Thomas Creevey His Diary: Madam Speaker to stand down

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It is discreetly bruited at Westminster that Madam Speaker will stand down "some time in the next two years". Betty Boothroyd, the first woman Speaker, hates people talking about her age, but she will be 70 in October 1999, and even High Court judges have to retire then. No doubt she will find ways of maintaining her famous sun-tan, even in retirement. Betty on the lecture circuit would be a great deal more entertaining that Margaret Thatcher.

And who will succeed? Why, none other than Creevey's old pal Sir Alan Haselhurst, Deputy Speaker and Tory MP for Saffron Walden. He is older than he looks, having turned 60 this year, and his bark is softer than Betty's.

The glitterati gathered at Number 10 last Wednesday, the night the Government forced through its raid on the empty purses of single mothers. Among them, none other than Liz Dawn, aka Vera Duckworth, landlady of the Rover's Return in Coronation Street. Evidently, there is a strong political kinship. "My sister was a Labour member of West Yorkshire County Council," she confided to fellow-partygoers. Since Vera is so skilled at stuffing her screen-husband Jack, maybe she could be brought in to sort out Jack "Beef is Off" Cunningham.

The champagne certainly flowed that evening. Tony Blair has been compelled to admit that he is the most extravagant prime ministerial party-thrower of modern times. His Government spent more than pounds 7m on official hospitality in its first four months - more than the annual saving in child benefits for lone parents whipped through the Commons.

No wonder The Great Leader is known no longer as "Trust Tony". In the words of the Tory househusband Peter Bottomley MP, he is now "Offshore Trust Tony".

John Major is to be paid pounds 400,000 (or pounds 100,000, depending on who you believe) for his memoirs. Working title? The Dull Years, maybe. Or Colour Me Grey. Major gave a sample of his wit and wisdom to a parliamentary press gallery lunch last week. "Two permanent secretaries have just retired," he said. "And they made their farewell speeches from my soapbox. I don't mind them knocking Tory policies, but can I have my soap box back?"

Perhaps it's just the way he tells them.

Edwina Currie, the sex-novelist, has taken great exception to a story by ex-Tory MP Jerry Hayes in Punch that she exercised her feminine wiles to silence Phil Woolas MP when he was student politician. Something about putting his hand on her stocking tops while sharing a platform. Not true, she rages. At a Punch lunch she scribbled a protest note, concluding "Jerry is due for a colonic irrigation, and I would be glad to administer it!" Pass the rubber piping, sister.

To the Irish embassy for the annual Christmas bash, which is well up to standard. One MP was saved from a spot of stair-hugging by your diarist, while a lady press officer did actually take a tumble. The copious draughts of excellent Guinness - only halves, mind you - must be held responsible. The embassy stairs are no steeper than the average, and they are magnificently wide. But for some reason, revellers seem to lose their grip on the vertical hold while descending. Maybe ambassador Ted Barrington should investigate the option of holding the event on the ground floor, even if it does deprive the staff of an excellent seasonal cabaret.

So farewell then again, to David Hall, the Commons barman who always had a good word for MPs. Unfortunately, it is unprintable. Hall, sometimes known as Auld Cheekie after his native city of Edinburgh, was never known to keep quiet when he could interrupt a conversation. He has been made redundant in the latest round of Westminster sackings. Funny, isn't it, that managements always discover that the shop steward is the man most surplus to requirements?

John McWilliam, the Labour MP for Blaydon and all-powerful Chairman of Selection, is in despair. Now that Peter Temple-Morris, has quit the Tory benches and sits with the Opposition, McWilliam has lost his parliamentary "pair". This curious practice of going Absent With Leave if an MP on the other side also bunks off is a form of legalised truancy. So losing one's pair is a serious business. These days, you just can't get a replacement. One hundred and fifty Tories into 400-plus Labour simply doesn't go. McWilliam, the man who chooses which MPs sit on which committee, must now ask those horrid whips for permission to go home to his cottage in the Tyne valley.