WILKES'S DIARY

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The Independent Online
Sir Patrick Mayhew, one of the few remaining old-fashioned patricians in the Conservative Party now that Douglas Hurd has gone, may, I fear, also be about to hang up his braces and pack his bags for pastures new at the next general election. His cabinet colleague Roger Freeman rather unkindly suggested the other day that MPs should retire at 60. This was taken as a swipe at his immediate boss, Michael Heseltine, who is 62, but it also put the spotlight on Sir Patrick, 67. He has given no indication either way to his constituency, but his close friends say he is rather out of sorts at the moment. "He is very tired," said one colleague.

Sir Patrick is one of the old school of Tory MPs; a gentleman's gentleman among car dealers. He views the right-wing drift of the Government with the sort of disdain that Jeeves reserved for Bertie Wooster's more outlandish golfing outfits. The Northern Ireland Secretary is, no doubt, anxious to see some progress in bringing peace to the province before announcing his plans, but time is pressing for any replacement to get his or her feet under the table at Tunbridge Wells, where he sits on a comfortable majority of 17,132.

While other knights of the shires have declared their hand, Sir Patrick has said nothing of his plans. Wilkes believes it is only a matter of time. But should a miracle happen and the Tories be swept to another term of office, Sir Patrick's friends believe he would be the ideal choice for Lord Chancellor.

Wilkes finds the whole business of computers a ghastly mistake for civilisation. One can hardly have a chat with one's colleagues without the blighters pulling out a Psion and entering the details. A member of Stephen Dorrell's ministerial team keeps the Health Secretary up-to-date with the Press Association "tapes" by logging into their e-mail on his Psion from the ministerial car. Wilkes has heard of one minister who has partly conducted his spending round with the Treasury with the aid of e-mail and a pocket computer. David Shaw, the Boor of Dover, is a Psion nut.

The computer obsession has been taken too far by Michael Heseltine, with his pounds 150,000 Internet linking the Great One's desk to every minister in Whitehall. Wilkes can reveal that Hezza has ordered an official title for the Government's infernal new information highway: Cab-E-Net. It could dispense with the business of turning up for meetings every Thursday.

The BBC may have cravenly refused to broadcast the exclusive interview with the Queen by a Canadian DJ, but RTE, the Dublin-based radio station, was not so inhibited. Wilkes's friends at the Irish Embassy in London found a brilliant wheeze for listening to the Queen on RTE broadcasts. They telephoned a number in Brussels which continuously broadcasts a live feed from the Irish station. Should the Queen be taken in again, Wilkes will be telephoning 00322 5095050 to listen to his Monarch.

One mystery remains about the ambush inflicted by Lady Olga Maitland and her band of "family values" backbenchers on Lord Mackay over his Bill on family homes and domestic violence. How was all this allowed to blow up without warning and without a whisper of earlier criticism as the Bill went through the "fast-track" process? Admirers of the humane and impeccably pro-family Lord Mackay - and Wilkes is certainly one of those - wonder what on earth John Taylor, the minister for legal affairs who is supposed to be the Lord Chancellor's ears and eyes in the House of Commons, was doing. Wasn't it his job to iron out the differences with Lady Olga and her gang over a glass of whisky? Where was he? Certainly not on the airwaves defending his boss from noon to night in his time of travail.

Wilkes wonders about the future of his old chum, the former Chancellor Norman Lamont, who is still hunting for a seat. Could he be tempted by Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, which has money, but a shortage (with the exception of Sir Alan Walters) of stars? On the face of it, not. He has publicly criticised the idea and shows every sign of determinedly seeking to stand for the party he loves. But Wilkes spotted him chatting with Lady Annabel Goldsmith at the convivial 70th birthday dinner for Baroness Thatcher. Who knows what a spurned man will do?

The induction of Tony Blair's newest MP, Alan Howarth, into the mysterious culture of the Labour Party proceeds apace. Wilkes overheard trade and industry spokeswoman Barbara Roche chatting to him in the Commons. "You'll hear people talking about things like TGMOO," she said. "TGMOO?" asked the Labour member for Stratford-on-Avon. "This Great Movement Of Ours," she explained kindly. Even in the "new" Labour Party, it seems, he still has a lot to learn.

John Redwood, leader of the hair-shirt tendency in the Tory party, practises what he preaches. He has called on the Government to cut its running costs in the Budget, and has been following his own advice in the right-wing think tank he has founded - upsetting friends at the Conservative 2000 Foundation at Wilfred Street in Westminster by switching off the lights.

It is not just Tory MPs who, post-Nolan, are agitating about the pay of ministers and MPs. Labour's Denis MacShane, who took a 50 per cent salary cut when he left the International Metalworkers in Geneva to become MP for Rotherham, has dug up the statistic from Barbara Wooton's Social Theory of Wage Policy that in 1950 the then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was on pounds 10,000 a year, compared with a backbencher's pay of pounds 1,000.

To keep the same ratio, MacShane points out that a modern Prime Minister would be on pounds 330,000 a year - even at that level, less than the salary for many top business executives. MacShane now hopes that Lord Nolan looks with urgency at why John Major's job is relatively worth so much less than that of his Forties and Fifties predecessors, and why a minister should earn less than the assistant town clerk in Rotherham. Above all, MacShane confides to Wilkes, after Monday's historic vote in favour of curbing MPs' outside financial interests only Lord Nolan's committee has the authority to raise MPs' pay to a temptation-free level.

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