PAUL Routledge

Article excerpt

William Hague may laugh a lot, but he has scant sense of the absurd. He's banned the chicken-run, that hallowed Tory tradition permitting Tory MPs or ex-MPs to regard a safe seat as an inalienable human right. Previous beneficiaries include Michael Ancram, Sir Brian Mawhinney and Peter Lilley. But at the next election, only half a dozen MPs -- mostly former ministers -- are being given priority in "safe" Conservative constituencies.

They include the gruesome David Shaw, who will return at Kingston and Surbiton (temporarily on loan to the Lib Dems), and Greg Knight, the former whip, who has been given Yorkshire East. Alistair Burt, the diminutive former DSS minister, is also on the list.

But the best joke at Chairman Ancram's party at Bournemouth was that Charles Hendry, a former party vice-chairman who lost in 1997, will stage a comeback at Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith's Wealden constituency because his wife outspent his rivals. "She's very rich, y'know," confided a jealous Tory. "She bought him an Austin Martin for Christmas, and a safe seat for his birthday."

"Stay calm!" Alastair Campbell told a breathless lobby journalist after Labour's high-profile defeat on pensions at the party conference. "Calm is a good place to be." Er, has he ever been there? Ali as the author of the new Labour Little Book of Calm is mildly incongruous.

The PM's press spokesman should have a word with Boris Johnson, editor of the Spectator and candidate to succeed Michael Heseltine at Henley. He harbours irrational fears that the Lib Dems will deprive him of his inheritance. A bit of calm would come in handy there.

A particularly vicious "news release" has been put out by gay Tory rivals of OutRage! It names, with pictures, eight allegedly homosexual Conservative MPs, four of them frontbenchers. Denouncing their voting records as "homophobic", it says: "This prejudice shames and dishonours the Conservative Party. Don't be Fooled by the homophobia of these eight MPs. …