It Asda be my way, says Cecil

Thomas Creevey his diary

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There are some people who draw themselves up to their full height even when sitting down, and none more so than Cecil Parkinson. On taking over as chairman of the Tory party for the second time (at Baroness Thatcher's behest), my noble Lord Parkinson asked his upstart rich deputy, Archie Norman - boss of Asda and lately arrived in the Commons in the capitalist interest for Tunbridge Wells - in for a little chat. So said disloyal friends in Blackpool last week.

Cecil's harrumph went something like this: "I came into Parliament in 1970. I was very soon appointed Michael Heseltine's PPS. Then I became a whip, and a minister of state, and Margaret brought me into the Cabinet. I then became chairman of the Conservative party, and even after my, ahem, difficulties I made a spectacular return to the Cabinet, and here I am as chairman for the second time."

Pause for effect, so the put-down would be unmistakable. "Of course, none of this qualifies me to be chairman of Asda." Shopkeeper Norman could only fume.

If it's any consolation to Immensely Talented of Tunbridge Wells, Creevey has it on the best authority that Cecil (whose worship of the Blessed Leader went beyond Thatcholatry) often came back to his office from Cabinet meetings, purple about the gills, shouting "That Bloody Woman!"

Gerry Malone, the former Health Minister ousted at Winchester by only two votes, is striding around like a man who thinks he has a future. The courts have ordered a re-run of the poll. And he has lost a stone since laying down the cares of office. Malone confides his prediction of a by- election on 27 November. "It should have been the 20th," he smirks, "but there's something else on that day." What's that, Gezza? Oh, the Queen's golden wedding anniversary celebrations. Can't put the monarch in the shade with the shock revival of Tory fortunes, can we? The only other question is: will Mrs Malone vote for him this time out? In May, she wasn't even on the list of Winchester voters.

For the first time in 110 years, the TUC was allowed to have a stand on the Tory party conference fringe last week. Indeed, a double-stand, costing pounds 12,000. William Hague, who has discreetly met John Monks, TUC general secretary, for talks, visited the stall and chatted amiably to "the enemy within". Little did he know who he was talking to. The TUC people were Mike Power, a former communist in the printing trade, and Isobel Larkin, who is now a political affairs staffer but once worked for Peter Hain, the quondam Leftist pitch-digger. Brings to mind the old revolutionary who used to sell the Morning Star outside every Blackpool conference. Brilliant sales pitch. "Morning Star! Morning Star! Read what the Commies are really up to!"

A sign of the Hague times. Let's get inclusive. The Tories had a creche at their conference, but somebody seems to have forgotten that most grassroots representatives are, well, past their best childbearing years. Creevey's spy looked in and found only two toddlers. At Labour's creche, there were 50 or more. Some of them looked suspiciously like MPs.

People can be so horribly cruel. Jerry Hayes, the exotic former Tory MP who now scribbles for Punch, was taunted in the bar of the Winter Gardens by a fellow-Conservative. "Are you wearing lifts?" he demanded. "No, these are the boots I wore for Style Challenge," pouted "Purple" Hayes.

And so to the Shadow Cabinet room at Westminster, now under new management, of course. Extraordinary business. At each of the seats is one of those printed name-boxes, as though the would-be ministers are giving a press conference to people who would not otherwise recognise them. Admittedly, some are a bit anonymous(could you swear to identify Francis Maude, much less say who he shadows?), but one would think they might know each other in the decent privacy of an obscure room in Westminster.

David Mellor, it seems, is already part of ancient history. Even his old Cambridge college has forgotten him. The latest edition of Christ's College's magazine reports that, for the first time since 1974, the college has an old member in the Cabinet: Lord Lairg, the Lord Chancellor. Evidently they have forgotten their gap-toothed alumnus of the early 1970s, who was Secretary of State for Having Fun, until he had a little too much.

Not that he bears a grudge. Much. In the New Statesman this week, he urges William Hague to emulate Shakespeare's Prince Hal and get rid of the cronies of his youth. Falstaffs, he points out, are not always fat and drunken. "They can be small and nice-looking." Ooooh, bitchy! Can he possibly be referring to Alan Duncan, the debonair adviser to the Young Pretender?

Paul Routledge

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