Having fought eleven general elections you might be forgiven for thinking that Michael Howard would be familiar with putting a cross in a box on a ballot paper. But my spies in the 1922 Committee tell me that he almost managed to spoil his ballot paper in the Tory leadership election ballot among MPs. Apparently he ticked a box rather than put a cross in it. Realising his mistake he asked if that was OK and was reassured his vote would still count. I’m told that when the ballot boxes were emptied only one of the 198 ballot papers had a tick on it. All the money in the world couldn’t drag from me whose box he had ticked – it is after all a secret ballot! – but suffice to say it wasn’t against the box marked Davis.
Much merriment in the corridors of the House of Commons this week as Jack Straw was observed with a safety pin through his flies. On a salary of £140,000 you’d have thought he could afford a new zipper.
Boris Johnson cast a somewhat disconsolate figure around Westminster as the Shadow Cabinet appointments trickled out. The blonde bombshell was clearly expecting a call from his mate “Dave” but the phone steadfastly refused to ring. Westminster watchers are speculating that not only will Boris end up with no front bench post, he might well be relieved of his Spectator job before Christmas too. Speccie chief Andrew Neil is already sharpening his carving knife, and rumour is it isn’t just being used on the festive turkey.
Isn’t it amazing how many new friends you acquire when you achieve your 15 minutes of fame? When Carol Thatcher returns to these shores from the jungle she may well be rather surprised to find her ‘good friend’ Linda McDougall quoted in most of the papers. 'I love her to bits; she's one of the nicest, funniest people I've ever met.’ McDougall gushed to The Guardian. “I’m very fond of her,” she told the Telegraph. The truth is the two had a massive falling out following the TV documentary they made about Carol’s father in 2002. The Jungle Queen felt totally betrayed and humiliated by McDougall’s Sunday Times article where she went into minute detail about the state of the Iron Lady’s health. McDougall, who’s married to maverick Labour MP Austin Mitchell, felt she’d written a sympathetic piece and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Now that Carol has also talked about her mother’s health in public maybe a reconciliation is on the cards.
Conservative MPs are none too impressed at their new leader’s choice of Deputy Chief Whip. It’s unusual to say the least to appoint someone with no previous ‘whipping’ experience and one ex-whip said the news would be received in the whips office ‘like a bucket of cold sick’. Ex SAS soldier Andrew Robothan has already had a less than distinguished start to his new duties. On Wednesday it was he who instructed Davis defector Nadine Dorries to go into the chamber before Prime Minister’s Question Time and reserve seats for the most fragrant female Tory MPs to surround their new leader. Looks good on TV, you see. Old Tory lags Eric Forth and Andrew MacKay quickly clocked what she was doing and told her in no uncertain terms it was against the rules and to bugger off. So instead of having the pleasure of looking up Theresa Villier’s skirt or staring at Anne Milton’s knees TV viewers were treated to Eric Forth’s leather waistcoat and kalaedescopic tie and Andrew MacKay’s grey suit. Robothan, who was an early recruit to the Cameron team, pitched to be Chief Whip on the basis that he was the only one who could control Davis lieutenants Derek Conway and Andrew Mitchell. That pleasant task now falls to Patrick McLoughlin, possibly the only ex-miner to have ever joined the Tory top table.
Although Dennis Skinner’s attack on George Osborne made the headlines on Thursday, he had been at it again a few days earlier during Home Office Questions. He launched a number of verbal assaults on the Tory front bench accusing them, and their new leader in particular, of all sorts of drug related activities. Sad to say that The Speaker was too busy gossiping with an adviser to notice and pull him up. Skinner’s said on Thursday that the allegations about Osborne must be true because they had been in the News of the World. This reached a state of Whitehall farce when Tory MPs gently pointed out that the Beast of Bolsover wasn’t quite so forthcoming when the News of the Screws exposed his affair with his secretary a few years ago under the headline THE BEAST OF LEGOVER.
Gay icon Christine Hamilton tells me she has been invited to three civil partnership ceremonies next week. “The stiffies came in the post this morning,” she shrills. The mind boggles…
Politicos of all colours are increasingly exasperated at the dumbing down of BBC political programmes. Can anyone explain the point of the Daily Politics’ ‘Ed the Bookie’? What on earth can Ulrika Jonsson, who appeared on This Week, tell us about politics that we would ever want to know? Why did Newsnight send a Louis Theroux wannabe to do a fly on the wall film about David Cameron? Does the BBC think we’re all as dumb as some of their own programme producers? It’s apparently about making politics more ‘accessible’. This usually means accessible to people who don’t actually want to watch them. Expect a change of tack soon.
All round good egg Gyles Brandreth was in top form at the Parliamentary Press Gallery Christmas bash this week, modestly informing the assembled hacks he was there in his role as prophet. The head hasn’t got any smaller, then, Gyles! Brandreth, it seems is laying claim to have spotted David Cameron’s potential as early as 1993, when the 27 year old Tory golden boy was serving as Norman Lamont’s Special Advisor at the Treasury. In his capacity as best friend of the royals he went on to describe the Royal Variety performance as a “kind of Eurovision Song Contest endurance test with the added shame that all the acts are British” before regaling journalists with an anecdote about how the Queen got more than she bargained for at a recent Royal Variety performance. At the climax of a performance of the stripping scene from the Full Monty she copped a full eyeful of British manhood - in both senses of the phrase. Brandreth was horrified until Prince Phillip leaned over and whispered to him: “I wouldn’t worry, she’s been to Papua New Guinea, you know. She’s seen it all before.”
Former Reading East Labour MP Jane Griffiths is certainly a woman who bears a grudge. Her blog (www.janestheones.blogspot.com) is full of highly entertaining and occasionally libellous blasts at her nemesis Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, who she blames for getting her the boot at the election. In her latest entry she relates the tale of how Reading Labour Party officials contacted David Cameron and his constituency officers with a view to helping them beat Griffiths in 2001. Cameron apparently thanked her for all her help. As Griffiths says: “You have to take your hat off to those Reading Labour Party boys for working so hard for the Tories.”
“Daddy, do you think Mr Cameron is going to sack you?” came the plaintiff cry from the Shadow Minister’s 14 year old son. Touched by his boy’s concern, Tory Dad said: “I don’t know, why do you ask?” Quick as a flash, Tory boy said: “Because I’m opening a book on it at school, and I think he’ll get rid of you.” The boy will go far.
Shadow Cabinet new girl Theresa Villiers is tipped for the top but four years ago she almost single-handedly scuppered Michael Portillo’s leadership bid. Portillo recruited her to make a brief speech on endorsement at his ritzy campaign launch but a few days later she co-wrote a letter to the newspapers calling for cannabis to be legalised. It caused a minor political storm but did serious damage to Portillo, whose modernising tendencies were already viewed with suspicion by the Tory old guard. In the event he failed by only one vote to reach the last round of voting. How different things might have been…