'There are whole swathes of words which have become suspect: bachelor, churchman, scoutmaster, lawyer, inherited wealth, property developer, publisher, weatherman ...'
Monday 07 April 1997
Thirty years ago an anti-sleaze candidate would not have been hard to find, for the list of the great and the good contained names of copper- bottomed blamelessness. No more.
There are whole swathes of words which have become suspect: bachelor, churchman, scoutmaster, lawyer, inherited wealth, property developer, publisher, weatherman, agony aunt, Catholic, Lottery winner; "celibate" raises more questions than it answers; "virgin" is not to be entertained.
The number of professions that retain a consistently honourable image is diminishing even as the information required about the private life of a candidate increases with every scandal. I imagine the successful Tatton candidate will be a veterinarian widower who took early retirement to look after a widowed father; he will have one handicapped son and a married daughter in New Zealand. Age 56. Hobbies: home brewing and badminton; educated in Scotland. Clubs: none.
His campaign will consist of a number of meetings at which he will be flanked by supporters of total integrity while constituents are invited to question his blamelessness: "Have you ever made a quick buck?" would of course be meant in the financial sense. A vote by him for any party during the last three elections will be treated with suspicion.
Can Tatton afford to be without an MP who twice weekly tables his question asking the Prime Minister to list his engagements? What we call "a working MP".
As George Walden rightly said when tendering his resignation to the Conservative Association of Buckingham: "There are too many members in the House; being an MP is about as useful as a flat cap in a submarine." It was not until I met Walden some months after reading his sphinx-like statement that I discovered he had meant to say: "A catflap in a submarine."
Getting rid of Blameless of Tatton MP might not be simple: application for The Chiltern Hundreds has about it an element of impropriety and the House of Lords is not for the recently arrived. He might have to hang on in there "to show what everybody might/become by simply doing right", to quote the Liberal MP for East Salford (1906-1910) who did not much like the House of Commons.
On Friday evening I suspected that Tatton's agents provocateurs were up and running. I was in Liverpool for the Grand National, stayed at the Atlantic Tower Hotel which always reminds me of Averill Harriman's assessment of General Eisenhower: "suffers from delusions of adequacy". Though the Atlantic Tower is nice with it, they sent up to my room better-class luggage than I had checked in half an hour previously.
I dined that night at EST on the Albert Dock, a restaurant that is so trendy and popular that they barely bother to look after the people who go there. I walked back along the Mersey.
Sporting Life advertised on Thursday that it was available in Liverpool hotels nightly at 11.30 and I asked for a copy of the next day's broadsheet to be slipped under my door when it arrived. Before midnight I heard a scrabbling noise, went to the hall and found lying upon the carpet not my best racing paper to which I had looked forward but a card from an escort agency called La Femme, whose motto is "24 hour service; it is never too late to give us a ring." They did not state for whom it is never too late.
If I were the sponsor of a prestigious race and the broadcasters of the air and the hacks of the earth intoned and wrote my company's name before each rendering of "Grand National", I would deposit the odd bottle of my product behind the press bar or give flasks to members of the media not too proud to accept hospitality.
As a result of Liverpool's three-day festival, I have decided to put Hennessy in my black coffee, Delamain into my hip flask, flare my bananas in Remy Martin, fry crepe suzette in Courvoisier and drink Hine with my coffee.
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