Before we start, let's just clear up one basic problem

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The Independent Online
THERE seems to be a lot of misunderstanding over this return-to-basics business that John Major is so keen on.

So much misunderstanding, in fact, that we have decided to hold a lucrative seminar on the subject this morning.

It will be held in London's Docklands, at the luxurious Royal Heritage Conference Centre (prop G Brandreth Esq), and will take place in the palatial Scrabble Suite. Actually, it is taking place here at this very moment, and that is where we are right now, sitting by the window overlooking the fabulous River Thames, up which Sir Francis Drake rowed on his way home to tell Queen Elizabeth of his discovery of cannabis . . .

Not you, of course. Not you the reader. You are at home, telephoning your questions in to us here in the plush Scrabble Suite, which we have hired at the legendary Royal Heritage Centre for a nominal sum (thanks, Gyles). Your questions will be answered by a Tory MP, who wishes to remain anonymous, as his wife thinks he is at home in bed. Could we have the first question, please?

Q Yes, I just wondered if any news had come through in the last few minutes of another Tory resigning because of a sex scandal?

A Look, let's get one thing straight. This return to basics is nothing to do with private morality, OK? Private morality is not on the agenda.

Q Oh, yes, I know that. I wasn't speaking on the agenda. I was just wondering, before we started, how many Tories had been found in other people's beds, so to speak, in the last few hours. Small talk, that's all.

A Well, they haven't.

Q Good. I mean, in the old days we used to look at the sky when we got up and say - 'Wonder what the weather is going to be like today' . . .

A Yes?

Q And now we get up and say - 'Wonder which Tory has been caught and forced to resign overnight?'

A Do we?

Q Oh, yes. Some of us actually look in our beds when we get into them the night before to see whether there's a Tory MP lurking in it]

A Do we?

Q Oh, yes. The point is, of course, that if we keep having Tories resign, then pretty soon Mr Major won't have a parliamentary majority any more and then he won't have the mandate to get back to basics. Whatever these basics are.

A Hold on a moment. You've got it wrong. These people who have resigned, they've only resigned as ministers, not as MPs. When Tim Yeo and David Mellor and all that lot resigned, they resigned from their jobs, not their elected seats. They are still part of his majority in Parliament.

Q You mean, being adulterers disqualified them from having government posts but not from representing their constituents?

A Er, yes, I suppose so.

Q Why on earth do they think they are now bad at their jobs after sleeping around but still good at their sacred trust as MPs?

A I don't know. All I know is they resigned. They said they wanted to spend more time with their families.

Q Or perhaps spend more time with the other families that their own families didn't know about?

A Look, I think we are straying from the subject. Could we have a question about getting back to basics, please?

Q Yes. I read Mr Major's speech in which he advocated getting back to little old ladies pedalling through the morning mist across Lord's cricket pitch on their way to early communion . . .

A You've got the wrong speech. That was another speech. That wasn't his basics speech. His basics speech was the one in which he said he had been talking to everyone in the country and basics was what they wanted and that meant it could get us more votes. If we got the basic things right, such as education and housing, and health, and . . .

Q You mean, get down to solving these basic problems?

A Yes.

Q You mean that after 14 years in power, the Tories haven't even begun to solve the basic problems? Then what have they been doing for the last 14 years?

A Well . . .

Q Have they spent all that time solving the superficial problems? And leaving the basic problems till last?

A I think we'll take a coffee break there. Back in a moment to look at basics again, OK everyone? And let's take a different caller then, OK? Right . . .

This seminar continues tomorrow. Unless some interesting new scandal breaks before then, of course . . .