Kinnock's days of jousting at an end: Colin Brown reports on the Tory cheers which marked Neil Kinnock's last attendance at Prime Minister's question time as leader of the Labour Party

Click to follow
Indy Politics
AT 3.12pm yesterday, Tim Yeo, a Health minister, was outlining the Government's policy on care in the community when a great roar went up from the packed Tory benches behind him.

A few Tory MPs fluttered their order papers. Those in the public galleries, including, we were told, Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer, must have felt like they had landed from another planet. The Tories were cheering Neil Kinnock.

He had walked in for his last session of Prime Minister's questions as Leader of the Opposition.

When he sat down on the Opposition bench, his middle-aged pretender, John Smith, squeezed in by his side.

Mr Smith appeared to be thinking of that moment on Saturday, at the Royal Horticultural Hall, when he would be anointed by the party faithful. He wore a beatific smile.

When the first Tory asked about 'real and lasting growth', Mr Kinnock leaned forward, nodded at the Speaker that he wanted to get in, and, in a little nervous gesture, pulled up his left sock. He clearly wanted to get it over with.

He looked leaner and balder than when he took over from Michael Foot in October 1983. It had been a long hard road, from Bournemouth and the denunciation of Militant, to the red roses around the door of Walworth Road, and the dejection of two election defeats.

In a strange way, Margaret Thatcher had sustained him, like a man kept awake by a bad tooth. In years to come, theirs will be seen as a Golden Age, the double act of the Eighties, the Maggie and Neil Show.

When Labour returns with a new leader, it will be more a battle of equals, the grey administrator versus the Presbyterian bank manager, Stodge and Podge.

It was never easy for Mr Kinnock to sustain his anger against John Major. And so it proved.

Mr Kinnock tried to find Mr Major's jugular with a question about the economy. His grip slipped in a deluge of Prime Ministerial soft soap. Mr Major thanked Mr Kinnock for his strong support at times of crisis, throughout the Gulf war, the difficulties over Yugoslavia, and 'on the many occasions when he and I have had to deal privately with matters, and he has without exception, respected the confidence of those occasions. I am very pleased to thank him publicly and with warmth.' Even Arthur C Clarke must have been pinching himself by then. Baroness Thatcher must have been spinning in her ermine shroud in Another Place.

After they had tried a couple of desultory exchanges, each expressing sincerity and understanding for the other's view, it was all over. One Tory backbencher tried to spoil the party by reminding Mr Major that another Labour leader - James Callaghan - had said: 'Inflation is the father and mother of unemployment.'

In the Good Old Days, Maggie would have bashed Neil with that. But this was not the occasion. It was time to give him his gold watch and chain. . . and EC pension.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments