To you guv, a knock-down price

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The Independent Online
Who said comradeship is dead? David Evans, the shoot-from-the- lip Tory MP for Welwyn Hatfield ("my opponent has three bastard children"), ought to be in the political wilderness. Even John Major has abandoned him.

But lo, there is a voice raised in his support. John Carlisle, outgoing Conservative MP for Luton North - though he is usually known as the Member for Johannesburg South on account of his unreconstructed view of the world ("they should never have released Nelson Mandela") - is rushing to his aid.

"I have offered to be his campaign manager," he confesses to Creevey. "I will knock on any amount of doors for him." The offer is certain to be taken up. Carlisle has helped multi-millionaire Evans over many previous stiles. Like his panic question: "What's the bleeding poll tax, John?" ahead of a critical selection meeting.

It would be quite wrong, of course, to suggest that Comrade Carlisle, who is leaving the House after 18 reasonably spectacular years, has a more long-distance agenda. A car-flogging one. As a director of Charles Sidney, the motor sales firm, he has just circulated MPs with a highly desirable cut-price prospectus. They can have a top-of-the- range Rover "retail price when new pounds 25,018" for a mere pounds 17,350. Similar discounts are offered right through the range. Carlisle has more brass in his neck than the brazen tower of Greek mythology. "I am unashamedly going for retiring members, and those who lose their seats. They will get resettlement grants," he argues. Indeed they will. A minimum of pounds 21,500 and a maximum of pounds 43,000, whether they quit or are defeated in the general election.

"And they will be MPs until August, as far as I am concerned," he adds. That generous cut-off will take the quitters and the defeated into the new R-registration. R for retired? More like R for rip-off.

IRISH hospitality was up to its usual high standards last week, it is understood, when a posse of MPs toddled over to Dublin for the twice-yearly Anglo-Irish parliamentary beanfeast. Sorry, very serious gathering of legislators to discuss important matters of state.

There is still some dispute at Westminster among the delegates about whether Sunday was Saturday, or vice versa. The diary can help. It was Sunday. Most of the time, at any rate. There is also the little matter of VIP treatment. Traffic in the Irish capital was brought to a halt twice while the amply entertained MPs were bused from one venue to another, police motorcycle outriders screaming at their side.

None of this high seriousness, however, could prevent Hugh Dykes MP (Tory Eurofanatic, Harrow East) from asking the tomfool question: "Why is the many-starred gold and blue Euro flag not displayed at our meeting along with the Union Jack and the Tricolour?" No wonder he has the most broken nose in Parliament.

IT SEEMS that Creevey was right, but not right enough. It's true that Tony Blair's image-makers want to sideline nice Bruce Grocott, who towers for the Wrekin, from his place right behind the Labour leader at televised Prime Minister's Question Time. They want more attractive young women in the Blair "doughnut".

But the real stick is reserved for Bill Olner, a horny-handed engineering worker who sits alongside Brucie on the parliamentary back-benches. Bill, a product of the secondary modern school system, the hard-knocks school of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the rough and tumble of Nuneaton town hall politics, is not exactly a clone of Peter Mandelson. He looks like he was quarried from Northamptonshire sandstone. And rough-hewn, at that.

Two women Labour whips, Bridget Prentice and Angela Eagle, approached Olner and asked politely (or as politely as whips are able) if he would sit somewhere else, as his place was needed for some bright young ladies to supercharge Blair's image. They went away with fleas in their ears.

"If the women want to sit where I sit, they can reserve it when proceedings start," he growled. "Like I do."

IF PARTY political broadcasts by John Major and Tony Blair are a turn- off, as they are, then what price a PPB by Arthur Scargill? My snout in his Socialist Labour Party says that Scaggsie has got his 50 candidates for the general election that would entitle him to rant at us for 10 minutes on the silver screen.

Arthur has only just cleared his throat in that time. Most of his sentences take longer than 10 minutes. Where will it end? The rumour is that he would like to stand himself, against Tony Blair, in Sedgefield, which was once a mining area. Will the King demand a television debate with the Labour leader?

Scargill also nurses a hope that if he can run a 100 candidates, his SLP will qualify for state funding when Labour comes to power. Don't bank on it, Arthur. And come to think of it, where does a party with just over a thousand members get pounds 25,000 to splash out on lost deposits?

AND finally to Goodbye Corner, the service to readers that tells you about the Tories who are going to lose their seats. This week, take out your handkerchiefs and bid a tearful farewell to Old Etonian Tom Sackville, the MP for Bolton West. But not for long.

His majority of just over a thousand is vulnerable to a quite small swing - less than 4 per cent - and if Robin Cook's predicted "landslide" takes place the seat will fall comfortably into Labour's lap.

Sackville, minister at the Home Office, is reputed to have "the dampest handshake in British politics" (source: a Labour MP who shook his hand on political business). He is not only an honourable member, but an actual Honourable, being the son of Earl de la Warr. They don't have many o' them i' Bolton. Thank goodness.

Sackbut's place will be taken by Ruth Kelly, a 29-year-old economic adviser to the Bank of England, who writes inflation forecasts. You don't get much more New Labour than that.