Out for the count with Glenda

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wanted to see democracy in action, experience first hand our awesome birthright, be witness to a major political event, watch the Tories take a pasting, that kind of thing. Which is why I found myself at the Camden Centre at 9.30 on Thursday evening. This was where the votes were to be counted for two Inner London constituencies: Frank Dobson's Holbom & St Pancras and Glenda Jackson's Hampstead & Highgate.

The Camden Centre is part of Camden Town Hall and is a mere syringe's throw from the lost world around King's Cross station, where drug dealing, rape and murder are seemingly daily occurrences. Which perhaps explained the presence outside the building of a number of very large men wearing sinister black clothes and holding walkie-talkies. Either that or they were some sort of Hampstead fringe theatre group staging a piece of performance art entitled "Threat of Violence" or something.

When I eventually got inside and made for the main floor I was told "Sorry, mate, can't go in there". I was directed to an upstairs gallery, from where I had a fine view of the stage at one end of the hall, where a slide show featured pictures of Camden's many stunning attractions - the British Library, Camden Market, Woolworths, Safeway, a man on a barge, etc. After I had sat there for quite a while, I realised I'd come to a non-event. Everybody knew who was going to win and it was really just a question of by how many. There was a brief moment of excitement when the first ballot boxes arrived and were emptied unceremoniously onto the tables, but that was about it. The air became heavy with the soporific sound of rustling paper.

At 10.27pm, Glenda Jackson appeared in the hall. She was wearing a long red dress, with accompanying red handbag, and appeared to be playing the role of Modest Victor- in-Waiting as she moved around the floor chatting amiably with the hopeless fools who had dared to stand against her. I caught up with Glenda as she was having a fag outside. "Don't snap when I'm smoking!" she snapped at a snapper who was about to snap her.

"So how does it feel?" I asked her, mainly because I couldn't think of anything else.

"How does what feel?" she replied, quite reasonably.

"Your impending massive victory," I said.

Glenda was still being modest. "It's not over until it's over, but if the fat lady isn't singing, she's certainly humming," she said, exhaling casually. Glenda didn't agree that it had been a boring election campaign and she was unable to give me an assurance that the fine weather we had been experiencing under the Conservative administration would continue under a Labour government. No doubt this was in line with Tony Blair's statement that Labour would not make promises it couldn't keep. Glenda's dress was by Jean Muir.

Back in the hall, the count continued. In the press gallery, the tedium was relieved somewhat by a TV monitor on which Peter Snow's Swingometer was showing a massive swing towards Labour, though my own personal Boredometer was showing an even bigger swing towards stupor.

And so it went on. By midnight you could see on the TV screens that all the excitement was happening elsewhere. Tony Blair's grin was getting wider by the minute, Sir James Goldsmith was clearly going mad and Labour's predicted majority was getting to be nearly as big as Jack Straw's rosette. In the hall, any slim chance of drama had been engulfed beneath the Labour landslide.

And then as the clock ticked towards 2am, the moment finally arrived. It was Frank Dobson's turn first. A Labour majority of 17,903! Frank made a speech which was largely drowned out by cheers from the floor and from the 20 or so people in the public gallery, some a little the worse for drink. Then it was Glenda's turn. A Labour majority of 13,284! Glenda made a speech in which she managed to combine a Martin Luther King quotation with a somewhat confused metaphor all of her own. "We are free at last from the staggering miasma of Conservatism," she said. Then the defeated Tory made an ungracious speech and was booed. The nice woman from the Referendum Party said she was glad Glenda had won and gave her a bunch of flowers.

As I made my way onto the street, people were gleefully shouting, "Portillo's out! Portillo's out!" For a brief moment I misunderstood. Now that would have been a surprise ...


A new career in whipping yarns

IMAGINE the scenario: Cherie Blair is hopelessly addicted to gambling. In an attempt to pay off her debts, she becomes involved in a sophisticated lottery scam. Tony is at loggerheads with Gordon Brown over the single currency issue. To help him in his struggle he enlists the support of the Leader of the Opposition...

This at any rate is the plot of former Conservative Chief Whip Tim Renton's new political thriller, Hostage To Fortune, although he sets the book five years in the future and leaves it deliberately vague as to which party is actually in power. Certainly he makes it very clear that he's in favour of European union. "In a way it's a political pamphlet disguised as a novel," says the Europhile Tim, who decided after the last election that he wouldn't stand again. (His former seat of Mid-Sussex was successfully defended on Thursday by Nicholas Soames, albeit with a reduced minority.) Hostage To Fortune is his second novel and he's currently planning to write a popular history of the Whips' Office, which he intends, perhaps misguidedly, to call The Art of Whipping.

Tim spent election night with a group of old friends "because I thought if the news was going to be bad, I wanted to listen to it in good company."


Broken promises


IT'S TIME to clear up a few misconceptions. Remember all those celebrities who were going to leave Britain if Tony Blair was elected? First there was Lord Lloyd-Webber (as he now is). In February it was reported that he would become a tax exile if Labour got in. But he scotched that one fairly swiftly with a phone call to Tony himself, assuring him that he wasn't going to leave. Tony must have been very relieved.

Then there was Paul Daniels, who was apparently going to hop off to Barbados with the lovely Debbie McGee, But no, it turned out his words had been "telescoped" and all he'd really said was that he could afford to go and live there if he wanted to.

Which leaves us with Frank Bruno. "If Labour comes in, you are going to see a lot of people like myself are going to emigrate and duck and dive and go to Switzerland," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times in March. So is Big Frank now going to stick to his word and head for Geneva?

"That was a misquotation," says Frank when I ask him if he's busy packing. "I'd never leave England, you know what I mean? They'd have to carry me out in a coffin. I've always maintained that I fly the flag for England. Yes, I might get a holiday home here or there or whatever, but I would never, ever, ever leave England. Ever. I'd like to congratulate Tony Blair on winning the election, you know what I mean? I hope they keep to their words and make England a safer place and the best place in the world."

So that's that sorted, then. My advice is never to believe what you read in the papers.


Lloyd George knew the score

LAST WEEK'S other big victory took place at Wembley, where our boys won a minor landslide victory over the plucky Georgians in their latest World Cup qualifier. Of course, the only time we've ever won the World Cup, in 1966, was under Labour. So is the wind set fair for a second major footballing triumph, or what?

"I can see what you're saying," says England captain Alan Shearer, "but I think you're making a fundamental mistake in comparing the two Labour administrations. As I was saying to Teddy Sheringham the other day, I think a much better analogy would be the Liberal landslide in 1906, and I don't remember us winning much that year."

Or maybe he didn't say that at all. Like I say, you should never believe what you read in the papers.