Tripping along the corridors of power

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Indy Politics
For some strange parliamentary reason, when a by-election is needed, a "writ" is "moved". Well, yesterday, the writ failed to move for me. The business of beginning the Wirral South election had taken place in the twenty seconds between "prayers", and the beginning of business. And - at that precise moment - I was lying on the pavement outside Victoria station.

I had not fallen victim to London's soaring crime rate, nor yet was I attempting to supplement my income with a spot of eloquent begging ("Wittgenstein discussed for a pound"). I had tripped in my hurry to get to the House, and there was a momentary hiatus between the fall and the resurrection (assisted by a man who cannot have been a day under 90). As I lay there, contemplating London from an unaccustomed vantage point, a weird fantasy took hold. It was that all the MPs that I look down upon day after day - and at whose expense I amuse myself - were now looking down on me. Lady Olga Maitland had noted my inelegant pose; Denis MacShane my pained expression; John Marshall my ridiculous inability to rise. Jacques "buzz-saw" Arnold took photographs.

Limping back to the Commons I reflected on how very different the same world looks from other viewpoints. Was there, for instance, something that Noel Gallagher knew that I didn't about MPs? Was it the Oasis man's acquaintance with drug-taking that informed his comments that "there's people in Parliament who are bigger heroin and cocaine addicts than anyone"? Had he spotted tell-tale signs that the rest of us had missed?

Perhaps there are indeed corridors in the Palace where you have to pick your way gingerly between the discarded hypodermics, or men's loos just off the lobby where loud sniffing can be heard, or even expensive habits that are funded by a little constituency burglary on Friday nights. Evidence could be well hidden.

But behaviour is harder to suppress; there would be signs. Pupils might be dilated, speech impaired and judgement erratic. National Heritage questions - being less inhibited than, say, questions to the Chancellor - seemed an ideal opportunity to screen our representatives for substance abuse.

So what is Virginia Bottomley on? Judging by her laid-back cattiness with the bronzed Jack Cunningham ("He looks refreshed from finding things out in different parts of the world"), opium tea, as shared by Victorian ladies, suggests itself.

At the other end of the spectrum - as Virginia twittered - Dennis Skinner and his chums on the naughty boys' bench alternately lounged and heckled. Their red eyes and lack of obvious wealth indicated glue-sniffing behind the Speaker's Chair.

Nigel Waterson (Con, Eastbourne) may have been smoking something. He asked Ginny whether "she recalled her excellent visit to Eastbourne pier" (in the year of the pier), and how this contrasted with Labour's plan that "would all end in tears". Such wordplay reminded me of a pleasant eight hours in 1976 thinking up new flavours for Opal Fruits (mango, curry and beer). Excellent!

Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley) could see something called "social on- costs", closing in around Britain due to the social chapter. Initially puzzled, I remembered the downside effects of hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms", to be found in profusion in Lancashire. Pack it in, Nigel! And anyway - what did you do with the negatives?

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