Steerpike | 21 March 2013

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Westminster’s top amateur prize-fighter, Eric Joyce, may face assault charges after his latest unscheduled bout in the House of Commons. The Falkirk MP had to be restrained last week after an alleged unseemly set-to at the Sports and Social Club. Ex-soldier Joyce first revealed his flair for pugilism in February 2012 when he ‘went berserk’ in the Strangers’ Bar after declaring it ‘full of fucking Tories’. ‘He won’t have that problem in the nick,’ says a Conservative friend. ‘It’s full of Lib Dems.’

Panic in Whitehall! Jeremy Hunt’s decision to dump health officials in hospital wards in order to give them ‘first-hand experience’ on the front-line has caused alarm among civil servants. Which department will be next in line for this in-at-the-deep-end policy? The chaps at International Development are taking a more relaxed view. ‘Frankly,’ says one, ‘we can’t wait to get first-hand experience of spending government handouts on air-conditioned Land Cruisers and designer handbags for our mistresses.’

The election of a Jesuit to St Peter’s throne has focused attention on the Society of Jesus’s famous motto, ‘Give me a child at the age of seven, and I shall give you the man’. No one knows who coined this tribute to the Jesuits’ formidable aptitude for moral propaganda. Comedian Paul Merton, who was educated by the Jesuits at Wimbledon College in the 1970s, gets a laugh from his satirical version. ‘Give me a child at the age of seven, and I’ll show you a damn good time.’ All in jest of course. No hint of scandal has ever tainted the comedian’s alma mater.

Fabulous news from the V&A. The museum has avoided the threat of being smashed to pieces by its very own potter-in-residence. The noted ceramicist Keith Harrison became the V&A’s in-house mud flinger last October. He specialises in ‘live firings’ in unexpected locations. In 2007 he treated Camden Arts Centre to ‘a living-room carpet made from chapati bread dough and spices, heated underneath until the smell became unbearable for the audience’. When he moved to the V&A, he commandeered the Europe Gallery. Assisted by the thrash-metal group Napalm Death, he planned to saturate a speaker system with liquid clay and break it to pieces under the high-decibel reverberations emanating from the band’s amplifiers. At the last minute, his bosses took fright and cancelled the event in case it caused damage to the historic buildings. ‘We survived the Luftwaffe,’ says a friend in Japanese bronzes. ‘It’d be a shame if we were flattened by a man who makes teacups.’

It’s official. Theresa May is ‘under surveillance’ by No. 10 after her ill-disguised bid for the leadership. Friends of the Home Secretary are delighted that Downing Street has acknowledged her as a serious threat. ‘The PM’s problem is this,’ says a Cabinet friend. ‘The box where he keeps his political achievements is emptier than a Cyprus cash machine. We’ve had one success so far, cutting immigration, and it’s a Home Office responsibility.’ Apparently Dave would love to give May the shove but he simply can’t. ‘He has to grit his teeth,’ says my friend, ‘while she swans around Westminster with her Pol Pot stare and those multi-coloured scarves visible from approaching jumbos. She’s untouchable.’

Contrast the fate of ex-contender Adam Afriye. Dave was assured by his advisers that the trouble-making Windsor MP would ‘go up in flames’ as soon as he received a sustained cross-examination on TV. So it proved. Quizzed by Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics, Mr Afriye repeatedly expressed his hope that the Tories would win in 2015 but refused to say whether Dave would be his boss, or vice versa. ‘The saddest thing,’ says a Cameron loyalist, ‘is that poor Adam evidently believed he was delivering a world-class performance while his political ambitions were being stretchered off to the morgue.’

A Cambridge student reports this snippet from a Sainsbury’s checkout. ‘Is that a Lord of the Rings pendant?’ asked a white-haired shopper, pointing to an ornament dangling from the student’s neck. ‘Yes, it’s a replica of the One Ring,’ replied the student. ‘Ah,’ said his inquisitor. ‘I thought so. I’m more of a Game of Thrones man myself.’ The white-haired shopper? Rowan Williams.