Westminster Times
Westminster Times (Reuters)

While former prime minister John Major was putting the cat among the Tory pigeons over energy prices during a speech at a lunch with political hacks in Westminster he peppered it with genuine laugh-out-loud jokes. And every one of them had a sting in the tail.

He started his speech noting that Labour's former chief whip, Nick "Newcastle" Brown, was in the audience and, with a huge grin on his face, he welcomed the MP with the declaration: "I thought you were dead". Ouch.

Then he turned his barbs on to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair saying that, at one point he (Sir John) had toyed with the idea of becoming a peace envoy to the EU. He realised he couldn't because he would have to have invaded Europe first.

If that wasn't good enough, he also reminded the hacks that it was he who had really been largely responsible for the Northern Ireland peace process which Blair completed in 1998, by referring to one of Blair's most infamous quotes.

"I was never very good at soundbites," said Sir John. "If I had been I might have felt the hand of history on my shoulder."

Not a genius

Sir John also had a dig at ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith who had led the anti-EU rebels in the 90s and who had made his life a misery.

The idea that IDS was a "genius" was yet to be proved, he said, before going on to say that he had a confession to make about calling those rebels "bastards".

"It was absolutely unacceptable," he said. "My only excuse is that it was true."

So much for the mild-mannered grey man of politics who tucked his shirt into his underpants.

Power failure

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint failed to make it to Westminster on the day of a big statement on the creation of a new nuclear power station.

Her deputy Brian Greatrex apologised to the House on her behalf, saying she was stuck on a train which had broken down because of, wait for it ... "a power failure".

No, MPs didn't think it was that funny either.

Taking on the press

Labour leader Ed Miliband is clearly buoyed up by his recent spats with the media, notably the Daily Mail, and has warned his troops to expect retaliation.

Speaking to Labour party donors at a private dinner in London he is reported to have said he is ready for a big pre-election fight with the press in the run-up to the election campaign.

"We've got to be willing to call these people out. They are less powerful than people ever thought and they are less powerful now than they were," he said.

Looks like he is about to test that theory.

And the BBC

It's not just the press that is getting it in the neck. The BBC felt the full force of Tory anger when recently appointed work and pensions minister Mike Penning laid into the Today programme.

The notably straight-talking minister was being interviewed about the government's cap on benefits which, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, is not producing the savings predicted.

It probably didn't help that the minster was introduced as "Mark Penning" but he went on to slam the BBC for being the only media outlet apart from the Guardian newspaper that was giving the dubious claims any credence.

Typical of the left-wing BBC - he didn't say it but it was clearly meant.