The Tories in Bournemouth: Lamont rides the Underground in recovery position: Ex-Chancellor at heart of latest Euro-split laughs off claims he is a bitter hermit

RECENTLY, Norman Lamont was annoyed to see a woman intruder uprooting flowers from the front garden of his home in Notting Hill Gate, west London. When he remonstrated through the window, she quick-wittedly snarled back: 'I'm just pulling up your green shoots.'

This remains, however, an exceptional experience in the 16 months since the burdens of office were abruptly lifted from him. After 14 years of being driven everywhere by ministerial car, Mr Lamont - who usually travels to the City by Tube - has found members of the public curiously friendly now he is no longer directly responsible for the government's economic policy.

He even told a friend the other day that a down-and- out, brandishing a half- empty bottle, had shouted across to him: 'It's all going right now, Mr Lamont, but someone else is taking the credit.'

There are, in other words, compensations for no longer being Chancellor, much as he still entertains hopes of one day assuming office again. And they go further than having the freedom to appall his former colleagues by thinking the 'unthinkable' on Europe, as he did on Tuesday.

For one thing, he is busy making a lot more money than he ever did as a Cabinet minister, probably well in excess of pounds 100,000 a year. He is a non-executive director not only of N M Rothschild, where he has an office which he visits most days, but also of the investment fund managers Jupiter Tyndall, where is chairman of its Taiwan investment arm. He is off to Taiwan and the Philippines next week.

At the same time he can command large sums on the international business seminar circuit; in the last few weeks he has flown to Bahrain to address a conference of bankers; he was a key speaker at a London conference of 600 Italian bankers en route for the International Monetary Fund conference in Madrid; and he was an equally prominent contributor to a recent conference on privatisation in Canada. He even tried out of most of Tuesday's speech to a meeting of Yorkshire businessmen.

He sees more of his son and daughter, and while his wife, Rosemary, might prefer a slightly quieter life, she throughly agrees with his views.

According to friends, he is enjoying himself and is baffled by his depiction by opponents as an embittered hermit. He talks frequently to young Euro-sceptic MPs like Alan Duncan and Ian Duncan Smith; but he also socialises regularly with Michael Howard and Peter Lilley, and sometimes with Jonathan Aitken and Michael Portillo - though asssociates insist he did not discuss the speech with them.

Mr Lamont's big problem, of course, is how to stay in politics, given that his Kingston constituency is virtually certain to disappear under boundary reorganisation. He has consistently denied that his frequent trips to Yorkshire, where his wife's family live, have anything to do with the creation of the new and safe - insofar as any Tory seat is safe now - seat of Vale of York, and adds he has not yet focused on the issue of finding a suitable constituency. He has also let it be known that, contrary to rumour, he is not thinking of joining the Ulster Unionists.

Whether Tuesday's speech, raising the stakes so dramatically on Europe, helps or hinders him in finding his seat will say a good deal about the current state of the Tory party.

(Photograph omitted)

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