The Sketch: Simon Carr

It was an amazing election. It had five candidates and everyone lost
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The Independent Online

It was the most significant choice any British political party has made for a month. Indeed, it may be the last chance to establish any sort of effective challenge to Tony Blair's elective dictatorship.

The winner was Jean Corston. Or Tony Lloyd. One or the other is the new chairman of the Labour party, and the focus of the party's anti-privatisation, anti-Downing Street thrust.

So that's that.

Just down the corridor, a much less important, though more dramatic, election was taking place.

Over the course of the day, they went in to vote for a Tory leader; 166 politicians entering the big committee room. That wasn't as easy as it sounds. MPs studied the arrangements for getting in and out. A large sign had one huge word on it: IN. Then, there was a museum-style rope looping between some stands, forming a sort of corridor, at the other end of which, an equally large sign said OUT.

Some Tories marched straight down the rope towards the OUT sign. It's a herd thing. Others, more correctly, turned the handle on the door and went in.

"Carry on," Nicholas Soames said, impersonating Nicholas Soames for comic effect. "What a bunch of scruffy buggers! That man's not wearing a tie!"

Ann Widdecombe scuttled in, murmuring to the entry pollsters like the rabbit in Alice: "Ancram. Michael Ancram." As she scuttled out, she continued to mutter, this time to the exit pollsters: "Ancram. Still Ancram."

David Davis emerged. "Who did you vote for, David?" He made some jokes about the aged not being his natural constituency. "They probably think I'm the euthanasia candidate." No: he is by no means that boring. That's more Ancram country. "I want to keep personalities out of politics, so I'm standing for party leader", he has all but said. This is important. No-one, not even whips working for the other candidates, know who voted for Ancram, nor who they'll vote for in round two. This is why Iain Duncan Smith might, incredibly, (hang on to your brains) come first.

Another fellow, a big fat inflatable, was asked whom he'd voted for. "You all know who I voted for" he asserted roundly, pushing a few more cubic metres into the front of his shirt. We asked him a direct question: "What's your name?" He couldn't answer it. Nor could we.

One MP evaded the exit pollster's polite enquiries. "He was on the front bench in the Major government," I was told, "and was allowed to keep his job as a minister. He was a minister of the crown." By God those old jokes, they were certainly built to last.

Then the polls closed. Votes were counted. The corridor filled. MPs and journalists intermingled. The crowd thronged. Then it clustered. It bunched. It waited. Then the result was announced.

It was an amazing election. Five candidates, and everyone lost. The losers didn't have enough votes, and neither did the winner.

James Landale from Another Newspaper ran his exit poll rather brilliantly. He ended up with 46 MPs admitting there in the corridor they had voted for the front runner. Mr Portillo ended up with 49 votes.

Many more than three MPs refused to say who they'd voted for. Among them were Caroline Spelman, Mark Prisk, Richard Ottaway, Howard Flight, Sidney Chapman and Sir Paul Beresford. There were others. Yes, some were whips, some were stuffed shirts, but nine - who knows who - were defectors, people who had promised themselves to Portillo but had given themselves to another. Nine.

One of those defectors, so span a Duncan Smith supporter, was a member of the very shadow Treasury team Michael Portillo led.

How can Portillo win now? Who has an incentive to vote for him? An adventurous spread bet consists of Iain Duncan Smith facing Ken Clarke in the final.

Remember, the Sketch is never wrong about these things.