I try not to obsess about West Ham in this column, but you will forgive me reporting an exchange between West Ham supporting Tory MPs Alec Shelbrooke and Bob Neill, and Spurs fans Iain Duncan Smith and Mike Penning. You will recall that West Ham hammered Spurs 3-0 on Sunday by adopting a deft 4-6-0 formation. On Monday the two pairs of MPs encountered each other in a Commons corridor whereupon Neil and Shelbrooke broke into a very tuneful rendition of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’. IDS and bruiser Penning, who had just been promoted to be Minister of State under IDS, didn’t exactly see the funny side. I’m told they issued a rather humourless ‘F*** off’ and carried on their way. Obviously they only sing when they’re winning.
What we refer to as the ‘incident in Brighton’ is clearly one of those things which is going to stay with me until I meet my maker. Virtually everyone I encounter tries to make some deeply unoriginal joke about it and then laughs uproariously at their humorous jibe, clearly imagining I haven’t heard it all before. I grin and say ‘haha’. Tom Watson texted me after it had happened and said “You won’t feel like this now, but one day you’ll laugh at this’. I haven’t reached that stage yet. I thought it was all going away and then I watched ‘Have I Got News For You’. It wasn’t quite how I imagined my first appearance on that show, shall we say.
Some MPs have the cheek of the devil. Alun Cairns, the diminutive Tory MP for the Vale of Glamorgan is clearly one of them. When the Damian McBride book was published, he wrote to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, asking him to investigate whether Damian had broken the law by logging into Gordon Brown’s computer. No doubt a good wheeze dreamed up by some bright spark at CCHQ. So guess who turned up at Damian McBride’s booklaunch at the Westminster Intercontinental on Wednesday night? Yup, Alun Cairns! Some brass neck! He then told me he had a letter back from Sir Bernard which said there was no case to answer. Well, there’s a surprise! I have to say I find the growing tendency of MPs to report people (and each other) to the Metropolitan Police deeply disturbing. They rarely do it because they think there’s a case to answer. They do it because their party HQs tell them to, the whips tell them to, or because they think it’ll get the a page lead in the Daily Mail or The Sun. And invariably they are right.
Has Adam Afriyie completely lost his marbles? His intervention on an early EU referendum is bonkers and when even such fervent Eurosceptics like Philip Davies react with suspicion he must know he has cocked up big time. Earlier in the year, it was reported that Afriyie had hired Phil Hall, the former News of the World Editor, to handle his PR. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at their initial meeting. I’m sure Hall can’t have started to advise Afriyie yet, because if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have advised him to use the line: ‘Oh, I am not causing trouble, I have to speak for my consicence’. Oh pass the sick bag. I’m told he has been asked to address a meeting of female Tory MPs next week. I suspect he’s being set up and they will rip him to shreads. Of course this is all the fault of the wretched LibDems. Without the coalition, I have little doubt Adam would now be a perfectly competent Minister of State, and the only time we’d ever hear from him would be when he was extolling the virtues of whatever portfolio he happened to hold. Nick Clegg has a lot to answer for!
The election campaign to be the next Deputy Speaker continues apace. Having appeared before Tory MPs on Wednesday evening (see the report by Paul Goodman) ,they will now face an unprecedented meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. At the 1922 it seems that Gary Streeter and Henry Bellingham got the best reaction, with the two favourites Simon Burns and Eleanor Laing not quite living up to expectations. I’m not sure Eleanor was wise to pick Chris Bryant as her Labour organiser. Bryant is a marmite character – loved or hated, even on his own side. I like him and he has been very kind to me on occasion (cue the predictable comment: ‘You gays stick together’), but is he the man to persuade Labour MPs to vote for Laing? We’ll see. One MP who is picking up support on the Labour side is Brian Binley. It will also be interesting to see how many Labour votes Nadine Dorries picks up. If you were a Labour MP and wanted to cast your vote in a way designed to upset the Prime Minister, you could hardly do better, could you? The question is, though. Would they rather upset the PM or the Speaker? If it’s the latter the job is Simon Burns’s for the taking. Again, oh to be a fly on the wall at the first meeting of The Speaker and his deputies.
Well the reshuffle was a bit of a damp squib, wasn’t it? The highlight was when the irrepressible Grant Shapps went on Sky News to describe it as “a reshuffle for hardworking people”. Hashtag facepalm. I interviewed him later and asked him why on earth he kept repeating this tired old mantra, first invented by Gordon Brown. He said that the new ministers would be working very hard, thereby implicitly accusing the sacked ministers of not working very hard. This sort of political sloganising treats the electorate with utter contempt. I mean, who isn’t in favour of hard working people? It must be the most vacuous conference slogan the Conservatives have ever had. I finished the interviewing by saying ‘thanks to the hard working Conservative Party chairman’. Had I been thinking more quickly I might have pointed if he worked even harder he might not need a co-chairman.
Who on earth thought it a good idea to sack Alistair Burt from the Foreign Office? The Prime Minister? The Chief Whip? Or was it George Osborne? Burt was just the kind of minister every government needs a stack of – hard working, competent, amiable, totally on top of his brief. He hadn’t ever put a foot wrong. Mark Prisk, too. Was it because they are short? That they haven’t achieved high media profiles? It’s a travesty. Nothing is fair in love and politics, but for certain ministers to keep their jobs and these two to lose them isn’t just unfair, it is plain wrong and plain stupid.
This week I have interviewed both Harry Redknapp and Jennifer Saunders for my LBC radio show. Next week I am talking to Princess Michael of Kent about her new book for half an hour. I’m not very good at tugging my forelock, so I’d better mug up on the protocol. This is a very varied job! Last week we did hour-long phone-ins on Marxism, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, finding love in later life and, er, the appeal of naturism. If I told you I did that hour stark bollock naked, you’d probably think I was telling the truth, wouldn’t you?
The complete trauma of switching from Blackberry to the iPhone continues. After around ten years of being a Blackberry devotee, my patience has finally snapped and I have gone to the dark side. I fell almost dirty for having done so, as if I am betraying a friend, but it had to happen. I loved my Blackberry Curve. I cherished my Blackberry Bold, I loved the keyboard, I loved the functionality. But in July I had what was laughingly called an upgrade to the new Blackberry Q10. On day one I took against it but decided I should be patient, and it was probably just teething problems. Everything on the phone was counter-intuitive. Yes, it had the same keyboard, but everything else on the phone was too ‘appy’. It was a Blackberry trying a little too hard to be an iPhone. After six weeks I finally gave up. When you use a phone you shouldn’t have to think about what you’re doing. It should just be automatic, but with the Q10 you have to think about everything you do. You have to think about whether you swish the screen left, or is it right, or is it up, or is it down. No more swishing for me. So this week I ordered the new iPhone 5S. I’ve always thought iPhones were a bit like Tottenham Hotspur – pretty to watch, but in the end the product doesn’t live up to the veneer. I’ve shied away from them in the past because I found typing on them too difficult, but hopefully it is something I will get used to over time. If not, I suppose it’s back to the good old Blackberry Bold!