Those personal Tory touches

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The Independent Online
It isn't just the way he treats his top jailer that worries those around Michael Howard, who wants to be Mekon of the Tory party. When he was a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry there was top-level apprehension about his critical faculties. Looking down the former Llanelli Grammar School boy's cv, the permanent secretary alighted on the question of his marriage to the lovely Sandra, a former model. She'd been married before. Quite a lot of times before. "Can you trust the judgement of a man like that?" mused Sir Humphrey.

You know what civil servants are like. They were trying to transfer dislike of the man to his situation. Creevey has it on good author- ity that Howard's private office had great difficulty with his shortfall in the modesty department.

But at least we now know what the Bottomleys talk about over the breakfast table. Peter Bottomley (Chicken Run, West) is on William Hague's campaign team, while Virginia, the ex-health secretary, simpers that roguish Michael "has all the right characteristics" for the job. Could this be new grounds for divorce? M'learned friend might argue that public support for the oleaginous former home secretary amounts to mental cruelty.

So why has Angela Browning (Tiverton, But Only Just), Howard's campaign manager, dyed her hair blonde? She looked so fetching in the Tea Room that her fellow Devonian MP, piano-playing Anthony Steen, felt compelled to kiss her on the cheek. As a keen fan of Thomas Hardy, Angela must know this Howard business will end in tears.

Ambling through St James's Park the other day (have you noticed that French school tourists are easily the worst behaved?), Creevey's eye alighted on a film-maker across the road in Pall Mall.

Surely it can't be? Yes, it was - John Carlisle, the ultra-right ex-MP for Luton North, with a camera crew, filming outside the ciggy shop. But it turns out he is not the new Eisenstein. He was being filmed for Channel 5, ranting about the dangers of Tony Blair's proposed ban on tobacco advertising. It seems his secret job is now out in the open. Carlisle, the only politician to enjoy the Freedom of Bophuthatswana, is director of industry affairs for the Tobacco Industry Association.

Er, but you don't smoke, John.

First they called her the Barbara Windsor of the Commons, on account of a passing resemblance to the starlet. Now she complains they can't get her name right at all. Rosie Winterton, the elfin blonde MP for Doncaster Central, has been officially styled Rosa by the Westminster authorities. Is there someone in the system with a covert passion for Rosa Luxembourg, the famous German revolutionary? Her name is Rosalie, but she only ever answers to Rosie. And not always then.

So another era ends. Stephen Silverne, the Commons barber, has agreed "in principle" to take early retirement at the end of the current parliamentary session. His famously male crop-shop will be transmogrified into a unisex salon, where the massed ranks of new women MPs can get their hair permed.

But what is this? There is talk of bringing him back as a barber to their Lordships, if room can be found in the ample environs of the upper chamber. Retaining his short-back-and-sides skills would be some consolation to the belted earls who stand to lose their voting powers under Tony Blair. And, by the way, this is a pretty generous mention, considering the damage that Stephen did to Creevey's moustache last week.

The Tory whips are going to have a quiet time of it, by all accounts. One Conservative MP drooled into their office last week and said: "Look, fellows, might as well tell you the days I intend to turn up, rather than when I might be absent." Perhaps it should be renamed the Cameo Appearance Party.

Snakes and ladders time. Labour's monster parliamentary party contains nine black or Asian MPs. Yet only one of them, the ambitious Paul Boateng, has got a job in government. The rest languish on the back benches, including the talented lawyer Keith Vaz, who had a shadow environment portfolio before the election.

The word at Westminster is that John Prescott (Joined-up Shouting, North) was so incensed about the appointment of Peter Mandelson as Witchfinder- General, with ready access to No 10, that he insisted on making room for Dick Caborn, chairman of the DTI select committee, on his team. Caborn, an engineering union hard man, lists squash as a personal interest. Presumably, that's squashing the opposition.

Here's hoping cricket-mad Vaz is only on a small snake, and will throw the right dice for a ladder soon.