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Commons Confidential: A donkey stalks Westminster

Why has supposed Tory leadership hopeful Adam Afriyie been popping in to visit Liam Fox?

Declarations of loyalty to David Cameron from Adam Afriyie were undermined by an admission he had discussed the “long-term future of the party” with other Tories. The hapless Windsor MP may be more stalking donkey than stalking horse but his wealth, reportedly as large as £100m, buys him clout. He might never wear the crown, but one so rich could finance a coronation. Which office did my snout see Afriyie popping in and out of in the weeks before the great plot was publicly alleged? None other than the Commons den – an office along a corridor called the North Curtain, a short cut from the hairdressers – of Dr Liam Fox. Afriyie may not harbour leadership ambitions but I’m not sure the same could be said of the right-wing former defence secretary.

The “Nazi stag party” MP Aidan Burley continues to confound colleagues on the Commons work and pensions committee with his poor grasp of government programmes. Hurly-Burley interrupted a discussion of Disability Living Allowance with a question about Employment and Support Allowance. My informant said it was rather like raising India during deliberations on South America. The more I hear about Burley, the easier it is to grasp how he failed to understand that an SS uniform would cause offence. I suspect he isn’t overwhelmed with bids when pub quiz teams are formed.

Interesting to note how peers’ attendance in the House of Cronies is going up with their expenses. A parliamentary answer disclosed that the average daily turnout in 2010 was 397 unelected lawmakers, who claimed a mean (in the arithmetical sense) of £270. Fast-forward to 2012 and the typical attendance was up to 488 and the average payout had risen to £287. Meanwhile, Lords staff are heading for their fourth successive annual pay freeze.

Food for thought after Ed Miliband and Mervyn King got into a stew by claiming that Brendan Barber would be going on a Jamie Oliver cookery course after he retired from the TUC. The Labour leader and the governor of the Bank of England, I gather, both got the wrong end of the ladle at the general sec’s farewell party. Barber is no union chef. The recipe for confusion is blamed on a half-boiled rumour.

The Pizzagate photograph of the upper-crust Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson enjoying a Davos dinner on the eve of hard cheese for the British economy has been labelled, as William Cash notes on page 13, the Bullingdon Club on tour. Despite its familiarity, the idea that the three most powerful Tories were members of the same Hooray Henry society at Oxford retains the ability to startle. I’m told Boris boasts privately that his £389,625, including Torygraphmoney, exceeds the salaries of Dave and George combined. They’re not all in this together.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.