Our Man in Westminster: Perk rarely used by MPs that’s not to be sneezed at


Andy McSmith
Monday 21 October 2013 22:31
The box is made from wood taken from the frame of the old chamber door, which was hit by a German bomb in 1941
The box is made from wood taken from the frame of the old chamber door, which was hit by a German bomb in 1941

As MPs go into the House of Commons debating chamber, they pass what looks like a sentry box, in which there is a shelf, on which lies a snuff box.

It is made from wood taken from the frame of the old chamber door, which was hit by a German bomb in 1941, and has a silver plate on the lid inscribed with the name of every holder of the office of Principal Doorkeeper for the past 70 years.

There has been free snuff on offer for MPs since they banned smoking in the Chamber, in 1693.

This perk was spotted by Rehman Chishti, the Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, who slapped in a written question wanting to know how much the perk costs the taxpayer. The answer is nothing: the Principal Doorkeeper pays for it out of his own pocket.

But before anyone gets indignant on the Principle Doorkeeper’s behalf, the incumbent, Robin Fell, has no problem with the arrangement, since he has never had to fill the snuff box since his appointment in April 2011. His predecessor, Graham Dear, bequeathed him a full box, and it is still half full. “It hasn’t made a big impact on my emolument,” Mr Fell observed.

Personal declaration: Mr Fell let me sample the snuff. It has quite a kick.

Van Rompuy: love him or hate him

You would think that Herman van Rompuy would have drawn the appropriate lesson form British Gas’s recent experience.

Someone in the power company’s communications department thought it would take some of the sting out of a 9.2 per cent price increase if it held a question-and-answer session on Twitter. It was, as they say, a social media car crash.

But that did not deter Mr van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, from inviting questions on Twitter on Monday, though the reaction from the dedicated EU-haters cannot have been hard to predict.

“What are your views on democracy? Have you heard of it?” asked one. “Marmite: love it or hate it?” asked another. Rompuy Pumpuy, as he is affectionately known, actually answered that one. “Never had Marmite, but would love to taste it,” he revealed.

The A1 could put Miliband on the map

Political trivia from Mike Smithson, the internet’s top political betting expert: the last three party leaders to win outright majorities in general elections – Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair – all represented constituencies along the A1. So does Ed Miliband. Interesting, but meaningless.

The pitfalls of modern etiquette

A footnote to last week’s argument about whether it is polite to offer a heavily pregnant woman a seat, which was set off when The Independent’s sister paper, i, noted that the Business Minister, Jo Swinson, was left standing through Prime Minister’s Questions.

Travelling to work on Monday, I saw a woman offer her seat to a fellow passenger, only to be told in a loud voice: “I’m not pregnant. I’ve just got a fat stomach.”

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