Diary: the great history face-off: Gove v Clegg

The deputy prime minister’s fighting talk risks making him a hero

• It’s becoming a staple question for pub quizzes all over the country. Hands on buzzers – what’s the point of Nick Clegg? And, for a while, it had us stumped. But just occasionally the deputy prime minister does or says something that leads one to conclude that he does fulfil a function. This is one of those occasions. Speaking to race campaigners within his own party, he told them unequivocally that Michael Gove’s wheeze to ease back on the “politically correct” teaching about those such as Mary Seacole to focus more on Winston Churchill and Oliver Cromwell “simply will not happen”. This is fighting talk. Risks making him a hero. “Really good news,” said Seacole-ite campaigner Simon Woolley. “Given the political furore about Clegg’s broken promise to students over tuition fees, it is inconceivable that he would make another pledge that he couldn’t keep.” Inconceivable indeed. His word is his bond. Especially on Wednesdays.

• Does he mean it? Of course he means it. Clegg is a top draw politico;very careful about what he says. And he’s been particularly careful since that unfortunate incident a few years ago when he was overheard slagging off his colleagues while on a plane. The best politicos learn to be vigilant and Lord Freud is certainly of the top rank. Our man at a Capita welfare reform conference in London yesterday, where Lord Freud was “keynote” speaker, swears he heard the following exchange. Freud: “I must remember not to use the word scrounger.” Aide: “Oh, go on!” But they know full well how toxic that term can be. If said, it would have been in jest.

• To Westminster, where hostilities never cease. They bristle across the floor of the Commons. They bristle at the officials. Labour’s David Winnick is bristling over the position of Andrew McDonald, chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who confirms that the public are to be consulted over what MPs should be paid. The omens, Winnick says, are not good. “I have put down a parliamentary question asking if arrangements can be made for public consultation on what salary should be paid to the head of Ipsa. The present salary is between £105-110k.” This is called mutually assured destruction. It was quite popular during the cold war but seems reckless now.

• One of the few heartening features of the Profumo affair was the fact that, once disgraced, John Profumo withdrew to relative obscurity to do good works in east London without further need to grasp at the oxygen of publicity. One wishes that others could follow his example, but that isn’t the way these days. Profumo is long gone but the matter surfaces once more in the Times with Ivan Lawrence QC, the former Tory party grandee, chastising the paper for repeating the phrase for which Mandy Rice-Davies became famous. “It is indeed widely accepted that, when Lord Astor’s denial of the suggestion that she had slept with him was put to her in cross-examination by Stephen Ward’s defence counsel James Burge, she answered: ‘He would (say that), wouldn’t he?’ But what she actually said was: ‘Of course it’s not untrue that I have had relations with Lord Astor. I’m not going to perjure myself in court.'” Sir Ivan is sure “because I was Burge’s pupil, acting as his junior in the committal proceedings at Marylebone magistrates’ court, and anxious to impress with my note-taking efficiency”. He has kept the note. End of story. But not quite. Yesterday, Rice-Davies herself entered the fray, to protect her honour, as it were. “I too was present at Stephen Ward’s hearing at Marylebone magistrates’ court in June 1963,” she says. “And most certainly did say: ‘Well he would, wouldn’t he?’ It was said in reply to Mervyn Griffith-Jones (prosecution) when it was put to me that Lord Astor had denied any sexual allegations in regard to myself. The palest ink is not always better than the best of memory, Sir Ivan – besides I have before me the court transcript.” She would say that, but it rings true all the same.

• After a life in music, Chas & Dave reminisce about their big-name devotees. Gerch-cha. Step forward John Major. They played for him at Downing Street. “He was a really big fan,” Chas tells the West End Extra. “He kept coming over during the gig and asking us for requests.” The cone hotline blues. Me and Mrs Currie. Classics both; oh yes!

Twitter: @hugh_muir

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