Wilkes's diary

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
What I want to know is - why does the Prime Minister bother taking the press with him on his foreign jaunts? Of all the insanitary, ill-informed, useless, poison-fingered bunch of ... well, anyway, I suspect that this is his opinion, too, and he reckons he'd be better off just flogging Britain around the world in the company of the businessmen.

When he arrived in Jerusalem for high-powered talks about the Middle East peace process, he was dogged by annoying questions about fat cats at home, and Gerry Adams. Sir Richard Greenbury, chairing the CBI inquiry into grossly overpaid executives, sorry, I mean much-misunderstood entrepreneurs, is one of those who would rather John Major dropped the lobby journalists from his aeroplane. (Literally, if necessary.) Sir Richard, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, was sorely irritated at a reception hosted by the Prime Minister in the King David Hotel when a journalist bowled up and demanded to know why he hated the press.

There followed a hugely entertaining 20-minute "off the record" row, during which the Prime Minister was obliged to intervene to warn "Rich" he had fallen in with bad company. It ended amicably with Sir Richard telling the hacks that, as a footballer, he liked it "hard but fair".

"Just like the Sun," said the man from the Sun (stoutly).

The Prime Minister clearly shares Sir Richard's view about the noisome "animals" carried in the back of his de Havilland Comet. After visiting a widget factory in north Jerusalem run entirely by robots, he confessed to looking forward to the day when journalists were replaced by robots. At least, Wilkes points out to the Dear Leader, they would understand his style of speaking.

Even Sir Norman Fowler must be wondering how long he can go on defending Ken Clarke. As he blunders about wireless stations, his closest friends are wondering whether he is losing his grip. He is clearly obsessed with the town of Consett. The Chancellor went on the ghastly "bloke radio" programme yesterday to inform the world that he has received a big box of nibbles from the Phileas Fogg company in Consett.

It will only add to the inflationary pressures on the Chancellor's waistline, which is expanding like the economy. That comes as no surprise to Wilkes. In the search for inside information on what Ken might say next about Consett, Wilkes invited him to lunch, only to be told there was a two- year waiting list. Until after the general election, in fact. The way he is going, Ken should have plenty of free lunches available.

When the special Clause IV conference assembles to erase Sidney Webb's words at the end of April, those lilting Edwardian cadences will still remain at the heart of the constitution of one UK political party. "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain ..." - and all the rest of it - will still be the fourth clause in the constitution of (wait for it) the Progressive Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

The PUP is usually described as "close to the thinking" of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. Its leading figures, David Ervine and Gusty Spence, gave up violence after serving long prison sentences, and have risen to prominence by welcoming the IRA ceasefire and appearing more flexible than the mainstream Unionist parties. The PUP is also a socialist party, and is now seeking alliances with working-class Roman Catholics. Despite Tony Blair's intention to rewrite his Clause IV, the PUP has just applied to the Labour Party for "sister party" status. It won't get it - after all, Labour could hardly be linked to such dangerous men as those wandering about Belfast talking about the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Lord Owen, whom Denis Healey once compared to the upas tree, in the shadow of which nothing grows, had nothing to say about Tony Blair's modernised creed this week. He is far too important. "He doesn't comment on domestic politics these days," said his spokeswoman loftily.

People with large, domed foreheads who study computer print-outs have dashed Conservative dreams of gaining 25-30 seats from the new parliamentary boundaries. So excited was the Government at this prospect that it rushed through the Boundary Commissions Act just after the 1992 general election. Since then, estimates of the "Tory bonus" from increasing the number of seats in the shires have steadily dwindled. The latest news from the engine room of the boffins is that the new boundaries might even give Labour a bonus of about three seats (learned footnote: see John Curtice and Michael Steed in Professor David Butler's forthcoming study of the European elections). How has the Labour Party managed to defy the population drift from its urban strongholds to the Tory 'burbs? Step forward David Gardner, mastermind of Operation "Thin Red Line", who presented Labour's case to the Boundary Commissioners and ran rings round squabbling and divided Conservatives all over the country. The problem for Tony Blair, said to be breathless with admiration for Mr Gardner's work, is how to reward the excellent fellow. Perhaps the most fitting prize would be to put Mr Gardner forward as the Labour candidate in the (new) constituency of his choice.

Last week the interplanetary traveller Michael Portillo attacked Labour's plan for a minimum wage with some effect, quoting the unhelpful words of Lord Healey on Radio 4 that "the minimum wage is something on which trade unions will build differentials". When did the noble lord and former Chancellor of the Exchequer engage in this wilful act of sabotage aimed at his successor, Gordon Brown? Conservative Central Office was happy to supply the answer. Denis Healey was speaking on a Radio 4 programme called One Man One Voice on 31 September 1978.

Some cynics just won't give the Great Peacemonger Gerry Adams any credit. On hearing that Mr Adams had set up an organisation called "Friends of Sinn Fein" on his visit to the US, one pointed out to Wilkes that Sinn Fein means Ourselves Alone.

Comments