`Mr Fixit' mocks the banana skins squad

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The Government's former "Mr Fixit", Lord Wakeham, yesterday cuffed his successors for giving the impression of disarray, writes John Rentoul.

"I used to be minister for banana skins," he told a press gallery lunch at Westminster. "I gather now we have four ministers for banana skins. Nobody has told me quite why."

He was referring to the new Cabinet committee set up by the Prime Minister last month to co-ordinate presentation of Government policy.

Its members are David Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Viscount Cranborne, Leader of the Lords; Tony Newton, Leader of the Commons; and Jeremy Hanley, Conservative Party chairman.

Lord, then John, Wakeham succeeded Lord Whitelaw in the banana-skins portfolio in 1990, after Lord Whitelaw's retirement in 1988 was judged to have removed the magic coherence of Thatcherism, and John Major acted on Baroness Thatcher's famous dictum: "Everyone needs a Willie."

Lord Wakeham had the difficult job of presenting policy in the slipstream of Lady Thatcher's fall, and retired from politics after the 1992 election.

As chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, he yesterday repeated its determination "that we should have a free press in this country, without statutory controls".