Friday, 26 June 2009

The drinks are on you

HA! I told you so! Did you take my tip last week and back Tory MP John Bercow to be the Speaker? Monday was hectic with lots of rushing around, voting and lobbying around parliament. Eventually, John beat Tory George Young by 332 votes to 271. Mr Speaker Bercow promised to kick parliament into shape and he’s made a splash already. He’s already ditched the posh robes every other Speaker has worn for about the last thousand years. He laid down the law on MPs who shout during debates. And he chaired Prime Minister’s Questions firmly on Wednesday and dumped on the MPs who were disrupting proceedings. Most MPs have welcomed Speaker Bercow. Unfortunately, a few of his OWN party got the hump because they think he’s not, well, Conservative enough. Too bad. John will be good for parliament and good for the country. He’s got the skills and dedication to do this job brilliantly. And for those of you who stuck a bet on him —you owe me a pint.
IT’S been six years since our troops went into Iraq on the British government’s orders. It’s been a long hard slog and we’ve lost a lot of soldiers along the way. So, the government announced an inquiry into how we ended up in this mess. I back our troops 100% but I backed the government’s decision ZERO per cent at the time. It was clearly going to be a mess, but I suppose there is a benefit to hearing the sorry truth behind this decision. The inquiry will look at events leading up to the invasion and why Prime Minister Blair proposed war. Unfortunately, the government announced that parts —or maybe even ALL—of the inquiry will take place in PRIVATE. Why? What are they planning? Do they want closed sessions so they can sit round the table naked? Or tell dirty jokes? No. The reason for secrecy is that they don’t want to lose control of potentially very bad news. Announcing an inquiry but not allowing the public to follow it is like saying, “Lisa Marie Bourke is stripping behind that door, but you’ll just have to take our word for it.” This is one occasion when ministers need to realise that if it’s not in public it’s not credible. And as for the conclusions, some of us could see it was a loony and doomed idea from the start. There are no prizes for being right but, tragically, many dead soldiers for being wrong.
THEY do things differently in Australia, and I don’t just mean BBQs on the beach at Christmas or winning at cricket. Their parliament is pretty different too. It all kicked off in the Aussie Senate (like our House of Lords) over senators bringing their kids in. Sarah Hanson-Young, who represents the Green Party, brought her two-year-old daughter into a debate. When the senators started voting the mini-Aussie started crying and the President of the Senate (their version of our Speaker) had the toddler kicked out. But the argument has just begun. The senators will debate next week whether “little people” should be allowed into parliament. I think we should go one step further and let British MPs bring their girlfriends and pets into parliament. That way David Blunkett’s dog – who does come in - would have some company. And when the debate gets really dull, the Daily Sport girls will provide a refreshing incentive to stick around.
THE monarchy’s getting groovy. Over at the Palace, guardsmen — one of Britain’s best traditions in red coats and bearskins — work round the clock looking after the Queen. They’ve also got some spiffingly good marching bands. And one of them hopes to hit the Big Time. The regimental band of the Coldstream Guards has joined ABBA, the Scissor Sisters and Prince in signing with Universal Records. Despite being around for 200 years, this regiment is anything but outdated. Daniel Glatma, who managed boy band Blue, is organising the lads’ gigs and recordings. He’s in for a shock. Managing a boy band has to be different from managing a brass band. And what happens if they top the charts? Lily Allen will lose her Smile, and I guess it’s back to Warwick Avenue for Duffy — and I daren’t even think what will happen to Village People.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Breast spy for the job

THE name’s Sawers. . . John Sawers. It’s not quite as catchy as James Bond but John is a real life 007, and about to become the new boss of MI6. Superspy Sawers spent the last few years as British “ambassador” to the UN –– yeah, I’m sure that’s ALL he was up to! Anyway, he will soon be leading the country’s spooks as they stake out the bad guys and take on terrorists around the world. MI6 say it’s NOT all like James Bond. But they admit there are similarities -Sawes will even take on the codename “C” just like Judy Dench is “M” in the movies. That seems a bit silly. What’s the point of having a secret codename if everyone knows it? Why not just call him “S?” Or simply Mr Sawers? The Foreign Secretary reckons with the threats of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, Sawers and his team will have their work cut out.Still John is used to tough situations: he’s worked in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Kosovo. If Dr Evil turns up he’ll know what to do. “C” won’t rub shoulders with Bond Girls. Yet he’ll have one thing in common with them –– for reasons of national security, his most important assets will remain
close to his bosom.
NOW listen up, because you ought to be a little bit interested in this. Monday is a big day in Parliament—at 2.30pm MPs will meet to elect a new Speaker. The Speaker chairs debates in Parliament and makes sure everything runs smoothly. And it’s not easy keeping 646 MPs in line. But a good Parliament is also good for the country. The last Speaker, my friend Michael Martin, quit after taking the brunt of bad publicity over expenses. Despite all that heat, there’s tough competition to take his place. A whole host of MPs from veteran Tory Ann Widdecombe to Labour back-bencher Parmjit Dhanda have put their names forward. Front runners include my mates John Bercow and Margaret Beckett, plus Lib Dem hopeful Alan Beith. Psst! You could make a few bob here. The bookies are taking bets on who will win. I say stick a tenner on Bercow… he wins you can buy me a pint – if he loses, I’ll buy him one.
EVER heard of Colonel Gaddafi? He’s the dictator of Libya. He became rather unpopular in the 1980s when an American plane got blown up over Scotland and a police woman was shot dead from inside the Libyan embassy in London. It’s common for there to be protests when he travels abroad. That’s why he brought bodyguards on his trip to Italy this week. But Gaddafi’s elite handpicked security team are all women! So it seems the Libyan is a bit of a ladies man. He also wanted to meet at least 700 Italian lasses. So no doubt he’ll get on famously with Italian leader, Silvio Berlusconi. Gaf has other quirks. He tends to bring a giant tent and solid-gold furniture that he sets up on the lawn where he’s staying. He’s even been known to bring a pet camel on past visits. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his book and employ Gemma and Ashley Massey as my bodyguards. They lack the martial arts and firearms training that Gaddafi’s girls have—but if looks could kill I’ll be as safe as houses.
THERE’S been a bit of a barney between the UK and Bermuda, after the Caribbean island took on a group of unfortunate fellas from the infamous American detention camp Guantanamo Bay. The four blokes are Uighurs (Muslims from China) who were nabbed in Afghanistan a few years back by American troops. When it turned out they’d done nothing wrong the US let them go. But they didn’t want to go to China. So they went to... wait for it... Bermuda instead, because it was the only other state that would accept them. The only small problem was that Bermuda is still a British colony—or “overseas territory” as we call them now to fool everyone. The Bermudans were meant to ask the British government before letting them in. Folk at the Foreign Office got riled because the first they knew of the situation was when the Uighur boys turned up at Bermuda airport. Oops! All the same, what a life they’ve had. Born in China, nicked in Afghanistan, imprisoned in Cuba, and now living in Bermuda. With all that travel, if they can’t get a job as deckchair attendants, they ought to give Thomas Cook a ring.
OK, time for a quick name drop. I happened to be round at Prince Charles’s place—or should I say palace— yesterday for a chat about affordable houses. It reminded me that it’s 40 years next month since Prince Charles became Prince of Wales. And what a great 40 years it’s been. Some folks don’t like the monarchy, but Prince Charles has done some great stuff. He’s stood up for human rights and his charity, the Prince’s Trust, has helped many people make it in business and life. He’s a really decent fella. So well done on your first 40 years Your Royal Highness (and thanks for the nice pie)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

I'm betting on Barack

AMERICA’S Top Boy Barack Obama has been clocking up his Air Miles this week. While Bungling Bush, his White House predecessor, probably reckoned an international flight meant going from Washington to New York, President O is happy zipping off to the Middle East. As you read this, the jet-setter will be in France to commemorate the war dead on the beaches of Normandy. I imagine the first half of his trip was trickier than the second half. He has his work cut out trying to sort out the region’s problems. It’s something every President has worked on for decades. I reckon Barack’s got a good chance of making a breakthrough because he’s exceptionally clever and, also, he seems really nice. Hot topics on his plate include Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. With so many meetings and press conferences, I doubt he even had time for a steam bath or camel trek. I was in the Middle East on Parliamentary business recently. But my visit didn’t have the same impact as Barack’s. So what’s he got that I haven’t—apart from hundreds of staff, giant Hummers, guns, body guards and a trillion dollar budget? Well, OK, all those things, but he doesn’t get to write for the Daily Sport, so I guess we’re even.
THIS week has seen the largest number of Cabinet ministerial resignations since time began, or at least since my own personal records began anyway (about 20 years ago). With public anger at politicians and low popularity ratings, lots of government ministers are resigning their jobs. That’s probably because they’d rather stand down than have the humiliation of being sacked. You see, Gordon is planning a big Cabinet re-shuffle for Monday, when he’ll move his MPs around anyway. The problem now is that with Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and lots of junior ministers all bowing out, the Cabinet has become a sort of self-shuffling pack, with most of the cards ending up on the floor. He’ll need lots of new ministers now. As always, there’ll be competition for the top posts, like Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. So things will get a wee bit heated in Westminster. This is a really important time. Because whatever goes on, these are going to be the people helping Flash Gordon run the country until the next election, probably next year. A lot could happen between now and then so we need good folks at the helm. Still, the way things are going, everyone else might have resigned by next week too. What then? At the current rate, the country might end up being run by… well, ME! So if I’m PM by Monday, the first thing I’ll do is throw a great party in Downing Street with exclusive coverage only in the Daily Sport. It would also mean I’ll have to select a Cabinet from my friends. Hmmm… if you’re interested, just drop me a line, and two million quid. (If you’re lucky, I’ll even throw in a peerage).
WHAT are you doing to save pennies in the recession? Cutting back on the curries? Nights in with a movie, instead of out on the lash? People are doing all sorts of things to stretch their spondulicks. But some companies have taken some rather more bizarre steps. One Spanish bank —BBVA —is offering staff a FIVE-YEAR break from work. It is giving employees a “lump sum” if they agree to clear off till 2014 on “unpaid leave”. What a great idea. Imagine being paid to bum around for half a decade You’d get all the DIY sorted, and find the time to watch the whole back catalogue of Tricia. But while the Spanish get longer hols, the British get smaller sweets. Mars bars and Snickers have got smaller. Chocolate giant Mars UK has “downsized” the tasty treats by a few grams . . . but kept the prices the same. That’s a novel saving. My staff member, Basil, has taken it a step further. He took his suit into a dry cleaners, which promptly went bankrupt. The “liquidators” confiscated his clothes as part of the company’s assets. I hope that doesn’t happen to Sport babe Lorna Gilchrist. After all, in those circumstances —like Basil—the only suit she could wear to the office would be her birthday suit.
TOMORROW’S 65th D-Day anniversary remembers a dangerous and world-changing event –– the day our troops stormed the beaches of France to fight the Nazis. More than 156,000 Brits, Canadians and Americans along with Australians, New Zealanders, Irish and others fighting for Britain landed at Normandy and defeated Hitler’s troops. Thousands never came home. Many didn’t make it off the boats before they were killed by enemy fire. Ceremonies are taking place across France and around the world to thank veterans and those who gave their lives. These lads were real heroes. We think we’ve got it tough now, but imagine in 1944, going up the beaches being shot to bits with almost no cover. It is a long time, 65 years, but the freedom they secured is everlasting.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Homing in on Jacqui

I’VE got a lot of problems with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Thanks to her department, our civil liberties are disappearing quicker than a burp in a blizzard. There’s a CCTV camera on almost every corner and you can’t pop out for some chips without being stopped and searched. There’s even a law to stop you taking photos of police—which means every US tourist in London could get arrested. With compulsory ID cards and a national DNA database they’ll be able to follow your every move. They even want to spy on your phone calls and e-mails. And you can get locked up without going to court. With all this going on, is it really a good use of time to obsess about who Jacqui lives with and whether she fills in her expenses properly? Instead of panicking about the erosion of our freedoms, some commentators go mental about her claiming that her sister’s place is her “primary” home and her other place is her “second” home. Until very recently ministers were required to register their London home as their main residence. So by all means let’s shout about Jacqui’s approach towards our personal freedom. But when it comes to whinging on about her parliamentary expenses, count me out.
An exercise in diplomacy
MISTER Brown was in the good ol’ U.S. of A on Wednesday visiting congress—which is the same as the British parliament, but with an American accent. His was underlining our “special relationship” with our US buddies. He met superman Obama and then made his big speech. Some felt it was over the top, but I think it was good. But congress thought it was fantastic. In fact, they gave him standing ovations DURING his speech which is like cheering a football player before he scores the goal. There’s now a dispute about how many standing ovations he got. One commentator said it was five. Others say 19. Having watched it, I think the higher number is right. But 19 standing ovations. That’s less like an audience and more like an exercise class. Gord will be pleased. He single handedly managed to unseat the whole of the US congress just by telling them he loved them. I’ll try it t next time I’m going through security at JFK airport in New York. Maybe then they won’t make me take my shoes and belt off.
What a Faye day
EVER felt you’re being followed? I did, last Monday, when 20 sixth-formers trailed me into the Commons. After a conference with politicians discussing policies and telling the MPs what they think, they wanted to watch “the proceedings of the House”. Among this happy band of pupils there was one particularly feisty lady by the name of Faye Roan from Liverpool. Faye and the others asked challenging questions about politics and the media. She and her teacher Miss Cavannagh are a credit to their educational institution.
Maggie caused a coal lot of trouble
TWENTY-FIVE years ago the miners’ strike began. It was a dispute about a lot of things, but mainly a stand-off between the National Union of Miners and the Tories. As the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song at the time went: “When two tribes go to war, one is all that you can score.” And so it was with these two tribes—Margaret Thatcher versus Arthur Scargilll. The strike went on for months but eventually, the miners lost. Many were delighted. They thought Scargill was a nutty lefty who’d ruin the country. Others said miners had every right to defend their livelihood. A quarter of a century later, it looks like they were right. Thatcher ruined the mining industry, leaving the shafts to become unusable. Now we import coal from abroad, when millions of tons lie under our feet.