'Bastards' Reunited: Major's enemies toast 10 years of notoriety

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Indy Politics

They were a largely anonymous band of Tory MPs whose Eurosceptic plottings led John Major to label them "The Bastards". Ten years on, yesterday they raised their glasses to Mr Major's fit of pique when his mass sacking turned them overnight into the UK's most famous politicians.

They were a largely anonymous band of Tory MPs whose Eurosceptic plottings led John Major to label them "The Bastards". Ten years on, yesterday they raised their glasses to Mr Major's fit of pique when his mass sacking turned them overnight into the UK's most famous politicians.

The Bastards - Teresa Gorman, Chris Gill, Tony Marlow, Sir Teddy Taylor, John Wilkinson, Sir Richard Body and Richard Shepherd - were in a forgiving mood. Mrs Gorman, sporting her familiar yellow jacket, said: "It was the greatest honour of my whole life to be labelled a bastard."

Mrs Gorman even called her autobiography The Bastards. Since leaving the Commons in 2001, she has been on the speaking circuit and, now 73, has been busy promoting hormone replacement therapy. As the only woman among The Bastards, she says her appearances on television shows such as Have I Got News for You and The Mrs Merton Show made her a household name.

Mrs Gorman said: "We could never have guessed John Major would make us so famous. To sack one MP was bad enough, but to sack seven. Who could have believed it?"

She said she was happier outside politics. "I am a bit of a show-off and getting on those programmes was like the icing on the cake, but the cake is like soggy pudding. It was very boring in there most of the time, waiting for votes."

The term "the bastards" was coined when Mr Major was caught off guard in July 1993, after an interview with ITN's Michael Brunson. Thinking the sound had been switched off, he was recorded as saying: "We don't want another three more of the bastards out there." He was believed to be referring to Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo - three of the more prominent Eurosceptics - but the phrase stuck for all those on his own benches who proved awkward.

Along with the other six surviving Bastards - the former MP, Nick Budgen, died aged 60 in 1998 - Mrs Gorman was on board the Wellington training ship for the anniversary lunch hosted by the Freedom Association, the right-wing campaign group for individual freedom and responsibility.

She said the battle against European federalists was still not won. "If the Conservatives want to win the next election, they should say we will pull out of Europe, no messing about, no referendum." Mrs Gorman used to represent Billericay for the Conservatives but voted UKIP at the last election. She feels the true "bastards" were cabinet ministers, among them Kenneth Clarke, who got rid of her.

The others who lost the whip were Mr Gill, the former MP for Ludlow, who has left the party and is now chairman of the Freedom Association; Mr Marlow, former MP for Northampton North; and three who are still MPs, Sir Teddy, Mr Wilkinson, and Mr Shepherd. They were joined by Sir Richard Body, the former MP for Boston and Skegness, who resigned the whip in protest at their punishment for voting against a government decision to pay money to the EU. All eight had the whip restored after six months.

Sir Richard, 77, now a publisher, smiled at the memory of the epithet that has gone into the register of modern political quotations. "John Major put his arm round me and said, 'You know, I agree with you about Europe'. I knew he was going round the Europhiles saying the same thing to them. It made me cross so I used to say some rather rude things about him too."

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