Irish footsteps in Westminster

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The Independent Online
Sinn Fein will be taking its place at Westminster tomorrow. Sort of. They are rolling out the red carpet for a "Shinner" MP. He will be given the right-royal tour of the House of Commons during the annual Anglo-Irish parliamentary bash, which this year takes place in the QE2 conference centre in Parliament Square, in the shadow of Sir Winston Churchill's statue. (He is looking the other way.)

You want to know who this Sinn Fein fellow is. His name is Caomihghin O' Caolain. He is a TD, that is to say, a member of the Irish parliament, the Dail (rhymes with "Oi'll"). The organisers of the talk-in are helpful about him, but not very. It seems that Caomihghin was a teacher, and he is the only SF member of the Dublin parliament.

He will fare better than Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, both legitimate Sinn Fein MPs for Ulster constituencies in the UK parliament. They are not allowed into the Palace of Westminster, even to post a letter. The mere suggestion that they be allowed an office prompted cries of anguish from the usual suspects - ignoring the fact that Adams is to meet Tony Blair in Downing Street on 11 December. The job-threatened coal miners have yet to manage that.

MICHAEL Howard may not be long for the upper reaches of Tory Fantasy Politics, Creevey understands. "Lock 'em Up!" has had some rather attractive offers from the City, according to Tory insiders, and he is inclined to take the money and run. He will find plenty of room on the back benches, alongside Ken Clarke, who got to the boardrooms with rather greater celerity.

THOSE of you who recollect last week's On The Record, the BBC Sunday lunchtime boreathon, may remember that they promised Harriet Harman, the Social Security Secretary, for today's programme. Don't switch channels. Labour has pulled her in favour of Alistair Darling, the newly-beardless Treasury minister, who will tell us all why the Government plans to make single parents go back to work or slowly starve so they can feed their child. Why can't Hattie give us the good news? Can it possibly be anything to do with the choice of an elite south London school for her daughter, which could prompt more embarrassing questions about Labour hypocrisy?

IT WAS once said that the worst thing about being sent to jail was the prospect of being visited by Myra Hindley's spokesman, Lord Longford. He of the bottle glasses and astro-gliding hair. Now the risk of being visited in hospital by Tony Blair seems no less great.

The Prime Minister has ordered that the Health Department's long-awaited White Paper on the future of the NHS, due out this week, must be put back another week so that he can unveil it personally. Cue another visit by Our Leader to a hospital ward within half an hour's driving distance of Downing Street. Almost certainly involving children.

PHIL WOOLAS, the new MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth who distinguished himself in his first week at the Commons by illicitly taking a photograph of Sir Brian Mawhinney hunched alone over his tea on the terrace, left quite a hole at the GMB union where he was director of communications.

Creevey hears that his place is to be taken by Tom Condon, tousle-haired Westminster editor of Scotland on Sunday. He will move from poacher to gamekeeper early in the new year, becoming right-hand man to John "Treble Chins" Edmonds, the union's circumferential general secretary. The GMB has 80 sponsored MPs (including Peter Mandelson) and wee Tommie, scourge of the hard left when he was industrial editor of the Sun, can be relied on to keep them "on message".

CHRISTMAS is coming, and so is Santa Claus, in the unlikely shape of Keith Vaz, the Labour MP, who is organising the Westminster Kids' Club Xmas party in the Members' Dining Room. Come to think of it, Vazman is the right shape. He will look good in a white beard - though the hirsute- hostile New Labour Party may already have banned them as politically incorrect, or likely to lose votes.

It will cost MPs' kids a fiver to engage in "two fun-packed hours of tea and entertainment" and they are promised a surprise guest of honour as well as Santa. According to the invitation the Kids' Club exists to "provide on-going activities", so presumably they will break up into workshops and study groups after the prezzies are handed round.

PETER Temple-Morris, the defecting Europhile Tory MP, has taken his seat on the government benches without a second thought for his Labour "pair", John McWilliam, MP for Blaydon and chairman of selection for Parliament's many committees. Temple of Doom, as he is known, isn't subject to the whips, but poor old McWilliam will never get another Tory MP to play hookey with: 400 into 160 just doesn't go. Paul Routledge