Our Man in Westminster: How John Major finally won over the press with his ‘bastards’ gag


Sir John Major never held the attention of a bunch of journalists half so well in the six and a half years when he was Prime Minister as he did yesterday speaking at a Press Gallery lunch. His best gag came in reply to a question about a famous occasion when, he described three members of his Cabinet as “bastards”.

“Calling three of my colleagues bastards was absolutely unforgivable,” he said. “My only excuse is that it was true.”

He made the bastards remark in 1993 during a private chat after he had been interviewed by Michael Brunson, Political Editor of ITN, unaware that the interview was being fed to the BBC, who were still recording. Someone from the BBC leaked it to The Observer.

It has never been definitively established which three bastards he had in mind. They certainly included Michael Portillo, who was then Chief Secretary to the Treasury and darling of the anti-EU Tory right, and his ally Peter Lilley, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

John Redwood, who joined the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary in May 1993, liked to believe that he was culprit number three, because back then, it was a mark of honour in the madder parts of the Tory party to be a bastard.

But Michael Brunson was clear that they were discussing a time that predated Redwood’s arrival in the Cabinet. He believed that the third bastard was no less a figure than Michael Howard, the Home Secretary and future Conservative leader. At the time, Howard had a young special adviser – whose political career he greatly helped promote in subsequent years – named David Cameron.

Meanwhile, Sir John Major is sad that political parties do not attract members the way they used to: “Young people no longer join the Labour Party to see the world, or the Conservative Party to get married,” he said.

Anger spills into corridors of power after Hunt is silenced by the Speaker

The Speaker, John Bercow, has annoyed Tory MPs again, by telling the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to shut up.

The Health Secretary has in the past accused his Labour opponent, Andy Burnham, of covering up scandals in the NHS when he was Health Secretary, over which Burnham threatened to sue earlier this month.

Yesterday, Mr Hunt was about to return to the attack after being fed a question by a Tory Alun Cairns, on ‘openness and transparency across the NHS’, but Bercow (inset) refused to let him speak about what happened under Labour and ordered him to sit down. While the Tories are furious with Bercow for thwarting their plan to wind up Burnham, some Labour MPs are furious with the Tories who want to turn NHS horror stories into votes.

So much so that after that Commons session, words were exchanged between the Labour MP John Woodcock and the Tory David Morris, during which Woodcock admits to resorting to “unprintable language”.

Galloway ‘embraces  feminism’ as only he knows how to...

Almost all male MPs have misogyny “in their hearts”, says the Respect MP George Galloway.  “We do have a problem with misogyny... this may not be on the lips of all that many male politicians, but it’s definitely in their hearts,” Mr Galloway told the magazine Total Politics.

“I’m certainly not one of these people. Thus, I embrace feminism,” he added. This is the same George Galloway who provoked the resignation of the leader of the Respect party, Salma Yaqoob (below), by asserting that the offence of which Julian Assange is accused in Sweden was not rape but ‘bad sexual etiquette’.

“I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘do you mind if I do it again?’ It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape,” he said.

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