Westminster Times

Troughs and snouts

Latest figures showing a big rise in the number of MPs employing family members - at a cost to the taxpayer of some £4m a year - have been met with exactly the sort of humility you might expect from our leaders: absolutely none at all.

Quite the opposite in fact. The news has seen a fresh outbreak of whining about how hard-pressed they are.

It started with Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell declaring: "One thing missing from this report... is that the National Audit Office estimates that 92% of MPs are now subsidising their work."

And Sally Hammond, the wife of transport minister Stephen Hammond, who is employed by him as a £45,000-a-year senior parliamentary assistant, chimed in: "Hear, hear!"

"I am asked to give prizes for charity events nearly every day of the week and all these have to be provided out of our own pockets - costs a fortune," she said.

Well, charity does begin at home.

Top of the flops?

It seems politicians are finally learning. They aren't cool and will never be down with the kids.

Tony Blair's Cool Britannia stunt blew up in his face when Noel Gallagher revealed: "I didn't want to meet Tony Blair, he wanted to meet me". And the less said about Gordon Brown and the Arctic Monkeys the better.

So it was a refreshing change of tune when the prime minister's official spokesman told political journalists that David Cameron had a breakfast meeting with the music industry and, when asked if any big pop names were there, couldn't name a single one.

"I have only bought seven CDs in my entire life and I've never watched Top of the Pops so I am not best placed to talk about music," he confessed.

That's more like it.

Leadership bids

It's political conference season so, until any better stories come along, it is time to start whipping up leadership challenges. It is an annual game and everyone can join in.

The Liberal Democrats have the first rally, so Nick Clegg is the first duck to swim across the shooting gallery. And, absolutely true to form rebel peer Lord Oakeshott has taken aim, fired and entirely missed his target.

He told parliament's House magazine that Clegg was as useless as leader as Labour's Michael Foot who, in the 1983 general election produced a party manifesto described by one of his own senior members, Gerald Kaufman, as "the longest suicide note in history". Labour crashed to defeat.

The trouble is, you wind up Oakeshott and off he goes along the same old track. Even if he has got a point his remarks are too easily dismissed - which is exactly what Lib-Dem bosses have done.

And you could hear Vince Cable, Oakeshott's preferred leader, groaning in despair right across Westminster after his friend's "helpful" remarks.