Special Branch lose the scent

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The Independent Online
AS I was saying before being so rudely interrupted six weeks ago by that fellow John What'sHisName - you know, the grey chap, claimed to be Prime Minister, can't recall him just now - things have come to a pretty pass when the Special Branch can't find their way home.

Keith Kyle, the veteran broadcaster, and his wife, Susan, had Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, round for dinner at their Primrose Hill gaff in north London the other day. Special Branch detectives practically took the house apart brick by brick, sniffer dogs in permanent residence and so on.

Came the night, and no Paddy. The Kyles were about to turn off the oven, when the SB telephoned. They had brought their man round, but taken him to the wrong house. Must be wrong, they said, there was a poster of Glenda Jackson, the Labour candidate, prominently displayed in the window. Sorry about that. Where do you actually live? "No, no," explained Mrs Kyle gently. "You've got the right place." Good job there were no snappers around.

n THINK twice before writing to Neil Hamilton, the disgraced ex-member for Tatton. Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Conde Nast, dropped the cash-for-questions hero a note in praise of a piece he had written in the Spectator, and got back a six-page screed of self-justification with an invitation to come up to Cheshire with his wife for the weekend. Just imagine it, two days of Christine bending your ear. The weekend from hell.

You can get some of the flavour of what it might be like from this week's Have I Got News For You, on which Cheshire's answer to Boadicea will appear. Or you could wait for the book, which Hamilton says he is writing. He will certainly have plenty of time to spend at his word processor. Possible titles? How Green Were My Fivers. Or perhaps Writs Crackers. Pity that Hemingway bagged For Whom The Bell Tolls.

WESTMINSTER is agog with rumour that there will soon be a vacancy for the political editorship of the BBC. Well, not quite agog perhaps, but steeped in speculation. Which makes a change from peculation. Anyway, Robin Oakley, formerly of the Times and the Daily Mail, and close friend of Lord Archer, could soon be doing something different, say wagging tongues. The list of mountebanks queuing up for the job is too long to bother you with.

n LORD HOLME, the reasonably engaging Liberal Democrat (ran their election campaign, that sort of thing) spent the closing stages of the election trying to prove that his is the party of poetry. As proof, he produced a satirical version of "The Red Flag" penned by Lord Tom McNally, who probably didn't know the words of the original when he was a Labour MP. Renamed "The Purple Flag", it goes as follows:

The people's flag's no longer red

The colour purple flies instead.

A neutered bull-dog now holds sway

With policies changing day by day.

So raise the purple banner high

Within its folds we'll spin full dry.

No tax for schools or funds for health

The super-rich can keep their wealth.

Our plan has been to ditch the brothers

By stealing policies from the others.

We thought we'd mix the red with blue

Sierra drivers' votes to woo.

Well, it might get him on the Ned Sherrin show, but plainly we are not in Auden country here. Tom, to whom Creevey once broke the news of Anwar Sadat's assassination when the portly ex-MP for Stockport was Labour's international secretary (he didn't believe it, naturally), could make the Doggerel Section of the Guinness Book of Records. John "Hurricane" Smith of UK News wrote a much funnier - ie nastier - version on the Blair battle bus. It will be brought to you next week.

IT'S ALL very well celebrating the advent of a Labour government but nobody seems to have noticed that Westminster has lost some of its most sociable Tories. Annie's Bar, the haunt of the parliamentary lobby and MPs, will be denuded. We will never again hear Jerry Hayes (Harlow, Cabaret and Unionist Party) rehearsing his forthcoming after dinner speech. Or Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley, Blue-Striped Butcher's Apron Party) disclosing how he once bought two hundred pigs' heads for six (old) pence each. Creevey would never have thought it possible to miss hangin' `n floggin' Vivian Bendall (Ilford North, Hereditary Estate Agent Party), but it won't be the same place without him. Even the barmaid, Elizabeth, has quit Annie's for another job. Presumably she got tired of nannying Conservative MPs in between their public bouts of denouncing the nanny state. All very confusing.

n CHARLES "Lord" Lewington, the Tories' chief spin doctor who was parachuted into Conservative Central Office from his comfy niche as political editor of the Sunday Express, has told friends he wants to go back into newspapers. "Oh, that rules out the Express, then," observed one of his former confreres acidly.

And another Charles. Gordon Brown's "personal press secretary", as Charlie Whelan will be known at No 11, has been ordered to clean up his act. From now on, he can't dismiss everything he doesn't agree with as "bollocks". The in-word is "horseshit".

KAMLESH BAHL, the chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, clearly believes in keeping her options open. Immediately after the election, she wrote to John Major praising him for his "dedication and energy" and lamenting the "disappointing result". Nothing very surprising there. Ms Bahl is a former Tory activist.

But in the same post she also wrote to victorious Tony Blair, praising him for his (yes) "energy and dedication" and looking forward to working with him. For good measure, she also wrote to Cherie Blair to congratulate her on her energetic dedication. Modelled, presumably, on Ms Bahl's own dedicated energy.

n A FINAL appearance in Goodbye Corner! David Evans, the loud-mouthed Conservative ousted at Welwyn Hatfield by Melanie Johnson, whom he denounced as the unmarried mother of three bastards, is quitting the political scene. "When you have lost, you are nothing," he moans. But he cheers up: "Redwood will become leader, and he'll win in five years' time!" And Thomas Creevey will ride the winner in the Grand National.