Village People: The mark of a good autobiographer

Andy McSmith
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:19

Lord Mandelson has promised that his forthcoming memoirs will "ruffle some feathers". He ought to have a good story to tell because he has been around for so long and has held so many important political jobs, but let us hope he remembers that the best anecdotes are those that mark someone's character strongly.

Like the story Lord Trimble tells about when he was Northern Ireland's First Secretary, paying a call on Lord Mandelson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, at his official residence, Hillsborough Castle. Their conversation did not go well. In fact, Peter M became so exasperated that he stood up behind his desk, drew himself up to his full height, and told Trimble: "Get out of my house!"

Aspiring Lib Dem deputy adopts unpopular stance

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who is currently running against Simon Hughes to be deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, deserves credit for putting principles before electoral convenience. He represents one of the most rural seats in the country, where beef farming is a major contributor to the local economy. Mr Farron is a vegetarian.

Paisley Jnr takes place in political home from home

"I can be forgiven for coming to this place to spend a little bit more time with my family," said the newly elected MP for North Antrim, Ian Paisley junior. It was a jokey reference to the announcement of a peerage for his father, Ian senior. But Parliament must be home from home for the Paisley family. Two years ago, when MPs were hit by allegations of family nepotism in Parliament, there were five Paisleys based in the Village. Dad was an MP, Mum was Baroness Paisley, and the children Ian junior, Cherith and Rhonda all had paid jobs in Dad's Commons office.

Recent arrival in the House outstays her welcome

Luciana Berger, a bright, ambitious southerner who found her way up the M6 to become Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, attracted some ridicule earlier in the year when the Liverpool Echo discovered that she had not heard of Bill Shankly and did not know who recorded "Ferry Cross the Mersey". Her maiden speech to Parliament this week was a valiant effort to make amends. She name-checked just about everybody from history with any link to that part of Liverpool, from John Lennon to Bessie Braddock. But she either had not heard or had forgotten the rule that maiden speeches should be brief. Ms Berger was in the middle of telling her fellow MPs about her famous great uncle, Manny Shinwell, when the Deputy Speaker politely but firmly instructed her that time was up. A lot of new MPs have now made their maiden speeches, but so far only one has suffered the indignity of being told to shut up.

The dilemma that dogs MPs' maiden speeches

Gavin Shuker, another twenty-something new MP, also caught it last week over his maiden speech, though he followed the unwritten rules meticulously. It is laid down that new MPs must pay tribute to their predecessors, no matter what their records may have been.

Shuker delivered a few factual remarks about the woman he has replaced as MP for Luton South, without really praising her at all, and yet, according to his local radio station, Three Counties Radio, it was enough to set off outraged calls from listeners. The woman in question was Margaret Moran, whose career was brought to a shuddering halt by the expenses scandal. This creates a dilemma for every other new MP who has replaced someone forced out by the expenses furore, some of whom are accused of worse abuses than Ms Moran.

Tory sartorial pledges – can we believe them?

Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove, made a speech that was "maiden" in more senses than one, including as it did a promise to be the first MP to wear an Iron Maiden T-shirt in the Commons. It is to be hoped that he proves more of a man of his word than the Tory blogger Iain Dale, who pledged on election night that if the exit poll predicting a hung Parliament proved to be right, he would run naked down Whitehall. The poll was spot on. Mr Dale's clothes have been on, too. You just can't trust a Tory.

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