MPs and the great British seaside holiday

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The Independent Online
From my eyrie in the press gallery I looked down upon a scene of devastation and civil strife. Scottish Labour MPs gurgled obscenities about referenda and consultation. Grey-haired Welshmen wept for the future of their Assembly. Here and there rebellious spirits huddled together to mutter about fascism in one party, echoing Ken Livingstone's comparison between Benito Mussolini and Antonio Blair.

Naturally, it took my very special insight to see all this. To the untutored eye all would have looked normal; two dozen or so Labour MPs gathered together to ask questions about National Heritage and, of course, to laugh at Virginia Bottomley. A harmless enough pastime to be sure, but beneath the surface there was a roiling undertow, a confusion, a deep unease. Which policy was next for the chop?

Man of the moment is Newport's hirsute member, Paul Flynn. Through the early afternoon Mr Flynn appeared in, and disappeared from, the Chamber several times. Unfolletted in appearance to begin with, his hair and beard became gradually more disarranged as he rushed between House and studios, his tie loosening and his jacket riding up. Another couple of hours and he would have been down to his socks. Such sartorial carelessness made him a magnet to admiring would-be rebels on the Labour benches.

Tony Banks came and told him a rude story, Diane Abbott shared one of her strange girlish giggles with him, Jeremy Corbyn sat in front of him and had a little smoulder. Rebellion was in the air!

And it was hardly surprising. New Labour's policies are difficult to understand sometimes. Take, for example, the important matter of the seaside. Roger Gale (Con, North Thanet) asked Virginia a Tory Heritage Question (a THQ consists of an avid free-market MP requesting vast sums of lottery money for his or her constituency) about the reconstruction of Margate.

Mrs Bottomley solemnly told the House that she was "a great believer in the British seaside holiday". This gave rise to titters in the Labour ranks, as they mentally pictured the Secretary of State in McGill-like poses on Margate sands. "Of course", thundered Virginia, "such denigration of the seaside bodes ill for the seaside holiday industry, should the party opposite come to power!" And it's true.

Paul Flynn may be wedded to the windy delights of Barry Island, but one suspects that New Labour means good only to the villa-renters of Tuscany and the Dordogne. Mrs McSorley's guesthouse (no dogs, children or sex) will be an early casualty of a change of government.

More evidence of Blairist backsliding came from Jacqui Lait (Con, Hastings and Rye), who revealed that June's edition of Lottery Monitor had suggested that Labour might use lottery money for education and stuff like that.

Lawks a mussy me, exclaimed Ginny, horrified, this would be "a betrayal of the principle of additionality!" Members opposite were thunderstruck - not additionality! Betray socialism, sell out over equality, turn your back on human rights - but for God's sake, Tony, leave additionality intact!

Just how far this tinkering has gone was exposed later on by that veteran, Tam Dalyell. Mr Dalyell, who manages successfully to negotiate the fine line between portentousness and pomposity, made reference to the South African Foreign Minister "Dr Nzozo". Could this, I wondered, be how New Labour now described the estimable Dr Alfred Nzo? Was this the dread additionality by which we are all to have our names extended? If so it's tough on Dawn Primarolorolo and Keith Vzazazaz. And on me.