Magazine article The Spectator

Drink House Sherry

Magazine article The Spectator

Drink House Sherry

Article excerpt

The Speaker was in trouble.

I do not refer to Michael Martin or John Bercow, the two worst Speakers in living memory, who have fallen well beneath mere trouble, into contempt. This was Jack Weatherill, a decent man and a decent Speaker, if not a great one.

Even so, his toenail clippings would have made a better Speaker than either of the aforementioned.

But Speaker Weatherill had committed an offence of which we have all been guilty at some time or another. He had rewritten history; he had retold an anecdote to put himself in a better light. Unfortunately for him, this involved putting Norman Tebbit in a worse light. There had been a disagreement:

I forget about what, and it is no longer relevant. Anyway, Jack told my then colleague Don Macintyre that he had chucked Norman out of his office. Don believed the Speaker and wrote the story. That caused a problem because it was not true. Although there had been an argument, Norman had left of his own volition at the normal time. But he had a reputation to keep up. No one chucks him out of anywhere, ever. The word 'defamation' was used.

The Speaker was like a savoury under the grill: cooking, defenceless.

Don was unhappy.

I told him that even if he were imprisoned in the Victoria Tower for contempt of Parliament, his stay would be brief and the victuals would probably be adequate. But Don, an honourable fellow, notorious for never consigning a story to print unless he had at least eight sources, was vexed with himself. He did protest that if a hack could trust one single source, it ought to be the Speaker.

Norman, sardonic, vulpine, enjoyed his adversaries' discomfiture, and was surprisingly lenient when it came to the surrender terms. These were negotiated by Jonathan Aitken with silken dexterity.

I was invited to Speaker's House as a participant. Cannot recall why:

I suppose that my well-known peacemaking skills made me indispensable. …

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