Westminster Times
Westminster Times (Reuters)

Labour's latest rising star, "Hunky Historian" (it says here) Tristram Hunt suffered a bit of a playground bullying from education secretary Michael Gove when he unwisely questioned him on his plans for GCSEs and referred to Gove's own schooldays. And got it wrong.

He provoked Gove by claiming his reforms had "introduced the soft bigotry of low expectations into our education system".

He went on: "He might have enjoyed studying the works of Jane Austen and Wilfred Owen but he is denying England's pupils the same access to our national canon if they take only the English-language GCSE.

"If it was all right for him, at Robert Gordon's College, why is it not okay for kids in Harlow and Blackpool today? Will he now urgently review the changes to English GCSE or will he continue to dumb down our syllabus?"

Good stuff.

If it had been accurate.

It wasn't and Gove was unforgiving: "Tragically, when I was a student at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, I was not able to take English GCSE because I was in Scotland and GCSEs were not on offer at that time. As a historian, he could perhaps do with studying geography rather more.

"He talks about Jane Austen. One of the tragedies about the current English GCSE is that fewer than 1% of students who sit it actually read a word of Jane Austen.

"Before he asks another question in the House, may I recommend to him one particular text of hers - Pride and Prejudice? A knowledge of both things would certainly help him to be a more effective Opposition spokesperson."

Now write out 100 times "I will not challenge Headmaster Gove unless I know what I am talking about." Then see me after class.

Dumb politicians

Political anoraks are up in arms over the fact that the Conservative party and, it appears, the Labour party have deleted all their pre-2010 speeches from their websites.

How on earth can we hold them to account for previously made pledges if they have gone? came the cry of despair. Which misses a few obvious points.

Firstly, thanks to the the UK's plethora of media outlets, if there is a speech or any other performance that is worth saving for posterity it will be there somewhere.

Just ask former Tory Welsh secretary John Redwood if his 1993 conference attempt to mime along to the Welsh national anthem (Hen Wlad fy Nhadau) when he didn't know the words will ever stop haunting him? Some people haven't stopped laughing.

Secondly, have the people who are complaining ever tried finding an old speech or promise, or just about anything other than how to join up or donate money, on any party website?

Finally, since when did we expect any politician to be held to account for something they said three months ago, let alone three years or more ago?

The smell of fear

There was a full-scale security alert in the Palace of Westminster a few days ago amid rumours that a suspect package had been found.

It brought back memories of the old days of IRA bomb threats which meant that anyone who accidentally left their lunch box on a bus might return to find it had been blown into a million pieces in a controlled explosion.

But this was of a very different order. Someone had been stopped after security scanners spotted a grenade-shaped object in a bag.

It was, it turned out, a wittily packaged bottle of scent named, we believe, Flowerbomb, or its male equivalent Spicebomb, which, according to maker Victor et Rolf "explodes into a bouquet of sensations".

There is no word of what happened to the bearer of this particular object. But security cops have a very particular sense of humour.

The year after the IRA attempted to kill Margaret Thatcher at the Tory conference in Brighton there was unprecedented - for its time - security at the next annual event.

But one journalist thought it was very clever and funny to smuggle an exploding cigar through the scanners and then taunt the police with the fact that they failed to discover it.

A night in a cold cell and removal of his conference pass soon wiped the smile off his face.

Big Brother?

Former deputy Tory party chairman and donor, multimillionaire Lord Ashcroft. seems to enjoy twisting David Cameron's tail.

He delivered an analysis of why Cameron failed to win the last election outright in his book Minority Verdict which became essential but uncomfortable reading in Tory ranks.

Now he has revealed that he and Sunday Times' former political editor Isabel Oakeshott are to write an "authoritative" biography of Cameron to be published after the next election.

He has promised to "discuss the politics of the current parliament, the challenges facing the parties in the context of public opinion, and in particular the campaign leading up to the 2015 election".

Note the "in particular" bit. Watch out Dave: he's watching you.