Published Wednesday, 16 November 2011
• Looks like Theresa May will survive the border checks scandal. It was her versus Brodie Clark, the man on whose watch Yarl's Wood detention centre burned to the ground. To quote Kissinger, it's a shame they can't both lose. Still, tricky thing, border security. Take the Palace of Westminster. Visitors are rightly subject to the strictest checks: scanners, bag checks, photo passes to be worn round the neck. But the system can get overwhelmed. On Monday large numbers were seeking entry via the St Stephen's entrance to attend, among other things, the home affairs select committee's grilling of "no rogue officer" Clark over the relaxation of controls on arrivals. Alas, the camera used for photo ID ceased to function, so someone somewhere decided to relax controls and issue blank passes. Who took the decision? Pick a culprit. Any culprit. Aim low.
• To the foreign desk, where we find that last week's item about Mike Hancock, the libidinous Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth, and his recent jaunt to Azerbaijan has caused a few problems. We said the whole thing – flights, accommodation – was costed by Hancock in the register of members' interests at around £1,500. But maybe politics got in the way; perhaps something was lost in translation. Anyway, within hours a skewed version of the item appeared on the front page of the Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq and prominently in another publication, Yeni Musavat, as proof of an alleged corruption scandal involving President Ilham Aliyev. "Hancock was awarded a £1,500 'honorarium' in exchange to his visit," said Azadliq. Yeni Musavat said our reporting about an "honorarium" of £1,500 awarded to Hancock for his Baku visit has "sparked a serious scandal inside the ruling establishment". What's more, it said, Elkhan Suleymanov, who organised the event to mark Azerbaijan's 20th anniversary of independence, has been criticised by the authorities for "failing to protect confidentiality of the award". All most unfortunate, for it was never the case that Hancock took a bung, just a common-or-garden jolly. This was never the stuff of scandal, though he is no stranger to that world.
• Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan! So good they named it twice. And the country is very much in the minds of our legislators, some of whom, including Mike Hancock, tabled an early-day motion to mark the aforementioned anniversary. It congratulated Azerbaijan on its close links with the EU, assistance to Nato in Iraq and Afghanistan, and decision to make the UK "the principal source of foreign direct investment". So far, so very friendly. Along come party poopers Paul Flynn and Mark Durkan with a formal amendment. Take out all that guff about the EU and Nato and general cuddliness, they insist. Say instead that the house "notes the concern expressed by human rights groups that Azerbaijan has grown increasingly authoritarian in recent years", and "that in 2010 Azerbaijan was ranked 134 out of 178 in the World Corruption Index by Transparency International". There's talk about suppression, the jailing of bloggers, "the alleged harassment by police of citizens who voted for an Armenian song in the Eurovision Song Contest", and "the gullibility of those who place their trust in this oppressive government". Again, most unfortunate. And should Flynn and Durkin wish to travel to Azerbaijan – for a stay, perhaps, and drinks and canapes – one suspects they will have to pay for it themselves.
• Back home, and the new head of the civil service is to be Sir Robert Kerslake, of the Department for Communities and Local Government. Will this mean a departure from tradition? The Local Government Chronicle thinks so. "Not many chief executives, let alone knights of the realm, are able to extol the virtues of hip-hop acts such as Roots Manuva or Somalian rapper K'Naan," it says. He is "a big hip-hop fan as well as being keen on alt.country". He snoops to conquer then. Sir Humphrey Dogg, welcome.
• Finally, a shock for Clint Eastwood as he learns that George Bush Sr considered him as a running mate in 1988. Clint says it would never have worked out. "He must have been drinking." Wrong Bush, but well said.
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