There may also have been a faint cheer from inside the Blue Bunker itself. All is not well inside Central Office since the arrival of the Ulster Hardman, who gathered his staff for a pep talk yesterday. Morale has plummeted, and the departure of Hugh Colver, the former head of communications, is regarded as a symptom of a deeper malaise.
Nor was there much sympathy in the Commons. One of those close to the chairman quipped: "He was overcome with emulsion."
John Ward, the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary, is an unassuming chap, who stays quietly in the background. But Wilkes hears he deserves a medal, and possibly the modern Russian equivalent of the Order of Lenin.
Ward was all that stood between Major and a monumental gaffe over the premature reports of the death of Boris Yeltsin.
Wilkes can now reveal the full story. Tory backbenchers were settling down for Prime Minister's question time when a pager went off in the chamber, belonging to Alan Duncan, Brian Mawhinney's parliamentary private secretary. The message came from Tim Collins, temporarily restored as head of communications at Central Office. It said the BBC was about to announce that the Russian president was dead and wanted a reaction from a minister.
Panic set in on the Conservative backbenches. "We'll have to tell the Prime Minister," said some of the younger, more eager MPs. But Ward is made of wiser stuff. "It will put him off his stroke," he said, and refused to pass the message on. As a result, Major was not told and he was spared the reddest of red faces.
Major and Boris owe Ward one for that.
Wilkes has tried his best, kept debates going when nobody wanted to speak, put down planted questions for ministers, laughed at Major's jokes, and even voted for the blasted Government, but loyalty counts for nothing these days. The Backbencher of the Year Award has slipped by for another year. The word around the tearoom is that it will go next week to John Redwood, the unsuccessful challenger for Major's crown.
Perhaps next year Wilkes should throw his hat in the ring, if that's what it takes.
Wilkes always goes to the best parties, and the Nolan recommendations have done nothing to impinge on his convivial lifestyle. So it was that Wilkes was delighted to quaff champagne at Spencer House, the Princess of Wales's former family townhouse in St James's, for the 10th anniversary of a leading PR firm, the Communication Group. Guests included Alan Whicker, Labour's Doug Henderson and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, whose former special adviser Jonathan Caine has joined the PR firm. Then it was over to the launch party for the collected essays of Norman Lamont, where Wilkes drank House of Commons claret and rubbed shoulders with the old gang, including Lord Parkinson and Sir Robin Day.
Wilkes is glad to report that Lamont has lost none of his gift for the well-turned phrase. Rejecting the range of figures showing the economy has turned belly-up, Lamont insisted that they were all wrong. "It's a false dusk," he giggled.
Wilkes is a constitutional monarchist of the first order, in spite of the efforts by the Princess of Wales to advance the cause of republicanism. Wilkes needs to hear only two words - "President Thatcher" - to confirm his royalist instincts .
But there is a limit. Wilkes can put up with Prince Charles's watercolour of Windsor Castle signed "C '90" which greets visitors at the entrance to the MPs' offices at No 1 Parliament Street, and even the unflattering portrait of the Prince which makes the heir to the throne look like a paranoid bloodhound. However, Wilkes learns with deep dismay that the PoW has been brushing up on the Principality by having a private briefing with the Secretary of State for Wales. First he has a chat with Redwood, the Vulcan; now he's been having a private word with his teenage successor, William Hague. Neither of them is Welsh, and both know as much about Wales as Wilkes's left shoe.
Des Wilson and Olly Grender, both former leading lights in the Liberal Democrats, have become the Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders of the PR world. Des, now with the PR firm London News, shared a table at a glitzy PR awards dinner with his old friend Olly, who has moved to Shelter. As the night wore on, Des grew more bitchy about the winners, which was a bit tricky for Olly, darling, because, as Joanna would say in Absolutely Fabulous, you see, sweetie, she was one of the judges, and his agency didn't get a prize.
Staff at the Department of Health broke into joyous cheering at the State Opening of Parliament. Was this a rush of royalist blood to their heads? No, simply they had heard that their old boss, Virginia Bottomley, had been turned back from Parliament by the police, because she was 15 minutes late for the ceremony and her car could not get through the security. Funny how she brings out the best in people.
Wilkes's old chum Lord Wakeham has been privately boasting that he has had an immediate effect on Fleet Street as the head of the Press Complaints Commission. He has closed down the telephone line set up by Sun hacks for dancing partners of Prince William to snitch on his social activities now that he has started at Eton. The "snog line", as it was informally known (Wilkes cannot imagine why) was a breach of the boy prince's privacy, and thus Wakeham intervened.Reuse content