Election Blog (9)
Will the 2005 election have a Portillo Moment?
For those with short memories and those in North Korea who recently tried to steal my PayPal details, this was when Tory Minister Michael Portillo was defeated by Labour's Stephen Twigg in the 1997 election.
It even gave its name to a book on the election: "Were You Still Up For Portillo?". When I bought a copy the woman in Waterstones launched into a long reminiscence about election night: how her husband had gone to bed while she sat up; how, when the Enfield result was declared and a then boyish-looking Stephen Twigg rolled his eyes heavenwards, she had run up the stairs shouting "Wake up! Wake up! Come downstairs! Portillo's been defeated!" She clutched my paperback to her chest and sighed with happiness at the memory.
I'm sure that James Henry would not have behaved in such an unprofessional manner when he worked at Waterstones (nor, for that matter, Henry James, had he done so) but it did illustrate how the Portillo moment had become a symbol of the Labour landslide.
At this election the main contenders for a Portillo Moment are members of the Conservative front bench and, if it happens, it's likely to be at the hands of the Lib Dems rather than Labour. Even Michael Howard is vulnerable, although I wouldn't put money on that one unless he really does bite someone's neck and drink their blood.
The one Labour Minister to watch is the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. On paper he has a comfortable majority. But he has a large number of Muslims in his constituency and there's an intensive effort to unseat him. One group hasn't even bothered to put up a candidate but is going round the houses urging people to vote for anyone but Straw.
Some other Labour MPs with a lot of Muslim constituents are loudly boasting about how they voted against the war. But, of course, that's not a tactic open to Jack. As I said the other day, he stated on television on Sunday that the decision to invade was his, implying that Blair and Bush were helpless bystanders. This may be because, before he was an MP, Jack had a 'real' job in the unreal world of student politics, as President of the National Union of Students (a post also held by Charles 'Big Ears' Clarke).
I'm not predicting that Straw will be defeated but even a slim majority would be pretty sensational. Anyway, I'd be rather sorry to see him go. He's one of the most Pooteresque figures of this Government, blissfully unaware of his own ridiculousness.
If Blair is Bush's poodle, then Straw is the poodle's chihuahua.
There's an amusing story in Peter Stothard's inside book on Downing Street where Blair and Straw are setting off for the airport in a people carrier when Blair finds he's forgotten his glasses. Before the assorted aides and gophers can get their boots on, Jack is out of the vehicle and running back into Number 10 to search Blair's study, emerging a few minutes later triumphantly bearing His Master's Spectacles.
Sadly, Jack, the former student radical, has been less successful at finding his own testicles.
I've always been an admirer of Jeremy Paxman but his first big set-piece interview with Charles Kennedy was unnecessarily rude and aggressive.
To try and make Kennedy look stupid because he didn't know the detailed effects of a local income tax in individual constituencies off the top of his head was childish in the extreme.
Even more unforgiveable was the question: "Is your doctor happy with your lifestyle?" with its snide implication about drinking and smoking. Kennedy should really have pointed out that discussions with his doctor were confidential instead of giving a defensive reply about how much he's cut down on smoking.
I wait with interest to see tomorrow's interview with Blair. Will Paxman ask: "Prime Minister, if the birth of Leo was such a shock, what is it about family planning that you and Cherie don't understand? Did Cherie forget to take the pill or did the condom break?"
The more that ex-Liberal activist Peter Hain rants about liberal intellectuals criticising Labour on "the dinner table circuit", as he did in the Guardian again today, the less likely I am to vote Labour.
When did this pompous perma-tanned prat suddenly became a tribune of the working class?
In any case, I never go to dinner parties. They're my idea of hell.
Not that I get invited to any. Perhaps I've got bad table manners.