Diary – July 11, 1994


Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick are not the only MPs to be concerned over the ‘cash for questions’ controversy they have found themselves embroiled in. According to various friends of mine, recently employed as MPs’ researchers in the Commons, the practice of payment for questions is a common one – albeit on an inverted and somewhat lesser financial scale.
Sadly, my sources feel obliged to remain unnamed, but the gist of the practice goes like this: MPs who do not have the time or inclination to table questions themselves, pay their researchers to do so on their behalf, to achieve a greater parliamentary profile and promote an impression of conscientiousness. The going freelance rate, a few weeks ago, was pounds 1 per question.

Nothing illegal in this, but, none the less, it would be embarrassing for the MPs concerned to be found out since each answer costs the taxpayer pounds 97. Nor are many of the questions – of which there is, by now, a repertoire – particularly useful: ‘How many representations has the Minister received on. . .?’ and ‘Will the Minister list his official engagements on. . .? are favourites, apparently. Not exactly the stuff of Einstein. . .nor, arguably, worth pounds 97.

Though she will be smiling as she opens the Harrods sale today, Betty Boothroyd is aware that the grim facts are unalterable: she was, it transpires, merely a last-minute recruit for the job, which, until three weeks ago, belonged to Sylvester Stallone. Sly, as he is known, had to pull out at the last moment because of filming commitments and the Red Cross chose Miss Boothroyd as his replacement. The Speaker was, by all accounts, magnanimous in accepting on a second-best basis: ‘She’s only doing it to get 50,000 quid for

the Red Cross,’ was the abrupt response from her office yesterday.

Scandal in Floral Street, Covent Garden, where residents have been told by Westminster Council that they will be fined up to pounds 2,500 if they do not put their rubbish out at between 10.30pm and 11pm. Alarm clocks are being set by those who prefer to hit the pillow at 10pm and those who work there but do not live there, race back to their offices to oblige. One elderly woman is totally confused. She rang up to ask what to do and was told, regardless of her preference of TV channel: ‘Put it out after News at Ten.’

Maybe it’s because she has still not recovered from her slating on-air by Melvyn Bragg – the gentlest comment was that he did not find her jokes remotely funny – but now Australian feminist Kathy Lette has resorted to new publicity tactics: she is stripping on Wednesday in the window of Waterstones in the Charing Cross Road to launch her paperback, Foetal Attraction. A strange method, I can’t help thinking, for one who announced recently that, above all else, she abhorred post-feminist types: ‘Women who’ve kept their Wonderbras and burnt their brains. . .’

Now is the time to tell, I feel, the true reason why the Rolling Stones called their new album Vudu Lounge. Not so long ago guitarist Keith Richards found a frail white kitten outside his London studio.

Against all his macho instincts he took it in and nurtured it until it became strong enough to go into quarantine and finally cross the Atlantic to live with his family in the States. Together they named it Vudu – for some reason better kept to themselves.

In true Hans Christian Andersen fashion, wherever the Richards went, so did Vudu. Thus it was that when Jagger, Wood, Watts and Richards were looking for

a title, they caught sight of Vudu. . .doing apparently the only thing he ever does. . .lounging.

Wanted: one tall black male on roller-skates who yesterday helped push a broken-down Ford Sierra 2.3 diesel saloon all the way out of Birdcage Walk, across Parliament Square and through the gates of the Commons.

At that point the engine fired and its driver, Nicholas Budgen, Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, drove in. He got out immediately to thank the man. . .only to find that he had disappeared, his luminous sun-specs and T-shirt bearing the word Dive vanishing into the crowds.

(Photograph omitted)