Question: Arts funding and Government targets (to Estelle Morris, Minister of State for Arts)

See this entry in Hansard Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): How can the Minister reconcile the positive tone of the Secretary of State's recent speech, which was warmly welcomed in the arts world because it appeared to be moving away from intrusive political objectives for arts funding, with the Government's continuing and increasing addiction to quotas and targets? They affect museums, not least in the north-west. Does not she agree that the single greatest act of creativity and human ingenuity that the Government have encouraged in the arts is the invention of bogus statistics, which are designed purely to satisfy their meddlesomeness and Stalinist obsession with quotas? The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): The hon. Gentleman falls into the trap of thinking that, as a country, we have to choose between art, museums and galleries as excellent and worthy in their own right and the contribution that they can make to other parts of civic and national life. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it was a case not of "either/or" but of "both". Like her, I am happy to defend art for art's sake - I believe that we should always do that - but that does not detract from the contribution that art can make to wider social agendas. It is important that art can contribute to well-being, community cohesion, regeneration, higher educational standards and better mental health. We should not ignore that. On targets, the Government are investing in the arts - including in museums and galleries in the north-west as well as in other regions. The taxpayer has a right to ask us what return there has been for that investment. We therefore ensure that the investment is targeted and brings about positive outcomes, such as more visitors from a wider range of backgrounds. I am pleased that we have those statistics because they allow us to show the success of the Government's policies.

I snap, crackle and pop at this view of the NHS

It is a feature of my psychology (and perhaps yours, too) that I never really lose my rag in political arguments, except when confronted by unreasonableness on the part of those I know and love. At which point I blow a gasket. So it fell that the other day I was sitting at some dinner party next to the wife of an old friend, and she started in on the classic posh-liberal routine, about why only the Labour Party can really be trusted with the NHS. "What you Tories don't understand," she said, as I glowered at my plate, "is the role the health service plays in bringing us all TOGETHER. "It unites the NATION. I was sitting in a ward the other day, after having some operation done, and thinking how MAAHVELLOUS it was to be among all these people, from all walks of life, and all races, and I realised we were all in a sense equal. I mean, I don't think I ever feel so close to the rest of society as I do in a hospital." Really? I said. Not even on the beach? "Not the kind of beaches I go to," she tinkled; and on she went, explaining how maahvellous it was that the duke and dustman were treated alike in our glorious New Jerusalem, watching the same TV, eating the same spotted dick, attended by the same starch-bosomed nurses. It was a wonderful system, she said, and to prove her point she revealed her own recent miracle experience. Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Question: Saddam Hussein and the Death Penalty (to Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

See this entry in Hansard Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Given that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have a principled opposition to the death penalty and given that Britain, as part of the coalition provisional authority, will shortly hand over Saddam Hussein for trial, can the right hon. Gentleman say what representations, if any, he has made to ensure that the future Iraqi authorities do not put Saddam Hussein to death? Or does he wash his hands of the matter? The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): We have made strong representations to the Iraqis about our position in respect of the death penalty. We were successful during the period of the Iraq governing council in persuading it to suspend the death penalty. It is known that Iraqi Ministers have said that they will support the re-establishment of the death penalty from 30 June, and it is also a fact that a number of countries around the world, including China and the United States, are retentionist and operate the death penalty. However, in respect of all those countries, not least and including Iraq, we shall make very strong representations about the need not to use the death penalty. Those representations will be made on both moral grounds, which are well supported in the House, and on very practical grounds. As we in this country found with the death penalty 50 years ago, one can end up not only convicting the wrong person, but executing the wrong person.

England expects… a fairer deal

No, my friends, your eyes are not deceiving you. They are everywhere. They are up in the windows of the terraces of London. They flutter from car windows. They are suspended from bridges. They fly from aerials. In just four days, they will be slathered in lipstick and white greasepaint on the faces of thousands of us, opening our mouths in a hysterical yodel of support for our boys. Never in history has the flag of St George been so popular. Never has it been so prevalent in the decor of our streets. Three million have been rushed out in the last month by one factory alone; leading British supplier Local Boyz Ltd has sold out; in the factories of Kowloon and Guangdong, whole production lines are being converted to the desperate task of meeting the patriotic demand. By Sunday evening, when Becks and co meet Henry and the rest of the French, I predict that the entire nation will be punctuated with the red and white symbol, like some vast vanilla and strawberry pudding; and what makes it all the more extraordinary is that, 25 years ago, it was a mere curiosity. The flag of our country was the Union Jack, or the Union flag, as sub-editors - quite rightly - insist on calling it. We all knew that the flag of England was the red cross of St George, that faintly disreputable Cappadocian merchant who made a fortune out of selling bacon to the crusaders. But we didn't think of it as our flag, did we? We didn't go around painting it all over our girlfriends' noses, or wearing it on our bras or our underpants, not unless we were more than averagely peculiar. So what does it mean, professor? Vot are ze semiotics of zis flag? I will tell you. It means most obviously that we are keen supporters of the English football team, and are hoping against hope that Becks will banana it past the French. But there is more to it, I contend, than that. The popularity of the English flag is a huge political message, a statement of exuberant loyalty, and also of a certain frustration. Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Conservatives launch ‘Right to Choose’

PRESS RELEASE: New policies announced to improve hospitals and health care in South Oxfordshire As the battle lines are drawn for the next general election, and the political focus switches to Britain's front line public services, Boris Johnson MP this week endorsed new policies announced by Conservatives to improve South Oxfordshire's hospitals and make it easier for residents to get access to high quality health care. Under the new Conservative policies, patients will be given the Right to Choose to go to any hospital they want in England. In addition, Conservatives will scrap all the central government targets imposed on local hospitals and GPs. Through being set free from this red-tape, health professionals will be able to respond to clinical rather than bureaucratic priorities. By expanding capacity by offering independent hospitals the right to supply to the NHS, waiting times will also be dramatically slashed back. Boris Johnson explained; "In local hospitals such as Townlands we rely more than ever on the hard work of doctors, nurses and consultants. They perform miracles every hour of the day. But everybody knows that the NHS is not as good as it could be. That's not their fault. It's the fault of the system, a system which sometimes seemed bent on reducing not improving services, particularly with regard to South Oxfordshire's Community Hospitals. It is sometimes easy for distant and unresponsive bureaucrats to undervalue the immense importance attached these hospitals by local people. "Our proposals for a 'Right to Choose' will mean that, for the first time ever, patients in South Oxfordshire will be able to choose the hospital that suits their particular needs best, rather than being forced to accept the hospital that suits the Government best. If people want to be treated locally, then they will be allowed to do so. It will mean that hospitals will have the freedom to determine their own future, to hire the people they want and to increase capacity to meet demand. Local people will once more have a say in the provision of local health care services. "Conservatives want to put the patient first by giving them real choice, taking politicians and bureaucrats out of the running of the NHS. We will give doctors and nurses the freedom to do what they were trained to do, according to clinical priorities, not the Government's. Let's offer choice to everyone, not just those who can afford it." ENDS

Joanie, how could you do this to me?

B-b-but Joanie, I thought, whimpering like a whipped cur, what have I done to deserve this? It falls to every man to receive his share of humiliation at the hands of the female sex. But never, surely, has an innocent wooer been requited with such a deafening slap on the cheek. To say that I have fawned on Joan Collins is to do an injustice to the Amoco Cadiz quantities of top grade oil I have lavished on Britain's foremost female film star. Years ago I interviewed her for this newspaper. I laid it on with a trowel, and of course she deserved it. They asked me to review her novel Too Damn Famous. I pronounced it little short of superb. As our relationship bloomed, I was privileged to publish her excellent diaries in the pages of The Spectator. When there was some mix-up, and we had to hold her piece over for a week, I sent her a bunch of flowers roughly the size and shape of an armchair. Fool that I was, I came to think there was a bond between us. I imagined that she was my ideological soulmate. And so you can imagine my pleasure when the Evening Standard rang a few weeks ago, and told me that Joan was backing the Tories - yes, the Tories. She was particularly impressed by Michael Howard, they said. Did I have anything to do with it, the Standard wanted to know, and I am afraid to say that I preened. I of course denied that I could in any way have influenced her decision, but my vanity allowed me to hope that I did. Fool, fool, fool! As you will now have seen from the news, Joan Collins is not backing the Conservatives at the Euroelections. Here I am, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, having spent nigh on 10 years sucking up to Joan Collins, and what do I get? At this critical moment, just when the Blair Government is on the ropes, just when the Tories at last have the wind in their sails - what does she do? She chucks me over for UKIP. She has succumbed to the charms of Robert Kilroy-Silk, he of the Aztec chiselled chin and the skin the colour of marmalade. Read the full article as published in the Telegraph