Were you still up for Portillo? And will you still be up for Twigg? Stephen Twigg memorably unseated Michael Portillo on the night of the 1997 Labour landslide in Enfield Southgate, but went on to lose his own seat in 2005. Portillo’s nemesis now wants a second bite of the cherry and is a Labour candidate for Liverpool West Derby. Twigg has signed up to five “integrity” pledges on the Progress website to govern his conduct if he is elected.
First up is the pledge: “As a parliamentary candidate I will subscribe to high standards of integrity, transparency, accountability and financial economy.” So, will Twigg be practising what he now preaches and publishing his old receipts?
“My understanding is that the full expenses from my years in the House will be published,” he says. “I am absolutely confident that my claims were in line with the principles I’ve signed up to. If they are not published I will be very happy to publish them myself.” Famous last words.
On the very day Gordon Brown announced that he would be establishing a National Council for Democratic Renewal, the political commentator and YouGov president Peter Kellner launched his book Democracy: 1,000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty at the Commonwealth Club. Among the cheerleaders present were the Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell, Frank Dobson and Virginia Bottomley. “I would like to thank the Daily Telegraph for making my book even more topical than it was a few months ago,” said Kellner. “Somebody here told me my next edition should be entitled Democracy: an Obituary.”
He went on to dismiss the quest for “consensus” as ridiculous and politically correct, and said it was tantamount to the lowest common denominator. “What we want is vigorous debate, not consensus,” he cried. He then publicly appealed to the Fees Office to allow MPs to claim for his book on expenses.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dem peer Lord Razzall was cajoling the veteran Tory MP Richard Shepherd to stand as Speaker. “I would love to do it,” said Shepherd, “ but he who wields the knife . . .” Razzall even offered to run the election campaign for one of the few MPs who dared sign the motion of no confidence in Speaker Michael Martin that led to his resignation. Best not breathe a word to the Lib Dems’ Sir Alan Beith, who rather fancies his own chances of becoming the next Speaker.
Despite all the mea culpas from our parliamentarians over making a pig’s ear – or should that be a hog’s moat – of their expenses and “allowances”, just how repentant are they? You might have thought the early-day motion by the independent MP Dai Davies would command universal assent in the Commons. After all, it calls for the setting up of a fund for poor communities from monies repaid by those MPs who made excessive and dubious claims over the years. It would certainly be a charitable way to make amends. But guess what? Just three MPs have signed it – for Respect, George Galloway, and also the Labour MPs David Drew and Martin Caton. A shame on all your (second) houses.
Charles Saatchi won the unlikely backing of the Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell last week for keeping us abreast of contemporary art. But not everyone was convinced by his show of abstract American art, which opened at the Saatchi Gallery on the King’s Road. One guest was overheard to comment: “The gallery’s a good advertisement for white paint and artificial lighting, but why block the windows when they might have offered something worth looking at?”
Luckily, Anthony Haden-Guest, often cited as a model for the hard-drinking hack Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities, was on hand to entertain. He declaimed some of his verse from a balcony: “Hubble, bubble, gubble! The world just melted/That was unexpected. I really felt it!/The Mona Lisa and Manet and Monet/And Salvador Dalí, who was already quite gummy,/And Damien’s Shark and the Jeff Koons Bunny/Have all gone gooey and oozy and runny/And not worth a bean in anyone’s money./So it’s ta for now! The world just ended./It was broke and it couldn’t be mended.” Make that man professor of poetry at Oxford.
Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary