The Journal of Lynton Charles, Chancellor of the Duchy of Durham

Friday Not a peep out of the Podd brigade for a week. Hardly surprising. All that Boss Hilary and I have had in the whips' office is the occasional timid soul calling up and saying that they hope there won't be a war because they don't like wars. "Nor do we," we say, "and nor, despite his 'grim situation' face, does The Master. But if it comes, we will expect you to do your duty and support your government." Well, that's what I say. Boss Hilary says: "I QUITE UNDERSTAND what you're saying, but snerf-puddle shlfllppss ddddd . . ." It usually does the trick.

Meanwhile, Wing-Commander Lethbridge-Stewart has won the other side's election handsomely, beating Blokey by 3 to 2. I have a number of thoughts about this. The first is that it was not supposed to happen. The general idea of giving a vote to the whole membership is that the inactive (and therefore close to public opinion and moderate) out-poll the very active (who are, de facto, unusual and likely to be bonkers), and the middling chap gets in. You then go on to have a chance of winning an election some time in the next century. But what happens if your average party member is as ideological as your activist? In our party, we have always kept Len Podd and the unions ensuffraged against such an eventuality, but those days may be numbered. Unsettling. Plus, it's not good for discipline. By and large, parliamentary government proceeds in this country by rewarding individual talent in the guise of collective effort. So you're allowed to be as monomaniacal and sharp-elbowed as you like in private, but you must maintain the loyal stance in public. This convention makes things much easier for whips, who are judged by their success in containing upfront insurrections that might in any way threaten the government's majority. We are not expected to police malicious gossip.

Now this rule that a psychotic can become leader only if he's a loyal psychotic has been blasted out of the water. Lethbridge-Stewart has got where he is by being a revolting euro-obsessive. In fact, he is evidence of a successful revolution against the party, which has inverted the old order and established Year Zero. And you can only hope that such things do not spread, like rabies, from one side of the chamber to the other. Otherwise, one day we shall see some born-again Trotskyist like Diane Abbott or Roy Hattersley running the party.

Tuesday Friday's metaphor turns out to be inspired. Lethbridge-Stewart has just announced his shadow cabinet. He has sent one Blokeist to Northern Ireland, and kept one Portillista at Social Security, where he can say what he likes but no one will listen. Otherwise, he has filled up his cup with poison. It's a bit as if Neil Kinnock had started his leadership by putting Eric Heffer in at the Foreign Office and Derek Hatton at Education. Every swivel-eyed loon has got a job.

I discover this when the phone rings, and that mad voice tells me that it is Dr Julian Swyne on the other end. Swyne, Maastricht rebel, hanger and flogger, Daily Mail columnist and bow-tie wearer, has news for me. As ever, his discourse is punctuated by disconcerting giggles.

"Lynton. Hee. Just thought you'd like to know that we have a new deputy chief whip. Hehehehe. And it's me. Tee hee. And do you know what? Hee. That means all bets are off. Mmmmehereher. No comfortable parliamentary arrangements, just all-out war. Lunch? Hehehehe."

Lunch with Swyne? I would rather drink diarrhoea. But I have no choice, since I must now discover just how unusual the "usual" channels and arrangements are about to become. Set against this, the jobs of Tankie Hoon and the Witchfinder General in prosecuting a war against an invisible enemy suddenly seem very enviable.

I also wonder whether it is possible to win election after election by default, simply because your opponents are as daft as brushes. I do hope so.

This article first appeared in The war that Bush cannot win

2001-09-24