Wilkes noted with interest Wednesday's sparsely attended Commons debate on boundary changes. The benches may have been empty, but Tory protagonists in the musical chairs of merging or disappearing seats are busy enough knifing each other out in the constituencies.
All Tory MPs whose seats have been altered have received letters from the party informing them that they will be put on the shortlist for the neighbouring seat if they wish. This has pitted Tory against Tory: a bloodsport which makes cockfighting look like ludo. The most ferocious bout thus far has Edward Garnier (Harborough) trying to nick the libertarian right- winger Alan Duncan's safe Rutland seat. Garnier insists he has a right to try for the seat, as he is losing about 8,000 of his current voters to Rutland and has a long family connection with the area. The Garniers have been in the area since 1545, he says, and his wife's family (she is the daughter of the 8th Baron of Walsingham) for almost as long. Wilkes is looking forward to a classic battle between Old Toryism and Young Thatcherism.
There is much rubbing of hands, too, over the looming clash involving another rabid Euro-sceptic, Bill Cash (Stafford), who is lined up against the dripping wet Sir David Knox (Staffordshire Moorlands). In north-west Kent it's Cyril Townsend (Bexleyheath) versus David Evennett (Erith & Crayford). This pair could have a seat each without much trouble if Old Bexley & Sidcup came vacant. But the present incumbent, Sir Edward Heath, won't shift. "I've no intention of retiring," he said recently.
Real politics, of course, has always happened inside parties, rather than between them. It's been a fair old week for Labour Party black arts, too, Wilkes hears. The question is which Labour members should sit on the select committee to consider the Nolan recommendations for stricter rules on MPs' earnings. This is very sensitive stuff, because it touches MPs' wallets. Brian Sedgemore, the maverick Labour MP who once described himself as ''a long streak of spit'', has now derided as "old farts" the four Labour worthies who eventually got on to the committee - John Evans, MP for St Helens, John Morris QC, shadow Attorney-General, Stan Orme, a Privy Counsellor, and Ann Taylor, shadow Leader of the House. The line- up was dismissed by one Labour MP as "a squalid example of the Labour Party at its worst". Well, no doubt. But there seems to have been a bit more to it.
Apart from what appeared to be noteworthy backing for the uncompromising Dale Campbell-Savours, a self-tutored expert on the misdeeds of MPs, some Labour MPs wanted younger members. What about people like Jeff Rooker, a public service spokesman, Tony Wright, the ultra-modernising MP for Cannock and Burntwood or Peter Hain, MP for Neath? All of them, Wilkes is reminded, were invited by Lord Nolan to give evidence. Ah, but all are reformers of different types, and therefore troublemakers. The Commons is, above all, a club and Labour whips seem to have decided to blackball them. Reform? Aye, lad; but not too much of it in 'ere. But it is the blocking of Mr Campbell-Savours that must be the most intriguing, given Labour's avowed commitment to rooting out parliamentary sleaze. Love him or hate him, he could at least have been relied upon, from the Labour point of view, to block behind-closed-doors deals with the Tories to water down the recommendations. Even Wilkes is a bit shocked at the decision to keep Labour's fiercest terrier off the committee he was born for.
The hacks who line the corridors are distraught at the loss of Gordon Greig, the Daily Mail political editor, who died this week aged 63. The obituaries were warm and rightly generous to a titan of the trade. But they tended to gloss over his highly mischievous streak. Young lobby hacks were warned when they started the job to be very cautious if genial old ''G'' ambled past and, out of the kindness of his heart, gave them a tip about some exclusive story. This was a technique called ''laying off'': when Greig was unsure about his story he would sometimes deliberately slip it into other papers to give himself cover and protect his sources. ''G'' remained a razor-sharp professional to the end. He was visited by John Prescott on his sick bed. Labour's deputy leader let his hair down on the subject of Shadow Cabinet tensions and his feelings about Gordon Brown. After he'd left, ''G'' promptly tipped off the Mail's political team, who wrote it up into a prominent story.
The beleaguered Government proved to be nothing if not consistent in a Commons written answer this week. Gordon McMaster, Labour MP for Paisley South, had asked social security how many questions did not receive written answers because the information (a) could only be obtained at disproportionate cost, (b) was not held centrally, (c) was not normally disclosed. Reply from William Hague, the junior minister: "The information requested could be obtained only at disproportionate cost."Reuse content