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Opinion: Is minister for common sense’s ban on rainbow lanyards really the most pressing issue for government, asks Paul Francis

Given that politicians are prone to make injudicious remarks, it was always going to be dangerous to appoint someone with the unofficial title of ‘minister for common sense’.

So, away from the less important challenges confronting the government - the cost-of-living crisis, the recession and delays in the NHS, for example - greater matters of state surfaced this week: lanyards.

Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics
Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics

Yes, those things you hang around your neck to show everyone who you are and what you do and, if you’ve been at a conference, often end up in the bin as you make for the train home.

Esther McVey, who may regret ever having been associated with the title of minister for common sense, triggered one of those bizarre debates about something that should be relatively inconsequential but is suddenly seen as a threat to our very existence.

Yes, if senior civil servants were to retain their integrity as apolitical, independent people, then they would have to dispense with lanyards that were associated with a particular cause, such as the LGBT movement.

Otherwise, they could be compromised and lose that cherished quality.

Minister for common sense, Esther McVey
Minister for common sense, Esther McVey

Who wouldn’t have wanted to sit in on a focus group to see what they thought of the idea? “We’re going to ban lanyards worn by senior civil servants because they represent solidarity with potentially partial campaigns or groups. What do you think?”

Yes, a ban on lanyards. It’s what the people of Britain have been yearning for. It’s up there with other ground-breaking policy initiatives like the cones hotline and the ‘ban’ on councils asking residents to fill seven different rubbish bags. Which never existed in the first place.

• With Conservatives still reeling from the shock defection of their MP Natalie Elphicke, certain questions remain unanswered.

Such as how did she communicate her decision to the local association which had endorsed her as the candidate in 2019? An impeccable Tory source tells us that the chairman of the association received a WhatsApp message about two minutes before she made for the Labour benches in the House of Commons.

It’s all been a bit of a nightmare for the local party, whose website continued to feature their former MP for more than a week after she defected. Perhaps local association chiefs were hoping they would wake up one morning and nothing had changed.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who defected to Labour earlier this month
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who defected to Labour earlier this month

• Remember the Brexit campaign groups who said that leaving the EU would save £350m a week that could be invested in the NHS?

Boris Johnson pitched up in a bus emblazoned with the claim at a press conference in north Kent during the campaign in 2016.

It was a hotly disputed claim and came to be one of the pivotal moments in the referendum.

It seemed a lot of money and it was - although when grilled by MPs about the figure in 2021, the then PM contended that it was slightly erroneous and a little lower than it actually was.

Now auditors have pitched in to add their calculation of how much money has been spent devising ‘operating models’ necessary now we are out of the EU.

The National Audit Office says its inquiries have established the government has racked up a bill of £4.7bn for postponing the full implementation of controls five times.

That’s an awful lot of zeros to put on the side of any bus.

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