Nice line in red-faced bluster

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Tim Collins, the Conservative Central Office media guru who claimed the credit for John Major's victory at the last election, and who is now masterminding the Government's by-election disaster in Wirral South, really must learn to engage brain and mouth simultaneously.

Creevey's spy spotted him a while ago at a public meeting in Levens village hall in the Cumbrian constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, the seat he is inheriting from Michael Jopling, the former Tory Chief Whip. He was addressing a small multitude. Eighteen people, in fact. It seems that not even the party hierarchy could be bothered to turn out, though many of them live locally.

Smart-alec Collins said in his opening address that the Conservative message was "opaque". A rather odd admission from a man who had just been introduced as head of media communications at Smith Square, you might think. He blamed the media for not getting "their" - the Tories' - message over. Oh, so that's what we are here for.

During question time, when some voters had the barefaced cheek to ask about Tory heartlessness towards the unemployed and homeless, members of his audience found him "very red-faced and angry".

All is not lost. Immediately after the meeting closed, Collins's agent stood up and said: "At the moment, Tim has to stick to the party line. He has to. What you have just heard was only the party line - but come the election, Tim will be able to tell you what he really thinks!"

Is that so? It may well be possible to postpone this pleasure, at least until the self-esteeming child takes his place on the Opposition benches.

n BILL Deedes, the "Dear Bill" of Private Eye fame who ought really to be more famous for defying the laws of mortality, is finally writing his memoirs. They will make a riveting read, if he really tells us what he knows.

The ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph, immortalised in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and a former Tory minister, has known everybody who is anything for the past 60 years. And quite a lot who are not, for he is a genuine public bar man. To nobody's very great surprise, he has a gorgeous amanuensis. "Got thish girl," he confides to Creevey's snout. "She's very pretty. She's managed to extract a lot of stuff from me." Can't wait.

ONE despairs of the gay community's grasp of the laws of libel. The diary is in receipt of a letter from the Society for the Promotion of Camp, which has an address in Old Queen Street (naturally), purporting to "out" virtually a dozen closet Tory gays in the Commons. Their "stage" names are Patsy, Linda, Mavis, Clarissa, Fanny, Edna, Wally (that's a woman), Betty, Hattie and Sonia. Quite OutRage!ous. Wild horses will not extract anything further.

n WORST party of the year, they say, the opening of Politico's, a fancy new "political bookstore and coffee house" in Westminster for the chattering classes. It was so full that Creevey's colleague had to go outside to bend his elbow - and then wasn't allowed back in. He wasn't the only one. Tony Banks, leader of the Jesters' Party, couldn't get in either. And he was the compere. What you missed was Ken Baker, Gerald Kaufman and Sir David Steel giving their books a free puff. But isn't Steel's tome, The Time has Come, or Time for Change, or some other prattish Lib-Dem title, now remaindered? David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, was wandering round complaining that the bookstore had only one decent book about Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Hero of Drumcree should write one.

Mephistopheles visited Tony Blair last week, according to the usual informed sources, and offered him the keys to 10 Downing Street in return for his immortal soul.

"OK," said the Labour leader, "it's a deal."

"And the soul of your wife, Cherie," persisted the diabolical ambassador.

"Fine, fine," said Blair.

"And those of your three children?" continued Mephistopheles.

"Yes, yes," said Blair, impatient for power. "Where's the catch?"

n GOODBYE corner this week welcomes Jacques Arnold, the cuff-shooting Tory MP who blusters for Gravesham, Kent. This is a bell-wether constituency, in that whoever wins it usually forms the government.

Creevey firmly expects that Arnold, who has an ingratiating manner towards his political masters, will be going back to the banking industry from whence he came in two months' time. He is not exactly popular on the backbenches. One quite right-wing fellow Conservative MP asked about Arnold said: "Do you mind if I remain silent at this juncture?"

He is so complacent he thinks that NHS hospital trolleys are just as comfortable as beds these days. What are the whingeing poor complaining about? But just to be on the safe side, he declined to spend a night on one.

Educated in Brazil (where the nuts come from), Arnold is tall, smirking and possesses an irritating habit in the Commons of beckoning Labour MPs over for a scrap. He would run a mile if anyone took him up. Scrooge Arnold also berates unemployed young people as "idlers". With staggering vanity he sees himself as "a family man who embraces traditional values but who is capable of going for the jugular if pressed".

In fact, he couldn't knock the skin off a rice pudding. His only claim to fame is that he slept through the Great Storm of 1988 while half his roof blew off. Gravesend, the heart of the constituency, deserves better than this. The town is the resting place of Princess Pocahontas, who died there of a broken heart, and Charles Dickens was a noted inhabitant.

Step forward, then, Chris Pond, director of the Low Pay Unit and Labour's standard-bearer. He is confident of overturning the Tories' 5,493 majority, and the canvassing returns suggest he will wipe off that smirk.

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