Bus to school the Howard way

Thomas Creevey: His Diary
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The Independent Online
Little by little, it all comes out. Lord Richard, Labour's leader in the Lords, was recently guest speaker at a Law Society dinner in Wigan (yes, they have them there, too). He confessed that he had gone to a grammar school. In Llanelly, south Wales.

He recalled another pupil there, the son of a well-to-do local draper. This little chap came to school every day in a taxi and was picked up by cab in the afternoon and whisked straight home. Presumably, his parents didn't want their Little Lord Fauntleroy to mix with the grubby Welsh proles. Who can blame them?

And the name of this shrinking violet? Why, Michael "Lock Up the Bastards" Howard, of course.

Bruce Grocott may be handsome in a tall, rangy sort of way, but that isn't the point. He sticks out in the parliamentary landscape like the Wrekin, the Shropshire hill he represents. And he sits behind Tony Blair at every televised Prime Minister's Question Time, oblivious to the efforts of the Labour leader's office to insinuate young, preferably pretty women MPs (all right, preferably gorgeous Dawn Primarolo) into the "doughnut" around the would-be premier.

Snooker-loving Brucie may be Blair's parliamentary private secretary, and Creevey is well aware that he used to be something on Central Television. But he is a male, middle-aged MP and that's not what the image-makers want. The Follettisers are keen to counter the impression that young women voters find Tony "smarmy", by surrounding him with smart thirtysomethings in sharp twinsets. Come on Brucie, move over!

Dr Brian Mawhinney is doing his level best to lose the General Election. On the tedious train journey back from the Tories' Nuremberg rally in Birmingham the other day, he harangued the hapless political hacks, who had no escape. Still, they managed to go into a self-induced trance by staring at a tie he dangled before them, bearing the now familiar red and black Labour "demon eyes". Ulster's best known biochemist boasted that he could go into business flogging the ties. Perhaps that isn't such a bad idea, after all. As long as it's a full-time job.

We knew they could not count, because the Government lost a vote that was actually tied. But now we know the Tory Whips don't know what time of day - of the month, even - it is.

Spotted in the Whips' Office last week: a press handout of another rabble- rousing speech from Bloodaxe Portillo. Dated: 31-2-97. That will be tomorrow, presumably.

A bit of culture at Henley. No, not the toffs' regatta, but a brass band. Duncan Enright, the Labour candidate standing against Michael Heseltine, has invited down the Carlton Main Frickley colliery band to play in his support next month. Hezza has reason to remember the Frickley miners, from the heart of Brassed Off country. They dumped several tons of coal in the drive of his stately home when he shut their pit. Enright is plainly a chip off the old block. His late father Derek, who was MP for Hemsworth, used to entertain regulars in Annie's bar with a spirited rendition of the Chinese national anthem - in Latin.

Lord Brabazon of Tara doesn't want him to go. Nor do John Biffen MP and George Walden MP (though they're both going anyway). Creevey agrees, and signed the petition demanding that we save Stephen Silverne, the barber of Westminster. He has been snipping legislators' hair for 26 years, but in a fit of political correctness, the palace authorities have decide to turn his men-only shop into a unisex salon.

Stephen is, well, a man given to loquacity, as all good barbers are. He is a part of parliamentary history. He once asked Enoch Powell how he would like his hair cut. "In silence," came the icy reply.

And finally to Goodbye Corner, which this week bids farewell to David Shaw, the Tory Ranter of Dover. His tiny majority is vulnerable to a swing to Labour of just over one per cent, or less than one-tenth of the seismic shift recorded at Wirral South last Thursday.

Shaw's 10-year stint at Westminster has not been without incident. He was, you will recall, the MP who gave Pamella Bordes her pass to get into the palace. It went a bit downhill from there on, culminating in an unfortunate court appearance in March 1990 when he was fined pounds 180 for assaulting a photographer from the Today newspaper. He was also reprimanded by William Nimmo Smith QC, in the official report on "corruption" in Labour- controlled Monklands Council. The report condemned him for relying on circumstantial evidence, and described his behaviour as "irresponsible".

Shaw, who is the Sunday Times's snout (though this has no connection with his appearance here) blamed the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise on drunken crewmen led by trade unionists, though the inquiry said the vessel took to sea with her doors open.

Baldilocks Shaw, who often sits on the back-benches next to bouffant- haired Michael Fabricant, as though his thatch might migrate, was fiddling with an electronic personal organiser on his lap during Prime Minister's Questions last week. Maybe he was putting his CV together, despite the fact that he has more business interests than you could shake a stick at.

The beneficiary of Shouter Shaw's political demise will be Labour's Gwyn Prosser, a Kent county councillor who fought him to a close result last time out. Prosser, 53, is a former marine engineer with 12 years on the cross-Channel ferries. Sounds like the right make to succeed an accountant at Dover.

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