This PM's lot is not a happy one

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Woe piled upon woe. Consider Monday night's education vote, when the Government lost by one. The leading theory in the House yesterday was that the Tories' defeat came about because the MP for Meriden - elected on the Tory ticket in 1992 - was recorded as having voted against the government. What is so unique about this particular act of rebellion, of course, is that this particular MP (Mr Iain Mills), is dead. Bad enough - as over Europe - to have, say, the sceptical Sir Richard Body agin you. At least that Body was (arguably) alive. But if the dead defy the whips, then you are in trouble. No patronage that earthly powers may confer will assuage them; no promises of knighthoods, or MBEs will keep them sweet. Only the celestial Prime Minister (who I now conceive of as looking like Betty Boothroyd, clad all in gold) has any influence now.

But if you think that's unlucky, consider the plight of David Moyle, forced to resign yesterday as the Tory agent in William Hague's constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire. Mr Moyle was discovered to be keeping "explicit material" in a filing cabinet. The former agent (who was doing what 90 per cent of men do at some time or another) may be considered unfortunate because his embarrassing transgression was not revealed by the cleaner, by his wife, nor indeed, by a questing Mr Hague - but by Welsh language activists demonstrating against having an Englishman as Welsh Secretary. Having one's private stash of Big and Bouncy publicly liberated by Ieuan ap Grufydd of Dolwyddelan is not a risk that many readers of such exciting publications insure against.

And thrice woe. You are the PM, and casting your eye down the list of MPs to be called for PMQs, you find that number one is unguided missile, Harry Greenway. True, Harry has been well briefed by the whips to ask you whether you do agree that the Opposition's vote against the expansion of Grant Maintained Schools was hypocritical in light of the Blairs' and Harmans' choice of schools for their son. But can you be sure that he won't accidentally mention the revolt of the dead or the appalling behaviour of Welsh nationalists? Phew! He doesn't.

Woe. Blair has gone mad. With a crazy, deranged grin - one thinning tuft youthfully akimbo and his collar disarranged - he forgoes all that "will the Prime Minister", three sound-bites, namby-pamby stuff. Like Peter Pan confronting Captain Hook, he challenges you to call an election. "Right!" he cries, "You say you're so tough. Fine! You and me! Up on the poop-deck, now!". "Yeah!" roar the Lost Boys behind him, sensing that they may soon, finally, be Found.

And yet more woe. The final Tory question comes from Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge). The perpetually sulky-looking Mr Nicholls, his face like a slapped arse, has improved the whip's question in his own inimitable fashion. What, he spits, about the test-case - brought by the National Association of Head Teachers against Grant Maintained Schools - in which "the barrister who prosecuted was the wife of the leader of the Opposition?"

This is not just a counter-productive tack to take (the Tory benches may not cheer, while the Labour ones all shout "disgraceful", and the LibDems shake their heads sadly and mourn the state of things) but it utterly deprives you of the great peroration which will set the order papers a-wagging. But what can you do if the dead and the Welsh are against you, and only Patrick Nicholls is on your side? Woe.

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