WILKES'S diary

Wilkes's Tory colleagues are threatening to rebel against the renewal of the BBC charter in protest at the screening of the Panorama interview by the Princess of Wales. The row over the programme within the BBC has brought to a head Tory grumbles about the BBC, and could lead to a rebellion when the charter is renewed in the next few weeks. My pals are furious that BBC top brass kept the interview secret from their chairman, Marmaduke Hussey.

The draft charter will be published within the next few weeks by Wilkes's favourite nanny, Virginia Bottomley. She will include a definition of taste and decency in the back-up agreement to the charter, opening the way for the Parliamentary Prude Tendency to demand a ban on all sex on television, including princesses confessing unfaithfulness with Guards officers.

The whole shooting match threatens to become a ghastly BBC-bashing exercise. But the Conservative leadership can only blame itself. After all, it was the chairman of the party, Brian Mawhinney, who first put the boot into the BBC at the party conference.

The man with the most unenviable job in Parliament this week was Andrew Mackay, a Government whip who goes under the glorious title of Lord Commissioner of the Treasury.

Mackay had the task of writing to Her Majesty with quill pen in the aftermath of the Panorama interview to tell the monarch what was going on in the House of Commons.

While Wilkes's great friend Nicholas Soames was making an ass of himself, for which he had to apologise to the PM, for accusing the Princess of being (as one Tory MP put it) "one sandwich short of a picnic", Mackay was stumped for what to say to the Queen.

In the end he kept a discreet silence and told her all about the debate on the Queen's Speech. And very dull reading it must have made.

Robert Hughes, a former whip who has also suffered from public disclosures by a woman wronged, has borrowed a copy of the history of Queen Caroline from the House of Commons library. Caroline was accused of running a bordello in Blackheath, but a Royal Commission found the charges were trumped up.

Mind you, in those days they did not have Panorama.

Is life at Chequers as drear and constrained as we have all been led to believe in recent times? Far from it, Wilkes can reveal. The Prime Minister - spurred no doubt by Mrs Norma Major, biographer of Joan Sutherland - holds opera evenings at his official country residence to inject elements of much-needed grace and charm to summits with foreign heads of government. Britain's young musicians, moreover, have been getting in on the act. The British Youth Orchestra delighted Jacques Chirac last month with a programme of arias from, among others, La Traviata, La Boheme and Les Contes d'Hoffman. For Boris Yeltsin last year there were favourites from Eugene Onegin, Carmen and Rigoletto. It is now evident that the Majors have finally warmed to the old place. Indeed, a Chequers history is to be published by Norma next year.

Harry Greenway, Tory MP for Ealing North, has meanwhile been busying himself on the topic of opera hats - and going to the trouble of putting down a parliamentary question to Tony Newton, Leader of the House, on the lack of adequate numbers of them in the Commons chamber. For the uninitiated, such headgear must be donned when making points of order during a division, to make members distinctive to the chair when colleagues are milling about. There is only one hat kept behind the Speaker's Chair for such purposes, leading to what Mr Greenway believes are unseemly scrambles when several MPs are clamouring to be heard. The issue is now to go to the Commons Procedure Committee.

Stephen Pollard, the lefty Fabian Society's director of research, is a strong candidate to take over the directorship of the free-market Social Market Foundation, Wilkes is reliably informed. It was Pollard, of course, who suggested in a paper that Labour should embrace selective education, although the society thought otherwise and declined to publish it. If Pollard gets the job, nothing could better illustrate the blurring of the old distinctions between right and left since he would be replacing Danny Finkelstein, who has become no less than director of research at Conservative Central Office.

Who could credit the mean-mindedness of the Ministry of Defence, Wilkes wonders? The ministry is resolutely refusing to replace former servicemen's medals that have been stolen or lost through misadventure, so Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford, has discovered from a Mr Jack Conn, a pensioner constituent. At about pounds 60 each, Mr Conn cannot afford replacements for his stolen medals, but the MoD remains unmoved in spite of the fact that this is the year we are all commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Mr Conn could not have selected a better champion to fight his cause, since Mr Duncan Smith is an ex-soldier and holder of campaign medals for service in the former Rhodesia and Northern Ireland (his father, Group Capt W Duncan Smith won no fewer than five gallantry medals). The MP is now collecting signatures for a Commons petition to be presented in the next few days.

Donald Thompson is in the habit of sending out jolly cards at this time of year to remind his friends to vote for him in the elections for the 1922 Committee, which took place yesterday. As usual, Wilkes got his card from Donald, with the message "Thompson for the 22" on it, like dozens of his friends. The only problem is that Thompson was so busy filling out the blasted cards, he failed to put his nomination papers in.

Having been to many receptions hosted by Her Majesty the Queen, Wilkes can let a little-known detail slip for those less privileged, who are never invited to join the line to shake hands with the monarch. The Queen wears rubber gloves for the practice.

This highly practical precaution was noticed by those "Down Under" when the Queen hosted a glittering reception for the revellers at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in New Zealand. At least, Wilkes believes it was done as a precaution. She surely could not have been expected to wash the dishes afterwards.

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