A Mix of Intrigue, Betrayal and Socks; Quentin Letts Samples the Atmosphere in the Committee Corridor

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Byline: QUENTIN LETTS

UP FLICKED 17:30 on the 24-hour clock of Parliament's TV screens.

Down, whoosh!, came the glint of unforgiving blade. Poor Ken Clarke's head went rolling to the gutter, cigar still clamped in those stained old teeth.

Down on Westminster's woodlined committee corridor a crowd of 400 had gathered in a fug of socks and hot breath to hear the result from the Gladstone Room.

On confirmation of Mr Clarke's defeat a woman gasped 'yes!' There was a moment's silence while the crowd of reporters and parliamentary aides and hangerson computed the statistics through their minds. It didn't take long.

'Good result for Cameron,' went the murmur.

Spinning started immediately.

Terriers from the Davis, Cameron and Fox camps burst past the committee room's heavy door to start briefing the throng. 'Davis in freefall!' gasped a Cameron man.

'We're delighted!' insisted the Davis man. 'All to play for,' murmured a Fox fellow.

How many of these leadership sweats have we had in recent years? I've lost count. The flavour, as ever, was a mix of intrigue and betrayal, coy discretion and swaggering gormlessness. It took them four hours to vote and as each MP turned up he or she was quizzed hard by hacks.

Desmond Swayne (New Forest W), a keep-fit enthusiast who likes to do at least ten lengths of the Serpentine before breakfast, was first to vote. He was followed by a rush of MPs, including Messrs Davis, Fox and Cameron, moderniser Dave arriving with his best friend George Osborne. They came down the passageway like a couple of Californian bodybuilders arriving at a wedding chapel.

Mr Clarke asked reporters: 'Are you keeping the score?' The sorry truth for him was that they were and that things did not look great for the lovable magnifico.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge), who had been expected to go for Clarke, did the political equivalent of dropping his trousers. …