Wilkes's Diary: Ministers and misbehaving

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The Independent Online
"There is real danger that the latent xenophobia and jingoism of the Parliamentary Party and in the constituencies will rise to the surface. This might rally our confirmed supporters for a time, but would be damaging over a far wider field, and sh ould be firmly discouraged.'' Words Wilkes came across while reading one of the finest political biographies published in the past few years - Rob Shepherd's volume on Iain Macleod, the greatest Prime Minister the Tories never had. Macleod wouldn't, one suspects, have been trimming on Europe like the current Cabinet.

That wasn't, though, why the Macleod biography has been in one's mind. It is, more, this funny-sad business of the PM and his Secret Past.

Wilkes's immediate reaction was that Tory Central Office had finally got its act together and organised some white propaganda. Is it the case that the voters which the Natural Party of Government needs to win back are mostly shell-suited pinheads who spend half their waking time reading the Sun and the other half fantasising about toyboys and/or raven-haired temptresses? It is. That being so, this "revelation'' smelt to Wilkes like a barefaced attempt to rekindle interest in the PM by inventing a Sun-style past for the bloke.

But, it seems, this cannot be correct. The toe-curling stuff about their pet names (Rover and Mabel - the latter reminding one of Prince Charles and "Gladys'') is too embarrassing to be other than real.

But how does all this connect to Macleod? It is only that, according to Shepherd's book, the great Macleod was misbehaving cheerfully while he was a Cabinet minister: "There were various romances ... Macleod was also excited by the risk he was taking."

Macleod could usually find some explanation for lunching a female companion if a journalist or fellow politician saw him. Changed days! But the point about the excitement of the risk is a good one: a junior minister who has conducted various liaisons in his time recently told Wilkes that the thought of being caught by the News of the World was part of the fun.

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