Thanks, no doubt, to his reputation as one of the House's better gossips, Wilkes was not among the trusties to whom our courageous ex-leader confided his intentions on Tuesday afternoon - but I am not over-miffed, since Sir Marcus Fox was, for similar reasons, kept in the dark until just before yesterday's momentous statement. For the informed few, Major's jolly demeanour on Tuesday night smacked of one who is "demob happy" - at a party for the 1970 intake of MPs he was beaming at luminaries like the rabidly Euro-sceptic Lord Tebbit and the equally rabidly Europhile Hugh Dykes and remarking airily: "I do like the social mix."

Leaving the party, he ran into Ann Clywd, who lost her seat on Labour's front bench for wandering out of shouting range of the whips on a perilous trip abroad. Seizing her opportunity, Clywd started to harangue the PM about the plight of the Kurds when he reached over and ruffled her shining blonde hair - something Wilkes has often fantasised about doing but never dared. As awful accusations of sexism quivered on Clywd's lips, she was placated by a swift invitation to Downing Street to discuss the Kurdish situation. What other reckless invitations will be issued as the leadership contest rages? Wilkes wonders.

Wilkes is chuffed to find that New Labour has not quite yet eliminated those much-loved archetypal party sagas of confusion, left hand not knowing what the right is doing, etc. Another one opened up this week as the doughty socialist Michael Meacher, shadow transport secretary, was reported to have single-handedly rewritten Labour's toned-down policy on the minimum wage, declaring it should be about pounds 4 an hour. Never in the history of the universe have so many Labour apparatchik kept their copies of the RMT union's journal so closely guarded, for this was the organ reporting a Meacher speech containing the alleged heresy to the national bus workers' conference.

The Labour high command immediately cranked into action, claiming that the speech pre-dated official publication of the switch in policy to not putting a figure or formula on the "commitment" until after the election. But that still left Mr Meacher - already in hot water for upsetting the massed ranks of London black cabbies by effectively suggesting their monopoly of licensed cabbing should be broken - in contravention of the previous policy of not putting a figure on it "yet". But then, lo and behold, the RMT cautioned that Mr Meacher was not responsible for the headline - "Set minimum wage at pounds 4, says Meacher". What Mr Meacher actually said, it appears, was that the union leaders John Edmonds and Bill Morris were right to press for a meaningful floor for low wages.

It was only later that the union declared that Mr Meacher was not responsible for anything, and had not uttered the words at all. A profuse apology from Mark Walker, the political officer, was winging its way to Mr Meacher's office yesterday, plus the promise of a correction.

Labour is so busy preparing for power that, for the first time yesterday morning, not a single one of its MPs turned up to take their places on the Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments. Such committees are charged with the technical but essential duty of examining the detail of the copious amounts of delegated legislation that pass into the laws of the land. Norman Hogg, the committee's Labour chairman, had to soldier on with a discussion on public service vehicle licences in the embarrassing absence of any Labour members. The mass truancy came less than 24 hours after Wilkes's old chum from the shires, Sir Anthony Grant, felt impelled to cross the floor to draw attention to the fact that no MP from any opposition party was present for a backbench debate on economic and social policy.

More Tory boundary change battles. Wilkes's associates in Essex tell me they are mobilising a "Stop Jenkin" campaign to prevent Bernard Jenkin, the MP for Colchester North, getting his hands on a safe seat created in his neck of the woods by the boundary changes.

The son of Patrick (now Lord) Jenkin, the former Cabinet minister, Bernard is madly obsessive about his opposition to a federal Europe and all its works, and fellow Tory MPs have decided that with safe seats in short supply for the next election, it should go to a more deserving case.

Sir Edward Heath has been plodding around the Commons with an Elastoplast stuck to his nose.

Unkind souls have been playfully asking Teresa Gorman - who loathes his European romanticism - whether she has bitten Ted on the conk.

Baroness Thatcher's private office says that painful dental work is the cause of her rather strained appearance. But has she suffered a stroke? The question is raised by a little noticed medical column in the Times by a doctor who suggests that Maggie's face bears all the symptoms of having suffered a "supra-nuclear lesion".

Dr Thomas Stuttaford noted that in the Frost interview she was seated so that viewers could only see her face side-on. "It seemed probable that some time since leaving office, she has developed a left-sided facial weakness which affects only the muscles of her lower face. Those around her eyes and forehead move normally," he wrote.

"After a supra-nuclear lesion, often a stroke, only the muscles in the lower part of the face are affected, movements around the mouth, as in talking and smiling, are uneven but the forehead and orbital muscles are to a great extent spared damage."

When Wilkes mused over this theory with Tory colleagues in the tea rooms the consensus was that the lady is even more impressive than hitherto suspected. "Just think, she's able to savage Major even after a stroke," said one admirer.

Virginia Bottomley, who artfully dressed in milk white to make her swan- song speech on Tuesday, has been telling friends how sad she was to hear of the death of David Ennals, one of her Labour predecessors as Health Secretary.

Virginia, when still in gymslips, used to babysit for the Ennals family. The connection was that Virginia, even at that tender age, was committed to the United Nations, and Lord Ennals was a former chairman of the UN Association.

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