David Parkin on the Commons touch and dressing down for Halloween

TO London at the start of this week for the annual Barclays and CBI reception for Yorkshire MPs and business people.

If the aim of the event was to encourage clear thinking debate then they certainly achieved it: there wasn’t an alcoholic drink in sight, just soft drinks and tea and coffee and industrial quantities of canapés that the waiting staff were doing their best to shift.

It was interesting that a question and answer session with three MPs – Labour’s Hilary Benn of Leeds Central, Dame Rosie Winterton of Doncaster Central and Conservative Transport Minister Andrew Jones, the Harrogate MP – didn’t feature one question about Brexit.

The audience of Yorkshire-based business people and advisers were more interested in other issues such as devolution and transport.

I suppose it is because issues like that will have a much bigger long and short term effect on their businesses while Brexit, for all the speculation about the opportunities and threats it might bring, is still something of an unknown.

The discussion was held under Chatham House rules which means it can’t be reported, which is useful because I don’t think my creaking shorthand note-taking would have been up to it.

But what struck me was how much all three MPs agreed with each other on how the country and Yorkshire approaches the future.

Given Dame Rosie and Hilary are no longer part of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opposition front bench then it has probably given them more freedom to say what they think rather than following the diktats of The Bearded One.

Having sat quietly listening to the discussion for an hour with just an apple juice, an invitation from former Labour Sports Minister and long-serving Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe to join him in the Strangers Bar down the corridor was well received.

We were joined by David Richmond and Dave Clarkson of business advisers Armstrong Watson and Barclays sirens Caroline Pullich and Karen Swainston.

Karen, who has a public relations, public affairs and charity remit for Barclays in Yorkshire, always tells me that when I was business editor of the Yorkshire she learned a lot from me when she was new to the role.

But when she repeats what I said, it just sounds like I was rude and stroppy.

Not like me at all.

I have a warm affinity for David Richmond, something of a bon viveur and raconteur, probably because the last time I saw him he was offering me a Cuban cigar outside Hotel du Vin in York on Ladies Day at the Ebor Festival race meeting.

Gerry stepped down at the last election and now runs his own consulting business called Sutcliffe Swales.

He’s still a popular figure in the House of Commons and a steady stream of MPs, advisers and journalists, as well as staff ranging from those in the catering department to Hansard (the official daily report of what happens in Parliament), coming up for a chat and a gossip.

Among them was Colonel Bob Stewart, the former British Army officer who was the commander of the United Nations forces in Bosnia and is now the Tory MP for Beckenham in South East London.

Kevin Maguire, the Daily Mirror political columnist who has struck up a feisty partnership with Daily Mail opposite number Andrew Pierce on Sky News, came over for chat.

The stubble and pint in his hand suggested he wasn’t on telly later that day.

“I thought I recognised you from the back, you look better!” exclaimed a familiar smiling face to Gerry.

He introduced Stephen Pound, Labour member for Ealing North.

Whenever I’ve seen him either speaking in the chamber or commenting on television, I’ve always been struck by his combination of common sense and humour, rare commodities in politicians, but probably why him and Gerry Sutcliffe get on so well.

Talk turned to football and Stephen, a Fulham fan, was quick to list the great players he has seen over the years at Craven Cottage.

He also shamed Gerry into admitting his affinity for Manchester United, but given he was born in Salford it at least qualifies him much more than most Red Devils supporters.

We also met Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy the MP for Brigg and Goole, who told us that he also has a variety of other briefs including local growth and communities, which does suggest that there might be some truth to the suggestion that Prime Minister Theresa May has a luke warm approach to the George Osborne-sponsored initiative to drive growth in the North.

Later on the train home I read a gossipy snippet in the Evening Standard that revealed that Andrew Percy is such a fan of Canada that he has a ‘secret tattoo’ of the maple leaf emblem.

The paper suggested that the Euro-sceptic MP might also be just the man to to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the Canadians.

I wonder what tattoo he might get that could showcase the best of Goole?

As we made our way out of the House of Commons we stopped to take a few photos and a passing Tory MP for a constituency in the Home Counties offered to take the photo.

When we told him we were from Yorkshire he replied: “Ah, Yorkshire. Yes, went there once to fetch a dog. Bloody good gun dog that was. Very soft mouth.”

I resisted the temptation to say something.


IF you want to be certain I don’t attend one of your parties then make sure it has a fancy dress theme. And if you want to be doubly sure, then hold it on Halloween.

The obsession for dressing up in a variety of gaudy get-ups has crossed the Atlantic and taken hold of the British faster than a Japanese knotweed outbreak.

To be honest I’d rather fight my way through a knotweed plantation than get decked out in fancy dress.

It’s fine to get into fancy dress – if you are under 12 years-old.

It is no coincidence that the popularity of fancy dress, particularly around Halloween, has happened at the same time as the ‘selfie generation’ has emerged.

You don’t just have to go to a party and enjoy it any more: you have to make sure that everyone you know sees photos of you at that party having a great time and looking so popular.

Give me a break.

So what do I do instead?

Well, whilst I’d like to tell you that I’m out there making things happen, running marathons and climbing mountains, I’m probably more likely to be sitting at home watching everybody else having a good time on social media.

Have a great weekend.

And if you are going out, then don’t forget to post plenty of selfies.

Well, it helps liven up my Saturday nights.

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