Andy McSmith's Diary: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s actions speak even louder than his words


Andy McSmith
Tuesday 14 January 2014 21:00

Speeches in the House of Commons by the Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg are an erudite comedy turn. As MPs debated the European Union (Approvals) Bill (Lords), which writes into British law two draft regulations passed by the Council of the European Union, only he thought it necessary to read into the official record part of what one of the regulations actually said.

His chosen extract was: “A horizontal dimension of the programme should ensure the valorisation and transferability of results for enhanced impact and long-term sustainability…” As he approached the climax of this golden prose, he accidentally let go of the sheaf of documents he was holding, scattering them across the green benches. “This is how European documents should be treated: tossed in pieces around and about,” he remarked, in his confusion.

A portrait in poor taste

In the wake of the Evening Standard’s revelation that Parliament has spent around £250,000 on painted portraits of MPs, a long-serving member of staff tells me that what is really offensive is not the cost, but that in the corridor of Portcullis House, close to the Margaret Thatcher Room, there is a montage of scenes from the Commons smoking room in 1987, in the middle of which there is an unmistakable portrait of the late Cyril Smith, Liberal MP for Rochdale.

It frequently happens that parties of schoolchildren are shepherded past this image of a man who has been posthumously exposed as a disgusting paedophile. As my informant remarked: “If that was Jimmy Savile, they’d have taken it down.”

Norman’s big fat view

When Norman Tebbit was chairman of the Conservative Party in the 1980s, his role was to make Margaret Thatcher look like Mrs Nice Person, and at the grand age of 82, he has lost none of his abrasiveness. His contribution to the great national obesity scare was to tell the House of Lords: “People ought to know that if they stuff themselves silly with high-calorie rubbish foods they will get fat. It is their responsibility. All the forums and other nonsense are merely trying to divorce people from the consequences of their own stupid actions.” There is a part of me that says he has a valid point.

Bad taste proves sketchy

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, respectively editor and cartoonist for Private Eye for almost 30 years, gave an interesting exposition at a lunch organised by The Oldie magazine today on bad taste and how cartoonists can get away with it. Examples they brought along included a drawing of a bishop looking at two rows of choir boys and saying to himself “God! It’s like everyone I’ve ever slept with is here” and a Taliban careers master asking a pupil: “What would you like to be when you blow up?” Newman reckoned: “You can get away with very, very black subjects if it’s drawn in an attractive way.”

Strangely, the cartoon that seems to have landed him in more trouble than any other was not really in bad taste at all. Drawn immediately after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it showed the gates of heaven, and on the wall nearby a ladder, on top of which there was a photographer with a long-lens camera. He said that after it appeared in Private Eye “hundreds” of subscriptions were cancelled.

A Freudian slip too far?

David Freud, a Work and Pensions minister, cut a lonely figure in the House of Lords as he defended the so-called “bedroom tax”, which he helped to devise. A minister under pressure can usually count on support from his own side, but on this occasion, Lord Freud had to field 10 hostile questions while his fellow Tories sat behind him in silence. It is as if they have started to think that the entire policy might be a Freudian slip.

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