Mother Teresa of Tatton

An Accidental M.P

Martin Bell <em>Viking, 240pp, £16.99</em>

ISBN 0670892319

I told the News Statesman's literary editor in trenchant tone that nothing would induce me to look at Martin Bell's book. I had infinitely more interesting things to do with a nanosecond of my life. So, you may ask, why am I now reviewing it? Well, it was the silly season, so it seemed appropriate. Despite my conservative leanings, I have always had a soft spot for the NS and many who sail in her.

An Accidental MP is a slim volume - unlike its author. His own photographs demonstrate that, after three and a half years polishing his bottom on the green leather benches, his waistline has ballooned to the proportions of a pot-bellied pig. At a time when the Commons is enjoying its longest recess in living memory, it can surprise nobody that Bell has had idle hours in which to write this self-justificatory tract. What does a political irrelevance do with his time at the expense (about £500,000 so far) of the taxpayer? His impact at Westminster has been less than zero, so one can only wonder at how he whiles away the hours.

The self-appointed Mother Teresa of Tatton exudes smug, pseudo-moral superiority about honouring his "pledge" not to stand again. Let nobody be fooled by this pathetic smokescreen. This mega-opportunist is desperate to stay in parliament. He describes representing the people of Tatton as the "best thing that has ever happened". The truth is that he could never win again in Tatton, and he knows it. He has been rumbled. But, if he really is so popular, why doesn't he have the balls to stand and go down fighting?

Much is made of the "Battle of Knutsford Heath", when Bell posed as "independent", but was actually still hiccuping from the London dinner at which his candidature was hatched with Labour apparatchiks. The sight of the sanctimonious little prig proved too much even for quiet, shy, retiring me. Had I known how he was to conduct himself during the campaign, I would probably have floored him there and then.

But ignorance is bliss, and we were misguided enough to think that he might have an open mind - perhaps a decent chap out of his depth. On the heath, he was indeed struggling in deep water - not waving, but drowning. Hence the arrival of Mandelson's storm troopers (including Bell's future son-in-law) to puppet him throughout the campaign. Having served their purpose, they quickly dropped him in the sleaze, revealing (after the election) the true extent of Labour's financial support, thus blowing asunder his claim of independence.

As to "open mind" and "decent chap", in 30 years of active politics, I have never encountered such a dishonourable and scurrilous campaign. Politics is a dirty business, but Bell and his disciples plumbed new depths. He never once dared to debate the real issues, hiding always in the voluminous skirts of generalities and platitudes, as he does to this day.

Once the ego had landed in parliament, he clung to his "Look at me, look at me, please look at MEEEEE!" white suit, without which he would have merged seamlessly into the sea of mediocrity that makes up a goodly proportion of the lobby fodder. How inadequate can a man be - how serious the personality weakness - that he must draw attention to himself in this way? From the crumples, one assumes that St Martin of Sketchley wears the suits in bed in case Wife No 3 (yes, he has "pledged" three times "until death us do part", etc) forgets who he is.

I am now the reluctant possessor of a copy of this self-important book. I have zero use for it, value my friends too much to give it to any, and it seems ecologically unfriendly to use it to light the barbecue. So, dear readers, I will happily send it to whoever suggests the best use to which it should be put. (Answers to me, c/o the NS.) To make this lacklustre offer more attractive (nobody is likely to be injured in the rush to acquire Bell's tedious jottings), I remind you that the other book conceived on Knutsford Heath was Christine Hamilton's Bumper Book of British Battleaxes - a far more entertaining read, if I may say so. I offer a hardback copy (personally inscribed to the winner) by way of an antidote.