Top awards for bastards, bores and ditherers: The 'Independent' honours stars of a stormy year

JOHN MAJOR will sit down with his Cabinet colleagues today for the first time since he referred to the 'bastards' who opposed him over the Maastricht treaty.

The Cabinet will then break up for the summer holidays, after one of the worst years many Tory MPs can remember. But before MPs pack their bags, the Independent has decided to give them end-of-term awards to mark some memorable moments from a remarkable year.

The Prime Minister's special award for Bastard of the Year: Baroness Thatcher.

There were many strong entries for this top award, including the 23 Tory MPs who voted against the Government last week in the most damaging defeat since 1979. The Maastricht die-hards may come to form a club called 'The Bastards' and if they did, they would certainly make the former prime minister its honorary president.

Throughout the year, she continued her campaign against the treaty, and, it seemed, against Mr Major. She became so alarmed by the prospect that Kenneth Clarke might replace him that she let it be known that she backed Mr Major, before becoming the first ex-prime minister in living memory to vote against his or her government over the referendum issue.

The Peter Brooke Award for Ministerial Gaffe of the Year: Norman Lamont. Again, there was a strong field, including Mr Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, for suggesting in the Christchurch by-election that another Tory defeat could hasten a Labour government. Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, came a close second by saying 'no one is dead at the end of the opera' when asked at a social event about a killing in the province.

But Mr Lamont's remark, 'Je ne regrette rien', at the Newbury by-election, which the Tories lost, is likely to enter the political lexicon along with 'bastards'.

Bore of the Year: Bill Cash. The jury was divided over this decision, on the grounds that Mr Cash, the never-ending opponent of the Maastricht treaty, had an unfair advantage. However, the judges decided he deserved it for an interminable time, like his speeches.

Ditherer of the Year: John Major. Lady Thatcher dithered in private, but Mr Major dithered in public over the sackings of David Mellor, Norman Lamont (he should have gone on Black Wednesday, 16 September, in the judges' view) and Michael Mates.

Parliamentary Speech of the Year: Norman Lamont. Never out of the news, Mr Lamont topped a remarkable year by stabbing his old friend, John Major, in the back, in his resignation speech. While it was not as lethal as Geoffrey Howe's Brutus act, it was wounding, because it sounded true, when he accused the Prime Minister of being 'in office but not in power'.

Gift of the Year: Michael Mates, for his present of a gold watch to Asil Nadir, engraved 'Don't let the buggers get you down' shortly before he fled to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

Mr Mates was also nominated for Parliamentary Bore of the Year for his personal statement about his resignation as Northern Ireland Minister over the Nadir affair. The former Guards officer went like a tank over the objections of the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, and blundered on, until no one could remember why he had resigned.

Shining Wit of the Year: Tony Banks, who kept up Labour's morale with a barrage of witticisms from the back bench, culminating in the defeat of the Government last week on the Social Chapter, when, in Mr Major's darkest hour, he shouted to the Prime Minister: 'You win some, you lose some . . . ' Without MPs like him, Westminster would be a duller place.

(Photographs omitted)