Friday 30 June 1995
"I can't help you. I've lost the plot," one despairing minister was heard to declare in the lobbies this week. We can manage without plots, though, so richly enjoyable is the highly personalised enmity that has been breaking out all round. Wilkes looked on agog in the Ways and Means corridor one evening when Teresa Gorman, formerly whipless Euro-rebel and Redwood supporter, presented herself in front of Jerry Hayes, the irreverent leftie who said he would resign the whip if Redwood won.
"I'm going to give you a smack in the gob if you don't stop prattling away on the radio," she warned, adding darkly: "I'm going to sue you."
Even better are the examples of divided, to put it politely, loyalties that Wilkes has overheard, quite apart from the downright lies being told by members of the payroll vote. What must rank as a corker is when Cabinet "bastard" Peter Lilley confided to Barry Legg, arch right-winger on the Redwood campaign: "I envy you your freedom." David Evans, who is John Redwood's campaign manager, stirred the pot: "I haven't seen Peter Lilley with a grin on his face like this for years," he told a huddle of journalists after Mr Redwood's news conference yesterday. The plain-spoken MP for Welwyn Hatfield is beginning to enjoy his role as spin doctor.
Mr Lilley, a committed churchgoer, obviously hasn't digested the message from the Conservative Christian Fellowship in its latest Prayerline Extra. "We pray for wisdom for any candidates who might challenge the Prime Minister," it says. Mr Lilley is singled out by name for special prayers - "that his personal faith and integrity may be a support for John Major and that his position in the Cabinet may hearten the Euro-sceptics".
He's not alone. "Give Michael Heseltine, Michael Portillo and their families and advisers wisdom as media pressure on them intensifies," the paper goes on. The dreaded media is not excluded either. "Pray for the media - that they might seek out good news and point to enduring values rather than shock headlines which only seek to diminish." The fellowship has sent a letter of encouragement to Mr Major, assuring him of its prayers. There's even a plea from Habakkuk 3, v19: "Why Lord, do you allow such iniquity? Why do the wrongdoers continue to flourish? When will you act?"
Yesterday the Lord was enough of a sport to allow Mr Redwood to hold his daily news conference at Church House, HQ of the Church of England. It was held in the circular chamber where the Synod meets. "The Spirit of the Lord is with him" were the words engraved on the ceiling above Mr Redwood's head. To attempt to test the truth of this assertion, the Conservative Christian Fellowship will hold a special prayer meeting at Westminster on the evening of next Tuesday's poll.
Wilkes notes that Sir Neil Thorne, the courteous and blameless ex-MP who has lent his house for the Major campaign, was long the leading light of Freemasonry in the House of Commons. Sir Neil was for several years the senior figure in the New Welcome lodge of the Commons. Nothing wrong with that, of course; after all, no less a luminary of the Tory establishment than Lord Whitelaw confessed to the author Martin Short that he was a Mason, though not an active one. But before conspiracy theorists get too excited that a Masonic conspiracy is behind John Major's campaign to be re-elected, they should note that the Prime Minister not only has never been a Mason, but indicated in reply to Short's survey a few years ago that he had sympathy for the idea of Freemasons being more public in declaring their allegiance to the Order.
In reminiscent mood, Wilkes recalls that the only leadership contest in which Freemasonry definitely did play a part was a Labour one - the contest that resulted in Clement Attlee becoming the party leader in 1935. The Masonic lodge at Transport House met and opted for Arthur Greenwood, a Mason. When Greenwood came third and dropped out, they switched their vote to Attlee, another Mason, and so denied Herbert Morrison his chance of victory.
Those routine acts of deviousness and obsfuscation of Westminster have gone largely unnoticed. But Wilkes sees that the Cornwall South-east Tory Robert Hicks has been complaining in no uncertain terms about the use of Royal Navy Sea King helicopters to transport a party of naval trainees to and from the China Fleet Club in Saltash on a day in June. The reply from my old friend Nicky Soames, the armed forces minister, is a masterpiece. "To enhance the training value, the opportunity was taken to load the aircraft to operation all-up-weight with a group of off-duty maintenance ratings. These individuals were dropped at the China Fleet Club, from where they were retrieved five hours later by aircraft with different crews who were also carrying out operational training."
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