Conquering army puts its opponents in their place
Wednesday 21 May 1997
Leaderless, the former president's elite guard milled around the palace, their mood swinging wildly between defiance and despair. Some, recognising the futility of resistance, sat slumped in odd corners, dreaming of times past when they had ruled the roost. The clubs, the fawning businessmen, the trips - all were gone, now their once potent weapons fired only blanks.
Others - more spirited - drank in subterranean shebeens, emerging once in a while to shoot their guns wildly in the air, or verbally to beat up inexperienced supporters of the new government who, unwisely, had strayed into the wrong place. Here and there little pockets of resistance formed around former ministers such as Nicholas Soames and David Davis, giggling and catcalling at the inexperience and inarticulacy of the new regime and its more naive followers.
More coherent were three far-right new boys, vying to be to this Labour government what Norman Tebbit was to that last Labour government long ago. The David Shaw memorial award (for long periods of sullen silence, punctuated by bouts of rancorous barracking) went to tiny John Bercow (Buckingham). Julian Lewis (New Forest East) had stormed and occupied the front bench below the gangway, where he held it against Liberal Democrat assault. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) was practising a new line in aggressive sneering.
But nothing could deflect the new Labour juggernaut, freshly arrived from the jungles of Britain. Ruthlessly (but without looting) the conquering army dealt with its defeated opponents, starting with health questions. It began with the former junior health minister, John Horam, and went something like this:
Horam: "When will you eliminate mixed-sex wards?" Secretary of State Dobbo: "You made the mess, so why don't you sod off?" Ian Bruce (Survivor, Dorest South): "How many administrators will lose their jobs in Dorset?" Alan Milburn (new minister): "We don't know. So just sod off" Stephen Dorrell (leadership candidate): "Don't get rid of fundholding." Dobbo: "It's in the manifesto, so sod off."Tim Boswell (just made it, Daventry:"Waiting lists will go up." Tessa Jowell (another new minister): "We won the election, so you'd better sod off." Michael Fabricant (by 77 votes, Lichfield): "How many jobs will be lost through the minimum wage, yes or no?" Alan Milburn: "I was talking about dentistry actually. So, for God's sake, just sod off." Dominic Grieve (phew, Beaconsfield): "What will you do on mental health?" Paul Boateng (final new minister): "More than you did. Now, if you wouldn't mind, it'd be good if you'd sod off".
But this was just the advance guard. Hard on the heels of the health team was Commander Brown, riding in the turret of a huge tank. He had come to make a statement about how the country was to be governed radically differently. And he certainly made it.
Up spake the small voice of one who could yet lead the routed Tories, good ol' Clarkey. Why change anything, he asked. Hadn't he, Clarkey, done a very good job the old way? And wasn't it impulsive and well, a bit rude, to come and make all these sweeping statements so quickly, allowing ordinary, decent Tories so little time to adjust? His final plaintive appeal was that Mr Brown should "stop acting like a Chancellor in a hurry".
Commander Brown listened courteously, smiling from time to time - and then replied. "Sod off,, he said.
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