29 February 2012 3:45 PM

The French battle for London

Socialist French presidential front-runner Francois Hollande is in town today, meeting with Ed Miliband and giving a talk at King's College.

He'll also be campaigning alongside Axelle Lemaire, his party's candidate in the race to be "French MP for London". A new-for-2012 innovation, France will have 11 MPs based outside of the country and chosen exclusively by ex-pats.

Ahead of Hollande's visit I spoke to all of Lemaire's London-based rivals (the time pressures of a visiting leader prevented it being a full house) and was struck by what an impressive bunch of budding politicians they are.

In Nicolas Sarkozy's corner is Emmanuelle Savarit, a 39-year-old divorced mother-of-two who has worked in LA and loves rugby. She also claims to be the only French member of the Carlton Club (following in Margaret Thatcher's footsteps - she was officially a male member back in the day). An impressive attack dog for the Sarkozy camp, she warned Brits should be "scared" if Hollande ousts her man from the top job.

Hoping to come through the middle is Yannick Naud, of the centrist Democratic Movement. A polished performer, the 44-year-old asset management firm boss is another with international experience, having worked in Japan where he met his wife. He is banging the drum for ex-pat rights, putting education at the top of his list and opposing plans to tax French people overseas.

Independent Will Mael Nyamat entered the race in protest at perceived gender bias in favour of Lemaire, quitting the Socialists to stand. A 27-year-old immigration adviser who was born in Gabon but now lives in Croydon. Very much the anti-establishment man, he argues voters don't want the contest "confiscated" by the two main parties.

Completing the list is the Green Party's Olivier Bertin, who runs a bilingual nursery school and has stood for the English greens as a council candidate in Lambeth. He believes the overseas MPs can bring a good perspective from their experiences abroad - even suggesting a Freedom of Information Act for notoriously privacy-aware France.

They are all bidding to woo as many as 100,000 registered French voters in the capital - the vast bulk of the constituency. It should make for a fascinating scrap.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 February 2012 11:54 AM

Clegg won't block Lib-Dem MPs' health revolt

Amid the widespread anger in his party over Andrew Lansley's health reforms, The Standard understands that Nick Clegg will not force his MPs to overturn Lib-Dem backed amendments made in the Lords to the Health and Social Care Bill.

Baroness Williams predicts that it is "highly unlikely" that Lib-Dem MPs will be whipped to force through key parts of the health shake-up, which are blocked by peers, and says it is "quite a dramatic advance."

Separately, Lib-Dem parliamentarians are drawing up rival plans to Mr Lansley’s health bill in case the Government is forced to ditch it completely.

The moves will infuriate Tory MPs.

Mr Clegg’s aides strongly believe that a deal can be reached between Lib-Dem peers and Mr Lansley which would avoid a Commons showdown over key issues including competition, conflicts of interest and regulation which are being debated in the Lords this week.

But they did not rule out Lib-Dem MPs being given a free vote on changes to the bill made by the Upper Chamber if no compromise can be agreed.

Nicholas Cecil



16 February 2012 2:05 PM

More than one SteveHiltonGuru?


Lots of folk are intrugued by Twitter's funny and well-informed spoof, SteveHiltonGuru.

But perhaps they should be thinking of SteveHiltonGurus in plural.

Because, there may be more than one Guru in the Wigwam of Trust, a possibility that the highly perceptive Paul Waugh recently raised.

For those into Hiltonology - and to alert Steve to a potential breach of his armour-plated security - here's what might just be the FAKE STEVE TELL. He uses an awful lot of different technology.  Mostly, the Guru tweets from an iPhone, which is the perfect tool for discreet tweeting under the menu while sipping a smoothie in Rawesome. But he also uses a Macintosh computer a lot, which would be more approriate to a secure office. Sometimes he tweets from an iPad and occasionally from the web. That's an odd mix of hardware for one person.

He uses the iPhone mostly (1,704 times to be exact, compared with 1,342 tweets from his Mac). However, in December, November and September, he used the Mac more often than his iPhone - which might suggest two Steves providing holiday cover for each other. During Prime Minister's Questions, he currently switches to the Mac for prolific outbursts, but once in January used an iPad for the 30-minute session (was someone away - or did he bring in a "double" to throw watchers off the scent?).

Now, perhaps I'm getting carried away on the heady scent of incence wafting from the wigwam, but I think I can detect subtle differences in tone and style between tweets from the different machines.

The iPhone Guru is mystical and whimsical, and well plugged into California and No 10.  Here he is in action:

STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
TIME FOR HEAVY ARTILLERY: Glover not cutting it. Ro, get Kruger in to work on the big crime speech @danny__kruger #winning
9:39 AM - 3 Feb 12 via Twitter for iPhone
STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
PERFECT AFTERNOON: chilling with green tea and undisturbed downloadathon on iTunes. #ipodupdate #aheadofthecurve #winning

STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
THE FRUIT MACHINE OF LIFE: doesn't always throw up 3 pineapples. #oneofthosedays #wigwamblues #whatevs

The "Steve" who uses Twitter for Mac seems a tad less whacky and mysterious ... less Guru-like.

STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
DRE as usual just playing Angry Birds on the iPad during PMQ prep#losing
12:42 PM - 8 Feb 12 via Twitter for Mac ·

STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
Golly what an unexpected qu from Dineage
STEVE Hilton @SteveHiltonGuru
McCabe. Oh dear. Labour repeating themselves. Messy tactics. Baldwin took eye off ball.


Time for a Wheatgrass smoothie.  And time for the Guru to consider varying his routines, because the last thing I'd want is to see him/them outed.

Of course, this may all be just chaff thrown up by Hilton himself to throw us off the scent.  As Verbal said in the Ususal Suspects:

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. #winning



Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon


15 February 2012 2:45 PM

Ed Davey's toilet malfunction

The Secretary of State may have changed over at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, but the problems blighting the building go on.

I've written before about the "Curse" of Whitehall Place which struck several times while Chris Huhne was in charge there.

Now Ed Davey's tenure has got its first calamity - I hear the toilets are out of order on all but two floors and the lifts have been stopped as a deluge of "water" pours down from the first floor.

Insiders say the "water" has a rather nasty smell but are avoiding closer inspection.

Welcome to the Cabinet, Mr Davey.

A DECC spokesman says:  "There was a problem with the toilets on the first floor which affected a number of other floors. Things are back to normal on all floors now apart from the first where there’s still mopping up to be done."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

14 February 2012 2:34 PM

A broken-hearted Coalition?

Kudos to Unison, seizing on Valentine's Day to keep up pressure on the Government over Andrew Lansley's controversial NHS changes.

The union put on a picture stunt earlier on, with 'David Cameron' and 'Nick Clegg' holding a broken heart.

Unison's "heartfelt" plea was "not to break our hearts by breaking our NHS".

But with the Commons in recess, senior Coalition figures may be wondering if the love has dropped out of their relationship.

Not only was Lib-Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes calling for Lansley's head on Sunday, but the welfare reforms are back in the Lords and expected to suffer fresh defeats (ping pong has started). Also in the mix are Budget discussions, with the Chancellor preparing his set piece for next month.

On that note, James Forsyth had a great titbit in the Mail on Sunday - the Quad of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Cameron were due to have a meeting tonight after unexpectedly finding their diaries clear. But there was an obvious reason, and once wives found out some quick rescheduling took place.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Cat amongst the politicians

It must be recess.

How else to explain that the Prime Minister's official Twitter feed @Number10gov, has just posted a link to celebrate Larry the cat's first year as what they call Downing Street's #chiefmouser?

There's a whole photo album on Flickr too, showing Larry preparing for his anniversary party.

I don't fancy those balloons' chances against Larry's famous claws.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

10 February 2012 2:39 PM

Is Spelman one of the NHS three?

A fantastic game of Cluedo is going on after three Cabinet ministers rang the "alarm bell" over the Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms.

Various names and denials are flying around Westminster, and among them an interesting line has emerged from Caroline Spelman.

Asked whether the Environment Secretary was one of the three, her spokeswoman replied: "Caroline supports the policy."

I've asked repeatedly for a categorical denial that Mrs Spelman - who was forced into a u-turn over her own controversial forest sell-off proposal - was one of the three, but have been met with radio silence.

Note the language in the short line I was given: Caroline supports the policy. Not Caroline supports the Bill. A lot of Conservatives support the policy, of giving GPs more control over the NHS, while being dismayed about the reforms in the Health and Social Care Bill itself. In fact, Labour is also broadly supportive of GP-led commissioning though the party is less keen on increased private sector involvement.

You could certainly understand if Spelman felt bruised at being hung out to dry over forests, while Lansley has so far been allowed to get on with his NHS shake-up. She may also feel that she has little to lose in terms of job prospects.

According to Conservative Home, of the three ministers: "One was insistent the Bill must be dropped. Another said Andrew Lansley must be replaced. Another likened the NHS reforms to the poll tax." While the second seems unlikely to be Spelman (it would surely be a tacit admission she should have been replaced too), you can make a case for her saying either of the others.

Until we get a categorical reply on whether Spelman is one of the NHS three, I guess we'll never know for sure...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

09 February 2012 12:04 PM

Aidan Burley: I did not doze during Auschwitz talk


Tory MP Aidan Burley is strongly deniying a claim on Twitter that he was “texting and dozing” during a lecture by a Holocaust survivor at Auschwitz.

It's a horrible allegation and not corroborated.  A friend of Burley says he listened with sombre attention to the 90-minute talk but conceded he may have “answered an important message from London” by text at one point.

Mr Burley was sacked as aide to Transport Secretary Justine Greening last month after footage emerged of him at a stag party where guests toasted the Third Reich and one diner dressed as an SS officer. His pilgrimage to the former Nazi death camp in Poland, made at his own expense this week, was intended to rebuild his reputation and career. He has also sent a long letter of apology to The Jewish Chronicle.

Today's claims were made on Twitter by Matthew Parkinson, who tweeted this morning: “aidan Burley seen texting and dozing whilst listening to an concentration camp survivor”. When asked for more details by the eagle eyed Paul Waugh he added in another tweet: “we was in a talk with a Auschwitz survivor and he came in to it, sat there texting and dozing”.

The allegation of dozing off was described as “malicious and false” by a friend of Mr Burley, insisted the MP had listened to the talk with rapt attention. But on the charge of texting the friend said: “It is not impossible that during a 90 minute talk he briefly answered an urgent message from London.”

Burley's friend suggested the allegations were politically motivated. “This is a learning trip for Aidan who has found it a very solemn and humbling experience. It is a great shame that people are using it as a chance to attack him again. He was sitting at the back with a senior official of a Holocaust organisation. Some people behaved aggressively towards him and they must have spent the entire time watching him instead of listening to the lecture.”

Mr Burley is awaiting a verdict from David Cameron on whether he should be disciplined more strongly for the stag party. This row makes it harder for Mr Cameron to say the MP has learned his lessons.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



Injury time

Is there a curse hanging over Whitehall?

Ministers have fallen victim to a range of injuries and ailments in recent weeks. First Transport Minister Theresa Villiers broke her collarbone in a cycling accident, then Scotland Secretary Michael Moore got chicken pox, and then Treasury Chief Secretary Chloe Smith broke her foot.

It has created some difficulties for the Government, with Moore having to postpone a meeting with Alex Salmond (prompting jokey suspicions that biological warfare had broken out in the row over Scottish independence), while Villiers was "walking wounded" to vote for the welfare cap.

But as one Westminster wag has just joked, they've got off lightly compared to Chris Huhne - nursing a "broken career" after charges forced him to resign.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

07 February 2012 5:49 PM

A bad day for Lansley

It was never going to be an easy week for Andrew Lansley, but I'm sure even the Health Secretary wasn't quite expecting to see Downing Street sources saying he should be "taken out and shot" over his controversial NHS reforms when he opened his newspapers this morning.

There is certainly a lot of anger among Tory MPs about the reforms, which face a mauling in the Lords tomorrow. One told me Lansley had "failed to do the pitch rolling" and complained they didn't know what the shake-up was really meant to do. Another complained: "We spent years convincing people that the NHS would be safe in our hands - this bill is destroying that reputation".

Lansley was also faced with a little, erm, local difficulty. First it emerged NHS South West was facing a £370 million black hole which campaigners warned could put vital services at risk. Then it emerged St Helier hospital in Carshalton could be the first victim of plans to hand doctors billions of pounds of the NHS budget.

This is particularly sensitive because the hospital is in Health Minister Paul Burstow's constituency. Neighbouring Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh claims a merger between St Helier and St George's fell through last week in part because GPs in the new clinical commissioning group are planning to reduce dramatically the use of the hospital. Fears have been raised it could close as a result.

Mr Burstow told ESP this was "shameful political scaremongering" and warned people not to be "duped" by it. Certainly there were other considerations for the merger's collapse as well, but Dr Martyn Wake, who is joint chair of Merton CCG, does say that "as GPs we are keen to keep our patients well and out of hospital".

"Whilst Ms McDonagh may not agree with the government's policy to put GPs in charge of commissioning health services we all feel it is most unjust to blame local GPs for the historic financial challenges facing our local hospitals," he said.
"The shift to care out of hospitals and into the community is no different in scale in Sutton and Merton than it is in other parts of south west London and the rest of the country."

But Labour and other campaigners are adamant. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told ESP: “The fact a Health Minister’s own local hospital may be the first major casualty of the Government’s reorganisation might bring home to him how wrong these reforms are.

“This is a glimpse of what is to come if this Bill goes through. Fragmenting decision-making in this way threatens the ongoing viability of hospitals. Paul Burstow has now got the biggest of all reasons to drop the Bill.”

There appears to be little appetite among Tories for the Bill to be dropped entirely, though (as my colleague Nicholas Cecil has reported) some Lib Dems would be delighted if that happens.

While today was a bad day for Lansley, expect a few more ahead.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Pulling up trees

Back in the days when Labour were in power, an annual parliamentary question would go down to find out how much Government departments had spent on Christmas trees.

After the Coalition vowed a more Scrooge-like approach, Labour's Gareth Thomas has repeated the trick to make sure they are as good as their word.

For the most part, they have been - sparing the public purse from buying a pine tree and tinsel. But there are a couple of notable exceptions.

Firstly, Caroline Spelman's Environment Department (which is in charge of - you guessed it - trees) spent £2,011 on trees and decorations last year.

And the mysterious "Government Hospitality", which runs the once equally murky wine cellar, spent £2,250 (excluding VAT) on a decorated tree for Lancaster House. According to Foreign Office minister David Lidington, this was to support the "commercial hire" of the building by outside groups.

Let's hope they were charged a little extra to party under the tree.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

02 February 2012 2:05 PM

Top Totty banned from Commons - new details


Labour's Kate Green won the fastest campaign ever today by getting a beer called Top Totty banned from the Commons.

She stood up at 12 to protest at finding the sexist ale on sale in Parliament’s Strangers Bar. By 2pm it was withdrawn from sale.

Amusingly, I gather there was a rush to buy it in the intervening hours - mainly, one should add, from members of the Press Gallery.

I gather that at least half a barrel is left over, which begs the question who will sup it.

A picture of a bunny girl in a bikini featured on the pump alongside the name, which even readers over 80 will guess is slang for an attractive young woman.

Demanding a debate, Green said: “I was disturbed last night to learn that the guest beer in the Stranger’s Bar is called Top Totty and there is a picture of a nearly naked woman on the tap.”

Embarrassingly, I can reveal that the woman who modelled the provocative picture visited the bar yesterday with the brewery’s boss to savour their success in being chosen as a guest beer.

A Commons spokesman said later this afternoon: “We have withdrawn it from sale today. I do not think there is very much left.”

Strangers Bar - aka The Kremlin - has a different guest beer each week.  Top Totty is brewed by Slaters in Stafford and was nominated to be a guest beer by the town’s Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy.

Astonishingly, nobody seemed to realise that it might be controversial.

UPDATE -- #TopTotty is now trending on Twitter.  Slater's Brewery must be be delighted with the plug.

 UPDATE#2  The model is a brunette, I have been told. The blonde hair was added later

Joe Murphy


Follow me at Twitter   @JoeMurphyLondon



01 February 2012 2:32 PM

Clearing up Parliament's graffiti

Are the days of Early Day Motions in Parliament limited?

On Monday MPs will debate whether to reform or abolish them following a long-running campaign by Tory MP Graham Evans - though there will be no decision taken.

He argues the time has come for serious change to EDMs, which MPs can put forward on virtually any topic but which almost never come up for debate or change the law. They cost around £290 each, or £1 million a year.

Evans says they have become a campaign tool for outside groups, often drafted by public affairs professionals, leading to clogged up postbags to little effect but at great cost.

Other MPs, led by Julian Lewis, argue they are a rare way to get lots of MPs speaking out on one topic and to get support for worthwhile causes.

Now Graham Allen, Labour chair of the political and constitutional reform committee, has put forward a middle way between scrapping them completely or keeping the status quo.

He wants EDMs to be renamed MPDs - MPs' Debates - and signed anonymously by backbench MPs only. At the end of every week the MPD with the most signatures would be granted a debate for the following week.

Allen has written to colleagues to garner support for his idea. And he said: “The EDM is devalued currency. It’s time to tear down this wall of political graffiti and rebuild a practical way for MPs to raise topical issues and hold government to account.”

Many will wish him well, though the glacial pace of change in Westminster suggests it could be a while before the graffiti is cleaned up.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse