Friday 31 March 1995
But no. Ted might, Wilkes supposes, have said the wrong things. These days, ministers are happy to invite the Opposition, in the person of Robin Cook, to show that such events are more than Government propaganda. But they won't invite the real enemy - a pro-European Tory.
Talking of propaganda, Wilkes was amused to hear that the much- trumpeted BBC World Service, about which ministers were so lavish in their praise, is starting a soap opera, its very first. A political soap opera. A soap opera about life at Westminster. And who is the star of this series? Not, I fear, a dapper minister from the Foreign Office who will carry the flag across the globe, but a fictitious Scottish Nationalist MP. The Beeb people have already been following Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, around to get the mood right. I wonder if HMG knew quite what it was subsidising.
As other delegates to the conference munched unhappily while the Prince of Wales droned on, Wilkes hobbled back over the road to enjoy a very agreeable luncheon with Edwina Currie. I shall appear as the bewhiskered lothario in her next steamy novel. And, Wilkes is delighted to report, la Currie is on the warpath.
As Hurd, Major et al are paralysed into neutrality on European questions, she thinks the European Commission in London should be doing more to counter- attack Teddy Taylor and the barmy army of nine whipless Tory rebels. One reason for the Commission's general ineffectiveness is jealousy among the Commissioners themselves. They are squabbling hopelessly about who should speak for Brussels. But an unlikely ally for Currie is at hand. Neil Kinnock, who has the transport brief, had decided to keep a low profile until he has worked his way into the Commission portfolio. But before long, I hear that the world's Greatest Living Welshman is going to take to the airwaves and give the anti-European shower what for. About time too.
The lobby hounds were sniffing round the members' bars the other night after a hot rumour that the Independent, of all papers, had a photograph of a minister with a girlfriend. It had nothing of the sort, but so fevered is the atmosphere around Westminster that any rumour, however wild, is immediately believed. As a result, the minister was seen scurrying into the whips' office, and his press office was ready to mount a damage limitation exercise with the routine denials. The place has gone mad.
The sooner we pack our bags for the Easter hols, the better. But Labour MPs are even moaning about that, because the Easter recess comes in the "wrong" week of 7-18 April, coinciding with the holidays for the public schools. Those MPs unfortunate enough to have booked the week after Easter, when the state schools are on holiday, are having to cancel because of a three-line whip in the Commons. Who said he favoured a classless society?
While Tony Blair's "rolling rose show" disappears into the distant pink yonder, Dennis Skinner is packing 'em in at village halls, theatres and public meeting places across the country, a revivalist preacher punching out those old hymns to socialism. The Beast of Bolsover has been touring the country with his show for years, but he says he has never seen anything like it - especially in Tory constituencies. He has filled halls in Tony Newton's back yard, and in George Gardiner's Reigate constituency, where he had a score to settle with the Tory MP for criticising Skinner's profile. "I'm not taking that from him," said Skinner. "He's so ugly he couldn't even pose as a gargoyle." Apparently, the good folk of Reigate loved it.
However, the Skinner bandwagon rolled into Falmouth, in Seb Coe's constituency, with some trepidation. When Skinner discovered he had been booked in by the Labour Party to the local Palace Theatre, his legs began to quake a bit, at the thought that two landladies and a dog might turn up. He need not have worried. About 400 made it for a fun-packed evening.
What was more curious, however, was that Mr Coe appeared pleased too. The Tory MP for Falmouth sent Skinner the cutting from the local paper reporting his thumping success at the Palace Theatre.
This may be not unconnected with the fact that the Liberal Democrats came second in Falmouth. Their candidate is a wonderful woman who tried over dinner a couple of years back to seduce Tory Central Office's dark raider Julian Lewis into Lib-Demmery - and Mr Coe is hoping that if Labour's vote holds up, he might just breast the tape first. Skinner might be doing Mr Coe a big favour.
First the Defend Clause IV campaign, then the New Clause IV campaign. Now another pressure group has sprung up in the Labour Party: the Campaign for Comma Ownership.
The campaign, of which Wilkes is a founder member, demands that the first comma in Tony Blair's new Clause IV be moved. It is in the wrong place, rendering the form of words that will shortly adorn party cards almost unreadable. "The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone so as to create ..." Then all the guff about community, rights and duties, living together and so on. But what really matters is that the comma should come after "alone" and not after "endeavour".
And Mr Blair talks about what a "good education" he received at Fettes College.
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