Wilkes's diary

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John Major, quaffing a warm lager or two with Wilkes and a few chums, assures me that he imposed only one condition on Malcolm Rifkind's appointment to the Foreign Office. Just in case Rifkind was thinking otherwise, it was made crisply clear that his mephistophelean adviser at the Ministry of Defence, David Hart, should not follow him to King Charles Street. It is not simply that Douglas Hurd - who was once sceptical about Rifkind's desirability as his successor, but changed his mind - is baffled by Rifkind's friendship with the moustachioed property developer cum rightist ideologue. It also appears that Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, had expressed concern some time ago at Mr Hart running rampant through the corridors at the MoD.

Quite why Riffers is so keen on Hart is a genuinely interesting question. It seems that Hart's pleasant place in the country and his shooting have something to do with it. Or perhaps it is merely the attraction of opposites. Riffers is thin and politically cautious; Hart is fat and a bit wild. One wag on the party circuit, noting Mr Hart's access to both Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind, last week suggested that Mr Hart was now "in charge of the military-industrial complex". But not quite, it seems. Not yet.

The end of the session could not have come a moment too soon for Wilkes, who is quite exhausted by the party season. Quite apart from bowling over to Buckingham Palace for the garden party, Wilkes has been to them all - the at-home with Tom Sackville, the Spectator thrash on the same night; two bashes in the college garden of Westminster Abbey with a new lobby organisation and the university vice-chancellors; and an at- home with Phillip Oppenheim. It reminds me of the Labour MP who used to stand on the terrace of the Commons every summer, lifting his glass of Pimms to the appalled passing tourists on their pleasure boats, and shouting: "It's all paid for by the taxpayers!"

Brainy or what? Wilkes isn't much of a select committee man, but he couldn't resist Stephen Dorrell's first appearance before the health select committee: three hours of really detailed grilling with really arcane questions. Dorrell answered every one without error. And without once looking at notes.

Even better are his early radio performances when, in sharp distinction to Virginia, he has managed to avoid uttering a single statistic of any kind. This is an achievement of which the boy is justly proud. How long can he keep it up?

Ken Clarke, still the Mr Brio of the Government, has just effected a lightning transfer move for a new Parliamentary Private Secretary which would have had his old Nottingham Forest chum, Brian thingy, gasping with admiration. He has snatched Peter Butler from Gerry Malone, the Minister of State for Health, and installed him as his own PPS. Butler replaces the formidable Angela Knight, whom Ken managed to get promoted to the ranks of his junior Treasury ministers in the post-leadership ballot reshuffle.

Butler is one of those blobby, old-fashioned looking Tories - a bit like Wilkes himself. He has been seen zooming around Parliament Square in a vintage open-top touring Bentley, gassing the tourists with exhaust fumes, for all the world as if he had just escaped from the Whitehall production of Toad of Toad Hall. A solid sort of chap, a grammar school boy made good and a genial cove, the thing that must have put the seal on his future was his love of jazz.

No doubt Ken wants tickets for the private jam sessions held in Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine's barn (in Butler's Milton Keynes North East constituency). Butler, who plays a bit, tells me Dankworth rates him as the second greatest player of a particular form of lyrical saxophone in the country - Dankworth himself is the other one.

Wilkes managed to squeeze in the farewell party for Joe Small, the cherubic Irish ambassador. The cold Guinness shipped in from Dublin is one of the star attractions that make the Irish Embassy such a welcoming place for a party. I spotted TP McKenna, the actor, in conversation with Gerry Malone. The Irish are renowned for their hospitality, but why had they invited Mr Malone, a well-known Scot? Wilkes inquired. "They think I'm Irish," Mr Malone smiled.

Anybody who can get Peter Townsend, long-term champion of the poor and irredeemably leftist sociologist, and Peter Lilley (neither of the above) in the same room has to deserve some sort of award. Step forward the Independent's public policy editor, Nicholas Timmins, who achieved this all-time first at the launch party for his new work on the welfare state, The Five Giants. And not a cross word passed between the two men, whose views of the welfare state are about as diametrically opposed as they can be. Instead, Townsend was locked in mortal argument with fellow prof Sir Gordon Borrie over Borrie's view of the state pension system.

Another failure for the pro-European cause. Those leading Europhiles Denis MacShane and Edwina Currie were leading an all-party delegation for a meeting with top chaps at the Brussels Commission.

Eurostar put in another fine performance, however, managing a one-hour delay before entering the Chunnel, and another hour at Calais. The sweltering, irate Europhiles arrived very late and little good was done for the cause.

With the crisis in Bosnia worsening by the minute, we are packing our bags for the holidays in deepening gloom. Not that the appalling state of that country is causing us to lose much sleep. It is just the sure knowledge that as soon as we get away from Westminster, there will be a recall of Parliament to debate the withdrawal of our gallant lads.

Johnny Major (he is now calling himself ''Johnny'' to give himself more a more racy image befitting his new leadership style) is planning to go to France this summer, having got tired of Portugal. He is rumoured to be renting a cottage in the Dordogne, which has for years been humanely but ruthlessly ethnically cleansed of French folk by Volvo-driving Brits. While he is there, he will be sharing a few holiday moments with Jacques Chirac, the dome-headed, nuclear-happy President of France, who last week was accusing Johnny of appeasing Serbs. I hope Johnny shows spunk and breaks his baguette over Chirac's tete.

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