'Til Death us do part ...

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The Independent Online
When Treasury questions started yesterday, there was a strange form occupying three or four inches of green leather on the third Tory bench, something that really shouldn't have been there. Who was this hunched figure - the clothes hanging loosely off the bone: a jacket draped from the scapulae, a pair of trousers covering femurs and humeri, a lank lock of hair flopping over the bare skull? Give the spectre a scythe, and the picture would be completed.

That old thespian Michael Fabricant - usually drawn to any celebrity or curiosity like a gaudy moth to a flame - suddenly learned the value of geographical discretion, and banished himself to a bench a long way away, from where he stared at Death with the round-eyed horror of a child.

It was ousted Tory rebel Sir George Gardiner, now the only representative on earth of Sir James Goldsmith and the Referendum party; a John the Baptist sent amongst us to tell of that which is yet to come. And this Baptist is well-cast. If he hasn't been dining only on locusts and ditch-water for twenty years, he sure looks as though he has. Except often he doesn't finish the locusts.

Two rows in front of him, taking up enough space for five Gardiners, was his polar opposite, Ken Clarke. Ken has enough colour in his cheeks for two men; George would fail to lend hue to a paramecium. Ken likes going to jazz clubs; George enjoys funerals. Ken sinks pints of Federation ale; George sups bile from a broken glass.

Disappointingly Death didn't stay. He'd bagged his place and would return to stalk even bigger prey. With Prime Minister's questions coming, it wasn't the ventriloquist he was after, but the dummy himself. While he popped back to the wilderness for a late lunch (root and two berries), the House filled up.

But wait! Here was Sir George again, replenished; the last berry still visible half-way down his neck. There was tumultuous applause, except it was, of course, from the Labour benches, one of whom raised this emanation with the Chancellor. "I remember him as a passionate supporter of the European Movement," Clarke quipped, "but he has moved away from me". At this, Death raised his face to the heavens and made one of those exaggerated faces of disgust that - in boy's school - is occasioned by sudden, unpleasant smells.

Here was the Prime Minister now, sitting down and having his shoulder tapped by Mr Fabricant. I couldn't hear what was said, but I imagine that Mr F said: "Pssttt! PM! Gardiner's here!" And Major replied: "Get your tongue out of my ear, Fabricant!"

Then Prime Minister's questions began. And between each one, Sir George was plucked upwards as though by some hidden heavenly hand, only to subside again, uncalled. It seemed as though his message was to doomed to go unheard. Then, to a huge cheer from Labour, Speaker Betty called his name. Once more he rose, and - with a modest inclination at the pelvis - bowed to the multitude.

In his not unpleasant voice, he referred to the campaign being run by the European Movement to scrap the pound, move to a federal Europe and slaughter the firstborn. Given that this organisation got money from the EU - and the EU got money from Britain, "how much of taxpayer's money has been laundered in this way?"

Mr Major was undaunted. There was, he said innocently, "quite a lot of money available on both sides". That was it; questions were over - and Death rattled out, surrounded by silent Tory MPs.