A new contender challenges Peter Bone, bookies’ pal Philip Davies and other leading parliamentary brainiacs for the title of Most Cerebral Backbencher. The mystery is how Sir Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot who in the gay marriage debate referred to “aggressive homosexuals”, evaded attention for so long.
This veteran intellectual giant of the frothing right has been a delight since first being elected in 1983, though the relevant cause célèbre came earlier. It is the case of the “Shrewsbury 24”, the two-dozen construction workers arrested five months after a contentious 1972 strike. Six of them, including the actor Ricky Tomlinson, went to prison. The general assumption that these weirdly belated prosecutions were politically motivated is not wholly assuaged by the fact that, in defiance of the 30-year rule governing the release of official papers, and for reasons of “national security”, documents concerning the Heath government’s part in the outrage remain sealed.
Precisely how their release would assist Her Majesty’s foreign foes with their knavish tricks is opaque – “national security, my arse”, as Tomlinson’s Jim Royle might have it – and, last week, Labour’s David Anderson tabled a motion calling for their publication. In the debate, Gerald reminded the Commons how he stocked up with provisions in preparation for strike-induced anarchy, fondly recalling how he and Ross McWhirter discussed producing a newspaper to educate the public when conventional titles “were being closed down by trade union militants”.
What a riveting read that would have been, what with Mr McWhirter – later murdered by the IRA – advocating mandatory registration with local police for all Irish nationals in the UK. Anyway, naifs who imagine that any threat of industrial, strife-related anarchy has receded should pay close heed to Gerald, who identified the presence at the debate of 34 Labour members as evidence of a resurgent “old Labour … seeking to romanticise mob rule, violence and intimidation”.
This is a profound thinker of the first order, so if you bump into him cleaning out the bottled water aisle of a Hampshire Waitrose in anticipation of the collapse of civil society, grab as many tins of baked beans as the trolley will hold and head for the hills.
Connivance? What connivance?
Speaking of the IRA, we morosely note more strife for Mr Tony Blair. Things are a bit rough for him at the minute, with restaurant staff attempting citizen’s arrests and the possibly over-optimistic expectation that the Chilcot inquiry will finally publish its conclusions in the summer. Now The Sunday Telegraph reports that some 200 people are planning legal action against Mr T for colluding with one-time hugging pal Colonel Gaddafi to block a class action against the late dictator for providing the IRA with Semtex. The paper has seen an email which appears to suggest that the former PM helped broker a deal with George W Bush to compensate US victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism, which in turn stymied the hopes of British victims. His spokesperson categorically denies this and, on the prima facie evidence, it does seem an outlandish claim. The notion of Mr T secretly conniving with Mr Bush on any matter, as one prays Chilcot will conclude, is fanciful in the extreme.
Hold the front page! It’s a Pickles pickles exposé
Although it is often tempting to deride the use of the term “exclusive”, its appearance above a hard-hitting Sun on Sunday scoop is justified. David Wooding reports that on a trip to India, Eric Pickles (more accurately, in this context, Eric “Mango, Lime and Brinjal” Pickles) “scoffed six curries in one sitting”. The fact that the Communities Secretary had been invited to sample the work of local chefs, and was restricted to a spoonful of each, in no way detracts from the exposé’s shock value. If anything, in fact, its curious burial on page eight raises grave questions about the paper’s news judgement.
Remembrance of woeful thoughtlessnesses past
On Radio 5 Live yesterday, likeable breakfast host Tony Livesey – “Loud Mouth Livesey” as he was in his distant days as editor and star columnist of that paper of record, the Sunday Sport – addressed the problem of the isolated elderly and chatted with a venerable woman who spoke of her sadness at spending Sundays alone. By ending this touching interview with “have a lovely day”, we can thank Tony for jogging the memory of the mid-1990s GMTV masterpiece in which, after listening with intense sympathy to a man suffering from Aids, a serious heart condition and clinical depression, sofa psychologist Beechy Colclough bade the caller farewell with a jaunty “Stay healthy!”
And lo, a gentler, kinder Liz Jones was born
The most feverishly anticipated eyewitness report for decades is finally published. After her wickedly premature eviction last week, Liz Jones treats Mail on Sunday readers to an account of her stay in the Celebrity Big Brother house with an article of two halves. In the first, she dismisses a group including Jim Davidson, various silicone-chested obscurities, Evander Holyfield and that Socrates of pop music Lee Ryan as “inane, vain and terminally moronic”. In the second, she softens her stance to describe Dappy out of N-Dubz, to whom she was handcuffed at the time, as “a gentleman” for holding her hair away from the gastric eruption, rubbing her back and “cooing all the while” when she vomited from stress. Far less potty when in the house than her oeuvre had led one to expect, Liz believes herself to be a kinder soul for the experience. We will keep an eagle eye on her work to determine how that gentler, sweeter thing works out for her.