Parliament: The Sketch - Redwood leads trusted yeomen of olde England in open revolt

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The Independent Online
ROBIN COOK was asked some hard questions about Pakistan in Foreign and Commonwealth Questions, several Tory MPs taking the view that he had been overzealous in his defence of democracy. Why had the Foreign Secretary "rushed to judgement" in response to the military overthrow of President Sharif, asked John Wilkinson, the first to raise the matter. Should he not have considered the interests of the people of Pakistan before he so rashly condemned the army's action? There was an eloquent wistfulness to Mr Wilkinson's remarks, and Mr Cook didn't much care for it. He hoped the honourable member was not suggesting that "military coups are acceptable under certain circumstances". Tory MPs looked pensive - "Never say `never'," they were thinking to themselves, and who can blame them? It's hard to feel quite the same about democracy when all it gives you is bad news. Besides, what if they were to find themselves some day with no realistic prospect of redressing their grievances through the ballot box? What if the nation languished under the rule of a remote and arrogant leadership? What if the government in power paid lip-service to the principles of democracy - one man, one vote and so on - but set them aside when their interests were threatened? Then, perhaps, it might be time for a patriotic group of officers to take action. That gleam in Mr Wilkinson's eye was the reflection of a Challenger tank, grinding the Downing Street gates to scrap beneath its tracks.

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.

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