WILKES'S diary

Are the Portillo-ites crumbling away? Does the Ribena Revolutionary have a faction at his command, or only a cluster? The arrival of Iain Duncan-Smith, the Chingford right-winger and erstwhile Portillo man, on the Redwood team is as wounding a blow to Portillo as the defection of a leading Evangelist to the Pharisees. Meanwhile, St Peter, aka Bernard Jenkin, MP, is wandering about exhibiting his torn conscience to anyone with the time to inspect it: should it be Michael or John? Also, Wilkes's friend Robin Harris, who wrote Baroness Thatcher's two huge volumes of memoirs, is working for John Redwood's leadership campaign. Mr Harris says that not only is Mr Redwood a better candidate than the Prime Minister, but that Mr Redwood is a better carrier of Lady Thatcher's flame than Michael Portillo. Ouch. Does this signify a shift in the affections of the great lady in America? Whispers reaching my ears have suggested that her endorsement of the Quiffy One was never meant to be as fulsome as his friends imagined. She describes Mr Harris in The Path to Power as "the most indispensable" of her assistants, "who helped me shape my thoughts". Mr Harris says his role in the Redwood campaign is to do "anything he wants me to do". Does this include taking messages from Kansas?

"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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen