Politics shut out during the Archers' open day

The Confidant
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The Independent Online
JAMES CUSICK

An immaculate English garden, whose select annual party attracts prime, current and former ministers, where John Major sipped beer with the host last year and where powerplay gossip is usually hotter than in the House of Commons tea room, yesterday opened its portals to the humble public.

On a hot English summer's day, where one former poet resident would have relished afternoon tea at ten to three, the Old Vicarage at Grantchester, home of Lord and Lady Archer, would have made paradise seem a poor second choice.

As Lady Archer and singers entertained her guests with English madrigals and partsongs amid the fragrant organised garden, her husband was flying back to Cambridgeshire from South Africa and World Cup rugby.

Although no longer the Conservative's prodigal politician, and long since out of office, Jeffrey Archer is still one of Mr Major's closest confidants.

Last week in the cauldron of his "put up or shut up" decision, it was Lord Archer the Prime Minister chose to telephone for advice and friendship.

John Redwood, the Cabinet minister tipped to challenge Mr Major, was doubtless furious that the noble Lord and best-selling author - still lying relatively low after last year's Anglia TV shares scandal - merited a personal one-to-one from the Prime Minister when he was told nothing.

Yesterday, had he been near the Archer manor, Mr Redwood could have taken a quiet garden walk, but not with the prime ministerial confidant, for the amazingly low price of two pounds and fifty pence.

Lady Archer would have personally signed her opus on the Old Vicarage for him for another fiver.

And Mr Redwood could have left - after a tour of the tennis court, sculptures, river bank and outhouses - with a jar of all-proceeds-to-charity "Ten to Three" honey at a bargain two pounds.

What would Mr Redwood have learnt? He would have discovered what all great politicians should know, that memory is merely something you forget with.

Here was no mention of share scandals; no mention of the state of the nation; no mention of the future identity of the Prime Minister; no mention of "put up or shut up".

One neighbour, with more than a hint of a Pimms too many in the nearby Rupert Brooke pub, did ask the unaskable.

"Well, who's going to be the ex-prime minister at this year's posh bash in the vicarage?"

He got his answer. "James shut up. We don't want to discuss all that again. It's too nice a day."

And it was.

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