front-runner among 300. After all, the selection committee will not have to ask questions about his private life; they only have to read his Diary. Nicholas Scott, the present Chelsea incumbent, is seeking to keep hold of the seat, but other challengers include John Maples, former deputy chairman of the party, and Sean Woodward, former head of communications at Tory Central Office. Chelsea is also seen as a good long-term prospect for Chris Patten, should he wish to return to Westminster after giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese. Mr Patten will not be back in time for the final selection in early November.
Has the Labour Party been sold a pup, or at least a white elephant? The cost of its new, eventually hi-tech, Millbank media and campaigning centre along the road from the Commons will add up to a cool pounds 2m. This was a fact not disclosed by the party machine after Wednesday's meeting of the national executive committee gave the go-ahead to the ambitious scheme, which will involve Labour forking out to transform the existing Legal & General building into a purpose-built media centre complete with theatre. The fact that the not inconsiderable sum amounts to some 16.3 per cent of Labour's total general election budget, so Wilkes is informed, no doubt accounts for the reluctance to talk money.
The premises is intended as the nerve-centre for campaigning up to the next election and for getting across the message of the first Labour government, avoiding drear locations such as the House of Commons Jubilee Room, and springs from the view that in the 1992 election key people were scattered about at too many locations. The party has plans to draw up a business plan to ensure the centre's viable operation, and a good thing, too, say the project's critics. The lease is for 10 years, with a break clause covering the theatre coming only after seven, although there is a two- year break covering the rest of the building. "We'll be left with it hanging round our necks," said one disgruntled party member.
Wilkes can hardly believe that John Major omitted to ask his next- door neighbour to pop round for the official dinner at No 10 for Baroness Thatcher's return.
The Chancellor, who was the first to plunge the knife in when the Cabinet committed matricide, must have told the Prime Minister that unfortunately he had another engagement.
Mr Major must have wondered what could have been more pressing, but I can help. While Mr Major was rolling out the red carpet for the Iron Lady, Ken was in the Kundan curry house breaking poppadoms with his long-term pal, Jim Lester. That's a chap who knows his priorities.
My cockpit spies at Virgin Airways tell me of funny business when the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition had a "photo opportunity" with Richard Branson at Gatwick. Mr Blair was supposed to be photographed with Virgin cabin crew on the steps of the aircraft. But Alastair Campbell, his press secretary, discovered two of the air stewardpersons were male and ordered them out of the picture. Messrs Blair and Branson were then photographed, surrounded by an all-woman shortlist of happy hostesses.
As Wilkes remarked last week, the builders have been into the Strangers' Bar. Idiot planners have moved it near the members' dining room and reduced its size to no more than a hatch. Wilkes has complained and has been told it is the ideal size for serving two people. Wilkes predicts trouble after the first 10 o'clock vote. MPs do not take kindly to having to queue with constituents for a drink.
The Tory conference fringe is frothing with activity among the Europhobes, with Redwood and the Gang of Eight stirring up trouble. Labour's fringe looks positively dull in comparison. My droll friends on the left wing tell me the fringe list includes a seminar at the Tribune Group rally on "Radical Interiors - Socialism and Shaker Furniture" while the Campaign Group is offering "Socialism and the Art of Bonsai through the ages" It's clearly a jest, but you never know ....
Tony Blair says in the current House Magazine: "New Labour reclaims ground of which we should never have let go. Words like freedom, responsibility, family, efficiency; these are Labour words and we should never have let the Tories take them from us
John Whittingdale, the right-wing Tory MP and former political secretary to Baroness Thatcher, has become the latest victim of political correctness in the Labour Party, according to smoking-room gossip. He asked the trim Labourette Tessa Jowell to "pair" with him for divisions in the Commons. She asked him whether he supported capital punishment. Whitto, an honest cove, said he did. At which Ms Jowell said she could not bring herself to pair with anyone who supported the death penalty. This struck Whitto as odd. If they were paired, she would, in effect, cancel his vote.
Bernard Ingham was miffed by the exclusive interview in the Daily Mail with Humphrey, the Cabinet Office cat, who was quoted as saying he had so disliked Baroness Thatcher's former press secretary that he did a "whoopsy" on Ingham's carpet. Ingham retorted: "I wondered what the bad smell was - I thought it came came from the lobby journalists."
Need I remind him again that his own son, John, is a member of that august, but clearly smelly body.