A week or so ago I read Gyles Brandreth's book on his time as an MP, from 1992 to 1997, which included a spell in the Whips office. Quite fascinating, especially on how they managed to just about keep the Government in business despite a tiny, eventually non-existent, majority.
I'd forgotten quite how dire it was for the Major Government during that period. There were the defections: Alan Howarth of course, to Labour, and Emma Nicholson to the Lib Dems, and then Peter Thurnham too. (Does the latter ring any bells? No, me neither). There were the forced resignations. Anyone remember now why David "Two Brains" Willets had to step down in December 1996? Something to do with saying "wants advice" means "is in want of advice" not "wants our advice." There must have been more to it than that, but that's the bit that will go down in history. And the stars of the "back to basics" scandals (David Mellor of course, and Tim Yeo, and poor old Stephen Milligan, but also a whole supporting cast of minor characters keeping the Sunday tabloids busy week after week after week).
What's bizarre about the book is how it reveals in little ways just how different being a Tory MP is to being a Labour MP, even though in many ways the jobs are of course the same. OK, Gyles Brandreth, who seems to have little more than an observer's interest in politics, might not be the best person against whom to make the comparison, but the book is full of casual references to breakfasts at the Ritz and Claridges, to champagne being served in silver flutes at the weekly Whips meetings (we have tea and bacon sarnies at ours!) and to hob-nobbing with members of the Royal Family. I suppose given the Alan Clark diaries, and the Brandreth book, and the House of Cards saga, the Tory version of events prevails in people's minds. Maybe it's time John Mann started keeping a diary?
For those of you feeling nostalgic for those times, here's a brief extract from Thursday 5th December, 1996 (yes, five months to go before the May 1997 election, when the Tory party was tearing itself apart over EMU):
"If it weren't so heart-breaking, it would be very funny. We are disintegrating. We are in a massive hole and we can't stop digging! Today's Gallup poll puts Labour on 59% and us on 22. We're heading for wipe-out - and we seem DETERMINED to make it worse."
I don't need to make the obvious point here, do I readers? Game on for 2010, all you fighters and believers!