Wilkes's Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Some of Wilkes's more elderly colleagues were no doubt relieved that Christine Keeler boycotted the party to launch the book Great Parliamentary Scandals by the former Tory MP turned scribbler Matthew Parris. Ms Keeler was offended by the reference to her being jailed, because it failed to point out that she was "sent down" for perjury, for protecting a friend of hers. She curtly informed Mr Parris that she would not be attending his bash in the cellars of the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall. This greatly disappointed Wilkes, who would have enjoyed chatting about old times with his one-time temptress. Still, the party went with a swing, with victims of more recent parliamentary scandals gamely supping their chardonnay, including the Tory MPs Michael Mates, Tim Yeo and Michael Brown. Mr Parris recalled meeting Mandy Rice Davies in a radio studio when he was an MP. She said he was the first Tory MP she had met. "And then she burst into giggles," he said. Ah, those were the days, and it made an old man very happy to recall them. Wilkes had to agree with Mr Parris that scandals are not what they used to be.

Wilkes is a man of many parts and this week his role has extended to conveying the apologies of the editor of the Independent to Ian Bruce, the Tory member for Dorset South.

Bruce was naturally put out when colleagues started to greet him in midweek with strange handshakes and tugs at the pinstriped trouser leg, the problem being that this noble organ had wrongly named him as a leading Freemason.

The source of the error was Labour Research, the union-funded hammer of the Tories. It had combed through the latest Masonic Year Book for a two-page Freemasons' Who's Who and claimed it had found four sitting Conservative members in the list. Mr Bruce was even given the starring role of sitting on "a number of United Grand Lodge of England committees".

Closer inspection of the Masonic listings, alas, reveals a rather different picture. Three Bruces feature: Messrs Arthur and Robert and one Major Ian Bruce. The Dorset member (not, I fear, a military man) says: "I didn't realise I could be promoted to such exalted office without ever having been a member."

Nicholas Soames, former equerry to the Prince of Wales, used the Queen's Flight for a ministerial trip to the Middle East the other day. He was entertained to hear that the aeroplane in which he flew was none other than the twin-engined jet that Prince Charles pranged on a tricky landing in the Scottish isles. Bunter was so pleased to see the crate back in service that he decided to cheer up Prince Charles by having a photograph of himself taken with the plane, and duly dispatched it to the Prince.

Wilkes hears that Sir Teddy Taylor, redoubtable and previously "whipless" Euro-sceptic, has been characteristically honest in dealing with the 35-odd farmers who have become his constituents since boundary reorganisation. Under the changes his constituency of Southend East becomes Rochford and Southend East and takes on a new slice of rural Essex. But Sir Teddy - no friend, to put it mildly, of the dependency culture generated by the Common Agricultural Policy - has beseeched his new farmer constituents, politely but firmly, not to bother voting for him. It's true that reorganisation gives Sir Teddy, who has a strong personal following in Southend, a notional majority of 16,077 compared with the 13,111 he actually got in the 1992 general election. Nevertheless, most Conservative MPs, given the parlous state of the polls, would still be falling over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the farmers, so long the backbone of their great party. But then Sir Teddy has always been made of sterner stuff.

It was Wilkes who first told the world that Alan Clark had decided to put his hat in the ring for the coveted new ultra-safe Tory seat of Kensington and Chelsea. Now he learns this was not mere jeu d'esprit and that the colourful, brilliant and unorthodox world-class diarist is in deadly earnest about a return to the Commons. He will not, Wilkes guesses, want to move from his spendid home at Saltwood Castle in Kent, so a southern England seat seems the most likely. What about Mole Valley, the seat that Kenneth Baker has finally decided to vacate?

A pal of Clark's tells me that the great man has been praised for his frankness in his section of Lord Justice Scott's inquiry and that he is ready, willing, and eager to serve once again.

By contrast, the Northern Ireland minister John Wheeler, another candidate spurned by Kensington and Chelsea, has confided to Wilkes that he is reluctantly planning to stand down from Parliament. He was understandably a bit miffed to be asked whether his Northern Ireland duties would give him enough time to turn up to parties in the constituency.

Meanwhile, do not rule out the possibility that Nicholas Scott, for all his troubles over his impending drink-driving case, could actually win when the party turns out to make its selection next Friday. Wilkes's spies say he is up for a fighting speech and that his most ardent supporters are ready to turn up in force.

Mary Robinson, the Irish President, said on her meeting with the Queen last week in London that she hoped that the Queen would visit Ireland. Some guests at the reception asked the Queen whether she would go. She is said to have replied: "I hope to when things have settled."

Or did she say she would settle in Ireland? Wilkes can hardly blame her.

Before Mohamed Al Fayed gave evidence to the privileges committee, a glittering green and gold horse-drawn carriage bearing the Harrods logo parked on double yellow lines outside the gates of the House of Commons. Two lady parking wardens stood by, wondering what to do, when Tony Banks, the cheeky Labour chappie, said: "Go on. Issue them with a parking ticket." They resisted the temptation.

There are bonuses in being pushed sideways to the ludicrous Department of National Heritage, as Wilkes's underrated Labour friend Lewis Moonie found out this week. His shadow portfolio brought with it a coveted ticket to the Rangers vs Juventus match. Sadly, he was prevented from smoking his favourite pipe tobacco at the fiercely Protestant Glasgow ground. "I don't think it would be wise to get out my packet of Three Nuns at Ibrox Park," he smiled.