Gordon takes a fiscal break for Gordon

Captain Moonlight
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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke never really left the human race, unlike most of the Tory government he so substantially graced. Now, one gathers, the former chancellor has rediscovered television. Always too busy to watch it, old boy, except the odd soccer match and American football. But last weekend he settled down to have a good gander at A Fish Called Wanda, and is still chortling. He is even thinking of having a look at the Panorama programme on chancellors of our time, in which he recently starred. There is a video of it around, somewhere.

Why should he bother? From his third-floor eyrie in 1 Parliament Street, he can watch the real farce: the comings and goings at the Treasury across the road where he set "Irn Broon" on the path to economic virtue. Is there just the slightest note of envy in his qualified praise for Gordon

Brown? If only, if only...

Of course, the pair have an opportunity to compare notes in Aspen, Colorado, later this month, where they are due to appear at one of those rich-finks' talkathons, so beloved of the international political circuit.

Creevey, who is naturally an old hand at Aspen in the summer (none of those tedious ski types, y'know) discreetly suggests a fine old frontier pub in Main Street where they could happily swap endless endogenous jokes. The trouble is, Broon is a lager man, and Clarke likes proper ale. Not much of that in the Rockies.

They call it "the running whip". Labour MPs have been told that, if they should manage to get out of Oflag Westminster - dressed as German tourists, perhaps - they must be prepared to run back to the Commons if the Volkspolizei (or should that read "whips"?) believe a division is imminent. The thought that the Government's majority might fall below a hundred simply cannot be entertained. "They told me I had literally to run back to vote," said one of the Labour new girls, practically in tears.

The whips are certainly enjoying themselves. Kevin Hughes, the bearded hard case who looks as if he was a bouncer at Barlinnie jail before he came into the House, has been waving a copy of last week's Creevey, glorying in his comparison with Uncle Joe Stalin.

Not even the fact that he was wrongly identified by a new MP could diminish his joy. In fact, the whip who boasted that he knew what the fresh intake of Labour members had been up to before their meeting had finished was Jim Dowd, MP for Lewisham West (Get In Line There Tendency). If Hughes is an hairy man, Dowd is a smooth man. Otherwise they are equally charming.

What will Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio (but with Large Ambitions) think? There was a pub on the wilder shores of Battersea named after his grandfather, Herbert Morrison MP, inventor of nationalised industries in the Attlee government.

The locals would talk affectionately of "going darn the 'Erbert" for a pint. It has now turned into something called The Pink Stiletto. Maybe they put the knife in while spending their pink pounds.

What a busy year the Grim Reaper is having. So many fine people snatched away. Last week, it was Gordon McMaster MP, who was known to readers of this diary as the circumferential member for Paisley South. Poor Gordon, the quiet wit of Annie's Bar at Westminster and the gifted horticulturalist who dreamt up the Madam Speaker rose (very thorny, thrives on dissent), died by his own hand at the age of 37. Creevey prefers to remember him at the bar, telling the story of his arrival as a very young man on Renfrew District Council. "Listen," growled a gnarled Labour veteran, "forget what they told you about the brotherhood of man. In here, it's dog eat dog. And visey-vrrrsa."

Christmas is here already. And surprise, surprise, the Government has got it sewn up. A range of greetings cards has been put before the sheep - sorry, that should read "fine, upstanding, independent-minded Labour MPs". On the front, the cards have a picture of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge: one obviously taken when the bridge was opened last century because there is no traffic and it is not festooned with workmen as it has been these past three years. Inside is the Yuletide Message. And what is it? Brace yourself. Sick bags at the ready: "New Labour, New Hope for 1998".

Since the MPs are taking a three-month break from their parliamentary duties, it seems appropriate for Creevey to recharge his batteries too. See you in the autumn!