Labour tactics could cost MPs a victory on the piste

A GROUP of Tory MPs will blame Labour's guerrilla tactics in the Commons if they lose the annual ski race against a team of Swiss politicians next week, writes Colin Brown.

The MPs - led by Tom King, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - were prepared for the usual hazards of moguls, avalanches, and out- of-control snowboarders. But they were almost undone by Labour's decision to withdraw voting pairs which have allowed them to go in the past. The team was determined to maintain the 40- year-old tradition but was forced to bring forward the visit to Davos.

The Lords and Commons team will fly out next Tuesday, but it will have only three days before the race - two days short of the usual practice.

'It's very competitive,' said Malcolm Moss, the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire North East. 'We have a parallel slalom for two or three days then we have the giant slalom race. We only get one run, and I've fallen half the time, just going for it.'

The skiers planned to have their annual break in mid-January when the Commons was sitting. Normally, the whips have turned a blind eye to their trip. But Labour's decision to withdraw relations with the Government, and end the pairing system, forced the whips to cancel leave for Tory MPs when the House was sitting. The MPs plan to fly back on the morning of the vote on the Criminal Justice Bill, 11 January. The team is supposed to be all-party, but no Labour MPs have joined for years.

The top skiers in the team are Winston Churchill, who is already at his chalet in Klosters; the 7th Earl of Verulam, a merchant banker; and Michael Ancram, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Other team members include: Marion Roe (Broxbourne), Tim Smith (Beaconsfield), Michael Forsyth, employment minister (Stirling), Edward Garnier (Harborough), Sir John Hannam (Exeter), Bernard Jenkin (Colchester N), Sir Roger Moate (Faversham), Toby Jessel (Twickenham), Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) and Andrew Robathan (Blaby).

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