Just what the doctor would have ordered

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Beastly British Cowards have done it again. Beeb bosses have caved in to Tory pressure even before the party chairman, Dr Brian Mawhinney, can toll them (that's how it comes out in his Ulster brogue) who should cover the party leaders at election time.

You might think Jon Sopel, who wrote the first biography of Tony Blair, would be the man to cover the Labour leader. And you would be wrong. Instead, the news chiefs have assigned Jeremy Vine, a born-again Christian whose views are, well, shall we say, considered more acceptable. Sopel will follow John Major, about whom he presumably knows less, and Vine, the poor man's Paxman, will pursue the Labour leader.

Come to think of it, this might be no bad thing. Sopel's book is so gushing that three weeks of him spouting about Tony Blair on the box would be unbearable. He even managed to write a hugely flattering piece about Blair's head of office, Anji Hunter.

He was therefore deeply upset to learn that a recent visitor to the Labour leader's Islington home spotted two of Vine's novels, but nary a sign of the Sopel hagiography.

Jacqui Lait, the first woman Tory Whip, was stopped by Customs going to France the other day because an alert officer suspected she had a collection of grenades in her handbag. In fact, she plays boules, and they were her boules. "Actually, these are standard items of torture in the Whips' Office," she chortled. The member for Hastings and Rye answers to the sobriquet of "One Across" these days, after appearing as a clue in a newspaper crossword.

Yes, yes, there are probably too many awards around, but Creevey is not frightened of plurality. So today we launch the Malvolio Medal for the Most Self-Important MP. This is plainly an idea whose time has come. Your correspondent was virtually knocked over in the rush for nominations when the idea was first mooted in the Strangers' bar at Westminster.

But the column must be allowed first go. Step forward David Howell, the pompous chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Yes, he is also the Conservative MP who broke down in tears when handbagged by Maggie.

Any man who is willing to go on the Today programme before the crack of dawn to prattle vapidly about international affairs ("The question about Bosnia/Zaire/the Gulf is that we must be fully satisfied that British interests are genuinely at stake, and that any action we take will be consistent with UN resolution 8678, or not as the case may be, and in this I fully support the Foreign Secretary, whoever he happens to be") must take himself too seriously for his own good.

So, this week's crossed garters go to the hawk-nosed, sad-visaged honourable member standing down for Guildford, Surrey. Aren't his voters the lucky ones? Your nominations are welcome, but Creevey must warn you that the trickle of proposals already received is swelling to a torrent. Nice, malicious business, isn't it, democracy?

One of the many delights about working in the palace of Westminster is that mobile phones are banned. If Creevey hears correctly (the old aural system has been under siege for some time), Great Western Railways are to set aside a special carriage for the Orange phone folk. Why stop there? Why not herd all One-2-One noisies into a set-aside coach, and pack the ts-ts-ts-ts-ts Walkman brigade in with them? Then we can all read the Yorkshire Post in peace.

Alan Beith, who is almost certainly deputy leader of Liberal Democrats, and unquestionably a Methodist (the religion, not the acting) has always taken a rather pointless pride in being a teetotaller. So why is he suddenly hitting the bottle?

It seems he finally read that a glass of red wine is good for you. Stops you getting heart attacks, and that kind of thing. So he has suppressed his natural aversion to booze and is taking the odd tincture - all right, one glass a day - for purely medicinal purposes, of course. This is an heroic business, but the former politics lecturer should beware John Barleycorn. My quondam comrade Dai Francis, the Pentecostal South Wales miners' leader, took to the sherbet late in life for the same reason. Trouble is, what sherry delivers, you begin to believe, whisky and brandy do in larger measure. And that way lies ruin. Can he any longer, one wonders, paraphrase the old police formula for detecting drunks: "The Beith police dismisseth us"?

Incidentally, the Today programme on the wireless sent a young man round to this column last week to find a witness in favour of the Great British Lunch. Politicians tend to loosen up on the second bottle of Commons claret, he was told. Sensible chap, he brought his recording machine round before lunch.

At least Creevey tried to help. When the reporter approached Roy Hattersley, the response came that the prolific columnist and former front-bencher didn't want to be interviewed. But he would be quite happy to be taken out for lunch.

New Labour and Old Labour we know about. But Mediaeval Labour? Lord Whitty of Camberwell, as he will be on Tuesday, and Larry until then, is throwing a bash at The Bread and Roses, a new pub in Clapham, south London. It is owned by the Workers' Beer Company, which sounds a bit proletarian for a nouveau aristocrat. The invitation promises "New Lord, New Pub, Mediaeval Labour". What can he mean?

Lord Lal, who was born in Ulster and should therefore have an Irish title, was to have been called Baron Walworth, because he was general secretary of the Labour Party in Walworth Road. However, his wife Angie pointed out that it was one William Walworth, Mayor of London, who had Wat Tyler dragged from Barts and beheaded in the days before the labour movement relied on focus groups, so that choice was vetoed.

Creevey also notices that the mandarins' union leader, Liz Symons, has been ennobled as Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. Where? Friends say this is the Hampshire village where she and her husband Philip Bassett, industrial editor of the Times, have a weekend cottage. How very Blairist.

Comments