(11 April 1997) Apart from a bout of graffiti-painting in the 1960s, I have never been actively involved in politics so I was quite surprised to get a call last week from activists in the Tatton constituency asking me if I might think about standing for Parliament for them. "Not been your year, has it?" I said sympathetically.
"I beg your pardon?" they said.
"You'll be lucky to stay in the Premiership. And it doesn't help to see Arsenal doing so well..." I thought they had said Tottenham. Icily, they said that they were from Tatton. I told them I would look it up on the map and ring them back.
"Hello," I said, ringing them back. "Well, I've looked Tatton up in my big road atlas, and I'm afraid there is no such place listed, so either this is a belated April Fool joke or you have given me the wrong name. I have found Toton in Nottinghamshire and Totton in Hampshire and Taston in Oxfordshire, which all sound nice, though I have to say I would prefer it to be Taston which is slightly nearer to where I live..."
The voice broke in, again somewhat coldly, to inform me that the constituency was actually named after Tatton Dale, an area of Cheshire near Manchester. "Got it," I said, turning the map. "Here we are. Knutsford ... Wilmslow ... Oh, no, how dreadful!"
"What's wrong?" they said quickly.
"Being Knutsford and Wilmslow country, that's what's dreadful," I said. "I've been there. I've seen it. All those smarmy, pseudo-smart, funny money, wheeler-dealer, poodle parlour, nouveau riche, coach lamp, house- name-written-on-slice-of-log places. "You are talking about our constituents," the voice said tightly. "I thought they were Neil Hamilton's constituents."
"Not for long, we hope."
"Pity," I said. "It sounds to me as if Neil Hamilton is just the right man for such a place. Both dodgy smooth..."
"Before we ask you to run as our anti-sleaze candidate," said the voice, "can we ask you for a view of Mr Hamilton?"
"Mr Hamilton," I said, "is an obvious scumbag who no more deserves a seat at Westminster than a seat on the lavatory. He is just the sort of spivvy, self-made twerp that Thatcherism brought into being, and he is precisely the sort of person who has given the Conservative Party such a bad name."
There was an awed silence for a moment. "And that is your view?" "No," I said. "That is the view of Mr A N Wilson, writing in the Evening Standard."
"And do you agree with it?"
"Not entirely. I think there were spivvy self-made twerps like Neil Hamilton before Thatcher came along." There was a whispered conversation at the other end of the line. Then the voice spoke again.
"Mr Kington, we would like to invite you to the final selection meeting for picking our anti-sleaze candidate. Would you care to be there?" "Well, it's a long way..."
"We will pay your expenses."
"Used notes in a brown envelope? Overnight freebie? Wife included?" "Of course."
Minutes later I was heading for the motorway. The next day I was in the ante-room for the final interview. There were plenty of recognisable faces there of people who, for one reason or another, would like to be seen standing as anti-sleaze candidates. Ernest Saunders, I noticed, and Asil Nadir, and Darius Guppy...
I sat next to an unobtrusive man in the corner and introduced myself. "Craig Brown," he said, shaking my hand. "Would that be the manager of the Scottish football team or the humorist who writes countless columns a week, some under his own name?"
"You think they are two different people, do you?" he said.
While I was still puzzling over this, my name was called and I was led in to the anti-sleaze HQ. "Tell us, Mr Kington," said the committee chairman, "have you ever done anything remotely sleazy which the opposition might dig up?" I was about to tell them about the time I had employed a cleaner and not paid her national insurance in full, when my mobile phone rang. I answered it.
"I'm sorry, gents," I said, standing up. "I have just had a call from a tabloid newspaper who tell me that if I stand as an anti-sleaze candidate, they have a stock of highly salacious photographs of me which they would not be afraid to print. In this situation I have no decent course of action but to withdraw."
They quite understood. In fact I was telling a lie. The phone call was from the BBC to ask me to be on the short-list to take Martin Bell's job. But I thought that if I told them the truth, they would not think it an entirely honourable reason to withdraw.