Amateur Hours, now playing in Room 12

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The Independent Online
As an attempt to clear the air, it appeared until the last minute that it would be about as successful as revving a diesel truck in Mexico City. But John Major won a mandate more comfortable than anyone was anticipating at the start of the day's play. Well, almost anyone.

Dennis Skinner, who positioned himself early outside Committee Room 12 to enjoy the fun, was in little doubt. "I think Major ought to go, get himself a white coat and stand at the other end from Dickie Bird at the Oval," he said. "But now he's called this, he'll win."

After seven days of nurturing the boil, Room 12 was the place 327 Tory MPs went to lance it(two were so uncertain what to do, they never made it); 327 MPs who like to cast themselves as the most sophisticated electorate in the world. Which makes you wonder how they conduct the election for treasurer at the Altrincham Allotment Association. There was an endearingly amateurish air to the day's proceedings.

After an hour's polling, Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1922 Committee and the election umpire, emerged from the room and addressed the press corps corralled in the corridor. "Some people are saying that the vote can't be conducted in secret. I'd like you all to come in and see there's plenty of room to vote without anyone looking over your shoulder."

So everyone trooped through the room, past the black ballot box, sealed with blue ribbons, past the little pile of voting papers marked simply with the candidates' names, through the place where the future leader of the country was to be decided.

Mr Skinner, who had sneaked in with the press, remarked on one omission: "No polling booths. Miners have them at the pit head, you know."

"And look what happened to the miners," said Sir Marcus.

As the MPs streamed into the room make their mark,outside - in what Geoffrey Boycott would describe as "the corridor of uncertainty" - a relay of Redwood supporters sat throughout the day, smiling at MPs as they arrived, as if charm would swing the floating voter.

When, finally, Sir Marcus's announcement of the result was relayed on the House public address system, it was difficult know where the biggest cheer came from. From the Tories crammed into Room 14 or the Labour MPs gleefully scrumming down with the press outside.