John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: October 25, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

School’s out
There are more signs that Mrs May’s honeymoon period amongst her conference-weary rank and file is waning. Paul Goodman of the conservativehome website blogged: “Not everything is changed, though.  Senior ministers of the crown are handed lines to take rather as schoolchildren are handed lines to write (or were). We want a Britain not for the privileged few but a country that works for everyone, they chant in unison, like that poor old torn-eared rabbit in Watership Down who has to confess to his thoughtcrimes. It makes one yearn to shout out the opposite – which I suppose would be a country for the priviliged few and a Britain that works for no-one.”

Poker face
Responding to Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle, Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron said: “The one really new face is Shami Chakrabarti as shadow attorney general. It is a real test of her moral compass whether she will work with Liberal Democrats in the Lords to oppose Conservative plans to give the government powers to snoop on the internet history of British citizens.” For once, he poses a valid question.

Violent side
The death throes of the UKippers continued after the (alleged) punch-up between MEPs Steve Woolfe and Mike Hookem. Former UKIP MEP David Campbell-Bannerman said that in party meetings during his time in Brussels, “there was always a contest as to who would walk out first – and whether they’d take their coffee with them. It was always very lively.” Talking to BBC 5 Live’s Emma Barnett, he said: “UKIP is full of very headstrong, very independent people… There was a lot of shouting, a lot of very forceful communication of views, a lot of strong disagreement.” He added: “It’s a bit more of a maverick party with very strong opinions, which is why some haven’t fitted in well in other parties.” He also indicated that some members may have behaved violently or aggressively in meetings. He said, “Nigel is always very strong and he could be heated, but he was never violent or aggressive. That’s not his style.” When asked, “What about other members?”, he said: “Oh yes, definitely.”

Hit me with your rhythm stick
Later, another UKIP MEP, Jonathan Arnott said it was “obvious to anybody” that Steven Woolfe could not stand in his party’s coming leadership contest following the Strasbourg stramash. The North East MEP said: “It’s quite clear from what we’ve seen from this situation that obviously – it must surely be obvious to anybody having seen this – that Steven Woolfe and Mike Hookem (though I don’t think that Mike would put his hat into the ring), surely they can’t now consider that either of them could stand in a leadership contest, surely to goodness.” Arnott, who put himself forward for the UKIP leadership this summer before withdrawing soon afterwards, said he arrived late for the meeting of MEPs and did not witness the altercation. He said he had been told that Steven Woolfe “took off his jacket and said to Mike Hookem let’s sort this outside, or words to that effect”. He went on: “This really portrays UKIP in an appalling light. The people who have worked hard for this party, year in, year out, they expect better of their MEPs than what has been seen over the last 24 hours. Frankly they have the right to expect better. It is absolutely disgusting that this incident has happened.” Thuggery in UKIP ranks? Surely not.

Pretty vacant
Tony Blair said he feels “strongly” about the state of British politics and is considering whether there is a ‘role’ for him in the future. The former Labour PM told Esquire magazine he was concerned Britain had become a “one-party state”. He said the public faced a choice between a government pursuing a “hard Brexit” and an “ultra-left” Labour Party whose policies were out of date. A spokesman for Mr Blair said he would not be returning to frontline politics; Blair merely wanted “to play a part in the debate because the true centre ground is vacant.” In the immortal words of Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

Communication breakdown
Dawn Butler, the new Shadow Secretary of State for Black, Ethnic and Minority communities, seemed unsure about whether Jews counted as a minority community as part of her brief, in an interview with Emma Barnett on BBC 5 Live. At the start of the interview, she was asked, “Does the Jewish community form part of your brief under that umbrella of minorities?” She replied, “Yes, I hope so”, and when pressed further, continued: “As you know, it’s a new brief, so we are still kind of looking at what it will include in its entirety.” At a later point in the interview, she confirmed that she would be talking to the Jewish community about their concerns about anti-Semitism in the party. She also said that Labour had not been effective enough in dealing with complaints about racism, anti-semitism and “all of the ‘isms’.” She told Emma Barnett: “It’s really important that we have robust systems in place, so that when somebody highlights, makes a complaint, raises issues or queries around racism and anti-semitism and sexism and all of the ‘isms’, that it’s taken seriously and it’s acted upon as swiftly as possible. The Labour Party hasn’t been doing that effectively to date. It’s important that that’s reviewed.”

Night of the lotus eaters
The government has published details of plans to scrap the 15-year limit on expats’ right to vote in UK general elections. The move follows a long campaign waged by World War Two veteran Harry Shindler, and it would be churlish to deny him his victory. However, it means that five million expats will be allowed to vote by a 2020 general election. Another reason for Theresa May to dither about polling day, perhaps?

Devil’s lawyer
Ken Clarke’s irreverent memoirs continue to entertain. He points out that, when Justice Secretary, his mildly liberal views on sentencing were constantly opposed by David Cameron’s aides in No 10, particularly Andy Coulson and Patrick Rock. Clarke notes, with some glee, that “my principal challengers on ‘law and order’ were eventually arrested and committed to trial themselves.” However, Clarke concludes on a note which will have no-one rolling in the aisles: “Democracy is not functioning satisfactorily in any western country on either side of the Atlantic. Modern mass media and constant superficial PR-dominated political campaigning have produced an angry backlash from the public…” No shit, Sherlock.

High school confidential
The debts of 113 academy trusts in England amount to almost £25m, and an investigation by the Education Funding Agency into one gives an indication why. Lilac Sky Schools (LSST) runs nine primary schools in Kent and East Sussex, and the most recent accounts show a deficit of £665,972. In the year 2013-14, LSST paid £800,000 to outside companies set up by co-founders Trevor Averre Beeson and his wife Jane Fielding. Ms Fielding, who was an LSST managing director, was also paid a salary totalling £200,000 over the years 2014 and 2015. Averre Beeson’s daughter, Victoria Rezaie, who was employed by the trust as a principal, received a salary of £63,298. Another daughter, Samantha Busch, was employed by LSST for £16,593. In November, the Regional Schools Commissioner’s office for London and south-east England issued a pre-termination warning notice to the trust over “unacceptably low”standards at Marshlands academy in East Sussex. The trust now has to hand nine schools to other trusts before the end of the year.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.