Laddish Rod wins wry vote of confidence after a dirty weekend

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In the late Eighties a Chelsea footballer called Clive Walker was fined for exposing himself in a street. The following Saturday he appeared in the Blues side playing Tottenham at White Hart Lane. I was in the crowd that greeted him with the friendly chant of "Walker, Walker, show us your knob". But Walker brazened it out and survived to play on for many years.

I offer this as consolation to the former Welsh Office minister Rod Richards, who bravely chose to take his seat on the Tory back benches a few minutes into Environment questions. Far from being shunned by shocked and disappointed fellow Tories, Mr Richards found himself the centre of their sympathetic attentions. Judging from the body language on display the three main sentiments being expressed to Mr Richards were "It could have happened to anybody, old boy" (rueful smile, shrug of the shoulders); "The media have behaved disgracefully" (vigorous shaking of the head, pushing of fist into open palm); and (slap on the back, quick whisper) "I don't suppose you've still got her phone number?"

But it should be remembered that MPs are a much more physically expressive bunch than the public at large. They have to be. Ten minutes after Mr Richard's arrival, Mrs Marion Roe (Con, Broxbourne), attired in twin-set, flowing blue-and-white dress and Thatcherian blonde coiffure, sat down in a space between Sir John Hannam (Exeter) and Matthew Banks (Southport) that didn't actually exist. As she slid benchwards smiling regally, her shapely bustle acted like the prow of an icebreaker, easing the passage of the bulk of the vessel. Had the News of the World photographed this happening on the sofa of a Mayfair condominium, Mr Marion Roe would have found himself having to stand by his wife. In the Chamber, however, physical conditions make such contact inevitable.

Hot Rod's appearance could distract MPs only for the briefest instant from the serious business of sticking their tongues out at each other. "Neanderthal" Labour councils vied with a government "lacking all coherence and cohesion" for the role of demon of the day. With John Gummer off conferencing somewhere, the tubby young junior environment minister, James Clappison, fielded most of the questions. Mr Clappison has a slightly sententious manner and is given to talking about "the air we breathe", "the water we drink", and "our rivers and streams". This makes him sound like a pompous third-former reading out his Nature Studies project to apathetic and sadly unconcerned classmates, an image strengthened in my mind later when, apropos nothing, he laid into the latest Stravian proposal on curfews for 10- year-olds.

A couple of minutes later, with Master Clappison sitting in the gangway, the Prime Minister said rather mildly that he was "not sure that it would be a workable solution". A tone of restraint that was mirrored by Tony Blair, in responsible prime-minister-in-waiting mode asking complex questions about the lifting of the Euro beef ban which passed me (and most of the House) completely by. Mr Major replied at tedious length to the effect that the House would understand why he was reluctant to answer in detail. Indeed it did: he didn't understand the questions either.

Everyone departed a little disappointed. Everyone, that is, except Rod Richards, who had got through the day without anybody demanding that he show them his knob.

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