Village People: What a Twit

Andy McSmith
Saturday 19 February 2011 01:00

Andrew Neil sent the Westminster rumour mill into top gear on Wednesday morning with a cryptic tweet about a "senior Lib Dem scandal" that was on the way.

Those who closely watched the ensuing Twitter flurry will have noticed the name of the Lib Dem president Tim Farron cropping up, for no apparent reason. Downing Street was sufficiently alarmed to ring Lib Dem headquarters and ask whether Mr Farron had landed himself in some career-threatening scrape. And then it all faded away. The fuss was set off by a court case in Cumbria in which a man was given a jail sentence for trying to blackmail a prominent member of the local community. Tim Farron's seat, Westmoreland and Lonsdale, covers a chunk of Cumbria. Hence, certain people leapt to the conclusion it was Farron who harboured a compromising secret that was about to burst into the public domain.

Two things were wrong with this theory. First, it is illegal to "out" the intended victim in a blackmail case. The people who were bandying Farron's name around could have got into serious trouble, if they had got the right guy. But they had the wrong guy. No one has been trying to blackmail Tim Farron. Funny how these stories get around.

MPs on their guard

Did you think the Conservatives were opposed to ID cards? Having seen how Vince Cable got caught out by two young female Daily Telegraph journalists posing as constituents, some Tory MPs are now demanding proof of identity, such as a driving licence or passport that they can cross check with the electoral register, before they will talk to people who come to their surgeries. One said: "It is sad that it has come to this, but we can trust no one."

Not cheap and cheerful

The website of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Association accuses the local Labour MP Andrew Slaughter of costing taxpayers £25,000 in a day by tabling 168 written questions to the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. It has been calculated that the average cost of researching and answering a written question is £149. But that assumes that each question gets an answer.

Mr Slaughter pulled off the extraordinary feat of asking 168 questions, all about staff matters outside the ministry's remit. They were all answered with a single paragraph saying "this information is not held by the Ministry of Justice..." His questions may have been daft, but they were cheap.

Cryptic questions

If the Tories want to get aerated about the expense of parliamentary questions they should look at the 50 written answers to the Tory peer, Lord Taylor of Warwick, which have appeared in Hansard since 25 January. Each required a separate answer, so by implication their combined cost was £7,450.

They included one which asked the Government: "What plans they have to review the use of intensive community punishment as a replacement for prison sentences?" On 25 January, Lord Taylor was convicted by a jury of expenses fraud. He awaits sentencing.

Brown's birthday bonus

Gordon Brown is 60 tomorrow. This means he will be entitled to the winter fuel allowance, which he first introduced 13 years ago, and he just manages to be eligible for a free bus pass, which he also introduced for everyone over 60, before the qualifying age is raised in June.

Happy birthday, Gordon.

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