Taking shelter in Wales as political storms gather

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The Independent Online
Croeso. Outside the Chamber it was mayhem. Tory MPs Euro-caucussed and plotted in the tea-rooms and Labour's front bench issued ritual "incompetence and drift" press releases by the bucketful. But inside there was the still calm that only Welsh questions - or death - can bring to the House.

The Opposition benches were well sprinkled with real Welshfolk - almost all of them grave and garrulous, lean and (with one exception) male. Trying to account for the disproportionate number of quite presentable men who had turned up, my eventual theory was that - because there are clearly so few women in Wales - the chaps cannot afford to be flabby or ugly if they are to catch one.

On the other side things were different. There are only five Welsh Tory MPs, so the Government benches were supplemented by what are known as "active MPs" - ie MPs who have nothing better to do than to hang around the House asking friendly questions to ministers on behalf of the the whips.

Hendon's John Marshall (Cardiff, 154 miles) was for some reason keen to compliment the Government on the amount of inward investment that it had attracted to Wales. Mr Marshall is always keen to compliment the Government, but sadly this amour is entirely unrequited, the song of love destined always to be sung from the backbenches.

Ian Duncan-Smith (Cardiff 160 miles) - who is destined for high office, but only in a Redwood-led Conservative Party - had a query concerning GP fundholding in the land of the Celts. Junior minister Rod Richards (a genuine Conservative Welsh MP) had his answer suspiciously well-prepared. It cited the covert threat to civilisation from Labour's wooden horse, whom he dubbed "Tony, the phoney pony". And the Welsh have the gift of oratory?

On to the solution of a minor mystery. The Order Paper had given notice that there would be a question on confusing Welsh road signs from that ubiquitous Midlander, Michael Fabricant (Cardiff 75 miles). My own speculation was that "Fabricant" in the Welsh language might mean "slippery surface", or "loose chippings" and have badly confused the Staffordshire MP on one of his trips to Wales.

I was nearly right. Yesterday a tanned Mr Fabricant, having cast off winter's locks and donned summer's coiffure, told the House that he was indeed a "frequent visitor to Wales" (questions on the Government's relations with Greenland would doubtless reveal a Fabricant relative inhabiting the chilly town of Nuuk) and that last Saturday night he had driven to Cardiff to deliver a speech to the Welsh Young Conservatives. Both of them. He had, he said, been "jeopardised by warning road signs that are often very difficult to read when approaching them quickly". And, presumably, the faster he approached them, the harder it got. Rather than the cheapskate option of driving more slowly, Mr Fabricant wanted millions spent on clearer signs.

And it later transpired that last Saturday night the roads of Wales were cluttered with Conservatives braving the warning signs. Walter Sweeney (Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan. Majority 19. Doomed) wondered if the Secretary of State, had noticed the terrible traffic.

William Hague (Cardiff 160 miles) had. But then Mr Hague notices everything. An engaging and amiable politician of 34, he no longer resembles a teenager. No, having lost most of his hair he now looks like a baby.

Chubby-cheeked, smiling and bald he evokes only paternal concern and maternal warmth from his political enemies. Whenever he speaks one is reminded of one of those cutesy Look Who's Talking movies.

It will do him no harm in the end. Nor will his exile. Wales is a good place to be as the storm breaks over the Conservatives of England.