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And in 1997 the victor will be. . .

SINCE losing his seat at the last election, Robert Hayward has been putting his psephological skills to good use in an attempt to prevent former colleagues from meeting the same fate. As the Tory party adviser on the Boundary Commission changes, he is particularly busy at the moment, advising all and sundry (including Labour MPs who sidle up to him in the Commons with their pocket calculators) on how the commission is likely to affect them.

On Tuesday night, he was mulling over the commission's proposals for Greater Manchester until well past midnight, wondering how to break the news to Alistair Burt, Social Security minister, that his hold on Bury North was looking somewhat fragile - the commission proposes redefining the boundaries, so threatening his already slim majority of a little less than 5,000. If it is any consolation to Burt, I forecast he would lose heavily last time round; he held on and walked into the Government to boot.

Burt is not the only minister in jeopardy. Norman Lamont, whose Kingston-upon-Thames constituency is being abolished, Malcolm Rifkind and Kenneth Carlisle are up against it, while Margaret Beckett and Gerald Kaufman for Labour are also in for a fight. To assess the commission's impact on the next election - its changes are the first since the early Eighties - I asked Hayward for a forecast about the next parliament, which may or may not (he was equivocal) include him.

He didn't sing it out quite like this - we were sitting in Angela Rumbold's office at Conservative Central Office (he hasn't got an office himself), and he was talking slightly dolce voce, like a naughty schoolboy in the prefect's chair - but here is the gist (based on voting figures for last year's election): 'Lord Mayor, deputy returning officer, I hereby declare the Conservative Party to be the duly elected government of this country with a majority of 40 (rather than the present 21).'

Hayward was explaining this result - everyone is moving out of the inner cities, where they vote Labour, and living in the shires, where they become instant Tories - when the prefect returned, clutching her mouth after a trip to the dentist, and I became distracted. But not so distracted that I couldn't make a note of the MP whose forecast about his own constituency result at the next election had been closer to Hayward's than anyone else's. John Major reckons he will get 18,000 votes, Hayward thinks he will get 500 fewer.

I RECEIVE a press release from a firm that seems rather pleased with itself: '. . . highly successful . . . reputation for excellence . . . result of our consistent commitment to quality and to meeting our contractual obligations . . .' The company? Group 4 Securitas.

Debatable ballot NEXT Monday, a handful of Oxford undergraduates will meet at the Oxford Union in emergency session to discuss an allegation against their president-elect, Toby Lewis. Lewis, who is reading history at Wadham, is scheduled to take up his post in June after being elected in a ballot of the union's 9,000 members. Katherine Wade, the current president, confirmed yesterday that a meeting was taking place, but would not give further details. 'It is an internal matter,' she said.

THE latest Australian to exercise his charm on the British media - we know all about Rupert Murdoch and David Banks, the new editor at the Daily Mirror - is a man called Ian Frykberg, a largeish character nicknamed 'cheeseburger' by staff, who has recently been

made head of news and sport at BSkyB.

The latest demonstration of this charm presented itself, I gather, at a lunch intended as a debriefing session for journalists involved in the Waco disaster. Those present were Nick Jennings, foreign editor of Sky News, and John Cookson, who had spent many weeks at the Texan siege. As the journalists settled down to their meal, both looking forward to getting to know their new boss, exchanging a bit of banter and so on, they were taken aback when Frykberg pulled out a list of questions and started firing.

To the foreign editor: who is the president of this country, what is the capital of that? (Difficult questions apparently: little-known African nations and so on.) Indeed, so surprised was Jennings, formerly of the BBC, that he failed to acquit himself in his normal way. The lunch ended amid disappointment for all.

A day like this

29 April 1899, Paul Leautaud writes in his journal: 'I'm moving once again, this time to the rue des Feuillantines, and to a beloved, love- lorn, melancholy house. It was where Jeanne Marie, Fugeres's mistress, lived for a time, having been installed there by him while waiting for his divorce. Every Saturday, when I was a soldier, I found her at midnight at the corner of the rue de l'Abee-de-l'Epee, at the tramway halt, and went home with her. I've found the very same room's to let. I needed a bed. I spoke to the maid about it and learnt that the proprietor could sell me one. He'd just lost his wife. Unctious in voice and manner, he took me into a boxroom on the ground floor. I saw a bed which suited me. How much? Fifty francs. Beside it another, just the same except newer. How much? 'Oh, that's the bed in which my poor wife died. I couldn't let you have that for under 80 francs.' I took the first.'