Wilkes's diary

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The Independent Online
Wilkes was stocking up on dental floss and Bulgarian Chardonnay at Sainsbury's ahead of the Great Election Day at Westminster when he spotted Ken Clarke and his wife Gillian filling up a trolley with food. Aha! Surely this meant he was on the way out in the reshuffle and preparing for his getaway? Er, no. In fact the Clarkes were buying groceries for his 55th birthday bash at No 11 Downing Street. Such bashes are an annual event, to which he invites a few old chums, including university cronies such as John Gummer and - rather more oddly - Nick Budgen, the Euro-sceptic whipless wonder who supported the Vulcan in the leadership race.

Thus it was that Budgie, the intellectual bandit leader of Tory Euro- rebellion, was celebrating in No 11 while Major and his crowd were next door at No 10, toasting victory over the rebels. As the cheery Chancellor went around with the plonk, Budgen cheekily observed that it was very magnanimous of Ken, given that he had been trying to bring the Chancellor down for some years. Turning to Gummer, Budgie helpfully added that he had never said an unkind word about the Environment Secretary - because he was too insignificant.

The former whip and foreign minister Tristan Garel-Jones, whose fingerprints are likely to be found all over the dead bodies of Vulcans after the reshuffle, was minding his own business the other day when Ron Davies, shadow Secretary of State for Wales, came up to him and started babbling to him in Welsh. The reason for this odd behaviour was that Don Dixon, Labour's deputy chief whip, had playfully told Davies that Garel- Jones - the hate figure for the Vulcans - had been brought back into the Government and was about to be made Welsh Secretary to replace John Redwood.

Garel-Jones, who has Spanish-Welsh antecedents, was so amused that he continued the conversation in Welsh. "Davies has only just started learning it, so he didn't quite understand," he said. In fact Garel-Jones's attitude to Welshness is somewhat ambiguous. At a party a few years ago a bewildered Glenys Kinnock came wandering up to Wilkes complaining: ''There's a man over there who says he hates all Welsh people, because we're scheming and stupid. Who is he?''

It was, of course, Garel-Jones, smirking happily at Glenys's horrified reaction.

More news from Wales, this time definitely of the good-news-always- comes-too-late kind. Welsh word has it that the Vulcan was not always the hate figure he was made out to be. One Labour MP was even so bold as to confide in Wilkes that the extraterrestrial could be open-minded, reasonable and prone to constructive discussion - a phenomenon that had not been much experienced during the Welsh Office tenure of the superwets David Hunt and Peter (now Lord) Walker. There's even, by God, a similar tale to be told about Scotland's alleged worst nightmare, Michael Forsyth. Some seasoned observers of the Scottish political scene claim that Labour MPs found in the past that they could, on occasion, do business rather better with the demon prince Forsyth than their own hidebound local party colleagues.

Naturally, being a wily devil, Wilkes was one of those 12 brave souls who spoilt their ballot papers by voting for both candidates, thus enabling them to tell their constituency officers they had voted for whichever candidate eventually won.

Wilkes happened to be speaking to the Vulcan-who-would-be-Prime Minister at precisely 5pm on Tuesday, the moment the polls closed and his fate was sealed. Unfortunately the historic moment bypassed us both. Wilkes took the opportunity a few hours later to congratulate our splendid and justly victorious Prime Minister when he toured the crowded House of Commons terrace to receive the praise of the several hundred Tory MPs who now claim to have voted for him in the secret ballot. (Thus far, it appears that 387 of them backed Major.) It was a wonderful scene. Major chatted amiably to Gerry Malone, Jerry Hayes and other loyal Jerry-fellows, accompanied by his sprightly Parliamentary Private Secretary, an ancient but saintly fellow whose name I can't quite recall, being still fuddled with celebratory Pimms.

At the other end of the terrace, in a section marked off "For Members Only", there was another sullen little group. The Vulcans sat around a table commiserating over several bottles of rather inferior House of Commons red. They included Bill Cash, Norman Lamont, David Evans, Barry Field and a few other bedraggled losers. At one point they were joined by Dame Angela Rumbold, a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. I am sure she voted for Mr Major and was only there to show there would be "no recriminations". They could be heard mournfully singing "Happy Birthday" to Mr Field, who happened to be celebrating his 49th birthday on 4 July. It is not a birthday he is likely to forget.

Exit Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary. Re-enter Douglas Hurd, novelist. Hurd's first task on retirement will be to produce his first novel for 10 years (background political, plot a secret) - quite a publishing event, and sure to bring his earlier novels back into print. Hurd lists "writing thrillers" as his recreation, but with Michael Sissons, one of the best operators in the business, as his literary agent it could become a little more than that.

And yes, there could be memoirs, drawing on the daily diary he has kept in notebooks and exercise books since childhood. But that is some way off.

In the meantime the US lecture circuit - on which Hurd, as outgoing senior wrangler among Foreign Secretaries, is likely to be quite a draw - beckons. And he will doubtless take a directorship or two. But Wilkes is confident of one point: any boardroom Hurd joins will definitely be blue chip.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party is keen to encourage Hurd in his literary career. Many years ago he co-wrote a thriller, Scotch on the Rocks, which ends with Scotland breaking away from the Union and establishing her independence. This was made into a television series but judged too politically sensitive to be reshown during the last upsurge of Scottish nationalist sentiment. The film was said to have been destroyed.

Recently, though, in a mini-profile of Hurd, a clip appeared on the BBC. So it still exists! The SNP is keen to get it shown again; its leader, Alex Salmond, feels that he and Douglas Hurd have a mutual political-financial interest in the wider dissemination of this fine work.

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