DIARY ALAN WATKINS
Madam Speaker Boothroyd I have known for over 30 years, and can testify to
her humour, generosity and compassion.
She is companionable as well. Not long ago a few of us were standing around in Annie's Bar, trying to find something to laugh about, when I noticed that the Bloody Mary she was drinking (not her usual tip- ple) had a suspiciously brown tint. I took a sip and pronounced it undrinkable. She agreed it was not very nice but persisted with true Yorkshire grit. When it came to my turn to buy the next round, I said to the barman: 'Go easy on the Lea & Perrins in Miss Boothroyd's Bloody Mary, please, Frank.' He replied: 'No need to teach me how to make a Bloody Mary. I bin on a course in barmanship.' Whereupon Frank proceeded to manipulate the sauce bottle as if it were the piston of a steam engine. The result was, deliberately, even more unpleasant than his first concoction. Miss Boothroyd made no fuss and had some- thing else. I was furious, and complained to Frank's predecessor, who said: 'We don't want to get Frank into trouble, do we?' As this was precisely what I did want to do, I gave up at this point. He subsequently left his employment at the Palace of Westmin- ster. Miss Boothroyd, however, played no part in these proceedings. Nor, in future, will she be able to go to Annie's Bar or any other Westminster watering-hole. The first Labour Speaker, Horace King, tried to look in here and there, was rebuked, and retired to his residence. Nevertheless he continued to be the victim of the common misappre- hension that dry white wine was a non-alco- holic beverage. I cannot see Madam Speak- er succumbing to this fallacy.
Sit Peregrine Worsthorne has already paid tribute to his former colleague, Mr Bruce Anderson, for getting the election result right. Enemies of Mr Anderson, who are abundant (though I am not among them), say that he did not really think it was going to happen. No matter: he was correct. In the same spirit I should like to acknowledge my Observer colleague Mr John Naughton, television critic, opponent of the Gulf war and Man of the Left gener- ally. On the Sunday after the 1991 Brighton conference he wrote: It's not often that you see a man lose the next general elec- tion on prime-time television, but I think it may have happened last Tuesday.' What brought about Mr Naughton's prediction was Mr Kinnock leading the singing of 'We Shall Overcome': 'To the television audi- ence it made a three-sick-hag spectacle. It smacked of indiscipline, sentimentality and boozy rugby-club presentations. And it left one with the image not of a triumphant party leader but of a buffoon who cannot
hold his applause.' This was exactly what was said by others — though in less graphic language — after Mr Kinnock's more recent appearance at Sheffield. Indeed, the Sheffield Rally may now go down with other great (usually northern) occasions in the history of the Movement, such as the Bridlington Agreement, the Morecambe Conference and the Stalybridge Speech.
There are still some of us left — Mr Ian Aitken and Mr Anthony Howard come to mind — who can tell you about these and other events if you ply us with drink, cross our palms with silver and listen while we reminisce from the armchair by the fire. It can, I realise, be numbingly boring if you are uninterested in politics. But what has changed in the last couple of years is that people who are supposed to be so con- cerned, who are paid to be interested, show displeasure on being told what happened. Lord Chesterfield, I know, noted this human characteristic many years ago, when he wrote to his son that people preferred to be entertained than informed, information carrying with it the implication of igno- rance. When I published an account of the fall of Mrs Margaret Thatcher (a second, paperback edition is Deo volente due on 24 June), several of the younger reviewers objected to the footnotes. They were, they wrote, 'irritating' and 'pedantic'. I had
always thought that that was what footnotes were for. Edward Gibbon used to use them additionally for making indelicate refer- ences in classical languages. But I could not manage that.
ABBC press handout distributed before Mr Michael Cockerell's programme 'I know what my advice to the Duchess of York would be.' on Lord Callaghan contains an illustration of what I have in mind: 'At No. 10 Callaghan compared himself to Moses and promised to lead the British people into the promised land, but he lost everything in the "Winter of Discontent".' This manages to compress two errors into one sentence. Lord Callaghan's government was not brought down in the Commons because of the unions' behaviour in 1978-9. It became immobilised over Scottish devolution on account of Mr George Cunningham's 'hur- dle' amendment of late 1978. The minor parties accordingly withdrew their support in a vote of confidence. And it was not Lord Callaghan who compared himself to Moses but his son-in-law Mr Peter Jay, then the newly-appointed Ambassador to Washington.
Moses, we may remember, was given two tablets of stone written on both sides with the finger of God. At the 1977 Tory party conference that man of the theatre and resident scriptwriter, Sir Ronald Mil- lar, wrote a joke into Mrs Thatcher's speech: 'So my message to Moses is this: keep taking the tablets.' Despite her Wes- leyan upbringing, she failed to spot the ref- erence. She suggested 'keep taking the pill' instead as being funnier, even if it was on the risque side. Her entourage were too terrified, or too embarrassed, to explain the joke to her. But they were relieved when they managed to persuade her to stick to Sir Ronald's authorised version.
At the New Statesman it was a passion- ate affair, it went on for a long time, and
now it is ended. I refer to my membership of the National Union of Journalists. We had been growing apart for some years, but the first step on the final path was the union's opposition to the Gulf war. Even if I had agreed with its views (as I had earlier over the Libyan bombing), I did not see why the NUJ should be pronouncing on matters over which I had not been consult- ed and which were none of its concern any- way. Next, the position of the new, demo- cratically elected general secretary, Mr Steve Turner, was made impossible. He was simply forced out. To me most irritating of all — the little things always are — was the notice of the meeting of the London Free- lance Branch. This informed us that, should attendance prove difficult owing to baby- sitting difficulties, the branch would be pleased to pay for such a service. That, as far as I was concerned, was that. It was the end of our relationship. I wrote to my bank cancelling the standing order. I am still, however, receiving union literature through the post.