1980s that he was gay, and he is much despised by the Tory right - but not for his sexuality. He ran Margaret Thatcher’s leadership campaign in 1990, and was so complacent that he told her that it was in the bag. If only he had tried a bit harder, some think, she could have survived to lead the Conservatives to victory, or defeat, in 1992.
Carswell's new model to take on Cameron
The place not to be seen on Wednesday evening, should you be a Tory aspiring to high office was at a reception in London’s Hospital Club to mark the publication of a book by the MP, Douglas Carswell, entitled The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. Carswell is an anarcho-Tory who believes that the free market and the internet will liberate the people from the grip of politicians and the “elite commentariat.” It was left to the Blairite Labour MP and historian Tristram Hunt to deliver the tribute.
He likened Carswell to John Lilburn, a 17th century Leveller who fell foul of Oliver Cromwell, claiming: “He stalks the back-benches with his iPad as Lilburne stalked Parliamentary Army tents with his pamphlets.” Lilburne, Hunt added, “was deeply concerned at the way in which a small, narrow vanguard could take over the governance of a country, showing incompetent disregard for the rank and file, ruling within a self-selecting clique, led by a self-absorbed leader... Now, no one is suggesting that Douglas sees any equivalence between the Cameroon Project and the worst excess of Cromwell’s New Model Army. The Lord Protector was far more pluralist…”
The fun bit was watching Carswell trying to hold a straight face through this outrageous attack on his Leader.