Hospitals need more beds, not more bare arms
By Max Pemberton
The video of David Nunn, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon who raged at David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their entourage during a walkabout in Guy’s Hospital a few weeks ago, was an instant internet hit, reported in the national press and replayed on the evening news. Here was one man standing up to the might of government – a lone, heroic voice refusing to kowtow to the pressures of a Downing Street photo-call if it meant risking his patient’s welfare.
Coming, as it did, on the very day that the Government announced its humiliating climbdown over Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, the incident seemed to embody the anger and frustration that many of us in the health service felt towards a government we saw as intent on using the NHS for political point-scoring. In my staffroom, and many others, Nunn became an instant hero.
The actual incident had a seemingly innocuous cause: while Cameron and Clegg had their shirtsleeves rolled up, and had washed their hands in accordance with the hospital’s infection control policy, the film crew at the bottom of the bed had not. Nunn stormed over to the media huddle and, pointing to his own short shirtsleeves, raged: “Why is it we’re all told to walk around like this and these people aren’t?” before adding: “I’m not having it – now out.”
You could see the Mori polls flicker briefly behind Cameron’s eyes, before he smiled sweetly and ushered out the camera crew. The incident was seen as a victory for the man on the street over the slick No 10 machine – until news broke yesterday that Nunn is now mysteriously not at work. The press department at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust has insisted that he is on leave for an undisclosed period, not suspended, but refuses to comment further.
The trust has issued warnings to its staff not to talk to any members of the press about the matter, which in itself seems a peculiar intervention. However, several friends who work in orthopaedics have privately expressed concern that Guy’s Hospital was deeply angered by Nunn’s actions, and are trying to oust him from his job. They are convinced that he has been suspended in all but name.
Yet while there has been a public outcry about the alleged suspension – and a flurry of outraged messages in my inbox – few people have grasped that the real scandal, and the focus of Nunn’s anger, was about something far more important than politicians and their photo opportunities.
The “bare below the elbows” policy that Nunn was talking about came into force across NHS hospitals several years ago, in an attempt to reduce infection rates. The policy states that doctors and nurses are not allowed on to a ward wearing a coat or outer garment, must have their shirtsleeves rolled up to their elbows, and must not wear watches or other jewellery.
Of course, there is very good evidence that regular hand-washing combats the spread of infections in hospitals: no one would suggest otherwise. But even though we doctors are encouraged to practise evidence-based medicine, there is not a shred of evidence to show that the policy of “bare below the elbows” reduces the spread of infection in any way. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s actively dangerous, because it diverts attention from the real problems.
Nunn himself has been critical of the policy, not least on the letters page of this newspaper. Indeed, his outburst can be seen as an attempt to highlight the utter hypocrisy and lunacy surrounding infection control in the NHS.
Both the previous administration and the present one know that the public is concerned about hospital infection rates. They must be seen to be doing something. But all the research shows that the single biggest factor in the spread of hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA and C. difficile, is bed occupancy rate. The quicker the turnaround in hospitals, and the more pressure on bed space, the more infections there are.
Scandalously, this link was emphasised six years ago, in a report funded by the Department of Health. Yet it was ignored by Labour because it did not fit in with its new NHS agenda of closing hospitals, introducing PFI hospitals (which typically have 30 per cent fewer beds) and “streamlining” services.
These policies have left us with some of the highest bed occupancy rates in the developed world, with hospitals often running at over 100 per cent capacity. It’s this that is causing the spread of hospital-acquired infections, not shirtsleeves or watches. MRSA rates are more than 40 per cent higher in hospitals with 90 per cent bed occupancy than in those with less than 85 per cent. On the Continent, where bed-occupancy rates are lower still, they have far fewer outbreaks. Then there’s the issue of the contracting-out of cleaning services to companies that often seem to be more interested in their own profits than the state of the floors.
Rather than act on these problems, we instead rolled out “bare below the elbows” – a policy with no scientific basis or tangible benefit, which was just as much of a PR stunt as Cameron and Clegg’s trip to Guy’s. If ministers really cared about hospital infection rates, they wouldn’t be rolling up their shirtsleeves: they’d be demanding an increase in the number of hospital beds. So well done to David Nunn for speaking out. I hope that wherever he is and whatever he’s doing, he’s back at work soon, because we need more doctors like him in the health service. All power to his bare elbow.
David Cameron has claimed victory in blocking an attempt by Brussels to soften current asylum laws
The Prime Minister joined forces with Germany to force EU leaders to maintain the existing immigration rules, which allow countries to send failed asylum seekers back to the first European country in which they arrived.
The law change would have allowed illegal immigrants to make their way across Europe to Britain before claiming asylum.
Mr Cameron’s priority at the EU summit on Friday was to ensure Britain was not drawn into the second bail-out of Greece, but the Prime Minister was also concerned about changes to Europe’s border policy.
The Mediterranean countries of Greece, Italy and Malta, in particular, are battling to deal with a flood of immigrants. The “Arab Spring” crisis in north Africa and Libya has exacerbated the problem.
José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, had hoped to amend the “Dublin regulation” which would prevent asylum seekers being sent back to certain named countries.
However, Mr Cameron blocked the plans to alter the immigration system. “I was worried before this European Council about potential proposals to suspend the Dublin arrangements that allow us to return asylum seekers to the countries from which they have come,” said Mr Cameron at the summit. “I’m glad to report that Britain and Germany together made sure that those proposals aren’t even referred to in any way in the Council conclusions.”
Mr Cameron’s stand followed a ruling from the European court of human rights which said that it was wrong to send failed asylum seekers back to Greece because of the state of its reception centres.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has described the situation in Greece for migrants and asylum seekers as a “humanitarian crisis.” Greece approved only 11 out of the first 30,000 asylum applications received in 2010. The asylum backlog currently stands at around 47,000 cases.
More than one million people have fled Libya since the conflict began. Frontex, the EU border agency, estimates that 48,000 have already arrived in the EU.
Up to 50,000 immigrants are expected to arrive in Italy in the coming months, with up to 1,500 people dying at sea while trying to make the precarious journey to Europe.
“Britain is not in the Schengen area, we are not going to be joining the Schengen area,” said Mr Cameron. “We have by and large proper and sustainable borders and I want us to have proper and sustainable border controls.”
Under the Schengen Agreement, citizens in 25 mainland European Union (EU) nations are allowed to travel across borders without having their passports checked.
Tensions have risen over the fleeing migrants after Italy handed more than 25,000 Tunisians temporary permits to travel, effectively giving them unobstructed travel around the 25 EU nations. The UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen agreement.
British PM has finally woken up to the disaster that is immigration. But he’s left it too late
There are moments in the life of a government when the penny finally drops. When ministers realise a policy in an important area isn’t working and isn’t likely to either.
That moment has come for the Conservatives in relation to a subject their leader was much too keen to avoid in opposition: mass immigration and its deeply worrying implications.
David Cameron always feared his party being labelled ‘nasty’ if he mentioned immigration too much in the party’s botched general election campaign last year. Indeed, he avoided it until the last of the three televised leaders’ debates. Only then did he speak with clarity and conviction about it, but by that point it was far too late to persuade voters that he was seriously prepared to tackle the problem of our open borders.
But once in Downing Street, Cameron was confronted by research from his personal pollster, Andrew Cooper, which confirmed the true extent of public concern about high levels of immigration.
Ironically, Cooper was one of the very modernisers in the Tory Party who did not want Cameron to be tainted — as he saw it — by being seen as tough on immigration in the run-up to the election.
But now he has changed his tune — and taken the Prime Minister along with him. In fact, Cooper has recently become messianic on the subject, telling colleagues in recent weeks that the Government’s failure to reduce the numbers of immigrants flocking to Britain will badly damage Cameron’s reputation.
And as the problem worsens, the electorate will only get more angry, jeopardising the Prime Minister’s dreams of a second term.
It speaks volumes that voters’ concerns about immigration should come as a revelation to some in No.10, when for years it has been obvious to millions outside the Westminster village that Britain’s loss of control of its borders has been a disaster of historic proportions.
Labour’s criminally reckless open-door policy has meant more than 5.2 million immigrants arriving on our shores since 1997. When the departures of those moving abroad are taken into account, it has left the foreign-born population in the UK an incredible 3.2 million higher.
Future historians will be astonished that a once-great country subjected itself to such a sudden and socially unsustainable rise in population.
And what is worrying Downing Street is whether they can do anything about it. Under pressure from Tory MPs to say something about immigration in the run-up to the election, Cameron committed himself to reducing net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
But it is becoming horrifyingly clear that Cameron will not manage to get immigration below even 100,000 a year at the present rate of progress.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University calculated this week that around 165,000 immigrants will still be arriving every year come 2015. The latest figures for the year to last September showed immigration actually going up, with 242,000 net arrivals.
Of course, a sensible amount of immigration would aid the dynamism of the economy, with talented people from abroad opting to come and work here. But that is not what has happened.
At the current astonishing rates of growth, the independent Office for National Statistics now estimates that the British population will rise from 61.8 million today to more than 70 million in 2026 — three years earlier than it has hitherto forecast. And a staggering 68 per cent of the rise will be attributable to immigration.
To put that in perspective, it is the equivalent of adding eight cities the size of Birmingham to the UK in just 15 years. Our leaders have no idea where all these new citizens are going to be housed nor how the already failing school system and struggling NHS are going to cope with them. Already, as we heard this week, a million children in British schools have English as their second language.
Inside Government, this is all causing something approaching panic. One worried minister described immigration to me as ‘the iceberg’ that could eventually sink the Government. There is also mounting concern that the welfare reforms simply won’t work if immigration continues at its current pace.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is implementing a programme to get some of the five million on benefits fit for work, but he is worried that migration could render it largely ineffective.
Unsurprisingly, many businesses prefer to employ ambitious, hardworking incomers rather than long-term unemployed Britons. This has meant that nine out of ten new jobs go to migrants.
If the flow of fresh arrivals continues, the fear is that bosses will continue to choose them rather than help get Britons off benefits.
What an appalling mess. A PM who could have won a majority had he focused more in the election campaign on immigration and other traditional Tory topics such as crime, controls on the welfare state and education reform now belatedly accepts the full seriousness of the situation.
His problem is that he is in coalition with the pro-immigration Lib Dems, who are hampering attempts to bring the situation back under control. The Tory Home Office minister Damian Green is trying to get the numbers down with a cap on work permits for those coming in from abroad. But the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has insisted that controls should not apply to vast swathes of workers — which makes it difficult to hit the target for reductions. The PM’s hands are tied in other ways too. First, there is Europe. Free movement within the EU means its citizens have a right to come here.
Even if there were to be a flood of Greek or Portuguese fleeing the meltdown of their Eurozone economies, there is nothing we could do to stop them.
Then there is the Human Rights Act. The Daily Mail reported last week that there are 3,200 criminals, failed asylum seekers and benefit tourists who cannot be kicked out because of their right to a family life. A Bolivian even said he couldn’t be forced to leave because he has a British cat. A Sri Lankan thief won the right to stay because he has a girlfriend here.
Even if the PM tried to repeal the Human Rights Act, he couldn’t. The Lib Dems wouldn’t allow it.
Cameron could try to crack down hard on the biggest source of immigration, the 75 per cent or so who come here from outside the EU. He could opt for much tougher measures on work permits, sham marriages, bogus students and by heavily fining companies who employ any of the one million illegal immigrants. But again, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems wouldn’t have it.
Perhaps one day a British leader will be prepared to opt out of the EU’s free movement directives and to properly police our borders. But don’t hold your breath for David Cameron to do it. Tragically, it simply isn’t going to happen under this pantomime horse of a Coalition Government.
Must not criticize feminism in the British Labour Party
Ed Miliband’s new policy guru has been accused of sexism by a key ally of deputy leader Harriet Harman. Maurice Glasman, an eccentric academic tasked with coming up with new vote-winning policies for Labour, is accused of betraying women by ‘harking back to a Janet and John era’ and being part of an ‘entirely male clique’.
Justice spokeswoman Helen Goodman, a former Commons aide to arch-feminist Ms Harman, distributed a diatribe to Labour MPs last week after reading Lord Glasman’s explanation of ‘Blue Labour’, the political philosophy which Mr Miliband hopes will win him the next Election.
According to Lord Glasman’s creed, policies promoting local activism and a ‘small-c conservative version of socialism’ will have voters flocking back to the party. He describes it as ‘Labour standing with the fans and not the bosses of football clubs’.
But, provocatively, it also argues that the growing economic independence of women has harmed society.
Ms Goodman’s outburst coincides with a new demand by Ms Harman for women to be given a greater role in Labour. Ms Goodman was incensed when she read The Labour Tradition And The Politics Of Paradox, Lord Glasman’s recent book which explains his idea.
It includes a glowing passage about the benefits of a ‘patriarchal social order’, including ‘the reproduction of family and social relations, status hierarchies and moral values’. The piece concludes provocatively: ‘This patrimony has now been fragmented and disrupted by …… the growing independence of women.’
Livid Ms Goodman, 53, who won her Bishop Auckland seat on an all-women shortlist, complains that Lord Glasman ‘characterises as female all the aspects of New Labour he dislikes, whereas all the characteristics he applauds he draws as male. It looks more like something suitable for the psychotherapists’ couch than a political tract.
‘If Glasman thinks we will all greet this with an ironic post-feminist smile, he is wrong. How can we in a country where 1,000 women are raped each week? He seems to be harking back to a Janet and John Fifties era.’
And she adds: ‘It is noticeable that Blue Labour seems to be an entirely male clique.’
The attack comes amid growing disquiet in the Shadow Cabinet over the influence wielded by Lord Glasman within Mr Miliband’s inner circle. The 49-year-old lecturer was astounded when offered a peerage by Mr Miliband in the New Year’s Honours list.
Labour commentator Dan Hodges said: ‘Some of these advisers are clever and have something to offer. But their input has to be managed and filtered, and walls need to be built between them and Ed Miliband. At the moment it looks as if every political crank, conjuror and snake-oil salesman in Westminster has a direct line to the leader of the Labour Party.’
Exam results in Wales plummet after school league tables are abolished
Another failure of “progressive” education
Schoolchildren have dropped an average of two grades in their GCSEs as a result of a decision to abolish league tables. It is one of a number of disturbing failings in Wales’s education system revealed in a shocking new Radio 4 programme recorded by John Humphrys.
SATs tests have also been ditched and a controversial new approach to the teaching of three to seven-year-olds – the Foundation Phase – has been introduced. The current generation of Welsh 15-year-olds, the first to have been educated under the new system, have been outperformed by pupils in every region in England, including the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, similar economically and socially to Wales.
In Testing Times, Today presenter Mr Humphrys looks at the measures introduced by the Welsh Assembly in the field of education over the past decade. Because performance figures in Wales are not published, the BBC used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain statistics for the first time in ten years.
Meanwhile, the latest report from PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which looks at education systems worldwide, states that Wales has slipped well below the average for the developed world for reading and is even worse for maths.
While making the programme, to be broadcast today at 1.30pm, Mr Humphrys returned to the Welsh primary school where he was taught 60 years ago – and was shocked by what he found. He said: ‘There’s no sitting in regimented rows with the teacher at the front. The Foundation Phase means very roughly that children learn through their own experiences.
‘According to the jargon, it focuses on ‘‘experiential learning and active involvement’’. What it means in practice is that children learn by playing or doing rather than being taught in any conventional sense.’
PISA says the abolition of SATs has also had a negative impact. Children in England are tested at seven, 11 and 14, but in Wales the tests for seven-year-olds were dropped in 2001 and the others were axed in 2004.
The head of PISA, Andreas Schleicher, told Mr Humphrys: ‘Whether abandoning those kinds of assessments was the right thing is up for debate.’
The programme reveals the most damaging change has been the abolition of school league tables.
Professor Simon Burgess, of Bristol University, told the radio presenter: ‘The removal of league tables in Wales led to a serious decline in exam performance. This was of really quite a sizeable magnitude of around two GCSE grades per student. So that’s like getting a D grade rather than a B.
‘Obviously parents want lots of things from a school. The league tables give them a way of working out which would be the best schools for their child. If you remove that information there’s less pressure on schools to perform well.’
And according to the BBC’s education correspondent, Ciaran Jenkins, who contributed to the programme, parents in Wales are being denied information about their country’s failing schools.
Mr Jenkins said: ‘If you’re a parent in England you log on to the Department for Education’s website or the BBC and there’s a wealth of information about every school’s performance. In Wales there is nothing at all.’
Why the monarchy matters
By SIR ANTHONY JAY, Broadcaster and co-author of “Yes Minister”
These are great days for royalists and loyalists. A Royal Wedding, the Duke of Edinburgh’s 90th birthday and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee all falling within less than a year.
But behind all the celebration and jubilation there is always an awkward question: why are the citizens of democracy giving such recognition, respect – even reverence – to an unelected head of state and her family, who will furnish her succession not through the decision of the people but an accident of birth! And perhaps even more perplexing, why are so few people worried about this?
It certainly worried me at one stage of my life. Not at the start; I was only six years old at the time of the abdication crisis, and by the time I was nine World War II had broken out. The King and Queen symbolised all that we were fighting for as a nation and an empire and my parents, who were actors and archetypal Labour luvvies, never for a moment questioned the logic of a free democracy being presided over by a hereditary monarchy.
It didn’t worry me at university either; when George VI died, in my last year, no one suggested that it was an opportunity to move over to an elected head of state. We even accepted the decision of the BBC (our only broadcaster at that time) to transmit nothing except solemn music, and when it played a Beethoven symphony to announce that it was omitting the Scherzo.
And it certainly didn’t worry me during my National Service in the early Fifties. My commissioning leave coincided with the Coronation and I stood at the junction of Trafalgar Square and Cockspur Street cheering my head off as the Queen’s carriage drove past.
The Army, of course, was tremendously loyal to the monarchy – it left us free to express our contempt for the government without impugning our patriotism. We stood up and toasted the Queen formerly every mess night, and then sat down again and went on rubbishing the prime minister.
But the Sixties – ah, that was very different. Ever since Suez and Look Back in Anger in the late Fifties there had been a growing mistrust of the ruling elite, a feeling that they were out of date and out of touch. They exuded a feeling that as honourable and experienced gentlemen they had a right to govern. It was this feeling, after 12 years of Conservative government, that gave such explosive force to the Profumo scandal.
When it emerged that John Profumo, a government minister and ex-Army officer, had been having a secret affair with a call girl and lied to the House of Commons about it, the whole edifice of authority and respectability came tumbling down. The monarchy had no connection with the Profumo scandal, but as part of the edifice, it was inevitably damaged by it.
By now I was in the BBC, and it is hard to convey the glee we all felt at the scandal. We had done our bit in chipping away at the foundations: the Tonight programme (which I was in at the start of, and edited in 1962-63) had a policy of questioning authority, and its spin-off, That Was The Week That Was, had pushed at the frontiers of BBC impartiality with its satire and mockery of politicians. Now it seemed that everything was justified; not just the criticism of the Establishment, but the whole media value system of liberal egalitarianism.
I don’t know whether the spirit of the BBC was actually republican, but it certainly wasn’t enamoured of the monarchy and thought that the old adulation of the Royal Family was absurd. Looking back, I’m surprised at how quickly and painlessly I was corrupted to this scepticism about the institution I had accepted so unquestioningly for 30 years.
But it didn’t last. Indeed, I’m not sure how widespread it was anyway. It was certainly widespread throughout the media, but the media are not the nation. I suppose its high point came in April 1964 with the election of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government.
At last we had got rid of all the old has-beens and fuddy-duddies and could bask in the white heat of technology. I don’t know if any government could have lived up to the expectations that precipitated its election, but certainly this one couldn’t. Crisis followed crisis, the pound was devalued and gradually the high hopes of 1964 faded away.
The Sixties was the monarchy’s lowest point since the abdication crisis of 1936, but by the end of the decade its stock had suddenly shot up again.
In June 1969 the BBC broadcast a documentary film, Royal Family, giving a behind-the-scenes picture of the family at work and play, and a few days later there was an outside broadcast of the investiture of the 20-year-old Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.
Suddenly Britain was emphatically loyalist and royalist again. It was not as if a hostile, or at least lukewarm, nation had been dramatically converted by these two programmes. The respect and affection had actually never gone away, but had been suppressed through the Sixties and now was released and reaffirmed.
It is not that there are royalists and anti-royalists (though obviously there are some of each); it’s rather that the majority of royalists have a vein of suspicion running through their loyalty and are always capable of resentment. The attitude seems to be ‘who do they think they are, and what would we do without them?’
I believe that a hereditary monarchy is the best institution yet created for symbolising, embodying and representing the state
I believe that a hereditary monarchy is the best institution yet created for symbolising, embodying and representing the state
Even so, the pro-monarchy element is extremely strong, much stronger than the media liberals realise. The Guardian and The Independent thought the death of the Queen Mother was a very small story, and were genuinely astonished to see that over a million people lined the route at her funeral.
But the potential for resentment is always there and it surfaced when the sovereign appeared not to reflect the national mood or express the national emotion at the time of the Lockerbie bomb, and again – even more strongly – after the death of Princess Diana.
This emotional involvement with the Royal Family is obviously not a peculiar British quirk or a modern phenomenon. It is just a manifestation of something universal to people everywhere: the need to belong, and to a group larger than just the family. You only have to look at the crowds at Old Trafford or White Hart Lane, or an Army regiment, or indeed a striking trades union, to see there is some very deep and powerful force at work, an emotional bond that unites a large number of people, most of whom have never met each other.
It was only in the Sixties that scientists, or to be more precise evolutionary biologists, started to reveal the reason for it and the history behind it. Quite simply, they showed that it was rooted in the survival of the species.
Our basic social unit is about 50; it is still the unit of our cousins the gorillas and chimpanzees, and is deep inside all of us, the size we are easiest and happiest with. But unlike our cousins we found a way to combine those groups of 50 into tribes of 500 or so: the battalion, the parliaments, the schools, the one-man business, the village – it crops up everywhere. It is the largest group in which pretty much everyone knows everyone else.
That’s fine for a hunting tribe, but it gets harder as numbers grow, and especially when this larger community starts to develop permanent institutions – an army, a legal system and the whole apparatus of civilisation. The problem is that the old system of tribal chieftain grows into a dictatorship. But overthrowing the dictator brings the whole edifice crashing down.
So what we need is a system of government that makes it possible to get rid of a failing leadership while leaving the institutional framework intact. We want, in other words, to separate the state and the government. We need a government that can be democratically removed and replaced, and a state that carries on regardless. When they are united in a single person you have a dictatorship (and there are still quite a few of those around). Separating them is the start of a democratic state and a free society.
I believe that a hereditary monarchy is the best institution yet created for symbolising, embodying and representing the state. The government is our means of institutionalising conflict. It is about ideas, about immediate problems. The state is our means of institutionalising national unity: it is about shared values, common interest, permanence and continuity. It is what we all belong to and form a part of, whatever our political differences.
Of course you can elect a head of state, but it can be a problem if he is a political figure: Watergate paralysed the U.S. in a way it would not have done if Nixon was only the head of the government.
It is the fact that the monarchy has no day-to-day power that gives it its strength. That, and the fact that a family is something we can all understand.
As Walter Bagehot wrote in 1867: ‘The best reason why monarchy is a strong government is that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in that world understand any other.’
In Bagehot’s time, of course, there were still huge political meetings; people felt very much a part of the government process.
Today the political meeting is dead, political parties have tiny memberships, and politicians are almost universally despised. In this situation, events like the Royal Wedding and the Diamond Jubilee are more important than ever before in sustaining and displaying our sense of national identity and national unity.
A “swell” party
By Quentin Letts
Social diarist Betty Kenward having long retired, allow me to bring you an account of two parties this week at 10 Downing Street, which Mrs Kenward might have described as ‘the enchanting London residence of Mr and Mrs David Cameron’.
On Monday drinks were served from 5.30pm (they start early, those Camerons) to Tory MPs. Among the charming guests was Mrs Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, Rural Affairs and Political Balls-Ups. Oh dear.
The gracious host, Mr Cameron, began by glad-handing some of those assembled. He then made a short, frisky speech. How easily Mr Cameron sometimes slides the dagger between a colleague’s ribs.
His remarks contained two jokes, both at Mother Spelman’s expense. The first had a punch-line about the recent foul-up on forests. The second concerned the Government’s difficulty over bin collections.
Both mishaps fell within Mrs Spelman’s purlieu. Mrs Spelman was standing near the door. She left the room immediately after Mr Cameron’s speech, her face like a bruised peach. The party continued for at least another half hour. Great was the gaiety!
On Tuesday night Mr Cameron again played the expansive host, this time to all members, past and present, of the 2001 intake of Tory MPs (all, that is, bar Col Patrick Mercer of Newark, who might sooner break bread with Lucifer than dine with David). The starter was eggs and bacon.
Mr Boris Johnson, arriving late, was consigned to a distant end of the table. Mr Johnson, seldom at complete ease with MPs (he fears they can see through him), grunted: ‘When’s the recovery coming?’ Mr George Osborne, in a flash: ‘Next June.’
Merriment all round, for next June, you see, will come just too late for Boris’s re-election campaign for the London Mayoralty.
Boris: ‘How about some tax cuts?’ Mr Osborne: ‘We’ll save those for when WE need re-electing.’
Shortly before 10pm the party, almost as one, uprooted to the Commons for a vote. The journey was undertaken on foot, the PM bowling down Whitehall in a phalanx of his ruby-faced swells. I understand his police bodyguards were not best pleased.
That last paragraph is quite a vision — JR