Wilkes's diary

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The Independent Online
Wilkes must admit to extreme jealousy on perusing Page Three of the Sun the other day to find the "gorgeous" Caroline Christensen, 29, linked with Phillip Oppenheim, the "high-flying trade minister". Imagine Wilkes's delight, then, the other night when, upon wandering into the Strangers' Bar of the House of Commons, he spied eight Christensen lookalikes - long-legged, blond "lovelies" as the tabloids quaintly dub them. Mr Oppenheim was in one corner, in deep conversation with male friends, while the eight models, all there at his invitation, were sadly ignored.

That was until Hywel Williams, the dashing special adviser to John Redwood, arrived. Hywel, a close friend of Phillip's, a former housemaster at Rugby School andpossessor of a history doctorate, got on with them like a house on fire. "Hywel seemed to have a magnetic effect on the most stunningly beautiful of the bunch," moaned a luckless Labour MP. "He must have some secret. I wish I knew what it was."

A warning for the Conservative leadership: Europe, the issue on which the party almost broke its back, is about to force itself to the surface again. As John Major prepares for the Madrid summit later this month, the Tory right is making plans for the longer-term battle over the single currency.

John Redwood, the challenger for the leadership in the summer, is planning to publish a pamphlet through the think-tank Conservative 2000, underlining his fundamental opposition to a single currency. Iain Duncan Smith, the MP for Chingford and a Redwood supporter, is beavering away on a pamphlet opposing European federalism, thus exploding the issue all over again.

The one policy that they see as a unifying factor is for the party to commit itself at the general election not to join a single currency within the lifetime of the next Parliament. Given a five-year term of office, that would take Britain up to the year 2002, which most ministers believe is the earliest date by which there is likely to be any realistic prospect of creating a single currency.

Some cabinet ministers, though firmly in the pro-European camp, see the attractions of that formula for the election manifesto. They include Stephen Dorrell, a leading One-Nation Tory and the Secretary of State for Health. In fact, Westminster gossips say that Major may be persuaded by Dorrell - in spite of the opposition of Ken Clarke, our beloved Chancellor.

Wilkes got the Budget leak that mattered: weeks ago he tipped readers off that the Chancellor would abolish the road fund licence on cars more than 25 years old - much to the delight of Clarke's parliamentary private secretary, Peter Butler, who has two greatly loved Austin 7s.

Less congenial to Clarke, perhaps, is that another of the first beneficiaries is John Redwood, who has a 1965 E-type Jaguar.

It must have been a bit like blowing kisses to the mirror, but President Clinton was apparently glowing with tributes in his hour-long chat with Tony Blair, in which young Blair told his mentor all about the Clintonisation of the Labour Party. Bill was said to be so taken with Tony's new Labour that he wished he could borrow from some of the Labour leader's excellent speeches.

However, Bill cannot start his new Democratic campaign for the White House by promising to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Since the American senator Joe Biden was caught out stealing Neil Kinnock's best lines, it has been impossible to get away with that sort of thing in the US, as the minute anyone says anything interesting the press start rifling through the collected speeches of Labour's finest.

Jolly well done to Gyles Brandreth, that enthusiastic Tory MP who heard this week that he has been appointed to the Whips' Office. As he is instructed in the art of "putting a bit of stick about" he will have to concentrate hard on the main task of the most junior whip - pouring the champagne for his esteemed Whips' Office colleagues.

Andrew Mackay's big day as a government whip came yesterday when he got togged up in morning coat and, armed with his wand of office, delivered his first official message from the Queen to the Speaker of the Commons. Red faces all round when, through a slip of the lip, the Speaker invited Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour MP, to step forward.

Luckily, MacKinlay - who last week demanded an apology from Nicholas Soames for saying that the Princess of Wales was suffering from paranoia - was not in his place.

Tory MPs have discovered that their colleague Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley, has been attracting fan mail since appearing on the box. Clearly jealous of "gorgeous" Nigel's success, some MPs have taken to writing to him anonymously, praising his good looks and asking for a signed photograph.

Which explains why Harold Elletson, MP for Blackpool North, has Nigel's framed portrait like a trophy on the wall of his Millbank office.

There was muttering among Wilkes's Labour chums this week when they heard that Rupert Murdoch's empire had bought up the television rights to the Endsleigh League, ensuring that all live football matches from divisions one, two and three will now be seen on BSkyB.

Labour MPs have realised that this is not particularly good news for their constituents who do not possess a satellite dish. They want Labour to attack it, but feel that the Aussie love-in between Blair and Rupe may make this difficult. "The trouble is, we're not sure what the leader's line is on Murdoch," confided one Labour MP.