Tory Taliban stall in fight for no man's land

A stocky general with florid face and capacious arsenal decided that enough was enough
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The Independent Online
Like the Afghan capital of Kabul, the Prime Minister has been fought over for several years now, changing hands several times as the fortunes of war have ebbed and flowed. Even on a quiet day the observer can hear the loud crump of an occasional rocket landing in one of his suburbs, as the warring factions fight for control.

Over the past 12 months advantage seemed to lie with the Euro-sceptical Taliban. Wherever these zealots take control, French language tapes and teach-yourself German videos are unravelled and left festooning the lamp- posts; traitors such as Douglas Hurd are seized from their sanctuaries in the Midland Bank and strung up as a warning; and the satanic designs of the foreign infidels are cursed in public places by religious leaders.

Earlier this year it looked as though this faction would soon be in firm control of the battered Mr Major. Its mujahedin were encamped upon his ruined approaches, gaining a triumph over a referendum. The tattered, demoralised forces of the establishment were put to headlong flight, and complete victory was not far off. From being a small band of religious extremists polishing their antique weapons, the Tory Taliban were close to being the government of a leading European nation.

And then - suddenly - the forces of reason made a stand. A stocky general with florid face and capacious arsenal decided that enough was enough. Ken Clarke and his Uzbeks dug in, threatening to wreak just as much death and destruction as their fundamentalist opponents. Within days Major seemed to be mostly in their hands, refusing Taliban demands to rule out a single currency.

Yesterday's skirmishes showed that a temporary stalemate had been reached, and was likely to last over the traditional Festival of Christmas. For, as the Prime Minister answered questions about the Dublin summit, both sides contented themselves with walking around in front of him, parading their weapons. "Look at my rocket-propelled grenades," one side would say. "And my Scuds," the other would echo. The only unequivocal support that Major could rely on was that of the veteran tribal matriarch Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who would encourage him by loudly shouting "hear, hear", down the tube of her bazooka.

One or two of the more flamboyant mujahedin sallied up to the PM's ramparts and fired off a shot. Norman Lamont asked what example existed "in history of a single currency that did not lead to a single government?" We were indeed in uncharted waters, Mr Major replied. The mufti of Wokingham, John Redwood, wanted to know what benefit Britain had got for all the little things (vetoes and stuff) that it had given up to the Great European Satan?

There were even some rumbles from the more pacific villages on the plains. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) said that his kinfolk liked the Common Market but not the single currency. If they got the latter, then they might revolt against the former.

There was time for one more Taliban tactic - infiltration. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) came through the gates smuggling a bomb under his turban. If some other countries fudged the entry criteria might the PM declare against the whole enterprise "in the early summer"? The early summer? Like, er, 1 May for example?

Answer came there none and Mr Leigh and compatriots retired to their winter headquarters, to prepare for their spring offensive - an offensive to conquer a land that is now hardly worth governing.

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