But what spark would ignite the people, apparently so torpid and unperturbed by their plight? How best to arouse the slumbering lion? John Maples clearly believed that an individual act of protest was the answer. During a routine question on Kenyan political reform, he dashed forward, seized the dispatch box and started shouting slogans about the policing of anti-Chinese demonstrators.
"I thought that might happen," said Betty Boothroyd grimly, giving him a couple of sharp smacks with her baton to discourage him. But Mr Maples was absolutely determined. He doused himself in petrol and struck a match. Had the Government not set a terrible example, he yelled above the noisy counter-protests of plain-clothes Labour goons, by "lecturing the small and weak and obsequiously kowtowing to the powerful"? Like most acts of self-immolation, it was courageous but ultimately fruitless.
Other MPs played the patriotic card, jabbing at Mr Cook over the proposals for reform of the European Union, in the hope of provoking him into letting slip some dastardly plot against the constitution. John Bercow followed the example of his front bench, disguising himself as someone interested in equal opportunities to slip past Miss Boothroyd's security cordon and shout a dissident rallying cry in defence of grammar schools. But it was not until John Redwood stood up to speak for the Opposition during a debate on greenfield development that one really felt the thrill of insurrection. The people may not stir themselves for sovereignty or selective education - but touch the countryside and the country would surely rise. The Government was "taking a carpet knife to an old master", shouted Mr Redwood, "scoring the tapestry of England!". There were hurrahs from the ragged band of guerrillas behind him. When he went over the top, they would be right behind him.
"Who writes this stuff?" shouted a regime loyalist. "It isn't written," Commandant Redwood shouted back. "I'm making a speech. England," he continued, "is in anger at the forces being unleashed by this Government," at which point Mr Bercow intervened to point out that the Haddenham Protection Society was in "open revolt" already.
At last the hour had come, and the hour had found its man. Mr Redwood was recently photographed wearing combat trousers - a sartorial adventure that baffled commentators at the time, but which may yet come to be seen as historically significant.Reuse content