So where were you when Portillo fell?

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The Independent Online
Even though the election was nearly two weeks ago, which means that the next one must be less than five years away and getting closer all the time, people I have not seen since then are still coming up and saying "Great, wasn't it?" They never say what they are talking about, but I always know. They don't mean the Eurovision Song Contest or the welcome arrival of rain. They mean the election night.

Now, it stands to reason that a lot of people who sat up were Tory voters, who don't think it was such a great night, but I haven't heard anyone going around saying "Terrible, wasn't it?" Nor have I heard of anyone going unwittingly up to a Tory voter, saying "Great, wasn't it?" and getting a punch in the nose. The general agreement is that it was a great night, even if you didn't like the result - a bit like a football match in which one side was so awesomely good that even the other side's supporters couldn't help admiring the goal-scoring.

My interlocutors then usually go on to pick out a particular moment for praise, usually the moment when Michael Portillo's defeat was announced.

"Did you see the moment when Portillo realised he had been beaten?" is the usual remark, varied with "Did you see the moment when young what's his name, the Labour bloke, Twigg, realised that he'd actually beaten Portillo?". Close runners-up to this are "Did you see Mellor losing his rag?" and "Did you see Neil Hamilton get his comeuppance?" but it is definitely the Portillo moment that gets the prize. You can see why, in a way. Here was the leading contender for the Tory leadership being ousted from the contest, rather like the chief suspect being killed off in the last-but- one act, so you suddenly have to revise all your ideas of the denouement.

At one point I was reminded of that other legendary question: "Do you remember where you were when Kennedy was killed?" Yes, I still do. I was in a small flat at 44 Addison Road, London W8, and if I had known then what I know now I would have turned to my wife and said: "Well, of course, it's sad in a way when a president gets killed, but it's probably the best thing that could have happened to Kennedy's career, as he will now never have his name blackened by the Vietnam war but will go down in history as a good guy, even though they will make too many movies about him and his lovely widow will marry a fat Greek millionaire ..."

But nobody says, "Do you remember where you were when Portillo was ousted?" because they know the answer: "I was slumped in front of a TV set with a glass in my hand, cheering raucously, hoarsely and not very politely."

That, however, is not my answer. To be truthful, I missed Portillo's comeuppance. Whether I was making a cup of tea, or fast asleep, or flicking around to see if there was anything better on the other side, I just didn't see it. I did see David Mellor staring into a non-parliamentary future, perhaps seeing all his consultancies melt away and getting childishly angry. I saw Malcolm Rifkind looking rueful. I saw Forsyth and Lang look equally rueful. (Incidentally, could the British Tourist Board erect a big sign somewhere in the Lake District saying: "Last Tory Seat Before John O'Groats"?) But I never did see Michael Portillo exit stage left, pursued by a vengeful electorate. And I feel cheated.

So here is what I suggest. A video should be issued of Election Night '97 showing those moments which people still talk about, and which a lot of us missed. The Neil Hamilton moment. The Portillo moment. The Mellor fiasco. The Waldegrave moment, if there was one. These should all be joined to clips of interviews with Portillo, Hamilton, Mellor etc, taken before the election result, with them predicting glorious victory. This video will then take pride of place on my shelf next to the other relic of Election '97, the Referendum Party video.

Which reminds me that I haven't unwrapped that yet. I really must have a look at it some time.