Vision of ghost terrifies the packed benches

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Indy Politics
Sayonara. The airwaves were sibilant with the sound of Conservatives not being worried by our Japanese comrades and investors. It was hardly likely (scoffed Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine) that Toyota would be influenced in its commercial and business decisions by a matter so peripheral, so essentially frivolous, as whether or not its plants were located in the heart of the second greatest single currency area in the world. Much more important considerations govern such great matters, as we discovered last week. Like the chance to quaff gin and tonics with Princess Margaret on the royal yacht.

John Redwood's response to the Toyota inconvenience was to "seek to persuade" the Japanese that they had failed to understand the issue properly. This, surely, is a weak response from someone who believes that a single currency destroys our independence as a nation. He should have invited our Pacific cousins to build their cars without British assistance. "The French may be prepared to be enslaved for the sake of a thousand Corollas", he might have warned, "but Britons never shall!"

Prime Minister's Questions opened with MPs excitedly and hurriedly cramming on to the benches. Amidst the rush John Prescott sat firmly on Gordon Brown's knees. It is a mark of the friendly relations enjoyed within the Shadow Cabinet at the moment, that Mr Brown allowed his deputy leader to linger for an affectionate moment.

It was natural that Labour leader Tony Blair (who once again looked as though he had been at the hormone replacement therapy) should tackle the PM over the single currency, reminding Mr Major that "a few weeks ago he had argued it `was essential' for options to remain open". If that was the case, should not Tory candidates stand on that expectation?

Mr Major was ready. "You entered the House on an election address which demanded Britain's withdrawal from the Community, even though you said later, `I wasn't actually opposed to membership of the EC. I said within the closed doors of the Labour Party that I disagreed with the policy'. Behind closed doors you say one thing, in public another - not the politics of conviction but convenience - and that is what you advocate to your candidates."

Mr Blair rose again. "I was only asking you", he began innocently, "to agree with what you yourself said a few weeks ago". Could Johnny M. at least say that "you strongly urge and seek to persuade Conservative candidates to stand on yours and the Government's position?" Clever one this. If Mr Major did so urge, all the next day's headlines would read "Major pleads with candidates". If not, he would look, er, weak.

Mr Major did not - at length. So he looked, "WEAK, WEAK, WEAK!" shouted Mr Blair triumphantly, his eyes gleaming. The House erupted; the Tories shouted their execrations and the Labour side their delight. But what a strange echo these words made! And whose shade hovered around the head of the man who will lead Britain? Not Clement Attlee's. Nor Harold Wilson's. Certainly not Uncle Jim Callaghan's. But a ghost with hair more bouffant than Tessa Jowell's worst nightmare. Frit Tories shivered with recognition; Labourites basked in the unexpected warmth of total moral superiority.

The decent Major cobbled together a half dozen or so lukewarm assaults involving Michael Meacher, Peter Shore and someone from Newham - with Prezza calling out "weak" at metronomically measured intervals. To no avail. Now we know the awful truth - She's back, and She's angry.