Sir Edward's birthday is spoiled by the party

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The Independent Online
The tensions and divisions within the Conservative Party were exposed yesterday by Sir Edward Heath's 80th birthday.

An all-party birthday card was delivered to the former Conservative Prime Minister yesterday morning - in the shape of a Commons motion published on the daily Order Paper.

Led by the likes of former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who once worked for Mr Heath at Number 10, former Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn and former party leaders Sir James Molyneaux, of the Ulster Unionists, and Sir David Steel, of the Liberal Democrats, the motion was signed by a grand total of 272 MPs from all parties.

However, more than 30 Conservative MPs were conspicuous by their absence. And the most conspicuous group of absentees included John Redwood and a number of those who were associated with his leadership campaign last year.

While some of them might have belatedly signed up to the motion yesterday, the absent included: Teresa Gorman, Bill Cash, Sir George Gardiner, John Townend, Iain Duncan-Smith, David Martin, David Evans, Barry Legg, John Carlisle, Jacques Arnold, John Butcher, Barry Field, Christopher Gill, Andrew Hargreaves and Walter Sweeney.

Other non-signatories included the former ministers John Biffen, Neil Hamilton and Dame Angela Rumbold.

But the curiosity of the birthday card motion was later overshadowed completely by the mystery of the missing tribute.

When Prime Minister's Question Time started on schedule at 3.15pm yesterday, three of the Conservative Party's grandest grandees - Viscount Whitelaw, Lord Pym and Lord Prior, who had all served in Sir Edward's administration - could be seen sitting in the peers' gallery, evidently in anticipation of something unusual.

Most MPs agreed afterwards that the three peers, and many Ministers and backbenchers, had been expecting a tribute to Sir Edward, the longest serving MP and, therefore, Father of the House.

But as one of Sir Edward's critics said with glee last night: "They all turned up for the party, and the conjurer did not appear."

Whoever had been designated to ask John Major to join in offering Sir Edward birthday greetings either forgot, chose not to get up or was not spotted by the Speaker.

Unanimously re-adopted as candidate for his Old Bexley and Sidcup seat for the next election, Sir Edward confirmed that he was fit and well enough to withstand the rigours of another full Parliament. "I know that annoys a lot of people, but I cannot help that," he added.