John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: November 26, 2017 Last modified: November 26, 2017

Find me a primitive man
Mike Smithson, editor of PoliticalBetting.com, blogged: “The Westminster harassment allegations have led to a shake up in the Betfair exchange nextCONleader betting with several new names coming in including Andrea Leadsom, new Defence Sec Gavin Williamson and Tom Tugendhat. Although Davis is still in the favourite slot at 13% he is nothing like as strong a favourite as he was. Jacob Rees-Mogg continues to be favoured while BoJo is now in third place. What makes this market more interesting is that the mood amongst CON MPs appears to have edged a touch away from TMay with considerable opposition to her choice of Williamson, who has never spoken from the Commons front bench, as Fallon’s successor at defence.”

Always true to you in my fashion
Tory MP Gary Streeter, generally seen as a realist rather than a rebel, tweeted: “Feels increasingly like 92-97 parl: no majority, no money, ripping ourselves apart over EU. That lasted 5 years. Oh dear.”

Love for sale
A refreshingly balanced analysis of the Westminster sex furore was given by Beth Rigby, Senior Political Correspondent for Sky News: “A teenager allegedly raped by a Labour party official; a staff member allegedly pinned down on a bed by an MP; a cabinet minister accused of making inappropriate advances towards a Tory activist three decades his junior. The dossier of cases of alleged sexual harassment in Westminster is growing by the day – and claimed its first scalp in the shape of Sir Michael Fallon. As the catalogue of accusations grows so too do the divisions between those working in SW1 over the depth of the rot. Some say it amounts to little more than a witch hunt, in which any indiscretion or clumsy sexual advance is notched up as a case of harassment by the “fragile” women of today (Anne Robinson’s remark not mine). But for others – Labour MP Jess Phillips (pictured) for one – it is indicative of a toxic culture where the abuse of power looms far too large. Those mutterings over a witch hunt have been fuelled by the publication of an anonymous list of 40 MPs, detailing a whole gamut of allegations from consensual work place relationships to allegations of inappropriate behaviour. Bunching office romances in with more serious allegations has – quite rightly – angered many MPs and muddied the waters.”

Let’s fly away
Paul Salveson blogs: “Be careful about how people interpret what you say. I was enthusing to a friend recently about a very good film I’d been to see. She thought it was called ‘The Death of Starlings’ and was some sort of avant-garde film noir about the death of, well, starlings.”

Let’s misbehave
Four directors at an “unsafe” mental health trust received £10k pay rises, despite failing to improve standards. Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) boosted pay to £108,000 after it came out of special measures in 2016. The Trust, which went back into special measures last month, said the salaries had been “significantly lower” than comparable roles. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has rated the trust as inadequate after it found the board had not addressed serious concerns raised in 2014. It also said the board of the NSFT had failed to ensure “unsafe environments were made safe”. Jane Sayer, director of nursing, and Leigh Howlett, director of strategy, both of whom received the pay increase, have since resigned from the NSFT board. Former director of operations in Suffolk Alison Armstrong left to take up a senior role at Colchester Hospital in April, while director of operations in Norfolk Deborah White is still in post on £108,000. The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the “astonishing” pay rises represented “the unacceptable face of NSFT management”, adding: “While NSFT bosses awarded themselves £10,000 pay rises for leaving special measures, NSFT was heading towards another inadequate CQC inspection, a return to special measures and the ignominy of becoming the undisputed ‘worst mental health trust in the country’.” No further comment needed.

Down in the depths
A salutary tale from Chesterfield Labour MP Toby Perkins during a debate on beer tax: “It is definitely the case that the pub is the safest place to drink, because there are other things to do there, people do not drink as fast, they have other people around and it is a much more self-regulating environment. That was brought home to me strongly at a meeting I had with a publican who runs the Harley’s bar in Staveley. One of his customers had been a regular attender, but stopped going. The publican met him outside the pub as the man was coming back from Morrison’s with bottles of whisky in his bag, and asked him why he was not coming into the pub any more. The man said, ‘I can’t afford to come in the pub any more.’ The publican said that within six months the guy had drunk himself to death, because all those regulating forces were no longer there.”

Just one of those things
The Bridge Theatre’s production of Young Marx, chronicling the period before he wrote Das Kapital, is to be screened live in selected cinemas, as is the current fashion. Which sounds great, until one considers that they include five cinemas in the Picturehouse group where staff have been on strike over pay. Ironic, or what?

Anything goes
The Duchy of Lancaster, responding to the Paradise Papers leak, says the Cayman Island funds, for example, account for only 0.3% of its total value. But why would those in charge of the Duchy’s money choose to make decisions which have left The Queen with questions to answer over such a small proportion of its funds? There is no suggestion they have done anything illegal – but money invested in this particular way has attracted criticism. There were small investments in the rent-to-buy retailer BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting the poor, and the Threshers chain of off-licences, which later went bust owing £17.5m in tax and costing almost 6,000 people their jobs. Graham Smith, from the anti-Monarchy group, Republic said: “The Queen is responsible for her investments, she should have instructed her advisers to ensure her money was invested ethically.”

Don’t fence me in
A girls’ school named after a 17th Century slave trader will not change its name. Colston’s Girls’ School (CGS), in Bristol, said it was “not appropriate” to remove merchant Edward Colston’s name. CGS said it “existed today because of the financial endowment” from Colston, adding: “We see no benefit in denying the school’s financial origin and obscuring history itself. To the contrary, by enabling our students to engage thoughtfully with our past, we continue to encourage them to ask questions about present-day moral values and to stand up for what they believe is right.” Colston, in 1680, became an official of the Royal African Company, which at the time held the monopoly in Britain on slave trading. He donated to churches and hospitals in Bristol, also founding two almshouses. This is a difficult issue. If we inquire too closely about original sin, and try to reverse history, there would be no monarchy or the ports of London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.