The task of answering MPs’ indignant yesterday about the Church of England Synod’s refusal to recognise women bishops fell to the Tory MP Sir Tony Baldry in his capacity as the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
It was generally agreed that he did well, though the Tory right did not altogether appreciate his observation that the synod debate was “a bit like Government Whips trying to talk to the Eurosceptics; there were those in the General Synod who, whatever the bishops said to them, were just not going to listen.” The choice of tie he was wearing, over a bright pink shirt, was also curiously inappropriate. It was the salmon and cucumber striped tie of London’s elite Garrick Club. Notoriously, the Garrick does not accept women members.
End or her...
A rumour went around Westminster yesterday that Sarah Teather, Lib Dem MP for Brent central was on the point of defecting to the Labour Party. Something to do with her being at the end of her tether, perhaps. (Sorry!) This was refuted by a tweet from the Lib Dem chief whip, Alistair Carmichael: “I just asked her, says she would rather poke her own eyes out with a safety pin than join Labour.”
Congratulations to Labour’s Sarah Gallacher, a 28 year old primary school teacher, for taking a seat off the Tories in a council by-election in Doncaster, albeit in curious circumstances. There were two candidates: Mrs Gallacher and a Conservative, Symeon Waller. After four recounts, the council’s chief executive Jo Miller declared that they had tied, with 129 votes each. The contest was settled by having a Labour councillor and the Tory Deputy Mayor draw lots, and Labour got lucky.
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, was speaking on Wednesday night at an event in the House of Lords to mark the 30th anniversary of the law firm, Zaiwalla & Co. He praised the many contributions to charities made by the firm’s founder Sarosh Zaiwalla. He could also have begged for a little charity from one of his listeners, Heather Tchenguiz. She is the wife of the property developer, Robert, Tchenguiz. He and his brother Vincent were arrested in a highly publicised swoop by the Serious Fraud Office in March 2011, during an investigation into the collapse of an Icelandic bank.
They were never charged, and earlier this month a court awarded them full reimbursement of their legal costs, which could set the SFO back by £3 million. Vincent has threated to sue the SFO for £100 million damages. The SFO answers to the Attorney General.
With tax avoidance and tax havens being pushed up the political agenda, I note that Shirley Williams, dowager queen of the Liberal Democrats, has been asking awkward questions in the House of Lords about how much money is stashed away in bank accounts in places like Jersey, which she called “one of the most secretive tax havens in the world.” The answer is that there is about £19 billion held in bank accounts in Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.
The combined population of those islands is less than 247,000, so by my calculation there is an average of £77,000 stashed in the banks for every resident man, woman or child – unless some of that loot has been deposited by people who do not live there but have put their money beyond the reach of HMRC, which is what Baroness Williams suspects. This being a coalition government, it was up to a Liberal Democrat peer, Richard Newby, to reply. “We have to understand that simply because you have a bank account in Jersey does not of itself mean that you are a crook,” he said, thoughtfully.