Tuesday 24 February 2009

And the Oscar for best speech goes to...

Surely the shortest and the best speech in Oscar history. Phillipe Petit, some man, some film too.

Man on Wire, the heist story of Phillipe Petit's high wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 has a thread of a Scottish connection.

It's produced by Wall to Wall, which is part of Shed Media, which is the brainchild of Eileen Gallagher, who once worked at STV. There, tenuous, but better than the eyebrow-worth Mel Gibson credited Scotland with for Braveheart's Oscar.

Sunday 22 February 2009

The Harman episode

Usually when a politician denies something outright, it is read by the media as confirmation of the complete opposite of what they have just said.

So when Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, appeared on Newsnight on Thursday evening to deny strenuously that she was in any way positioning herself to replace Gordon Brown, the cynical among the press pack nodded that this was "confirmation" of exactly that manoeuvre.

Politics is like a soap opera except that all the players are trying to write the next scene before it happens. In this week's instalment, with MPs away from Westminster, the script had to be written by journalists.

On Monday, Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley passed on a story to readers that she had heard from "quite close to the inner core" of government. Germany's Angela Merkel was touting Gordon Brown for a role as the next leader of a beefed-up IMF.

It sounded daft, admitted Ms Ashley, but that did not stop her speculating about Mr Brown jumping into a lifeboat to make way for another leader.

Where did that come from, everyone in the village asked? Everyone knows there is no prospect of replacing Mr Brown before the next election.

But who was positioning themselves to be leader if Mr Brown loses his first General Election as leader?

The political blogs, increasingly powerful drumbeats in British politics, did not take long to finger Ms Harman as the cabinet minister most likely and the next day a series of newspaper hatchet jobs accused her of manoeuvring to make herself the heir-apparent.

Not only was she trying to entrance the left-wing of the party and the women's vote in one fell swoop by attacking the male culture of bank bonuses, she had also organised a rival G20 for female politicians in the hope of grabbing some of the international stardust for herself in April.

Mr Brown got tetchy when he had to dismiss all this "gossip" more than once when he unveiled his "global deal" for the economy at a press conference on Wednesday.

The counter-briefings then had Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, touted as the "stop Harriet" candidate. Ms Cooper is married to Ed Balls, Children's Minister, who was once, and maybe still is, the brains of Mr Brown.

Ms Harman then had to go on Newsnight to say there was not a "shred of truth" in reports she wanted the Prime Minister's job. By then it was getting ridiculous enough for Communities Minister Hazel Blears, to use the time-honoured speech to her constituency party to tell her colleagues to "get a grip".

Douglas Alexander, International Development Minister, gave the same message in his Paisley constituency last night, telling cabinet colleagues fishing for support before an election to pull their nets in. He said a fourth Labour term was "difficult but do-able" but it required unity.

In a shot at anyone in cabinet thinking beyond the Brown premiership, he added: "All of us should remember the words from our party's constitution: By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone'."

Friday 20 February 2009

It's good to talk.

Hat tip to the new blogger, A Leaky Chanter, for drawing to our attention a Freedom of Information request that reveals the mobile phone bill for Scottish Government advisers has gone up by £1500 to £36,000 this last year.

Leaky Chanter says the bill has "shot up", which is over-egging it.

The government says: "advisers are often required to work out-of-hours and need mobile phones to carry out their duties. They are entitled to make personal calls from these mobiles and are responsible for paying for personal calls in full".

I say that's a lot of Facebook time on your government Blackberry, cove.

I call the First Minister's spokesman on other business and tease him about his phonebill. "It can't be me they're talking about - this is my own phone," he says. Och, that's devotion for you. Or, on reflection, bloody good spinning.

Thursday 19 February 2009

test post

This is an evening test

What shall we do with the the drunken...

No Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons this week, but the Prime Minister must be kept busy, so Her Majesty's press were given the Wednesday midday slot in the diary.

We trooped over to Downing Street for one of these press conferences where we pretend to be the loyal opposition and Mr Brown did the usual - drone on about how he's saving the global economy.

Journalists only get to ask one question each, so the first, from Sky's John Craig, got round this by asking about economics, politics, speculation on the leadership, and plans for redecorating our embassy in Stockholm all in one breath. Thanks John, that just about covered all the questions we wanted to ask.

"That was quite a long speech," said the Prime Minister, relishing the chance to answer 10 questions on the economy and dismiss any talk of leadership manoeuvring as gossip.

Mr Brown had wanted to roll out his new soundbite, the "grand bargain" to solve the world's economic woes, but the press pack had other plans.

The Sun wanted an expression of sympathy for Jade Goody. They got it. But the rest of the ding-dongs were as expected until he slipped in the prospect of recovery "within months".

Mr Brown's approach to his monthly press gatherings have become so ritualistic - you can write some of his answers before the question is asked - that attendance has become sparse.

Being a minister's son, Mr Brown will be familiar with the phenomenon and the excuses parishioners mutter among themselves - better things to do on a Wednesday morning than listen to him preaching on about the end of the world as we know it.

In the back rows it looked as if Downing Street officials were letting tourists in to bolster the numbers, but, no, it was a group of earnest Japanese foreign correspondents seeking a reaction to the resignation of their disgraced Finance Minister, Mr Shoichi Nakagawa, who was, and these are their words, "apparently drunk" at a meeting of the G7 in Rome.

The Japanese were in a mood for self-flagellation. In beautiful Japanese-lilting English, a Toyko reporter asked: "What do you make of his miserable behaviour and our miserable Japanese economy?"

Well, it's good to know that there are people worse off than ourselves, said Mr Brown. He didn't actually, but the thought must have crossed his mind.

The conference moved to other subjects, but the Japanese press were determined to flog their former Finance Minister in an international arena. They just would not let it go. Another Japanese reporter asked: "If Mr Alistair Darling did the same thing what would you do?"

The Prime Minister managed to remain diplomatic, witty even, and then the bell rang for lunch, or rather a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister, who was next in the diary.

We trooped out, no more enlightened, but with our minds racing at the thought of that late-night call to No 10 long after Sybil, the Treasury cat, has gone to bed.

"Hello, Gorshdun, is Alishtair here. Listen, about this resheshion, hic, what we've got to do is ..."

Monday 16 February 2009

Torc TV

Tha mi air An La a-nochd aig 8.00 fsg bruidhinn mu dhein poileataics mar as abhaiste. Sky 168 neo iPlayer a BhBC air cuil am putan orainds.

Thursday 12 February 2009

****ing Boris does a Christian Bale.

Here is a transcript that is being circulated of the telephone conversation between London mayor Boris Johnson (BJ) and Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz (KV): Most interesting for its non-denial denial by Johnson at the end.

BJ: Have seen the broadcast regarding the letter I sent to you following Tuesday's evidence session. I'm unbelievably disappointed in the way my evidence is being treated.
I said to you that I could not remember the exact details at the time. Clarified the facts as soon as I was made aware/reminded of what happened.
So f****** angry that you have gone on TV saying that I will be recalled to HASC (the Committee) to give further.

KV: I don't know what broadcast you have seen.

BJ: On the BBC.
You are using the HASC for party political purposes. I used to think that you were a straight guy. A man that you could do business with. This is f****** ridiculous.

KV: I never said that I would recall you in the Committee.

BJ: You have gone on television and connived to try and give the impression that I f****** tipped off David Cameron. You are trying to make me look like a f****** fool. I cannot believe that you have allowed the HASC to become a part of this. This is such f****** bulls***.

KV: You turned up to the evidence session on Tuesday with no diary or notes.

BJ: I f****** warned you beforehand that I would not be very good on details.

KV: I have circulated your letter to every member of the Committee.
The only thing missing from the letter is the exact time of the call. Why didn't you just include the time of the call?

BJ: You have abused the Committee and I will not let this rest.

KV: This is a matter for all members of the Committee, I didn't want to call you to give evidence, other members did, including Conservative members, I want to conclude the inquiry next Tuesday.
I do not want to recall you, I want this inquiry to be concluded next Tuesday.

BJ: I have been asked endlessly about phone conversation with Paul Stephenson but calls with Cameron were completely f****** irrelevant. Why did you have to go to the BBC? I was under the impression that you would come back to me first.

KV: You went to the Evening Standard on Tuesday immediately after the evidence session and said that you spoke to David Cameron at 1.10pm. I said when we walked out of the room that we should go and deal with the press, but you said no because they were only sketch writers.

BJ: You have behaved in an unbelievably naked partisan way. Labour Party? F****** smear tactics from the Labour Party.

KV: How can you even say that when in PMQs today David Cameron used something that I said against the Labour Government. No one will believe you that I am being partisan. You have written to me using the word "lunchtime" as an explanation. Give us a time and that is the end of it. I have no intention of re-calling you. You came in unprepared and treated the Committee as a joke, you were extremely discourteous and the Committee members were not impressed. You are not the subject of the inquiry, this has to go before the Committee, all they will ask for is the time.
We just need the time. This is not in my hands, this is in the hands of the whole Committee.

BJ: It was about 1.15pm

KV: Well, why didn't you just say that in the letter? Where were you anyway? What was it about Ladbroke Grove station?

BJ: I was at a congestion charge event at about lunchtime, travelling back.

KV: You came into the evidence session very unprepared and treated the Committee very rudely. Showed no respect to the Committee.

BJ: Did not treat the Committee rudely.

KV: You stormed out before the end!

BJ: I stayed for at least 30 minutes when I was told I would only be needed for 20 minutes. I waited for 15 minutes. I answered all of the questions and just because I cannot remember one thing. This is s***.

KV: I gave you the option of not coming due to being busy sorting out London. You took this to mean a party political strategy when it wasn't.

BJ: Well, I didn't want it to be a f****** smear on Transport for London.

KV: The letter sent is defective. We only need the time of the call and this should have been said in the letter.

BJ: Will an approximate time do? Between 1pm and 1.30pm or 1.15pm and 1.30pm.

KV: Yes, that will be fine.
It is Members of the Committee who want you to be recalled, including Conservative members. They also want to call David Cameron to give evidence. I do not want to do that. I want the matter to be closed. The matter will be closed if we have the time.
I want to find out about Damian Green. I'm one of few who wanted this investigation and you weren't taking it seriously. You have only become a subject because he gave such bad evidence.
I do not want to recall you, I want to finish on Tuesday. But you should have treated the session with more respect.

BJ: You have made a mountain out of a molehill.

KV: I gave you the way out. You didn't even have to turn up on Tuesday; it could have been delayed until next week.

BJ: I didn't want to do that as I thought a big thing would be made about the London transport system not working.

KV: Did you tell Cameron?

BJ: The key point that is not getting across - I didn't give any f****** information to Cameron.

KV: So you didn't tell him.

BJ: Nothing he didn't already know.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Whistleblower - the fallout for Brown.

The political fallout from the banking crisis was always going to be messy. Yesterday it claimed the scalp of Sir James Crosby, the deputy head of the Financial Services Authority and there are hints of a greater scandal to come with the Serious Fraud Office revealing that allegations involving half a dozen financial institutions are being considered for criminal investigation.

Politically Gordon Brown’s reputation has been pummelled and Sir James had to be sacrificed as human shield for the Prime Minister.

Accused by a whistleblower of ignoring warning about the risk HBOS was taking while he was chief executive Sir James resigned just before mr Brown was due to appear in front of the Commons for his weekly grilling from MPs.

Until yesterday, when he was dropped like a hot potato, Crosby was widely described as an ally of Mr Brown and one of his closest advisers. It was Gordon Brown who appointed Sir James to the FSA, Gordon Brown who appointed to write a report on ID cards and Alistair Darling who appointed him to advise on the mortgage crisis. He was now no longer an adviser and it was right that he stepped down from the FSA, Mr Brown told the Commons. We was toast.

The allegations against Sir James by Paul Moore, the former risk manager turned whistleblower are two-fold. He claims he was sacked on the personal instruction of Sir James when he dared to speak out about the way the bank was being run.

The other, equally serious allegation from the pen of Mr Moore, is that Sir James presided over HBOS at a time when it was pushing mortgage borrowing far too aggressively and fuelling the borrowing bubble that eventually bust the bank.
In his resignation statement Sir James refutes the allegations and he is innocent, according to an independent investigation by KPMG which was hired by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the HBOS chairman at the time, to investigate the claims of the whistle-blower.

But HBOS is one of KPMG’s biggest clients in the UK it has emerged. In the last two years KPMG has earned more than £22 million in fees for auditing, tax advice, information technology work and compliance advice at HBOS. It may have been the most scrupulous arms-length investigation but to the public, and certainly the political world, it looks bad to be looking into your own affairs.

The "who guards the guardians" question becomes even more ironic when you consider that Sir James was last year appointed as a key adviser to the government on how to cope with the mess left behind by the housing bubble. According to Paul Moore’s account no one did more than Sir James to create that mess in the first place.

Paul Moore’s allegations may succeed in turning the political narrative. So far Gordon Brown’s claims that the banking crisis is a global phenomenon, mainly brought on by the credit crunch in the US market has edged ahead as the accepted orthodoxy.

Repeated claims by the Conservatives that Mr Brown presided over a decade of financial overstretch have been too generalised to stick. But the unmasking of one of his banking advisers as the alleged architect of the downfall of HBOS is not just embarrassing. It strengthens the Tory version that Mr Brown, and the people he chooses to advise him, are part of the problem he is trying to solve. The Iron Chancellor’s armour has taken a big dent.

Wrestler on the ropes

My view of Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions

Of late Prime Minister’s Questions has become akin to a staged Saturday afternoon wrestling match on the economy. We know all the moves. But with less than 30 minutes rehearsal time yesterday it became what we luvvies call "a bit improvised" - that is to say they were making it up as they went along.

It should have been about the unemployment figures, now touching two million, but only one person’s job prospects were the centre of attention - Sir James Crosby’s, the deputy chairman of the Financial Services Authority. Sir James announced his resignation at 11.30am so at midday there was a tingle of anticipation in the galleries.

Grapple fans leaned on the edge of their seats as David Cameron entered the ring and brought everyone up to speed on Sir James’s hasty departure from the Financial Services Authority. "Does the Prime Minister accept that it was a serious error of judgement to appoint him in the first place?" asked Mr Cameron as he tried to wrestle Mr Brown into a corner.

The old bruiser’s balance was off, his grammar was going a bit astray, and he couldn’t quite escape the half-Nelson of guilt by association. Scenting blood Cameron let rip with all his synthetic anger and launched into a flying grapple, one which true wrestling fans recognised as the Lou Thesz Press.

Despite his bulk, Brown sidestepped the attack. Sir James Crosby did two reports, said Brown. "He has completed these and he is no longer an economic adviser". Ah, sighed the Labour backbenchers, appreciating a Pumphandle Drop, the "nothing to do with us guv’" defence.

As he collected himself off the ropes Cameron exclaimed that even the bankers have apologised. "Sir James’s Crosby resigned. Won’t you just admit that it was a misjudgement to appoint him to all these roles?"

The referee intervened, which gave Brown time to adjust his costume. "The term used is not persmissable," said Speaker Martin. MPs are meant to offend their opponents through the chair and not say "you" but Mr Cameron always tries to get off with the personal wind-up.

He tried another old move, the Spingboard Clothesline, a three-part attack that raises a succession of cheers from the bankbenches. The first time he only got through two so he tried it again. "Who built the biggest budget deficit - "he did". Who created the most personally-indebted country - "he did". Then he stumbled on the canvas, enough for the Labour pack to roar him down. No mercy in this arena.

Now Brown was on the attack, with a simple Chop Drop he quoted Barack Obama. Cameron threw the disdain of the Dutch, the Germans and the French for the VAT cut back at him. Wait a minute, this is wrestling not Waterloo.

Get your facts right, said Mr Cameron as mauled the PM for having chopped his favourite banker. "The other day he told us he was like Titian aged 90, the fact is that Titian died aged 86."

The painter’s actual date of birth is unknown. Check for yourselves on Wikipedia but be aware that the entry on his age was edited at 12.34pm yesterday by someone at Conservative Central Office. Who said wrestling was the cheater’s game?

That whistleblower memo.

Everyone's been talking about HBOS whistle-blower Paul Moore and his explosive memo to the Treasury Select Committee. If you want to see it look on the Committee website here.

Click on "Banking Crisis 2009 - Written evidence: Memos 70-78."
You need to then scroll down to page 46

Revenge of the whistleblower.

Wow. There goes Sir James Crosby, who has just announced he is resigning as deputy chairman of the Financial Service Authority.

This is a big blow for Gordon Brown who rates Sir James so highly that he put him in charge of giving the government advice on how to get the mortgage market moving again.

The news has caught the Westminster village on the hop and will dominate the rest of the day and Prime Ministers Questions in a few minutes time.

This really is the revenge of the whistleblower. Sir James was accused yesterday by Paul Moore, the former head of risk at HBOS, of presiding over a culture of risk taking when he was at HBOS that ignored his warnings about the bank being overexposed.

Mr Moore, who had formal responsibility for HBOS policy and its compliance with FSA regulations, gave the Treasury committee a devastating insider's account of how the bank ignored his warnings of financial meltdown. To be in the bank as profits went through the roof was like being caught in the fable of the emperor's new clothes, he said in a memo of evidence.

"Anyone whose eyes were not blinded by money, power and pride" could see that economic growth was based solely on excessive consumer credit based on massively increased property prices, caused by that excessive credit, said Mr Moore.

For repeatedly challenging and trying to rein in HBOS's risk, Mr Moore claimed he was dismissed on the instruction of Sir James Crosby, then chief executive. He sued the company for unfair dismissal under whisteblowing legislation and was compensated but subject to a gagging order which he has now broken.

Sir James left HBOS soon afterwards to become deputy chairman of the FSA - which monitors risk lending by banks. His accusations go right to the heart of how the banks went from boom to bust and send the blame for deregulation bouncing of the door of 10 Downing Street. Enough for now, off to PMQs.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Bankers - what do they know?

We're all caught up in writing acres of coverage so just time for one quick reflection on the "show trial" of bankers in front of the Commons Treasury committee.

I remember when the Royal Bank of Scotland announced that they had bought the Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007 and thinking, I suppose like everyone else, along the lines of : "Why have RBS bought a bank with a recession just around the corner? Do they know something about the gathering storm that we don't?"

Now we know from the evidence of Sir Fred Goodwin and his High Chaperal chairman Sir Tom McKillop that the £10 billion deal was a "mistake", "a big mistake", and "a bad decision" in their words. That's cleared that up - they don't know any better than us.

Thursday 5 February 2009


Blair meets Obama while Brown looks on.

Only the honking horns of a protest by London taxi drivers in Whitehall could have drowned out the noise of furniture, telephones, and possibily the office cat, being thrown across the front rooms of 10 Downing Street when the television started broadcasting live pictures of Tony Blair meeting President Barack Obama.

In power Mr Blair seemed to take effortless delight in upsetting his neighbour and chancellor but even out of office he does not appear to have let the habit of a political lifetime slip.

Getting the presidential handshake ahead of Mr Brown at a Prayer Breakfast with Mr Obama Mr Blair looked as if he was loving every minute of it. He smiled as broadly as the current occupant of 10 Downing Street must have glowered to see the tableau of his former rival bathing the glow of the Obama presidency.

While Mr Brown has to wait until later this month or even until he hosts the G20 in London in April to formally meet President Obama Mr Blair beat him to the photo-op. He beamed from the pulpit, referred to the President as his “very good friend” and went on to prove that, as head of Tony Blair Faith Foundation, he does do God.

The former PM eulogised his way through a deeply religious address, studded with references to his own faith combined with a series of self-depricating gags. He spoke about his own spiritual awakening at the age of ten, after his father had a stroke, and concluded with the hope that politicians would "do God’s will".

Mr Obama was quick to praise the ex Prime Minister, claiming he was “an example to so many people around the world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish”. Ouch, how that must have hurt in Downing Street.

MPs quiz Robert Peston.

Robert Peston, BBC Business Editor, appeared before the Commons Treasury committee yesterday. I went along to observe.

In these dark days one of my relatives lives by a golden rule: "There was nothing wrong with the economy until that Robert Peston started reporting on it."

The same shoot the messenger sentiment seemed to pervade members of the Commons Treasury select committee when they hauled the BBC business editor and four of his media colleagues before them yesterday.

The great Pesto, like a some Victorian music hall magician, has been accused - variously - of being the man who brought low Northern Rock, damaged the share price of HBOS and Lloyds, and is capable of moving financial markets with a 90 second television bite or a hastily typed blog entry.

Just how responsible is the media for the economic mess we're in and do the newspapers and television, by going on about how bad things are, affect confidence and the very chances of economic recovery? Or, in the words of committee chairman John McFall: "Why is the graph behind the BBC newsreader always pointing down?"

The Treasury committee has done a good job of shredding the reputations of bankers, financiers and regulators so far in this economic crash. Now they thought it ought to be the turn of journalists who report the disaster to take the rap.

For someone credited with so much power Pesto squirmed uncomfortably whenever his prowess was alluded to by his inquisitors. Did he have a secret pass to the Treasury, how did he feel about being a "market force in his own right"? Lib Dem Colin Breed cut to the chase: "Were you responsible for a run on Northern Rock?" he asked.

"I've given a lot of thought to this and the answer is no," said the great Pesto. It was a case of too many savers, too few branches and a crashing website. Oh, images of queues outside Northern Rock did not help but people did the sensible thing to take their money out.

If it was a firing squad then the bullets were going astray. The trouble with journalists in a shooting gallery is that they are as opinionated as politicians, and a lot more articulate. One of the MPs changed tack and asked if the media had not actually caused this mess should they not have seen it coming?

"When the policemen and all the monitors have failed everyone blames the press for not helping them out. It just doesn't wash I'm don't think." said Simon Jenkins, the Guardian columnist. "There are plenty of journalists who were saying something's going wrong here. You happen to have all five journalists who predicted the credit crunch here."

Couldn't they then help by putting good news on the front page for a change, hurrumphed another MP? "Putting happy talk on the front page does not make commercial sense," said Lionel Barber of the Financial Times. "There's no way of hiding that this country is going to have a very tough year at least. The economy is in recession, we've just come off a huge credit boom where everyone thought they could get wealthy on the back of house prices. Now we have correction and it's going to be painful." That was the news, no denying it.

Monday 2 February 2009

Let it snow

There was no real need for weather reports in London this morning. It was snowing as if you’d woken in Helsinki and any further information could be gleaned just by eavesdropping on the mobile phone conversations of the thousands of commuters forced onto slushy pavements by a six-inch overnight fall.

“I’m telling you, there’s no buses, no tubes, no taxis,” said a woman, obviously late for work, outside the closed doors of Whitechapel Underground station. “We’ve got no dry goods, no frozen goods, no deliveries, it’s madness,” squeaked another, explaining the situation down the line to a co-worker or a customer.

It was a kind of madness but the blissful, car-free, snowflakes on the tracks kind of craziness that descends on the city with heavy snow. In north Britain people scoff when the weather in the south east becomes a news story but when snow strikes London it really does mess things up for the commuting world.

The airports were shut, the M25 threw an impregnable, white moat of clogged cars around the metropolis. Black cabs handle white stuff worse than old VW Beetles so they were few and far between, London’s buses carry six million passengers a day - like moving the Scottish population to Carlise and back before 5pm - and there were no buses. The tube system, the veins and arteries of the city, ran sporadically with ten of the eleven coloured lines disrupted to some extent. Eurostar was disrupted by staff shortages - the continent was cut off.

Most sensible people were persuaded to stay at home. City brokers who cancelled their half-term ski break in Zermatt in the face of economic uncertainty played joyously with their children in the parks. Those who made it to work compared outdoor gear and fretted about getting back out of the city as the snow just kept falling.

Londoners do bizarre hats well at the best of times but this morning the fashion focus was on footwear. There was severe competition among the ladies for the most outlandish colour of wellingtons - lilac flower prints being the clear leader in the fashion stakes by 9am. Teenagers sported the traditional solution to inclement weather - Dunlop greenflash sandshoes - but then teenagers listen to a completely different weather forecast judging by their choice of everyday clothing.

Around the Bank of England, where amazingly the lights were still on, there was a better class of wellington on display. Two people passed in the opposite directions wearing green Hunters but I suspect they were pressed into service by the Bank just to show that standards are being maintaining.

One woman strode confidently through the pavement drifts with neat, custom-made crampons attached her black leather boots. She looked smug and possibly Swiss. Imagine - foreigners coming over here and taking advantage of our snow.

To the relief of the criminal fraternity, and possibly some bank directors, the City of London magistrate’s court was closed - no beak on the bench - and across the road the suit shop, with its 80% sale signs, didn’t look as it would be open for long.

The gothic grandeur of Whitehall lends itself well to picture postcard snowscapes and, as widely suspected, there were no green shoots on display. In Parliament Square Brian Haw, the war protester, made himself a martyr to the weather while several backbench snowmen were being built by Chinese camera crews here to cover the visit of their premier.

Big Ben’s bong seemed dulled by the airborne flakes. In the shadow of the Churchill statue a street sculptor, who is usually found playing in the sand on the South Bank of the Thames, carved Jimmy Hendrix on a sofa out of the pack ice he had collected. He did it for no particular reason, just to have fun in the snow. The parliamentary authorities suspended voting for the day so the centre of the political universe was blanketed to a halt. Does that mean I can go home now?

And now the weather...

I know people complain when the weather in the South East of England becomes a news story but believe me outside my window this morning it looks like Aviemore in March.

It started snowing in London yesterday evening and within hours there were broken-down buses, car shunts and general chaos. It hasn't stopped snowing since and there's a good five inches on the rooftops and pavements this morning.

Few buses on the roads (they carry six million commuters a day), no flights into Stansted or London City, tube disrupted. I think I'll try to walk in to Westminster, but first an early morning radio debate and some porridge.