Friday 10 March 1995
The combined effects of the wonder drug for the over-fifties and the publicity she is receiving as a rebel appear to have gone to her head. She tells female friends: "Don't I look marvellous!" Male ones get dinky postcards featuring a glamorous picture of herself. She was, her friends tell me, "over the moon" about getting maximum points in the Independent's charisma rating for the whipless rebels and has been playfully boasting about it to her rebel colleagues.
But the last straw for some of them came at their weekly "Cabinet" meeting, when Teresa, the rebel Shadow Foreign Secretary, gave a report on her visit to a fishing port to underline the group's opposition to the common fisheries policy. She told the assembled rebel Cabinet that the visit had been a smashing success, particularly with one lovely large fisherman, who thought she was ``a real catch''.
Sir Teddy Taylor received the news with his head in his hands. Sir Teddy, surely a future Home Secretary in a Portillo government, is not currently receiving HRT.
Oh Teresa, take no notice of the grumpy old fellow. You can pillage my cod box any time.
As readers of this column will have noticed, Wilkes is a fellow of influence, a friend of the mighty. Yes, and a friend of the Prime Minister, too. John kindly invited him to a series of head-banging sessions at Chequers and Downing Street over the past few days on the future for Tory policy; and Wilkes is pleased to lift the curtain on what appears to be the best- kept secret in Westminster.
Thus far, the pattern has been as follows. Senior minister asks: what should we do after the next election? Junior ministers and other hangers- on then react in one of two ways: either by saying: ``We have a big fight about who's going to lead the party in Opposition'', or they simply dissolve into unseemly giggles. Hence desperate private sessions to think up ideas for the next manifesto. But they have turned into a rather sad showcase for the pushy middle-rankers desperately trying to make an impression in time for the July clear-out of the likes of Gummer, Waldegrave and Portillo (only joking, Michael).
At Chequers last Friday, Major gathered ministers of state to discuss social security, law and order, and trade. And, my God, it was dull. His choice of the ministers to lead the seminar gives a clue to the goody- two-shoes the boss regards as his rising stars of the rank below Cabinet: William Hague, the wee baldy at social security, who is, remarkably, still only 19 but is quite often spoken of as the next Tory leader after Portillo; David Maclean, the Home Office minister so right-wing he would support the return of the Iron Maiden (the punishment, not the pop group); and Richard Needham, whose unnoticed rise into the inner counsels under John Major is in stark contrast to the way he held on to his ministerial job by a thread under Margaret Thatcher - even after he was overheard on a mobile telephone describing her as "that cow".
Then there was a second meeting at No 10 for the lowest form of governmental life, the parliamentary under-secretaries. The exciting fellows hand-picked by our great leader to stimulate the party were: James Arbuthnot, the caring junior social security minister (subject: being nice to old people without spending any taxpayers' money on them); John Bowis, junior health minister (subject: what the hell can we say about Bottomley's so-called ``reforms'' of the NHS); Steve ``dancing trousers'' Norris, the London transport minister and former car dealer who pointed out that driving stopped you having to commute next to ``dreadful human beings'' (subject: cars and what to do about them). So now you know. No longer can you whingeing Independent readers complain that the Government lacks ideas, vision, or thoroughly exciting people.
Sir Bernard Ingham was bellowing pucely on television in his usual robust manner for International Women's Day on the importance of keeping women in the home looking after the children. What about your own children, asked the interviewer. Ah, said Sir Bernard, "my son is 38." His son, John, a political correspondent for the Daily Express was somewhat distressed. He is 37 - and he was sitting at home looking after the kids.
The victor of the by-election at Islwyn, Neil Kinnock's former seat, James Donnelly Touhig, has let it be known he wishes to be called ``Don'' Touhig. No doubt the voters of the Welsh valleys think there is something dangerously upper-crust about the name James. But only thoroughly disreputable people are called ``Don''. Personally speaking, I trust that all members of the PLP will abide by an instruction to address the fellow as "Nelly".
Wilkes was wandering about the corridors of Westminster in his usual dazed, post-prandial state when he bumped into an eminent Ex-Friend of the Prime Minister. The E-F assured Wilkes that a very careful and serious ``trawling'' operation is going on at the moment to establish whether there are 32 Tory MPs ready to put their names down for a leadership challenge in the autumn. He also tells Wilkes that he believes another E-F, one Norman Lamont, is ``a cert'' to stand.
David Davis, the indefatigable minister for Europe ... what does indefatigable mean? It is one of those words that we always stick on somebody we vaguely approve of, without knowing quite what to say about them, isn't it? ... anyway, he was in Colombia the other day to open up an oilfield when he met the utterly beautiful foreign minister of Colombia, who is also a good friend of his predecessor, Tristan Garel-Jones. He thought he was doing pretty well in the talks until the interpreter was out of earshot and the Colombian ministerial stunner leant over and huskily whispered: "You 'ave to take zee initiative ..." She was only talking business, but for a brief second, our man's upper lip wobbled just a fraction. Still, he passed muster. Tristan got a call when Davis returned, saying she thought he had behaved "like a prince ..." Yes, but which prince?
Here's a straw in the wind of the new politics. Joe Irvine, head of research at Britain's once-greatest union, the Transport and General, is leaving to join the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The T&G's membership is 920,000 and falling, the RSPB's is 860,000 and rising, and Irvine expects to become parliamentary liaison officer just as the Green bird-lovers overtake the pachycephalosaurus herd. Irvine, the son of a T&G official in Preston, has been with the union, boy and man, since the heady days of the Seventies, when the union had 2 million members and Transport House ruled the nation.
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