Wilkes's diary

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The Independent Online
Wilkes has never been one for the easy path, the fashionable opinion. So as the news trickles in that only four people in the whole of England have brought themselves to vote Conservative as a result of John Major's leadership, Wilkes feels called upon to enter the lists on his behalf. Not with waffle about his niceness - no one who is truly nice gets to become Prime Minister - but with the hard facts of a story entirely to his credit. Major's constituency of Huntingdon (Con maj in 1992 a breathtaking 36,320) is famous as the safest in the country. Indeed, the joke has long been that if the next election resulted in a Canada-style massacre of the Conservatives, Major could wind up as the only Tory MP left in Britain.

This, though, fails to take into account the effects of boundary reorganisation, which splits the once-safe constituency asunder. Into two seats, as it happens. The first is a new ultra-safe Tory seat of Cambridgeshire North West. The other is a much more run-of-the-mill Huntingdon seat which includes the strong Liberal Democrat territory of St Neots. Major has confided to Wilkes over a stiff whisky that he has decided to do the decent thing and stick with the much less safe Huntingdon seat, which is the one in which he himself happens to live. It is a relative, not an absolute, act of selflessness, because the Huntingdon seat still has a majority of more than 12,000 on 1992 figures. But if last night's results are anything to go by, that is far less safe than the other seat he could have had. If ''Canada'' happens in 1997, Major will go gurgling down with the ship.

The ghost of WG Grace, or whoever it is that presides over the fortunes of village cricketers, is obviously a New Labour man. The day after his master's Clause IV triumph, David Miliband, Mr Blair's brainy policy wonk (who is only 14 but has already edited a book of impressively incomprehensible essays on reinventing the left), was playing cricket for his regular team in the charming village of Charlbury in Oxfordshire. He scored 80 runs. He also took four wickets - despite being seen by colleagues as a fairly indifferent seam bowler. And, just to complete the sporting hat-trick, Wilkes hears that he took what is generally agreed to be the most spectacular slip catch of the season. Undoubted man of the match. A premonition, in a leafy corner of England, of what awaits the cricket-mad Prime Minister when he pads up, in 1996 or 1997, for the great Test match of modern politics?

While on the subject of youth and success, step forward Giles Kroot, trainee ITN reporter and just three weeks in his job. He is sent with a camera crew to 11 Downing Street to get some pictures. You know, make the lad feel he's learning how it's done, etc. Instead young Giles gets The Big Story - rumpled Ken Clarke's revelation that he never knew about the proposals to tax mortgage cover for the unemployed and sick. What happened between Kroot and the Chancellor is so good that Wilkes has decided, as an act of public service, to print the full transcript ...

Kroot [perkily]: Have you done a U-turn on mortgages?

Clarke [faintly huffy]: No, I just sorted out some complete nonsense about a supposed tax that never was.

Kroot: Why didn't Mr Hanley know about the review?

Clarke: Well, because it's an obscure piece of tax law which I didn't know about until half past eleven this morning, and having discovered what they were talking about, simply sorted it all out. [Firmly] It's all nonsense.

Clarke [re-emerging some time later in his dinner jacket]: This story's not still running, is it?

Kroot: It certainly is. News at Ten.

Clarke: Sorry?

Kroot: News at Ten. Are you going to come and talk to us for a moment?

Clarke: On that?

Kroot: Yeah.

Clarke [pause, then laughter]: It's not a serious story. There never was a tax!

It's not a very appealing sight, having Tony Blair constantly blowing kisses to Baroness Thatcher every time he comes within reach of a microphone. But Wilkes can reveal part of the reason for Blair's admiration. It is a touching story. Blair's father, as is well known, is a Thatcherite himself and the two were at a function some years ago, at which La Thatch, then Mistress of the Universe, was the star guest. The young Blair went up to her, a trifle anxiously, and asked whether she would mind having just a quick word with his dad. ''It would make his day.'' She not only had a word but gave him the full works, the charm, the lot. Blair and, presumably, Dad have had a thing about her ever since.

Thatcherite Tory MPs, however, regard the sight of young Blair attempting - metaphorically - to don her blonde wig and high heels (heaven forfend it should go any further) as stomach-churning. There are members of the 1922 Committee executive who have decided enough is enough. They are privately calling on the Great Lady to disown the little brat.

At least the bovine incumbent of Conservative Central Office, Jeremy Hanley, has realised how easily a young Labour leader in Thatcher's clothes could attract wavering Tory voters: the one thing he has avoided calling Blair is a closet Tory.

So the Tory high command is waiting for Mother to disown her adoptive son ... but it could be a long wait. Her close friends tell me the Lady might be quicker to chuck Blair's bouquets in the bin if only she received a few billets-doux from her own side. "The ironic thing is that Blair has done what no Tory would dare to do: praise the Lady," said one old Thatcherite.

Now the important news from the special conference on Clause IV. The Labour Party has moved the comma. The text on which delegates voted on Saturday, and which will appear on the membership card, had the comma in the right place, as Wilkes urged after the National Executive unveiled the mispunctuated draft in March. A brief flirtation with colons and semi- colons in the advance documents for the conference was abandoned.The party now "believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create ..." good things, not bad things. Tony Blair's original draft had the comma after "endeavour". History needs to know it was Peter Coleman, director of organisation, who ensured the form of words passed to posterity is grammatical.