Gordon likes a joke or two

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The Independent Online
YOU may have read the jokes that Gordon Brown told a Westminster gaggle - should it be a gagging? - of political journalists at lunch last week. He left out two. Number one: "We have the servants now." (This sends up Tony Blair's post-election nonsense that "We are the servants now", itself a pastiche of post-war Attorney General Hartley Shawcross's remark that "We are the masters now"). Number two: "I went on a ministerial visit to the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. But there was no one in."

WATCH out Chancellor Brown! A woman is after your job. Fortunately for him, the gel in question is Julie Kirkbride, a new Tory MP who unwisely confessed her ambitions to her constituency association in Bromsgrove, Worcester- shire, whence they were leaked to the local paper. "I think I would like to be Chancellor," she simpered. "The truth is I would accept any cabinet job that was offered." Ms Kirkbride, aka Mrs Andrew Mackay (for she married the Shadow Ulster spokesman last summer), has been in the Commons only 11 months and is not likely to be offered any job in a Hague administration before she is in her late forties. Discretion forbids me to mention that that is nearly a decade off. Natural gallantry also prevents the diary from asking why she never made president of the Cambridge Union, as all her predecessors as vice-president did.

FOREIGN Office minister Derek Fatchett, with responsibilities for rebranding abroad, says that the Gov- ernment wants to change the image of Britain as Buckingham Palace and "old smokestack industries".

Really? Can this be the same Del Boy who rode shotgun with a striking Yorkshire miner into enemy territory - the working coalfield of Nottinghamshire - during the great coal strike of 1984? Creevey remembers riding with him in a rather elderly Volvo. When the driver was duly lifted by police, Fatchett pursued him to Mansfield nick and got the fellow released without charge. There was no disparaging talk about "smokestack" industries then. The cool anthem was Coal Not Dole. O Tempora. O New Laboria.

A FURTHER footnote to the Blackpool affair. You will recall that New Labour has turned up its nose at the Lancashire resort. But it looks as though the MPs would give their false teeth to get back to Blackpool. Dennis Turner MP, chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, says the big hit in the Strangers' Dining Room regularly used by honourable members is fish and chips with mushy peas. You don't get those in snooty Brighton or boring Bournemouth. Wulvrumpton Dennis also tells members in his progress report that the Strangers' Bar is to be repainted magnolia "to give it a fresher feel" and new fans will be installed to get rid of the appalling clouds of cigarette smoke. Brother Turner laments the decline of the Members' Smoking Room. "This particularly fine room has been somewhat neglected over the years," he says, "and the committee feels that it is in some need of refurbishment." The same may be said of some of its habitues, including some very fine Grade II listed trade union MPs, many with original architectural features.

THE queue to succeed diminutive Ian Hargreaves in the editorial chair at the New Statesman is already snaking round the Park Lane penthouse block of proprietor Geoffrey Robinson MP. Of course, he has nothing to do with the decision, being a minister whose interests are in trust. The front runners are Peter Oborne, a gee-gee fanatic and political columnist with the Express. Being a Tory is held to be his chief difficulty. Jonathan Freedland, a scribbler with the Guardian, is also mentioned, as is Kevin Maguire, political editor of the Mirror, who knows Labour from the inside yet remains an independent-minded fellow. It is preposterously bruited that Philip Bassett, aka Dame Bassett, husband of Foreign Office minister Lady Symon of Vernon Dean, might be roped in. Surely his role in the Downing Street Strategic Important Chaps Unit precludes that idea. And where is the woman candidate for this rather plum job, commanding pounds 180,000 a year? It is suggested to Creevey that the Independent's own firebrand, Anne McElvoy, might be New Hargreaves. But will she have the nerve to fire John Lloyd, the ultra-left turned ultra-Blairite associate editor whose head is approaching the platter?

THE dressing-down continues relentlessly. Chris Smith (never Christopher, notice, any more than Tony Blair is Anthony, or Cook is Robert, his given name) last week asked the diary to a bash in Oxo Tower Wharf on the Thames south bank to celebrate the presentation of this year's Sainsbury Scholarships. The invitation stipulated "casual dress". As one does not own a pair of jeans, one was not able to go. What will the summer bring? Invitations to ministerial functions that require the wearing of Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, no doubt.