5 JANUARY 1974, Page 9

Westminster Corridors

It being the New Year, the season when hope commonly prevails over experience, Puzzle ventures some hopes concerning the conduct of our Parliament men, expecting but little, however, of their fulfilment.

Might it not be possible that the Skipper Heath and Mr Midshipman Wilson should conduct their controversy more after the manner of past Prime Ministers and their opponents. In short, let there be more of the noble style of the Lion and the Unicorn, not so much of the vulgar bickering of Punch and Judy. True, either would need to step on a stool to get the stature to utter a rebuke as majestic as that, for example, which Churchill once bestowed on Earl Winterton. "The right hon, gentleman is likely to become Father of the House of Commons. Let him beware, lest he lapse into senility before attaining the dignity of age."

Memory of Manny

Recalling Winterton brings to Puzzle's mind a tale told by the man who shared with him the leadership of the Opposition during the late war. It illustrates, moreover, the curious but precious harmony which once underlay the political squabbles.

My Lord Shinwell in those days was still Slogger Manny, not having reached his present state of ermine-fringed benevolence.

He had involved himself in a very sharp exchange indeed with Winston in the Chamber. Still simmering from the encounter, Manny entered a telephone box to make a call, and found he had no small change. Opening the door he espied the Prime Minister in the corridor. "Winston," he called, "lend me 2d. I want to 'phone a friend."

The Great Man fumbled for the coins and handed them over. The Slogger returned to the telephone, only to be interrupted by a rapping on the door. He re-opened it, to see Winston, grinning broadly and offering another 2d.

"There you are," he said. "Now 'phone both of them."

In recommending the antique style, I would nevertheless beseech some of our present fellows not to fall into excess of self-righteous dignity. I address this in particular to Mr Immaculate Roy Jenkins. His recent return in the role of Elijah denouncing the worshippers of Baal, presumed much on the advantage bestowed by some months of absence from the Front Bench.

While wearing his crown of thorns on the backbenches as the martyr of Europe, he seems to have forgotten that, in addition to a favourable balance of payments he bestowed on an incoming Tory Government in 1970, he presented them with a savagely escalating problem of unemployment.

In fact, he had no solution to the economic dilemma of post-war Britain. He only impaled us on the other horn of it.

A word now for the Demon Barber. That Churchill echo — "What kind of a people do

they think we are" — was appropriate. for a people united in war, less apt for one divided in peace. A bit of bravado is fine for uniting your own troops, but less profitable when it also unites the enerhy.

The more odd as the Demon, at the same time, was trying to prove what a fair fellow he was to the militant trade unionists by soaking the surtax payers.

Any day now, I expect Peter (Boom) Walker to be telling us of what he is doing bringing us oil from the Celtic seas more quickly than gold from Timbuctoo.

How strange it is that he is like to make little of the coal bonanza ready to be tapped in Southern Yorkshire, said by experts to be the most dramatic discovery of coal in the history of British mining. Perchange he fears to be handing Mr Joe Give-the-lads-the-brass Gormley a very good argument.

Minister baiter

I offer some friendly counsel to that lively lad from Bolsover, Master Dennis "Legs" Skinner. Sure it is a fine ambition to become the most enterprising Minister-baiter on the Opposition backbenches. But it takes more than a cheekie chappie technique to make a proper job of it. Let young Skinner take a backward look at the achievement of one of his predecessors, Lord George "Got a horse" Wigg. "Legs" Skinner could treat himself to a new pair of bright-hued socks if he could get a Government crying for mercy in the way Wigg did in 1952.

Wigg's hold-up of the annual Army Act in that year not only made Churchill's government look very silly, but secured at last a thorough overhaul of the Act, which Parliament had not seriously looked at since 1878.

The reformed Act was described by the Defence Minister of the day as being "sired by Filibuster out of a mare called Necessity," one of the most beautiful bouquets ever handed to a marauding backbencher.

But a coup like that calls for more than a few flip witticisms, which bounce like pellets off the tough skipper. As Wigg would say: "You don't hunt tigers with a rook rifle."

Being a backbencher on the Government side is less entertaining and profitable than for those on the Opposition side.

But it could be said of the late Sir Gerald "Whiskers" Nabarro that he contrived both to enjoy it and to put its opportunities at times to good use.

Now that the protection of the environment is a theme highly esteemed by the intellectual fringes, it should not be forgotten that Sir Gerald bounced one of the major pieces of anti-pollution legislation on a reluctant government — the Clean Air Act.

There would have been little point in washing Whitehall and the Law Courts to a gleaming Persil cleanness, if that Act had not been passed. The backbencher currently most celebrated, the Prophet Powell, enters this New Year as the seer who was proved right about our economy.

There is, I fear, something profoundly irritating about men who are proved right. But policies which have never been put into practice can never be proved wrong, not even the

one which the Prophet long ago urged on Churchill — to attempt the re-conquest of India with ten divisions. Tom Puzzle