A matter of fax

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What I want to know is this - who framed Greg Knight? Greg who? Privy Counsellor, Deputy Chief Whip, popular Tory MP for Derby North, the Right Honourable Greg Knight, that's Greg who. Since last weekend, Mr Knight has been hounded by the gutter press in the shape of the Independent on Sundayand the Derby Evening Telegraph.

And why? It's a strange tale. On Budget day, Ken Clarke announced that cars more than 25 years old would no longer be subject to road tax. Hooray, said vintage car enthusiasts. Whoopee, said the House of Commons Classic Car Club, which shot off faxes to car mags Popular Classics and Classic Car Weekly, praising the Chancellor for his wisdom and Mr Knight (an enthusiast himself) for exercising his influence to bring about this excellent change.

So far, so good. The trouble started when some bright spark of a journalist noticed that the two faxes, though identically worded, carried the names of two completely different Honourable Secretaries - a Miss C Seymour and a Mrs T Sothcott. Said spark started to check out the Commons Classic Car Club. Nobody other than Mr Knight could be found who had heard of it.

Were the HonSecs for real? Yes, Mr Knight could vouch for them (both turned out to be his personal assistants). But no, he was not sure who else was in the club - he was a busy man, attended events when he could, couldn't explain the change of HonSecs, but it is the season for AGMs.

Sure, you could jump to the conclusion that Mr Knight is a rather preposterous self-publicist with a slim majority, who arranged to have self-congratulatory press releases from a fictitious organisation circulated to the classic car world. But isn't that all a bit too neat?

I have a different theory. Mr Knight has made enemies in his time. Take the occasion when he parked no fewer than four of his beautiful vintage cars in the House of Commons car park. Now you or I, finding our usual parking spaces blocked by several elegant motors belonging to the same person, would almost certainly smile, admire their classic lines and drive on, wishing the enthusiast well. MPs, unfortunately, are not so magnanimous. This incident alone would provide sufficient motive for what I believe then followed.

Several years ago, my theory goes, some MP set up the Classic Car Club and invited a number of colleagues to join. One was Greg Knight. As time passed, the membership died off, or failed to be re-elected, leaving only a few MPs and others, many of whom had forgotten the club even existed.

But there were two womenprepared to keep the standard flying. Enthused by their mutual employer, Miss Seymour and Mrs Sothcott first joined and later ran the club, whose Annual General Meeting fell due at the end of November. This year, one of the Ms S's, as Honourable Secretary, booked the Grand Committee Rooms and posted notices. Come the day and the hour and - horror! - the Commons was voting and the two women found themselves alone in the vast room.

Undeterred, they pressed ahead with the only two items on the agenda - the expression of thanks to Mr Knight for his efforts on road tax (passed, nem con) and the election of officers, in which - naturally - Ms S succeeded Ms S for the period 1996.

But who was going to convey the club's resolution to the public? After discussion, the two women decided to divide the task between them - the outgoing and the incoming HonSecs would appear on alternate press releases. End of story.

What was dishonourable was the decision of Mr Knight's jealous colleagues to refuse to come forward and validate his account of the club, thus leaving him looking ridiculous. But they know who they are. And if I have anything to do with it, readers of the Independent will be told who they are. They have been warned!

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