It didn't happen. At the end the Chancellor stood in the middle of the arena, surrounded by small pieces of fur and occasional teeth, almost unscathed. But quite why Ken survived his ordeal is something of a mystery. The omens were not that good. High in the public gallery Sir James Goldsmith, boss of Forza Britannia, had come to give Mr Clarke the thumbs down at the appropriate point. Bronzed, shiny and perpetually smiling, Sir James looked like a happy hazelnut, high in a happy tree. On the Tory second bench, coiled up next to the gently buzzing Jacques Arnold (Con, Gravesham), was the sinuous form of John Redwood, quietly priming his poison sacs. Indeed, so desperate was Ken's plight thought to be, that his staunchest supporter - rarely seen in the Chamber - made an appearance and loudly hear-heared throughout the Chancellor's statement. But that's enough about Roy Hattersley.
All along the Opposition front bench - like the patricians at the slaughter - sat the intense young men who will benefit most from a change of government. Messrs Mandelson, O'Brien, Milburn and Darling were contemplating the imperial purple, though inwardly weeping for a man with whom they have very few disagreements. Even Gordon Brown, his dark Heathcliffian scowl firmly attached as he prepared to launch himself at the tender parts of his opponent, seemed to take little pleasure in the tragedy about to unfold.
It didn't happen. Mr Brown made a perfectly reasonable and opportunistic assault on the confusion at the heart of government policy, the reluctance of ministers to countenance a debate over Europe and the seeming contradictions in what had been said in recent days. But by then Ken had already embarked upon his "soothe and bemuse" strategy. This consists of adopting his only- sane-man-in-a-ward-of-nutters voice (the kind of tones that psychiatric nurses perfect after about 30 years), allied to a level of detail about meetings, documents, conferences, something called Ecofin (which I had always thought was a submarine detection system) and negotiations, that left almost everyone feeling inadequate.
From the animal pens behind the Chancellor the early snarls and muted growls gradually died away, leaving only John Redwood in full and dissenting command of the arguments being advanced. Norman Lamont, the man-eating badger of Kingston, fell back on reminding historians of his own role in negotiating the Maastricht opt-out. One by one the Europhobic big cats and attendant hyenas slunk off, puzzled, to the undergrowth to lick their paws and work out why they hadn't eaten. Aloft, we vultures scratched our bald heads and polished our beaks.
No one was happy, though. Too much fur has been ruffled and too much red meat smelled for today's second part of the Ken story to be as easy for him as he might like. And as for the climactic third episode, well I looked along the row of seats as the discussion came to an end, and the happy hazelnut was still smiling. And still nutty.Reuse content