On the fringes with Elizabeth Stewart, editor
This job takes me to unexpected places. Recently I attended a reception at the House of Commons for Rowland Brothers, international funeral directors who, I discovered, help consuls repatriate bodies.
It’s a grim subject, but the director of the company, Tony Roland, could not be a more jolly fellow. Introducing his host, Malcolm Wicks MP, Tony proceeded to tell audience about the first Christmas lights display he helped organise for his local borough which Mr Wicks, his local MP, also attended.
But when it came to Tony flipping the switch, a fault blew an entire sub-station, plunging South London into darkness, a story which clearly tickled Tony, until someone politely reminded him that Malcolm Wicks is the energy minister. Dark humour indeed.
…You have to feel for poor Malcolm Wicks during the recent fuel crisis. And for the rest of government for that matter. The unending stream of bad news from Downing Street even has diplomats puzzled.
How could things have got so wrong, so fast? they ask. “Gordon Brown needs charisma,” offered one diplomat. “He tries too hard to be in control.”
Big Brother is watching
On the subject of control freakery, the workings of the British government has surprised Murari Sharma, the Nepalese Ambassador. Writing for an overseas column, he observes: “The government of this mother of democracy and human rights, watches its citizens going about their life at a level that only a few ruthless dictatorships can match.”