I was at Ascot collecting my losings on the 4.20 when the news broke. But why did the PM choose 5pm to announce the biggest gamble of his life? The calculation was a critical one: no toss of the coin for Our John. Oh no. It can only have meant one thing: for 80 minutes on Thursday, the fate of our Prime Minister hinged entirely on the outcome of the England- France play-off in South Africa. "Right, Norma, if they want me to be decisive, I'll be decisive. If England win, I'm staying. If France win, I'm off." As the nation learnt that Rob Andrew's MBE stood for Missed Bloody Everything, our leader's fortunes ebbed away.
What must have been going through his mind? A quick rummage through the bins of Downing Street reveals the early drafts of his dramatic announcement.
"I am sick and tired of all this talk of a leadership contest which obscures the more important business of running the country. I have decided to put an end to all that silly talk, by having - a leadership contest. They want me to be more like Mrs Thatcher. Right. I resign. Is that enough like her?"
Or perhaps the wartime spirit of the occasion tempted him into statesman mode:
"Last week, I informed the Chairman of the backbench 1922 committee that unless by 4pm on Thursday I received the total and unqualified support of my party, I would be forced to resign. I have to tell you now, no such assurance has been received, and that consequently, I am at war with my party. This is my darkest hour. Never in the field of parliamentary conflict has so much damage been done to so little credibility by so few."
I only wish he'd told me. As it was I had to stand up in front of 800 representatives at a conference in Birmingham on Thursday night and rewrite my act. When I'd finished, the organiser reminded me that the last time I'd addressed that conference was in equally dramatic circumstances, as Norman Lamont had left the Cabinet that very afternoon. Coincidence or what? The conference? Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
So the Conservatives are looking for a new leader. Someone who supports their education reforms. Someone who will be tough with the unions. Someone who will continue and develop the free market economic policies of the 1980s. And above all, someone who enjoys the wholehearted support of Baroness Thatcher. The leading contender? Tony Blair.
As we're not doing a series at the moment, I'm afraid I haven't been studying the news with my usual attention. Unlike John Major over the Scott inquiry, I don't even have the excuse that I'm Foreign Secretary to explain why I don't really know what's going on.
Listening to news with half an ear has its problems. I spent much of last week puzzled about why the Serbs were releasing United Nations beekeepers in Bosnia, and on hearing of the towing out to sea of a dangerous wreck still capable of causing serious damage, I naturally assumed it was another reference to Baroness Thatcher.
Shell missed a trick there. If they'd had the presence of mind to disguise the Brent Spar as a whale, they could have happily watched Greenpeace tow it out to sea and saved a lot of money.
But what of the Government's role? Why were they so keen to see the rig at the bottom of the Atlantic? I suspect that as a result of a secret deal with Shell, the wreck contained not only large amounts of toxic waste, but at least 500,000 documents relating to arms sales to Iran; details of ministerial interests and share dealings 1979-94; all remaining copies of the Thatcher Memoirs; and Virginia Bottomley. No wonder they were so galled when Tuesday night Shell welshed on the deal.
I've always said I would be delighted to be asked to write for the Independent. As it happens I wasn't. This column was supposed to have been written by Conservative MP Jerry Wiggin, but he put my name down for it and didn't tell me. Typical.
The end of the Japanese hijack on Wednesday night once again shows the influence of hand-held video cameras on our lives. In this case the passenger's amateur video footage was vaguely disappointing. As the plane was stormed, I'm sorry to say it was nothing like Airplane. Where were the nuns? Where was the Jehovah's Witness with the guitar and the collection of maudlin songs? Where was the little girl with callipers and a drip feed? If anything, the passengers seemed to be more interested in reading their copies of High Life and ordering another packet of peanuts from the stewardess. If people aren't prepared to put on a credible performance in such circumstances they've no business being filmed in the first place.
Stop press: I interrupt this article to hear the news that Douglas Hurd has now announced his impending retirement. Was it something I said? I mean, they're taking the piss now, aren't they? Who's next? Ian McCaskill? I'm now experiencing the unsettling feeling that my whole act is collapsing around my ears. Have these politicians no thought for anyone else? I'm sure I'm not the only small businessman to feel my business has been decimated by this government but in my case it's only taken 18 hours. The only solution is to create a group of impressionists to respond to government changes. Now, that's what I call a rapid reaction force.
And finally, some hot news from Lord's, where Alec Stewart was spotted Thursday in heated conversation with Raymond Illingworth. It seems that in addition to opening the batting and keeping wicket, Stewart has now been asked if he'd mind running the Conservative Party. He made it quite clear that he did not want the extra responsibility, would not accept the job and will start on Monday.Reuse content