Word in Westminster
Alain Tolhurst takes a sideways look at life in Westminster. This week, awkward times at the Brits, expensive sofas and MPs' holiday reading.
Departing MPs off on February recess could have found some holiday reading inspiration from what their colleagues have been checking out from the Commons Library. Figures show the most popular book in the second half of 2019 was “Protest and power: the battle for the Labour Party”, which is revealing enough, but in second place was “Why we get the wrong politicians” by the journalist Isabel Hardman. There were also several members who borrowed “How to be an MP” by the late Labour veteran Paul Flynn, which is more than a little worrying…
Every Parliamentarian knows there are some things for which it is correct to table a written question for, and some things it really isn’t. Which is why it was surprising to see Lord Naseby, a peer for more than 20 years, and an MP for another 25 before that, formally ask the “what consideration has been given to the re-introduction of hot toasted sandwiches in the House of Lords Bishop’s Bar”. To his credit Lord Laming responded at length, which jarringly includes both the lines “two plated salad options have remained on offer”, and “the Committee did not introduce these changes lightly”. According to an FOI in 2012 (which will of course itself cost money to respond to, proving it really is turtles all the way down), the average cost for answering a PQ is £159. I’m sure we can all agree for the noble cause of toasted sandwiches it is a price worth paying…
There has been much consternation at the removal of the water features, however shonky, from Portcullis House, and their replacement with an “agile working zone” for the princely sum of £27,766, excluding VAT for the new furniture, with a Commons spokesman defending the purchases because of increasing demand for workspace in PCH. But Tory MP Dehenna Davison questioned whether the furniture is value for money, tweeting: "Why are taxpayers expected to foot the bill for this? £27k for a few sofas and comfy chairs is outrageous. Have they not heard of Argos or IKEA?!" Perhaps with the Budget coming and some recently opened staffing gaps to fill the new member for Bishop Auckland is looking for a quick promotion?
Dehenna also posted a picture of herself at the Brits this week, where presumably she sat awkwardly while her boss was labelled a racist by a man called ‘Dave’. But that wasn’t the most shocking political sight at this year’s awards ceremony, after Cabinet minister Thérèse Coffey was said to be seen dancing up against the rapper Stormzy, leading to her new title of Secretary of State for Twerk and Pensions. She did fare better than the last senior figure to make news at the Brits though, after John Prescott had a bucket of ice water thrown over him by the drummer from Chumbawamba in 1998. The band were angry at New Labour’s attempt to associate itself with Cool Britannia, but the ex-deputy PM got his own back in 2012, tweeting when the band broke up: "Chumbawho?"