Politics: Hague looks for ways to ease Lord Forsyth into the Shadow Cabinet

The Week In Westminster
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The Independent Online
THE TWO Michaels could soon return to William Hague's frontbench team - Forsyth as well as Portillo. The newly ennobled Lord Forsyth of Drumlean is to make his maiden speech in the Lords next week with a call to arms against the Government's policies on the constitution.

His lordship was recently spied slipping into Mr Hague's office and the challenge facing the party is how to ease Lord Forsyth into the Shadow Cabinet without demoting, or giving offence to, Lord Strathclyde, the popular Tory leader in the upper house.

For Lord Forsyth to play second fiddle to Lord Strathclyde would be hard, since he was the most junior minister in Lord Forsyth's reign at the Scottish Office. Speculation is mounting that Lord Forsyth could get a seat in the Shadow Cabinet as constitutional affairs supremo, leaving Lord Strathclyde in his present post.

With talk of the "democratised" Tory hereditaries prepared to break tradition and vote against the Queen's Speech, the Forsyth style of combative street fighter be-comes an enticing prospect in the Tory Lords' team.

PAUL FLYNN (Lab, Newport West) spent a lonely vigil outside the Commons Table Office for the six days between prorogation and the State Opening. This ensures that, for the third year in succession, he could table the first Commons motion of the new session - calling for pensions to increase in line with earnings. While he was at it he also tabled 11 other motions, including a call to legalise medicinal cannabis.

Mr Flynn glossed over precisely how many hours he spent on the sofa at the back of the Speaker's chair but, once he had staked his claim, all other MPs backed off and dared not sneak in at the weekend. Mr Flynn said: "The ceremony of the Flynn is now firmly established as a state opening tradition and ranks alongside the Black Rod and Gold Stick in Waiting - except that I was the only one doing the waiting."

TEACHER'S PETS turned out to be Jack Cunningham (Cope-land) and Ivan Lewis (Bury South) who were chosen to propose and second the motion on the Queen's Speech.

Speaking from the back benches for the first time in over 25 years, Mr Cunningham, who resigned (or was he sacked?) from the Cabinet last month, brought the House down when he said: "It is very encouraging to be looked upon as a promising backbencher." He said that when Ann Taylor, the Chief Whip, asked him to move the motion, she carefully omitted the words often whispered to backbenchers on this occasion: "Do this well and you could be in line for a job in the Government."

Mr Lewis shared with the House a number of clangers he had dropped since entering Parliament in 1997. The worst was a list of government achievements, sent to party members, which began: "The Government have banned books in all our schools" and went on to say: "The Government have provided pounds 1,000 to all schools with which to purchase hand-guns."

JONATHAN SAYEED (C, Mid Bedfordshire) took a particular interest in the "Sessional Order" the Commons passes annually at the start of business on state opening day. Mr Sayeed wrote earlier in the year to the Serjeant at Arms, Peter Jennings, asking that Parliament be kept open on 31 December so he could bring his family on to the terrace to watch the firework festivities on the Thames. The Order requires the Metropolitan Police to ensure "that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from the House".

Mr Jennings replied that the Palace doors are to be kept firmly shut on New Year's Eve. But Mr Sayeed is miffed to find out that the "Lord Chancellor is holding a party in his State apartments". A spokesman for Lord Irvine of Lairg said the rooms were the Lord Chancellor's private residence and he could invite anyone to visit him at any time.

Security staff will be letting in Lord Irvine's cronies while denying entry to MPs hammering at the Carriage Gates, says Mr Sayeed, who has consulted Erskine May - the bible of parliamentary procedure - which confirms unimpeded access for MPs to the Commons whenever they wish.