Tories worry about losing the whip

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The Independent Online
It's not often that Hansard gets it wrong, but when it does the results are quite entertaining. Such was the excitement brought about by last week's debate on corporal punishment that the scribes could not tell one child-beater from another.

Of course, some Conservatives thought Sound Thrashing was a village in Essex until they were packed off to boarding school, where they soon learned better. John Carlisle, Luton North (Never Did Me Any Harm Party) urged MPs to stop being mealy-mouthed and agree that "a good sound thrashing is to the advantage of the child".

Carlisle, a dapper car salesman who is leaving Westminster at the general election to make more money in pubic relations, told his - well, stimulated - fellow backbenchers how he had suffered the indignity of caning at public school: "It was degrading; weals were put on one's buttocks and blood was drawn."

And in a barb directed at David Hinchcliffe (Wakefield, Grunwick Veterans' Party), Carlisle ventured that most Opposition MPs had not suffered in this way "for various reasons, such as father's income". Unfortunately, Hansard put these remarks into the mouth of another Carlisle in the House, Sir Kenneth, an amiable old Harrovian who does not agree with hitting little boys.

It got worse. David Wilshire, Tory MP for Staines, was reported as saying that teachers in his constituency "volunteered the view that capital [sic] punishment was perfectly acceptable in the home, if not at school". Steady on, old boy.

In the voting lobbies, a Labour veteran crooked a finger at the Tory cane-lovers and muttered : "There they go. The w-kers, the bankers and the spankers." Little did he know, as he spoke, that a Conservative grandee was whispering to one of his younger backbencher colleagues: "Always vote against free caning, myself. Prefer to pay for it."

The Miss Whiplashes hereabouts could do worse than spend pounds 5 on Hansard for last Monday, which lists the names of the 101 Westminster Floggers. Many Conservatives still obviously yearn for the days of a jolly good thrashing. It would be a pity to deny them their pleasure.

The election could be nearer than John Major is pretending. A bar worker has been reprimanded for singing "The Red Flag" in one of the corridors of power. Maybe the Palace proles know what's coming. They've tipped off this column that MPs' social functions in the House are being cancelled wholesale.

Chris Meyer, very shortly to become Our Man in Bonn, has been spotted in Hamburg. Unfortunately, for those who like a good scandal, he was seen not on the Reeperbahn, but in the Interkulturelle Bildung, a brainstorming language school in the suburbs where the Foreign Office sends its diplomats to learn German.

Ach so! But is this the same Herr Meyer who paraded his language skills while working in Number 10 as John Major's Press Secretary? The walls of his Downing Street office were ostentatiously covered with framed copies of Pravda to show off his command of Russian, acquired in Moscow. That was in the Days of Stagnation, of course.

Either German is a very difficult language, or Meyer is a slow learner. He left Whitehall more than a year ago. In any event, the Germans will only find that he has become more skilled at saying nothing in a yet more circumlocutory fashion.

Mournful days among the Tory ranks, particularly as they cannot get their sums right, and conceded a Commons defeat when there had actually been a tie. "The trouble is," confided one MP, "we were only educated how to take away - not to add up." Even the Civil Service admits the Government can't count. Simon Fowler, of the Public Record Office at Kew, admitted to a reader that he is "constrained by government accounting procedures, which often bear little resemblance to the real world".

Goodbye Corner, a new service for readers of this diary. Each week until polling day, we bid a fond farewell (all right, let's not go overboard: a snickering "byee!") to a politician who will lose his or her seat at the general election.

Where better to start than Amber Valley, the Derbyshire constituency about to be vacated by Tory Philip Oppenheim, the tropical-plant-loving Old Harrovian. He came into the Commons in 1983 with great ambition and a shock of hair. The hair is all but gone, but he is still a great charmer, famous for his Chelsea parties where the girls' heads are as empty as the drink bottles.

The pill of defeat is all the more bitter since Oppers, right-wing free- marketeer and Executive Secretary to the Treasury, will cede his 615 majority to the kind of person he loathes most: a trade union official, in the public sector - and a woman, to boot, one Judy Mallaber, who works for an obscure local government body.

Oppers' wit will be missed, though it can be rather obvious. "I'm tired of you coming in here in your cheap suits!" he once hailed Creevey in the Strangers' Bar. Nothing like as cheap as his politics, although it is true that your diarist's Keighley outfitter is not exactly Savile Row.

Master Oppenheim wants to spend more time with his money-making skills before returning to the Commons at a by-election. No one doubts his gold fingers, especially the employees who once complained about the mark- up on the Mars bars he sold.